The new Place Vendome, at the entrance to Franschhoek, is a most chic and attractive centre, that has a collection of small outlets (although at least three shops are standing empty currently). The Cafe Vendome that opened in it initially has a new owner, and is challenging the well-established Huguenot Fine Chocolates by changing its name to Cafe Le Chocolatier, and by making the most delicious chocolates. However, the chocolate delights are not incorporated into the menu.
The Cafe originally was owned by the owners of the centre, but they were not at the Cafe enough, running a busy estate agency in the village. The rude and agressive attitude of the staff has been a problem since they opened. When I saw the new name of the restaurant on a recent visit to Franschhoek, I popped in to try it again. Sadly the same waitresses are still there, but a chocolatier, trained at the Lindt Chocolate Studio in Cape Town, is a new member of the kitchen team.
Cafe Le Chocolatier is now owned by Dr Daniel Waldis, a Swiss national who lives in Franschhoek, who says he bought the Cafe as a “hobby” at the beginning of July. He owns the Swiss Dermal Technology company in the V&A Waterfront, which offers skin rejuvenation without plastic surgery. He only goes through to Cape Town three times a week. His “Botox clients” see the brochure for his new restaurant, he says, and then come through to Franschhoek. Dr Waldis wants to establish a “European style” restaurant, with good quality coffee, cake and meals, and wants to help to lift the standard of Franschhoek’s claim of being the Gourmet Capital of South Africa. He introduced the chocolate-making inside the Cafe, and will be introducing a deli with cold meats and cheeses as well.
The menu has been compiled by Dr Waldis, who selected light meals that were requested by customers. Its opening line is “An experience for the connoisseur” – this is a claim that Dr Waldis will find hard to live up to, given his two waitresses’ attitude, and the selection of dishes that are offered, even though the quality of the food is good. The menu also states “Our menu is created with the freshest of locally sourced products and is therefore subject to change on an almost daily basis.” The prices of some dishes are on the high side. Breakfast options include bacon, mushroom and eggs (R59); poached eggs on croissant, with salmon (R69); scrambled eggs with Emmentaler cheese and bacon or salmon (R69); and filled Omelettes (R69). Sandwiches cost R69, and two choices are offered: grilled chicken, char grilled aubergine, mozarella, pesto and tomato; and smoked salmon, light wasabi creme fraiche and rolled cucumber sheets. Soup of the day costs R29; chicken pie and salad R49; beef lasagne (R69); Quiche Lorraine with salad (R69); Club Sandwich (R69); and Penne Salad, with organic feta, olives, tomato, basil, lots of herbs, and a wonderful dressing was delicious (R59). The Cappuccino was excellent, good and frothy, and cakes are expensive at R39 for a small slice. The chocolates cost R8 each.
A small selection of beverages is offered, including Heineken (R20) and Peroni (R24), and wines-by-the -glass are reasonably priced (R25 for Haut Espoir Sauvignon Blanc, Simonsig sparkling wine R45, Beyerskloof Pinotage R35). One wonders why such a small selection of wines is not proudly-Franschhoek!
It was when I asked the staff about Dr Waldis’ background, and about the new chocolate-making, that the waitress Sony became rude and aggressive in answering the questions, stating that I had “not asked her permission to interview her”! She referred me to her “manager” (apparently she is a waitress too), who in turn said I should make an appointment with Dr Waldis and ask him the questions directly, that is after she first spent 10 minutes doing other things and returning the ice to a freezer. I had requested to speak to the new owner when we arrived. Luckily Dr Waldis was at the restaurant, and sat with me for 10 minutes, charmingly giving me his background, and that of the thinking behind his new “hobby”, and offered us some of the chocolates to try. They are absolutely wonderful, with melt-in-the-mouth liquid Lindt chocolate fillings.
Cafe Le Chocolatier could become a threat to Huguenot Fine Chocolates (an institution in Franschhoek), because its chocolates are better, and due to its location at the entrance to Franschhoek. However, the chocolates are twice as expensive. The waitressing staff need serious training in customer interaction, and need a manager looking after them. Branding is a problem, with a Cafe Vendome sign still on one side of the shop, and the door mats having the old branding too. The chocolate-focus in the restaurant name contradicts the menu that offers everything but chocolate (except hot chocolate). The delicious cakes (carrot cake, chocolate mousse, etc) are not listed on the menu. If one did not anticipate chocolates to be sold from the name of the restaurant, one would not know about them, as there is no proper display counter in which to see them. A ball of chocolate brought with the bill, or served with the coffee, could be a good chocolate sampling opportunity.
POSTSCRIPT 2/1/11: I returned to Café Le Chocolatier after 6 months, and was pleasantly surprised about the vast improvement in the service, mainly due to the departure of the two staff members who were so unpleasant on my previous visits. The menu also is far more focused on treats containing chocolate, including cakes, cupcakes and chocolates made in the Café.
POSTSCRIPT 22/4: For Good Friday I had kingklip (R99) at Café le Chocolatier for dinner. Commendably they stay open until 8 pm. While the vegetable mix was too salty for my taste, I liked the Basmati rice and kingklip. A material serviette for dinner would be nice. The service has improved greatly, and it is one of my favourite Franschhoek coffeee shops now.
Cafe Le Chocolatier, Place Vendome, Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-2233. No website. Monday – Sunday, 9h00 – 20h00.
POSTSCRIPT 10/7/13: Le Chocolatier has moved to The Apprentice in Stellenbosch.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com