The new Tokara DeliCatEssen, which opened late last year on the Tokara wine estate in the Helshoogte Pass, has everything going for it as far as its beautiful setting and the large spacious L-shaped building design goes, but the management of it and its service was close to a cat-astrophe yesterday.

Tokara wine estate has long had a strong following, with excellent wines being produced under the Tokara and Zondernaam labels.   Its restaurant, run by once-top restaurateur Etienne Bonthuys, used to have a strong following, but Delaire Graff across the road will have taken business away.   Due to the new deli, one can no longer park at the side of the Tokara winery building for the restaurant, and one has to enter via a gate which leads one to the winery as well.  One almost feels that Ferreira is cutting business off from the Tokara restaurant, as signage only leads one to the delicatessen.   It has been rumoured that Bonthuys would be setting up a new restaurant in Stellenbosch.

Tokara owner GT Ferreira invested in a major revamp of his wife’s original Oil Shed, a little further down the road from his winery, and has created a delightful-looking open plan delicatessen and restaurant serving breakfast (until 12h00) and lunches.    It has a large outside terrace, next to a large water feature, and children are well-catered for with a tree-like jungle gym.   No expense has been spared in the building.   An interesting “chandelier” made from white tree branches attracts attention as one arrives inside the deli.

Shelving along the back and side wall displays Tokara wines and its olive oil products, and also traditional deli-type products like pastes, biltong and dry-wors, jams, breads and cakes.   Separate counters with chilled tops displaying chocolates from a chocolatier in Betty’s Bay and cheeses are in front of the shelves, and one is not sure if one may go behind them, to take products off the shelves.   Pastries and muffins can also be bought.

A chap called Del, wearing a green shirt, runs the deli section and its till, but this is not clear nor indicated as such when one arrives, as it appears that the deli and restaurant are one and the same thing.  The only thing that sets him apart is his shirt colour, as the regular waiters wear a white T-shirt, so the assumption was made that Del was a manager of sorts.  As his station is closest to the entrance door, one gravitates to him naturally, when asking for a table.   Arriving at 11h45, and not seeing any “Reserved” signs on the tables, a table was requested for a quick breakfast.  Del’s instant response was that all tables had been booked – however only half of the tables had clients sitting at them.   He went off to ask a manager if he could make a table available, and  was given permission.  But I was told clearly that I was only allowed to occupy it for half an hour.   I ordered a cappuccino, a glass of water and scrambled egg off the breakfast section of the menu, and had to chase the coffee and water as it had not arrived by the time the egg was served. I was told that “our drinks department is very busy m’am”.  More and more guests left, and even more tables were available by the time I left half an hour later.

The scrambled egg arrived with bacon, a croissant and a container of grated cheese, which was not stated on the menu, so toast was requested.  This arrived as wholewheat toast, which was not requested.  The waitress was asked for white toast, and said they do not have it, as they serve healthy foods.   The kitchen did manage to find a slice of white bread,  and it made a lovely piece of toast.   The very soft butter was served in an egg cup, which was a nice touch as far as the container was concerned (one of only two nice touches I saw).   The scrambled egg was most unspectacular.

The theme, as emphasised in the brand name, is on cats in the menu (not taken through into the decor though), and the menu reflects the theme of a cat in the logo, and cat illustrations in the inside cover of the menu.  The menu asks “Cat got your tongue?” and states that “Curiosity killed the cat”.  Little cat illustrations are spread throughout the small, badly-handled paper menu.   Breakfast options are a health breakfast (R35), coconut bread and jam (R 22), scrambled egg and bacon (R35), and baked egg and spinach (R 25).   A nice touch is a children’s breakfast choice, of corn flakes, and scrambled egg.

Lunch is a buffet on weekends, and is beautifully presented and displayed deep into the restaurant – it is so far from the entrance or the terrace, that one would not know that it is set up.   It costs R 18 per 100 gram weighed, and yesterday the salad choices were Panzanella salad (chickpea, mixed greens and tomato), Chremoulla salad (radish, cucumber, tomato and basil), tuna salad, a salad of carrot, pumpkin, and sweet potato, a fruit sald, roast chicken, pork, and a fruit salad.   Wines on offer are Zondernaam (R 85 for the whites and R 110 for the shiraz) and Tokara (R 135 for the Sauvignon Blanc – R 360 for the Tokara Red).

In the half an hour of being at Tokara, I was seated by Del, and served by 3 waiters.   Madeleine was the most organised waiter, but things really fell apart when it came to leaving and paying,  Other than Del, who had imposed the half an hour deadline on the use of the table, no other staff seemed in a rush to get me out of the restaurant.  No bill arrived, and as I could tell Del what I had ordered, I moved to where he was.   He had a packet of dry wors I had selected.  Then came the surprise – he mans the deli computer, and can only take payment for the deli items, but not for the food eaten.   Right at the other end of the restaurant is the restaurant computer, on which system one can pay for deli items and the food eaten!  The only problem is that six waitresses were waiting in line to access the one restaurant computer, while Del was standing idle at his deli computer!   It took 10 minutes for the waitress to bring the new total bill, unusually presented inside a Tokara-branded Tetrapak milk carton, and another 10 minutes for her to come back with the change.   While waiting, I observed a customer wanting to buy Tokara wines and olive oil, having taken them off the display shelf.  He was told that he was allowed to buy the olive oil but not the wine, as one is not allowed to sell wines in a venue in which it is also served.  The customer was muttering because he was expected to drive 500 meters down the road to the winery, to buy it there!

When asked if one could speak to Anna-Marie Ferriera, GT’s wife and owner of the new venuture, or to Kara, the chef daughter, I was told that they are on holiday until the end of the month.  A lady in a purple top could have been a Manager, but she did not come to the customer tables at all, and seemed quite distant.

The Ferreira fortune behind the venture is evident when one reads that the deli was closed between Christmas and New Year, one of the busiest times of the year in the Cape.

POSTSCRIPT 25/3:  Yesterday, after a very long time, I went back to Tokara Deli, finding the Tokara Restaurant closed for a wedding.  The service level has increased dramatically, and the staff were exceptionally friendly. The menu remains limited, and the salad buffet is very expensive. I loved the care that was taken with the display of the bread rolls by one of the staff.

Tokara DeliCatEssen, Tokara wine estate, Helshoogte Pass, open Tuesday – Sundays from 9h00 – 16h00, tel 021 808-5950, facebook On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: