It’s been confirmed!  Six-time Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Chef Richard Carstens is to be the Executive Chef of a new improved Tokara restaurant in October, after a week in which the rumour circulated, was denied by the Tokara Ferreira family, and was finally confirmed by a media release on Friday.   The move creates a culinary hub in the Helshoogte Pass, with the two Delaire restaurants across the road, and the Pass being a link between the competing gourmet towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, and adds further weight to Stellenbosch now wearing the Gourmet Capital crown and for it to establish a Restaurant Route. 

Tokara restaurant has been an institution for the past ten years, and was vacated by Chef Etienne Bonthuys last weekend, as he is opening a restaurant on Dorp Street in Stellenbosch.    Bonthuys has not always been the easiest of chefs and restaurant owner, so new owner Wilhelm Kuehn, co-owner of Jardine’s in Cape Town, will have to rebuild the brand to attract new patrons, whilst retaining the Bonthuys regulars.  Kuehn plans to build the Tokara restaurant to be on a par with the highly regarded Tokara wine and olive oil product brands, to create synergy between the three entities.  

Carstens is not known for his long-term staying power at restaurants (the exception being his five year tenure at Lynton Hall), but Kuehn says he is hoping for a long-term relationship with his new chef.   The media release states that Tokara Restaurant will be focused on contemporary cuisine.  “Each plate of food will offer the diner a sense of the natural environment and the location of the restaurant as well as the current season through the ingredients used”, says Carstens.     The menu contains “unfussy a la carte options as well as a more playful tasting menu, each course optionally paired with a glass of Tokara wine or a selection of other premium South African wines”.   There will be no molecular gastronomy at Tokara, a distinctive Carstens’ trademark, but not appreciated by all.  A bar will be built in the foyer, from which one can enjoy the wonderful views onto the Tokara vineyards and onto Stellenbosch.

Asked about the future of Jardine’s in Cape Town, Kuehn said that nothing will change.  Eric Bulpitt is their Executive Chef, who is off to a 6-week stint at Noma, the world’s top of the 50 Top Restaurants list, until mid-September.  Sous chef Julie will hold the kitchen fort at Jardine’s in Cape Town.    A manager will be appointed for the Tokara restaurant.   George Jardine has no involvement with Tokara at all, and still is a co-owner of Jardine’s in Cape Town, although his focus is Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine in Stellenbosch, said Kuehn.

Richard Carstens is contracted to Chez d’Or in Franschhoek until September, but the association is a disappointing one.   Read our review.

Tokara Restaurant with Richard Carstens will open in October, serving lunch from Tuesdays – Sundays, and dinner from Tuesdays – Saturdays. Tel (21) 808-5959. On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

POSTSCRIPT 1/8: Richard Carstens left Chez d’Or on Wednesday, the day of our review, two months ahead of his contract ending with the Franschhoek restaurant.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com