Tag Archives: 5-star

Corona Virus: Lockdown Journey Journal, Day 87 of Level 1, 26 May 2021


Wednesday 26 May 2021, Day 87 of Level 1 ūüė∑

Corona Gratitude ūüôŹ

#grateful for a lovely day, at 19C, sunny and warm; for a busy admin and writing morning; for two Discovery Gameboard plays; for a walk on my secret Bakoven path, sadly with bad litter; for a fabulous afternoon, dropping off the Tourist Guiding certificate of Martin Koch at the home of his brother Simon Koch, visiting Cape Diem Lodge in Green Point, for a constructive Anatoli status meeting, always with Dilmah tea and lovely chocolate biscuits, and for Rose Klein and Werner Klein coming to try the pre-Dinner Aperitif at Anatoli, a lovely three hour chat; and for being happy, healthy, and free. ūüôŹūüíô Continue reading →

Leeu Collection expands its accommodation portfolio to include Florence!

The Leeu Collection is on an acquisition trail, and appears unstoppable in expanding its hospitality portfolio, in not only acquiring restaurants and accommodation establishments locally, but hotels in Europe, their U.K.-based Linthwaite House acquired last year being followed up by a new purchase in Florence, the former Collegio Alla Querce. Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: Helena’s Restaurant at Coopmanshuijs nowhere near 5-star!

imageI had read good thing about Helena’s Restaurant at Coopmanshuijs,¬†and was left with an impression that it was a must-try restaurant. It was a severe disappointment when I had dinner there last night, especially in terms of service and ambiance. ¬†It does not match the level of the 5-star hotel in which it is located.

I had booked earlier in the day, when I walked past, surprised to find the 16-bedroom five-star hotel on popular Church Street in Stellenbosch. When I arrived just after the World Cup Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: no energy at The Turbine Hotel’s Island Caf√© in Knysna!

Turbine Hotel Reception Whale CottageYesterday I had to be present as the claimant in a court case relating to housebreaking and theft of my house in Plettenberg Bay ten months ago.   My 24 hours in the town were a huge disappointment in more ways than one, the lowlight being dinner at the Island Café at The Turbine Hotel & Spa on Thesen Island in Knysna, a most unprofessionally run 5-star hotel.

I had wanted to stay at The Turbine Hotel for my short visit to Knysna, and had tried to make a booking with the gentleman answering the phone. ¬†He told me that the hotel cannot take bookings on a Sunday, and that I would have to be called back the following day. ¬†Millicent Jack from Reservations dutifully called the next day, and described her colleague as having been ‘lazy’ in not taking my reservation the day before! I could not stay there, fortunately in retrospect, as the Knysna Court advised that I could only stay at Tonquani Lodge in the Knysna Forest outside of town. ¬†An offer to pay in the difference was rejected, this being a Department of Justice directive, I was told. But that is a different story to come, the 5-star Tourism Grading Council of South Africa grading for the lodge being completely inappropriate. Continue reading →

‘Platter’s by Diners Club 2015 South Africa Wine Guide’ launched with a number of changes!

PLATTERS 2015 Guide CoverThe 2015 Platter’s Wine Guide was launched at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel last night, in a Beaujolais Ferment colour, with a number of changes in terms of its methodology to evaluate the 5 star wines, ¬†as well as in the content of the Wine Guide. Out of 6000 wines submitted for evaluation, a total of 50 wines and one brandy received the highly desired 5 star rating. The Platter’s Winery of the Year is Sadie Family Wines, the second time that Eben Sadie has received this accolade. ¬† DeMorgenzon Reserve Chardonnay 2013 was named the White Wine of the Year, Platter's JP Rossouw Whale Cottageand De Trafford Blueprint Syrah 2012 was named the Red Wine of the Year.

The first Platter’s change is that JP Rossouw has been the new publisher for the past year, looking confident last night, relative to his first more restrained presentation a year ago. ¬†It was nice to see former publisher Andrew McDowell Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: TRUFFLE first ‘5 star 100% Halaal Fine Dining Bistro’ in Cape Town not yet ‘5 star’!

Truffle Exterior Whale CottageThe bottom end of Chiappini Street has housed two of my favourite restaurants in their time – Bruce Robertson’s The Showroom and Cormac Keane’s Portofino, both the talking point of Cape Town in their time. ¬†After a surprisingly long tenancy by low class Leaf, a smart ‘5 star 100% Halaal Fine Dining Bistro‘ has opened, called TRUFFLE. ¬†The restaurant was opened to offer top-end Halaal cuisine, which has not been available in Cape Town before. ¬†The name was chosen for its association with indulgence, which is echoed throughout the restaurant.

I had seen the exterior branding whilst driving down Buitengracht Street a week ago, but could not find any website via Google. ¬†Yesterday I stopped by, and was astounded how the restaurant interior has changed since Leaf occupied the space until about a year ago. ¬†Mohammed Adam was kind enough to spend time with me, to share information about the restaurant. Truffle Mohammed Adam Whale Cottage¬†He and Nisreen Ebrahim are joint owners, Nisreen and her husband Rafiq being previous owners of four fast food outlets they would not reveal the names of (LinkedIn revealed that they were Nando’s outlets), and took over the space in January. Mohammed did all the interior design, after some building work was done, half of the upstairs being closed off by means of a wall now, to give the kitchen double volume space. ¬†Almost everything has been changed, other than the wooden floor in the outside section, with a new wooden floor upstairs; new wooden steps for the staircase to match the tops of the tables and the Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: Dinner at Queen Victoria Hotel’s Dash is dashing!

I was invited to try out the 34-seater Dash restaurant in the Queen Victoria Hotel, which only opened in the Waterfront on Saturday, last night.   Chef Steven Tempelton is the leader of a creative team at Dash, whose food not only was visually appealing, but excellent too, and was responsible for a most dashing dinner.  Dash is one of the best fine-dining restaurants in Cape Town, and an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant coontender for 2012.

The 35-bedroom Queen Victoria Hotel, previously the V&A Waterfront company head office, cost R53 million to transform into 5-star luxury, and the interior decor was done by master ‘craftsman’ Francois du Plessis, who has also just done Dear Me restaurant.¬† Cleverly, Newmark Hotels MD Neil Markovitz has arranged for the nearby Everard Read gallery to hang some if its artists’ works in the hotel, benefiting both parties.¬†Dash has been honoured by¬†a dominant work by Beezy Bailey.¬† The work is called “The Storm has passed”, and reflects the style of food created at Dash.¬† The back of the painting has a poem by Bailey:¬† “As the storm cleared/The dove escaped the cat’s claws/While the blueberry elephants passed by./As God’s tears hit the sky,/they turned into¬†flowers”.

I was welcomed on arrival¬†in the lobby, in which the 30-year old bonsai imported from China holds centre court,¬†by Food & Beverage Manager Alton van Biljon, whom I had already seen in action last week, when I popped in for a tour around the hotel, led by Markovitz and the hotel’s¬†PR consultant Ian Manley.¬† Alton has always been a most charming host when he worked at Balducci in the past four years, and has impressed with his knowledge of and passion for wine.¬† He started his career in retail.¬†He moved into hospitality, and worked at Belthazar and Poplars before managing Balducci.

Chef Stephen Templeton grew up in Somerset West, and has been the Executive Chef at Sun City and the Mount Nelson Hotel.¬† He also was head of a team of 47 chefs at Harrods, the largest Food & Beverage operation in Europe, he said.¬† After a four year period in running Four Oaks guest house and restaurant¬†in Montagu, he had an opportunity to sell it, and move back to Cape Town. It was in this time that he was approached by Newmark Hotels to become Group Chef, mainly responsible for their restaurants at the V&A Hotel, Dock House and Queen Victoria Hotel, all in the V&A.¬† Chef Stephen says that he was hands-on in the development of Dash, in sourcing its crockery, cutlery and glassware, in developing a fine winelist, and creating the unique menu.¬†¬† The name for the restaurant was the result of a five hour brainstorm with the hotel’s executive team, and it was Ronan Jackson from the design agency that suggested the name, after¬†Queen Victoria’s¬†spaniel.¬† Chef Stephen and Francois du Plessis worked together to create a ‘New York sexy’¬†interior and menu that complement each other, and Du Plessis has said that¬†it is¬†the first time that his decor has been so well matched by a menu.¬† Chef Stephen is aiming at presenting ‘sophisticated, stylish, contemporary yet simple food’ at Dash, which he more than achieves.¬† He wants the food’s personality to shine through, not that of the chef.¬†¬†Chef Stephen has an interesting team of nine chefs in the kitchen, with an average age of 24 years.¬†¬† We laughed when we discovered that there is a Chef Jamie and a Chef Oliver in the kitchen.¬† I met Chef Oliver Cattermole, who created the ‘Alice in Wonderland garden’ of vegetables that is served with the beef fillet.¬† He worked at one-Michelin-star Novelli, and at The Ivy in London.¬† All staff have been taught to make coffee, and have tested the menu, to allow everyone to assist guests, as if one were in a guest house and not in a hotel, Chef Stephen said.¬† The waitress looking after me was Coral, and was honest in saying that she has just finished studying, and that¬†Dash is her first job.¬† She was sweet, willing to execute every request,¬†but still lacked some knowledge on how the magic is created in the kitchen.¬† She went to ask the kitchen all my questions.¬†The staff wear a white shirt with the Queen Victoria Hotel logo on it, black pants and a white Dash-branded apron.

The welcome was warm, with Alton taking me through to the lounge, where I was invited to have a drink.  I chose a coffee.  Chef Stephen was happy to hear that I had starved during the day, in anticipation of the dinner.  Vegetable crisps were brought to the table as a snack.  I asked Chef Stephen what would happen if the 34-seater would run out of space in the 35-room hotel, and he assured me that they would pass the business on to the other Newmark Hotel restaurants in the Waterfront. Chef Stephen sees Dash operating in the league of The Roundhouse, The Test Kitchen and Aubergine. 

The restaurant has a black tile floor, an impressive black marble surround fireplace dividing the lounge/bar area from the restaurant, beautiful silver curtains, and a wonderful view onto Table Mountain.¬†¬† The Beezy Bailey is the only colour splash in the room.¬† The tables are black metal, made by ‘in’ designer Gregor Jenkin I was told by Francois du Plessis,¬†with white leather chairs.¬† There are no table cloths, but a¬†good quality serviette, with very heavy and solid Sambonet cutlery imported from Germany, the first time I have seen this locally.¬† The glassware is excellent.¬† There is a little candle, and rather ordinary tiny white salt and pepper¬†cellars, probably superfluous anyway, given the excellent food, not requiring seasoning.¬†¬†The only criticism I shared with Alton was the music selection, being heavy jazz initially, and sounding hotel-like generally.¬† I reminded him of the great music one hears at Belthazar and Balducci.¬† The bar is lit with purple lighting at night, and bounces off the bar chairs, creating an interesting visual affect as one enters the bar area.¬†¬†The colour of the lighting changes throughout the day.

I chose a starter of confit of crayfish on a cucumber sockle with a coriander and paw paw salad (R145).¬† The impressive part of its presentation was the paw paw crisp, creating a centerpiece to the starter, and tasting sweet and crispy.¬† Chef Stephen explained that paw paw is liquidised, then glycerine is added, it is baked for nine hours, and then thin slices are cut to create the crisp.¬† The cucumber was as fresh as could be, as was the salad, the paw paw in it echoing the crisp.¬† Sorrel foam completed the presentation.¬†¬†No sauces got in the way of the natural fresh taste of the elements of the dish.¬†No fish knife was served with this starter.¬† Other starter choices, ranging in price from R55 – R145,¬†include beetroot cured salmon, oysters served on seaweed, wild mushroom rago√Ľt, Ceasar salad, seared foie gras, and caviar (SQ).¬† The surprise was the most amazing sorbets that were served, and I was allowed three: I chose the Tomato Granite, to which Coral added vodka; a most refreshing Lime & Lemon; and the most amazing Rose, complete with its own rose petals dipped in egg white and crystallised.¬† The sorbets cost R25 for a choice of three.

The main course choice of Grilled fillet of beef with herb mash and spinach pur√©e with vegetables and port jus (R140)¬†has created a stir.¬† This menu description does not do justice to the amazing creation that arrived – three slices of fillet on mash, but it was the presentation of the vegetables that created the ‘wow’ response, dubbed by the staff as the ‘Alice in Wonderland garden’, an amazing symphony of carrot, tomato, mushrooms, orange-coloured¬†mini corn-cob, baby radish, baby aubergine, baby turnip, sheets of cauliflower stalk, and tomadillo (tasting of tomato with the texture of aubergine, looking like a green gooseberry), so beautifully presented.¬† Chef Oliver called it ‘psychedelic vegetables’, and told me that he sources them from the Magic Man in the Karoo.¬† Main courses are reasonably priced, some being cheaper than the starters, and range from R95 to R145 for¬†roasted sea bass, lobster tortellini, venison, tomato and beetroot tart, scallops, lamb noisette, and duck confit risotto. ¬†The dessert list consists of four options, ranging from R50 – R70, in addition to a Cape cheeseboard (R115), and I chose the Pimms jelly, mint bavois and strawberry sauce, beautifully presented with a long elegant spoon, and well paired with a glass of Silverthorn The Green Man sparkling wine (made by Steenberg GM John Loubser in his private capacity).¬†Other dessert options are chocolate fondant, coconut panacotta, and liquorice macaroons. ¬†Coral brought a cappuccino made with Origin coffee¬†to have with the dessert, and a sweet touch was a jug of extra froth, showing that Alton must have read a Tweet of mine a few days ago about the extra froth a waiter had brought me at Salt Deli, also a Newmark Hotel property.

Alton indulged my love for Shiraz, and poured a glass of Quoin Rock 2006 (R208 per bottle), with violet notes.¬†¬†Coral brought tap water with an ice bucket and slices of lemon.¬†¬†The winelist is impressive, bound in grey leather, with the hotel logo on it.¬† Champagnes and MCC sparkling wines are at the back of the winelist, normally found at the front.¬†¬†¬†Each wine variety is described, and the origin and vintage of each wine is presented, as are the tasting notes for each wine, generated from¬†a tasting panel’s evaluation of each of the about 100 wines listed.¬† This is a future Diner’s Club Diamond Award winelist candidate.¬† The champagnes start at R 940 for Guy Charbaut Select Brut NV, going¬†up to R3500 for Dom Perignon Vintage.¬†Veuve Cliquot Ros√©, Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve, and Pol Roger Brut Reserve are also available.¬† MCC’s start at R200 for Moreson Solitaire, with High Constantia Clos Andre costing R445.¬† Shiraz choices start at R 205 for Raka Biography, up to R 1390 for Saxenburg SSS Shiraz 2005. The wine-by-the glass policy is interesting – there are no prices for these, but one can order any wine on the list by the glass,¬†within reason, and then Alton and his staff will try to sell the rest of the bottle to other guests.

If there is one taste at Dash that I will never forget it is that of the Rose sorbet – a taste I have never experienced before.¬† Dash is excellent, and perfect, and I know that the music selection will be addressed, as will the waiters’ food knowledge evolve.¬† They are so many items on the menu to return to, to try out.¬† From photographs of the other¬†menu items¬†it is evident that each dish is a work of art in presentation alone. The kitchen closes at about 22h30, but one can pop in at the 24-hour Dash bar for a drink, a coffee or even a dessert, ordered from the room service menu, after the kitchen has closed.¬† After being a loyal V&A Waterfront shopper for twenty years, it is refreshing to have such an excellent quality restaurant so close by, yet away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial Waterfront area.¬† I salute Newmark Hotels’ MD Neil Markovitz and his team¬†in creating such an exceptional restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 14/4: I went back to Dash for a quick coffee and more sorbet, and to show my colleague the Queen Victoria Hotel and Dash restaurant.  Restaurant Manager Darren looked after us, and organised the extra cappuccino foam on the side, from reading this review.  The hotel is almost booked out with delegates from Brazil attending a Tupperware conference.

POSTSCRIPT 8/5: Staying over at the invitation of the Queen Victoria Hotel presented an opportunity for me to introduce my son to Dash, which he was very impressed by.¬† Food & Beverage Manager Alton van Biljon¬†was most generous in offering us a bottle of Hartenberg The Stork Shiraz 2005, knowing my love for an old-style shiraz.¬† The chef sent out two complimentary dishes to those we had ordered: the appetizer was a tomato, basil, and mushroom dust, served on a heavy slate plate, reminding me of the work of Eric Bulpitt, previously of Jardineand now at The Round House.¬† We both ordered a filling starter of wonderful wild mushroom ragout in puff pastry, served with green beans and bearnaise (R65).¬† Alex had the beef fillet with the ‘Alice in Wonderland vegetable garden’, while I ordered¬†Springbok loin, carrot pur√©e and turnip gratin (R135).¬†¬† We shared a trio of Rose, Lemon and lime, and Orange and citrus sorbets (R25).¬†¬† The chef sent out a complimentary pannacotta and lemon sorbet for usto share.¬†¬† A wonderful evening, once again with an excellent meal, and charming and highly-impressive service by Alton.

POSTSCRIPT 15/5: I returned to Dash with Carole, my colleague in Hermanus, and we were well looked after by Restaurant Manager Darren and Chef Oliver Cattermole.¬† I tried the Duck Confit Risotto with citrus and herb potpourri, the potpourri containing tea, dried duck (tasting like biltong) and herbs, and served in a separate bowl, which I sprinkled over the risotto.¬† Carole had the Beef fillet and the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ vegetable garden.¬† For dessert we had the Chocolate Fondant, which oozed Valrhona chocolate sauce when we opened it, with orange ice cream, a beautiful presentation.¬† I had my cappuccino with a jug of extra foam, always a nice touch! It was great to meet One&Only Cape Town Hotel Executive Chef Jason Millar, who was celebrating his anniversary at Dash, and to hear a chef’s reaction to the food of another chef – he was most complimentary.¬† Chef Oliver Cattermole is the driving force in the Dash kitchen, in my opinion, and has¬†created a vegetable and herb¬†garden on the roof of Newmark Hotels’ V&A Hotel, from which he will harvest for his kitchen in future.¬†¬†

POSTSCRIPT 25/5: Another lovely lunch with excellent service at Dash today, spoiling my friend Jenny to a birthday lunch.¬† She was surprised to receive a birthday card from the hotel, and a surprise chocolate fondant dessert with her cappuccino.¬† Jenny’s Beetroot cured salmon with horseradish apple slaw was beautifully presented.

POSTSCRIPT 1/7: Today I took Trevor Jordaan for a birthday lunch at Dash.  I ordered a Cape Malay butternut velouté, while Trevor had a chicory and pickled pear salad, both beautifully presented.  Happy to hear how well the restaurant is doing, and has appointed an Assistant Manager Andrea.

POSTSCRIPT 3/8: Sadly, Restaurant Manager Darren Morgan left the hotel on Monday.  F&B Manager Alton van Biljon has taken a leave of absence, and his return date is uncertain, if he returns at all.  Andrea confirmed this evening that lunch will not be served at Dash for the time being.

POSTSCRIPT 12/8: I had the Mushroom Ragout again this evening, and the pastry casing was tough, and the size of the dish has definitely shrunk.¬† No Andreas Shiraz was available, which I had tried at Dash for the first time a month ago, when Michael McKenzie and I popped in.¬†The waiter asked how I enjoyed the dish.¬† I said I didn’t, due to the shrunk size and tough pastry, to which he confidently retorted that the perfect pastry casing is tough! Chef¬†Jamie was in the kitchen this evening. I shared the problem with Hostess Connie, and she apologised.¬† The waiter told me that the kitchen was sending out a second Ragout, but Connie arrived with the bill, having taken the Ragout off it, saying that the waiter had told her I didn’t want the replacement Ragout.¬† I got up and left in disbelief at this comedy of errors, the first evening of serious dissatisfaction at Dash.

POSTSCRIPT 25/9: We had a ‘last supper’ at Dash this evening, one of the last nights that Chef Oliver Cattermole will be in the Queen Victoria Hotel kitchen, before he starts at What’s On Eatery on Saturday. ¬†I chose the Foie gras with apple, excellent, but pricey as a starter at R140. ¬†My son enjoyed his Duck risotto (R125). ¬†The Rose sorbet no longer is dark pink, as photographed above, and doesn’t taste as amazing as I remember it. Service efficient but functional, and the personal touch has gone. Excellent Andreas Shiraz 2008 now my favourite Shiraz. ¬†Sad to see us being only one of two tables. ¬†Despite being told in early days that all wines on the winelist are available by the glass, the limit is that only bottles under R300 may be opened for wines by the glass.

Dash Restaurant, Queen Victoria Hotel, Portswood Close, Portswood Ridge, V&A Waterfront.   Tel (021) 418-1466.   www.queenvictoriahotel.co.za (The Dash menu and winelist are now listed on the website, but the Image Gallery does not contain enough photographs to reflect the amazing creativity of the Dash chefs).

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

Hotel Review: Rijk’s Country House is country kitsch, tries too hard!

I am very fond of Rijk’s Shiraz, having drunk it for the first time just after maze at the One&Only Cape Town¬† opened¬†two years ago.¬† When I saw the name of Rijk’s Country House as the only five-star accommodation option for a wedding weekend in Tulbagh, I¬†booked, given my¬†positive association with the wine.¬† But I should have known that a five-star “Boutique Hotel”, charging R 3000 per room per night in Tulbagh, was too good to be true, even though I was offered a hospitality industry rate reduction of 50%. ¬† The Hotel is not five star, in my evaluation, and tries too hard to please, and thereby fails.¬† It has a very kitsch taste in some aspects.

The reservation ran relatively smoothly with¬†Rijk’s directly,¬†but I did not receive a confirmation of my booking after transferring the 50 % deposit, and no response to my e-mail request¬†for the confirmation.¬† I therefore called Rijk’s, but only saw the number of a central reservations line, being that of African Pride Hotels, the luxury arm of Protea Hotels, who do the marketing of and bookings for Rijk’s.¬† The African Pride Hotels link to Rijk’s gave me confidence in its calibre.¬† I was put through to the sales department, and spoke to an unfriendly ‘machine’, who was speaking too fast, and he must have got annoyed when I told him that I could not understand him, and requested that he slow down.¬† He responded by putting down the phone. I then found the Tulbagh number of¬†Rijk’s lower down on the website, and called them directly.¬† Here too the telephonic communication was a struggle, until I was put through to Andretti, who did confirm telephonically that all was in order, and he¬†did so by e-mail as well.

Louisa Colquhoun, the General Manager of the 15-bedroom Rijk’s Country House, called a few days before our arrival, and apologised for the problems with the interaction with African Pride Hotels, and requested more details about the person I had spoken to there.¬† She told me that she had been sent a link to this blog by her boss, and that her boss is a regular reader.¬†

Our journey was beset¬†with delays, and we only arrived at 8.30 pm on Friday.¬† We had to call en route,¬†to find the best way to drive to Tulbagh from Franschhoek, not having been sent any directions.¬† Here too we had communication problems, in getting¬†clear guidelines as to how to drive to Tulbagh from Wellington.¬† There is no signage in Tulbagh to direct one to the town centre, or to Rijk’s¬† from there, so we had to call again.¬† When we arrived, Louisa came out to the car, to greet us, and walked us inside.¬†Two staff members almost ‘sang’ a welcome to ‘Chris and Alex’, even before we were introduced to them, and we were ‘Chris and Alexed’ by all staff throughout our stay, a little too familiar, I felt, quite a contrast to the ‘Ms von Ulmenstein’ treatment experienced at the 5-star Taj Hotel¬†recently.¬† One of the staff had a tray of welcome Rijk’s Shiraz 2004¬†for us, very generous in its pouring.¬† The other tray had towel cloths for us to use, but we did not have enough hands to take the glass and the cloth plus what we were holding already, so we could not partake of this service.¬† Louisa showed us the lounge, the Polo Wine Bar, where they do winetastings too, and the Que Sera dining room, where they serve breakfasts and dinner, and we stayed¬†to have dinner¬†immediately, without first seeing the room.¬† Louisa gave me the Guest Registration Form to complete, and most of its clauses would not pass the new Consumer Protection Act¬† with its ‘legalese’, and the waivers and indemnities.

Dinner at the 32-seater Que Sera was a hit and miss affair, mainly because we were left with a junior waitress Chantel, who was generally unknowledgeable.¬† We were the only guests dining.¬† I asked¬†Chantel who the chef was, and she said¬†her name is¬†Joan.¬† She knew nothing more about her, other than that she had worked at Rijk’s for 21 years.¬† I did not realise that it had been open for so long.¬† She said the owners of the Rijk’s Country¬†House are Stuart and Mason Cranswick, who lease the buildings from Neville Dorrington, the owner of the Rijk’s wine farm and Private Cellar.¬†The staff wear a turquoise shirt and black pants and black apron. Chantel said that she has been at Rijk’s for three years already, and worked at Paddagang restaurant previously.¬† The lighting was very low, until we asked for it to be turned up a little.¬† The room walls are bare, except for two pictures over the fireplace, but did not seem to be original works of art.¬† The white table cloth¬†had a runner over it, and the beige chairs were comfortable.¬† A vase with a carnation and a candle were on the table.¬† Eetrite cutlery was modern in design and functional.¬† A wooden board arrived with a tasty seed-topped mini-bread, olive tapenade, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.¬† When my son asked if the tapenade contains anchovies, the waitress confirmed this, so she found us some anchovy-less tapenade.¬† The menu is in a brown plastic cover, and refers to “Rijk’s Boutique Hotel”, showing some confusion as to its identity and positioning.¬† Each page of the menu is dominated by the blown-up Rijk’s¬† Country House logo, over which the menu items¬†are printed, making it hard to read them all, especially in the low light.¬† My heart sank when I saw that three of the starters were served with sweet chilli sauce.¬†

We were warned that the Beef Wellington (served with a choice of starches, my mash topped with fresh coriander) would take 20 minutes to make, which we said was fine, given that I had ordered a nicely presented Avocado Ritz¬†starter.¬† I enjoyed both dishes, except that the Beef Wellington (R120)¬†only contained mushrooms and no chicken liver pat√©.¬†¬†The fillet was perfectly cooked medium rare, as requested. My son was not happy with the Wild Mushroom and Thyme¬†Risotto (R80), being completely overcooked,¬†too salty,¬†not containing any identifiable thyme, and tasting of a spice which made it inedible.¬† We sent it back, but were still charged for it, until I asked Chantel to take it off the bill, which she did.¬† Starter options range from R37 for calamari steak strips.¬†Tempura prawns, peri peri chicken livers, gazpacho and¬†a soup of the day¬†are some other starter options. Main course prices start at R80 for the risotto, and¬†Pan-fried Citrus Salmon Trout costs R155,¬†expensive for Tulbagh, I felt.¬† Steak is served three ways, and costs R100 – R140, and one can order a 150g¬†or 200g portion.¬†¬†¬† The menu states that one can order a salad or seasonal vegetables¬†as part of¬†the main course, but this option was not presented to us, and I did not see it on the menu when we were ordering.¬† We did not order any desserts, costing about R30, but could have had desserts from a trolley, a cheese platter (R66), fruit salad or sorbet. When I ordered a cappuccino, it took a good half an hour to get one.¬†¬† The very noisy industrial-looking coffee machine is in the dining room, so we could observe the process.¬† It took three attempts to get a cappuccino served in a cup, and not a latte in a glass, despite our clear request to Chantel. ¬† We were told that the coffee comes from ‘Beans for Africa’ and was called ‘Peru Organic’.¬† Just after the starter was served, Louisa came to check on us, and we did not see her again during the dinner, and she did not ask us later¬†for feedback about the dinner.

The wine list also has a¬†brown plastic cover, and no vintages are indicated.¬† House wines by the glass cost R28 for an unspecified white and R31 for a red wine.¬†¬†¬†Organic white and Ros√© wine by the glass can be ordered at R22, but the origin of it is not identified.¬† Moet et Chandon costs R750, Billecart Brut R690, and Billecart Salmon Ros√© R1088. Cap “Classic” sparkling wines include Krone Borealis Brut, at R120, and the Nicolas Charles Krone Marque 1 is the most expensive at R420. The winelist offers a Rijk’s wine¬†in each variety, and is not always the cheapest one offered – in fact it was the most expensive option in most cases.¬† There is a heavy 50 % mark-up on the Rijk’s’ wines relative to the next-door cellar prices, the Shiraz costing R205.¬† A page in the winelist provided prices of wines one could buy from the Rijk’s Gift Shop, at R128 for the Rijk’s Shiraz, and even the three champagnes on the winelist can be bought at about 50 % less!

The welcome letter from Louisa¬†introduced Tulbagh, described Rijk’s Country House as “country living at its best”, and¬†stated that “the hotel makes use of the farms water supply and is being treated”, which I did not read on arrival, and the bottled water drinking recommendation¬†was not explained to us verbally.¬†¬†I was impressed that the letter was personalised, in referring to the wedding we were attending.¬† Surprising too was the invitation to enjoy a winetasting in the Rijk’s Polo Wine Bar in the Rijk’s Country House, rather than in the Rijk’s Private Cellar¬† tasting room.

The rooms are actually cottages away from the core¬†reception building, so we had to drive to the cottage that we were allocated.¬† It is an open plan lounge and bedroom, with a large bathroom, and a separate loo.¬†¬† My heart sank as soon as I saw the rug,¬†a cheap floor decoration, and not a Persian carpet, which would have been¬†befitting of a five star room.¬† Also, the windows have cheap plastic blinds with a net curtain, shouting ‘cheap and nasty’.¬† The end result of such¬†‘curtaining’ is that it let in the light at 6h00, not exactly what one wants on a¬†precious weekend away.¬† The beds were requested to be twin, but the beds had been separated, so each of us had to sleep on a¬† precarious single bed, something I have not done in more than 30 years (in our guest houses we keep the beds together, but use single bed linen to make up the beds).¬† There was a nice selection of magazines, but I was surprised to find a ‘Franschhoek Style’ amongst them, marketing Franschhoek, competition to Tulbagh, especially when it comes to weddings!¬† Worst of all about the¬†cottage was a sickly sweet smell in the room, probably coming from a heavy dose of Charlotte Rhys room spray that had been sprayed¬†at turn-down, prior¬†to our arrival!¬† I had to open all the windows to get the smell out of the room, and almost froze to death, not being able to sleep as a result.¬†Spread out on the bed was a dressing gown, which may be the highlight of other visitors’ stay, but certainly is not a requirement, in my book.¬† On top of this was presented the turn-down ‘treat’, the most bizarre and kitschy¬†I have ever experienced – a pink wrapped mini ‘Christmas cracker’, with silver ribbon, containing … a pink and a white marshmallow!¬† There is a Belgian chocolatier (Moniki)¬†in Tulbagh, and it would have been more fitting to use their products.¬† I got up to write when I could not sleep for most of the night, and heard the loud staff arrival just after 6h00.¬†¬† The crowning glory was that there was no water coming out of the taps the next morning, something Louisa had mentioned the night before could be a possibility.¬† Whilst we had bottled water for brushing our teeth, we could not have a shower or bath in the musty smelling bathroom – to open its window one has to step into the bath to get to the latch!¬†¬†Water clearly is¬†a problem at Rijk’s, as a letter from Louisa, which must have been in the room, but which I only read on our return, explained about “water shortages and other difficulties”, urging us to use the bottled water supplied for drinking and in the kettle.

When we came for breakfast, Louisa came to apologise for the water situation.¬† She also said that she felt that¬†Rijk’s could not meet our requirements, and offered to refund our deposit payment.¬†I told her that we had already booked alternative accommodation for the second night. ¬†Whilst the water situation was inconvenient, but out of her control, I suggested to Louisa that she waive the restaurant bill of the night before as a make-good, which she accepted.¬† However, she wrote the following day: I spoke with my Shareholders on your departure and relayed the details of your stay. ¬†I explained that you had declined a full refund but requested the dinner be complimentary.¬† They requested I get in touch with you and request your bank details as they would like to ensure the return of your deposit.¬† I would be grateful if you would allow us to facilitate this.¬† Once again we apologise that your stay did not meet your expectations and look forward to hearing from you.”¬†

The Breakfast was served outside on the vine-covered Iceberg Terrace, with a lovely view onto iceberg roses, the vineyards, and the Wintershoek mountains.¬† The colour scheme for the table runners and outdoor chair cushions is grass green and turquoise, quite ‘loud’.¬†¬†The vase of fresh roses on¬†each table was a nice touch.¬†No breakfast buffet was laid out, but a collection of breakfast items was brought on a tray and put onto a stand next to our table, consisting of two yoghurt flavours, two cereals, a cold meat and cheese platter, fresh fruit served on a chipped plate, and a basket of muffins, scones¬†and¬†croissants.¬† I was served a perfectly made cappuccino, but was initially told that it was not possible to make one due to the water problem.¬† I suggested to Chantel that she use some bottled water.¬†¬†As we were the only guests having breakfast, it was surprising that the service was so slow.¬†¬†Chantel waited until we had finished our cereals before she asked for the egg order, and this took a good 20 minutes to be brought to the table, the eggs arriving quite some time before the toast, which I had to remind Chantel¬†about.¬† The orange juice was not freshly squeezed, and came out of a bottle.¬†¬† The estate handyman came to our table to also apologise for the burst water pipe, and explained that they were working on it.¬†¬†The music at Rijk’s made one very nostalgic, and included ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and a ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’.¬†¬† As happened¬† at dinner, Louisa was barely present at breakfast, and did not check on how we enjoyed it, and if there were any problems.¬† Understandably, she was stressed about the water situation.¬†Her deputy¬†did not¬†come to our table during¬†our breakfast.

So what can I praise: the free easy wireless (but slow) internet connection, even reaching to the cottage.¬† The lovely roses.¬† The generosity of the welcome drink.¬† Louisa’s apologies for things going wrong.¬† The good breakfast scones.¬† The setting and the view.¬† However, so many other aspects appeared amateurish and the staff poorly managed, that they¬†spoilt the enjoyment of our stay.

Rijk’s Country House, Tulbagh.¬† Tel (023) 230-1006. www.rijkscountryhouse.co.za¬†(The website refers to ‘Fine Dining’, but there is no menu nor winelist.¬† The Image Gallery does not contain a single food photograph.¬† The breakfast description includes reference to a daily newspaper, but we did not see one).

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

New Franschhoek Wine Valley Food and Wine Route puts Franschhoek restaurants and wine estates on the map

The Franschhoek Wine Valley (the new tourism body name, the “Tourism Association” part of the name recently having been dropped) Food & Wine Route has been launched to the media, and soon will be presented in a¬†new map, that will reflect the wealth of 42 restaurants, 48 wine estates and 3 delis and shops that sell foodstuffs¬†in and around Franschhoek. The new Food & Wine Route is a good marketing reaction to the increasing dominance of Stellenbosch as the new gourmet center of South Africa, and its large number of wine estates, even though the tourism association’s website still refers to Franschhoek as the “Gourmet Capital of South Africa”!

Last year we wrote about the Food & Wine Route when it was first announced, and from the initial information it appeared to have a broader focus initially.  Now the Route is more focused, and will incorporate mainly the restaurants and wine estates that are members of Franschhoek Wine Valley.   Interestingly, the geographic delineation of Franschhoek has been broadened to incorporate the wine estates and restaurants on the R45 between Klapmuts and Simondium, including Noble Hill, Backsberg, and Babel at Babylonstoren, on the basis that they have become members of the Franschhoek Wine Valley association, even if they fall under the Paarl wine district.   Strangely, Glen Carlou has not chosen to be part of the Franschhoek Food & Wine Route, it being one of the first properties one passes when driving to Franschhoek on the R45.

Tania Steyn, the Marketing Manager of Franschhoek Wine Valley, explained that this new project consists of two parts.  The first is the Food & Wine Route map, in A3 size, which will list all the restaurants and wine estates, the one side featuring those in the village, and the other side those that are outside Franschhoek.   The Food & Wine Route map will replace the most handy Franschhoek Wine map, which guest houses and their guests have found to be useful in highlighting all the Vigneron members in Franschhoek.  The second part of the project is an e-commerce platform for specific Food and Wine Route Experiences, that one cannot visit spontaneously without a booking.  The bookings will be made on the website, and it is hoped that visitors to Franschhoek will book a number of such experiences, and will therefore stay in the area for longer.

The wine estates on the new Franschhoek Wine Valley Food & Wine Route are Akkerdal, All√®e Bleue, Anthonij Rupert Wines (L’Ormarins and Protea brands, and home of the outstanding Motor Museum), Backsberg, Boekenhoutskloof, Boschendal Wines, Chamonix, Colmant Cap Classique & Champagne, Dieu Donn√® Vineyards, Franschhoek Cellar, Glenwood, Graham Beck Franschhoek, Grande Provence Estate, Haute Cabriere (with Pierre Jourdan sparkling wines), Holden Manz (previously Klein Genot), La Bri, La Chataigne, La Motte (with Pierneef art gallery),¬†La Petite Dauphine, La Petite Ferme, La Manoir de Brendel, Leopard’s Leap, Lynx Wines, Maison, Mont Rochelle, Moreson, My Wyn, Noble Hill, Plaisir de Merle, Rickety Bridge, Solms-Delta (with interesting slave museum), Stony Brook, Topiary Wines (newest Platter 5-star sparkling wine in Franschhoek), Val de Vie, and Vrede & Lust.¬†¬† These wine estates can be visited without appointment.

Those estates for which one must book a winetasting are Eikehof, Franschhoek Pass Winery (Morena sparkling wine), Haut Espoir, La Bourgogne, La Roche estate, La Vigne, Landau du Val, Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons and Von Ortloff.  Bellingham Wines, Klein Dauphine, La Chaumière and Veraison Vineyards are not open to the public at all, but their wines can be bought at the highly regarded Franschhoek wine shop La Cotte Inn on the main road in the village.

The Franschhoek restaurants and food outlets on the Food & Wine Route are Allora, Babel at Babylonstoren, Backsberg, Boschendal Restaurant, Boschendal Le Caf√© and Boschendal Le Pique-Nique, Bread & Wine, Caf√© All√®e Bleue, Caf√® BonBon, Col’Cacchio Pizzeria, Cosecha Restaurant at Noble Hill, Dalewood Fromage (but not open to the public), Dieu Donn√®¬†Restaurant, Dutch East, Elephant & Barrel, Essence, Fizz Affair Champagne Lounge, Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz, Freedom Hill Restaurant, Fyndraai Restaurant at Solms-Delta, The Restaurant at Grande Provence, Haute Cabri√®re, Huguenot Fine Chocolates, Kalfi’s, Fromages de France (La Cotte Inn),¬†¬†Le Bon Vivant,¬†Dish @ Le Franschhoek, Le Verger The Orchard Restaurant (Le Franschhoek Hotel), The Common Room, The Tasting Room, ¬†L’Ermitage Restaurant, Mon Plaisir at Chamonix, Mange Tout, Monneaux, Reuben’s, Rickety Bridge, Ryan’s Kitchen, Salmon Bar, The Country Kitchen, The French Connection, The Grill Room, The Jam Jar, The Olive Shack, and The Polo Club Restaurant (at La Vie).¬†Oddly, Pierneef √† La Motte is not listed, and one hopes this is just an oversight.¬†¬† Other missing restaurants are Caf√© Benedict, BICCCS, Chez D’Or, Cotage Fromage at Vrede & Lust, Crepe¬†& Cidre, Caf√© Le Chocolatier, Caf√© des Arts, and the Franschhoek Food Emporium.

The Franschhoek Food & Wine Route Experiences which one can book include the following:

*¬†¬† Solms-Delta Cape Music Tour, teaching participants about “Cape rural and vernacular music”. R 50 (minimum of 6 persons).¬† Monday – Sunday.

*¬†¬† Plaisir de Merle “Award-winning wines wine tasting”. R 20, and R40 if cellar tour added.¬†Monday – Saturday

*  Plaisir de Merle Flavour Sensation Tasting, food and wine pairing. R 50.  Monday РSaturday

*   Plaisir de Merle Wine & Chocolate Tasting. R 50. Monday РSaturday

*   Charcuterie Tasting with Neil Jewell. R 25 РR105. Daily before 11h00 and after 15h30

*   Franschhoek Cellar Cheese and Wine pairing. R 35.  Daily

*   Huguenot Fine Chocolates Chocolate Tour and Tasting. R 25.  Daily 11h00 and 15h00

*   Chamonix Grappa & Schnapps Tasting. R15.  Daily

*   Dieu Donné Micro-brewery and beer tasting. R15 beer tasting and R 35 for full bewery talk and tasters.  Daily

*   Babylonstoren Guided Garden Visit. R 20, Wednesday РSunday 10h00 and 15h00.

*   Le Bon Vivant Surprise Menu. R 485 for 5-course meal and wine, R360 without wine. Daily except Wednesdays.

*   Food and wine pairing at Pierneef à La Motte. R 195 for 5 pairings, extra R 50 for glass of La Motte MCC. Tuesday РSunday 12h00 Р14h00.

*¬†¬† Cape Gourmet Delights Tour, with stops at Grande Provence, Moreson and Vrede & Lust. R1995 per day includes “light lunch”.¬†10 persons maximum.¬† Monday – Friday.

A walking tour as well as a talk on ceramics are part of this programme, but seem out of place in not having anything to do with Wine or Food.

One hopes that the Franschhoek Wine Valley Food & Wine Route map will indicate which wine estates, food shops and restaurants sell foods, such as the vegetables, breads and chocolates at the Farm Shop at Pierneef √† La Motte; salmon products and breads at the Salmon Bar; the Mediterranean delicacies at The Olive Shack; wonderful freshly baked wholewheat bread at Grande Provence; breads and sweet treats at Caf√© BonBon and Caf√© Benedict; olive oils and balsamic vinegar at All√®e Bleue; heavenly chocolates as well as breads at Caf√© Le Chocolatier; Truckles cheeses at Franschhoek Cellar; and a selection of home-made pies, preserves, dips,¬†cold meats and breads at the new Franschhoek Food Emporium.¬†¬† It would be good if the fortnightly Farmers’ Market at Holden Manz also be listed.

We salute the Franschhoek Wine Valley for putting together this initiative, and trust that the Food & Wine Route map will be finalised and printed as soon as possible, given that the summer season¬†ends in two months’ time.¬†¬† We encourage Franschhoek Wine Valley to add the names of the¬†omitted Franschhoek restaurants, by encouraging them to sign up as members, so that the map can be as representative of the food and wine delights in Franschhoek as possible.

POSTSCRIPT 22/4: The new Franschhoek Wine Valley Food & Wine Route maps have been made available, and can be collected from the Franschhoek Tourism Bureau, or from Whale Cottage Franschhoek.¬† Oddly, it lists the two Pick ‘n Pays too, under the ‘Franschhoek Restaurants & Food section”.¬†¬†Following our recommendation above, the Franschhoek Food Emporium was added, but Caf√© Le Chocolatier, Caf√© Benedict, BICCCS,¬†Chez d’Or, Cotage Fromage, Crepe et Cidre, Caf√© des Arts,¬†and the new Le Coq are not on the map.¬† Other sources of food to buy, as listed two paragraphs above, are not indicated on the map.

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

Restaurant Review: No mange tout at Mange Tout, but Trout on the menu and in the kitchen at Mont Rochelle!

I had not been to Mange Tout Restaurant at Mont Rochelle Hotel in Franschhoek for a number of years, and with the appointment of the new chef Leigh Trout seven months ago, I felt that it was time to pay the restaurant a visit again.   There is no mange tout on the menu, but Chef Leigh Trout serves a good trout!   Service remains a weakness in this restaurant of the five-star Mont Rochelle Hotel.

Security is an issue when one arrives at Mont Rochelle, yet it isn’t when one uses the magic password “Restaurant”, despite not having pre-booked, and the boom was lifted without question nor details taken.¬† I was welcomed by a very confident security guard when I parked my car, and he offered his services to make my¬†booking, as he felt that there would be a table available for me.¬† This meant going to the receptionist, who nodded her head, and did not bother to show me the way to the restaurant (had I been a first-time guest).¬†¬† When asked, she said just go left and then right, and did not walk me to the restaurant.¬† The entrance to the restaurant is not clear, and¬†what is intended as the main entrance door is rarely used, judging by what I observed.¬† Most guests go to the terrace, and use that door to enter.

The previous restaurant, called La Couronne (also the name of the hotel at that time), was reinvented after a renovation following a fire, when the hotel changed its name to Mont Rochelle, and the restaurant had its own stand-alone name Mange Tout for the first time.  

I arrived at 19h30, and it was still light enough to see the lovely view the restaurant has on the Franschhoek mountains and the valley below.¬†¬† The restaurant has two sections, the view one being filled first.¬† It was noticeable that the hotel guests (four tables) are seated at the window with the view, and¬†the non-hotel guests were seated away from the windows.¬†¬† This section has a lovely fireplace, which makes the restaurant very cosy in winter.¬†¬† The second section of the restaurant has no view at all.¬†¬† The space is airy, and the thatched roof ceiling, the large tables with white table cloths and a mixture of light green and beige chairs create a light and attractive interior.¬† Most interesting is the ‘handbag’ tables next to each table, which allows the ladies to store their bags on a place other than¬†the floor, something only a lady could have thought of! ¬†Big candle holders are on the non-view tables, while the view tables have American-style table lamps.¬†¬† A¬†large daisy is presented in a square glass container, filled with glass balls.¬† There are candelabras and candles on the fireplace mantelpiece, creating a romantic atmosphere as the sun sets.¬†¬†¬†

A massive chandelier dominates the room, as does the white piano, played by Mont Rochelle legend Alfio, for whom guests return year after year.¬† I found the 90 minutes of continuous piano playing beyond irritating, and would not return if I knew it was still going.¬† But I was in the minority, the mainly British guests loving it,¬† and even starting to sing along!¬†¬† Alfio is such an institution that he has a sign with his name on the piano, and a dessert named after him (Alfio’s Duet).¬† Before he started playing, Kfm-like music was ‘broadcast’, and when Alfio finished playing, there was deathly silence, relative to the piano ‘noise’, until somebody remembered to put on more¬†of the ‘Kfm’ music.¬† I do love listening to Kfm’s music¬†in my car, but not at a 5-star hotel restaurant.

Despite it being over 30¬įC in Franschhoek, all the windows of the restaurant were closed and the airconditioner had not been switched on.¬† It became increasingly hot, and I had to ask for a window to be opened.¬† I was really pushing the limits when I asked for another window to be opened, and the permission of other guests had to be requested.¬†¬† The tables have good quality napery, contemporary cutlery – with a butter knife on the side plate –¬†and good glassware.¬†¬† There are no condiments on the table, clearly signifying that the chef feels he can prepare a meal without the need for anything to be added.¬†¬† The menu is printed on¬†good quality green A4 paper, with the Mange Tout name very low key on it.¬†¬† It contains an introduction by chef Leigh, a new trend that¬†I have picked up: “Welcome to Mange Tout!¬† Our Menu is an ever evolving work in progress, wherever possible focusing on the finest seasonal ingredients available.¬†¬† We whole heartedly¬†(sic) endorse environmentally friendly farming practices as well as humane free range animal rearing and much of our produce used reflects this”.¬† The last sentence seems quite a mouthful, sounding correct, but somehow artificial, in my opinion.¬†¬† The¬† five course¬†degustation menu is on the front page, while the a la carte menu is on the reverse side.¬† The chef is flexible, and one may¬†chop and change the items between the two menus.¬† The tasting menu costs R430 for 5 courses, but in reality these were 7 courses, with an amuse bouche and a palate cleanser as well.¬†¬† The a la carte menu costs R240 for 2 courses (although not specified on the menu), R 280 for 3 courses, R360 for 4 courses and R430 for 5 courses.¬†¬†

The waitress brought the bread basket to the table, and rattled off¬†the contents¬†as being focaccia, “stick bread” and “rye bread”, the latter being ciabatta in fact.¬†¬†Commendably the breads were served warm, but I had a bite of each, and could not eat more, finding them so below average per se, and even more so¬†for a fine dining restaurant.¬† The focaccia ingredients¬†included mushroom, olives and goat’s cheese, but¬†I only learnt this from the manager¬†Roelof later on, while the ciabatta was hard and tasteless.¬†¬†I found the quality of the waitresses far below par for a 5-star restaurant, and they come across as ‘robotised’, in rattling off a menu they had to learn but do not really understand, the Manager Roelof¬†being the only person offering quality service, and explaining the dishes.¬†¬† One particularly gruff waitress, who looks intimidatingly bossy and made no attempt to make eye contact or even smile, has been at Mont Rochelle for 10 years.¬† ¬†Another waitress I asked has been there for two years, yet was unable to explain the dishes when brought to the table, just saying “trout”, for example.¬† I had¬†asked for a jug of ice water,¬†but received a glassful, and had to request it to be topped up every time.¬† It became warm over the course of the¬†evening, and I had to request ice to cool it down again.¬†¬† There is no proactive service.

I had no intention to, but landed up having the Tasting Menu, mainly because it was too hard to choose what to leave out.¬† Chef Leigh cleverly has chosen favourite dishes¬†for his menus, including foie gras, asparagus, kingklip, tiramisu, souffle (which I was told is a signature dish of the hotel, preceding Chef Leigh) and of course ……. trout! ¬† The amuse bouche was a rather unattractive looking¬†dark green asparagus velout√© and oyster escalope, the waitress rattled off.¬† When I asked her what was hiding under the daisy, she had to find out from the kitchen, and said that ‘the black things’ were caviar!¬†¬† I am often disappointed by amuse bouches, as many chefs get them wrong, as being an opening shot at what they are capable of in the kitchen.¬† The batter-covered fried oyster was very unusual, but the velout√© was bland.¬† The foie gras starter was beautifully presented, and Chef Leigh likes his greens and oranges in food colour presentation.¬†¬† He used peach for colour, served au natural and as a mousse, with¬†two tiny triangles of ‘dark chocolate brioche’, not enough to have the foie gras¬†on, so Roelof brought a few more to the table – the bread basket offering would not have been suitable to have with the foie gras at all.¬† A chocolate bean on each foie gras slice was unusual.¬†¬† The steamed garden asparagus was a crispy composition in green, with fashionable micro herbs,¬†and contrasted with two dots of yellow created¬†with quail eggs.¬†¬†Other starter options are springbok carpaccio, cauliflower soup and “Walvisbaai Red Crab Tortellini”.

I couldn’t miss out on the seared Franschhoek Trout, and Chef Leigh¬†did his namesake proud.¬† My dish was served¬†with¬†‘cucumber noodles’ (lovely thin strips of cucumber) and pea mousse.¬†¬† The palate cleanser was apple sorbet, four balls being too much for what is intended.¬†¬†¬† I was looking forward to the¬†kingklip for the main course, but was disappointed with it,¬†having a¬†hard crust, and the chef’s sprinkling of coarse salt on top of the fish, something one cannot see until one takes a bite, making the mouthful taste¬†too salty.¬†¬† It was served with braised fennel, an unfortunate combination, I believe, as¬†the vegetable¬†has a very dominant taste, and it was not well washed, still having sand in it.¬†¬† Miniature sweet potato gnocchi was tasty, but very salty, and looked like little dog food pellets in colour and shape.¬†¬†¬† Orange and miso completed the composition.¬†¬† Other main course options on the a la carte menu were lamb puttanesca, lemon chicken ballottine, and beef tenderloin.

I loved the principle of the ‘deconstructed’ Tiramisu, which consisted of marsala sabayon (tasted warm and uninteresting), the mascarpone mousse piped on the plate, a wonderfully delicious coffee and savoiardi biscuit ice cream, and the cutest mini meringues, over which was presented a work of sugar art, which was ‘overkill’, as far as I was concerned.¬†¬†A peppermint parfait, the souffl√©, Alfio’s Duet and¬†a Vineyard Cheese Platter are other dessert alternatives.

Somehow the colour co-ordination went terribly wrong with the winelist, given the gentle white, beige¬†and green tones of the restaurant interior and menu, with¬†its blood red cover.¬†¬† ¬†¬†The winelist is a collection of mainly Mont Rochelle wines, and also describes the Winery, and the sister restaurant Country Kitchen.¬†¬† The first page lists all the Mont Rochelle wines, and these are the only ones that one can order by the glass.¬†¬† The Ros√© costs R26/R100, and white wines include a Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (R49/R194), an Unwooded Chardonnay (R44/R173) and Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (R54/205).¬†¬† The Miko Chardonnay sur Iie costs R509.¬†¬† The red wines include a 2004 Merlot (R58/R231), Miko Cabernet Sauvignon (R546), Artemis (R56/R200)¬†and the Syrah at R75/R289, which had the following description “smokey nose with black pepper, plumbs (sic) and black berries”.¬† I commented on the coldness of the Syrah, and I was told that it was chilled at 14¬įC.¬† I prefer a warmer red wine. ¬† An impressive list of champagnes contains sixteen options, starting at R385 for Tribaut Tradition, and peaking at R2450 for Krug Grand Cuv√©e.¬† Eight MCC sparkling wines are listed, starting with Villiera (R194), while a Graham Beck Brut¬†Ros√© is charged at R310.¬†¬† Two to three wines from other wine estates are featured per variety, each variety broadly described.¬† Wines from Austria, Germany and France are also available.¬† The Shiraz section includes two Franschhoek brands: Stony Brook 2006 (R176) and Boekenhoutskloof 2008¬†(R546).

Roelof was receptive to my feedback about the disappointing quality of the bread (surprisingly the pastry chef comes from the One&Only Cape Town)¬†and¬†the waitresses, and he is aware of the problem with the latter.¬† He is working on a¬†programme with Chef Leigh to improve their knowledge and service.¬† The bill arrived as duplicate slips, and I asked Roelof why that was, and he said one copy is for them.¬† It was hard to read in the low light.¬† The bill was ‘served’ with chocolate¬†friandes, not very exciting.¬†¬†

Even though Chef Leigh tried very hard to make his food look amazingly good, it fell short on the delivery, especially the bread,¬†kingklip, and friandises.¬† Maybe he is trying too hard.¬† The service deficiency relative to the quality of the food and the hotel star grading is a serious deterrent to going back, as is the piano!¬†¬† The restaurant has such amazing potential, but it seems as if¬†an ‘old’ La Couronne is fighting a new¬†Mange Tout, with old habits resisting and disturbing¬†the good work Chef Leigh and Manager Roelof are trying to do.¬†¬†It was disppointing that Chef Leigh did not come out of the kitchen and greet his guests.

Mange Tout Restaurant, Mont Rochelle Hotel, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-2770.   www.montrochelle.co.za (the website seems to be down Рthe restaurant has one page only, and contains the menu Рwhich is the same one as for the evening when I dined there last Thursday Рand has a few shots of the interior, but only one food shot).   Wednesday РSunday dinner, and Saturday and Sunday lunch.

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