Entries tagged with “95 Keerom Street”.


Amex Award tableLast night (7 September) the American Express Platinum Fine Dining Awards 2016 were presented for Cape Town, the Winelands, and the Garden Route at The Watershed in the V&A Waterfront, a total of 31 awards presented. Last night (14 September) the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal awards were presented at Katy’s Palace Bar in imageJohannesburg.

Interesting announcements made during the evening in Cape Town appear to indicate that the Platinum Taste Awards (new name from next year) will take Eat Out head on next year! At the awards event, the name change for next year was announced, as was that the Platinum Taste Awards will introduce seven award categories. It is no longer a criterion for a restaurant to accept (more…)

Diners Club Winelist Awards 2More restaurants in the Western Cape than in any other province entered and received a Diners Club International Winelist Award 2013. At the 30th Awards function held for the Western Cape at the Vineyard Hotel on Wednesday,  MasterChef SA Judge and Tsogo Sun Chef Benny Masekwameng announced the 38 winners in the Diamond, 30 in the Platinum, 26 in the Gold,  and 2 in the SilverDiners Club Chef Benny Whale Cotatge Portfolio Award categories, 96 awards in total.

Veteran wine critic Dave Hughes chaired the judging panel, which included fledgling judge Chef Benny, restaurant guide editor JP Rossouw,  wine judges Christine Rudman and Fiona McDonald,   Winestyle.biz owner Nikki Dumas, and the Cape Wine Academy head Marilyn Cooper.  He said that it was fitting that the Awards ceremony was held at The Vineyard hotel, the Newlands area having been the first in Cape Town in which grapes were grown, but soon (more…)

Last year Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly introduced a new series of complementary awards to the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, having been the sole judge of both sets of awards.  This year Mrs Donnelly made the fatal error of choosing UK Blogger Bruce Palling to give her credibility for her choice of Top 20 restaurants, out of which the Top 10 Restaurant list will be announced tomorrow evening.  She also has named the ‘Best Of’ awards her ‘Editor’s Choice’ awards, making it clear that she is the sole judge of the awards, and that Palling had no input in these awards.  We have already seen irregularities on the Top 19 Restaurant shortlist, so it will be interesting to see which of Mrs Donnelly’s favourites and friends will be rewarded in the ‘Best Of’ categories.

What is interesting this year is that the finalist restaurants in the six ‘Best of’ categories have been pre-announced, unlike last year, when only the Boschendal Style Award finalists were announced.   There is one exception, being the Best Italian category, for which the finalists have not been announced. Could it mean that this category is once again reserved for Mrs Donnelly darling Chef Giorgio Nava of 95 Keerom Street, last year’s winner in this category?

Something else that is noticeable is the vast number of listings in each of the ‘Best Of’ categories, which makes one think that New Media Publishing is dreadfully short of money this year:

*   they did not have enough money to put their Eat Out 2012 judge Bruce Palling into a first class seat to attend the Awards event tomorrow evening, as per Palling’s Tweet and confirmed by New Media Publishing

*   advertisers were hounded to place advertisements in the new Eat Out magazine, and the rates tumbled the closer it got to the deadline date!

*   even worse, the 24 reviewers were not invited to the Gala Awards dinner until a week ago, having been invited to the dinner in all the past years.  They were fuming in having been left out, and many made other plans for tomorrow evening, and will therefore not be able to attend.  The Eat Out Review Team is interesting in itself, with long-standing Eat Out reviewers Graham Howe, Diane de Beer, Greg Landman, and Errieda du Toit, to which have been added bloggers (but not known as restaurant reviewers on their blogs) Dax Villaneuva, Tandy Sinclair, and Ishay Govender. The remaining 17 reviewers – Carla Rossouw, Charlotte Pregnolato, Colette du Plessis, Frank Chemaly, Hennie Fisher, Janine Walker, Kate Ziervogel, Lee Middleton, Lisa van Aswegen, Louise Liebenberg, Marie-Lais Emond, Nothando Moleketi, Paula Mackenzie, Pero Lotz, Priscilla Urquhart, Richard Holmes, and Sdu Gerasch – are unknown.

*   linked to the above is the vast number of ‘Best of‘ restaurants listed per category, e.g. 43 in the ‘Best Asian Restaurants’ category, 24 in the ‘Best Steakhouses’ category, 33 ‘The Best Country-Style Restaurants’, 15 ‘Boschendal Style Award’ nominations, and an astounding 52 nominations for ‘Best Bistro’, a total of 167 restaurant nominations minus some duplications!  If the restaurants were to send a representative or two in the hope of winning the category award, a large number of seats for the Gala Awards dinner will have been sold!

The Bistro category sounds more like a ‘Proudly South African’ cuisine listing, and contains some odd nominations such as Hemelhuijs, Babel, Bread & Wine, Fyndraai, Gaaitjie, Ile de Pain, and many more on the list of 52!  A Bistro is defined by Eat Out as offering fresh and seasonal produce, having a small kitchen, limited staff, being homely, with congenial hosts, ‘endless amounts of wine‘, ‘spectacular food’, and regular menu changes.  An obvious exclusion is Bistrot Bizerca from this category, but being a Top 19 finalist may have excluded them from this category.  Worthy winners would be Bistro Sixteen82, Dear Me, and The Foodbarn. The nominees are in Johannesburg (Bellagio, Coner Café and Bistro, Eatery JHB, The Leopard, Possums Deli and Bistro, Salvation Café, Tashas in Sandton, Hyde Park, Melrose, Arch, Morningside, Rosebank, Village View, Thomas Maxwell Bistro; in Pretoria (Carlton Café, Karoo Café, Silver Orange Bistro, Zest Bistro); in Durban (9th Avenue Bistro, Bellavue, Craft Trattoria, Marco Paulo, Café 1999, Unity Brasserie and Bar); in Cape Town (Bistro Sixteen82, Constantia Uitsig, Dear Me, The Foodbarn, Hemelhuijs, La Mouette, Societi Bistro, Societi Brasserie, Woodlands Eatery);  in (undefined) ‘South’ (96 Winery Road, Babel, Bar Bar Black Sheep,  Bread & Wine, The Burgundy Restaurant, Café Felix, The Common Room, Fyndraai, Gaaitjie, Hilda’s Kitchen at Grootte Post, Ile de Pain, The Kitchen at Maison, Pembrey’s, Reuben’s Franschhoek – not meeting any of the defined Bistro criteria – Scotty’s, Sofia’s at Morgenster, Stables at Vergelegen); in (undefined) ‘East’ (The Bistro, Gordon’s Restaurant, Haricot’s Deli & Bistro, Skye Bistro at Fordoun, Two Dogs Bistro); and in (undefined) ‘North and Central’ (Mrs Simpsons, O’s restaurant).

The Best Country-style Award nomination list includes the controversial winner of 2011, being The Table at De Meye, a regular past photographer colleague of Mrs Donnelly.  Surprise omissions are The Kitchen at Maison, The Long Table, Fyndraai, The Millhouse Kitchen at Lourensford, Tamboers Winkel, Creation, Sofia’s at Morgenster, Oep ve Eet in Paternoster, and Johan’s at Longridge.  A likely winner would be Mariana’s, a regular past winner of a similar award, and a regular contributor to Taste magazine, as well as Babel, the restaurant with the most nominations (on Top 19 list, as well as Style Award, and Best Bistro nominee). Defined as ‘homely, heart-warming and belly-filling kos’, food in the style of one’s grandmother. The nominees are located in Gauteng (Bellgables Country Restaurant, Die Ou Pastorie, Meadow Green, Roots at Forum Homini, The Other Side Restaurant, Monaghan Farm, The Rambling Vine); in the Western Cape (Babel, Bramon, The Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle, Dassiesfontein on the N2 highway near Caledon, De Kaap in McGregor, Eight at Spier, Fynboshoek Cheese, Fresh, The Goatshed at Fairview, Havercroft’s, Hilda’s Kitchen, Houw Hoek Farm Stall, Karoux, Mariana’s, Mogg’s Country Cookhouse, The Stone Kitchen in Wellington, The Table at De Meye, Thyme at Rosemary’s Restaurant, Towerbosch, The Wild Apricot); and in KwaZulu-Natal (Café Bloom, Caversham Hill, Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, La Lampara, Nicolson’s Café, and Tumble Downs).

The omission of Belthazar from the Best Steakhouses category nomination list may relate to Eat Out ex-judge Bruce Palling‘s last South African dinner!  This category is typically won by a Johannesburg restaurant, the city being known for its collection of good steak restaurants. Nominees are in Johannesburg (Butcher Shop & Grill, Gray, The Grillhouse, HQ, Karoo Cattle and Land, The Local Grill, Smith & Wollensky Steakhouse, Thundergun, Turn & tender, Wombles); in Mpumalanga (Pioneers Butchery & Grill); in The Free State (The Phatt Chef); in the Eastern Cape (Flava); in Cape Town (Barristers, Carne SA, Cattle Baron – The Grill House, HQ, The Hussar Grill in Camps Bay, Karoo Cattle & Land); in Durban (The Grill Room at The Oyster Box, Havana Grill, Joop’s Place, Steak & Ale); and in Pretoria (Karoo Cattle & Land).

The Best Asian Restaurants list was an easy one to fill up, and contains last year’s winner Kitima, as well as popular Willoughby’s at the V&A Waterfront, potential Top 20 candidate Indochine, and Nobu (not eligible to make Top 20 list this year, due to a chef change).  The nominees are in Johannesburg (Al Makka, Dawaat Pakistan Restaurant, Ghazal North Indian REstaurant, The Good Luck Club, Koi, Kong Roast, Midori, The Red Chamber, Shanyana Vegetarian Restaurant,  Sitar, Yamato); in Pretoria (Guia, Shilla Korean Cuisine, Wing Hin); in Durban (China Plate, Gounden’s, House of Curries, Mo’s Noodles, Spice); in the Eastern Cape (Just So Chinese Restaurant, Shanghai); in Bloemfontein (Nagoya); on the Garden Route (Firefly Eating House); in the Winelands (Genki, Indochine at Delaire Graff, Okamai); and in Cape Town (1890 Sushi House, Biesmiellah, Bombay Brasserie, Bukhara, Chandani, Chef Pon’s Asian Kitchen, Erawan, Haiku, Kitima, Kyoto Sushi Garden, Maharajah, Maharaj Pure Vegetarian, Nobu, Saigon, South China Dim Sum Bar, Takumi, Willoughby & Co).

Pierneef à La Motte, Makaron Restaurant, Babel, The Greenhouse, Overture, Planet Restaurant, and The Tasting Room are nominated for a Top 10 and a Boschendal Style Award. Makaron Restaurant won last year, without Mrs Donnelly disclosing her consultancy relationship with the restaurant, and her accolade about the restaurant described the M Bar of Majeka House rather than Makaron!  Almost all the restaurants are more than a year old, with the exception of Burrata, a restaurant which Mrs Donnelly only got to eat at six months after it opened!  The nominees are Burrata, Keenwa (odd choice), The Restaurant at Waterkloof (consolation prize for losing out on Top 20 nomination?), Craft Trattoria in Durban, Babel at Babylonstoren, Café del Sol, The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, The Greenhouse (lots of bunnies), The Walnut Grove in Sandton, The Red Chamber, Tasha’s Le Parc, The ‘Greenhouse’ (sic – actually called the Babel Tea House!) at Babylonstoren, Hemelhuijs (an Abi favourite), The Kitchen at Maison, Pierneef à La Motte, Overture (a consolation prize?), Planet Restaurant (a consolation prize?), LIFE Grand Café, and last year’s finalist Kream.  Obvious omissions in this category are Casparus, Delaire Graff, and Indochine.  There is no obvious winner, especially as so few of the restaurants are new, but Hemelhuijs would be a strong contender, changing its decor regularly.

We await the announcement of the ‘Best of‘ category winners on tomorrow evening with interest!  It is clear that Mrs Donnelly could not have visited or eaten at each of the 167 ‘Best of’ nominated and Top 20 Finalist restaurants in the course of one year!

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

I am not a cooking program type at all, and have never watched any MasterChef programme.  Last night I watched the first episode of MasterChef SA, and loved every minute of it.  While there were some irritations, the tension that built up over the hour-long reality programme, the pithy comments from the judges, and the heartfelt emotions with tears and joy reminded me of a mix of ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ and ‘Idols’.

Interesting at the outset was the PG13 warning about strong language for the programme, which was not evident in the first episode.  From 4000 hopefuls starting off in Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, fifty out of 120 aspirant amateur chefs received a MasterChef SA apron, to attend the MasterChef SA ‘boot camp’. The judges Pete Goffe-Wood, Bennie Masekwameng and Andrew Atkinson have a combined culinary history of more than 50 years, they said proudly, and individually have cooked for royalty, for Johannesburg’s rich and famous, and have judged and participated in local and international competitions. The difference between a good and a great chef is the burning desire to be the best, the participants were told.  ‘Just being good is not going to cut it’, the judges added. Judges are searching for culinary perfection, and told the participants to go if that is not what they will deliver. Participants were told that the judges would be evaluating them on passion, skill, and the perfect flavour.  It was nice to see the multi-cultural and multi-gender mix of participants, even if the judges were all male, one of the first criticisms of the judges’ selection!  The judges appeared stiff initially, almost relying on the judgement of one of the others to be brave enough to say a dish was excellent or really bad, but they grew in confidence throughout the programme, being more bold to go against the majority view of the other judges.   The show was said on Twitter yesterday to have been R500000 over budget in its production.

Time-keeping was tough, each participant having thirty minutes to prepare their dish off-screen, and five minutes to plate it in front of the judges.  Initially the contestant names were seen on the screen, with the name of the dish, but towards the end of the first episode, fewer names were mentioned or depicted.  One could guess that if a profile of the aspirant chef was screened before he or she faced the judges, that the contestant would receive the MasterChef SA apron to get into the ‘bootcamp’.

Successful top 50 amateur chefs included Khayakazi Silingile, who prepared scallops and smoked salmon with an unusual rhubarb tart and orange juice, a colourful presentation.  The judges praised her ‘magical combination’ of ingredients and described her dish as ‘clever’.  Jade was a bundle of charm, energy, and confidence, and her chocolate tartlet with fresh berries and somewhat heat-melted cardamon ice cream won the judges’ approval, in that they said that she knows what she is talking about, that her dish was ‘magnificent’, and not ‘jaded’!  Callie-Anne was lucky to achieve two Yes votes for her fillet of beef with a mushroom and zucchini ragout, and started crying when she realised that the judges were not all ecstatic about her creation.  Sanjeev appeared over-confident, even singing for the judges, and his ‘lamb party’ curry dish was voted for by two of the judges.  Bongumusa received an apron, as did Sarel Loots. Ilse Fourie received a very strong vote of confidence from all the judges for her tagliatelle and salmon steak with a citrus dressing, for its taste as well as presentation, the judges showering her with accolades: ‘presentation is superb’, ‘tasted absolutely awesome’, ‘brilliant’, ‘you can cook with passion’, and ‘I was mesmerised by it’.  Lwazi’s crusted kingklip and Lungile’s duck burger and apple and plum sauce met the judges’ approval.  Chef Pete loved Deena Naidoo’s butter chicken so much that he took the plate back to his seat to finish off the dish, describing it as ‘moreish’ and ‘creamy’. An unnamed contestant made a sour cherry frangipane tartlet and served it with his home-made ice cream.  The judges could not stop eating it!  An unnamed contestant made ‘pap en vleis’, and was praised for her South African dish of a lamb chop. Luxolo received a sympathy vote from Chef Bennie, rewarding the scullery worker with a Yes vote for the passion in preparing his ‘Fish House’ dish of fish, mussels, and prawns.  He went down on his knees in tears when he received the vote to join the ‘bootcamp’. The judges appeared to drift away from their stated judging criteria in their evaluation of the dishes, not really providing any depth feedback about the dishes in culinary terms. Some of the recipes of the ‘bootcamp’ finalists are on the MasterChef SA website.

Wayde The Fudge Man from Johannesburg was less lucky, his pasta not having been cooked well enough, and was described by the judges as a ‘lump of goo’. A soup was described as a ‘bowl of emptiness’ by Chef Pete. The editors of the first episode were kind in showing very few of the dishes that did not make the grade, with the associated negative judges’ comments.   Interesting is that a contestant posted a complaint on ‘Hello Peter’ about the auditions at Montecasino on 3 December, for his dish being evaluated by one judge only, and no feedback having been given to him at all for it not making the grade. Chef Pete said about himself with a laugh: “It turns out that I’m less empathetic than I thought I was”.

Ads for sponsors Woolworths, Robertsons, Nederburg, Southern Sun, and Hyundai ran throughout the program, the advertising breaks being used to build up the tension about whether a contestant would stay or go. Lacking credibility in its running in the programme was Chef Reuben Riffel’s endorsement of Robertsons Paste, many viewers feeling that he would or should not be using Robertson’s herbs and spices in his restaurants!  Interesting is the pay-off line which Robertson’s was using in its ads during the programme, of ‘Masterclass’, nonsensical in that no contestant was seen to add any Robertson’s products during the show. The word means teaching a group of students, and is mainly used in a music context, and this is not what the programme is about, and therefore does not match the definition of the word. Interesting is that Robertson’s has appointed erstwhile chef Sonia Cabano as its ‘Social Media Manager’, she announced on Twitter a few days ago, and seems technically ill-equipped to deal with the demands of the position, asking for advice on running multi-accounts on Twitter, for example, and who has a reputation for causing trouble with other Tweeters.  She is outspoken about herself (writing about her ‘drunk tweeting’ last week, for example) and others.  One sensed the restraint with which she Tweeted when some Robertson’s Tweets were criticised!

Having visited a Woolworths branch in Sea Point yesterday afternoon, one would have thought that the retail outlet would have prominently advertised its participation in the programme and encouraged viewership via posters or flyers, but there was nothing at all to alert one to the programme or to Woolworths’ sponsorship of it.  The company commissioned Platypus Productions to direct twenty TV commercials to highlight its role as the food sponsor of the show.  Nederburg ran a few ads in the programme, but the setting of its transformed 1000 square meter Johan Graue Auction Hall venue was not visible to viewers.  The wine estate has launched new wines in conjunction with Woolworths, to coincide with MasterChef SA, and has also just announced that it is starting a series of online Winemaster’s Classes, which will be broadcast on www.nederburg.co.za, and viewers can win Le Creuset cookery sets. Interesting is that Spar advertising was allowed in the programme – Chef Pete Tweeted last week that his column in Pick ‘n Pay’s Good Living magazine has been cancelled after many years, due to Woolworths’ involvement in MasterChef SA.  Loreal was a non-food advertiser.

On Twitter the judges were criticised for not looking professional enough, in not wearing chef’s outfits, and looking rather formal with a tie (Chef Andrew), and jacket (Chef Pete).  The judges seemed inconsistent in their evaluation on occasion, either raving about a contestant, or destroying them in their cruel feedback at times. Kenneth Goldstone’s pan-fried kingklip and tarragon and mushroom sauce was highly praised by Chef Andrew, rejected by Chef Bennie, and even though Chef Pete did not seem enthusiastic about the dish, he gave it a Yes.  Not only the contestants were under pressure, but the judges too.  They started shooting on 4 January, and it was a tough 10 week schedule, 12 hours a day, six days a week, necessitating that they move to Paarl for the duration of the shoot, Chef Pete told Eat Out.  Interesting is the fuss that the publication made of Chef Pete yesterday,with an in-depth interview in a special newsletter to co-incide with the start of the MasterChef SA series.  Last year the publication fired Chef Pete as one of its Top 10 Restaurant judges. Chef Pete said that the judges were ‘blown away by the calibre of the contestants’, given that all were amateurs.  He predicted that the top five contestants will enter the culinary industry.   Chef Pete expressed his hope that MasterChef SA will be followed up by a second series.

POSTSCRIPT 21/3: A Kfm 94,5 presenter poorly read an ‘advertorial’ style ad about Chef and Judge Pete Goffe-Wood this afternoon on behalf of M-Net for MasterChef SA, with very out-of-date CV information – e.g. that he is the ‘author’ of the ‘newly launched book ‘Blues – Essence of Cape Town’ (the Blues staff say the book was launched about 5 – 7 years ago), that he is ‘currently involved in developing 95 Keerom Street for Rhodes House’ (the latter building was pulled down years ago, and the restaurant opened years ago), and that he owns Wildwoods (he closed down the Hout Bay restaurant almost a year ago)!  On his Kitchen Cowboys website he advertises his next Kitchen Cowboys course as starting on 23 August 2011!  The radio announcer called him ‘Pete Goffe’, all in all a very poor reflection on M-Net and MasterChef SA, and its judge Pete Goffe-Wood for his very out of date CV information!

POSTSCRIPT 21/3: One wonders why the M-Net publicity department is depicting the three MasterChef SA judges in silly photographs, as the one in this blogpost, as well as the ones in the Sunday Times last weekend, based on the Three Monkeys, using pumpkins to cover their ears, eyes, and mouth, and Chef Pete wearing a pumpkin as a hat! MasterChef SA is a very serious program for its contestants, and one would hope that the chef judges thought so too.  The pohotographs do not do the judges nor the program justice!

POSTSCRIPT 23/3: Sarel Loots Tweeted today that he did make the top 50 ‘bootcamp’ – our apologies for misinterpreting the judges’ sentiments, and we have made the correction.

POSTSCRIPT 23/3: It was just a matter of time before we (unintentionally) irritated Robertsons’ Social Media Manager Sonia Cabano enough with our questions relating to Robertsons’ ‘Masterclass’ advertising positioning in its MasterChef SA TV commercials that she blocked our Twitter account today, unprofessional behaviour on behalf of a client.  One wonders what she is signalling through this action, in wanting to hide something about her client! Being in defensive mode, she has Tweeted in particularly poor English today, using literal translations of Afrikaans words in the wrong context.

MasterChef SA, M-Net, Tuesdays, 19h30 – 20h30.  www.masterchefsa.dstv.com Twitter: @MasterChefSA

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

JP Rossouw’s Restaurant 3-star list is usually published ahead of the Eat Out Restaurant Awards. and helped to serve as a predictor for the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list.  This year it could not be used, as the Eat Out event is taking place a week earlier, and Rossouw Restaurants’ 2012 3-star list was only announced on Twitter for the first time yesterday, on the eve of the 2011 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards, taking place at the Rotunda at the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay this evening.

Interesting firstly is that a Platinum Award for best 3-star restaurant has not been awarded by Rossouw, writing on Twitter that “Rossouw’s 2012 Platinum Award for standout 3 Star not awarded this ed. Changes & notable newcomers not yet achieved a track record” .  Yet stalwarts like The Tasting Room, Terroir, Overture have been consistent and around for some time.

Comparing Rossouw’s list of 24 3-star restaurants with the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant finalist shortlist of twenty, the following ten exclusions from Rossouw’s 3-star list are evident:  Tokara, Pierneef à La Motte, The Restaurant at Grande Provence, Hartford House, Planet Restaurant, Bosman’s, Azure, Roots, Restaurant Maison, and Babel.  The ten restaurants that the lists have in common are Greenhouse, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, La Colombe, Nobu, Overture, The Roundhouse, The Tasting Room, Terroir, The Test Kitchen, and DW Eleven-13.  Bizarre is that Zachary’s at Pezula is included, in that it only operates two nights a week!

The 24 3-star 2012 Rossouw’s Restaurants are the following:

Western Cape:  95 Keerom Street, Aubergine, Bizerca Bistro, The Common Room, Greenhouse, Ile de Pain, Jordan Restaurant, La Colombe, Mariana’s, Nobu, Overture, Roundhouse, Rust en Vrede, The Tasting Room, Terroir, The Test Kitchen, and Zachary’s.

KwaZulu-Natal: 9th Avenue Bistro

Gauteng:  Butcher Shop & Grill, Cube, DW Eleven-13, Grillhouse, Ritrivo, and Thomas Maxwell Bistro.

Interesting is that two chefs have told me that recent reviews by Rossouw of their restaurants have appeared to settle old scores,  and that what Rossouw writes in his Business Day reviews often contradicts what he posts about the restaurants on his website or publishes in his book.  This is unprofessional behaviour from Rossouw, and may be a reason why his ratings and reviews have little significance.

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

On Sunday the long-awaited Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards will be presented at the Bay Hotel’s Rotunda in the presence of 360 chefs and restaurant lovers. This year sees a number of changes in the Awards, with the Top 10 name having fallen away as a generic title, due to the introduction of additional categories which have been judged, and the controversial sole judging of the winning restaurants in each category by Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly.

As we have done before, we predict the following restaurants to make the Top 10 Restaurant list, based on write-ups we have seen, our own experience, and patron talk.  No offence is intended to the chefs we have not included.  The list is not intended as a ranking.  Not knowing the Johannesburg, Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal restaurants, we are guessing those:

*   We have previously predicted that Chef Richard Carstens at Tokara will be Top Chef/Best Restaurant, for his creativity in food preparation and presentation, for continuously re-inventing himself and his dishes, for his quest to learn new things, and for the amazing El Bulli tribute dinner he prepared on 30 July.  The restaurant has just been selected by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network as the best Winelands restaurant in the country.

*   The Test Kitchen‘s Luke Dale-Roberts is most foodies’ prediction for Top Chef, and he does feature often in TASTE, the magazine that Mrs Donnelly is Food Editor of.  She told me recently that Woolworths chose Luke for a Christmas range, and that is why he receives so much coverage.

*   The Greenhouse at Cellars Hohenhort Hotel, with Chef Peter Tempelhoff, who has just been honoured as Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef, the first in Cape Town, and only the third in South Africa.

*    Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine is a stalwart, and while its restaurant building is not the greatest and grandest, George gets on with what he is excellent at, without any PR hype

*   The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais with Chef Margot Janse cannot be excluded from the list, for its listing as the only South African restaurant on the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

*   DW Eleven-13 with Chef Marthinus Ferreira in Johannesburg was a Top 10 restaurant last year. The only criticism I have seen about this restaurant is its location.

*  Hartford House in KwaZulu-Natal, with Chef Jackie Cameron, regularly on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list, the best that this province has to offer.

*   Chef Bertus Basson of Overture is another chef who reinvents himself and his food, and gets on with what he does well.  No PR hype.

*   Pierneef à La Motte with Chef Chris Erasmus has all the elements to make Top 10, but recently the food and service quality has started to slip.  The estate has been selected as top South African wine estate in the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.  Excellence drives everything that this estate does.

*   Babel is extremely trendy right now, and I hear lots of ooo’s and aaa’s about it, and is heavily booked, but it has only been open for lunch in its first year of operation.  Chef Darren Roberts of Grande Provence is a chef who gets on with things, quietly and creatively, and would be a more deserved Top 10 restaurant, this restaurant making the Top 10 every second year to date.

Other Top 20 Restaurant Finalists are Planet Restaurant, La Colombe, Nobu, Babel, Bosman’s, The Round House, Azure, Terroir, Roots in Johannesburg, and Restaurant Maison in Pretoria.

For the first time, Eat Out has introduced new Restaurant Award categories.  The Best Steakhouse Award could go to one of 29 steakhouses listed by Eat Out, and this may be where Johannesburg could have a winner, known to have a selection of good steakhouses, and making up almost half the Eat Out Steakhouse list.  In the Cape, Carne, Belthazar, and HQ are some of the steakhouses which feature on the list.

There are 18 finalists for the Boschendal Style Award, and this may be a little bit of a consolation prize for not making Top 10, and also gives newer restaurants which have not been open for a full year a chance at winning something.  The nominees for this category include Hemelhuijs, The Saxon, The Test Kitchen (an odd choice), Planet Restaurant, Thomas Maxwell Bistro in Johannesburg, Woodlands Eatery, Pierneef à La Motte, Kream, Makaron (at Majeka House, a consultancy client of Mrs Donnelly), Babel, Overture, The Grand Café and Beach (very odd!!), Rust en Vrede, Central One Restaurant (in the hotel at which David Higgs is the chef now), Dear Me Foodworld, Craft Trattoria, Pure, and Indochine.  If Babel falls out of the Top 10, it may win this award.

The Best Bistro Award finalist list has 43 nominees, and feels a little like a listing of every other restaurant which did not make the Top 10 finalist list.  Odd is how broad the ‘Bistro’ name has been stretched to include some restaurant nominees!  Bistro Sixteen82 should win this award, but stiff competition could come from Bizerca Bistro, Ryan’s Kitchen, Cuvee@Simonsig, The Common Room at Le Quartier Français, The Foodbarn, Dear Me, Franschhoek Kitchen, and Bread & Wine. Odd is to see Reubens Franschhoek on the list, which has continuous negative feedback.

I have not seen the Best Italian Restaurant nominee list, but Giorgio Nava’s PR machine has announced that 95 Keerom Street is one of the nominees.  He is a likely winner, embodying ‘Italianess’, but without charm!  The Best Asian Restaurant and Best Country-Style Restaurant nominee lists have also not been seen, and Mrs Donnelly did not wish to release the nominee lists.

Interesting is how the Eat Out Awards dinner has grown to 360 attendees.  If one calculates that each of the Top 20 Restaurant finalists will take a table, that leaves another 160 seats, not all filled yet, judging by e-mail reminders about the event.  With so many finalists and nominees, there will be many disappointed empty-handed chefs and restaurant owners on Sunday evening!

POSTSCRIPT 17/11: This Eat Out article has an interesting analysis of past Top 10 Restaurant/Chef winners, and some demographic break-downs of chefs as well.

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

I have been interested in the debate about which mozzarella is better – that which is made from buffalo milk, as is made by Wayne Rademeyer at Buffalo Ridge in Wellington, or that which is made from cow’s milk by Puglia Cheese in Cape Town.  My search for Stracciatella mozzarella, the most delicious spreadable mozzarella I first tasted at the Eat In Night Market a few months ago, led me on Friday to buy it directly at Puglia Cheese in Montague Gardens, and to meet the charming co-owner Ursula Ostuni.

Puglia Cheese was started as a joint venture by Davide Ostuni and Fabio Fatelli, both originally from the Puglia region in Italy, a year ago.  In a short time they have made their mark, in having won first place in the SA Dairy Championships Mozzarella category for their Burrata, and a second place for their Bocconcini, as well as a quality award for their whole Mozzarella range. One of Puglia Cheese’s biggest champions is restaurateur Giorgio Nava, who uses their mozzarella at 95 Keerom Street, Mozzarella Bar, and at Caffé Milano.  Initially he went to all his Italian restaurant colleagues in Cape Town, showing them the Puglia Cheese products, and now the company has clients such as Aubergine, Spar, Primi Piatti, Meloncino, Il Cappero, the One&Only Cape Town, the Mount Nelson Hotel, Giovanni’s, Nonna Lina, The Power & Glory, Wild Peacock Food Emporium, and all Melissa’s deli branches, just to mention some of the local outlets.  They distribute to the Garden Route as well.  Distribution via key Spar, Checkers, and Pick ‘n Pay branches is on the cards, which means that the company will move to bigger premises soon.

The star Mozzarella maker is Cosimo, who comes from Bari in Puglia, and does not speak English.  Ursula said he is the ‘key man’ at Puglia Cheese, being dedicated in almost single-handedly, and by hand, producing 300kg of cheese per day with only an assistant.  Hygiene is important, and I had to don a hair net, special shoe covers and a white jacket to go into the production room.  Production starts at 7h00, and finishes by lunchtime, and in the afternoon the products are packed and labelled, ready for delivery of the precious perishable products.  A machine is used to boil the cows’ milk, which comes from a Cape Town and a Stellenbosch farm, to which rennet, a curdling agent, is added, creating the foundation of all Mozzarella cheese.   Then Cosimo puts the curdled milk into 90°C boiling water, and with a wooden batten he shapes the cheese into ‘dough’, making it more and more pliable, out of which he makes ‘knots’, or the unique Nodino mozzarella not made by anyone else in South Africa, and is a typical Puglian mozzarella.  The same mozzarella dough is used to create a pocket into which straciatella mozzarella is added and then closed, to make Burrata.  A machine is used to make Fior de Latte and Bocconcini, but still needs Cosimo’s interaction with it in the production process.  Ursula told me that it took fourteen years for Cosima to learn the art of mozzarella making.

Davide grew up in Italy, and came to Cape Town on holiday, meeting Ursula at a party. She joined Davide in Italy, and said that it took some time for his mama to accept that Ursula would not be going away.  They went to London, where a friend of Davide’s worked, and he started as a waiter, worked at the Ritz Hotel, was a model, and started to learn to cook, but did not become a chef.  Ursula and Davide were in the United Kingdom for about thirteen years, and had five Italian restaurants in this period.  The last one they owned was located in St Albans and was called Carpe Diem, using only genuine Italian products, mostly imported and some home-made.  Once their first child was born, Davide moved into food-broking.  Having children, Ursula wanted to return home to South Africa, and they chose to live in Cape Town.  Both missed genuine mozzarella, only finding tough ‘tennis ball’ type local mozzarella here.  This led Davide to start making mozzarella, and establishing Puglia Cheese with his friend.  A future collaboration with Giorgio Nava, in creating more Mozzarella Bars, is on the cards. Ursula praises Nava, for his ability to use mozzarella in traditional recipes, but to adapt them by serving them with flair and elegance.

Mozzarella is made with buffalo milk in southern Italy, around Naples, and in central Italy, but the east coast and the rest of Italy makes mozzarella with cow’s milk, given that the milk is freely available, and that the mozzarella produced from it has a longer shelf life, resulting in about 80 % of Italian mozzarella being made with cow’s milk. Mozzarella made from buffalo milk is rich and creamy when fresh, but goes hard and sour after two days.  Its ‘dough’ is not soft and pliable, and therefore one cannot make mozzarella knots and balls from it.  Local mozzarella currently sold in supermarkets is likely to contain preservatives, to have a longer shelf-life.

Ursula emphasised that mozzarella should be taken out of the fridge an hour before eating it, to enjoy it at room temperature.  Different mozzarella cheeses have different expiry dates:  Fior di Latte (Bocconcini and balls) 18 days (in water), Burrata (in water) 9 days, Stracciatella 9 days, Nodini (in water) 9 days, and Treccia (in water) 9 days.  Should it be older than the expiry dates, it can be used for pizza, which is what Italian mamas would do.   Most food lovers associate mozzarella with Caprese salad, and therefore sales are high in summer.  Puglia Cheese is happy that food bloggers and writers are providing creative recipes for the use of Mozzarella in winter dishes too.   Ricotta cheese is also made at Puglia Cheese, and they are experimenting with the addition of peppercorns, chilli peppers, and walnuts for new products in future.

Disclosure: I was given a ball each of Burrata and Bocconcini to try at home, when I bought the Stracciatella mozzarella.

Puglia Cheese, Unit 5, The Gables, Prime Park, Printer’s Way, Montague Gardens.  Tel (021) 551-8538.  www.pugliacheese.co.za.   Facebook. Monday – Friday.

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

After writing about the disastrous error-filled and outdated Conde Nast Traveller  Guide to Cape Town earlier this week, it was refreshing to see a link on Twitter about the Telegraph Travel’s  ‘Cape Town City Break Guide’, written by local travel writer and ‘destination expert’ Pippa de Bruyn (author of a ‘Frommer’s Guide’ to South Africa and to India, and of  ‘A Hedonist’s Guide to Cape Town’), resulting in a far more accurate guide for the tourist visiting Cape Town.

The Guide kicks off with the Beauty positioning for Cape Town (the one that Cape Town Tourism has just thrown away by using Inspirational’, as the new positioning for Cape Town, even though it is not unique for Cape Town and has been used by others, including Pick ‘n Pay!), in stating that “Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world”.  It is accompanied by a beautiful shot of Clifton, with the Twelve Apostles as backdrop.  The reasons for travelling to Cape Town are motivated as its ‘in-your-face beauty’; the pristine white beaches; the proximity of nature; spotting zebra and wildebeest on the slopes of Table Mountain; watching whales breaching in False Bay; being ‘halted by cavorting baboons near Cape Point’; being a contender for World Design Capital 2014 with its art galleries, ‘hip bars’, opera, and design-savvy shops; the unique marriage of Dutch-origin vegetable gardening, winemaking introduced by the French (this fact must be challenged, as it was the Dutch who established the first wine farms), Malay slaves’ spices, and English ‘Georgian mansions and Victorian terraced homes’;  its contrasts of pleasure and poverty, of ‘pounding seas and vine-carpeted valleys’, and its award-winning wines and produce offer ‘some of the best (and most affordable) fine dining in the world’.

The ‘Cape Town City Break Guide’ includes the following recommendations:

*   travel time is suggested as ‘pretty much any time of the year’, and a warning of wet Julys and Augusts now is inaccurate, given the wonderful non-winter weather experienced in Cape Town during both these months this year!

*   misleading is the claim that Cape Town offers the best land-based whale watching in the world – this positioning belongs to Hermanus, and is corrected a few pages further into the guide.   Also misleading is the claim that the best ‘summer deals’ are available in October and November – most accommodation establishments have the same rate for the whole summer, and do not drop rates at the start of summer.

*   it is up-to-date in that use of the MyCiti Bus is recommended to travel between the airport and the Civic Centre, as well as to the Waterfront.  Train travel between Cape Town and Simonstown is not recommended, due to dirty windows and lack of safety, one of the few negatives contained in the Guide.  The red City Sightseeing bus is recommended, as are bus tours, taxis, Rikkis, and car hire.

*  The ‘Local laws and etiquette’ section does not address either of these two points.  Instead, it warns against crime when walking or driving, and recommends that tourists should not ‘flash their wealth’.  Potential card-skimming in the Waterfront and at the airport is also a potential danger, travellers to Cape Town are told, not accurate, and unfair to these two Cape Town locations.

*   Tourist attractions recommended are Cape Point, driving via the Atlantic Seaboard and Chapman’s Peak; wine-tasting in Constantia; the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens; exploring the city centre on foot, walking from the city centre to Green Point; taking a water taxi from the Convention Centre to the Waterfront; the Footsteps to Freedom Tour; the Company Gardens; the National Gallery; summer concerts at Kirstenbosch; tanning at Clifton beaches; shopping for wines or going on a wine tour; High Tea at the Mount Nelson hotel; going on tours which allow one to meet the ‘other half’  locals;  walking through the Waterfront or taking a sunset cruise; the Two Oceans Aquarium; eating fish and chips in Kalk Bay; going up Table Mountain by foot or cable car; day trips to Cape Point, the West Coast National Park to see the spring flowers, and the Winelands (referring to Franschhoek as the now out-of-date ‘Gourmet Capital of the Cape’, by stating that ‘it is the only place where you have award-winning restaurants within walking distance of each other’, not correct either).

*   in the ‘Cape Town Hotels’ section, it states disturbingly (and information out of date) that ‘Cape Town isn’t cheap’, and therefore suggests that clients stay in Oranjezicht, Tamboerskloof, Higgovale, and Bo-Kaap  (but none of these suburbs have restaurants, something guests would like to walk to by foot from their accommodation), as well as De Waterkant, the V&A Waterfront (probably one of the most expensive accommodation areas!), and ‘Greenpoint’ (sic).  Self-catering and ‘B&b’ (sic) accommodation is recommended.  Hotels previously reviewed by The Telegraph are listed: the Mount Nelson, Ellerman House, the Cape Grace, Cascades on the Promenade, Four Rosmead, An African Villa, Rouge on Rose, Fritz Hotel, and The Backpack hostel, an interesting mix of hotels, and not all highly-rated in its reviews. No newer ‘World Cup hotels’ are recommended. 

*   For nightlife, Camps Bay’s Victoria Road, Long Street and Cape Quarter are recommended.  Vaudeville is strongly recommended, but has lost a lot of its appeal.  Other specific recommendations are Asoka on Kloof Street, Fiction DJ Bar & Lounge, Crew Bar in De Waterkant, Julep off Long Street, and the Bascule bar at the Cape Grace.  The list seems out of date, with more trendy night-time spots being popular amongst locals.

*   The Restaurant section is most disappointing, given the great accolade given to the Cape Town fine-dining scene early in the guide. Four restaurants only are recommended, and many would disagree that these are Cape Town’s best, or those that tourists should visit: The Roundhouse in Camps Bay, Willoughby & Co in the Waterfront, 95 Keerom Street, and ‘Colcaccio (sic) Camps Bay’!  A special note advises ‘gourmet diners’ to check Eat Out and Rossouw’s Restaurants  for restaurants close to one’s accommodation.  Stellenbosch restaurants Overture, Rust en Vrede and Terroir are recommended, as are Le Quartier and Ryan’s Kitchen in Franschhoek, and La Colombe in Constantia.

*   Shopping suggestions include the city centre, Green Point, Woodstock, De Waterkant, and Kloof Street, the latter street not having any particularly special shops.  The Neighbourgoods Market in the Old Biscuit Mill is recommended as the ‘best food market in the country’ (locals may disagree, with the squash of undecided shoppers, and increasingly more expensive), and may recommend the City Bowl Market instead).  Art galleries are also recommended.

While the Telegraph Travel  ‘Cape Town City Break Guide’ is a massive improvement on the Condé Nast Traveller  Cape Town guide, even this guide contains unforgivable errors, which a local writer should not be making.  One would hope that Cape Town Tourism will get the errors fixed.  We also suggest that they recommend the addition of Cape Town’s many special city centre eateries, and that the accommodation list be updated.  The exclusion of Robben Island on the attraction list is a deficiency.   The delineation between recommendations for things to do in Cape Town is blurred in some instances with recommendations in towns and villages outside Cape Town, which may confuse tourists to the Mother City.  Overall, the Guide appears superficial and touristy, and does not reveal all the special gems that Cape Town has to offer.

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

My first encounter with Caffe Milano Pasticceria & Bar on Kloof Street, next door to ex hot-spot Manna, for lunch last week made me undecided as to how I felt about it, something that doesn’t happen very often.   A return visit for breakfast on Saturday morning made me a firm supporter, enjoying the good food, the good service, and extreme friendliness.

I could not help but compare the new restaurant, the fifth that restaurant mogul Giogio Nava has opened in Cape Town (his other restaurants are 95 Keerom Street, Carne, Down South Food Bar, and Mozzarella Bar, and he is soon to open an events and entertainment venue in the old Art Deco Land Bank building in Queen Victoria Street) with Cassis Paris’ Salon de Thé in Newlands.  Both restaurants focus on the patisserie side of their outlets, and both produce beautiful pastries.  While they are freshly baked on the Caffe Milano premises from about 2h00 every morning, the Cassis Paris delicacies are baked at a central factory in Montague Gardens.  The product display at Cassis Paris is more attractive, in that it has a larger pastry range, and they are neatly displayed in rows in the display cabinets, while those at Caffe Milano are placed on platters inside the display cabinet.   As I went to eat after lunchtime, a number of the Caffe Milano pastries on the platters had been sold, and were not replenished, probably waiting for the fresh load to be baked the following day.   Caffe Milano’s pastry display is inside the restaurant, whereas it is in a neighbouring shop at Cassis Paris, with no direct client connection.   The service is definitely far better at Caffe Milano, and the food, based only on two items at each, definitely was better at Caffe Milano.   Brand focus is far better at Cassis Paris.  Cassis Paris has a marketing edge on Caffe Milano, in that it started brand building three years ago.

While I was well looked after by the waitress Zoe, I felt something was missing in the restaurant, especially given the rave reviews I had read by blogging colleagues.  There is no music.  There is perhaps too much open space inside the two restaurant sections, which does not create cohesion.   The tables have wooden tops and with the wooden chairs they did not give me the feeling of the latest elegant Milanese design  (Nava’s partner in the Mozzarella Bar, Matteo Amatruda, owns a+1 in The Foundry, an interior design shop specialising in Italian furniture and lighting, and I did not see his decor hand at Caffe Milano).  The walls are painted a boring beige, and the staff tops are beige and branded, matched with brown aprons, a not very modern colour combination. Downlighters and ordinary looking round lamp shades light up the bar section and display cabinet area.   I loved the large LavAzza wall poster (on the right), and would have liked to see more of this theme inside the restaurant – unfortunately the poster is hidden from the view of most clients sitting in the entrance section of the restaurant.  I loved the cake displays in the windows.  The menu (with winelist) looks boring and old-fashioned with little brown illustrations of food items subtly printed on it, which initially made me think that it had coffee stains on it.   It also looks cheap, just being an A3 page which looks heavily used, given that the restaurant has only been open for a month.  A white paper serviette is on the side plate and the knife and fork are pedestrian.  The teaspoon is Italian designed, and looks far better quality.  Zoe brought Morgenster olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the table, the latter bottle having only a last drop in it.  A Robertson’s pepper grinder is on the table, as is an ordinary salt cellar.

Nava arrived and was active behind the counter for a while, but never appears to connect with his customers.  Vanessa Quellec is the co-owner of Caffe Milano, and the pastry chef, having previously worked at The Roundhouse.   She has worked in top restaurants in New York, and went to Germany and Italy before opening the restaurant, to learn more about bread baking.  She had left for the day, I was told, as she works with the baking staff in the early hours of the morning.  The chef in the kitchen is Brendon Stein, previously having worked at the River Café at Constantia Uitsig. The manager is Charlene van Heerden, and she was very helpful in proactively opening the pastry display cabinet, so that its glass door would not reflect in my photograph.

Breakfast is served until midday, and offers five options: Kloof Street Breakfast (bacon and eggs) at R45; Eggs Benedict R52, scrambled eggs cost R45, and R55 with bacon, and R 65 if served with salmon; French Toast made from cinnamon and pecan brioche costs R58, and a Muesli Mix with fruit and yoghurt R 55.  Breakfast pastries such as croissants filled with almonds, chocolate, apricot jam, or cream, or served plain, cannoncino, bombolone as well as sticky buns, range in price between R10 – R18.  “Filled” croissants can also be ordered, with mozzarella, parma ham or smoked Norwegian trout on them, costing R30 – R42.   The LavAzza cappuccino is excellent, and costs R15 (Nava discounts it to R10 at his Mozzarella Bar down the road).   I loved the neat LavAzza sugar sachet holder, which I have not seen elsewhere.

Lunch is served between midday and 16h00, a decent time range, and a bowl of toasted thin slices of some of the Caffe Milano breads is brought to the table.  Only eleven lunch items are available, of which five are salads (avocado, smoked mozzarella, roasted chicken, calamari, and caprese), quite expensive at R 60 – R75. I ordered the La Tartare di Mazo (R70), being ‘hand chopped raw prime fillet dressed with Morgenster olive oil, onion, egg, capers and parsley’, and served with three slices of toast, a perfect accompaniment to the tartare, one of the best I have tasted, less fine than that which one can buy at Raith Gourmet.   The presentation was rounded off by three half slices of lemon, each of these having a tiny amount of chopped onions, washed and chopped capers, and chopped parsley.   When I did not recognise the dried and chopped capers, Zoe brought before and after capers to the table, to explain how they get to look so brown when washed, dried and chopped up.   Parma ham and melon costs R95, smoked yellow fin tuna carpaccio R80, Norwegian salmon R85, beef carpaccio R70 and lasagne pasta, spinach and ricotta costs R65.  There is only one ‘Dolci’ item on the menu, which is the Il Fondente “95”, from Nava’s 95 Keerom Street restaurant, which he also serves at the Mozzarella Bar.   I suspect that most patrons will make their way to the display cabinet, and will chose a dessert from it, the selection including cannoncino (R10); mini apple tarts, lemon tarts, Sacher Torte, Coconut Daquoise, and Portuguese custard tarts costing R15, and lots more.   I had a berry pannacotta, which was served in a beautiful glass, and I savoured its creaminess, whilst chatting to an American visitor sitting at a table across from me.  

Cap Classiques on offer are Villiera (R40/R160), Graham Beck Brut (R45/R210), Graham Beck Brut Rosé (R50/R230), Steenberg Brut 1682 (R280) and Krone Borealis Brut Rosé (R270).   Taittinger Brut costs R720, and Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé R950.  No Shiraz is on the winelist, and generally the winelist is weighted to white wines.  Wines by the glass include Graham Beck Rail Road Red (R28/R110), Villiera Cabernet Sauvignon (R35/R110), Dombeya Merlot (R48/R190), Felicite Pinot Noir (R41/R165), Kleine Zalze Sauvignon Blanc (R30/R120), Graham Beck Chardonnay (R45/R180), and Kloof Street Chenin Blanc (R28/R110).

One can go home with pastries and artisanal breads under one’s arm, as well as with a beautiful LavAzza cappuccino machine, ranging in price between R2800 – R 3300, depending on the colour scheme of the machine.  LavAzza coffee pods can also be bought.

I had mixed feelings about my first visit to Caffe Milano, relative to the hype I had read, and saw no bar counter, as promised in the name of the restaurant.   Perhaps the marriage between the restaurant and the pasticceria is not there yet.  There is nothing on the menu to encourage one to peek at the pastry display cabinet, especially when one does not see it in the side room, and it would be nice to have the names of these items listed on the menu too, to see them as dessert options, and also to get to know their Italian names with English descriptions.   Given Nava’s restaurant experience, I think the restaurant can stretch itself with a greater variety of Italian dishes over time, only two dishes on the lunch menu being cooked, and I have read that it may open for dinner in future.  The pastries are good value, especially given their quality, but I felt that the lunch portion of steak tartare was expensive relative to the amount that was served.  The food quality is excellent. The main attraction is the pastry section, and perhaps it could do with being fuller for most of the day, with pastry plates refilled, and more neatly presented, as per Cassis Paris.   I will be back, and my next visit will be for breakfast.   Parking is a challenge however, the popularity of Caffe Milano making it hard to find somewhere close by to park.

I had written the above (with the exception of the first paragraph) after my first visit for lunch, and my return visit clarified some things, and changed my mind about Caffe Milano completely.  First, it was buzzing on Saturday morning, and I was lucky enough to get the last table, as well as to find a (creative) parking spot close by, so great is their popularity.   Charlene, the Manager, welcomed me back like an old friend, and the waitress Zoe took over some of the service at my table too.  The pastry display cabinet was fully packed, and all the trays were filled.  The service was fast and efficient, despite the restaurant being so full.  The scrambled egg (R48) I ordered was the most delicious and the most yellow I have ever eaten, served with lovely toasted rye bread.  When I commented on the colour of the eggs, Charlene brought me an information booklet from Spier BD (for Biodiversity) Farm, whch is their supplier of eggs, chicken and beef.  I was fascinated to read their claims that ‘pasture-fed’ animals are “freer than the free ranging” animals and birds, and therefore implies healthier to eat.  The chickens, for example, spend 21 days on the pasture in ‘predator-proof houses’.    They lay their eggs in ‘eggmobiles”.  The pastures have 19 varieties of grasses and legumes, the brochure explains, and the farming is biodynamic.  “The chickens are treated as animals, and not as production widgets”, it continues.  Slaughtering is done by hand, it says, as ‘humanely as possible’.  The chickens are not injected with brine, up to 25 % being allowed in South Africa. 

The co-owner Giorgio Nava looked very cheffy in his white chef top, and was behind the counter the whole time that I was there.  The biggest delight of all was Vanessa Quellec coming to say hello.  She is very friendly and welcoming, and I loved her two pigtails, making her very down to earth.  She kept checking that everything was in order, and showed me her new bread ‘baby’, a baguette epi (right), which she had baked for the first time that morning.   She also compiled a list of her bread styles for me, which is not in the menu.  On weekends she has a greater variety of breads available, and it includes the epi, milk bread rolls and sugar milk bread, in addition to the weekday range of ciabatta, baguettes, 60 % as well 100% rye sourdough, focaccia with sea salt and rosemary, and bialy.   Vanessa comes from Minnesota originally, and worked in some hotshot New York restaurants, where she met PJ Vadis, the chef at The Roundhouse.  He suggested that she work for Markus Farbinger at Il de Pain in Knysna, who is internationally known as one of the best bread bakers and pastry makers in the world, having worked in New York too, including at Le Cirque.   Vanessa spent a year in Knysna, and says that Farbinger has changed breadmaking in South Africa (one of his other proteges is Fritz Schoon at De Oude Bank Bakkerij in Stellenbosch).  Through her friendship with Vadis, she worked at The Roundhouse as pastry chef, until the opportunity arose to start Caffe Milano with Nava.   While she waited for the restaurant to be ready for opening, she spent time at a sourdough bread and at a roll factory in Germany, and also at a bread factory in Italy, such is the love for her craft.  She told me that she only uses the best ingredients, and recently introduced Valrhona chocolate from France to South Africa, using it for all her chocolate requirements, and also selling it in slabs.

Vanessa also told me that the menu will evolve, and this week the first additions to the menu will be introduced.   They will focus on creating greater synergy between the pastry and bread side of the business, and the restaurant side, through the menu.   Vanessa confirmed that opening in the evenings is on the cards, but not in the immediate future, as she wants her staff to be perfectly trained first.  I thought they were doing very well for having only been open for a month.

I have found a delightfully friendly new breakfast, lunch and coffee break venue in Cape Town, with relatively easy parking (except on Saturday mornings).  I will certainly be back. 

POSTSCRIPT 13/3: I went back to Caffe Milano today, and enjoyed the most beautiful Eggs Benedict.  I asked to have the bacon excluded, and Charlene spontaneously offered me avocado and mushrooms to replace it.   The restaurant was so full, that I had to wait for a table.  It had a wonderful buzz.

POSTSCRIPT 27/4: Vanessa Quellec leaves Caffe Milano in July, and is heading for Valrhona in France, where she will undergo training in the use of their chocolates.  She plans to return to Cape Town as a representative of the company.  Giorgio Nava will bring in an Italian pastry chef.

POSTSCRIPT 26/9:  The Weekend Argus reports that Caffe Milano will open for dinner from November.

Caffe Milano Pasticceria & Bar, 153 Kloof Street, Gardens, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 426-5566.  www.caffemilano.co.za (The website is still under construction). Tuesday – Sunday 7h00 – 17h00.

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

I have had my moments with Giorgio Nava, but must salute his bravery in zealously opening restaurants in Cape Town, in addition to the two established restaurants 95 Keerom Street and Carne.   Last month he opened Down South on Long Street and the Mozzarella Bar on Kloof Street, and on Saturday Café Milano opened, higher up on Kloof Street.  The Mozzarella Bar is run by charming Italians, and all its dishes, except the bakery items and desserts, contain a soft creamy mozzarella, offering good value for money.

Co-owner and interior designer, and friend of Nava, Matteo Amatruda, explained that Nava is trying to educate Capetonians about true Italian cuisine, and each of his restaurants, with the exception of Down South, focuses on a specific Italian aspect.  Café Milano, for example, will focus on baking, and bakes the bread and makes the croissants for the Mozzarella Bar. Nava runs between all his properties, we were told, and we saw this, as he popped in as we were about to leave, having been there earlier in the morning already.

The manager Simone explained that special equipment was brought out from Italy (more…)