Constantia Nek has been a famous halfway stop and tea room, first operating in 1929. It is by far the oldest restaurant in Cape Town, and its recent transformation into La Parada and Harbour House has rejuvenated Constantia Nek, and has given the building a new lease on life, making it the social centre of Constantia.
Having seen two World Cup matches at Paulaner Braeuhaus in the Waterfront, I was looking for a new venue to see the match between Germany and Ghana in the past week. I had heard good things of Pure at the Hout Bay Manor Hotel, and its German chef and GM Alex Mueller, so chose this as the venue. I had not been there in years, not since Rick and Collette Taylor owned the hotel.
What a mistake I made to choose the venue, as far as World Cup “gees” goes, as I was the only person in the hotel watching the match on the massive screen filling the whole wall of the lounge. Only one couple was dining in Pure restaurant.
On arriving outside the Hotel, a security guard followed me into the hotel, and appeared quite unwelcoming and confrontational, asking me what I wanted at the hotel! She disappeared, so I settled down in the lounge. I had seen the photographs on the hotel’s website, and was told that the decor had been done by Block & Chisel. It is hard to describe, other than that the lounge decor is very busy, with a dominant African design feel to it. For me, the oranges and pinks in the upholstery clashed with the red and white curtains, and while I liked the African dress hanging on one wall, I thought a lot of it was very forced. The African decor flows through all the way to the bar counter and reception, but the decor tone changes completely in Pure restaurant, which is very earthy (screen made from ‘interwoven’ branches, marine touches added on the tables, hanging crystal stands, again feels overdone).
Generously sized couches and armchairs in the lounge, where the TV was set up, had an English feel. The coffee table was very low, making it uncomfortable to eat and to make notes at. I struggled to get comfortable in the armchair throughout my two-hour visit, even adding a scatter cushion, but nothing helped. The “pub” part of the hotel is nothing more than some bar stools at the bar counter in an open-plan room coming out of the reception, on the way to the restaurant.
The waiter brought three white leather bound documents, but did not explain the difference between them. One was Pure restaurant’s a la carte menu, not an option due to the uncomfortable table. The full winelist was brought as well. The bar menu was difficult to fold open, due to the way it is bound, making it difficult to read the prices. It had a very small selection of ten food choices, reminding me of a room service menu. One can order two portion sizes (quantity not specified) of tartar of tuna and spring rolls for R 70 or R 90, a herb salad with mozarella for what sounds like an expensive R 95, croque monsieur costs R 60, and focaccia with a choice of salmon, chicken or parma ham costs R 75. The Hout Bay Manor sandwich, which includes roast beef and bacon, costs R 75, while the Hout Bay Manor Burger can be ordered for R 75 – it also can be ordered with foie gras, at double the price. From the menus I could see the ‘Pure’ and ‘Hout Bay Manor’ brands fighting each other, the former young and modern, and the latter old fashioned and steeped in history.
I chose the croque monsieur, which was just the right snack after a long day, and the presentation of the food on a large white dish was creative, with chips stacked neatly – they were hot but not crisp. What was a cute touch, but may have just been my imagination, was a decorative touch of aubergine, red pepper and yellow pepper, creating the German flag colours! Unfortunately they were over-salted, but the idea behind it was much appreciated. The cutlery looked brand new, and was elegant, and a good quality material serviette was offered. I was a little annoyed when the waiter seemed very anxious to remove my plate and glass so quickly, but this may have been intended as good service.
The bar list offers two Methode Cap Classiques sparkling wines by the glass, from Ambeloui, which I did not know but discovered to be from Hout Bay, according to a Google search. Olga costs R 50, and her ‘sister’ Roseanne R56. Amstel costs R20, Castle R18, Heineken R 20, Savanna R22, and Windhoek R18. An extensive list of 43 spirits and liqueurs is on offer, and includes Wilderers Grappa, Bols, Cointreau, Butlers, and a further list of cocktails. The cappuccino I ordered was a lovely foamy one, served with a meringue on the side.
This review would have been very different had it not been for the wonderful sommelier Tatiana Marcetteau, previously from Delaire Graff. She recognised me from past visits there, and the level of service rose dramatically, with her checking regularly on my well-being, reminding me very much of Aleks’ care and service at Salt Vodka and Champagne Bar the week before. Unasked, Tatiana offered to show me a guest bedroom in the half-time, as well as the Pure restaurant. She also proudly showed me her wine cellar. The receptionist offered me a copy of the hotel’s book, including a book sticker that one can write one’s name into, and detailing the history of the hotel (built in 1871), yet reflecting the colourful decor of the interior. A photo album feel is created by a swatch of curtaining material, and photographs look as if they have just been glued into the book. Each of the 21 bedrooms is different, and one can choose the Zulu, the Xhosa or even the Sangoma room! The book ends off with two pages of photographs, presented as if they are postage stamps. This is one of the most creative hotel promotional documents I have ever seen.
I would not watch another World Cup match at the hotel again, despite the lovely service from Tatiana, given the lack of guests to watch the soccer with, and the lack of ‘gees’. But the visit has definitely whet my appetite to visit Pure restaurant, and to try Chef Alex Mueller’s cuisine after the World Cup. The prices are not cheap, but the restaurant is running a winter special at the moment. My croque monsieur was better value than a horrid pizza I had eaten at Foresters Arms earlier in the day (review to follow).
Pure at Hout Bay Manor, Baviaanskloof, off Main Road, Hout Bay. Tel 021 790 0116. www.houtbaymanor.co.za (The website design does not reflect the design of the beautiful hotel book, and appears hard sell in having an accommodation booking window open on every page, even if unrelated to accommodation. The Home page looks cluttered, and the Blog, Facebook and Twitter links are made very prominent – only problem is that the last post on the blog is dated 12 May, and the hotel tweets about once a month, making its social media marketing tool symbols look like window-dressing!). Open Tuesdays- Saturdays.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com