Tag Archives: Amstel

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 8 July

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The Australian wine industry has recognised the role of wine and food tourism in selling wine – it’s not just about the wine anymore, reports Graham Howe after a trip to that country, attending the Australia Tourism Exchange 2013.

*   Amstel launches its ‘The Chef” TV commercial on Thursday, shot almost entirely at The Mount Nelson, in Chef Rudi Liebenberg’s kitchen, reports BizCommunity.com

*   Populence, American producers of popcorn, has created a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir inspired popcorn range for Kim Crawford wine estate in New Zealand.  It does not contain wine, but is flavoured to pair with the wines.

*   The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has recorded a close to 6% increase in international air travel between May 2012 and May 2013, the airlines from the Middle East and from Africa showing more than double that growth rate in the twelve months!

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

Restaurant Review: Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room serves Reubens….and burgers!

It was on a visit to Birds’ Café about three months ago that I noticed the papered-up space two doors away, and heard from Birds’ Café that a restaurant was to open.  I was lucky to meet Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room owner Lyndall Maunder, who has worked with David Higgs and George Jardine, was ex-Superette chef, and has been an avid visitor of the USA, in the about-to-be renovated restaurant space, which previously housed a motorcycle repair shop.  An unbelievable renovation relative to what the space looked like before has created a buzzing and busy American-style hamburger joint on Bree Street, named after Lyndall’s mother’s maiden name.

The restaurant is L-shaped, one entering into a front section with a massive metal-top counter at which one can sit on wooden bar stools and see the three chefs prepare the dishes in rapid succession, and the waitron staff prepare the drinks.  Lamps are industrial, funky globes unhidden by any lampshade.  One non-descript artwork is too small to make any impact on the large wall, and there is a photograph of the motorcycle mechanics at the entrance.  Plants in terracotta pots line the shelves, even in front of the windows of a back section, adding a green touch to an otherwise white interior. On Saturday over lunchtime there was only space available at the counter, and Lyndall had her hands full in preparing all the food with her two assistants, one of them Chef Marcel, not stopping for one minute, not even having time to greet any customers or at least nod in recognition.  The busy restaurant is an amazing feat for a city which is quiet on weekend days, and which only really got going a week ago, having closed over the festive days after its early December opening, as business in the city centre was so quiet.  Sebastian was the most communicative staff member I spoke to, but appeared to know very little about his boss and the motivation for her American-themed diner, not even being able to obtain this information from his boss!  The rest of the restaurant has tile-topped tables with wooden chairs.  A paper serviette and Fortis cutlery is pre-set at the tables and on the counter, with bottles of Heinz ketchup, salt cellars, and pepper grinders.

Not American at all is the concept of a ‘Stammtisch’, a German tradition of regular guests having their ‘own’ table, with their name on it, which one can be requested to vacate if the Stammgäste arrive, the menu explains, and requests one not to be offended if this should happen.

As I sat down Sebastian brought a glass of water, without knowing me or asking for it, probably an American touch.   The menu is a very simple laminated white sheet, which is easy and cheap to update, even having a space for specials to be written onto it.  Unfortunately there are a number of typing errors on the menu. On Wednesdays – Fridays the menu says that the restaurant stays open until ‘late’, which could be as late as 2h00, Sebastian told me, depending on demand.  The customer profile to date is a mix of  businessmen from nearby, coming in for the all-day breakfast or lunch, or they are ‘poppies coming to be seen’, he said.  From the menu one can see that Lyndall is a no-nonsense type of lady, with every menu category having serving times specified, e.g. Breakfasts are served until 17h00, salads and sandwiches from 11h00 – 17h00,  burgers and sides from 11h00 until late, wine and beer are served from 10h00 until they close, and hot and cold drinks are served throughout the day and night.  The menu also has a ‘note on Clarke’s’, explaining ‘you may pick up from our menu that we’ve got a thing for that lump of land across the pond called the US of A – what with burgers, cheese fries, Reubens, Cobb Salad…They may have cursed us with the atrocities of fast food but the humble beginnings of their cuisine certainly wasn’t ill-intended and they have some cool, tasty as hell stuff that’s a lot of fun. If you do it right and with great produce you can end up having the greatest meal you ever ate’.   The suppliers are named, being Bill Riley Meats’ free-range beef, burger buns come from Trevor Daly in Worcester, coffee comes from Deluxe (supplying the machine as well as a full-time barista), breads come from the Bread Company in Muizenberg, Juicebox supply the juices, and from The Creamery comes a selection of four artisanal ice creams.  In my experience on Saturday, the last sentence in the welcome and introduction was not evident at Clarke’s: “We love being here and we love having you, so please enjoy your time with us and visit again soon”.  I popped in to say hello at Bird’s Café afterwards, and the warm welcome from Chef Leigh Trout was a delight, compared to what I had experienced at Clarke’s.

Breakfast options include a Fruit Cup, and raisin and pecan nut bread with maple butter, costing R20 – R25. Cooked breakfasts range from R40 – R55, and one can order scrambled egg with sausage, mushrooms and a muffin; eggs, bacon, sausage and mushrooms; hashed browns with poached eggs, asparagus and hollandaise; Huevos Rancheros, being refried beans, eggs, and avocado; omelette stuffed with spinach, smoked aubergine and goat’s cheese; and French Toast, sounding absolutely indulgent in consisting of a Nutella and banana-stuffed croissant with bacon, fruit, crème fraiche, bacon, and caramel Turtles, and Mrs Butterworth’s syrup. Sandwiches cost R25 – R45, and include grilled cheese, a pulled pork sub, ‘chicken parm’ sandwich (with tomato ragout and  Colby cheddar), a Reuben (brisket, braised cabbage, Emmental, blue cheese dressing), and a pressed vegetable sandwich.  For brunch one can have a Caesar or Cobb salad, smoked tomato soup, and macaroni and cheese, costing around R 40. I never eat hamburgers, but decided to order one as I believe this to be the essence of Clarke’s.  One can order any type of burger, as long as it is a Cheeseburger or Veggie Burger, at R50, with extra for bacon and fries.  The Cheeseburger was served in a big toasted bun, in a papered green plastic basket, with a tiny portion of pickled cucumber and onion relish on the side.  I missed a slice of tomato and gherkin.  The patty was prepared rare-ish, and one is not asked how one would like it. While one knows that the meat quality is excellent, it seemed expensive for what one got (without chips). For dessert one can order a ‘sweet pie’ of the day, or three scoops of The Creamery ice cream, from a choice of peanut butter, natural, cardamom, and coffee, at R35.  No cappuccino is specified on the beverage list, and probably the American equivalent is the Flat White, at R16.

Beer is served in quarts at R28, or at R16 – R20 for Corona, Savanna, Hunter’s Dry, Amstel, Windhoek, Black Label, and Tafel beer.  Surprising is that there is no craft beer, given the restaurant’s proximity to AndUnion.  The wine selection is disappointingly small for a ‘Bar’, with four options (no vintages specified), but at least each is available by the glass, for Groote Post Old Man’s Blend, Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc, Springfield Life from Stone, and Fat Bastard Shiraz, in a range of R 25/R95 – R 40/R150.

Clarke’s is a great new addition for the city centre for a drink, a bite to eat, or a coffee, given its excellent opening hours and easy-to-park convenience after hours and on weekends.  Owner Lyndall can be a caring person, as experienced at Superette, but needs to let go as chef and take on the role of owner, to connect with her customers, so that she can build relationships with them, to ensure that they return.

Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room, 133 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 424-7648. www.clarkesdining.co.za Twitter: @ClarkesDining.  Monday – Tuesday 7h00 – 18h00, Wednesday – Friday 7h00 – late, Saturday 8h00 – 15h00.

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

Ria’s Pools Sweet Service and Pick ‘n Pay Franschhoek Sour Service Awards

The Sweet Service Award goes to Ria’s Pools in Franschhoek, a previous recipient of a Sweet Award.  I called Ria to ask for assistance with a garden service and DIY service, and she was able to organise both on the same day, not only in terms of a quote, but also the execution of the services, an unheard-of service level in Franschhoek!


The Sour Service Award goes to Pick ‘n Pay’s Liquor department in Franschhoek. In one day last week I received poor service twice!   I had to return Amstel beers which we had ordered via our weekly Whale Cottage Franschhoek shopping on two occasions, having first received them in glass bottles, and then in large cans purely because they were out of 330ml cans of Amstel.  Every error means another piece of paper.  I was not called, which is the procedure, to check on which size of Amstel we wanted.  I was looking for a champagne stopper, and called the store, and this department specifically, to ask if they stock them.  I was told that they do, and that they have different kinds, so I said I would come and check which one I wanted to buy.  When I arrived, I was taken to the sparkling wine section of the store, when I asked after the ‘champagne stopper’!   When the staff member was questioned about this by her manager, she insisted that I had said I wanted “champagne”!

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

Restaurant Review: Down South Food Bar serves super Southern ribs ‘n prawns

Talk of the town as far as new restaurants go is Giorgio Nava’s newly opened Down South Food Bar in the less savoury southern end of Long Street, near the Long Street Baths.  Compared to his 95 Keerom Street and Carne, you won’t find Nava at Down South, the restaurant being far more casual, more friendly, non-Italian, and offering a small selection of good food and beverages, at excellent value for money. 

We were told that the restaurant name comes from the restaurant concept of food that comes from the American south, such as gumbo, jambalaya, and cajun fish, something Morton’s did in the Waterfront when the shopping center first opened.  Down South does it in a far more casual way, bringing the simple home-style American deep south classics to Cape Town in a tasty and affordable way.  It is good as a relaxed place to have a beer, to watch a game with the boys, and to eat inexpensive and tasty food to soak up the drinks, so don’t expect ‘fine’ food here.       

Carl Penn is the chef at Down South, having worked with Nava as his right hand man at 95 Keerom Street and Carne.    The staff are very friendly and laid back. They wear black pants and T-shirts, strongly Southern Comfort branded. 

The restaurant has a narrow front to the street, but extends deep into the space.  Light wooden tables are functional, with brushed aluminium chairs and uncomfortable wooden benches providing seating.   One wall is wood panelled, another painted cream.   The dominant colour scheme is brown.  A bar counter has bar stools made in the same brushed aluminium design.  Free wi-fi is available.   An eclectic mix of music is played, including Coldplay and Moby.   The TV is set on sport.   Cutlery is cheap and cheerful, with paper serviettes.  

The Menu has some stars and typing errors, is made to look old Down South, and is divided into Starters, Ribs, Sandwiches and Prawns, to which is added Sides and Dessert.  Having only opened a few days ago, the advertised Daily Specials (Gumbo on Mondays, Jambalaya on Tuesdays, BBQ Brisket on Wednesdays, Best Burger on Thursdays, Cajun fish on Fridays and Fried Chicken on Saturdays) are not yet available, neither were the cheesy grits and coleslaw.   Starters cost between R40 – R45, and include prawn cocktail, thick cut bacon, caesar salad, buffalo chicken wings, and 8 of the most wonderful crispy batter fried prawn tails served with a delicious red pepper rémoulade.  Ribs are ‘dry spice rubbed and twice baked, basted in Down South BBQ sauce”, and the two racks were sweet and spicy, an extremely tender and generous portion at R 65, which includes one side dish (‘whipped potatoes’, home fries, chopped salad or corn bread).   “Po’ Boys” sandwiches (poor boy sandwich originating from Louisiana, usually a submarine sandwich made with meat or seafood) cost R50 – R55, served with pork, prawns or BBQ brisket, while the “Muffaletta” sandwich (originates from New Orleans) costs R45, and contains mortadella, salami, white cheddar, tomato and olive pickle.  Butterflied prawns, grilled with olive oil, cost R70, including one side dish too.   Desserts cost R35, and the choice is pie – apple, pecan or Mississippi – or baked cheesecake.

The winelist is uncomplicated and simple, the prices being unbelievably affordable, with three categories: Cheap (Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc, Mooiplaas Chenin Blanc, Villiera Down to Earth Red, Wolftrap, Mount Rozier Red Blend, all at R25 a glass and R100 a bottle); Decent (Villiera Gewürztraminer, Hartenberg Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, and Helderberg Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, all at about R 32 a glass/R120 per bottle); and Good (Fat Bastard Chardonnay, Iona Sophie Terblanche Sauvignon Blanc, Thelema Red and Villiera Merlot, at about R34 per glass/R135 per bottle); and a separate mention for Rosé (Kleine Zalze at R20/R80), as well as for “Bubbles” (Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel at R30/R125).   Beers cost R18 (Heineken), R17 (Amstel, Windhoek) and R21 for 500 ml of Jack Black Draught.  A cocktail list features eight options, all with American South names, most costing a very affordable R35.  The cocktail menu carries the branding of Southern Comfort, Jack Daniel’s and Frangelico.

One hopes that Nava does not overextend himself in his opening of new restaurants – he has also just opened the Mozarella Bar in lower Kloof Street (opposite the Vida e Caffê), and also plans to open a Down South Sandwich Bar.  

Down South Food Bar, 267 Long Street, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 422-1155.      www.downsouthfoodbar.com (website under construction).   Monday – Saturday, “10am – late”.

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

Cape Town Show is a magical feast of song, dance and food!

A unique magical musical and dinner show has opened at The Rainbow Room in Mandela Rhodes Place, in time for the festive season, as well as for tourists arriving in Cape Town.    It is a unique way in which the his(story) of the establishment of Cape Town until the present day is told via music, dance and food.

Conceptualised by dynamic event co-ordinator Alison McCutcheon of event company Rainbow Experience Marketing, written by Deney Willie, directed by Godfrey Johnson (known for his Brel productions) and choreographed by ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ Didi Moses, the Cape Town Show is a ‘Marvellous celebration of the people of the Cape, their history, freedom and magnanimous spirit of Ubuntu”.  Talented young 19 and 20 years olds have been selected into The Rainbow Academy,  and trained for the show.  The Rainbow Academy allows its students “to earn while they learn”   The show is hosted in a large space, perhaps too large initially until the audience size builds up, and is complemented with audio-visual images screened alongside the stage – the vibrancy of the performers attracts one’s attention to the stage, so that one does not pick up much of the additional information on the screens. Images of Nelson Mandela flank the screens. The show with a three course dinner costs R295, and without dinner it costs R 120.

Prior to the first act one is served the starter, which is the most more-ish French-inspired Lavache crisp bread coated with black and white sesame seeds, served with hummus and a real Cape delicacy Cape snoek fish paté.   The first act focused on the arrival of the first visitors to the Cape, going as far back as 1488, with first arrival Bartholomew Diaz making a stop on his way from Portugal to the East.  The cultures of the Dutch, German, French, Malaysian, Northern African peoples and other settlers is described, and the historical events of occupations and settlements, as well as the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and of the Republic of South Africa in 1961 is narrated and sung. The songs chosen to tell the story were not all known, and included a David Kramer/Taliep Pietersen song from their musical ‘Goem’, a very vibey 1930’s ‘Get Happy’, and the emotive ‘Meadowlands’.  A Klopse scene includes standards such as ‘Suikerbossie’, ‘Vat jou goed en trek Ferreira’ and more.  District Six also makes an appearance in the show.

In the break, the main course is served, the orders for which are taken prior to the start of the show.  Whilst not typically Cape, we ordered the dukkah-crusted beef fillet served on mash and spinach, with a very strongly spiced chakalaka sauce.  The fillet was served perfectly as ordered, medium and medium rare for my colleague and for me, respectively.  One has two other choices for the main courses, which are more Cape-like: vegetarian curried lentil cottage pie, and Cape butter chicken curry served with a homemade roll and sambas.  

The second half of the show focused on the impact of the apartheid laws, the defiance of the population affected by them, and the freedom achieved for the nation, with soundbites of then-President FW de Klerk announcing the scrapping of all laws of segregation, and Nelson Mandela’s speech after his release from Victor Verster prison, saying that all South Africans have the “right to human dignity in our rainbow nation”.  The show ended with the celebration of freedom and the spirit of Ubuntu.  The music chosen for the second act included the well-known ‘Pata Pata’, made famous by Miriam Makeba; Jeremy Taylor’s ‘ Ag Pleez Deddy’ brought back nostalgic memories of a by-gone era of drive-in movies, popcorn and bubblegum!;  ‘Gimme Hope Jo’anna’; ‘Paradise Road’ by Eddie Grant; and the national anthem ‘Nkosi Sikelelel iAfrika’, presented in a vibey way.  

Dessert is a sweet treat trio of a mini-koeksister, melktert and chocolate brownie.   I had it with an excellent LavAzza cappuccino, a surprise, in that I was wondering where I would have to go to find one close by after the show.    The catering is done in-house, with a contracted chef doing a great job in a tiny kitchen, we were told.  The Beverage list is short and sweet, especially on the wine side, and very inexpensive.   Wines-by-the-glass offered are M’Hudi Rea Dry at R20/R90, M’Hudi Kwea Red at R20/R90, and Excelsior Pure Bred Red R25/R100.   No Shiraz is offered, with only one or two Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinotage options.   Pongracz Brut costs R150, and 2 Oceans Rosé R 20/R90.  Amstel, Castle, Windhoek Lager and Windhoek Lite all cost R16;  Heineken, Peroni and Millers, Hunter’s Dry and Savannah cost R17; and Jack Black costs R20.

A surprise was when the cast came back on the stage for an un-announced encore, singing real Cape classics such as ‘Daar kom the Alabama’, ‘Dina Dina Oh’, as well as Ipi Tombi. 

The Cape Town Show is a great way for locals to be reminded of the colourful and often painful history of the Cape, and the rich heritage it has.   It is also a quick way for tourists to learn about the history of our country, and have a memorable evening, enjoying Cape culture and food.  The audience enjoyed the enthusiasm of the performers, and were captivated by the music. There are a few teething problem, like waiter training and understandability of all the words in the spoken story, but as it is early days for the show, they are sure to be addressed.

Disclosure:  As a member of the Food & Wine Bloggers” Club, having attended the October meeting which was hosted by the Rainbow Experience, we received complimentary tickets to the Cape Town Show.

Cape Town Show, The Rainbow Room, Mandela Rhodes Place, Wale Street, Cape Town.  Tel 072 875 9723.  Book at www.webtickets.co.za.  Wednesday and Friday evenings.  Doors open at 19h00, show starts at 20h00.

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

Pub Review: Watching the World Cup at the Mount Nelson Hotel

The Germany versus England World Cup match deserved a very special venue, and my first choice was the Twankey Bar at the Taj Hotel.  Luckily I called to check that it had a TV, only to be told that it would be closed due to a stocktake!   My next choice was the Mount Nelson Hotel, and I felt I was stepping into the lions’ den (pardon the pun) in watching the match there.  Luckily I had a fellow German supporter, and we were ecstatic with the 4-1 outcome, even if it should have been 4-2. 

The Mount Nelson probably is the most English-style of all Cape Town’s 5-star hotels, and its security staff with their safari-style helmets salute as one drives in.  A friendly front-of-house staff member took me through to the Lord Nelson Room, where the soccer matches can be viewed by the hotel’s guests.  Nothing about the hotel exterior or inside gave one the feeling that the world’s largest sporting tournament was currently taking place in the city.   The chairs and couches were set up in a U-shape in the room, and small side tables were set up with plates and serviettes, snacks like chips and nuts, a snack menu, and later even a child-like plate of sweets was put out on the tables.  Having Rudi Liebenberg as the top chef at the hotel was not evident in what was served in the Lord Nelson Room.

The Lord Nelson Room has a Tudor design, with wood-clad walls and wooden beams on the ceiling.  It looks old-fashioned, the beige couches interspersed with rose-fabric covered chairs, and the closed curtains gave it a dreary feel.   I arrived an hour ahead of the match, and observed the barman set up his little bar (everything was brought in from another section of the hotel).  I was not asked if I wanted to order at all, and had to ask for a cappuccino and some water.   A misunderstanding was efficiently and charmingly sorted out by the hotel’s Guest Relations staff member Osnat Gropper. 

The World Cup menu has a very small selection of food options: potato samoosas cost R40, Southern Fried Chicken R50, the Mount Nelson Club sandwich costs R85, spicy Thai style fish cakes cost R60, a Ground Beef Burger costs R90 (the Mount Nelson burger once was the most expensive in the city), “baby gem lettuce” (no idea what this could be) at R65, a snack platter for four costs R230 (but it is not specified what it consists of), and mushroom empanadas (the waiter had to find out that these were mushroom-filled pastry parcels).   One can also order a snack plate of biltong, droe wors and spiced cashew nuts for R60.  The empanadas were outstanding, four served piping hot, in a white bowl, without any attempt to make them look attractive, but were excellent value at R40, the best-tasting pub food on my World Cup journey to date.

The prices of the drinks are not printed on the bar menu, so the waiter had to write them down for me.  One has no idea of what is available to order, as the bar seems to be hidden around a wall in the room.   Amstel, Castle Lite, Castle, Hansa and Black Lable all cost R19, while Heineken and Peroni cost R22, prices which were on a par with the other pubs I have visited, a surprise, given one’s expectation that it would be far more expensive at the hotel.

For the Mount Nelson Hotel being a 5-star hotel, and having guests attending the TIME, Fortune, and CNN Global Forum possibly in the Lord Nelson Room watching the soccer, it seemed terribly amateurish – the waiter was desperate for business (the room never filled up completely), and begged guests to sit down, and saying that the sweets and snacks on the table were free; the lack of presentation of the food other than in a functional container; the complete lack of proactive service; lukewarm beer served, as it had not cooled down enough as it comes warm from somewhere else and was put on ice just before the match started.  No Manager ever came into the Room to check on how things were going, except for the score!   I definitely would not return for the World Cup viewing, but am tempted to try Chef Rudi’s special winter menu after the World Cup.

Mount Nelson Hotel, Orange Street, Tel 021 483-1000.  www.mountnelson.co.za

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

Pub Review: Watching the World Cup at Foresters Arms

Foresters Arms, or Forries as it is commonly known, is a Newlands landmark, having been built as an inn in 1880, as a halfway station between Cape Town and Simonstown.  With its English Tudor style building, I chose it as the pub to watch the England versus Slovenia match.  

I had not been to Forries since an Ikeys/Maties Intervarsity rugby match about 35 years ago, and it felt as if the interior of the pub had not changed one bit since then!   It comes across as a goldmine, into which no money has been re-invested for years, at least not as far as its decor goes.   Its wagon-wheel lamps, black and white photographs of the original inn, its wooden benches and tables, set up school-wise so that one sees the backs of the persons in front of one, and old-fashioned menu design all date the pub.  I was disappointed with the lack of “gees’ of the predominantly England supporters, even though the pub had lots of flags up outside the building, the staff wore soccer shirts (the only pub visited that showed its World Cup spirit in this way), and England was winning. 

In addition to the very extensive menu, a reduced World Cup laminated menu is presented.  The reduced menu offers 200 gram baskets of crumbed mushrooms for R 47, and barbeque ribs for R 43, and a 250 gram basket of peri-peri chicken wings for R 40.  A 250 gram “super rump” steak sounds good value at R 78, while three wrap choices cost around R 60.  A Moroccan chicken salad costs R 58.  I saw some patrons order chips, probably the most popular item on the menu, which cost R 17/R34.

The main menu, whilst offering varied choices, almost seems overdone, especially as I hardly saw anyone eating during or before the match.   It offers every possible food type, starting with breakfast options ranging from R 28 – R 49; eight starters range from R 35 – R 58, and include chicken livers, mussels, springbok carpaccio; all steaks are 250 gram, and the most expensive is the fillet steak at R 135, not inexpensive at that price.   Salads range in price from R58 – R 65, and it is surprising there is such a choice available, given that most patrons I saw were male.   Fourteen pizza options are offered, the most expensive being a Figaro Pizza (bacon, blue cheese, and figs).  I had the pizza with a mushroom, asparagus and avocado topping, and was extremely disappointed – I could not taste the asparagus, yet tasted something in a sauce, covered in cheese.  It tasted most unappetising, and was not attractive either, yet cost R 68.   Fish and chips cost R 60.  Schnitzel, chilli steak and steak rolls are also available.  As if this is not enough choice, they have a section called “A la carte” – was the rest of the menu not that already? – with a mix-match of Gourmet Karoo Lamb Burger (R65), calamari strips, tiger prawns (8 for R 135), steak and kidney pie, chicken pie, mussels, gammon steak, green chicken curry and pork ribs.  A carvery at R 95 is another option, but is only served on Sundays and public holidays.  The manager told me that the steak and kidney pie, the Forries pizza and their burgers are by far the most popular menu items.

The winelist is introduced as follows: “The wines we have selected have also been accredited by the Platter Wine Guide”.  One cannot imagine anyone drinking other than beer at Forries, but they do sell some very inexpensive wines by the glass (R18 for Robertson Chapel white and rose), Savanha Chardonnay costs R 22,  and Spier Cabernet Sauvignon and Barista cost R 35 each.  John B wines cost R23.   But Forries also stocks Moet et Chandon at R 700; Simonsig and Graham Beck sparkling wine at around R 200; Spier Private Cellar shiraz costs R 230.  Corkage is charged at R 30.

“Forries offers the largest selection of draught beer in the Cape”, according to the winelist, and its 500ml Amstel and Windhoek cost R20,50; Castle costs R18,50; Hansa R18; Mitchels R20; Peroni R22,50; Pilsner Urquell R24,50; and Guinness R25,50 – these prices are very good value compared to bottled beers served at other pubs.   The quantity of beer is not specified nor requested when ordering, and I was only told afterwards that a 330ml size was available for all the draught beers.

It is hard to imagine what attracts clients to Forries, other than the tradition of going there from varsity days, good parking availability, and its good value and range of draught beer.  It cannot be the food (the worst of all the pubs to date) nor the decor.   I rated it luke-warm on World Cup “gees”, and nothing would drag me back to Forries again.

Foresters Arms, 57 Newlands Avenue, Newlands.  Tel 021 689-5949.  No website, but www.forries.co.za will go live in “about a month”!

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

Pub Review: Watching the World Cup at Pure, Hout Bay Manor

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

Pub Review: Watching the World Cup at Salt Vodka and Champagne Bar

An important match like England versus Algeria deserved a better pub visit than the one to Caprice earlier in the day.   Salt Vodka and Champagne Bar, which opened about 3 weeks ago, and has taken four months longer than planned to open, met the brief.

If I had not known about it having opened, having been told about it by Newmark Hotels’ PR consultant Ian Manley, I would not have gone, as there is no signage outside.   I first tried to enter via Salt Deli, but the entrance is separate, so I entered via an outside side passage.  It is not clear that one must go up the steps, as there is no further signage down the passage, and the initial steps are dangerous, first down a tile step, and then up wooden steps. 

It was a surprise to enter a large bar area, sparsely furnished.   The amazing and charming Manager Aleks Kopertowska came to me and greeted me by name and with a handshake, having taken my reservation earlier in the day.  She did tell me later on that she remembered me from the time that she worked in Franschhoek four years ago.

She seated me with an American brother and sister, who are travelling in South Africa, and Botswana and Kenya thereafter, and were staying at the Ambassador Hotel across the road.   They bravely watched the soccer with me.   Aleks explained that there had been a problem with the ordered furniture, and the lovely white leather chairs appear to be temporary.  We had a very artistic, but very low, table made from white-painted wooden logs bound together, so Aleks organised that a table from the Deli be brought to us, which made eating and writing far more comfortable.   The decor has grey tones in the ceiling, a rich wooden floor, a long bar counter with modern black leather and chrome bar stools, and a large flatscreen TV which is visible to all in the Bar.   There was only one soccer touch in the Bar, but impressed with its stylishness – two beaded soccer ball-shaped holders for the orchids. 

Aleks’ service did not stop.  She offered to show me the special Champagne Room, a beautiful display of chilled bubbly brands, especially the creative Veuve Cliquot display container in orange, which can serve as a ice-bucket at the same time.   She showed me the terrace, which has attractive grey outdoor furniture, modern but classic in design, and in summer one can predict that it will be one of the coolest places on the Atlantic Seaboard.  One can see the sea from it.

Aleks was honest in admitting that the food served at the Salt Vodka Bar currently is from Salt Deli downstairs, as Chef Jacques de Jager is still working on the menu.  Also, the full complement of 15 champagnes and 15 local sparkling wines to be offered by the glass are not yet all on the menu, that I had read about. The Salt Vodka Bar beverage list is beautifully bound in a black leather cover, and reflects the look of the Salt restaurant in the Ambassador Hotel.  The Salt Deli menu is a poor quality photocopy with the Breakfast options (clearly not applicable), and the Light Meals listed.   There are 13 options for the latter, ranging from the soup of the day (a delicious thick butternut soup, with a swirl of cream and sprinkled with bacon and decorated with fresh basil, served with toasted rye bread and butter, excellent value at R35), some salads (R30 for the garden salad), sandwiches, lasagne (R50) and Chicken Supreme (R85).  The butternut soup was so delicious that I asked for a take-away portion for my son working at the Stadium that evening.   Aleks came back to report that I had been served the last portion, but given that I would be at the Salt Vodka Bar until the match finished, she had asked Salt restaurant across the road to make another portion – a continuation of her excellent and attentive service (if only there was more like this in Cape Town!)

The Beverage List offers fifteen vodkas, many costing R 19, and the most expensive is Wyborowa Exquisite, at R38.   The heading “Champagnes” is used for both “South African” and “French” bubbly sub-headings, with five locals (Moreson R50, and Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc and its Brut Rose both costing R95 a glassful, prices on the high side) and eight imported ones (Guy Charbaut Millesime costs R160 per glass, and Veuve Cliquot costs R360 per glass).  The list of wines-by-the-glass is very limited, with just one per variety in general, and not all varieties represented – Bosman’s Rose costs R31, Sauvignon Blanc Waterford Pecan Stream and Springfield Life from Stone cost R33 and R50, respectively, and Waterford Chardonnay costs R63.  The Springfield “whole berry” Cabernet Sauvignon costs R63, a Vriesenhof Enthopio at R55, and Diemersfontein Carpe Diem pinotage (R65) disappointingly are the only three red wines by the glass.    Windhoek Lager and Castle cost R 17;  Millers, Peroni, and Amstel cost R 19; Heineken and Pilsner Urquell cost R22; Savanna costs R21; and Hunter’s Dry R19.  The Americans and I were offered a complimentary glass of chocolate martini, another Aleks touch.

Would I go back to watch another match?  Probably not, as there was little World Cup atmosphere and support.  The Danish team girlfriends, who were staying at the Ambassador Hotel, took over most of the Bar initially, and were not interested in watching at all, talking and blocking the screen. Then some dubious looking ladies (of the night?) came in, and had a loud chat with the two barmen, who talked back at the top of their voices, not caring about us watching the match – I was surprised that Aleks did not address this with her staff.  The barman was more considerate when using the cappuccino machine, compared to his Harvey’s Bar colleague two days earlier, in making less noise on it.   Salt Vodka Bar seems unfinished in terms of its temporary furniture, lack of signage, and lack of menu, probably hastily opened due to the World Cup.   The service is outstanding. 

Salt Vodka and Champagne Bar, above Salt Deli, 34 Victoria Road, Bantry Bay.  Tel 076 728 7487 (Aleks’ cell, no dedicated line upstairs yet). www.saltrestaurant.co.za (website is for the main restaurant in the Ambassador Hotel only – no information about Salt Deli and Salt Vodka Bar on the website).  Closes at midnight on all nights, except Thursday and Friday evenings, when it closes at 2h00.

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

Pub review: Watching the World Cup at Harvey’s Bar, Winchester Mansions

We decided that the South Africa versus Uruguay game had to be watched in style and comfort, to give our Bafana Bafana team the best possible support in this important game.

I had popped into the newly renovated Harvey’s Bar earlier that afternoon, for a cappuccino and their scones, which I had read about on Twitter.   What a portion it was – 2 large light scones, and a clever trio dish containing real cream, grated cheese and strawberry jam (which the Congolese waitress pronounced as “ham”, causing some confusion initially).  The price was an unbelievably low R 18 – one scone would have been good value at this price alone.

The space that was previously the bar as well as the meeting room has been consolidated into one large bar area, but divided into three sections, one being an open smoking one (I did not know that this was allowed) with a TV area, which leads into the large bar area with another TV, and a smaller, more private, lounge without TV.   Seating is a mix of chairs and couches, in shades of grey and silver.   In the central bar area, bar chairs look smart and comfortable.   Unfortunately the tables are too low, making it very uncomfortable to eat from, one having to bend so low.   The edges of the chairs are very sharp, quite dangerously so.   The glass-encased chandelier lights over the bar, and in the lounge areas, are the most beautiful lights I have seen in a long time.  Sitting in the small lounge initially, I noticed that the top half of the window, which is hidden from the outside by a canopy, had not been cleaned in months, and the bottom part had not been cleaned recently either.  With the sun setting in the west, one can see the dirty windows easily, and even more so when one is in the hospitality industry oneself.

For the match, we sat in the bar area, on the bar chairs, in front of a serving counter, so that we could see the TV screen.   The counters in the bar area were behind us, so it was a little uncomfortable to get one’s drink and food from behind – a couch on the other side prevents the bar chairs from being put there, something the hotel may consider changing during the World Cup.  The bar was not very full, and therefore it lacked atmosphere.   The staff seemed disinterested in this important match, and it was annoying that the barman mixed drinks extra loud and extra long on his machines, it seemed.   Service is quite shy as well, although our waitress Chrystelle had a beautiful smile.   I was surprised once again that soccer fans in bars do not order food, feeling quite comfortable to only have a glass or 3 of beer.   300 ml of Paulaner and Peroni cost R 22, 500 ml cost R 30; Jack Black costs R17 for 330 ml and R27 for 500 ml; Castle costs R15; Amstel R16; and Heineken R20.

The Harvey’s Bar menu has a small selection of food, and we chose four platters for five of us, too much food in retrospect.   We had a samoosa and spring roll plate (R 48), of which the waitress did not know the content, saying the spring rolls contained beef, but there was no meat inside them;  nachos con queso, with minced beef, almost too spicy nachos and lots of cheese, at R 58; potato wedges with two dipping sauces, at R 21, our most popular order; and spicy chicken wings with a tomato based sauce, making them messy to eat by hand, at R48.  Other options are Flammkuchen, an Austrian pizza-type covered with bacon, onion and sour cream (R28); prawn calamari (R77); Club Sandwich (R68); Tuna pie (48), Ginger chicken wrap (57); a sirloin steak sandwich (R75); and a Winchester Burger at R 75.

The wine prices are reasonable, and 250 ml carafes of white and red wine are available.  The house wine, both white and red, costs R 26.   Fantail Vineyards from Morgenhof, both White and Rose, Leopard’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc, and Tortoise Hill each cost R 30; Bosman’s Family Vineyards Chenin Blanc and Rose cost R 40; and Paradyskloof Chardonnay costs R 45.    Fantail Vineyards Pinotage and Leopard’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon cost R 29, Tortoise Hill and Fantail Merlot cost R 35, Edgebaston costs R45 and Cape Boar from Doolhoof costs R 54.   The sparkling wine is served per glass, Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Brut costing R 30, its Belle Rose costing R 45, and Colmant costs R 48.

The service is reactive rather than proactive.  The decor makes Harvey’s Bar an attractive venue, but it lacks spirit and energy, especially in watching a World Cup match.  There is no World Cup visibility at all except for a match schedule in the smoking section, and therefore it receives a low score as a World Cup soccer pub. Bafana Bafana’s sad loss did not help either!

Harvey’s Bar, Winchester Mansions Hotel, 221 Beach Road, Sea Point, Cape Town. Tel (021) 434-2351.  www.winchestermansions.co.za (no information about, menu for, or photographs of Harvey’s Bar).

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