A lunch at Coco Safar, followed by a dinner three days later, were two chalk and cheese experiences, the former excellent and the latter hugely disappointing, especially as it was a birthday dinner treat for a special friend! I had last been to Coco Safar for breakfast early this year, after it opened in Sea Point, having moved from Cavendish Square. Continue reading →
Cape Town’s first Michelin-star linked restaurant has opened on the third floor at Villa 47. Pierino Penati Ristorante at Villa 47 is the sister restaurant to the one-star Michelin restaurant Pierino Penati, established seventy years ago in Brianza close to Milan in Italy. It raises the bar of fine dining in our city, and is now the best fine dining restaurant in Cape Town! Continue reading →
A visit to Europe became more exciting when I decided to add a visit to France, dining at one Michelin star JAN restaurant in Nice, and continuing my World’s 50 Best Restaurants journey, eating at Mirazur in Menton (6th best), and at L’Arpège (19th best) and Septime (50th best) in Paris. Mirazur is the most highly ranked French restaurant, and has two Michelin stars. Mirazur means ‘look at the blue sea’. Last year I ate at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in New York, and in London. Continue reading →
When I first came to Franschhoek seven years ago, to set up Whale Cottage Franschhoek, Le Bon Vivant was already operating off the main road, on Dirkie Uys Street. Dutch Chef Pierre Hendriks impressed me then with his cuisine creativity, long before it became trendy. I was always bothered about the poor management of the restaurant, Chef Pierre leaving the running of the restaurant to his waiters, with no strong manager to run the restaurant. Sadly nothing has changed since my last visit to the restaurant about five years or so ago.
What has improved greatly over the ten year history of the restaurant is the interior of the renovated house converted into the restaurant, it having been painted in an interesting combination of yellow and a tomato red/orange colour in different sections. New furniture in beige and a reddish fabric has been introduced, as well as the most interesting chandeliers, one made from a colander and graters, which cleverly suit the restaurant theme. The tables are set apart with a lot of space, at the cost of creating cohesion, and are covered with good quality tablecloths, a material serviette is offered, but the cutlery is pedestrian. An unbranded bottle of olive oil is on the table. If one sits inside, one can see the chefs preparing the food behind glass, and I think that Le Bon Vivant was one of the first restaurants to open up its kitchen to its patrons. It would be great if Chef Pierre could use his glass window to look out to the restaurant too, to see what is happening inside his restaurant. The three chefs were hard at work to cope with the busy restaurant. As the owner and chef, Pierre is in the kitchen all the time, and has no time to leave the kitchen to sort out any customer issues.
It was not very busy when I arrived, and I requested an outside table due to the hot evening, but I was told that all the tables were booked. I was seated inside at a window, but it got hotter and hotter inside. There are no big doors to open to the garden, to let in more fresh air, nor are there any airconditioners, unforgivable in terms of how hot Franschhoek can get.
It was not clear that Sheralee is the manager, as she did not introduce herself, and was running back and forth herself, as were all the waitresses, instead of checking her guests’ satisfaction. She only came to my table because I asked my waitress who the manager is. She wore a black and white top, whereas her staff all wear black tops and slacks, and I should have probably made the deduction. Four waitresses dealt with me in the hour that I was there, and there was no carry-over between them, in knowing what had been discussed between myself and the colleagues. No one asked how I had enjoyed the two courses I had eaten. A question about the starter to Chef Pierre via a waitress came back as a ‘broken telephone’ response, Chef Pierre refusing to answer my supposed question as to what was in the duck foie gras – my question had been what was in the ‘parfait’, as per my waitress, which actually was a praline, when I checked it on the menu, a bad ‘Lost in Translation’ incident, reflecting that the staff do not know what they are serving. When a waitress brought what I assumed to be an amuse bouche, and I confirmed with her that it was, she said no, and insisted that it was a beetroot sorbet! She clearly did not know the term, and also did not explain why she had brought this to the table, and only rattled off its content. The same waitress, who moved from Camps Bay to Franschhoek two months ago, stretched in front of me to place additional cutlery (including a fish knife for the crayfish for the main course, as well as a sharp knife for the pork), instead of coming around to the other side, there being enough space.
The restaurant has always had an odd old-fashioned illustration as its logo, and its menu/winelist looks old-fashioned with the illustration on the front cover (behind Chef Pierre in the photograph on the left). The typeface and presentation is not as modern or sophisticated as the restaurant decor. On looking at the menu, one sees immediately how creative Chef Pierre is, in what he combines in a dish, sometimes complementary, sometimes a surprise “opposition” of ingredients. The ingredients of each dish are clearly stated, including the vegetables, so there should be no surprises, or so I thought.
A plate with three self-baked bread items was brought to the table, containing a roll, and a slice of white bread and brown bread. No explanation was given of the bread types. With it came a duo of vegetarian salsa (an odd combination of carrot, tomato and baby marrow) and a boring looking anchovy paste, the latter not to my taste at all, anchovies being one of the few items I don’t eat. Then the amuse bouche of beetroot sorbet and apple crumble with a basil leaf arrived. I remember how impressed I was five years ago when Chef Pierre served a finely chopped chicken salad as an amuse bouche in an egg shell. I had not finished eating the amuse bouche when the starter arrived already, demonstrating poor co-ordination between the kitchen and the waiters. The amuse bouche was more successful than the vegetarian salsa, having a distinctive beetroot taste, and served ice cold, good for such a hot evening.
In retrospect I should have ordered the ‘surprise menu’, a five-course menu costing R360, with Chef Pierre deciding what he will serve. Interesting and innovative is a “combination” starter, which allows one a taste of all the starters, excluding the two oyster options, at R75 for a smaller portion and R 90 for a larger one. The starter that I ordered was described on the menu as rouleau of foie gras and crispy duck leg confit with praline and caramelized popcorn (R95). It must have been the popcorn that swayed me in choosing this starter, and the popcorn tasted just like I remembered it from Baker Street Snacks’ Jumping Jack, once a PR client of mine. The dish did not come with toast or a specialist bread, and I used some of the content of the bread basket to eat with the foie gras, but it was not ideal for the fine foie gras. Chef Pierre can present dishes beautifully, and the praline wore a ‘crown’ of the finest onion rings. It was an excellent starter choice. Other starters are Saldanha oysters, at R15 each, and ‘oysters three ways’, served as tempura, with foie gras and Thai, at R70. Goat’s cheese and beetroot (R70), tuna and mango (R90), crab and chorizo, as well as beef and pork (both cost R85), prawns and scallops and salmon cost R90, and soup R60. These are very high prices for starters, and the portions are small. As the restaurant filled up, the service slowed down, and a table next to me, arriving half an hour later than I did, left after losing patience with the poor service. After the speedy arrival of my starter ahead of me finishing my amuse bouche, it took another half an hour for someone to clear the dishes on my table and to bring the main course.
My main course choice should have been a winner, given its unique combination of braised pork belly and crayfish tail, with butternut substituting lentils that I did not want, but it had a curry sauce that was not mentioned on the menu for the dish, a sharp off-putting taste. When I fed this back to one of the waitresses, and she told Chef Pierre, the message I received back was an apology, but that there was no curry in the sauce, a contradiction in itself. There was no correction as to what could have been in the sharp sauce, and after the ‘praline’ communication performance, I did not bother any further about trying to communicate with Chef Pierre, who is ‘locked’ in his glass kitchen cage! The dish is expensive, at R155, with two half crayfish spring rolls and two small pieces of pork belly topped with crayfish, placed on top of the butternut, and accompanied by tiny pieces of delicious crackling. A pity that all of this was marred by the sharp and unnecessary sauce. Other main course choices are Lamb (served four ways as rack, loin, black pudding and shepherd’s pie – R130), Veal (a trio of loin, osso buco and sweetbread – R130), Chicken and Duck served with curry rice (R90), Springbok loin and shank (R135), Kingklip and dried olives (R120), Salmon and Sole (R125), Beef fillet (R155), and Suckling pig (served as a trio of loin, rib and rilette, with apple – R125).
I did not have a dessert. One can taste a taste of all the desserts at R90, or pay R55 – R75 per dessert, including Lemon and Orange, Soufflé, Chocolate, an interesting sounding Strawberry and Basil, Sorbets, two cheese platter options at R80, and coffee and friandises at R26.
The winelist forms part of the menu, and I did not initially see the wines by the glass in the Aperitif section. Wines are almost exclusively from Franschhoek, and are very well-priced. I ordered a jug of water, and a glass of Lynx Blanc de Noir, most reasonably priced at R26. But they had run out of the wine, and offered me a Boschendal Blanc de Noir instead, at the same price, usually only sold by the bottle. Pierre Jourdan Brut is the only sparkling wine available by the glass (R35/R165), and Colmant Brut Reserve costs R220. Eikehof Chardonnay costs R24/R95, Klein Dassenberg Sauvignon Blanc R26/R95, Stony Brook Semillon (R36/R155), Terra del Capo Pinot Grigio (R30/R120), Chamonix Rouge (R36/R90), La Bri Affinity (R36/R130), Eikehof Cabernet Sauvignon (R28), Bellingham Pinotage (R36/R140), and Porcupine Ridge Syrah/Viognier (R28/R120).
Despite asking the waitress for the bill, it did not arrive. I stood at the Reception for 10 minures, until a waitress (who had not served me at all) prepared the bill and took my payment. A flurry of waiters as well as the Manager had passed me in this time. It is such a shame that Chef Pierre’s culinary leadership is destroyed by unknowledgeable waiters, whose service does not match what he and his chefs create in the kitchen, and therefore does not justify the prices at Le Bon Vivant, expensive even for Franschhoek!
Le Bon Vivant, 22 Dirkie Uys Street, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-2717. www.lebonvivant.co.za (Surprisingly modern website, menu available, and commendably lots of photographs in the Image Gallery, which would sell the restaurant to any prospective customer). Thursdays – Tuesdays lunch and dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
It is not often that an evening that starts as a disaster ends off on such a high note. Our evening at the two month old Indochine at Delaire Graff could have gone horribly wrong, but the service recovery from the Duty Manager Sabrina D’Agrossi, chef Jonathan Heath and waiter Nick all combined to rescue the evening, pulling out all the stops to ensure that we were made to feel very special, and to enjoy the outstanding unique and special Asian-fusion menu.
I had booked a table for a Thursday evening two days earlier, and confirmed that I had pronounced the name of the new restaurant correctly, so there was no mistaking at which of the two restaurants on the estate I wanted to book. We drove through the open gates at the security entrance, passed the Delaire restaurant, looking for the new Hotel, designed by French architect Pierre Bories, but there was no signage yet for the hotel, and the security guard we asked in the parking area had never heard of Indochine, nor had the person he asked via his walkie-talkie! I then Googled the telephone number on my phone, and had the luck that Sabrina answered the phone. She gave me the news that the restaurant was closed as they had no bookings! I told her about my booking, and she told me where to find the hotel, through the gates, ‘guarded’ by the two Dylan Lewis cheetahs. Nick met us outside, and walked us into the restaurant, showing us the tiny cinema, and we noticed the outstanding artwork inside the generous hotel reception area. The chef was called and he came to the restaurant from Stellenbosch, to prepare our meal, with such graciousness that you could have sworn that it was a pleasure for him to be called away from home.
The owner Laurence Graff (owner of Graff Diamonds International Ltd, victim of one of the biggest jewellery robberies in London last year) is known as an art collector from the original Delaire restaurant, and he has invested in four further Dylan Lewis cheetahs on the lawn outside the restaurant, each costing R 250000, we were told. He has also focused on father Anton and son Lionel Smit, with sculptures and paintings by the Smits, especially the latter featuring strongly.
The restaurant is a large open plan one, with the bar at the entrance, and two comfortable chairs if one wants to sit at the fireplace. The interior design has been done by London-based David Collins, who did the Delaire restaurant and wine centre too. If the Delaire restaurant leans to the orange side in terms of its decor, Indochine is definitely blue – blue leather chairs (strangely low, indirectly admitted by Sabrina as not intended to have been so low), and small blue leather couches with round dining tables, one could say “cut-up” and small versions of the large orange couches in the Delaire restaurant. The tables have a copper top, the colour a warm decor touch, but with a wooden bar underneath the tables facing one, which means that one can bump one’s knees against it, and one therefore has to put one’s legs on each side of it, an uncomfortable position. There is little art inside the restaurant, and it is understated relative to the sister Delaire restaurant. The view must be magnificent by day, onto Stellenbosch. The glassware probably is from Riedel, the cutlery is the most modern chic Italian, and a wooden board on the table holds a lantern with a candle. The music is reasonably soft Eastern style. The Hotel building only houses the spa and restaurant, and guests are accommodated in 10 “lodges” outside the hotel, with Cape Dutch style gables (the cost for one night starts at R8000). Graff has so much faith in his team, that he has supervised the building work via DVD, the staff tell us, and he has yet to see his new hotel and restaurant.
We were presented the blue-cover menu and winelist, and were served a glass of Delaire Sauvignon Blanc (initially the Chardonnay was brought to the table in error) for my guest, and a Red Blend 2006 for myself (the Delaire Shiraz was a 2009, so I declined), expensive I felt at R50 and R60, respectively. Only the Delaire wines are served by the glass. Nick told us that they had not intended to serve wines by the glass, but have realised that there is a demand for it, so they will be added to the winelist. Nick struggled to get away from serving us bottled water, when I asked for fresh Stellenbosch water. The Delaire wine labels are beautifully designed. The winelist is interesting, in being only two pages (not likely to win the Diner’s Club Winelist Award), and offering a very restricted choice of no more than four/five brands, but in many cases only one or two per varietal. Only the champagne (Billecart-Salmon Rose, Laurent-Perrier and Louis Roederer Cristal), and six other wines are imported (the Chateau Pichon Lalande 2005 costing R 5500, Hospices De Beaune 2002 R 1950), and Delaire Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Rose’, and the Red Blend are offered. Vintages are specified on the winelist, but no wine descriptions are provided.
I noticed references to chilli, pepper and curry in the menu, and did not want to order anything that was too hot. The chef came to the table, and explained the menu to us (what a great touch, given that the menu creation is his “baby”, so who better to describe it?). I had not heard of Chef Jonathan Heath before, and most of his experience after he started his apprenticeship at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West was at Southern Sun Hotels both domestically and in Africa, his last stop having been the opening of a Southern Sun in Nigeria. He loves Asian-fusion food, and is therefore in his element. Mr Graff does too, and that is why such a style of restaurant was selected for the hotel. It also contrasts the cuisine of the Delaire restaurant, is healthier in that the food is only steamed and poached, and is light. Chef Jonathan is a big fan of Heston Blumenthal, and is into foams and froths, and molecular gastronomy, he says. He also sources organic produce where he possibly can.
Sabrina came to the table with a customer feedback form, so that the problems experienced can be addressed by the management, as well as a media pack. She also brought a gift pack with a bottle of Delaire Shiraz, to express her apology. She offered me her card, so that I could book directly with her in future.
The menu offers 2 courses for R 225, 3 courses for R290, 4 courses for R385, and 5 courses for R 470. Like Overture, one may choose the dishes from any of the sections on the menu. The Chef quickly sent an amuse bouche of duck liver parfait and a home-made paneer cheese, with a strong lingering aftertaste. Chef Jonathan impressed us by bringing each of the dishes to the table, and explaining the ingredients to us. My guest’s Tikka Duck Marsala was served with curried lentils, coriander, cumin, spring onion and red pepper, garnished with pea shoots, and had a wonderful cucumber and cumin riatta. My duck springroll was made from rice paper and was steamed, Chef Jonathan saying that it has close to zero calories, with julienned carrots and beans, and served with pickled cucumber and daikon radish, a bamboo shoot salad and dipping sauces. Other starters are marinated beef salad, tuna loin, poached tiger prawns, and wild mushroom salad. This was followed by a wildberry and litchi sorbet.
My guest had the salmon trout, topped with squid and caviar, with tomato and chilli broth poured over it by the Chef at the table. My four 7-Thai-spice braised pork belly slices also had caviar on them. We ordered a bowl of Jasmine rice and a butternut salad with the main course (one is allowed one side dish each). Other mains offered are seared scallops, steamed line fish, duck breast, and Green tea poached Quail Breast. We did not order dessert, but were served a trio of treats with our cappuccino – pistachio mousse, a chocolate amaretto cycle, and a macadamia nut spear. Dessert choices are de-molded chai brulee, butternut sponge, citrus baked cheesecake, 5-spice malva pudding, and passion fruit panna cotta.
Chef Jonathan impressed us with his ability to interact with his guests, with his creativity in food preparation and presentation, and the generosity of what was sent out of the kitchen (a 2-course meal had an added amuse bouche, sorbet and sweet treats). He comes to greet and chats with guests as a matter of course. One hopes it stays this way. But none of this would have been possible without the calm and efficient way in which the Duty Manager Sabrina dealt with the problem, and had turned it into a wonderful evening. The restaurant is one of the finest in Stellenbosch, its addition strengthening our call for Stellenbosch to be given the Gourmet Capital crown, and to develop a Restaurant Route. Another fan of foams and froths, Richard Carstens, opens across the road at Tokara in October.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
In my Hausfrau past, I was a mean Beef Wellington preparer for dinner parties. When I saw this dish advertised as the new Winter Special (at R 99 with a glass of sparkling wine, until the end of the month) at 1800 Restaurant at the 5-star Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, I had to have it! We had tried the Winter Special almost a year ago, and were disappointed then (read review). Unfortunately our return visit was no different.
It started when we arrived – I was finishing a call in the car, and a staff member of the hotel interrupted my call and hassled us about parking, even though we were in a legitimate bay outside the hotel. He was intimidating, and I asked him to step back. Two security staff we walked past upon entering the hotel did not greet us. The manager seated us at a table next to one of those odd “confession” screens, which allows one to be heard, and to hear every word of the table on the other side of the screen, near a drafty entrance to the restaurant.
We had barely settled in, when we received a complimentary glass of sparkling wine as a “token of our appreciation for dining with us tonight” – nice touch, but the rest of the introduction sounded straight off a script. When I asked what we were drinking, I was told by the waiter Alex that it was “Kleine Zalze”. From the little I know about wines, I could not recall a sparkling wine made by this wine estate, and asked him to bring the bottle to the table – it was a Kleine Parys Cuvee Brut in fact!
The bread was brought to the table immediately, really not exciting at all, and I left it to one side. We received a sermon about the location of the cloakrooms, the meaning of the name of the restaurant (steak is prepared at 1800F), and the menu. The waiter talked us through everything, including the eight special sauces of which one can order one for free, and did not mention the Beef Wellington special we had come for. For the special, there is no choice of sauce – you must have it with the Red Wine jus, as prescribed. The restaurant service is affected by this long introduction to the restaurant, as no other tables close by can be served. I ordered a starter and the special, and the starter arrived within 5 minutes, commendably quick (compared to the slow service for the rest of the evening). I had not even placed the order for the wine. Three spiced salts were brought to the table as well, but the waiter only knew the origin of them (smoked paprika salt from Africa; Sumac salt from Arabia; Allepo salt from South America) but could not describe their taste to us.
The focus of 1800 is on steak, and the restaurant’s website states: “Owner, Paschal Phelan, brings with him many years of experience in the meat industry in Ireland, and under his direction, his team ensures the best quality by inspecting suppliers’ farms to maintain the highest standard of their meat offering. The restaurant’s succulent beef and other selected meats are grass reared and then grain fed for a short period to enhance the flavour and ensure tenderness. It is then matured to perfection in the grill room’s temperature controlled storage”. I could not help thinking of Carne when I read this.
Prior to the starter being served, an amuse bouche served on a spoon was brought to the table – it was a smoked paprika cheese and mash ball with sweet chilli sauce, a non-event. The starter Duck Rillettes were served on white toast. I was attracted to the description of the dish on the menu: “Duck liver parfait, toasted pecan nut and honey broiche and brandied sultanas”. The toast looked like ordinary white bread, and there was no sign nor taste of nuts nor honey in it, even when the manager brought us an untoasted slice of the “brioche” to taste. The manager could not answer when I said that this was not as described in the menu.
The service problem came from there being no heavy-weight manager on duty. Our waiter of last year, Emmanuel, whose service we were not happy with then, now is the manager, out of his depth we felt. The owner of the hotel was also dining at the restaurant, and perhaps the staff had their attention focused on him and his party. The music was far too loud, and not pleasant, but luckily was turned down as soon as the owner arrived. Nothing has changed in terms of the decor in the year since our last visit.
The “Beef Wellington” at 1800 Restaurant is not made with pate de foie gras, nor are the duxelles mixed with leeks, nor do they cover the whole steak – a tiny teaspoonful of the mushroom mix was placed on the top of the fillet, underneath the puff pastry, like a crown! The steak was prepared medium, as specified by the waiter. I asked the manager why there was no foie gras, and the answer he brought back from the chef was that it would make the dish costing too high – a con! We felt that the portion of steak also was not close to the advertised 200 gram. When the plate of food was brought to us, the mash and the vegetables on the plate were cold, so we sent them back. The second set of vegetables was extremely salty. The red wine jus had a very rich dominant taste, and I felt that it spoilt the taste of the steak.
We ordered the Allee Bleue Shiraz 2007, at R 50 a glass, and while the portion served was very generous, it was not a particularly pleasant wine. The “Wine Portfolio” (nice name) is divided into wine type, and then by wine region within that, with listings of local and international wines. The house wine is a Capaia Blue Grove Hill Sauvignon Blanc (R35/R140), and its Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend (R40/R160). Graham Beck’s sparkling wines are listed under Stellenbosch and not Franschhoek! Champagnes range from R680 for Lacombe and Leillier to R 2400 for Dom Perignon. Some of the wines are expensive, but I counted eight white and seven red wines by the glass that cost less than R40, which is good value, especially as none of the red wine vintages were younger than 2007. One can indulge in such international wines as Giovanni Corino Barolo Vigne Giachini, Domaine Ussegilo Chateauneuf-Du-Pape Imperial Cuvee, Chapoutier St Joseph Les Grantis Rouge, and Alain Chavy Puligny-Montrachet les Purcelles, all upwards of R 1000.
The manager could not answer our challenge that serving the “Beef Wellington” short of its identifying ingredient was dishonest. The Executive Chef Jonathan Gargan, who took over the restaurant only about three months ago after service on cruise ships, was not on duty, and his deputy Chad Booysen (ex-Beluga) clearly was not coping with the room full of diners.
We knew it a year ago, and we should have known better in returning to 1800 Restaurant. What they are offering as a Winter Special is dishonest, and does not do their reputation, nor that of the 5-star Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, by whom it is owned, any good. The staff and manager need a serious training hand, and the Executive Chef should be on duty on busy weekend nights. The name of the chef of a year ago (Lindsay Venn) is still on the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel website, while the restaurant website does not mention the chef’s name at all!
In re-reading my review of a year ago, it is clear that little has changed – the special is not mentioned when one arrives, the service slows down as the restaurant fills up, and the wait for the main course is long. The prices have not moved much compared to a year ago, which is commendable – the price of the 200 gram fillet has come down to R120, that of the 400 gram has remained the same, while that of the 300 gram has increased. The price band of the starters (Paternoster mussels, Franschhoek salmon trout, baby calamari, Kalahari springbok carpaccio, two salads and chicken livers), being R40 – R69, has not changed much. The linefish price has however increased by 19 % to R115, while the cheapest dessert has come down to R28 now, to a maximum of R45. Desserts include ice cream and sorbets, souffle cake, cheese cake and a plateful of miniature desserts.
1800 Restaurant, Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, Main Road, Green Point, Cape Town. Tel (021) 430-0506. www.18hundreddegrees.com. Monday – Saturday.
POSTSCRIPT 4/8: Read the reply to this review from Jonathan Gargan, Executive Chef of the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, in the Comments section.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
Hidden in the suburb of Paradyskloof (meaning “valley of paradise”) outside Stellenbosch, opposite the Stellenbosch Golf Course and on the road to the Vriesenhof wine estate, is Majeka House, a 5-star Boutique Hotel, with a top class French-style restaurant, a cuisine paradise, blessed with a creative young chef Anri Diener.
Co-owner Karine Dequeker is French, having studied at the Lausanne Hotel School, and worked at the Grand Roche Hotel, Lanzerac Hotel and Table Bay Hotel as Banqueting Manager, and it is her heritage that comes to the fore in the French-style menu of the Restaurant at Majeka House. Her husband Lloyd van der Merwe comes from the corporate hotel route, having worked at Protea Hotels and Holiday Inn, and at SETA, the hotel industry training body, before he became a training consultant. Majeka House previously was the private home of Karine’s father, and she and her husband set about a redesign of the property, spread over three erfs, to make it an 18-bedroom Hotel, opening 18 months ago. The property is spacious, and the bedrooms, swimming pool, parking area and restaurant all are generously sized. One would not know about the restaurant if one drove past the Hotel, as it is not separately branded nor visible. The Majeka name comes from the first two letters of the names of three of the owners of the property.
The invitation to review the Restaurant at Majeka House came from the Van der Merwes, who read this blog regularly, and from my son, who is one of the managers of the Hotel. I accepted the invitation, with their understanding that the review would be written objectively and critically, as always.
An interesting introduction to the Majeka House restaurant is the arrival of an amuse bouche in one’s bedroom at 18h00, whether one eats at the restaurant that night or not. I received a salmon roll and a butter pan-fried prawn on greens, a lovely way to make one look forward to dinner.
The Majeka House restaurant can seat about 30 diners, and leads to the bar and library. It has a large fireplace, with two interesting paintings by Vicky Sander on each side of it. The dominant wall has trendy wallpaper in gold and black, the curtains are silk-style in a golden/cream colour, the chairs are suede-style, with Persian carpets scattered on the wooden floor. Chandeliers add the French touch. The staff uniforms are Africa-inspired, in blue and cream, perhaps a contradiction to the French feel. The dark wood tables have a cloth over the centre, set with fine glasses and cutlery. What was unusual was the homely touch of a massive serviette in a serviette ring, lying at an angle across the diner’s eating area, as opposed to the left, or on the side plate, as is the norm. The fresh rose from the garden and a flower-inspired candle holder rounded off the table decor. Most of the crockery used is from Wonkiware, which adds a design touch to the dishes presented, the chef being minimalist as far as garnishing goes.
Music-wise a piano can be seen, but luckily there is no pianist tickling the keys (the Mount Nelson Cape Colony’s pianist does not stop playing, and it became irritating eventually). I found the French-style rock music too loud and too heavy, and was delighted when Hotel Costes was eventually played.
The Tasting Menu’s four courses are listed from 1 – 4 in French, reinforcing the French style of the restaurant. One has a choice of two dishes per course, and it costs R250, or R400 with a wine paired with each course. The lovely waitress Phelisa brought an unusual glass plate with what looked like a tablet – a small round white ‘something’ with the word WOW on it. She poured warm water over it, and it rose and expanded immediately, to become a cloth with which one can wipe one’s hands before starting to eat. I had never seen this before, and it was a nice unusual touch. Warm bread was served with butter.
The menu is not branded, and the items are printed on a patterned sheet of cream paper presented on a brown leather menu holder (as are the winelist and the a la carte menu), in quite small type, making it difficult to read, especially the wine that is paired with each dish, as it is in an even smaller type size.
I started with Chicken liver parfait, very creamy and soft, served with melba toast on a port jelly, its sweetness an interesting contrast to the parfait. The alternative was a Potato veloute, with fennel and smoked salmon fritters. I chose to drink a glass of Tamboerskloof Syrah 2006 with the first three courses, although I could have had a different wine with each course. The second course was a beautifully presented Mushroom risotto served on butternut puree, with a crisp parmesan wheel. The mushrooms were minute and delicate, the risotto perfect, and the food colours on the plate necessitated minimal garnishing. The alternative option was Pan-fried quail with a crayfish and saffron sauce with fresh gooseberries, a most interesting sounding combination.
The Beef fillet was a touch too close to the rare side, rather than the medium rare that I had ordered for the third course, served on celeriac puree, with oven roasted shallots and port jus. This made it difficult to cut the steak slices with the non-serrated knife provided. The alternative choice was a Buttered Kabeljou, served with a mussel and oyster mushroom ragout and Parisienne gnocchi. The highlight of the menu was the Millefeuille of chocolate mousse, served with a rectangular-shaped flat coffee meringue and citrus fruit, absolutely yummy and a chocoholic’s dream. The alternative Pear crumble with vanilla creme never stood a chance as a dessert choice. As if the four courses and the amuse bouche were not enough of a delight already, a plate with a homemade marshmallow, coffee meringue and truffle was presented with the perfectly made cappuccino.
The a la carte menu offers five options per course. Starters start at R50 (Tomato tarte tatin), and include Pan-fried scallops (R65), Tempura prawn salad (R65) and De-boned quail (R90). Main course prices peak at R180 for Seared Springbok loin, but Beef fillet (R140), Lamb cutlets (R150), Spinach ravioli (R95), and Poached linefish served with a lobster broth (R100) are also offered. For dessert Creme Brulee, Hibiscus granite and a trio of sorbets cost around R50, and a soft-centered mini chocolate cake and a cheese selection cost R80.
Chef Anri is a protege of Etienne Bonthuys of ex-Tokara, having worked for him for more than five years. She helped open the Delaire restaurant in chef Christian Campbell’s kitchen, and felt that Majeka House offered her an exciting challenge, in making the switch. She has the most exciting prospect of working at the Michelin 3-star restaurant L’Esperance in Saint-Pere-sous-Vezelay in Burgundy for two months. The Van der Merwes have developed an exchange programme with the restaurant, having welcomed its Senior Sous Chef at Majeka House earlier this year.
The winelist presents a good selection of wines predominantly from the Stellenbosch region, and one imported champagne (Pol Roger Brut at R760). Each wine is described briefly and commendably vintages are provided. Wines-by-the-glass are between 2 – 5 years old, and very reasonably priced (R26 for Dalla Cia Chardonnay, R20 for Villiera Chenin Blanc, R24 for Dalla Cia Sauvignon Blanc, R18 for Land’s End Rose, R30 for Villiera Tradition sparkling wine, R28 for Marklew Merlot, R39 for Dalla Cia Cabernet Sauvignon, R43 for Rainbow’s End Cabernet Franc, R31 for Bilton Pinotage, R34 for Tamboerskloof Shiraz, and R38 for Warwick 3 Cape Ladies blend).
The Restaurant at Majeka House is a treat, especially if one decides to spend a night of paradise in Paradyskloof at Majeka House too, and not drive back to Cape Town. The chocolate mousse is an absolute must! Not being very well-known yet, Majeka House could do well to embrace Social Media Marketing, in starting a Blog, tweeting more regularly, building the profile of Chef Anri, and perhaps consider an independent name for its restaurant.
The Restaurant at Majeka House, 26 – 32 Houtkapper Street, Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 880- 1512. www.majekahouse.co.za (Both the a la carte and the Tasting menu are listed. The Image Gallery does not have a page dedicated to the restaurant, and has few food photographs) Twitter @Majeka_House. Monday – Sunday. On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.
POSTSCRIPT 22/11: Following the advice in our review, Majeka House has announced that its restaurant will be called Makaron Restaurant from now onward.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
In summer I had a wonderful crayfish special lunch at Salt on a hot summer’s day, and wrote a glowing review about it. A visit to try the winter special lunch of 2 courses for R 140 and 3 courses for R 170 was disappointing, in that it lacked the evidence that Top 10 Chef Jacques de Jager, who was previously at Grande Provence, was in the kitchen or had compiled the winter special menu.
The hostess Taahira, with a very low cut dress, wanted to seat us in the furthest corner and not necessarily at the window, but our lunch was purely business, and therefore we did not need to be “hidden”. Being the only patrons initially, about a week prior to the start of the World Cup, we were then allowed to choose any table we liked. My guest Darren said that the table we chose was the one Daniel Craig sat at in the movie “Flashback of a Fool”, large parts of which were shot in Cape Town.
Darren and I both had the three-course special, and chose a different course each – one has a restrictive choice of two options per course. A quick page-through the new a la carte menu designed by Jacques was also disappointing, as I expected the creativity that he has become known for, and was recognised by Eat Out as a Top 10 chef in November, would be reflected in the menu. It was my first visit to the restaurant since De Jager introduced his new menu after taking over the Salt kitchen. I had expected a heavy French emphasis in the menu, especially as the waiter Michael had told me on my previous visit that the staff were learning all the French terms in the menu – I could only find the French terms “moules mariniere”, “souffle”, “mussel veloute”, “ballottine”, “ratatouille”, “bouillabaisse” and “parfait” on the menu.
We did not order wine, but one can pay an extra R 25 in total to have the courses paired with a wine per course (Paradyskloof Chenin Blanc 2009, Paradyskloof Pinot Noir 2008, and Vriesenhof ‘enthopio’ 2005), making the meal far better value.
We were served a choice of two breads: ciabatta and a light wholewheat bread. An amuse bouche was brought to the table, consisting of pork rillette, truffled pea puree (nice touch of colour on the plate, but too salty) and the cutest looking poached quail egg.
My cream of butternut soup was served exactly how I like it – thick and creamy, and the Gruyere-crusted toast was a lovely match – this was my best dish of the three, yet I missed Jacques’ creative touch. Darren was happy with his lentil salad with bacon, feta and croutons, which looked very healthy to me, but he felt that it could have done with a dressing to liven it up.
I was disappointed with my braised lamb, probably due to the rich sauce it was served with, which dominated the dish. The sauce is not mentioned in the menu. The sweet potato mash it was served with had a pronounced green colour – a bit worrying, as I have never seen it served this green before. It lacked the taste of sweet potato. Darren’s cob served on cannellini beans and sauce mittone was another healthy choice (after his lentils), but was too salty, and the carrots and celery were undercooked, he felt.
My chocolate parfait looked pretty, decorated with two strawberries, the plate decorated with four orange segments. The menu says that they were marinated, but what it was marinated in was not mentioned. Darren’s pear frangipani tart was served with cinnamon ice cream, but the pears were not ripe enough and the pastry hard.
Michael was efficient in looking after all our needs, and impressed us when he rolled down an outside blind when he saw that Darren was affected by the glare of the sun. He only got it wrong when he brought the bill in response to a request for more water, and he asked my how I wanted to pay as soon as he put down the bill, without allowing me to look at the bill first. Taahira sent a copy of the menu to the table, which I had requested to prevent me from having to write down the menu, in a roll held together with a brown ribbon – a professional touch.
I would find it hard to recommend this Winter Special, due to it lacking excitement, it not reflecting any of the dishes on the standard menu, and it offering far less value for money as a winter special, compared to the 6-course Myoga or the 5-course (plus amuse bouche) Cape Colony specials, for example. The Salt view and decor is far superior to those of Myoga and the Mount Nelson though.
The August winter special will offer the following choices: vol au vent or cured beef carpaccio; baby chicken or linefish; pavlova or citrus pudding.
Salt restaurant, Ambassador Hotel, 34 Victoria Road, Bantry Bay. Tel 021 439-7258. www.saltrestaurant.co.za Open Mondays – Sundays, lunch and dinner. The winter special is not available on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
The Caviar Group (Beluga, Sevruga, Caviar Fine Foods) owner Oskar “Blonde” Kotze has a weakness for blonds, or so his marketing tells us, as most photographs used to market his restaurants feature sexy girls, particularly blond ones. Blonde, the newest restaurant of the Caviar Group, opened earlier this month as a dinner-only venue on Hatfield Street. While the female staff are all blond, the male waiters are not, and the food as well as the prices of Blonde leave much to be desired.
If one drives to the restaurant from the Parliament side, one will see an ueber-massive billboard with a ……blond on it, and the name of the restaurant (but only during the day, and not at night, as it is not lit). If one comes down Hatfield Street from Orange Street, one would not notice the 110 year old Victorian restaurant building, and drive past it. The red carpet entrance is through stylish glass double doors, down a passage with a massive chandelier. The white walls are adorned with large murals of ……blonds drinking Moet et Chandon. The chairs have a black and white floral design, and are very comfortable. The double story house, home to a number of failed restaurants previously, is divided into a number of small dining rooms, none having more than 3 or 4 tables or so in them, giving one a feeling of being cramped inside the small rooms after a while.
One is greeted by a hostess (Nikita), who is so new that she does not know where table 301 is, as per the booking sheet. The service from waitress Karien is professional, but she seemed incredibly nervous, stuttering and shaking. Three Managers were on duty, and each one of them regularly came to check if all was in order at the table, meaning that up to seven persons ask one the same question in an hour, a nagging irritation. One receives an A3 menu, with a full page …… blond on the reverse side, and another …… blond at the top of what is called the “Unofficial Menu”. A “menu explainer” comes to each table, and he explains the menu, making his personal recommendations, not surprisingly for the most expensive items on the menu (the Foie gras balentine and the Roasted foie gras starters, at R 139 and R 129, respectively) and the Truffle-infused fillet as a main course, indicated as being the restaurant’s signature dish, at R 189.
Very nice bread rolls were served, with a complimentary generous platter of little toasted breads, duck liver pate, roast beef, pickled onions, and homemade sweet chilli sauce. An amuse bouche was then sent to the table, butternut soup served in an espresso cup.
The wine list has about 60 wines, and eleven each are by-the-glass. For white wines the wine-by-the-glass choice is mainly from Greyling (“The Doppie”, Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, “Botterbek”, “Mengelmoes”), all at R 29, up to R 59 for Sterhuis Barrel Select and a Mulderbosch 2006. Red wines by-the-glass also start at R 29 for Saxenburg and Greyling HMI Collection, up to R 55 for Boschendal 1685, Greyling Family Reserve and Clos Malverne Pinotage Reserve. Between 5 – 10 options are offered per wine variety, and then an additional heading adds about 20 further options, being more select and more expensive (e.g. the “Special red wines” list includes Vergelegen V 2006 at R 1685, Meerlust Rubicon in various bottle sizes and vintages, and Raats Mr De Compostella 2007 at R 1065). The “Special white wines” list includes a Vergelegen White 2006 at R 665. Very few of the wines have vintages provided on the list. The Graham Beck Merlot was served in an odd glass, very bulbous at the bottom and a very narrow top, almost like a larger wine estate tasting room glass, which does not allow the wine to breath well.
The 40 minute wait for the main course is long, but the restaurant was almost full. The “truffle-infused fillet”, served with “garlic galette potato, mushroom ragout, bordelaise jus and beef reduction”, was a huge let-down. Not only was the 220 gram fillet bland, but the truffle infusion could not be detected. The terrible taste of the potato bake cannot be described in words without making the reader of this review run to the bathroom. The mushroom ragout was the most tasty element on the plate. When the complaint was lodged with the Manager, she was very condescending, saying that maybe it just was not to the liking of her patrons. When this approach to “customer service” was questioned, she apologised, said that she would reprimand the chef, and offered complimentary desserts (a chocolate terrine, and a peach cobbler) and Glen Carlou dessert wine. It was clear that the Manager does not yet know the Blonde menu, in that she did not know the detail about all the desserts. A basil sorbet palate cleanser was sent to the table before the desserts were served.
The menu uses an interesting pricing technique, in that the prices are not written in numbers but in words, making it harder to “see” the R number, perhaps to hide the high Blonde prices! The Starter choice of ten dishes ranges in price from R 49 (Roast vegetable salad, Baby calamari, or Herb salad) to R 129/R139 for the two foie gras dishes. Roast tomato tarte tatin, calamari cerviche, duck breast, and onion veloute are other options. Ten Mains are offered, ranging in price from R 109 (smoked aubergine and goat’s cheese cannelloni) to the beef fillet at R 189. Other choices are Chicken breast, Smoked springbok, Ostrich, Confit duck roll, Kingklip, Linefish (Cape Salmon), and Beef rib. A second column offers lighter, smaller and less expensive dishes , under the heading “Simply Blonde” – it is not explained if these are for the ladies? Nine options include Roasted chicken breast, at R 99; East coast sole and linefish cost R 109; Kingklip, Salmon, Lamb rump and Lamb shank pie cost R119; and Fillet steak and Duck breast cost R 129. A choice of sides includes an unusual selection of pickled vegetables; beef and poultry reduction; chilli jam, tomato compote, beetroot and onion chutney; and “braised” mixed vegetables, each at R 25. Last, but not least, the menu makes a recommendation for “Next time at Blonde”, being a “whole roasted fillet steak for two, roasted vegetables, duo of potato, herb salad and a beef reduction.” No price is provided, and it does not encourage one to order it during one’s current visit to the restaurant.
Underneath the menu a line is printed : “anything but pepenero” – obviously a private joke, in that it could be a reference to another restaurant group that also has 4 restaurants (Pepenero, The Kove, Zenzero and Paranga – I have been told that there is no love lost between the owners of the two restaurant groups), and that no black pepper (only …… blond pepper, i.e. white peppercorns) is available. The menu also states that “A discretionary 13 % service charge will be added to your bill. Please feel free to ask us to remove it if you are not comfortable with this addition”. The tip was removed before the bill came to the table, due to the problems experienced with the main course.
The dessert menu is short, offering lemon sabayon tart, creme anglaise soup, and Absolut mango chocolate martini as options in addition to the peach cobbler and chocolate terrine, in a price range of R 49 – R 59. The Glen Carlou “The Welder” is offered on the Dessert menu at R 59.
The bathroom is very ordinary, with average standard fittings, and feels tiny and cramped.
Blonde, 129 Hatfield Street, Gardens. Tel 021 462 5793. Tuesdays – Sunday dinners. www.blondedining.co.za (website still under construction!).
POSTSCRIPT: A further sign of the ……blondness of Blonde’s marketing department is an ad with a ……blond in the Business Report of 19 May, which lists the telephone numbers and website addresses of all four the restaurants in the Caviar Group – for Blonde it says “opening soon” and provides the web address, which is still under construction!
POSTSCRIPT 7/2: Blonde is to close down at the end of February, the current concept not having brought in the feet nor revenue, despite heavily discounted prices of its expensive menu and winelist. This is the e-mail that was sent today:
“Our sexiest socialite Blonde had an amazing summer , met some remarkable people and brought out some incredible dishes. In fact, we’re so happy with our concept kitchen’s wonderful creations, that over winter we’ve decided to send her shopping for even more exciting new ideas!! Sadly, this means we’ll be closing our doors for a while, but don’t despair we’ll be back with a brand new menu concept, served with our signature style and charm. In the meantime, look for your favourite Blonde creations at Beluga and Sevruga, or book Blonde as a private venue for your event, and get a sneak peek at what spring will bring. For her farewell, we are giving you 50% discount on your entire food and drinks bill for the entire month of February. Closing dates: March 2011 – August 2011”
POSTSCRIPT 28/2: Blonde has closed today, until September.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com