I had the luck to have enjoyed a 16 course Tasting Menu dinner soon after the opening of Gåte Restaurant at Quoin Rock outside Stellenbosch, in November. I was blown away by the creativity of the dining experience, and its experiential nature, with Molecular Gastronomy, something I had not experienced at this international level in my dining experiences locally and internationally. On Tuesday a week ago I returned to Gåte, to try the new dishes on the Tasting Menu, as well as those that have changed in the past three months, while my friend from Paris ate the Tasting Menu for the first time, at her invitation. Continue reading →
Episode 5 of the JAN TV series of nine episodes broadcast weekly on viaTV, and dedicated to our country’s best chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen of JAN restaurant in Nice, focused on the relationship between sons and their fathers, and more specifically between Chef Jan-Hendrik and his dad. Continue reading →
On Wednesday I attended the Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Association Top 10 Challenge award presentation at Delaire Graff wine estate in Stellenbosch, at the invitation of Waterford Communications. Continue reading →
Last night a number of food writers joined Reuben Riffel at the One&Only Cape Town hotel, to try out the new menu of Reuben’s restaurant, at the invitation of Manley Communications.
Yesterday I spent the afternoon in Franschhoek, and used the opportunity to visit the completely transformed Franschhoek Cellar, for which re-opening I had received an invitation, but could not attend the Monday evening function last month. The redesign led to the closure in October and November last year, and the Franschhoek Cellar re-opening in December. What has emerged is a monster, not suited to brand ‘Franschhoek’ at all!
For the first time I noticed yesterday that one can no longer park in front of the building, an area which was shared with that for The Stall. There is no entrance into the wine tasting centre off the R45 entrance to Franschhoek anymore. Instead the walkway to the centre has been turned into a garden, with a rose garden, another with protea varieties, and a fountain wall. To the left of the building are some unusual looking ‘umbrellas‘, as if they are Continue reading →
* After a meeting yesterday about the controversial new Immigration Regulations, between Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom and Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba, they have announced that some of the onerous requirements will be made less stringent for tourism purposes, in preventing them from becoming an ‘administrative nightmare, causing foreigners to go elsewhere’! The Department of Home Affairs has agreed to allow any equivalent document to an unabridged birth certificate for children from the country of origin. More centres to issue biometric visas to South Africa will be opened in India and China, where there are only two per country. One wonders why the Ministers took more than a month to meet, and allowed so much damage to be caused to our country’s Tourism industry!
* Stellenbosch 360, the town’s tourism promotion agency, is determined to make every day a ‘Mandela Day‘, and assisted ‘boutique impact investment company‘ Heart Capital in its Foodpods Project in the Kayamandi township. The project encourages locals to grow vegetables. Stellenbosch 360 would like Stellenbosch residents to ‘live a life of 67 minutes as opposed to making it a yearly activity’. (received via media release from Random Hat Communications) Continue reading →
A surprise addition to the V&A Waterfront is Vovo Telo, a small, boutique and petite artisanal bakery and restaurant franchise which opened its first branch in Cape Town at the beginning of this week. It is homely and welcoming, very un-V&A Waterfront and very un-franchise, and sells a range of excellent artisanal breads, as well as pastries. The essence of the brand is ‘love, bread, coffee’.
There are five branches in Johannesburg (the one in Parkhurst being the flagship), two in Pretoria, and two in Port Elizabeth. Mark Burger is the franchisee of the V&A branch, and is already eyeing other locations in Cape Town, Constantia being a potential. Mark has been in the food franchising business for the past thirty years, having started Skippers Fish & Chips and creating franchise branches, owning Debonairs, Bravo, and Fontana before selling these. He joined Famous Brands, the company which owns the Steers, Vivo Telo, Debonairs Pizza, Wimpy, Mugg & Bean, House of Coffees, and Tashas chains, and was their New Business Director when it was still called Steers Holdings. He has opened 300 – 400 franchises in the past 20 years, and is likely to be a tough-negotiating V&A Waterfront tenant. He says that they have become far more flexible already. When he signed the contract, he was not told that the V&A Food Court would be closed until November, inclusive of the seating area outside it, curtailing the traffic to his store.
To keep the business in his ‘bloodline’, he has teamed up with his nephew Jade and his wife Adele. Mark lives in Johannesburg, having a son at school there, but plans to move to Cape Town eventually. The store can seat 75 customers inside the 210 m² and outside, and has a classy yet friendly interior, with chandelier, and Persian carpets. A fun mural above the bread shelves reflects Cape Town, with Table Mountain, at which ‘table’ Queen Victoria is depicted, with a ‘I want my coffee’ tattoo on her arm. The decor is standard across all the Vovo Telo branches, done by Mary from Famous Brands. The name ‘Vovo Telo’ means ‘grandfather’s place’ in Portuguese, and comes from a holiday the three original owners spent in Madagascar, where they stayed at a Vovo Telo hotel, and saw a local with a baguette on his bicycle, igniting an interest to start a bakery named Vovo Telo in Port Elizabeth. The three original owners are still very hands-on in and passionate about their business. During the day one can sit outside in good weather, and the Marimba band performing nearby adds a good vibe. Tables are a mix of aluminium and wood, and chairs are white moulded plastic. Vovo Telo branded brown and white sugar sachets, and coarse sea salt and black pepper grinders are on the tables. The menu design mirrors the fun feel of the website. Paper serviettes are offered.
Because Vovo Telo is primarily a bakery, customers do not necessarily think that it will be open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as coffee and tea all day, with a selection of good pastries. I had heard on my first visit that a Master Patissier starts with the group next week, and he will be travelling between the different franchises, to do staff training on pastries, still an area with improvement potential, Mark said honestly. Part of the interior is the restaurant seating on the mezzanine level, and a few tables downstairs alongside the pastry counter and the massive bread oven. A small table has pieces of bread which one can sample with Olitalia olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread is special in that Eureka stone-ground flour is used, to which is added a special culture which is passed on from store to store. The bread dough leavens for 14 – 16 hours, to ‘ferment and rise’, I was told, and no preservatives are added. Dough is hand-rolled, making the baking artisanal. The baking staff were sent to a Johannesburg branch for training. Everything in the store is made from scratch, even the pasta, which Mark told me is already receiving rave reviews. Bread styles which are made are Ciabatta (R16), 70% Rye and 30% Italian flour (R22), Sourdough (R20), Cheese Sticks (R15), Olive breadsticks (R18), Panini (R6), Baguette (R11), and Olive Sourdough (R30). Ready-made sandwiches cost around R29, including salami, Reuben, ham, and Pastrami.
The pastry section displays whole cakes (e.g. orange almond, carrot, chocolate, pecan nut, cheesecake) available by the slice (R18 – R25), as well as pastries such as croissants (R10), berry pin wheel (R18), Pain aux Raisin (R15), Pain au Chocolate (R14), Cheese straws (R18), muffins (R18), apple tart, a delicious strawberry and fresh cream tart, and pear tart at R18. Coffee is by Ciro, and it is preferred that the cappuccino be served as a flat white (R16), but I was served a perfect dry cappuccino when I asked for it.
The menu is printed in green on cream paper, and states that any changes requested to menu items could lead to an additional 20 minute waiting time. It also states that all prices include VAT, something one does not see on other restaurant menus. All food is served on a sheet of branded paper on top of a branded wooden board. Breakfast is served until 11h30, and free-range eggs are used. Eggs can be ordered scrambled or poached (R22), with their breads, as well as a number of variations to which are added ham, cheeses, sauces, or boerewors. Croque Madame (wilted spinach, Gruyere cheese, poached egg, and sourdough bread) costs R52. Toast/croissant and jam and cheese or Nutella costs R 26/25. For the rest of the day, one can order gourmet sandwiches (R29 – R 39). Pissaladiere, being thin crust pizza bases made from ciabatta dough, range from R59 for Marinated tomatoes, and an olive and bocconcini mozzarella pizza, to R72 (ham and Brie, four cheeses, and Avocado, Gorgonzola, and Salami). I enjoyed their Classic pizza last night, with crispy Gypsy ham, feta, and avocado after (R69). ‘Handcrafted’ Tagliatella is made daily, and is served with fresh tomatoes (R48), steak (R69), zucchini and pine nuts, smoked salmon (R69), and basil pesto and pine nuts. Salads offered are green, honey mustard chicken, roast vegetables, and a harvest board, peaking at R59. No main course costs more than R82 (fillet steak), and one can also order a lamb burger (R67), salmon trout, and an antipasta platter.
To commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s reign this weekend, Vovo Telo is offering an amazing value R14 offer of warm scones with mascarpone cheese, strawberry jam, and Boerenkaas for all of next week, making one ‘good to go for another 60 years!’, says its flyer. The application for the liquor licence has already been lodged, and is awaited. A small range of alcoholic beverages will be sold, including &Union beers, five or so boutique wines, and some whiskies.
For being in the V&A Waterfront, the prices of Vovo Telo are exceptionally good. The quality of the breads and the good coffee are a further reason to make a stop at this outlet. The staff is friendly, and the management is present all the time. The arrival of their credit card machine is eagerly awaited.
Vovo Telo, next to Vaughn Johnson, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-3750. www.vovotelo.com (Not much information on the website, Cape Town not yet listed). Twitter: @VovoTelo Monday – Sunday, 7h30 – 21h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
On my previous visit in August to the Hermanus Wine Route in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, I popped in at Newton Johnson winery, and was impressed with the location of Heaven restaurant, and my chat with its new chef Stefan Louw. This was confirmed when I returned on a cloudy day with my colleague Carole earlier this week, but there were small problems that clouded the visit.
Newton Johnson winery is well known for its organic wines, and Carole and I wondered why its logo contains seahorses, when it is not directly at the ocean. We thought angels may have been more appropriate, given the name of the restaurant! The tasting room is impersonal, sparsely furnished with only one couch and a surfboard, and one is not encouraged to taste or buy wine there.
Heaven is a complete contrast, and we received a warm welcome, and Chef Stefan remembered me by name, even though I had been there 3 months ago, and only had a cappuccino there on my last visit. Chef Stefan came to bring us menus personally, and apologised for doing so, saying honestly that he was short-staffed. Our waiter was very new to the restaurant, but was prepared to ask Chef Stefan any question we had.
The table tops are made from wine barrels, and the chairs have orange upholstery. Cheap brown placemats cover the unique tables, but a nice touch was the pin-cushion on each table. The restaurant can seat 40 patrons, and a few more outside. The kitchen is high-tech stainless steel, open plan to the restaurant, and it seemed as if there was more kitchen staff than guests. One would not look at the kitchen much, as the highlight is the magnificent view, Newton Johnson having one of the highest located tasting rooms. One can see as far as the ocean from the building.
The menu is presented in a Newton Johnson branded black plastic cover. It contains a long introduction by Chef Stefan, emphasising that he grows and sources produce locally and seasonally. Calling himself the ‘chef patron‘, he invites his guests into the kitchen to see what he is preparing. After qualifying at the Cordon Bleu cookery school, he worked as the executive chef at game lodges, casinos, restaurants, his last contract having been in the Channel Islands, where he received an AA rosette for two years. He took over Heaven about six months ago: “Truly… bought my way into heaven”. The menu is changed regularly, and Chef Stefan encourages one to express one’s dietary requirements, so that they can be accommodated as best possible. The menu also states that the whole restaurant is non-smoking, even outside, due to the fire danger on the farm.
Breakfast costs R45 – R55, and each breakfast item has a quirky title: The ‘Direct Access Breakfast’ appears to get one to heaven faster, with bacon, Cumberland pork sausages, Portobello mushrooms, tomato, baked beans, toast, pastries, a choice of eggs, and a beverage. ‘Half way there’ is a reduced version of the full cooked breakfast. ‘Selling your soul‘ is Eggs Benedict, and ‘Sleeping with the fishes’ is oak-smoked salmon with scrambled eggs. ‘Buying your way in’ is a parfait of natural Greek yoghurt, honey, fruit, and granola, served with a croissant. Chef Stefan clearly had fun devising these descriptions. The rest of the menu has ‘functional’ descriptors, and each menu starter and main course has a Newton Johnson wine recommendation, but the wine prices are not specified. The list of starters runs over two pages, which I did not pick up, reducing the number of options we chose from. Carole loved her Ginger chilli tempura prawns, which was served with a brunoise of papaya, cucumber and cilantro salad, soy and mint dressing (R60), a colourful spring dish. My charred spring asparagus was served (on a chipped plate) with a poached egg, hollandaise sauce and lavosh (but advertised as homemade seed loaf on the menu), costing R50. Other starter choices include a black and wild mushroom risotto (R80); a Heaven Platter for two of charcuterie, cheeses, pickles and preserves (R145); Caesar salad; The Heaven salad with Brie cheese and toasted pumpkin; confit chicken and artichoke puree; and a duet of mushroom and venison carpaccio.
Main courses offer a range of price options between R75 for Bevan’s Caesar salad to R135 for dry-aged beef sirloin. Other choices include pan-seared linefish (yellowtail on our visit), savoury tarte tatin, watercress pesto lunguini, and Indonesian soy pork loin. Desserts cost between R45 – R60, and Butterscotch and praline bavarois, strawberry and pistachio tartlet, baked chilli fondant, and a seasonal fruit platter are offered, as is the Heaven cheese selection (R65), which Carole and I shared. The waiter wasn’t sure of the cheese types, which turned out to be Brie, Boerenkaas, Emmental, and Blue cheese, which were served with water biscuits (not ideal for cheese) in addition to bread, green fig preserve and pickles (the menu offered grapes too, but were not served). Chef Stefan has some exciting ideas to host theme-specific evenings, including a crayfish braai, and beer pairing evenings.
Heaven is one of four restaurants on the Hermanus Wine Route on the R320 (with Creation, Mogg’s Country Cookhouse, and La Vierge), and has the potential to be the most-talked about restaurant on this route, if Chef Stefan addresses the menu description inconsistencies, and throws out his chipped crockery. These improvements, combined with a friendlier winetasting assistant and more furniture in the tasting room, would add to a heavenly visit to Newton Johnson.
Heaven Restaurant, Newton Johnson wine estate, R320, Hemel-en-Aarde valley, Hermanus. Tel 072 905 3947/(021) 200-2148. www.newtonjohnson.com/heaven. Breakfast 9h00 – 11h00, Lunch 12h00 – 15h00. Dinner for parties of 15 persons or more, by arrangement. Tuesday – Sunday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
The Mount Nelson Hotel has been running a series of monthly ‘Wine and Dine’ dinner and wine pairing evenings for years already, and I attended one such dinner a few years ago. On Friday evening I attended the dinner paired with Neil Ellis Wines, giving my Huguenot High School classmate Neil some moral support. It was a lovely evening, good value at R395 for six courses, and a generous supply of six Neil Ellis wines served.
The dinner was held in the Garden Room, in what appears to be the last bastion of history and tradition at the Mount Nelson, the room having inherited the mural that was previously in the Cape Colony restaurant, which is now called The Planet restaurant. It has an impressive central chandelier, and the chairs come from the Union Castle, I was told by Mount Nelson Hotel Concierge Osnat Gropper, who shared the table with me. She also told me that the room was used as the location for Nelson Mandela’s office and the place where Mandela dances with Graca Machel, in the movie ‘Invictus’.
We started the evening with a welcome drink of Neil Ellis Groenkloof Sauvignon Blanc, in the modern Planet Bar, served with interesting canapés. It was a good way to meet some of the forty or so fellow diners, and included the very bubbly Melissa Nelsen, maker of Genevieve MCC, which is listed at the Mount Nelson, and her partner Leon. It was also a chance for a catch-up with Neil, whom I had last seen at our 40th matric anniversary in November. Executive Chef Rudi Liebenberg talked though his menu, and was followed by Neil, explaining each of his wines. Neil impresses with his humble presence, and he told us that he learnt that the best way to winemaking is the ‘long road’, or the scenic route’. There are no short-cuts, he said, in making a good wine. Neil Ellis Wines processes about 700 – 800 tons of grapes per year, coming from Darling, Stellenbosch, Elgin and Piekenierskloof. Neil was the first winemaker to make a certified Elgin wine in 1990. He told us that he loves ‘femininity’ in a wine, and that is how he makes them. His first job in 1974 was as winemaker at the KWV, after finishing at Elsenburg, and it was in the ‘Eighties that he followed his dream of making his own wines. He also told us that he tries to do a Wineless Monday, having bottles of wine on his dining table every other day, some being his own and some other brands, some local, and some international. His son Warren is a winemaker and viticulturist in his dad’s business, and his daughter is representing the brand on the Garden Route.
The first course was a trio of duck, served with apple gel and parsnip purée, and was tiny portions of lightly smoked duck, duck rillette and duck liver parfait. Although the bread basket had a selection of breads, no toasted brioche was served with the starter. The seed roll did not suit the excellent parfait. This course was served with Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2006, which was highly praised by the white wine drinkers. Neil described it as being ‘open, unobtrusive, with minerality’, and he felt the wine to be a good match with the duck.
An odd pairing was the rather salty kabeljou with seaweed crust, served with a white mussel and prawn chipolata and buttered endive, with Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Pinotage 2009. We laughed when Neil read a quote by someone else about Pinotage: a strong purposeful wine, with a lion’s heart and a woman’s tongue, which will help one fight the devil for ever! An unreleased Neil Ellis Muscat Chardonnay 2010 was served with an unusual spiced coconut and coriander soup, containing coconut slices, and hints of garlic and ginger. It was served with spinach tempura, one leaf placed in the bowl. The wine was made from Elgin grapes, and Neil described it as accessible and young, with hints of Turkish delight, and not having an oak influence.
Prior to the serving of the main course, the tasting was interrupted with an unusual glassful of orange and spice tea, perhaps intended as an appetite cleanser. The small portion of grilled springbok loin main course was good, served with an unusual black pudding, turnips, potatoes and brussel sprouts, and was a good pairing with the treat of a Neil Ellis Vineyard Selection Cabernet 2005, the best wine that they make, Neil said. It is made from grapes that come from a single vineyard block in Jonkershoek. It has elegance, with notes of cassis, dark fruit, and mint.
The most unusual dish of all was the ‘Cheese in a cup’, which was a melted mix of Farmhouse Cheddar and Cumin Boerenkaas, and served with the breadbasket again, one dunking the bread into the cheese liquid. I really liked the Neil Ellis Aenigma 2007 blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which was served with the cheese course. Speaking to Chef Rudi later in the evening, he said that he likes to challenge his staff to come up with something unusual on the cheese courses, as this course sees so little creativity. The dessert was banana and chocolate ‘stuff’, as Chef Rudi described his dessert at the recent Multiple Sclerosis charity lunch at Grande Provence. The dessert wine that Neil had chosen was Laborie’s Pineau de Laborie 2011, a potstill spirit uniquely made from pinotage, Neil said. A pretty collection of friandise was served with the coffee, which we shared with Melissa and Leon, and Neil came to chat too, the highlight of the evening.
The more I thought about the dinner on the way home, the more I felt that the Dine side of the evening was a let-down, compared to the stature of the Neil Ellis wines, the Kabeljou being unacceptably salty, the dessert being a messy mix of chocolate items, and the soup being unspectacular. The Cheese course was the highlight, in being so unusual. Unacceptable for a five-star hotel was the stretching of the waiter to place the fork, when he could have walked around to place it on the left. The Mount Nelson Wine and Dine evenings are an excellent way in which to get to meet and chat to the winemaker, and to get an idea of his/her personality. It was commendable that Chef Rudi did the rounds amongst the guests, when he had finished the food preparation. He and Neil have a similar more reserved and unflashy way about them, just getting on with what needs to be done. I enjoyed chatting to Osnat, and getting to know more about her, the Mount Nelson Hotel, and the Orient Express group that the hotel belongs to.
Mount Nelson Hotel, Upper Orange Street, Gardens. Tel (021) 483-1000 www.mountnelson.co.za
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com twitter:@WhaleCottage