Tag Archives: Boutique Hotel

La Paris Bistro dishes up generous winter comfort food and live music on Friday evenings!

I have visited La Paris estate outside Franschhoek a number of times since it opened towards the end of 2017, but never in the evening. I was invited by Chef Nico Vorster to try the evening fare and live music of the La Paris Bistro last Friday, the only day of the week on which the restaurant opens for dinner.  We loved the good music, and the cosy comfort food. Continue reading →

Ellerman House uncorks unique world class Wine Gallery!

Ellerman House Corkscrew Whale Cottage PortfolioEllerman House is one of Cape Town’s leading boutique hotels, and has one of the largest private art collections.  Now it has inaugurated a world class Wine Gallery in the basement of its newly opened Villa Two, with a record number of 7500 bottles of wine. Architect Michael Dennett of DV8 Architects created the unique space, which aims to reflect the more than 350 year history of winemaking in South Africa, and to create an environment of learning more about and tasting our wines.   It presents the Ellerman House wine collection as a work of art in itself.

Earlier this week I visited Ellerman House, and friendly guide Heike Gerntholz showed a group of us around the new Villa Two and its Wine Gallery. The 3 bedroom villa costs R50000 per night to rent, with its own butler and chef.  The Wine Gallery can be accessed by the guests in the villa, as well as by the guests in Villa One, and in the main building, via a separate entrance.  Villa Two guests are isolated from any noise made by the users of the Wine Gallery, we were told.

My focus was the Wine Gallery, and a hand-crafted stainless steel spiral staircase takes one down to it.   It is a vast temperature-controlled space, and a number of elements attract one’s attention.   The design of the very large  lights above the tasting table was inspired by wine glasses.  Behind the tasting table is a Ellerman House Terroir Wall Whale Cottage PortfolioTerroir Wall designed by Angus Taylor,  in shades of brown, orange, yellow, and beige, representing the soils of 100 local wine farms, including La Motte and Chamonix, each framed and named.   There is a massive bar counter made from a solid block of granite, with a hematite wall behind it, and a Continue reading →

Babylonstoren celebrates 3rd anniversary with Long Table in the Garden!

Babylonstoren Long Table early Whale Cottage PortfolioThe invitation I received from new Babylonstoren Food & Beverage Manager Simoné Rossouw did not reveal what a special honour it was to be invited to the third anniversary celebration of the innovative wine estate, with a top restaurant, boutique hotel, wellness spa, wine tasting and shop, and retail outlet.

We met outside the retail area, which has been expanded to add the shop which originally was located opposite Babel restaurant.  Owner Karen Roos (with husband Koos Bekker) has created the most amazing transformation of the wine estate, which had commenced behind the scenes three years prior to their opening, with their GM Terry de Waal and his team planning and implementing their future direction. Karen is one of the most stylish South Africans, having won most stylish dress awards when they were still awarded, and having been the editor of  Elle Decor.

We were welcomed with three drink options, being home-madeBabylonstoren Bread Sticks Whale Cottage Portfolio ice tea with waterblommetjie, mint and lime; melon and mint cordial with fresh thyme; and strawberry and rose geranium with lavender and lime.  Alternatively one could drink the Babylonstoren wines.  On the table was the most interesting ‘pick up sticks’ presentation of smoked salmon and Serrano ham bread sticks.  The new Spa will be the reason for a future visit, as I never saw it, being distracted with the extensions to the retail building. Continue reading →

La Residence lays on a feast for a good cause!

On Sunday La Residence impressed with the fundraising lunch it hosted to raise monies for the Stuart McFarlane Foundation, to assist in finding a cure for Motor Neuron Disease, a disease which Stuart McFarlane, previous GM of La Residence, suffers from (as does Joost van der Westhuizen), and for which there is no cure currently.

La Residence GM Edward Morton and events manager Chantell Viljoen created the Stuart McFarlane Foundation, and sent out a mailer to encourage support for the Foundation, by attending a lunch in honour of Stuart, for which we paid R500 a head.  The grand entrance room, which is a lounge and dining room all in one, looked magnificent, with one long table set for 45 persons.  I was lucky to sit next to Jo Sinfield, the co-owner of Deluxe Coffeeworks in Franschhoek and who has hospitality interests too, and opposite Ali Macfarlane from Inspirational Places, and her fiancé Carl.  Many guests present were from the hospitality industry, having worked with Stuart at La Residence, its sister property Birkenhead House in Hermanus, Singita, and at Ellerman House. Fireplaces were lit and made the room cosy, on a grey winter’s day.  Guest of honour, Kfm’s Elana Afrika, was her bubbly self, and was amazing in networking around the table, and remembering the names of almost all the guests present.  She reminded us that ‘giving is a must’, and mentioned her radio station’s ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ campaign it runs regularly, making one realise that there are others with bigger problems than those that we have.

A few speeches were made, donations were auctioned to raise further funds, and a good time was had by all, the saxophonist adding a high note to the event.  Wines were from the Felicité range from Newton Johnson in Hermanus, at which wine estate Stuart works now, and we were offered a choice of Chardonnay 2011 and Pinot Noir 2011, the latter being an excellent example of one of the wine varieties that the Hemel en Aarde valley is famous for.

Chef Leonard Marais went to great lengths to serve a feast, canapés having been served with the Rosé sparkling wine on arrival.  On sitting down, we were served a free-range chicken, pistachio nut and asparagus terrine, served with a fine salad, spiced apple chutney, as well as melba toast, and a basket of home-baked breads and rolls.   This was followed by a Corn Chowder, a colourful warm soup for a cold day.

For the main course we were served a generous portion of oven-roasted leg of lamb, garlic and herb potato gratin, cumin glazed young carrots, fine beans, beetroot sprouts, and a rosemary jus.  For dessert we had a baked pear pudding, which was served with a delicious home-made Fererro Rocher ice cream.

La Residence, and The Royal Portfolio owners Phil and Liz Biden, impressed with their generosity in hosting the lunch and donating some of the prizes for the auction.  The elite boutique hotel, at which Elton John stays when he performs in Cape Town, is the best of its kind in Franschhoek, and showed its friendliness and demonstrated its heart for others in organising the lunch and in creating the Foundation for their ex-colleague Stuart McFarlane.  Everyone attending not only enjoyed Chef Leonard’s excellent lunch but also felt good about doing good for someone else.

La Residence, Elandskloof Road, Franschhoek.  Tel ()21) 876-4100   www.laresidence.co.za Twitter: @LaResidence  Lunch and dinner on request and subject to availability for outside guests.

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

The Alphen hotel a beautiful blend of romantic history and a hip future!

The hospitality industry was shocked to hear last year that the Alphen Hotel had closed down, after the Three Cities Group had relinquished its contract in operating the hotel. Unknown to most was that Paul Kovensky, owner of Camps Bay restaurants such as The Kove, Zenzero, Pepenero, Bungalow, and Paranga had taken a 30 year lease on the hotel, and was furiously renovating and transforming the then 3-star hotel into a five-star boutique hotel six months later, creating an interior that according to its room book is a ‘little eccentric, somewhat bohemian, rather eclectic and causally elegant and definitely sensual’. The Alphen opened in December last year, and has already been named one of only two South African Hip 100 Conde Nast hotels in the world!

The Alphen once was part of Groot Constantia, converted from a farm to an estate over the years, the first building having been established in 1773.   It was taken over by the Cloete family 150 years ago, and declared a national monument in 1973.  Wine was made and sent to the kings in England and France, The Alphen being the first wine producer, its sweet wine being particularly well-known.  Over the years the estate hosted a number of names from the history books, including Mark Twain, Captain Cook, Cecil John Rhodes, Lord Charles Somerset, George Bernhard Shaw, Jan Smuts, Dr James Barry, royalty, and ambassadors, most of the visitors having been captured in portraits.  I was taken around the estate by The Alphen GM Robert van Gent (ex Cullinan Hotel consultant, ex-Hollow Hotel, ex-Euro Disney), and he shared the passion for ‘his’ hotel. He said that Lord Charles Somerset was said to have pistol duels on the garden alongside the hotel. Dr Barry was the first medical doctor to conduct a Caesarean section, and was discovered to be a woman on ‘his’ death, women not being allowed to practice as medical practitioners at that time. In 1962 Sandy Bairnsfather-Cloete inherited the land, and opened The Alphen hotel.  The Alphen has ‘inherited’ 300 paintings of the Cloete family, and these have been rehung and grouped into themes, and ‘married’ with paintings specially commissioned by a British artist, for a more modern touch.

In planning the renovations of the buildings on the estate, the very strict requirements of The Heritage Council had to be considered.  Mr Kovensky wanted to create something unusual and unique, and Stefan Antoni was appointed to tackle the refurbishment of the 21 rooms of the hotel, as well as create two restaurants and conference rooms.  The designers looked to marry the historial heritage of the building with modernity, in its lighting, furniture, fabrics, paint and fabric colours, textures, and artwork, its room book commenting: ‘not your typical 5-star hotel, a modern and playful twist has been added to the décor and design while preserving traditional and exceptional, age old hospitality’. In their design, they looked at respecting the heritage framework, but also wanted to add ‘provocation, contemporary glamour and surreal fantasy’.

The hotel reception is in a small area, unlike the vast reception areas of many hotels, and here the classic and modern contrast is evident already, with gilded guest chairs and artwork frames, and modern artwork, and leather office chairs for the staff.  The porter Green showed me the room, switching on the TV to find the soccer, and explaining that the mini bar was empty, and that one can order drinks from a list.  It appears that guests have abused the ‘honesty bar’.  Now the mini bar contents can be tailor-made to suit each guest, said Mr van Gent. The room opens onto a little courtyard, with big windows, a king size bed, a white leather couch, a red velvet upholstered chair, a historic writing desk, a modern-to-look-old unit containing the mini bar, a dressing table, a massive dress mirror, a large old wooden wardrobe, and large bedside units, with lots of gilded touches introduced in the feet of the couches, the frames of the artwork and mirror, the structure of the room lamp, and gold curtains. Modern touches are the underfloor heating (which kept the room comfortably warm on a chilly night, without the need for airconditioning, even though it is provided), a LavAzza coffee machine, the flat screen TV, a Samsung DVD player with speakers, and an iPod docking station.  A ‘cheeky’ chair, resembling the shape of a women’s figure, is in most rooms, in red or white.  The bathrooms are modern, with black wall tiling, white bathroom fittings, silver taps, white floor tiles, silver heated towel rails, and black and white bathroom amenities by Charlotte Rhys, with a massive old-fashioned style gilded mirror to link the bathroom to the bedroom decor.  All rooms have his and her basins, and a bath and shower.  Some of the larger rooms even have ‘his’ and ‘her’ bathrooms.  Mr van Gent explained that they have renamed their room types, in keeping with their ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.  For the turn down a bath robe and slippers were laid out on the bed, with a massive brightly coloured macaroon from the hotel’s La Belle Café and Bakery.

The estate has different buildings, the original Manor House, now housing the 5Rooms restaurant, Reception, and conference rooms having been the home of the oldest Cloete son.  Daughters and young children were housed in The Dower House, and some of the lower doorways reflect this. The Mill House has rooms too. The entry level room type is called ‘Cool Suite’, at the winter room rate of R2000. As the rooms get bigger, and if they open to the garden, their room type names and rates change to ‘Amazing Suite’, ‘Stunning Suite‘, and the honeymoon suite ‘Magic Suite’, which will have a private outside jacuzzi and daybed.  Children 4 years and younger stay for free, and 5 – 16 year olds pay R500 per bed brought into the larger rooms.

Breakfast is served at La Belle Café and Bakery, and one can choose to have a health or English breakfast, Eggs Benedict, flapjacks, Churros, fresh fruit, and the Alphen Breakfast, with fruit, pastries and eggs, presented on branded wooden boards. Breakfast ends at 11h45, a treat for hard workers and late sleepers.  Coffee is by LavAzza.  One can buy delectable pastries, slices of cake, cupcake, and freshly-baked breads at La Belle too, and they are very busy for lunches and early dinners, closing at 21h00. They have become the taste of the Constantia and other Cape Town residents, making booking a necessity.  Dinner is also served at 5Rooms restaurant.  The hotel also sports the The Rose Bar, a popular meeting place with a gorgeous garden view, and is heat-protected in winter. A spa is being set up and a consultant has been appointed for it.  Treatments can also be done in guest rooms. As it will open onto the lawn, they will offer their guests Pilates, Tai Chi, and yoga outside. Wi-Fi is complimentary, room service is 24 hour, and a safe is provided.

The Dovecot is a beautiful building in the far corner of the lawns, and in it is the power house, and the Cloete family ashes.  There is a little family chapel behind it.  The old Watermill is to be reinstated near the Rose Bar. Weddings are hosted on the lawns, and special marquees are erected.  The brides come down the original steps of the Manor House, more than 200 years old, which are not allowed to be fixed and not even the grasses growing in them are allowed to be removed.   Close by is the slave bell.

This area smells beautifully of the lavender planted there. The hotel sports its own herb garden, from which the two restaurant chefs pick their daily kitchen requirements. The original cellar is let out as offices, with auctioneer Stephan Welz using one of the buildings for storage.  Robert proudly spoke about the ‘Little 15′ they have on the estate, and the squirrels jumping around in the old oak trees are definitely his favourite.  At The Alphen one feels that one is far from the city, and cannot hear the motorway not too far away.  Music is piped throughout the estate, and is light lounge music, adding a modern contrast to the historical structures on the estate.

Despite being in Cape Town, staying at The Alphen was a lovely break away, as good as a holiday.  One does not need to leave the estate at all, there being more than enough to do and eat and drink, and entertain one’s friends.

Disclosure: I was a guest of The Alphen Hotel for one night.  Service feedback was provided to the management.

The Alphen, The Alphen Estate, Alphen Drive, Constantia. Tel (021) 795-6300     www.alphen.co.za Twitter@TheAlphen. Monday – Sunday. La Belle Cafe and Bakery 7h00 – 21h00. 5Rooms dinners every day and Sunday lunch.  The Rose Bar open from 16h00 – 23h00 on weekdays, and 12h00 – 23h00 on weekends.

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

Hotel Review: Rijk’s Country House is country kitsch, tries too hard!

I am very fond of Rijk’s Shiraz, having drunk it for the first time just after maze at the One&Only Cape Town  opened two years ago.  When I saw the name of Rijk’s Country House as the only five-star accommodation option for a wedding weekend in Tulbagh, I booked, given my positive association with the wine.  But I should have known that a five-star “Boutique Hotel”, charging R 3000 per room per night in Tulbagh, was too good to be true, even though I was offered a hospitality industry rate reduction of 50%.   The Hotel is not five star, in my evaluation, and tries too hard to please, and thereby fails.  It has a very kitsch taste in some aspects.

The reservation ran relatively smoothly with Rijk’s directly, but I did not receive a confirmation of my booking after transferring the 50 % deposit, and no response to my e-mail request for the confirmation.  I therefore called Rijk’s, but only saw the number of a central reservations line, being that of African Pride Hotels, the luxury arm of Protea Hotels, who do the marketing of and bookings for Rijk’s.  The African Pride Hotels link to Rijk’s gave me confidence in its calibre.  I was put through to the sales department, and spoke to an unfriendly ‘machine’, who was speaking too fast, and he must have got annoyed when I told him that I could not understand him, and requested that he slow down.  He responded by putting down the phone. I then found the Tulbagh number of Rijk’s lower down on the website, and called them directly.  Here too the telephonic communication was a struggle, until I was put through to Andretti, who did confirm telephonically that all was in order, and he did so by e-mail as well.

Louisa Colquhoun, the General Manager of the 15-bedroom Rijk’s Country House, called a few days before our arrival, and apologised for the problems with the interaction with African Pride Hotels, and requested more details about the person I had spoken to there.  She told me that she had been sent a link to this blog by her boss, and that her boss is a regular reader. 

Our journey was beset with delays, and we only arrived at 8.30 pm on Friday.  We had to call en route, to find the best way to drive to Tulbagh from Franschhoek, not having been sent any directions.  Here too we had communication problems, in getting clear guidelines as to how to drive to Tulbagh from Wellington.  There is no signage in Tulbagh to direct one to the town centre, or to Rijk’s  from there, so we had to call again.  When we arrived, Louisa came out to the car, to greet us, and walked us inside. Two staff members almost ‘sang’ a welcome to ‘Chris and Alex’, even before we were introduced to them, and we were ‘Chris and Alexed’ by all staff throughout our stay, a little too familiar, I felt, quite a contrast to the ‘Ms von Ulmenstein’ treatment experienced at the 5-star Taj Hotel recently.  One of the staff had a tray of welcome Rijk’s Shiraz 2004 for us, very generous in its pouring.  The other tray had towel cloths for us to use, but we did not have enough hands to take the glass and the cloth plus what we were holding already, so we could not partake of this service.  Louisa showed us the lounge, the Polo Wine Bar, where they do winetastings too, and the Que Sera dining room, where they serve breakfasts and dinner, and we stayed to have dinner immediately, without first seeing the room.  Louisa gave me the Guest Registration Form to complete, and most of its clauses would not pass the new Consumer Protection Act  with its ‘legalese’, and the waivers and indemnities.

Dinner at the 32-seater Que Sera was a hit and miss affair, mainly because we were left with a junior waitress Chantel, who was generally unknowledgeable.  We were the only guests dining.  I asked Chantel who the chef was, and she said her name is Joan.  She knew nothing more about her, other than that she had worked at Rijk’s for 21 years.  I did not realise that it had been open for so long.  She said the owners of the Rijk’s Country House are Stuart and Mason Cranswick, who lease the buildings from Neville Dorrington, the owner of the Rijk’s wine farm and Private Cellar. The staff wear a turquoise shirt and black pants and black apron. Chantel said that she has been at Rijk’s for three years already, and worked at Paddagang restaurant previously.  The lighting was very low, until we asked for it to be turned up a little.  The room walls are bare, except for two pictures over the fireplace, but did not seem to be original works of art.  The white table cloth had a runner over it, and the beige chairs were comfortable.  A vase with a carnation and a candle were on the table.  Eetrite cutlery was modern in design and functional.  A wooden board arrived with a tasty seed-topped mini-bread, olive tapenade, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  When my son asked if the tapenade contains anchovies, the waitress confirmed this, so she found us some anchovy-less tapenade.  The menu is in a brown plastic cover, and refers to “Rijk’s Boutique Hotel”, showing some confusion as to its identity and positioning.  Each page of the menu is dominated by the blown-up Rijk’s  Country House logo, over which the menu items are printed, making it hard to read them all, especially in the low light.  My heart sank when I saw that three of the starters were served with sweet chilli sauce. 

We were warned that the Beef Wellington (served with a choice of starches, my mash topped with fresh coriander) would take 20 minutes to make, which we said was fine, given that I had ordered a nicely presented Avocado Ritz starter.  I enjoyed both dishes, except that the Beef Wellington (R120) only contained mushrooms and no chicken liver paté.  The fillet was perfectly cooked medium rare, as requested. My son was not happy with the Wild Mushroom and Thyme Risotto (R80), being completely overcooked, too salty, not containing any identifiable thyme, and tasting of a spice which made it inedible.  We sent it back, but were still charged for it, until I asked Chantel to take it off the bill, which she did.  Starter options range from R37 for calamari steak strips. Tempura prawns, peri peri chicken livers, gazpacho and a soup of the day are some other starter options. Main course prices start at R80 for the risotto, and Pan-fried Citrus Salmon Trout costs R155, expensive for Tulbagh, I felt.  Steak is served three ways, and costs R100 – R140, and one can order a 150g or 200g portion.    The menu states that one can order a salad or seasonal vegetables as part of the main course, but this option was not presented to us, and I did not see it on the menu when we were ordering.  We did not order any desserts, costing about R30, but could have had desserts from a trolley, a cheese platter (R66), fruit salad or sorbet. When I ordered a cappuccino, it took a good half an hour to get one.   The very noisy industrial-looking coffee machine is in the dining room, so we could observe the process.  It took three attempts to get a cappuccino served in a cup, and not a latte in a glass, despite our clear request to Chantel.   We were told that the coffee comes from ‘Beans for Africa’ and was called ‘Peru Organic’.  Just after the starter was served, Louisa came to check on us, and we did not see her again during the dinner, and she did not ask us later for feedback about the dinner.

The wine list also has a brown plastic cover, and no vintages are indicated.  House wines by the glass cost R28 for an unspecified white and R31 for a red wine.   Organic white and Rosé wine by the glass can be ordered at R22, but the origin of it is not identified.  Moet et Chandon costs R750, Billecart Brut R690, and Billecart Salmon Rosé R1088. Cap “Classic” sparkling wines include Krone Borealis Brut, at R120, and the Nicolas Charles Krone Marque 1 is the most expensive at R420. The winelist offers a Rijk’s wine in each variety, and is not always the cheapest one offered – in fact it was the most expensive option in most cases.  There is a heavy 50 % mark-up on the Rijk’s’ wines relative to the next-door cellar prices, the Shiraz costing R205.  A page in the winelist provided prices of wines one could buy from the Rijk’s Gift Shop, at R128 for the Rijk’s Shiraz, and even the three champagnes on the winelist can be bought at about 50 % less!

The welcome letter from Louisa introduced Tulbagh, described Rijk’s Country House as “country living at its best”, and stated that “the hotel makes use of the farms water supply and is being treated”, which I did not read on arrival, and the bottled water drinking recommendation was not explained to us verbally.  I was impressed that the letter was personalised, in referring to the wedding we were attending.  Surprising too was the invitation to enjoy a winetasting in the Rijk’s Polo Wine Bar in the Rijk’s Country House, rather than in the Rijk’s Private Cellar  tasting room.

The rooms are actually cottages away from the core reception building, so we had to drive to the cottage that we were allocated.  It is an open plan lounge and bedroom, with a large bathroom, and a separate loo.   My heart sank as soon as I saw the rug, a cheap floor decoration, and not a Persian carpet, which would have been befitting of a five star room.  Also, the windows have cheap plastic blinds with a net curtain, shouting ‘cheap and nasty’.  The end result of such ‘curtaining’ is that it let in the light at 6h00, not exactly what one wants on a precious weekend away.  The beds were requested to be twin, but the beds had been separated, so each of us had to sleep on a  precarious single bed, something I have not done in more than 30 years (in our guest houses we keep the beds together, but use single bed linen to make up the beds).  There was a nice selection of magazines, but I was surprised to find a ‘Franschhoek Style’ amongst them, marketing Franschhoek, competition to Tulbagh, especially when it comes to weddings!  Worst of all about the cottage was a sickly sweet smell in the room, probably coming from a heavy dose of Charlotte Rhys room spray that had been sprayed at turn-down, prior to our arrival!  I had to open all the windows to get the smell out of the room, and almost froze to death, not being able to sleep as a result. Spread out on the bed was a dressing gown, which may be the highlight of other visitors’ stay, but certainly is not a requirement, in my book.  On top of this was presented the turn-down ‘treat’, the most bizarre and kitschy I have ever experienced – a pink wrapped mini ‘Christmas cracker’, with silver ribbon, containing … a pink and a white marshmallow!  There is a Belgian chocolatier (Moniki) in Tulbagh, and it would have been more fitting to use their products.  I got up to write when I could not sleep for most of the night, and heard the loud staff arrival just after 6h00.   The crowning glory was that there was no water coming out of the taps the next morning, something Louisa had mentioned the night before could be a possibility.  Whilst we had bottled water for brushing our teeth, we could not have a shower or bath in the musty smelling bathroom – to open its window one has to step into the bath to get to the latch!  Water clearly is a problem at Rijk’s, as a letter from Louisa, which must have been in the room, but which I only read on our return, explained about “water shortages and other difficulties”, urging us to use the bottled water supplied for drinking and in the kettle.

When we came for breakfast, Louisa came to apologise for the water situation.  She also said that she felt that Rijk’s could not meet our requirements, and offered to refund our deposit payment. I told her that we had already booked alternative accommodation for the second night.  Whilst the water situation was inconvenient, but out of her control, I suggested to Louisa that she waive the restaurant bill of the night before as a make-good, which she accepted.  However, she wrote the following day: I spoke with my Shareholders on your departure and relayed the details of your stay.  I explained that you had declined a full refund but requested the dinner be complimentary.  They requested I get in touch with you and request your bank details as they would like to ensure the return of your deposit.  I would be grateful if you would allow us to facilitate this.  Once again we apologise that your stay did not meet your expectations and look forward to hearing from you.” 

The Breakfast was served outside on the vine-covered Iceberg Terrace, with a lovely view onto iceberg roses, the vineyards, and the Wintershoek mountains.  The colour scheme for the table runners and outdoor chair cushions is grass green and turquoise, quite ‘loud’.  The vase of fresh roses on each table was a nice touch. No breakfast buffet was laid out, but a collection of breakfast items was brought on a tray and put onto a stand next to our table, consisting of two yoghurt flavours, two cereals, a cold meat and cheese platter, fresh fruit served on a chipped plate, and a basket of muffins, scones and croissants.  I was served a perfectly made cappuccino, but was initially told that it was not possible to make one due to the water problem.  I suggested to Chantel that she use some bottled water.  As we were the only guests having breakfast, it was surprising that the service was so slow.  Chantel waited until we had finished our cereals before she asked for the egg order, and this took a good 20 minutes to be brought to the table, the eggs arriving quite some time before the toast, which I had to remind Chantel about.  The orange juice was not freshly squeezed, and came out of a bottle.   The estate handyman came to our table to also apologise for the burst water pipe, and explained that they were working on it.  The music at Rijk’s made one very nostalgic, and included ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and a ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’.   As happened  at dinner, Louisa was barely present at breakfast, and did not check on how we enjoyed it, and if there were any problems.  Understandably, she was stressed about the water situation. Her deputy did not come to our table during our breakfast.

So what can I praise: the free easy wireless (but slow) internet connection, even reaching to the cottage.  The lovely roses.  The generosity of the welcome drink.  Louisa’s apologies for things going wrong.  The good breakfast scones.  The setting and the view.  However, so many other aspects appeared amateurish and the staff poorly managed, that they spoilt the enjoyment of our stay.

Rijk’s Country House, Tulbagh.  Tel (023) 230-1006. www.rijkscountryhouse.co.za (The website refers to ‘Fine Dining’, but there is no menu nor winelist.  The Image Gallery does not contain a single food photograph.  The breakfast description includes reference to a daily newspaper, but we did not see one).

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

Restaurant Review: Restaurant at Majeka House cuisine paradise

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

Introducing the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route!

Stellenbosch has always been top of the pops as far as its wine selection and quality goes (i.e. wines winning awards), but has played poor cousin to Franschhoek for many years when it comes to its restaurant status, that is until recently, when the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list included more Top 10 restaurants in Stellenbosch (Rust en Vrede, Overture and Terroir) than in Franschhoek (The Tasting Room and The Restaurant at Grande Provence).  Stellenbosch has always been the best marketed collective wine region, and was the first to introduce the Wine Route concept, which has been adopted by most wine-growing regions now.

My visit to Stellenbosch last week, to experience recently opened restaurants, confirmed my view that Stellenbosch by rights now should be called the Gourmet Capital of South Africa, not only due to the Eat Out Top 10 listings, but also in terms of the newer restaurants bubbling under.  I believe that the tourism authority should be ahead of the game, and introduce a Restaurant Route for Stellenbosch, given the wealth of its creative and gourmet talent.   It is easy to see that opening good quality restaurants on wine estates is a growing trend in Stellenbosch, and is good for business, as Werner Els told me at Haskell Vineyards, its Long Table restaurant leading to wine sales from restaurant patrons.

My recommendation for the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route is the following, based on own experience and recommendations.  It is not comprehensive.  I have added links to the restaurant listings that I have reviewed, and reviews of the newer restaurants will be published shortly.

Rust en Vrede – probably the best restaurant in the town currently, a slick operation, run by modest but talented chef David Higgs, on the Rust en Vrede wine estate.  Featured on the Eat Out Top 10 list 2009 and 2010, number 74 on 50 Best Restaurants in the World 2010 list, and Top vineyard restaurant of 2010 Great Wine Capitals in the World – read the review here.  Tel (021) 881-3881  CHEF DAVID HIGGS LEFT THE RESTAURANT ON 25 JUNE, NOW WORKING AT RADISSON’S BLU GAUTRAIN HOTEL IN JOHANNESBURG. 

*   Overture – Chef Bertus Basson is a hard-working re-inventor of his menu and operation, always looking to improve his complete package.   On the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list for 2009 and 2010.  Fantastic views from the location on the Hidden Valley wine estate – read the review here.  Tel (021) 880-2721

*   Terroir does nothing for me, I must admit, and therefore I do not understand that it is a perennial on the Eat Out Top 10 list (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 – the Terroir website does not list the awards after 2006, so some awards may have been left out!).  I have been there a number of times, and have not been excited about its menu, restaurant interior, and service.  The outside seating on the De Kleine Zalze wine and golf estate is great for a warm day.  Tel (021) 880-8167

*   Restaurant Christophe – Die Skuinshuis is the setting for this exceptional restaurant, Chef Christophe Dehosse being the hands-on owner and chef, who talks to his customers in his charming French accent, a rare treat in restaurants.  The foie gras, served with toasted brioche, is to die for – read the review here.  Tel. (021) 886-8763. THE RESTAURANT CLOSED DOWN ON 24 JUNE.

*   Delaire at Delaire Graff –  no money was spared in building and decorating this restaurant and winery building, and it houses a most impressive art collection.   Chef Christian Campbell is doing outstanding work, and his crayfish lasagne is exceptional.  Turnover of staff has reduced the quality of service  – read our latest review     Tel (021) 885-8160

*   Indochine at Delaire Graff – this is the newest Stellenbosch restaurant, and is relatively less opulent in its interior design compared to its sister restaurant.   Young chef Jonathan Heath is a star to watch, and his Asian fusion menu is sure to attract the attention of the Eat Out Top 10 judges.   He explains the menu, and the dishes when he serves them personally.  The two course special at R225 sounds expensive, but it does not reflect the amuse bouche, sorbet and sweet treats (with cappuccino) one receives at no extra charge.  The Tikka Duck Marsala starter is excellent –  read our review.  Tel (021) 885-8160

Restaurant at Majeka House –the restaurant is overshadowed by the Boutique Hotel in terms of its branding, and is not known to most foodlovers, a hidden gem in Paradyskloof, a suburb opposite the Stellenbosch Golf Course.   Its young Chef Anri Diener trained at Tokara and Delaire, and is a rising star, presenting exciting French cuisine.  The Millefeuille of chocolate mousse served with coffee meringue bars is to die for – Read the review.  Tel (021) 880-1512

*   Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine –  a mouthful of a brand name but also a mouthful in value and excellent quality, a far cry from Jardine, which he co-owns in Cape Town, but rarely still cooks at.  It is set at the end of a long road, on the Jordan wine estate, overlooks a big pond and the beautiful Stellenbosch mountains in the far distance, teeming with birdlife.  Interior functional, as in Cape Town.  Most beautiful and unique “bread” plate ever seen.   Read the review.  Tel (021) 881-3612

*   The Long Table Restaurant and Cafe – set at the end of a long road up a hill, above Rust en Vrede, on the Haskell Vineyards (marketers of Haskell and Dombeya wines), the food of Chef Corli Els is a wonderful surprise.  The restaurant interior and waiter service do not match the excellence of her food or the quality of the Haskell wines. The Papaya and Avo salad stands out as one of the special treats I enjoyed last week.   Read the Review.  Tel (021) 881-3746

*   The Big Easy – set on Dorp Street with some parking, and owned by Ernie Els and Johan Rupert, the restaurant is large, but divided into different rooms, allowing private functions.  Average food, below average service generally.  Sweet Service Award.  tel (021) 887-3462

*   Warwick wine estate – owner Mike Ratcliffe is a good marketer, and his gourmet picnics, designed by Chef Bruce Robertson, and prepared by their chef Bruce, are a great hit in summer.  Winter warmer foods available too – read the picnic review here.  Tel (021) 884-3144

*   Nook Eatery – has been operating for a year, and has developed a reputation for good value, healthy (organic where possible) and wholesome food.  Restaurant location in ‘League of Glory’ TV series, and next door to Restaurant Christophe.  Good value buffet lunch, Wednesday pizza evenings, and sweet treats throughout the day.  Hands-on owners Luke and passionate Chef Jess do not open the Eatery if they are not there themselves.  Read the review here.  tel (021) 887-7703  

*   Tokara DeliCATessen – has a buffet lunch too, very large restaurant space combined with a deli, but service poor and food quality average – read the review here.   Tel (021) 808-5950

*   Eight at Spier – the menu was designed by Judy Badenhorst, ex-River Cafe, and now running the Casa Labia Cafe in Muizenberg.  Have not read much about it, and not experienced yet.   Tel (021) 809-1188

*   Melissa’s on Dorp Street – a perennial favourite, with a limited menu and standardised across all the branches.  Fresh and wholesome foods, service not always great.  Sour Service Award Tel (021) 887-0000

Wild Peacock Food Emporium on Piet Retief Street (ex Okasie) – this is the newest eatery to open, belongs to Sue Baker and is managed by ex-Rust en Vrede front of house manager and daughter Sarah, selling deli items, a range of cold meats, imported French and local cheese, fresh breads, and has a sit-down menu as well.    Review to follow.  Tel 082 697 0870

*   Mila, The Cake Shop– this must be the tiniest eatery interior in Stellenbosch, next door to The Big Easy, but it is crammed full of the most delectable cakes and pastries.  Service not great when sitting outside.  Review to follow.  Tel 074 354 2142.

*   Cupcake – serves a range of cupcakes, but not as wide a variety as one would expect.  Good sandwiches and cappuccino, pretty square with water feature in which to sit.  No review written.  Tel (021) 886-6376

*   Umami – set in the Black Horse Centre on Dorp Street, this restaurant had not wowed me, but serves satisfactory lunches and dinners.   No review written, and I rarely hear anyone talk about it.  Tel (021) 887-5204

*   Wijnhuis – located on Andringa Street, in the vicinity of tourism outlets.  Given its name, it should be very popular in this town, and given the connection to its namesake in Newlands, and its parental link to La Perla, it should offer a lot better food quality and service than it does.  Not reviewed, and would not recommend.  Tel (021) 887-5844

  Pane E Vino – this food and wine bar is hidden to those who do not come to Bosman’s Crossing.  Owned by Elena Dalla Cia, husband George and father-in-law Giorgio do wine and grappa tastings in the restaurant too.  Good Italian fare. Not reviewed yet.  Tel (021) 883-8312 

*   Cafe Dijon – French-style bistro on Plein Street.  One experience not satisfactory due to owner not being there.  Rated by JP Rossouw of Rossouw’s Restaurants.  Tel (021) 886-7023

*   Bodega @Dornier – I have not been to this restaurant on the Dornier wine estate, and have not read any reviews yet.  Tel (021) 880-0557

*   Cuvee Restaurant, Simonsig – Interesting Cape Dutch modernist interior curation by Neil Stemmet. Excellent quality food, Simonsig wines, napery, cutlery, tableware, stemware, and service.  Read the Review Tel (021) 888-4932

*   De Oude Bank Bakkerij, Church Street – newly opened, opposite Vida e Caffe, this artisan bakery and cafe allows one to order from a list of cold meats, cheese and preserves what one wants to eat with the breads they sell.  Read the review.  Tel (021) 883- 2188  

*   Tokara – Etienne Bonthuys has left Tokara, and Richard Carstens is said to be stepping in his shoes, when his contract with Chez d’Or in Franschhoek finishes in September (he left in July already). Tokara denied that Carstens is taking over the restaurant lease.   It has now (30/7) been confirmed that Jardine’s Wilhelm Kuehn is taking over Tokara, and that Richard Carstens will be the Executive Chef.  Opened on 19/10.  Read the review. Tel (021) 808-5959.

*   Towerbosch Earth Kitchen on the Knorhoek wine estate. Lovely fairy-like setting, fantastic Boerekos feast served in bowls rather than dishing up per plate.  Read the review.   Tel (021) 865-2114.

*   Stellenbosch Slow Food Market, Oude Libertas – previously the Bosman’s Crossing Market, it moved to Oude Libertas late last year.    Good quality and often organic foods, not quite as top level and exciting as in its previous location, only open on Saturdays

*   Casparus is the name of Etienne Bonthuys’ new restaurant on Dorp Street, an amazing marriage between the cuisine creativity of Bonthuys and the interior design creativity of partner Strijdom van der Merwe.  There is no restaurant like this in South Africa!   Read the review.   Tel (021) 882-8124.

*   Johan’s at Longridge is a refreshing new restaurant on Longridge Winery, with a focus on fresh vegetables from its large vegetable garden alongside the restaurant.  Co-owner Chef Johan comes from a Michelin two-star restaurant in Holland, as does Chef Marissa.  Attentive service led by Chris Olivier, excellent food, great wines.  Read the review.   Tel (021) 855-2004 

*  de Huguenot, on De Huguenot Estate in Johannesdal, Pniel, is a superb fine-dining restaurant which opens in July, headed up by Chef Tanja Kruger, a member of the South African Culinary Olympic team.  Beautiful view onto Groot Drakenstein mountains.  Read the review.

POSTSCRIPT 17/10:  The Top 20 finalists for the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards were announced at the end of last month, and the list contains five Stellenbosch restaurants (compared to only two from Franschhoek):  Rust en Vrede, Overture, Terroir, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, and Restaurant Christophe.   The Top 10 winners will be announced on 28 November.

POSTSCRIPT 29/11:  Stellenbosch now wears the Gourmet Capital crown, with four Eat Out Top 10 restaurants:  Overture, Rust & Vrede (now South Africa’s number one restaurant and top chef David Higgs), Terroir, and Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine.

POSTSCRIPT 15/4:  It has been announced that David Higgs has resigned, and will leave Rust en Vrede mid-June.

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