Tag Archives: boutique winery

Leeu Collection announces latest restaurant news at its flagship Leeu Estates property in Franshhoek!

Yesterday Leeu Collection announced two changes to its signature accommodation and spa property Leeu Estates, located on the outskirts of Franschhoek, with the opening of two restaurants on the estate.  The hospitality company continues with its concept of inviting top chefs to operate the food and beverage offerings at Leeu Collection properties, as was recently announced at its Lakes District Linthwaite House property in the UK. Continue reading →

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Exciting developments on the table at The Kitchen and The Tasting Room at Maison!

Maison Interior changes Whale CottageThe Kitchen and Tasting Room at Maison has been operating for almost three years, and during its recent two month winter break, a number of changes were made to the interior, to the menu, with further changes on the way.

Ten days ago I visited Maison after a long absence, mostly due to the winter closure, and my less frequent visits to Franschhoek in the winter months.  In walking to The Kitchen and Tasting Room at Maison it was a delight to see that the uncomfortable stony entrance walkway has been replaced with very comfortable walkable wooden decking.  Tables and chairs have been set up on the front lawn, to allow for overflow of unbooked guests.  Inside, the ceiling near the pass has been redone with wooden Maison wooden deck Whale Cottagecladding, as has a wall alongside the fireplace.   New lamps have been hung, looking like seahorses to me.  Lamps have been erected above the pass, with shelving above it, and the pass exterior has been wood-clad as well.

The biggest change is that a Deli is to be introduced in the winetasting section, on the right as one enters the building, with a bar counter, at which one will be able to taste six to eight Maison wines (the number is still to be finalised), each paired with two tapas-like bites reflecting some of the dishes which Chef Arno Continue reading →

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Wellington Wine Route: friendly wine estates

I spent the past weekend in my old hometown Wellington, and stayed at Grand Dédale Country House  on the Doolhof wine estate, at the end of the Bovlei Road.   Angelo of Grand Dédale had set up some appointments to visit the private wine estates (Nabygelegen and Klein Optenhorst).  My wine estate visits were concentrated on the Bovlei Road (4 km of it is untarred, which rattled me and the car when I first arrived, but two days later it was no longer an issue), and my impression of this first taste of the fine Wellington wineries is one of overwhelming friendliness and good neighbourliness.  I did not manage to visit all the wine estates in Wellington, and Welvanpas, Bosman Family Vineyards, Andreas, the Jorgensen Distillery (not a wine estate but producing very exciting spirits), and others will have to wait for a next visit:

Doolhof

The 380 ha wine estate lies at the end of the Bovlei Road, and while its name means labyrinth in Afrikaans, a cul de sac was also given this name.  Doolhof belongs to Dorothy and Dennis Kerrison.  Its soils are “finer, more balanced and deeper than in the surrounding countryside, with clay content evenly distributed”.  The roots are able to grow to four meters and beyond, the Room Directory informs Grand Dédale guests.   The location of the farm allows it to have cooler summers and warmer winters than the norm in Wellington.  Less than 10 % of the farm is under vine.  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz are grown.  The remainder of the farmland is uncultivated, and consists largely of fynbos.  The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is supported by Doolhof, and a programme is in place to remove alien Black Wattles, and to plant indigenous wetland plants and trees.  The cellar was started in 2004, and the tasting room once was the stables on the farm.   Its architecture and interior decor reflects that of Grand Dédale Country House on the wine estate, but is less extravagant.  The Doolhof hostess used the word “elegant” to describe it perfectly.  One can sit inside the spacious airconditioned tasting room, or outside at a water feature.   One can order food as well, I was told, and an arrangement with Grand Dédale Country House to provide this service has ended, with a dedicated chef starting next week, to prepare meals for the Doolhof tasting room visitors.  

There are three Doolhof wine ranges, and their labels are equally elegant:

*   the Cape range is the entry level range, and its wines are a blend of own grapes as well as those of other estates.  Sauvignon Blanc, Cape Robin Rosé, Cape Boar (Merlot-based blend) and Cape Roan blend with Shiraz.  The price ranges from R 33 – R49.

*   the Signatures of Doolhof range is made from Doolhof grapes only, and Sauvignon Blanc (R54), Chardonnay Unwooded (R54), Chardonnay Barrel Fermented (R92), Cabernet Sauvignon (R70), Shiraz (R70), Pinotage (R86), Petit Verdot R124), Renaissance blend (R80), Merlot (R81) and Malbec (R124) is produced.  

*   the Legends of the Labyrinth range has three wines: The Minotaur is the most expensive wine sold at Doolhof, at R150, and is a blend of six grapes: Merlot, Malbec,  Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz;  Lady in Red is a Bordeaux-style blend (R70); and Dark Lady is a Pinotage with chocolate and mocha aromas (R70). 

The Doolhof Tasting Room staff are smartly dressed, in blue shirts with Doolhof branding.  Natasha was a self-confident and knowledgeable hostess, and made photocopies of more detailed notes on each wine, in colour, and for each wine a suitable food pairing suggestion is provided.  A stem tag identifies the wine one is tasting, a professional touch.  The brochure is attractive and professional looking.   One can join the ‘Denizens of Doolhof Wine Club’, a rather unfortunate name!  The wine estate is largely bottling with cork, but is planning to move more towards screwcaps in future.

It seems a shame that Grand Dédale and Doolhof do not interact more, by displaying each others brochures.  The Grand Dédale Room Directory has detailed information about the wine estate.  Both are on Twitter, and should support each other in that medium too.   The Doolhof wines dominate the Grand Dédale wine list.

Doolhof Wine Estate, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873- 6911. www.doolhof.com Monday – Saturday 10h00 – 17h00, Sunday 10h00 – 16h00

Dunstone Winery

Dunstone Boutique Winery opened in 2006, and 2,7 ha of the 4 ha is planted to vine.  The name of the winery was chosen by its owners Lee and Abbi Wallis, Dunstone being the place in the United Kingdom in which the couple got engaged.  A lot is made of the ‘stone’ part of the Dunstone name, in that the entrance wall is built from stone, there is a stone display as one walks from the tasting room to the garden, the vases with fly-deterrent branches have little stones in them, and the bill for The Stone Kitchen restaurant (separate review to come) comes with a large stone on the silver holder, to prevent it from flying away.   I felt that the wine estate is “schizophrenic”, in not knowing what character it wishes to have, judging by its entrance, building and interior.  The most beautiful stainless steel Weimaraner dog logo is erected on each of the walls at the entrance, in honour of the Wallis’ dog named Shiraz.  The stainless steel dogs lead one to expect a very high-tech winery, being so new and with its strong use of stainless steel, and also as the winery calls itself ’boutique’, but the wine tasting building is very ordinary, without a defined architectural style.   But what is even odder is the cottagey wood furniture in the tasting room, which also is the interior seating for the restaurant.  The restaurant tables and chairs look really old-fashioned, and a long table has benches with cushions on them in different colours and patterns – the material from these have been laminated, and are used as (small) place mats in the restaurant.  A lamp above the wine tasting counter has been made from a ‘wingerdstok’, and has fairy lights laced through it.  The big stainless steel vats are in the room too, as is a display fridge with chef Johan van Schalkwyk’s muffins to buy, and some of his jams and muesli mixes which he sells, as well as trays of desserts he was serving at a wedding that same evening, as he also runs a catering company called Twist.  The beautiful brochure for the winery creates even more confusion, in that it has a beautiful image of the Weimaraner logo on the stone wall, in silver, on the front cover, again giving the winery a very hi-tech image.  The Dunstone labels also have the Weimaraner logo on them, also in silver.   

Carina Stock is a friendly German wine hostess, and she will be increasingly involved in all aspects of the wine production.  She studied art and jewellery design, and spent many years at Uitkyk, in restoring wallpaintings.  She has worked at Boschendal and at DG Bellingham.  More than 11000 bottles are produced per year.   At Dunstone all vineyard work is done by hand, and tractors are not used.     Carina offered me four Dunstone wines to taste: 

Rosé 2010 (R45):   Crisp and dry, with strawberry, raspberries and plum.

Merlot 2007 (R65): Silver Medal won at Veritas Awards 2008 – full-bodied, ripe dark fruit, spices and oak, matured in French oak barrels for up to 14 months.  The Merlot 2008 (R65) is a lighter wine.

Shiraz 2009 (R120): First 5-star Platter rating for a Wellington wine, in 2010 edition, for the 2008 vintage, as well as Gold won at International Wine Challenge and Old Mutual Trophy Awards, and Double Gold at Michelangelo Awards.  2008 vintage sold out.  2009 vintage described by Jancis Robinson as “Dry, baked nose but sufficiently juicy fruit on the palate.”  The wine is matured in French, Hungarian and American oak for up to 14 months, is heavier, and “with a long finish”.     

Adi Badenhorst is the consultant winemaker.  Alli’s father Robert Frith is always on the farm during the harvest, Carina said.  He encouraged the Wallis couple to take out some of the guava trees, and plant grapes, being a garagiste in the UK.  Wine lovers are encouraged to come and help harvest the grapes and to participate in the winemaking process, even stomping the grapes, a personalised participation.  One must call to ensure that there is harvest or winemaking activity taking place on a given day.

Dunstone Winery, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873-6770. www.dunstone.co.za  Open Monday – Friday 10h00 – 17h00, Saturday 11h00 – 15h00. 

 Bovlei Cellar

As one drives out of Wellington, towards the Bain’s Kloof Pass, the Bovlei winery is on the right, a co-operative of 32 farmers producing 8000 tonnes per year.  Established in 1907, it is the oldest in Wellington (there are two others) and is the second oldest co-operative in South Africa, I was told by Tasting Room hostess Melissa van Wyk.   The wines sold at Bovlei are extremely good value, but range in Platter rating from 2 – 3,5 stars.

There are four ranges:

*   The winemakers selected specific grapes from specific members’ farms to make the Vineyard Selected Range, consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and a Shiraz/Mouvedré blend, all costing R50

*  the rest of the members’ grapes go into the making of their Lifestyle range, consisting of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Beaukett, Gewürztraminer and Special Late Harvest, all costing between R 22 – R25.  The reds are Pinotage, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, at R30 a bottle.  Rosé costs R20, and a sparkling Brut R30.  The Shiraz won the Best Shiraz and Best Red in the 2010 “Quest for the Best” of Wellington competition. 

*   The Thomas Kipling range is available in Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Red, Dry White and Cabernet/Merlot blend, made exclusively for Pick ‘n Pay, Game and other liquor outlets, starting off at R19,99.

*   The Bovlei Centenary Selection is available in a Shiraz, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, each costing R35, a 100th birthday celebratory range made in 2007.

Bovlei Cellar, Bain’s Kloof Road, Wellington. Tel (021) 873-1567.  www.bovlei.co.za  Monday – Friday 8h00 – 17h00, Saturday 8h30 – 12h30. 

Nabygelegen

I was extremely fortunate to get an appointment to meet James McKenzie, from the private wine estate that is highly rated by wine writer Neil Pendock, I was told.   A misunderstanding about my expected time of arrival was quickly forgiven by James, and he patiently sat with me, doing a detailed tasting of his Nabygelegen and Snow Mountain ranges. He told me that he bought the 35ha farm (19,5ha under vine) ten years ago, having been a banker in London and Zürich.  He was so determined to become a winemaker that he studied wine making by correspondence course, and first worked on wine farms in France, Spain, New Zealand and Chile, to learn from them.  The farm dates back to 1712, and one of his wines is named after this date.  He is hands-on, harvesting, marketing, receiving journalists, wine-making, organising the use of the cottage by guests, and the planned use of the old stables as a winetasting facility and restaurant.  Johan Wiese is a consultant viticulturist for Nabygelegen.  The pricelist states that his wines are “handcrafted wines”.  The brochure states the mission of Nabygelegen to be “To create of wines character and concentration reflecting vineyard specific terroir, using environmentally sound techniques, subscribe to ethical labour practices and enthusiastically pursue upliftment in the valley”.  It recommends a suitable food type to eat with each of the wines.  James makes the Nabygelegen range, utilising grapes from his own farm, which consists of the following:

*   Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (R40) – very fruity, the best Sauvignon Blanc he has made to date, James said, and his 2010 vintage of 6000 bottles has just sold out

*   Lady Anna 2009 (R32) – a light and fruity chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and semillion blend, named after the neighbouring farm owner Anna Lategan, who is respected for having freed her slaves a number of years ahead of the official abolition of slavery in 1815.  Her ghost is said to wander on Nabygelegen and De Compagne, the neighbouring farm!

*   Chenin Blanc 2009 (R45) – full-bodied chenin, which is barrel fermented

*   Scaramanga 2008 (R50) – the Spanish nickname for Tempranillo, and also the name of the “baddie” character in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ Bond movie. Tempranillo is one of the grape types from which this wine is made, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  It is made in the New World style, with focus on its flavour and smell. Only four wine estates grow Tempranillo in South Africa.  It is an upfront wine.

*   Merlot 2007 (R62) – sweet cherry and berry

*   Petit Verdot 2008 (R80) – intense fruit with layers of vanilla and chocolate

*   Seventeen Twelve 2006 (R90) – a classic Bordeaux Blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon,

The Snow Mountain range was launched last year, out of a need for a more pronounceable name for the English market, and it was named after Sneeukop, the highest mountain peak in Wellington.  The grapes are bought in from other Wellington farms, which are higher up, and therefore grow in a ‘continental climate’ and not a Mediterranean one, as do most other local wines, excellent for the production of the Pinot Noir in particular, he said.

*   Rosé 2009 (R30) – made in the French style, not sweet, served at Wimbledon

*   Pinot Noir 2009 (R90) – highly regarded, has been served at Kensington and Buckingham Palaces

One of James’ greatest enjoyments is the ‘number of beautiful places’ in which his wines are sold.  I asked him which these are, and his top three are the following: Librije’s in Zusje in Holland; Claridges in London; and The Green and Blue Wine Shop in London, owned by ex-South African Kate Thal.  We started tasting in the tasting room initially, tasting the whites and Rosé, then walked through the maturation cellar, which is used as a function venue, for which James’ friend Matthew Gordon from Franschhoek cooks, and tasted the Pinot Noir and reds in a most special tiny underground cellar, which has a glass window showing the soil depth and the rock formation.   I was lucky enough to be given a bottle of the Snow Mountain Shiraz 2009, which has not yet been released.

Nabygelegen, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873-7534.  www.nabygelegen.co.za  Monday – Friday 10h00 – 16h30, Saturday 9h00 – 12h30.

Klein Optenhorst

Jenny and Naas Ferriera have lived on Klein Optenhorst since 1987, on a farm that once was the home of my classmate Beverly Pywell and her family, and which I had visited for birthday parties.   A small 1 ha property has Pinot Noir grapes and the most beautiful garden, which the Ferreiras developed over time.   A gazebo with a whale weathervane has become the logo for the boutique wine estate, and caught my eye immediately.   Since 1994 the family produced Pinot Noir, but last year decided to make a Pinot Noir MCC sparkling wine instead, utilising the talents of Pieter Ferriera, whose wife Ann is the niece of Naas.   I was offered a glass of the beautiful bubbly by Ferreira daughter Jane Eedes, who is marketing the sparkling wine, a total of 1592 bottles of this maiden vintage having been produced. The inspiration for the label design by Eddy Haumann is the salvias from Jenny’s garden.  I was treated to a guided tour of the garden, and was most generously given a bottle of the Pinot Noir as well as the Pinot Noir MCC.  

Klein Optenhorst, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel Jane Eedes 083 324 6855.

Diemersfontein

Located at the entrance to Wellington from the Paarl side, Diemersfontein has become a ‘residential estate’, is a wine farm, a spa, has a preparatory school, and has 30 rooms of accommodation.  I have not been to Diemersfontein for many years, and have not ever drunk their wines nor seen their wine tasting room.  I had booked a table for lunch, and had a vision of an old manor house with a big stoep, which was the original Diemersfontein homestead.  It is only used as accommodation and David Sonnenberg, the current owner, has an office there, I was told.  The Sonnenberg family (linked to Woolworths) has owned Diemersfontein since 1943, and originally apricots were the main fruit harvest.   Then export plums were farmed.      Wine has been made in the past ten years, and the property is described as a “Residential Wine Estate”.

 I was disappointed to find a modern building which houses both the restaurant Seasons (see review) and the Tasting Room.    The Tasting Room was not immediately visible, and we could not work out which door was unlocked, to allow us to enter.  It is small, compared to some of the others I visited in Wellington over the weekend, just containing a counter with bar chairs.   Aubern was friendly, and hunted down the last brochure for the wine estate.  Brett Rightford is the cellarmaster, and he is responsible for making all the Diemersfontein wines other than Pinotage, which is the responsibility of Francois Roode.

There are three ranges at Diemersfontein, for which 70 % of the grapes come from the estate, and the remainder are bought from other Wellington farms.  The Platter star rating of each wine is listed on the price list:

*   Carpe Diem is the flagship, and its wines are matured in French and American oak for 15 months as a minimum.  The Pinotage 2008 was awarded 4,5 stars by Platter, and is sold out.   Prices are on the high side, between R 89 (Chenin Blanc and Viognier) and R110 for Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Malbec.

*   The Diemersfontein range spends 6 months in oak, and is priced at R70, only the Pinotage being slightly more expensive.  There is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Summer’s Lease Shiraz-based blend and a Heaven’s Eye Bordeaux-style blend.  A red blend called “For the Birds!” sells at a low price of R45, and 10 % of sales goes to the “Save our Seabirds” Fund of Birdlife South Africa 

*   The Thokozani range was launched last year, and is an empowerment project, with staff, investors and the Sonnenbergs as shareholders, and Aubern is focused on his goal to become a shareholder too.  The Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier blend costs R49, Rosé R 39, and the Shiraz/Mourvedré/Viognier blend costs R 69.

For its good reputation, duration of wine production, and stature of wine estate, I was disappointed with the lack of marketing collateral, photocopied price list, and the ‘ordinariness’ and small size of the tasting room. Diemersfontein came across as the most ‘commercialised’ of the Wellington wine estates I visited, yet was friendly too.

Diemersfontein Wines,  Jan van Riebeeck Drive, Wellington.   Tel (021) 864-5050. www.diemersfontein.co.za  Monday – Sunday 10h00 – 17h00.

A tear-off map of Wellington’s accommodation, wine estates, restaurants and shops was printed about three years ago, but does not appear to have been updated.  It is similar to the excellent Franschhoek Wine Valley map, providing not only a location perspective, but also the contact details and tasting times.   It appears to have been replaced with a recent brochure on Wellington.   An update of the tear-off map for the wine estates would be a good idea, to encourage winelovers to visit as many wine estates as they can.   A website of the Wellington Wine Route, or even a blog, may be a consideration too.

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

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Restaurant Review: Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town is a-maze-ing!

Let me admit at the outset that I was sceptical as we set off to our dinner on Saturday evening at the new Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, which opened last Wednesday.  I need not have been.  I was overwhelmed by how outstanding the food and service was, with fair prices for the food, but with generally more expensive dishes than those at Reuben’s in Franschhoek, and with very high prices for mostly exceptional wines.  Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town is a ‘grown-up’ and sophisticated Reuben’s, the best Reuben’s by far!

I have never written a review about Reuben’s Restaurant, despite it having been my favourite ever since I stumbled upon it in June 2004, when it first opened in Franschhoek.  Immediately I felt it was a restaurant for me, and it became my favourite, and we recommended it passionately to our Whale Cottage Franschhoek guests.  The initial service levels, which made Reuben’s the top of the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants as well as Reuben Riffel the Top Chef six months after opening, could not be maintained, and gradually the service levels dropped, starting with the telephonic bookings, down to rude service from the then-sommelier/manager.

A review of the new Reuben’s needs to trace back the history of its opening at the One&Only Cape Town.  It is well-known that Gordon Ramsay’s maze opened at the hotel in April 2009, and that the contract with the restaurant was abruptly cancelled by the hotel at the end of July.  Reuben Riffel was tipped to open in Ramsay’s place, but Reuben denied this to us and to the media.   Clare McKeon-McLoughlin of Spill Blog confidently predicted Reuben’s appointment, even though Reuben had not yet made a final decision nor signed the contract.  We were told that her disclosure caused mayhem in the hotel, as staff at the hotel did not know about the appointment, and that the then Hotel PRO Etienne de Villiers’ supposed “endorsement” of the apppointment in the Spill blog post was untruthful, and may have led to his recent departure from the hotel.   It would appear that an Irish maze staff member, who has since returned to London, was the mole, spilling the beans to Spill.   In less than a month after the announcement of Reuben’s appointment, the restaurant has opened its doors at the One&Only Cape Town, and is confidently trading.   In terms of this controversy, Reuben says he prefers to stay out of it and remain in the kitchen!

When I made the booking on the morning of our dinner, the restaurant answered as “Restaurant at One&Only”, the interim name that the restaurant had before Reuben’s opened.   We were allowed to park in the basement of the hotel, and there is no charge.  When we walked into the restaurant, we could not help but feel that we were in maze.  I was looking for the Brasserie that Reuben had been quoted to be opening at the One&Only Cape Town, but we could not see it.  The same horrid carpet and massive orange lampshades are still there.   The furniture has not changed, although the table tops have been varnished and the Reuben’s name engraved into them.  Other than branding on the chic black and burgundy staff aprons, on the lift list, and on the menu, there is no Reuben’s branding outside or inside the restaurant.  Surprisingly, the orange/brown colouring of the maze interior matches Reuben’s rust brown colour scheme almost perfectly.   We were critical of the maze interior when we went there soon after its opening last year.  Reuben says that the interior will be amended in three stages, with the tables completed, and bistro boards with specials going up shortly.   The interior decorator that Reuben’s has used in Franschhoek and Robertson will be coming this week to see how she can soften the harsh hotel interior.

The maze and Reuben’s marriage will take some time to gel to the benefit of the new restaurant.   From maze the restaurant has inherited the decor, all the waitrons (there was no shortage of staff on the floor), managers and also kitchen staff, the outstanding sommelier Andre Bekker and his Diamond award-wining Diner’s Club Restaurant Winelist, a wine library of over 700 wines, the choice of three breads baked by the kitchen, and the waitron service standards that have been set in the past, being much higher than those of Reuben’s in Franschhoek.   From Reuben’s comes the menu, the little coarse salt pots on the tables, a far more informal style of dress (the ties of the managers have come off), a more relaxed interaction with customers, something that was not encouraged at maze, as well as new serving dishes and some cutlery.  The One&Only staff were trained by Reuben’s wife Maryke about their service standard, the menu and the food.  The staff have tasted the dishes, and are still doing so as Reuben fine-tunes the menu for the official 1 October start.   The winelist and the menu are miles apart, and need to find each other, the former being very expensive and also out of character with the Brasserie feel which Reuben’s wants to create, and with the winelists in Franschhoek and in Robertson.

The exact relationship between Reuben Riffel and the One&Only Cape Town is unclear, but the hotel employs and pays the Reuben’s kitchen and waitron staff.   The brief was for Reuben to get the best kitchen staff possible.  This reduces the risk for Reuben, and means that he is compensated for his brand name and for his time through a share of the turnover.   Having a room at the hotel is a fringe benefit the Reuben’s Franschhoek staff are enjoying when they come through to town.  The arrangement with the hotel has allowed Reuben to appoint Camil Haas, previous owner of Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek and Green Point and of Camil’s in Green Point, to substitute for him at the One&Only Cape Town and in Franschhoek from October, giving each of these two Reuben’s a heavyweight chef every day.   In addition, Maritz Jacobs, previously of Le Quartier Français and 15 on Orange hotel, is the new Head Chef at the One&Only Cape Town, meeting Reuben’s requirement for a young and energetic chef.  The Pastry Chef is René Smit.  Reuben is called the Concept Chef on the menu, as he is on the Reuben’s menus in Franschhoek and in Robertson.  Samantha Housden from Tank will be joining as the Restaurant Manager on 1 October.  Reuben recently bought out his Boekenhoutskloof partners Tim Rands and Marc Kent, who helped him set up the business six years ago.  He says this gives him new flexibility to make decisions more quickly, and to steer his business where he wants it to go.

The menu is A3 in size, and has the same format as that in Franschhoek and Robertson.  It is neatly divided into a Starters, Main Courses and Desserts section, as well as a mini Vegetarian menu of Starters and Main Courses, a Fish and Seafood section, as well as Side Orders.   In future it will also carry the names of the special suppliers of fine organic produce that Reuben’s will be sourcing.   The menu content in terms of dishes offered is vastly different at the new Reuben’s, compared to the Franschhoek branch.  The menu is being fine-tuned in the next 10 days before the official opening, and has already seen changes in the first four days of its operation.

A small bowl of olives was brought to the table, as was three types of bread: a baguette, tomato bread and black olive bread.   Butter was on the table, as was a bottle of Willowcreek olive oil.  I ordered Asparagus with a hollandaise and orange reduction (R60) as a starter from the Vegetarian section, which was topped with the most wonderful micro-herbs, being miniature coriander, basil and rocket, and adding the most wonderful taste to this dish, beautifully presented on a glass dish.   Other starters are oysters at R25 each, pickled veal tongue (R60), chilli salted baby squid and shredded duck salad at R70 each, salmon tartar and cured venison at R75 each, mussels (R80), and a white asparagus and langoustine salad (R110).

My main course was the most wonderful kingklip (R140) – a good portion of firm fish, served with the unusual combination of avocado, on a bed of mash (I chose it to be plain, but the menu specified it to be tumeric mash), and with crunchy Chinese cabbage, a mint salsa and coconut cream.   The same micro-herbs served as garnish for the dish, and again added a unique taste to round off the dish, the best kingklip I have ever eaten.  My only criticism was that a serrated knife instead of a fish knife was served.  My colleague had Karoo lamb curry (R135), served in a bowl, with sambals (yoghurt and pineapple, and chopped tomato and cucumber) and basmati rice in a tiny iron pot, presented on a separate dish.    She loved the genuine Cape Malay taste of it, and picked up garlic and ginger notes, as well as jeera, cardamom and barishap spices in her lamb stew, with dhania leaves on top.  She called it “hemelse kos”, it tasted so good!   Other Main Course options are lamb rack (R175); ostrich fillet, 180 g beef fillet and a 450 g rib-eye steak at R 170 each; quail saltimbocca (R130); 240g sirloin and pork belly at R125 each; veal tripe (R120); and Reuben’s faithful wonderful calf’s liver at R115.  Other Fish options were yellowtail (R110) and Tandoori spiced prawns (R170).   Side orders cost R 35, but all main courses come with a starch and a vegetable.

For dessert my colleague had Muskadel crème with poached hanepoot grapes, ginger crumble and raspberry ice cream, in a glass bowl and served on a slate plate.  Slate is used extensively at Jordan’s Restaurant with George Jardine, and to a lesser extent at Jardine’s.  My dessert was a fascinating Lemon and olive oil custard, to which was added cocoa crumble, a half-round thin slice of chocolate as well as Swiss chocolate mousse, finished off with edible gold paper which I thought the kitchen had forgotten to take off!   Desserts cost R65, expensive I felt, but the portions were generous.  Other desserts are a seasonal fruit compote, Amarula scented malva pudding, Tequila sundae, and a bitter chocolate fondant, the latter costing R80.  I felt, on the basis of two desserts, that the desserts needed more work.  My cappuccino did not arrive at the same time as the dessert, as requested, and was not very foamy.  It was immediately replaced with one in a bigger cup size, and was very foamy.  Petit fours were brought to the table after the dessert plates were cleared, also on a slate plate.

The sommelier Andre has been at the hotel almost since it opened, and he says that the winelist has not changed much from its impressive start.   They have added wines bought at the Nederburg and CWG auctions, as well as garagiste and boutique winery brands.   Some international wine prices have been reduced over time, and some local wine prices have increased.   The 37-page winelist will be changed, the lengthy introduction to the South African wine industry to be removed.  I disliked the division of the wines by region, and then by varietal on the maze winelist, but this will not change.  It means that if one likes drinking a Shiraz, for example, one has to check through every region’s Shirazes to check which one to order.  It could take one  a whole evening to wade through the many wines on offer, including 50 wines-by-the-glass, 32 champagnes, and 18 MCC sparkling wines, as well as wines imported from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, the USA, and Australia.   I did not like the file/folder look of the winelist, and do not remember it looking like this at maze.   Its practicality in updating vintages and prices is an obvious advantage.  The yellowish cover of the wine list does not match the Reuben’s colour scheme.   Wines-by-the-glass can be served in 50ml, 150ml and 250 ml quantities, making the expensive wines a little more affordable by reducing the quantity one drinks!  Wine flights in three’s are also available, by region or by varietal.   I chose a glass of 2006 Glen Carlou Shiraz, which cost R 72 for a 150ml glassful – 50ml cost R24, and 250ml R120.   The 2005 Luddite Shiraz prices were R37/R112/R187 per glass.  The 2007 Brampton cost R9/R28/R47.  Migliarina Shiraz 2006 cost R17/R52/R87.  A glass of 150ml of bubbly cost R260 for Ayala ‘Rose’ Majeur, R200 for Billecart Salmon Brut, R98 for Graham Beck Rosé, R49 for Graham Beck Brut, and R44 for Villiera.   It is clear that the wine prices are exceptionally high.  Andre spoilt me with a complimentary glass of dessert wine.

We felt privileged that Reuben came out of the kitchen to sit and chat with us.  He intends to come out of the kitchen a lot more in future, and having chefs working for him will allow him to do this.  Starters will be prepared behind the counters inside the restaurant in future, to allow diners to connect with the food preparation and the kitchen staff too.   Reuben is working on creating synergy in the menus for his three Reuben’s, yet having unique items on each menu that reflect what customers like in each area.  At the One&Only Cape Town the calf’s liver is extremely popular, he says, as is his Veal tripe (‘Pens en Pootjies’).   We were struck by Reuben’s humility and quiet confidence that he has made the right decision by opening his latest Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town.  He recognises that service levels can improve in Franschhoek, and he sees a benefit of exchanging his staff between the two locations, so that the One&Only Cape Town service standards can become those of the Franschhoek staff too.    There will be no launch function, Reuben preferring to quietly open and delivering on the expectations of a more demanding Cape Town as well as international clientele.   Reuben’s staff also prepare the hotel breakfasts.

We will recommend Reuben’s at the One&Only to our Whale Cottage Camps Bay guests with confidence, and we will return.

Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, One&Only Cape Town, V&A Waterfront.  Tel (021) 431-5888. www.reubens.co.za (The new restaurant is not yet listed on the Reuben’s website, nor on the One&Only Cape Town website).  Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday – Sunday.

POSTSCRIPT 20/9: Samantha Housden’s restaurant experience includes launching London’s Level 7 Café at the Tate Modern Gallery and managing the Eyre Brother’s restaurant owned by the godfather of gastro-pub cuisine David Eyre.  She started Cilantro in Hout Bay, having been its chef too.  She has left Tank to join Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town.

POSTSCRIPT 25/9: We returned for dinner a week later, and met the new Restaurant Manager Samantha Housden for the first time.   She came to check on our table regularly, as did Marcus, an interim manager.  Due to a strong attempt to upsell us by a waiter, we asked for waiter Victor, who had served us the previous week, and his service was as good as ever.   The recognition by the staff from our visit a week ago was impressive – from the hostess as we arrived (I had used my son’s name for the booking this time), to the sommelier Andre and the waiter Victor remembering specific requests and likes from a week ago – in line with Reuben’s Franschhoek.   Disappointingly the food was not as good as it was a week ago – the kingklip was undercooked and did not have the lovely microherbs (but a generous portion was brought to the table when I asked about them) and the sirloin had lots of sinews.   Reuben was in the kitchen, and spontaneously came to say hello.  I was delighted to hear that sommelier Andre has heeded our feedback, and will revise the winelist, to arrange it by varietals, and to mention the regions, which will make wine selection much easier in future. 

POSTSCRIPT 14/1:   I arrived in good spirits, and was shocked at the disappointing food quality and service.   Although the telephonist tried to put through my call three times, so that I could check if I could still get a table at 22h00, no one in the restaurant answered the phone.  I decided to arrive anyway.   I was warmly received by the hostess, and discovered immediately that Manager Samantha Housden is no longer at Reuben’s.  The evening shifts were getting to her, I was told.  Kagiso Mmebe is the new Manager, and started three weeks ago, having been a lecturer in Restaurant Practice at the University of Johannesburg.  A sweet waitress Unite took my order efficiently, and that is where her service support ended.  She brought butter and olives, but never came with the bread.  I had to ask a manager for it.  It was explained to me that Unite is a runner, being trained up to be a waitress, but she wears the same colour shirt as do the waiters, so one cannot identify her lesser skills.  She is meant to work under the guidance of a waiter, but this did not happen.   I ordered the baby chicken main course (R135), which was not cooked properly, even after sending it back once.   My choice of carrots with vanilla and honey as the side-dish was an excellent one.   The wild mushroom sauce tasted strongly of an Oxo stock cube, with not a piece of mushroom to be seen.  The sauce was taken away, and mushrooms added.  I had to ask for a finger bowl.  The wine steward Tinashe Nyamudoka was wonderful, just taking my wine order and pouring the Glen Carlou Shiraz 2004 at the table, as requested.   The frozen espresso cake with a berry coulis and an odd-looking meringue was excellent (R65).   Assistant Manager Marcus Isaacs kindly took the chicken off the bill.  It was disconcerting to hear from the staff that Reuben Riffel has barely been seen at the restaurant in the past two weeks, although Marcus disagreed.   Camil Haas is not at Reuben’s One&Only at all anymore.  There is no sign of any further decor changes, after the curtains were opened.  The new summer menu, launched last week, has very understated Reuben’s branding, and does not look like a Reuben’s menu anymore, and there is no listing of the names of the chefs on it anymore – not even Reuben’s name is mentioned!  Chef Aviv Liebenberg from Reuben’s Franschhoek (and previously Robertson) has been moved to Cape Town, working with Chef Maritz.   I could not help but be concerned as to where Reuben’s in the One&Only Cape Town is heading – it certainly is no longer a-maze-ing!

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

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