Tag Archives: carbon footprint

Clem Sunter raises the flags shaping our future at Buitenverwachting, SA still in the ‘Premier League’!

Clem Sunter Clem Whale Cottage Portfolio

Clem Sunter is one of our country’s top and also an international scenario planner, who has consulted for China, the Zanu FP, and Botswana, but never the ANC. Addressing the Thursday Club over lunch at Buitenverwachting yesterday,  Sunter encouraged the audience to ‘not get too downcast, as we are still in the Premier League‘, he said. Chef Edgar Osojnik prepared a generous 3-course meal, many guests not being able to finish all of it.

Clem Sunter attracted attention in the ‘Eighties with his ‘High Road, Low Road’ scenarios, and has been speaking all over the world, writing books, and hosting strategy workshops with corporates and even governments. He has used the analogy of a fox, being smart in its competitive environment, and the title of the books now refer to Continue reading →

What has happened to Woolworths? Misleads consumers, no link between TV shows and stores!

Woolworths LogoI have no idea who heads up Woolworths’ Marketing department, but it seems that the retailer has lost the plot!  Once the darling of all, seen to be above reproach in the quality of the products it sells and the lengths that Woolworths will go to find the most organic and animal-friendly produce for its customers, it is being lambasted for copying other brands, for importing tomatoes, peas and more, and for making misleading claims about its products. In addition, it seems to have lost the link between its expensive sponsorship of TV food programmes and its stores!

Let’s start with ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’, a programme which has been running on SABC3 for the past 9 weeks, a travelogue of our beautiful country, and documentation of Woolworths’ sourcing of sustainable and ethical produce, or so it is presented.  We have been exposed to Woolworths suppliers of tomatoes in Stellenbosch, organic wines made in Franschhoek, apples and pears grown in Grabouw, SASSI-friendly fish sourcing, and theHayden Quinn SA 8 Sunflowers Nortehrn Cape trestle table Hayden plus 2 pasture-fed lamb from the Karoo.  Criticism has been leveled about the use of an Australian surfer who came third in MasterChef Australia in 2011, as the tour guide to our country and the guide to its sustainable food and wine treasure chest, a self-confessed ‘cooker’ and not a chef!  The dishes in the eight episodes to date have been as basic as salads, pizzas, and sandwiches, with a mussel pot and an Eton Mess too.  In some episodes the Woolworths punt has been so strong (i.e. the tomato growing) that it has become irritating, but of late the strong Woolworths promotion has been toned down. Surprising is the low-key advertising for Woolworths in its half-hour episodes, and is nothing as mouthwatering as the Woolworths’ commercials we have seen on MasterChef SA Seasons 1 and 2.  Nedbank is the other Continue reading →

‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa’ episode 5: Whale of a time in Hermanus and Stanford, no mention of its wine stars!

Hayden Quinn Hermanus old harbourHayden Quinn: South Africa’ focused on the Overberg last night, visiting Hermanus and Stanford, as well as Elgin, but this was not mentioned, being described as being just outside Hermanus!  It was a whale of an episode highlighting the Southern Right whale visitors, the sustainable apple and pear farming in Elgin, and Marianna’s sustainable restaurant in Stanford.  No mention was made however of Hermanus’ produce nor its world-renowned wines in the Hemel en Aarde Valley!

Hayden raved about the Southern Right whales, which visit  Hermanus’ Walker Bay from July, he said incorrectly (they arrive from the Antarctic from May onwards) until early December.  On the Facebook page of ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa it is incorrectly claimed that Hermanus is the ‘Whale Watching Capital of the World‘, copywriting nonsense.  Hermanus is however known as the offering the best land-based whale watching in the world, which is something different, and Hayden did say words to this effect in the episode!

To add some real adventure to his visit to Hermanus, Forest Adventures’ Clinton Lerm (infamous for wanting to change the name of the village to ‘Lermanus when his family tried to take over the tourism management of the town, to their own Continue reading →

Hotels green with envy about Upper Eastside Hotel’s organic urban herb garden!

The launch of the herb and vegetable garden on the terraces of the two year old Upper Eastside Boutique Business Hotel in Woodstock on Thursday demonstrated that one does not need a massive garden to work on one’s carbon footprint, and to grow wonderful herbs and vegetables. The hotel has created the first organic rooftop urban hotel garden in the country.

The 183-room hotel and conference centre is large, and all its space is dedicated to the building and parking, with little space for a garden.  An approach by House & Leisure to do an article about inner city living introduced the hotel to Ben Getz of Urban Harvest, who brought in an initial 21 plant boxes, soil, and a selection of herbs and vegetables.  The project was so successful that the urban hotel garden has doubled in size, to 92 square metre, with 42 different varieties of herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers.  Natural ‘pesticides’ such as lavender have been planted to keep pests away. The next project is to create a green wall, in affixing plant pots to a prominent hotel wall.

Caroline Coates, Upper Eastside Hotel’s Marketing Manager, proudly showed us the urban hotel garden, spread over three sections of the first floor terrace, and told us what pride and joy it has become of Executive Chef Simon Kemp and his kitchen staff, who come to harvest rocket, spinach, basil, carrots, fennel, coriander, oregano, thyme, spring onions, rosemary, and many more.  But the housekeeping staff, the waiters, and even the hotel guests have taken an interest in the urban hotel garden, all being committed to the success of the project, and feeling that it is ‘a nice thing to do’. Given that the staff spend so much time inside the hotel, the garden is a green lung for them.  Ultimately, it helps the hotel to reduce its carbon footprint, said Upper Eastside Hotel GM Francois Steyn.

Ben and his team at Urban Harvest brought in the reclaimed timber boxes, made from off-cuts from a mill, which have not been treated with chemicals, to not affect the plants growing in them.  Chef Simon has overall responsibility for the garden, and is proud to bring his herbs and vegetables into his dishes at the hotel’s Liberty’s Restaurant, harvesting weekly. We experienced the produce in the wonderful canapés that were served, to give the guests a taste of dishes for Liberty’s new winter menu, including a white tomato and basil espresso, beef tataki, goat’s cheese bruschetta (below), fennel and Ouzo mussels, Szechuan crispy duck spring rolls, coppa and basil beignets, mushroom bombs, and Gorgonzola ostrich fillet.  The rooftop garden reflects Chef Simon’s commitment to sourcing local ingredients and to serve the hotel’s guests fresh, healthy food.  After just two months, 80% of the kitchen’s fresh herb requirement is provided from the herb garden harvest for the hotel’s daily catering for 250 covers at Liberty’s and 1000 meals for the conference centre.  This means that the higher cost of organic herbs and vegetables is not passed on to the hotel’s clients. The balance of the requirements is sourced less than 50 km from the hotel. Food wastage has been reduced through the project, and no packaging needs to be recycled or thrown away.

The organic rooftop urban garden at the Upper Eastside Hotel is a commendable project, and is a challenge to every other hotel and restaurant to create its own herb garden, no matter how little space they have!

Upper Eastside Hotel, 31 Brickfield Road, Woodstock.  Tel (021) 404-0570.  www.uppereastsidehotel.co.za Twitter:@UESHotelCape

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

Chef Bruce Robertson returns to Cape Town, plain sailing at The Boat House!

After a three year absence from the restaurant scene in Cape Town, former The Showroom Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Chef Bruce Robertson has returned to Cape Town to create The Boat House home eatery in Scarborough. His cuisine and plating is as exciting as it was before he left, and he is not only a perfect chef but the perfect host too.

We got to know Chef Bruce when he opened The Showroom with its open kitchen, which meant that he was in the foreground, showing his great ability to chat to clients, and to get them to return.  A change in career plan led him to cook at sixteen private camps in Southern Africa, spanning Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, and the Okavango, cooking his special dishes in often challenging kitchen conditions, and hosting guests.  The love for this extraordinary lifestyle grew from a link he had to an American tour operator company, which brought adventurous gourmet tourists to the Cape, and Chef Bruce led them on exciting culinary journeys, usually preparing their meals out in the open, enjoying the challenge of the outdoors to create unforgettable holidays for the visitors.  He has moved from cooking with passion, to lifestyle cooking, and his beautiful young daughter was the most important reason to bring him back to Cape Town, he said.  The setting of The Boat House in Scarborough, close to the beach, is perfect, and the beach house has a guest room he rents out too.

From the prim and proper Chef Bruce that I remember, in his white chef’s uniform at The Showroom, the new Chef ‘Barefoot Bruce’ is dressed in jeans and a white shirt, barefoot, and looking very relaxed and unstressed. The welcome was a warm hug, and included a tour of the house, his assistant Tom offering us a glass of sparkling wine, an exceptional Cederberg Blanc de Blancs Brut not commercially available elsewhere. We initially sat on the upstairs terrace, another four guests having booked too. A surprise was to learn that Chef Bruce grew up in Pretoria.

One should not think that Chef Bruce’s food is as casual as his dress. Effortlessly he was preparing the food in his open plan kitchen/dining room.  As one chats to one’s table companions one is not so focused on what Chef Bruce is doing in the kitchen.  He comes to the tables regularly, checking all the time that all is in order and to one’s satisfaction, and he provides snippets of information about his food or about the Cederberg wines.  Chef Bruce not only has culinary skills, but he could recareer as an interior decorator too. In eight months he has made a home of the house, with all his special things, creating groupings of this and that,  with lots of family photographs, and his past restaurant awards grace the walls with many other special pictures.  He has two rustic wooden tables covered with glass tops and matching chairs, with the odd ghost chair (Chef Bruce probably was the first restaurateur to use them in a restaurant, at The Showroom), a reminder of his great career.  If there is one thing that will stand out about the lunch then it is the most beautiful composition of half a lime, olive oil, salt and pepper, butter, and the cutlery, on a sheet of miniature tiles, providing perfect ‘compartments’ for the items, and doubling up as a side plate.  A beautiful warm mini-seedloaf was added to this collection.

There is no menu or winelist, and Chef Bruce told us that he almost exclusively serves Cederberg wines, ‘wines with altitude’, the area having a unique terror with very hot summers and snow in winter.  He found the Cederberg wines after an extensive search to find the perfect wines to match his cooking.  Chef Bruce explained that he wanted us to have three wines for our savoury dishes, and that he did not want to prescribe which wine we should pair with which dish.  The 2011 Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc wines have pronounced aromas, and the Sustainable Rosé is made from Shiraz grapes from a single block, a lovely pairing with the main course.  For dessert we were offered a glassful of Cederberg Shiraz 2008 as well as a lovely Bukettraube 2011, the latter playing the role of a dessert wine, Chef Bruce said.

Chef Bruce also told us that there is no choice on his menu, serving a “Table d’Hôte, lunch served to guests as a warm home gathering, where the host has prepared what the guests will be served.  My home is yours”. His menu is mainly fish-based, given his location and theme, and he gave us a little green SASSI-friendly lecture, confirming that he will not touch red nor orange categorised fish types, and therefore salmon and kingklip will not be prepared in his home.  He also said that 99% of his produce comes from within 10 km of his home, keeping it local and carbon footprint friendly.  One has the choice of a three course or five course meal, and we chose the former, while the other table had the latter. Chef Bruce adjusts the serving time to the number of courses each table orders, and we ran behind the other table because of all of our talking and Tweeting!    Not having a menu, it is hard to capture exactly which ingredients make up each dish, as Chef Bruce talks as fast as before, so I asked him to e-mail it to me afterwards, to make sure that I did justice to each dish. To date, Chef Bruce has not repeated any of his dishes, always challenging himself, and keeping it fresh for his guests.  Chef Bruce introduced Tom as his Restaurant Manager, sommelier, waiter, and right hand man, and he was constantly checking on my water glass, and poured the six wines.

Our first course was a Seafood Chowder with home-made gnocchi dumplings, chorizo, courgettes, baby basil, a spicy prawn bisque, and seaweed confetti, the latter most probably not seen or picked up by most.  Chef Bruce is proud of his handiwork, and because things are so relaxed, he comes to the tables to show the special little touches, something one would not experience in a regular restaurant.  For the main course Chef Bruce had prepared pan-fried Cape Gurnard, a fish I had not eaten before.  It is also called the Cape Sea Robin or ‘korhaanvis’. While not the easiest fish to clean and prepare, Chef Bruce likes using it because it is so plentiful.  He served it with baby spinach, his own spicy home-made tomato and olive chutney, finger beans, thyme, Niçoise cream, and cream of olive oil potato, all making for a beautiful dish with interesting flavours.

The ‘Cape Malay dessert’ required quite a bit of explanation.  Chef Bruce made a panna cotta-like melkkos Boerber jelly from sago, wonderful samoosas filled with stewed fruit and Old Brown Sherry, chocolate meringue sprinkled with Nachtmusik liqueur, malva pudding with rooibos liqueur, yoghurt, honey caviar, and pomegranate molasses, a beautiful collection of different tastes all served on a pure white tile, a proudly Cape Town dish! The ‘honey caviar’ would not have meant anything to us at all, and we probably would not even have picked up the little balls, had Chef Bruce not come to our table before serving the dessert, and asking us to guess what they were. We could taste the sweetness, but could never have identified them to be pollen. Although our 3-course menu did not include a cheese course, Chef Bruce wanted me to try it. Presented on a wooden board with textural bumps created via caramelised sugar, it consisted of ‘rondebokkie’ cheese I had never heard of before, mature cheddar, black fig chutney (‘suurvy’), mint, and a chilli bite. Eating at The Boat House is not only for sustenance, but it is most educational too, because Chef Bruce is so excited about his discoveries that he spontaneously shares them with his guests.  The second course in the 5-course menu is a home smoked snoek pâte served with a fresh pea and mascarpone cream on ciabatta, with Chef Bruce’s kitchen greens.

While Scarborough is as quiet and isolated from the rest of Cape Town as it was on a last visit more than ten years, everything has changed, now having one of the hottest secret eateries in this suburb, worth the drive of about 60 km from the city centre.  One can also book a picnic basket from Chef Bruce, and one is sure to be equally spoilt, given that Chef Bruce originally designed Warwick’s gourmet picnic.

The Boat House, 36 Beach Road, Scarborough.  Tel 083 305 8533. www.chefbrucerobertson.com Twitter: @ChefBruce  Monday – Saturday lunch.  Maximum of 12 guests.  3-courses R325, 5-courses R495. Must be pre-booked.

POSTSCRIPT 3/11: Chef Bruce Robertson moved from Scarborough to Simonstown, where he opened The Flagship, a restaurant and guest house.  Very very sadly he passed away from leukemia today, diagnosed only a few days ago.

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

2012 Eat In Awards salute quality SA producers’ integrity and innovation!

I should have known that going to the Stellenbosch Slow Market at Oude Libertas yesterday would bring on claustrophobia, it being the fullest I have ever seen this popular market, and one that I had sworn that I would never go back to again.  The announcement of the winners of the 2012 Eat In DStv Food Network Produce Awards was the reason for my visit, and once I had received a copy of the magazine with the winners’ names, and tasted some of their produce, it was a good time to leave.

Given the increased passion for food preparation, spurred by cooking programs such as MasterChef Australia and now our own South African reality TV cooking show, as well as the recession reducing the frequency of eating out, buying healthy produce to use and eat at home is becoming increasingly popular.   Five years ago Eat In, sister publication to Eat Out, which presents the annual Top 10 Restaurant awards, was launched by New Media Publishing. The magazine’s Awards ‘aim to acknowledge and celebrate outstanding independent South African producers for their integrity, passion and innovation’. The crucial criterion is that the produce is South African grown, and added criteria were that the products are produced ethically in terms of the workforce, and in an environmentally responsible manner.  The winners were judged Continue reading →

Vindaba 2012: a taste of wine tourism

Last week I met with Andre Morgenthal, Communications Manager of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), in the Hemel-en-Aarde Village centre, appropriately at the start of the Hermanus Wine Route, as we were struggling to co-ordinate our diaries. Andre wanted to share information about Vindaba 2012, a showcase for the wine tourism industry, which is planned to run alongside WOSA’s Cape Wine 2012, from 25 – 27 September at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

Cape Wine is a bi-annual trade show which attracts international wine trade professionals and is one of WOSA’s key marketing events, in that the company brings about 160 journalists and sommeliers to Cape Town, and prepares individual itineraries for them, to not only showcase the wines inside the exhibition and workshops inside the convention centre, but also the wine estates in and surrounding Cape Town.  Cape Wine is the largest wine showcase in the country, but was not held last year due the soccer World Cup. It adds value for WOSA producers, in connecting them and their wines to the international media, trade professionals, and sommeliers.  Not only do they meet at the exhibition and seminars, but producers also host dinner parties for hand-picked invited guests to present their wines.

Vindaba forms part of Cape Wine 2012, but will be a stand-alone self-funded event, which will not be funded by WOSA.  It is planned as a wine tourism forum, a neglected part of the tourism industry, Andre told me, with ‘tour operators and leisure media’ targeted. Ten years ago a Wine Tourism Forum was created, and a strategy was written by Cape Town Routes Unlimited, but with their loss of Marketing staff this is no longer pursued.  Andre sits on the Wine Routes Forum, a bi-monthly get-together of the twelve wine routes (including the Brandy Route) in the country, and it is here that they discuss issues relating to wine tourism.   A wine route map for all twelve wine routes is being updated, with a website, and will be available next year.  Vindaba will showcase Wine Tourism products and services, much like the annual Tourism Indaba in Durban.   Not only will it attract the Cape Wine 2012 delegates, but on 27 September, being World Tourism Day, they will open Vindaba to the public, so that the locals can interact with a showcase of the wine tourism industry in its proximity.  Discount vouchers will be made available for wine tourism products and services, for locals to experience them first hand on the weekend following Vindaba.  Social environmental responsibility projects will also be showcased, such as the Pebbles Project.

Stands for Cape Wine 2012 and Vindaba will be made from recycled board, a first for environmentally responsible exhibitions, thereby off-setting the carbon footprint of all the flights to South Africa for the event.

I wondered how WOSA and its small staff (Su Birch is the CEO) copes in marketing the wide diversity of South African wines around the world.  WOSA has offices in Canada, the USA, Germany, Sweden, Russia, the Netherlands, and in the UK, and works with the South African embassies in China and India, to promote South African wines.

Cape Wine 2012: www.capewine2012.co.za WOSA: Tel (021) 883-3860.  Vindaba:  www.vindaba.com.

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

Restaurant Review: Dear Me is green and blooming impressive!

I was not sure what to expect from Dear Me restaurant, which opened about three weeks ago in the city centre, from its name.  When it got a thumbs up from Michael McKenzie, whose judgement I value, we decided to have lunch there last week. 

From outside on Longmarket Street one cannot appreciate what creativity is inside the three storey building, having a demure canopy with the Dear Me branding on the outside, and that is it.  One enters a spacious open plan restaurant, which leads to a small deli space as well as the counter on which the coffees are made by barista Nash.  The overall colour scheme is green, with green plastic moulded chairs, and a fun green flower pattern running from the bottom of the wall, even painted over mirror tiles.  Magazine and newspaper holders have been erected onto the columns, a clever use of space.   Even more interesting are the herb holders attached to the ceiling, each holder with a different herb, which can be pulled down, and watered every 10 days or so, the holders being cleverly designed in that they have their own irrigation system.  Similarly chef Vanessa Marx can cut some herbs for her dishes from these holders.  This clearly is a ‘green’ restaurant in more ways than one.  The wall alongside the staircase is a rough brick one, the unplastered effect adding an unusual dimension to the restaurant.

Dear Me and its upstairs bar Tjing Tjing belong to ex-accountant Ilze Koekemoer, very humble about her ownership of this beautifully restored 181 year-old building, which is predominantly painted in grey.  Ilse utilised South Africa’s übermaster interior decorator Francois du Plessis (he does all Newmark Hotel properties, for example, the Queen Victoria Hotel being his latest project).  Ilze says she always wanted to have a restaurant.  She said that she can cook, but that Vanessa does it better.   On the second floor is a little seating area with couches, as well as a boardroom table, with chairs as well as a couch around it for seating, over which a collection of plates has been hung. A large function room in white, including the flooring, the curtaining and walls, leads off the landing.  It is used for Thursday evening dinners, and for events such as wine tastings and art exhibitions.  I loved the crispness of the green chairs, the same as in the restaurant, in contrast to the white.  On this level is a most impressive large painting by Matthew Hindley, which one sees as one comes up the staircase.  Hindley is a graduate of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, and spends time in Berlin regularly.  He has been a disciple of ‘Gesamtkunst’, combining painting, sculpture and drawing, writes Wikipedia.   I was particularly impressed by a smaller painting by the same artist, which was hung in an alcove which was unpainted and looked unfinished, but so by design, and brought out the best of the painting.  On the third level is the Chinese-inspired Tjing Tjing bar, which opens at 16h00, and at which tapas dishes are served when the roller doors of Dear Me have closed after the lunch service.  Clients access the bar from the restaurant entrance, by going upstairs.  The Tokyo wall in this room attracts attention, filled with photographs of a recent visit to Tokyo by Ilze and her husband, and over a part of which the designer has placed a logo.  This loft room is open plan, and has an interesting wood ceiling.  It opens to an outside balcony, with pizza oven, and here one can sit on warm evenings.  The name Tjing Tjing is a ‘South Africanised’ version of the words one uses to toast one’s friends when having a drink, Ilse explained.

There is a strong presence of ex-staff from Caveau in Newlands: Chef Vanessa’s ex-link to this restaurant is a surprise, given the poor image Caveau has, and her wonderful creativity at Dear Me.  She worked for Pete Goffe-Wood previously at his PGW Eat and Kitchen Cowboys, and then worked in Europe as well as in London.  Returning to Cape Town, she worked at Cassia on Nitida wine estate, before joining Caveau.  What is interesting is that Vanessa is a diabetic too, and is working closely with the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital just up the road in the setting up of a Diabetes Unit.  What was impressive is that the menu offers Dear Me guests vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free and starch-free options, and diabetics can be catered for as well, if Vanessa is informed.   The very efficient waitress Rumby, and the very knowledgeable wine hostess Ronel, are from Caveau Newlands too.  The waitress wore a grey overall with yellow piping and pockets, a refreshing break from the black and white waitress dress one normally sees.  I liked Ilze’s pants, fitting into the decor theme both in terms of design and colour.

The menu feels crisp and new, and this is because the menu is changed daily, with the date identified.  It has a full page introduction of its ethos: “Our aim is to provide you with high quality food reflecting our core values of integrity, respect and diversity in an informal and accessible environment”.  Recognising that not all patrons have the same requirements in what they eat, Dear Me states that “our menu is designed to be flexible enough to always provide options for individual dietary requirements and our kitchen has a can-do flexible attitude”, which we experienced on our visit.  Only fresh and seasonal produce is used, and they follow “artisanal principles and will prepare all our food naturally to ensure maximum benefit to our customers”, preserving nutrients and ensuring goodness of the food that is served.   Dear Me has chosen smaller suppliers who share the commitment of Ilse and Vanessa to ‘sustainable and ethical food production practices’.  The sustainability extends to another ‘green’ side of the restaurant, and it is conscious of its carbon footprint and impact it may have on the environment, and “wherever and whenever we can, we reduce, reuse and recycle our waste”.

The last sentence in the introduction explains the origin of the unusual name of the restaurant: “You should be able to eat with us every day and never feel guilty about compromising your personal food value and beliefs – the ideal was the inspiration for our name, Dear Me”.

The wooden tables have no table cloths, but quality material serviettes.  The cutlery is by Pintino from Italy.  I loved the presentation of the wholewheat and sourdough bread, wrapped in a napkin and held together with an old-fashioned wooden peg, presented on a beautiful green lotus-shaped plate. Nine main courses were offered, and six of these could be ordered as starter portions too.  Each item on the menu, bar the soup, had a wine suggestion, with a bottle and wine-by-the-glass price. Six of the dishes were indicated as having a health alternative.  Michael ordered the roast sweet potato, caramelised onion and goats chevre tart (R45) as a starter portion, very creamy, and the salad served with it had a good dressing, while I had organic Elgin tomato soup, basil and pecerino croute (R35) to start, perfect for a rainy day. 

For his main course Michael had grilled spatchcock quail (R110), and proclaimed it to be delicious, to be full of flavour, and none of the flavours jarred, he said.  I had slow roasted free-range pork loin served with butternut fritters, wilted greens, crispy sage and cooked apples (R98), the pork being somewhat chewy.  It was served with a very serious looking knife.   Other menu options were organic baby fig and shaved bresoula salad (R58/R78); home-cured trout gravadlax (R65/R85); grilled aubergine, curried split pea vinaigrette and feta salad (R46/R66); seared Lourensford trout (R105); and Chalmar beef sirloin (R125).

I could not resist trying the desserts, even though they are relatively expensive compared to the good value starter/main course prices.  I managed to encourage Michael to share a quince and apple crumble topped with shaved almonds, with almond milk ice cream and walnut praline (R50).  We were surprised to be generously served a dessert each, but to be charged for one only, mine coming with diabetes-friendly ice cream, proactively organised by Chef Vanessa, without us having asked for it.  I found the crumble to be a little dry, but liked the quince and apple combination to which raisins had been added, and the ice cream tasted as good as that which Michael would have been served.  Other dessert options were a chocolate torte (R60), lemon posset (R45), rhubarb soft-serve (R35), a selection of local cheeses (R65), and chocolate truffles can be ordered at R10 each.  Nash came to our table once I received my cappuccino (R16), and he spontaneously talked to us about the coffee, which comes from the Espresso Lab at the Old Biscuit Mill, where he did his barista training.  My cappuccino was made from a blend of organic coffee beans from Ethiopia, Brazil and Panama.   He said that the blend makes a full-bodied, distinctive tasting coffee, as the beans are not over-roasted, comparing it to food that should not be overcooked.  There are no additives or pesticides used in the production of the coffee beans, Nash assured us.

The two-page Breakfast menu looks wonderful, and is presented on a pay-for-what-you-choose basis, which is innovative and rarely offered.  Different muesli options, including the wonderful Bircher muesli, cost R 30, and one can add fruit (R18), and/or lactose-free or low lactose yoghurts at R8 each.  A fruit plate costs R35.  Porridge costs R18, to which can be added seeds or nuts (R8), or fruit (R18). French Toast comes in three options, ranging from R35 – R50. Boiled eggs and soldiers cost R22, to which can be added bacon and vegetables, costing R18 each.  Poached eggs cost R45, to which can be added hollandaise sauce (R8). Eggs Benedict, Eggs Florentine and truffled scrambled eggs are also available, the latter costing R70.  Plain scrambled/boiled/poached/fried eggs cost R10 only, while a basic omelette costs R15, to which one can add bacon, charcuterie, smoked trout, anchovies, mushrooms, spinach, capers, avocado and more, the cost of each specified.

Dear Me offers its patrons free filtered tap water.  I liked the wine storage area underneath the staircase, and the attractive impactful storage containers. The wine prices range from R20/R77 for Cape Atlantic Sauvignon Blanc 2010, to R68/R270 for Glen Carlou Pinot Noir 2009 on the menu.  The winelist is bound in a leather holder, and looks impressive.  Each page has the Dear Me logo on it.  There are eight MCC’s, ranging from R43/R170 for Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel to R455 for the Cederberg Blanc de Blanc.  Graham Beck Brut Rosé (R49/R195) and Colmant Brut Reserve (R65/R260) are also served by the glass. There are five Shiraz choices, Rickety Bridge costing R42/R165 and Migliarina R300.  Tamboerskloof Shiraz is also available by the glass, at R49/R195.

Dear Me is one of a number of new exciting restaurants to open, where the focus is strongly on the interior, making a strong visual impression, and allowing one to escape from a busy and stressful outside world.   There was nothing to fault at Dear Me at all, and one could not believe that the restaurant had only been open for two weeks when we ate there.  While it is the type of brasserie at which one would want to pop in regularly, parking (or lack of) during the week is a deterrent, but one is advised to park in the Netcare hospital parking garage on Loop Street.  Dear Me is refreshingly different, admirably green, admirably health-conscious, good value for money, and very friendly and welcoming.

POSTSCRIPT 4/4: I returned to Dear Me today, to finalise the winelist and Breakfast write-up, which I had missed last week, probably in talking too much!   I have added it above.  I had Chef Vanessa’s refreshing Caprese Salad starter portion, with Buffalo Mozzarella and fresh basil (R55).

POSTSCRIPT 14/4: I returned for Thursday dinner, with my colleague Marianna, so that she can recommend it to our guests.  Interior designer Francois du Plessis was having dinenr there, and came for a chat. He told me that Gregor Jenkins made the dining table upstairs, and he also crafted the tables at Dash restaurant at the Queen Victoria Hotel.  One pays R 240 for three courses, which is excellent value, as an amuse bouche and a palate cleanser are brought to the table as well, making it a five-course meal in fact.  If wine is added per course, it costs R 350.  Five courses cost R 350, and R 480 paired with wine.  Ronel looked after us most of the time, the first time that I had met her. Four choices of starter and main course are offered, and three desserts.  For her starter Marianna had the Tataki of yellow-fin tuna with pickled cucumber and ginger, oshi toshi and soy, while I chose the Wild mushroom risotto with parmesan and truffle oil, both outstanding.  The palate cleanser was a thick and creamy ginger and fig sorbet.  Marianna’s main course was Asian broth, kob, shitake mushrooms, noodles, lemongrass, ginger and chilli, a colourful and tasty dish.  I was most impressed with my Chalmar beef fillet, tender to cut, loved the crisp green beans and sand-less spinach with the most unusual glühwein-poached pears.  I didn’t like the gorgonzola cream on the steak, finding it too overpowering and rich.  Marianna had Buttermilk panna cotta with roasted rhubarb compote for dessert, while I chose the cheese platter, which I was less happy with, mainly due to the very dry and hard Melba toast.  I enjoyed a glass of Rickety Bridge’s Shiraz 2008 for R42, and had a small taste of port with the cheese, with the compliments of the restaurant.   The service was attentive and informative. A surprise was the noisiness of the downstairs restaurant, which Francois said he is working on to contain.

POSTSCRIPT 16/2: I have received an e-mail, announcing a new Pantry addition to Dear Me, with home-made breads, also available in wheat-free and gluten free variations, diabetic-friendly treats, relishes, cookies, buttermilk rusks, muffins, almond torte, and macaroons

Dear Me restaurant, 165 Longmarket Street, Cape Town.  Tel (021)  422- 4920. www.dearme.co.za (The website reflects the green interior design theme, and contains the most current menu.  There is no Image Gallery to reflect Chef Vanessa’s lovely food.  The winelist is not on the website.  There is no information about the Tjing Tjing Bar).   Twitter: @DearMeFoodWorld.  Monday – Friday 7h00 – 15h00, dinner on Thursday evenings.  Tjing Tjing opens at 16h00, until late.

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

Social Media vital tourism communication and information source, also for Cape Town

Social Media marketing is one of the most important means of communication with potential tourists, in planning their trips, and these media are also used by them to share their holiday information experiences during and after their holidays.   This is one of the trends that Cape Town Tourism reported on its return from the “Future Day” Convention held in Berlin last week, running in conjunction with ITB (Internationale Tourismusbörse), the world’s largest travel trade fair.

The internet in general is the most important source of travel information, with 95 % of travellers searching for information on-line, and more than half booking on-line, up by 10 percentage points from 45 % in just two years.   In the USA just more than half of travellers use social media to research travel destinations and to make online bookings.  Travel tips from friends, interactive bookings and mobile travel guides are some of the social media travel applications that influence travel by travellers.  

Mobile phones play a vital part in this travel communication, because they are easily portable and accessible, unlike laptops, which are dependent on wifi access.   While on holiday or on a business trip, travellers can use their iPhones, Blackberries and other phones to find and share information about the destination.   With large increases in tourists coming from Asian countries, and China in particular (46 million travellers in 2010, and 155 million mobile Internet subscribers), and another 127 million in India, it is vital that tourism destinations such as Cape Town reach tourists via mobile phones, and smart phones in particular.   The World Travel Monitor has found that 40 % of international travellers travel with a smart  phone with internet, e-mail and other functions, with the balance holding a conventional mobile phone.   Of the smart phone users, 40 % use them to obtain destination information, and 26 % of leisure travellers and 34% of business travellers use them to change bookings while travelling.   Just more than a third of international travellers use their smart phones to access mobile social networks.   This leads to tourists posting content to their Facebook pages or Blogs, or photographs on Twitter or Flickr, whilst they are still at the destination.   In future it is likely to see that photographs and information posted will have GPS information, with screens providing travel information.

The travel and tourism trends which Cape Town Tourism brought back from ITB are the following:

*   Globalisation, demographic change and climate change are the three most important trends affecting tourism.  Climate change has created a moral debate amongst travellers about the effect of a long haul flight to a city like Cape Town on the carbon footprint, a potential threat to tourism to our country, if the local tourism industry cannot find ways to communicate to these travellers how they can offset their long-haul travel whilst in the country.  The Convention predicted that “individual carbon budgets could be in the pipeline”.  

*   The largest tourism growth has come from Asia and South America.   This year international travel is expected to grow by 3 – 4 %.  Cape Town Tourism is confident about the benefit of the massive Asian travel market, and our suitable weather in the low season to accommodate these travellers.  

*   Tourism marketing is no longer about the destination, but about the customer.  The traveller can be segmented as follows:

    *   the “too busy to care” traveller, who can not be bothered to give destination or product feedback

    *   Travellers leading complex lives and whose finances are under pressure, working harder and their leisure time reducing.

    *   Travellers looking for simplicity and a return to basics.   Their mantra is : “Slow living, slow food and slow travel”

    *   Wealthy travellers are harder to please, and set higher demands from the destinations they visit. 

*   Sustainability is now vital, and no longer a ‘nice to have’.  All elements in the tourism cycle need to be environmentally sustainable.

*   Despite an improvement in the economic well-being of the world since the recession struck three years ago, tourists are still being careful with their money.  Tourism spend is expected to increase by 7 % this year.  

*   The tourism businesses that can understand what makes their “customers tick” will be the ones that will “lead the way to prosperity”.

*   Neuromarketing is the new ‘science’ of communication, and is a recognition that up to 95 % of all decisions are made subconsciously.   Marketing communication is moving toward imagery and language that can influence the subconscious decision-making of travellers.   Four types of customers are identified:

   *   The Economical Customer relates to data, facts and efficiency

   *   The Relationship Customer relates to harmony, partnership, trust and a personal approach

   *   The Trendsetter Customer relates to opportunities, gut feeling and creativity

   *   The Exclusive Customer relates to aesthetics, quality and vision.

*   Finally, the ability to communicate in an instant is the “most interesting innovation in tourism marketing”, writes Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold.   Social Media is the communication tool which allows information to be personalised to travellers, and shared with them instantly.

To market a city brand such a Cape Town effectively, it must be authentic, it must appeal to locals first, it must have emotional pull, and must have real stories to tell, said Mrs Helmbold.   She also said that travellers spend the most time of their holiday experience in the “planning and memory phase of their holidays and sharing their experiences now takes place on Facebook and Twitter”, the holiday album becoming something of the past.

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

Restaurant Review: Laborie Le Restaurant food surprisingly good, service not!

It was the photograph of the prawn and pineapple tian that wine writer Edo Heyns took at Laborie Le Restaurant earlier this week, and tweeted, that made me drive to Paarl to try Laborie Le Restaurant.  I was surprised to find a restaurant with outstanding food, but sadly the service left much to be desired.  I am not sure of the exact name of the restaurant – it is generally referred to as Laborie Restaurant, but the winelist and the website refer to it as ‘Laborie Le Restaurant’, as does the business card for Executive Chef Alicia Giliomee.

My last visit to Laborie was a few years ago, for a family birthday lunch.  I remember it being a set menu, and being okay, nothing spectacular.  I’ll start at the end, which was the part that finally drove the nail in the service coffin, and that is that the property belongs to the KWV, and the restaurant is leased out to the Belgian owner Peter Rues.   The security staff at the boom are contracted out, and when I wanted to exit, I had to stop at the boom and hoot, despite the security guard being able to see me driving down from the parking area, which meant that he could have opened it so that I could just drive through.  He was incensed that I had hooted, and a war of words erupted.  I had to call the restaurant to ask them to get the boom opened, and as soon as he saw me making the call, he opened it.  I was seething when I left.   The incident left a very bad taste, and the Manager Nadia Beutler was very sweet in reporting the matter to the estate manager, and in apologising via Twitter.

Since I had last been to Laborie, the parking area in front of the building has been planted to lawns, and the parking is now behind the building.  There is no signage to indicate where to go to the restaurant entrance, so I followed other guests to find the entrance.  On non-windy days one can sit outside, and enjoy the view onto the Drakenstein mountains.  On my way in I noticed an outside table that had an old tree trunk as the base, with a glass top.   As the southeaster was blowing quite strongly, all the doors were closed, and we were uncertain as to where to enter.  I chose the first door, and saw staff talking to guests who had used the next door.  I was ignored and had to request someone to seat me – the waitress spoke to me across the spacious restaurant, and no one bothered to come over to me.   Flora finally decided to help me, and I chose a table.   The restaurant filled up quickly, and it was a contrasting mix of older Paarl residents lunching ahead of the Garden Club AGM to be held there, and business executives, including some journalists, and KWV CEO Thys Loubser, whom I have known for many years. 

The restaurant building is beautiful from the outside, dating back to 1961, and looks like a historic building with thatched roof and gable in the Cape Dutch style.   Inside the large room is functionally filled with tables, with a surprisingly modern chandelier, and chairs are brown leather.  The table cloth is a yellow/gold colour, and the patterned green curtains could probably do with an update.  The serviette was white, and one set of heavily used cutlery was set on the table.  I liked the vase with fresh flowers on each table.  Greenhouse olive oil and balsamic bottles are on the table, with small salt and pepper grinders.  Flora brought the menu and winelist, both with a mock-croc cover, and well-branded and identifiable as the winelist and menu (the bill was presented in a green plastic holder, and should have had the same cover, to create synergy).  Flora and I did not get on well at all, and she neglected me service-wise, so much so that I had to request my order to be taken by another waiter.  I was told that she has worked there for 30 years, and unfortunately it shows.  I asked her for the name of the chef, and she only knew her first name, but quickly added that she was off-duty, and that Lesley was in the kitchen, being “the Coloured one”!   Flora’s apron was dirty, not acceptable for the start of the lunch service, and her name tag was upside down.   Staff wear white shirts and black pants, and a Laborie branded apron.   She removed my side plate and serviette when she removed the other table settings.  I had a wow moment when I received a Direct Message on Twitter, welcoming me to the restaurant.  I had not booked nor had I identified myself on arrival, and I also had not tweeted about being at Laborie at that point in time.  The Manager Nadia said she recognised me, and had been the Tweeter.  She was helpful in providing information, and coming to my rescue at the boom.   The chef is Alicia Giliomee, who previously worked at Sand at The Plettenberg hotel and at Fairlawns in Johannesburg.

The menu has ‘footnotes’ on almost every page, some of which are repeated, and one is the pay-off line: “Laborie – where yesterday and today meet…”, not a bad description, the ‘yesterday’ aptly describing the service, and the ‘today’ the excellent cuisine, not quite what the owner had in mind, I am sure!   Another note warns one not to be in a hurry: “We are passionate about delivering delicious food and quality service, and thank you in advance for your patience”.  The note that impressed me was the following: “Laborie Restaurant is passionate about reducing our carbon footprint.  We support accredited suppliers within a maximum of 150 km radius and only serve seafood on the SASSI accredited green and orange list.  Our meat and poultry products are all free range and grain fed to add to your taste experience.  We also support small industry producers that can provide a product of quality”.  They write that they recycle waste too, as part of this policy.

The menu has a number of options: ‘Light Lunch’ includes salads ranging between R55 – R68, a Laborie Winelands platter of charcuterie, patés, cheeses and pickles (R85), a seafood platter of pickled calamari, mussels, tiger prawns and linefish (R92), as well as a mezze platter (R82).   A quick business lunch, entitled “Pronto! Pronto!”, consists of a Laborie salad, Cape Malay chicken curry and wild berry Vacherin, at a cost of R145.   A Food and Wine Tasting menu costs R245 for four courses, with a wine paired to each course.  Then follows the a la carte menu.  Flora brought the bread basket with wrapped butter portions.  I liked the bread with raisins in it.   I ordered the prawn and pineapple tian (R62), and felt it to be a generous portion as such, and also in terms of the number of prawns that it contained.  I was a little disappointed that there was little avocado in it, one of my favourites.  It was set on thin strips of cucumber, sprinkled with coconut flakes, decorated with cherry tomatoes, a miniature apple on top, and drizzled with a sweet chilli vinaigrette, almost a meal in itself.   Other starter choices include an onion tarte tatin,  steak tartar a l’Americaine, springbok carpaccio, and a salmon and spinach/basil cream roulade, all costing around R60.  

For the main course I had the slow roasted duck, with a crispy skin (R118), two pieces served with mash, peach slices, raspberries, an orange slice, and topped creatively with the thinnest potato wafer, a twig of rosemary, and a branch of basil, giving it a decorative touch.   It was the best duck I have had in a long time.  However, I was unimpressed with the side dish of mixed stirfried vegetables, so old-fashioned, and ‘done before’, consisting of red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, carrots, beans, corn cob, red cabbage, courgette and mange tout, being superfluous, given the generous duck portion.  None of the main courses exceed R129, and average at about R100.  One can also order linefish (silverfish on Thursday), roast chicken, artichoke and green olive gnocci, Cape Malay chicken curry, Chateaubriand, beef fillet, rolled stuffed loin of lamb, and Karoo lamb shank (I am not sure how the 150 km radius links to this item on the menu).   Desserts range from R30 – R45, and include a raspberry soufflé, truffles, cinnamon brûlé, frozen mint mousse, and a summer fruit savarin. 

The wine list has an introduction to the Laborie wine estate, and is named after the La Bri district in France.  In 1685 the farm was awarded to the first French Huguenot farmer Jean Taillefert, and the manor house was built in 1750.  The wines made by him on this farm were subsequently described as being “the best in the colony and similar to our small wines of Champagne”.  The wine list also states the following about the restaurant: “Your visit to Laborie Restaurant will allow you to reminisce about the Cape as it once was hundreds of years ago”.   The winelist is proudly-Paarl, or rather proudly KWV/Laborie.  Cap Classiques offered include the Laborie Blanc de Blanc (R40/R135), its Brut (R35/R125), and Brut Rosé (R35/R125).  KWV Cuvee Brut and Pearly Bay Celebration (also by KWV) cost R85.   KWV Roodeberg is available at R95.  The Laborie Shiraz 2008 is very reasonably priced at R35/R105, while the Laborie Limited Collection Shiraz 2008 costs R135.  The flagship Laborie Jean Taillefert Shiraz 2006 costs R 295.

Nadia is relatively new in managing Laborie Restaurant, and she is full of ideas.  She has marketed the Laborie Lazy Days market, which started three Saturdays ago, and it has become hugely popular already, being held on the new lawns – Nadia has an events consultancy background.   The lawns are ideal for functions, such as weddings and other parties.  She also wants to set up a champagne bar at the far end of the restaurant, to kill “the dead space” there, she said.   Gourmet picnics can be ordered at R145 per person.   There was good synergy between the restaurant and the tasting room, a note in the billfold inviting one to visit the tasting room.  I did not see where it is, relative to the restaurant.  The bill had a thank you in English, Afrikaans, German and French, a nice tourist touch.   I will certainly come back to Laborie Le Restaurant for the excellent food, and hope that I will strike it luckier with the service via a different waiter and in being let out at the boom.  I am confident that Nadia will look at improving all aspects of the restaurant, and will focus on the service side too. 

POSTSCRIPT 19/3:  I returned to Laborie le Restaurant for lunch today, after visiting the disappointing Laborie Lazy Days market.   I received a friendly reception from Nadia, and was delighted to receive her excellent service throughout the meal.  I was disappointed with the roulade of salmon and pesto, mixed with cream cheese, feeling it to have been overpromised in its description, but loved the airy and light frozen mint mousse. 

Laborie Le Restaurant, Taillefert Street, Paarl.  Tel (021) 807-3093.  www.laborierestaurant.co.za  (The website lists the full a la carte menu.  The Gallery only has a few photographs of events, and there are barely any photographs of Chef Alicia’s beautiful food presentation).  The business card for the Executive Chef is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, with appetite appeal, showing a delicious dessert and glass of wine, representing exactly what the restaurant is all about.  Twitter: @LaborieResto   Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Thursday – Sunday dinner.

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