The Caviar Group (Beluga, Sevruga, Caviar Fine Foods) owner Oskar “Blonde” Kotze has a weakness for blonds, or so his marketing tells us, as most photographs used to market his restaurants feature sexy girls, particularly blond ones. Blonde, the newest restaurant of the Caviar Group, opened earlier this month as a dinner-only venue on Hatfield Street. While the female staff are all blond, the male waiters are not, and the food as well as the prices of Blonde leave much to be desired.
If one drives to the restaurant from the Parliament side, one will see an ueber-massive billboard with a ……blond on it, and the name of the restaurant (but only during the day, and not at night, as it is not lit). If one comes down Hatfield Street from Orange Street, one would not notice the 110 year old Victorian restaurant building, and drive past it. The red carpet entrance is through stylish glass double doors, down a passage with a massive chandelier. The white walls are adorned with large murals of ……blonds drinking Moet et Chandon. The chairs have a black and white floral design, and are very comfortable. The double story house, home to a number of failed restaurants previously, is divided into a number of small dining rooms, none having more than 3 or 4 tables or so in them, giving one a feeling of being cramped inside the small rooms after a while.
One is greeted by a hostess (Nikita), who is so new that she does not know where table 301 is, as per the booking sheet. The service from waitress Karien is professional, but she seemed incredibly nervous, stuttering and shaking. Three Managers were on duty, and each one of them regularly came to check if all was in order at the table, meaning that up to seven persons ask one the same question in an hour, a nagging irritation. One receives an A3 menu, with a full page …… blond on the reverse side, and another …… blond at the top of what is called the “Unofficial Menu”. A “menu explainer” comes to each table, and he explains the menu, making his personal recommendations, not surprisingly for the most expensive items on the menu (the Foie gras balentine and the Roasted foie gras starters, at R 139 and R 129, respectively) and the Truffle-infused fillet as a main course, indicated as being the restaurant’s signature dish, at R 189.
Very nice bread rolls were served, with a complimentary generous platter of little toasted breads, duck liver pate, roast beef, pickled onions, and homemade sweet chilli sauce. An amuse bouche was then sent to the table, butternut soup served in an espresso cup.
The wine list has about 60 wines, and eleven each are by-the-glass. For white wines the wine-by-the-glass choice is mainly from Greyling (“The Doppie”, Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, “Botterbek”, “Mengelmoes”), all at R 29, up to R 59 for Sterhuis Barrel Select and a Mulderbosch 2006. Red wines by-the-glass also start at R 29 for Saxenburg and Greyling HMI Collection, up to R 55 for Boschendal 1685, Greyling Family Reserve and Clos Malverne Pinotage Reserve. Between 5 – 10 options are offered per wine variety, and then an additional heading adds about 20 further options, being more select and more expensive (e.g. the “Special red wines” list includes Vergelegen V 2006 at R 1685, Meerlust Rubicon in various bottle sizes and vintages, and Raats Mr De Compostella 2007 at R 1065). The “Special white wines” list includes a Vergelegen White 2006 at R 665. Very few of the wines have vintages provided on the list. The Graham Beck Merlot was served in an odd glass, very bulbous at the bottom and a very narrow top, almost like a larger wine estate tasting room glass, which does not allow the wine to breath well.
The 40 minute wait for the main course is long, but the restaurant was almost full. The “truffle-infused fillet”, served with “garlic galette potato, mushroom ragout, bordelaise jus and beef reduction”, was a huge let-down. Not only was the 220 gram fillet bland, but the truffle infusion could not be detected. The terrible taste of the potato bake cannot be described in words without making the reader of this review run to the bathroom. The mushroom ragout was the most tasty element on the plate. When the complaint was lodged with the Manager, she was very condescending, saying that maybe it just was not to the liking of her patrons. When this approach to “customer service” was questioned, she apologised, said that she would reprimand the chef, and offered complimentary desserts (a chocolate terrine, and a peach cobbler) and Glen Carlou dessert wine. It was clear that the Manager does not yet know the Blonde menu, in that she did not know the detail about all the desserts. A basil sorbet palate cleanser was sent to the table before the desserts were served.
The menu uses an interesting pricing technique, in that the prices are not written in numbers but in words, making it harder to “see” the R number, perhaps to hide the high Blonde prices! The Starter choice of ten dishes ranges in price from R 49 (Roast vegetable salad, Baby calamari, or Herb salad) to R 129/R139 for the two foie gras dishes. Roast tomato tarte tatin, calamari cerviche, duck breast, and onion veloute are other options. Ten Mains are offered, ranging in price from R 109 (smoked aubergine and goat’s cheese cannelloni) to the beef fillet at R 189. Other choices are Chicken breast, Smoked springbok, Ostrich, Confit duck roll, Kingklip, Linefish (Cape Salmon), and Beef rib. A second column offers lighter, smaller and less expensive dishes , under the heading “Simply Blonde” – it is not explained if these are for the ladies? Nine options include Roasted chicken breast, at R 99; East coast sole and linefish cost R 109; Kingklip, Salmon, Lamb rump and Lamb shank pie cost R119; and Fillet steak and Duck breast cost R 129. A choice of sides includes an unusual selection of pickled vegetables; beef and poultry reduction; chilli jam, tomato compote, beetroot and onion chutney; and “braised” mixed vegetables, each at R 25. Last, but not least, the menu makes a recommendation for “Next time at Blonde”, being a “whole roasted fillet steak for two, roasted vegetables, duo of potato, herb salad and a beef reduction.” No price is provided, and it does not encourage one to order it during one’s current visit to the restaurant.
Underneath the menu a line is printed : “anything but pepenero” – obviously a private joke, in that it could be a reference to another restaurant group that also has 4 restaurants (Pepenero, The Kove, Zenzero and Paranga – I have been told that there is no love lost between the owners of the two restaurant groups), and that no black pepper (only …… blond pepper, i.e. white peppercorns) is available. The menu also states that “A discretionary 13 % service charge will be added to your bill. Please feel free to ask us to remove it if you are not comfortable with this addition”. The tip was removed before the bill came to the table, due to the problems experienced with the main course.
The dessert menu is short, offering lemon sabayon tart, creme anglaise soup, and Absolut mango chocolate martini as options in addition to the peach cobbler and chocolate terrine, in a price range of R 49 – R 59. The Glen Carlou “The Welder” is offered on the Dessert menu at R 59.
The bathroom is very ordinary, with average standard fittings, and feels tiny and cramped.
Blonde, 129 Hatfield Street, Gardens. Tel 021 462 5793. Tuesdays – Sunday dinners. www.blondedining.co.za (website still under construction!).
POSTSCRIPT: A further sign of the ……blondness of Blonde’s marketing department is an ad with a ……blond in the Business Report of 19 May, which lists the telephone numbers and website addresses of all four the restaurants in the Caviar Group – for Blonde it says “opening soon” and provides the web address, which is still under construction!
POSTSCRIPT 7/2: Blonde is to close down at the end of February, the current concept not having brought in the feet nor revenue, despite heavily discounted prices of its expensive menu and winelist. This is the e-mail that was sent today:
“Our sexiest socialite Blonde had an amazing summer , met some remarkable people and brought out some incredible dishes. In fact, we’re so happy with our concept kitchen’s wonderful creations, that over winter we’ve decided to send her shopping for even more exciting new ideas!! Sadly, this means we’ll be closing our doors for a while, but don’t despair we’ll be back with a brand new menu concept, served with our signature style and charm. In the meantime, look for your favourite Blonde creations at Beluga and Sevruga, or book Blonde as a private venue for your event, and get a sneak peek at what spring will bring. For her farewell, we are giving you 50% discount on your entire food and drinks bill for the entire month of February. Closing dates: March 2011 – August 2011”
POSTSCRIPT 28/2: Blonde has closed today, until September.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com