Tag Archives: Cecil Skotness

KWV Sensorium a unique pairing of KWV wines and top SA art!

If there was one good thing about Vindaba, the wine tourism exhibition which ran alongside CapeWine 2012, it was the discovery of the innovative new KWV Sensorium at its Head Office in Paarl, which pairs highlights of the KWV Art Collection with KWV wines, and which has brought the art collection under one roof for the first time.

The creative idea came from a group think tank, curator Elsa Hoogenhout said, and has given the historic KWV Head Office interior a new and modern feel as one enters the building.  The Sensorium is believed to be the first wine and art pairing in the world.  The creativity is evident before one even enters the Sensorium, with a Reception bench made from wooden staves to which old office furniture has been affixed, being functional seating as well as expressing the differentness of the rejuvenated KWV, one of the leading and oldest (94 years) wine producers of the country, having been one of the top performers, with Nederburg, at the Veritas Awards on Saturday evening.  Using the services of two architecture firms, Albertyn Viljoen from Paarl, and Mashabane Rose from Johannesburg, the rectangular space has a central glass-encased KWV wine display and food preparation centre, with special lamps made from KWV branded crystal decanters.

Each of the 28 featured artworks out of the approximately hundred in the KWV Art Collection, which has been built up over the past sixty years, has been uniquely paired with a KWV wine, based on what the artwork represents or its colouring, a team effort between Elsa and her wine colleagues. At any given time, four of the paired artworks can be experienced by tasting the matching wines, and the four paintings and pairings will be rotated, so that one can study new paintings and taste new KWV wines each time one visits the Sensorium.  I was lucky to have Elsa telling me about each painting, and each is well described where it hangs, with five words that are uniquely descriptive of the artwork as well as of the KWV wine, not using traditional wine-speak.  The catalogue for the exhibition is informative, and contains each artwork, the wine pairing, as well as the QR code so that one can obtain more information about the wine from the KWV Sensorium website.  The paintings are hung in sections in the Sensorium, depending on their wine pairings, being white wines, red wines, and dessert wines.

The first artwork is entitled ‘The Funeral’ (of poet DJ Opperman), and is by Marjorie Wallace, showing his family in one group and his friends in another.  His family did not approve of his friends. Interesting is the seemingly contradictory pairing of the sad theme of the painting with the KWV Cathedral Cellar Cap Classique, and Elsa explained it as representing the rebellious and effervescent character of the poet.  The words associated with the wine and the artwork are: rebellion, reminiscent, icy rain, wet grass, effervescence.

This was followed by ‘Boland Bride‘ by Christo Coetzee, one of his last works, which is paired with the KWV The Mentors Viognier. Viewers of the artwork either love or hate it, Elsa said, and the reaction to Viognier is similar, she said. Yet both the artwork and the wine are complex, being layered. The five descriptive words for the wine and the artwork are: bittersweet, complex, floral, masculine, and Miss Havisham ( a character from Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’).

A work which was commissioned by the KWV is by Piet van Heerden and entitled ‘Boland Valley‘, painted from Paarl Mountain, and is an iconic painting of Paarl, and was therefore paired with the iconic KWV Roodeberg.  The words used to describe the painting and the wine are the following: legendary, rockface, vista, sunset, Kodak moment!

The pièce de résistance is the massive Irma Stern ‘Harvest’ painting, probably the largest surviving Stern artwork in South Africa, which was paired with KWV Red Muscadel, its colour matching the different shades of red and orange fruits in the painting.  The words describing the two masterpieces are the following: joyful, abundant, Garden of Eden, exotic, parable.

Other artists in the KWV Art Collection are JH Pierneef, David Botha, Gregoire Boonzaier, Carl Buchner, Frans Claerhout, Herbert Coetzee, Tinus de Jongh, Llewellyn Davies, Pranas Domsaitis, Elly Holm, Amos Langdown, Francois Krige, Erik Laubscher, Hugo Naudé, Alexander Rose-Innes, Edward Roworth, and Maurice van Essche.

Elsa wants visitors to pop in and enjoy their Nespresso coffee, cake of the day, and charcuterie platters, and taste the KWV wines. She is considering opening for longer one day a week.

At Laborie, a KWV property a little further down, off Main Road, wine is made, with Harvest Restaurant and guest accommodation too, a collection of works by Cecil Skotnes can be viewed.  The KWV commissioned Skotness to produce a number of works, his ‘Epic of Gilgamesh‘ being the best known of these, consisting of 18 hand-carved wood panels in a stinkwood and yellowwood frame, depicting the origin of wine.

The KWV Sensorium is a unique showcase of South African wine history, with old bottles of KWV wines, brandy, and even Eau-de-Cologne it once produced, uniquely paired with works of art by some of South Africa’s finest artists.

KWV Sensorium, 57 Main Street, Paarl.  R40 per person.  Tel (021) 807-3147  www.kwvsensorium.com Twitter: @KWVSensorium  Monday – Friday, 9h00 – 16h30, Saturday 9h00 – 14h00.

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

Restaurant Review: Harvest Restaurant at Laborie Chef Matthew Gordon’s best!

Yesterday I revisited Laborie wine estate in Paarl, to try their new Harvest restaurant which opened almost a month ago, and which has now been taken back by property owner the KWV.  I found it vastly improved, and to be the best of all the restaurants in which Chef Matthew Gordon is or has been involved.

Chef Matthew has been synonymous with restaurants in Franschhoek, and attracted attention when he had three restaurants in the village, when other chefs (e.g. Reuben Riffel, Camil Haas) went outside the village boundary when they expanded their restaurant portfolio.  It was a shock to hear earlier this year that he had not renewed his lease at Haute Cabriere, a restaurant he started 16 years ago.  He also had a joint ownership in The Grillroom (but not anymore), the French Connection, and Cotage Fromage (also withdrawn).  In Cape Town he consulted to Vanilla in the Cape Quarter.   One did not expect him to pop up in Paarl, but his mother Penny told me a month earlier that he would be opening the restaurant at Laborie.   The lease of the previous Laborie restaurant operator had expired and the KWV had chosen to not renew it.  Whilst the food was good, its service was not, I found on my visit earlier this year.

The unfriendly service at the security boom unfortunately has not changed, and I laughed when the new Manager Yolanda Prinsloo told me that it is the same company that Grande Roche uses for its security, the security staff providing the worst and rudest security service I have ever experienced. They were true to form yesterday, being pedantic about why they were asking where I was going on the property, and then justifying at length why they had to ask, rather than opening the boom!  One parks at the back of the building, and I immediately noticed that the terrace has been built up and extended out, with its beautiful view onto the Drakenstein mountain.  I also walked past the very newly planted herb garden, and saw the vegetable garden behind the parking area after it had been pointed out to me.  Being a lovely Cape summer day, I chose to sit outside, as did all other patrons.

The restaurant interior looks lighter and whiter, and Yolanda told me that it was the work of restaurant decorater Francois du Plessis (who also did Dash and Dear Me Foodworld).  It was a surprise, given the less-is-more and low key decor, mixing most of the old and adding little new, retaining the (rearranged) brown leather furniture inside, the flow of the long room divided by serving tables, with new white curtains with a hessian ribbon.  White-painted branches of a fruit tree were the wall decor, with little vases attached holding fresh white rose buds and rosemary.  More and more Winelands restaurants are using interestingly shaped vine pieces on their walls (Johans@Longridge doing it best, but also at Creation), but I thought the Laborie ones odd, white against white not working very well.  The walls are filled with rather heavy-looking Cecil Skotness paintings and while valuable and belonging to the KWV, they did not match the name of the restaurant or its interior at all. The Skotness exhibition has been spread across to all the Laborie buildings. Most odd was the decor touch in the bathroom, with three white clipboards to which had been clipped cut-out pictures of women from magazines!  On the terrace modern white LED-lit pots have been added to the terrace edge, planted with white roses.  The outside tables are less attractive with wooden tops and heavy metal bases, with an uncomfortable bar midway.  The chairs are light aluminium frames with black cane.  Grey couches and a table divide the outside seating area.  I sat next to an old oak tree, in which someone had put their cigarette ‘stompie’, which had not been picked up by staff.  My waitress seem quite disinterested when I passed on this feedback to her. Disappointing by contrast to the decor is the lack of a table cloth on the outside tables, and the unbranded little perspex salt and pepper grinders. Cutlery and crockery is by Fortis, and a material serviette is supplied.  The restaurant seats 80 patrons inside and 100 on the terrace.

Yolanda told me that she had started her career as a waitress at the Grande Roche, working her way up to Deputy GM in the twelve years that she worked there.  She then moved to the Three Cities Group, and worked at The Rex and Plettenberg Park on the Garden Route.  She came to check that everything was in order regularly, and I admired her patience when a pushy German supplier came to peddle his wares during lunch service.   All the staff of the previous restaurant operator have left, which is an improvement for the restaurant, now falling under the estate manager Cobus van Graan, who was dining at a table next to me. Geraldine White is the Head Chef, previously having worked at The Grillroom. Chef Matthew acts as Consultant Chef, and came to say hello, a nice touch.  He told me that they were expecting 700 people for the Carols by Candlelight last night, and that they were preparing picnics for it. Laborie branding comes through on the black aprons worn by the waiters, and umbrellas on the terrace.

Yolanda introduced the menu to me as being ‘South African contemporary cuisine’, serving ‘organic and free range produce’. It is presented on A3 board, and the waitress showed me all the headings on the menu which I could order from, which I told her I could read. She told me that the mussels had ‘sold out’ (at 12h45), that creamy spinach is served with all main courses, and that the specials of the day were a free-range chicken burger and marinated porcini mushroom salad, both at just over R60.   The problem with French menu names (such as potato dauphinoise) is that the staff cannot pronounce them, and my waitress really struggled with this word.  Disappointingly ordinary Ciabatta slices were brought to the table with old-fashioned butter balls, and little milk jugs of olive oil and balsamic. I ordered Kingklip when I was told that it was the linefish, and Chef Matthew served it with mash as they do not serve rice, as well as with a tomato, onion and bean salad which covered the fish, giving the dish a nice colour touch, and fennel adding to the enjoyment.  It was one of the best kingklip dishes I have tasted. Disappointing was that it was not served with a fish knife.  Other main course options include a Karoo lamb burger (R68), and a selection of steaks ranging from R90 for 180g fillet to R118 for 250g fillet.  With these can be ordered sauces and butters (e.g. Café de Paris) at R18 each.  The menu specifies that the sirloin, rump and prime rib are free-range and come from the Weltevrede farm in the Free State ‘when available’. One worries about the carbon footprint of getting the steak to the Cape, when there are other very good sources of meat closer by. Steaks are vacuum-packed and aged for at least two weeks, the menu states.

For dessert I chose fresh summer berries served with a Sabayon sauce made from Laborie Chardonnay the waitress said, although the menu describes it as a Late Harvest.  It was served in a beautiful glass dish.  Most desserts cost around R40, and other options are an Apple and boerejonggens tart served with a Marula anglaise and homemade gingerbread ice cream, a chocolate tart with a hazelnut and chocolate spring roll and homemade Kit kat ice cream, crème brûlée, and cling peach cheesecake with pistachio anglaise and balsamic syrup.  I liked the touch of the coffee bean on top of the well-made cappuccino.

The menu introduction sounded a little corny and is partly misleading: “What makes us stand out from the crowd… is it,(sic) the catch of the day delivered fresh this morning, our genuine Karoo lamb and beef (the beef comes from the Free State the menu says lower down), fresh produce from our veggie patch (but I saw the truck delivering many pockets of potatoes), herbs from our garden or the fact that we use free-range and organic where possible?   The answer… all of the above, plus fun and fresh in everything we do. Harvest, a haven for good times, friends and fun for the whole family. Are you ready to experience the difference?” .  The media release states that ‘Matthew sources produce locally from the Paarl region’.

The lunch and dinner menus differ in that sandwiches and salads feature strongly on the Lunch menu. The Dinner menu has interesting starters and main courses, including a duck parfait (R48) starter, and mains of ‘Tooinjies River’ quail risotto (R110), springbok fillet (R135), rack of Karoo lamb (R125), and duck served with Van der Hum sauce (R125). The winelist has predominantly KWV and Laborie wines, but a few other wines are listed too.  Wines by the glass cost only R20 for Laborie Cap Classique Brut 2008 (R90 per bottle), Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Chardonnay 2010, and KWV Classic Pinotage Rosé.  Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut costs R80 per glass and R750 per bottle. Laborie Shiraz 2010 costs R120, and other brands offered are Landskroon, the KWV Cathedral Cellar, Laborie Jean Taillefert 2009, and KWV Mentors 2009 (at R310).

I refused the offer to have the meal comped, as I had not been invited and had chosen to come for lunch, but appreciated the offer.  Harvest staff needs waiter training, but the improved standard of the new restaurant and its quality food makes it a viable alternative to Bosman’s at Grande Roche, the only other restaurant worth considering in Paarl.

Harvest Restaurant, Laborie, Paarl.  Tel (021) 807-3095. www.laboriewines.com.  Monday – Sunday lunch, Saturday breakfast, Wednesday – Saturday dinner.

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

Catharina’s Restaurant: Marriage of Graham Beck and Steenberg wines, and Steenberg chefs too!

I haven’t been to Catharina’s restaurant on Steenberg estate for a number of years, and an e-mail notification of a food and wine evening at the restaurant, pairing a 5-course meal with three Graham Beck and two Steenberg wines, and presenting a meal prepared by the two chefs of the Steenberg estate, attracted my attention.  It was an interesting evening, and reflected a number of marriages.

In speaking to Steenberg winemaker JD Pretorius on arrival, he shared a number of interesting changes with me.  The most significant is that the two wine-producing wine estates Graham Beck Wines and Steenberg Vineyards, both of which were owned by the late Mr Graham Beck, merged on 1 July, to become Graham Beck Enterprises (Pty) Limited, with its hospitality portfolio of the Steenberg Hotel, the two restaurants Bistro Sixteen82 and Catharina’s, two stud farms in Robertson, and two wine farms in Stellenbosch, all incorporated into the new company.  JD also told me that Gary Baumgarten, who had headed up the overall wine production of both estates, will be leaving at the end of October, and that John Loubser will be taking over the leadership. Graham Beck winemaker Erika Obermeyer, based at the Franschhoek estate currently, will move to Steenberg Vineyards, where she will be making Graham Beck wines, given the sale of the Franschhoek Graham Beck property to neighbouring Antonij Rupert Wines, which becomes effective mid-2012.  Even more exciting is that Graham Beck will create the ‘Gorgeous’ Bubbly Bar at what is currently a separate function room just outside the main restaurant at Catharina’s, with its own menu, along similar lines to the Raw Bar of Bistro Sixteen82, and paired with a flight of the five Graham Beck MCC’s, Steenberg Hospitality GM Gabi Gramm told me from the table next door.  The Gorgeous Bubbly Bar is expected to open in December.

To get back to the food and wine pairing evening at Catharina’s:  I asked consultant sommelier Higgo Jacobs why the Top 100 SA Wines 2100 logo was so prominent on the menu.  He explained that all five the wines selected for the evening had appeared on the prestigious list of 100 finest South African wines, a competition that wine estates with better wines had voluntary chosen to enter.   Higgo is involved in the organisation of the competition, having previously been the full-time sommelier at Catharina’s.  He is now involved as a Sommelier consultant to the restaurant, assisting with the compilation of the winelist, and the training of its staff. He also serves on the Board of the recently formed Sommelier Association of South Africa.  He trained as a sommelier in the United Kingdom, having left South Africa to broaden his experience, having worked in wine retail, as well as in wine sales and marketing, and having made his own wine .  Higgo introduced the evening, and requested each of the two wine estates’ winemakers to introduce each individual wine per course, talking to the pairing with the food as well.   JD has worked at Steenberg for three years, while Erika has been at Graham Beck Wines for six years.

Catharina’s is a large T-shaped restaurant, that can be closed off into smaller sections with thick wooden doors.  Wood is the decor theme, with wooden tables, logs stacked on each side of the large fireplace playing a decorative as well as a functional role, and a wooden lino cut by Cecil Skotness fitting in with this theme. The historic origin of the building comes through in the windows, but glass doors leading outside are modern.  The marriage of old and new is visible on the table too, with a wooden holder on which a glass candle holder, a vase with beautiful red roses, and two small beautifully designed modern stainless steel salt holders, one each containing Himalayan rock salt and the other Maldon organic salt.  The tables have overlays in a grey colour, which match the colour of the comfortable upholstered chairs.  The ceramic Willowcreek olive oil and balsamic vinegar containers did not match the table décor.  Good quality serviettes are folded whenever one leaves the table, and cutlery is attractive German WMF Hotel.  The very modern bathroom, with lost of stainless steel too, has mirror frames made from oval-shaped vats, adding the same decor marriage.  The ceiling has reeds, with discreet downlighters.  Music was a lot of Michael Bublé.  Staff wear black pants, white shirts, and grey aprons.

It was interesting to hear that the two chefs on the estate had never collaborated or worked in the same kitchen before, and after the dinner they said that they had enjoyed the experience.  Chef Brad Ball has been at Bistro Sixteen82 since it opened two years ago, while Chef Garth Almazan of Catharina’s has worked at the hotel for the past twelve years, clearly loving his job.  The first course was prepared by Chef Brad, being a Leek velouté served with a Franschhoek trout brandade (a purée of salt cod, olive oil, and milk) and a tomato crisp.

To this starter JD had paired his Steenberg Vineyards HMS Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc 2010, which was made with grapes from Darling, Durbanville and Steenberg, and named in honour of the ship used in the Battle of Muizenberg in False Bay close by. Chef Gareth prepared an Asparagus and goat’s feta risotto served with ciabatta crumbs and shemeji mushrooms. Erika had paired the Graham Beck ‘Pheasants Run’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 with the second starter, and it was interesting how different the two Sauvignon Blancs were.  The grapes come from the Durbanville Fisantekraal wine estate as well as from Darling, picking up the closeness to the ocean, and hence the name given to the wine.

Chef Brad prepared the Roast Cape Whiting, served with a crab beignet, sweetcorn purèe, pommes Duchesse, and harisssa (made from chillies, garlic and coriander) oil, and I was impressed that this dish came with a fish knife, not being common in restaurants serving fish.  To this dish JD had paired his Steenberg Vineyards Semillon 2010, and he explained how this grape variety had been the most prominent variety planted originally, but that it only makes up a small proportion of grapes in South Africa.  Herman Hanekom, ex-GM of Steenberg VIneyards, had ‘smuggled’ some Semillon from Bordeaux into the country, and it was planted at Steenberg, Boschendal and Vergelegen, all initially properties that were owned by Rhodes Fruit Farms.   It is a niche wine for Steenberg, and is also used in the making of its Sauvignon Blanc. The Semillon is matured for nine months, and is a good wine to pair with food.

I was impressed that all food came out of the kitchen on piping-hot plates, the photography and Tweeting time not cooling down the food greatly. Chef Garth prepared an excellent rare Chalmar Beef fillet on cauliflower purée, served with crumbed veal sweetbread, pomme Maxim, and a red wine jus, which came with an excellent steak knife.

Erika paired the steak with Graham Beck ‘The Ridge’ Syrah 2006, and asked Mr Baumgarten to talk about the challenge he set himself to make an excellent Syrah wine from Robertson grapes, when sceptics said it could not be done.  Mr Baumgarten and Graham Beck cellarmaster Pieter Ferreira visited Australia, to study their red wine-making. They have not made The Ridge every year since the first bottling in 2006, having skipped 2009 and 2010, due to climatic conditions.

It was interesting to change back to a white wine for dessert, being the Graham Beck ‘Bowed Head’ Chenin Blanc 2009, made from a block of 45 year old vines, that can withstand the heat well.  It comes from Agter-Paarl, the grapes having had a little botrytis, is matured in barrel for nine months, and has honeysuckle and citrus notes.  The Spring Berry and Mascarpone Soufflé, served with a chenin and berry jelly, was the highlight of the evening, Chef Garth not making it easy for himself in his choice of dessert in baking sixty soufflés.  The LavAzza cappuccino, which I ordered with the dessert, was a surprise charge of R15, and was not mentioned by the waiter when ordered, something one would have expected to be part of the R390 price tag.

I will certainly be back to try Gorgeous when it opens in December.  The Steenberg Estate is beautiful, an interesting marriage of history and modernity, and decorated with excellent local art.  The marriage of Graham Beck Wines and Steenberg Vineyards is one of two outstanding wine brands.

Catharina’s, Steenberg Hotel, Constantia.  Tel (021) 713-2222. www.steenberghotel.com.  Monday – Sunday, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

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

Restaurant Review: Delaire Graff Restaurant is friendly professionalism and class!

In the past one and a half years that the Delaire Graff Restaurant has been open, I have had two excellent and one negativeexperience, the last one unfortunately having left such an impression on me that I did not return for a year.  Last week I went back, and was blown away (almost literally by the South-Easter too) by how professional and friendly Delaire Graff and its staff are.   The restaurant is not inexpensive, and therefore it is the perfect place at which to celebrate a special event or achievement.   Its setting above the Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch gives it a perfect view onto the surrounding vineyards and mountains.

The wine estate must be one of the Winelands’ properties which is supported by one of the largest investments (the owner is Laurence Graff, a Switzerland-based jeweller owning 30 branches of Graff Diamonds around the world, in the news last year when one of its London stores suffered the biggest jewellery heist ever).   Graff bought the estate from John and Erica Platter, spent millions of Rands and years of time to redevelop the property, first building the Delaire Graff Restaurant, winery and winetasting centre, and earlier this year adding the Delaire Graff Lodge with Indochine restaurant.  I have written previously about the monumental artwork spread across the estate, not only in terms of the top artists whose work is displayed, but also the sheer size of many of these.   The artwork displayed is by father and son Anton and Lionel Smit, Dylan Lewis, William Kentridge (the s-shaped leather seating in the restaurant was matched in colour to the Kentridge!), Deborah Bell, Fred Schimmel, Sydney Khumalo, Cecil Skotness and Maurice van Essche.

As I entered the restaurant building I could not miss the new Lionel Smit painting in the reception hall, overshadowing even the massive Christmas tree.  The attention paid to decorating the Delaire Graff building for Christmas cannot be overlooked, with massive Christmas trees in the restaurant, reception hall and winetasting room, each decorated in a specific colour scheme, putting me into a Christmas spirit I have not experienced in a restaurant so far.   As the external gates were open when I arrived, the gatehouse could not report my arrival, so that there was no one to personally welcome me in the car park, as used to be the case.   Yet there were three staff members in the massive Reception Hall, all beaming in friendliness, but none asked where I was going and if I needed help to find my way to the restaurant.  I did note a new shop selling clothing as well as some display stands selling Graff jewellery off the Reception Hall, which had opened a few days before.  (Both the jewellery salesladies were not available when I wanted to get an idea of prices, and the clothing shop salesladies hazarded a guess at R80000 for a pair of diamond earings).

But once I had reached the restaurant, charming new Maitre’d Nadia Kotze was waiting for me.   She had reserved a table inside because of the wind, but I chose to sit in a sheltered section outside, due to my cellphone being particularly active that lunchtime.   Quickly a table was set up, a jug of ice water brought to the table, with a lovely linen serviette, WMF cutlery, and a Peugeot grinder for the pinkish Himalayan rock salt filled with lots of mineral goodness, with a matching pepper grinder.   Everything is colour matched in the restaurant, the interior designer being David Collins from London, in that the table underlay, the decorations on the Christmas tree, the menu and the winelist cover all are in shades of yellow/gold/orange.  The menu holder is stylish, with blue edging inside.   Music is piped throughout the building, and has a distinctly European feel, including French and Italian songs.

Chelsea came to introduce herself, and offered me a choice of three breads – ryebread, focaccia sprinkled with rocksalt and rosemary, and ciabatta.   Nadia pointed out the barbeque as we stepped outside, with which chef Christiaan Campbell is experimenting, she said, preparing kingklip and chicken on it on alternate days.   Staff look smart in white shirts and black pants, and a black Delaire branded apron.   Everyone coming to the table beamed, and called me “Mrs von Ulmenstein”, showing their professional touch without familiarity. Even Johann Laubser, the Delaire Graff Estate GM, came to greet me.   Nadia has only recently moved across from Zacharay’s at Pezula.  She has previously been a Food & Beverage Manager at the Liz McGrath Collection of hotels, and has done the cruiseliners.   Chef Christiaan has been at the restaurant since it opened, and must be one of the few original restaurant staff still there.   Chef Christiaan laughed when I said this to him, when he came to say hello, and said quietly that he is a loyal chef, a nice answer!   He said that they had been disappointed to receive negative feedback about the restaurant’s service levels, but had taken stock earlier this year, and have addressed the shortcomings in this regard.  The service I received was excellent.

Given that it was the chicken barbeque day, and that I sat close to the barbeque outside, I ordered the Roast chicken, confit leg deep-fried in a batter, and a smoked corn and parsnip mash.   I loved the colour the corn added to the mash, and the smoky barbeque taste of the roast chicken (R155).  Having been ill for the four days prior, my appetite was not yet back to normal, and therefore I took some of the dish home.  Starter options cost between R85 – R105, and include paprika squid, buffalo mozzarella, goat’s cheese fritters, cured beef, ceviche of red fish, and yellow fin tuna.  Main courses start at R110, for Primavera, and peak at R295 for Cape Rock Lobster.  Other main courses include fish and chips, pork belly, seared salmon trout, Waterberg beef, and line fish.   A number of sides can be ordered too.   Nadia was such a good salesperson that she persuaded me to have a refreshing fruit feast for dessert, being apricot panna cotta, with nectarine sorbet, star anise marshmallow, plum soup, with macerated apricots (R55).   Other dessert options cost R65, and include a chocolate sandwich, pistachio nougat, and strawberries.  Gelato costs R25 per scoop.  “Handcrafted cheeses” can be ordered at R95.   Interestingly, the dessert and cheese options each had a wine pairing suggestion on the menu.   I had a lovely frothy cappuccino with my dessert, expensive at R30. 

The winelist contains the Delaire wine collection, including Sauvignon Blancs (R170 – R320), Chardonnay (R210), Rosé (R140), Shiraz (R175), Red Blend (R220), Port (R320) and Semillon Noble Late Harvest (R300).  A small selection of other wine brands is offered per variety.  Champagnes are by Taittinger (R1500), Billecart-Salmon Rose NV (R1650) and Louis Roderer Cristal (R7750). Méthode Cap Classiques range from R245 (Colmant Brut Reserve) to R950 for Graham Beck Cuvee Clive.   Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc costs R170, and an imported Domaine Lafond Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc costs R620.  Pax Verbatim 2007 Shiraz costs R295, Cirrus 2006 R455, and Stark-Conde Three Pines 2007 R 550.    Wines by the glass cost R 40 – R 55, and are predominantly by Delaire, with Bon Courage Brut Reserve costing R55.

The bathrooms at Delaire Graff are the best-smelling, cleanest, and tidiest I have every experienced at any restaurant.   I had not seen the tasting room before, and saw in it not only the attractively labelled Delaire wines, branded shirts, but also the latest Platter and Rossouw’s Restaurants guides.  My eye also caught the attractively packaged Delaire Graff chocolate slabs and mini-chocolate collection packs, which looked like they could make the perfect Christmas presents, even if not inexpensive.   Michael walked me out of the building to the car park, a nice touch I remember from the early days of Delaire Graff Restaurant.

Delaire Graff Restaurant has an interesting counterpoint with the “new” Tokara Restaurant with chef Richard Carstens across the road.  I could not see any dramatic changes to the Delaire Graff Restaurant menu as a result of the “new” competitor, and the service is very much improved.   It will be interesting to see how both restaurants fare on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list in 2011.  

POSTSCRIPT 7/8/11:I popped in at Delaire Graff this afternoon, after lunch at the close-by de Huguenot Restaurant.  I was impressed once again with how classy and professional this wine estate is.  It was the perfect afternoon to sit outside.  I had a frothy, almost creamy, cappuccino, and a study in strawberry with it – there were dried and fresh strawberries, strawberry granite, meringue crumbs, vanilla pastry creme, black pepper shortbread, and strawberry ice cream, a refreshing and attractively presented dessert.

Delaire Graff Restaurant, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-1270.  www.delaire.co.za  (The website contains menus for both Delaire Graff Estate restaurants, and has an Image Gallery).   Mondays – Sundays lunch, Mondays – Saturdays dinner.   Booking is advisable.

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

Franschhoek Literary Festival Sweet and Le Quartier Francais Sour Service Awards

The Sweet Service Award goes to Jenny Hobbs and Sheenagh Tyler, the organisers of the Franschhoek Literary Festival, which took place in Franschhoek last weekend.  Not only was it extremely well organised, with more than 30 talks and discussions, but it also attracted other cultural events to Franschhoek over the weekend, being the opening of an excellent winter art exhibition (with works by Gordon Vorster, Dylan Lewis and Cecil Skotness) at Ebony, as well as outstanding music performances by Christopher Duigan in the NG Church.   The weather was perfectly organised too!   In addition, it ‘booked-ed” out many accommodation establishments and restaurants over the weekend, a much needed occupancy given the otherwise poor winter lying ahead for Franschhoek in terms of bookings.

The Sour Service Award goes to Le Quartier Francais and its owner Susan Huxter.   Ilse Schermers, curator of the new IS (Ilse Schermers) art gallery, that opened at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek last week, had to call this writer to cancel (without explanation) an invitation she had been sent to attend the opening, on the instruction of Mrs Huxter, even though the writer has been a client of the Grand Provence gallery, where Ms Schermers was the curator until recently, for years. 

POSTSCRIPT 24/10:   We received a second invitation, to the opening of a new exhibition at the Le Quartier Francais art gallery on 30 October, with a subsequent withdrawal of the invitation, earlier this week:I am new at is art and was unaware of the situation between Le Quartier Francais and yourself.  I therefore have to retract the invitation that was mistakenly sent to you.  My sincere apologies.  Alisha Erasmus, Gallery Assistant.”

POSTSCRIPT 25/10: We received another follow-up e-mail today, as if the first had not been clear: “Unfortunately having discussed with Susan  (Huxter) you are not allowed on to the property of le quartier which Is Art is a part of so unfortunately you will not be able to attend!  Regards, Alisha Erasmus, Gallery Assistant”

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.