Entries tagged with “closure”.


 

One of the strangest news stories I saw last week was the announcement by SA National Parks that Lion’s Head will be closed to climbers from 7 January to 15 February 2019. (more…)

Yesterday we set the scene for the Sante Hotel and Wellness Centre, which re-opened just over two months ago.  In our review of the Hotel and Spa, we painted a picture of mis-management, and our tale continues with our review of the Hotel’s restaurant Sommelier, a disappointment, in not having a sommelier, for being expensive in what it offers, and for its below-average service.  The restaurant Sommelier was in place when the Hotel originally opened.  I am not aware that a sommelier was ever in operation. The new owner of the hotel has maintained the restaurant name.

The restaurant is large, and not well filled with furniture, seating about 50 persons on four completely different styles of chairs, which makes it look more empty.  There was no music, no candles, nothing to create some mood – even if I was the only person eating there on the first night.  The menu was neatly typed on a sheet of paper, presented on a brown leather holder which I have seen often recently (Restaurant at Majeka House, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, Overture), but nothing like the “gourmet menu” nor offering a “choice of South African and international cuisine”, as claimed by the Hotel website.  Three choices are offered per course.

The “Wine Collection” (nice name) is an impressive looking document, bound in brown leather, and commendably has the Platter star-rating of every wine listed.  Each of the more than 70 wines is described in detail.  It is however the most difficult winelist from which I have ever chosen a wine.   Instead of going the predictable wine variety route in classifying the wines, the “authors” of the winelist (the GM Kristien de Kinder and two wine consultants) went the wacky route of trying to be “clever” in classifying the wines stocked in terms of sometimes funny, sometimes weird headings they have given, which means that one does not understand what the headings refer to, and therefore one must go through each of the 17 pages to find a wine one knows or would like to try, which could easily take half an hour.  The Wine Collection must be so new that one feels that one is touching its pages for the first time.

Only one Wine Collection category is understandable (“French Champagnes”), but most are not.  So, for example, “Taste the Stars” lists sparkling wines (e.g. Miss Molly from Moreson, Krone Rose Cuvee Brut); “Great Whites” (all Sauvignon Blancs); “White Collar Whites” (e.g. Groote Post Unwooded Chardonnay, Bosman Old Bush Vines, Veenwouden Vivat Bacchus, Warwick Professor Black); “The Crowd Pleaser” (e.g. Altyd Gedacht Gewurztraminer, Glen Carlou Chardonnay); “Rich Whites” (Constantia Uitsig Semillon); “Scented Garden Wines (all Rose’s); “The Outsiders” (De Krans Tinta Berocca (sic), Idiom Sangiovese);  “Cheerleaders” (Seidelberg Cabernet Sauvignon); “Sensual Reds” (Seidelberg Un Deux Trois); and “Incredible Reds” (De Toren Fusion V).  Wines-by-the-glass cost between R40 – R50, and the vintages of the two reds (Seidelberg Cabernet Sauvignon and Bell Post Merlot) are both 2006.  I enjoyed a bottle of Rijks Shiraz 2004, which I spread over my two dinners whilst at the hotel.  Commendably, they have a special closure to pump out the oxygen once the bottle has been opened, to keep for the next day.

I was interested in finding out about the chef, and Terence told me his name is Neil.  He went to find out his background, and told me that he came from the restaurant at Rickety Bridge outside Franschhoek.  I asked if I could meet him – when he came to the table, his name had changed to Neville, Chef Neil Rogers having been one of the 20 staff to have been fired the week prior.  Sous Chef Neville Appollis came to the table wearing the chef’s outfit of Proviant Hospitality, a catering company he worked at more than two years ago.  He had been at the “old” Sante, and his last job was at Rickety Bridge.   There is no Executive Chef at Sante, I was told.   (Guests Larry and Heather Katz I met in the restaurant on the second night were told that a chef from Grootbos is to start in September).

I was not offered any bread, and when I questioned the waiter Terence about it, he said they don’t serve it.  The chef Neville was more honest in admitting that they had forgotten to bring it to the table!    Starters are a choice of butternut and orange soup, expensive at R50, a smoked “salmon gravadlax” salad, and a chicken salad, both at R55.

The main course (Pan-grilled lamb noisette rolled in marjoram, coriander and paprika) was served within 5 minutes of giving the go-ahead, after the difficult wine choice.   This meant that the food had been pre-prepared, even though I had asked for it not to be prepared until I had been through the Wine Collection, which explained why the food was not served hot.  The lamb was very fatty, served on mash (which I had requested instead of the couscous), and served medium rare, even though the waiter had suggested it should be served medium.  Stirfried red cabbage and red pepper strips were served with the dish, and had a surprising sweet taste. The dish was served with a Red Wine jus.  I felt that the cost of R130 was expensive for a restaurant stuck away in the middle of nowhere, not having a sommelier, not serving bread, and for having no ambiance at all.  Chef Neville admitted that he may not have cut off enough of the fat before preparing the dish.  Other main course choices were Grilled Dorado (R95) and Oxtail (R140).

I had springrolls with an orange and chocolate filling, with a spoonful of vanilla pod ice cream served in a  Chinese spoon for dessert (R45) – the rolls were very crispy, but I felt that the orange was dominated by the chocolate filling.  Other options are creme brule (sic) and chocolate fondant with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce, at the same price.

Things looked up on the second night, as there were more guests in the restaurant, music was played and a candleholder was on the table, but the candle was not lit.  A new waitress was far more efficient in service, but once again there was no bread (I had been promised it for the second night).    Mannie, the Duty Manager of the hotel, came to the rescue, and bread was brought to the table.  I had chosen to eat at the hotel again, because of the bad condition of the gravel road off the R45 to the hotel, and because the waiter Terence had promised that the menu changes every day.  Only one of the three dishes per course was different to the menu of the night before.   A Greek salad was brought to the table, which was not for me, and was not a menu option.   I had the Beef fillet served on shitake mushroom risotto, served with vegetables, and could not help but think that the mushrooms were fresh out of a tin, chopped up.  The size of the steak was tiny, meant to be 200 gram, I was told, and the risotto was heavily overcooked, cloying and mushy.

The bottom line is that the restaurant name is misleading, in there not being a sommelier.  The quality of the service staff is poor, and there is no Restaurant Manager on duty in the evenings.  The food is not well prepared, portion sizes are small, prices are high, and the kitchen seems to be out of its depth without an Executive Chef.  The winelist is odd, the ambiance non-existent, and there is poor co-ordination between the kitchen and the waiters.  The retrenchment of 20 staff last week, only two months after opening, plus the threatened further staff cuts, have created a staff complement that is ready to jump off what could become a sinking ship, badly influencing the operation of every aspect of the hotel, spa and restaurant.

Sommelier Restaurant, Sante Hotel and Spa, off R 45, between Klapmuts and Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 875-1800.  www.santewellness.co.za (The website does not feature the menu of Sommelier, but it does have a menu for Cadeaux, a restaurant which is meant to be run in the Spa building, but has not re-opened.  It states that Chef Neil Rogers is running both these restaurants, but is dishonest in that only Sommelier is open, and that the Chef has been fired.  The food photographs are extremely misleading relative to the presentation of the food).

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

Within the past two weeks restaurant couple Camil and Ingrid Haas have closed down their well-known Bouillabaisse restaurant on the main road of Franschhoek, and have left Camil’s, their restaurant in the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel carrying Camil’s name.  While this is sad news for Camil’s followers, it is an useful case study of restaurant management.

Background: Ten years ago Camil and Ingrid came to South Africa (they have just celebrated this anniversary), and settled in the gourmet village of Franschhoek.   They set up a guest house in an old mission station on Akademie Street, and called it Klein Oliphantshoek, the latter part of the name once having been the name of the village.   Camil set up a kitchen in the guest house, and it became renowned for its excellent tasting menus, long before such had become fashionable.  Ingrid would pair and pour the wines, mainly from Franschhoek, and they had a perfect highly regarded business.

Lessons in restaurant management

1.  Do not over-extend yourself/Small is Beautiful

When the Haas’ opened Bouillabaisse on the main road about four years ago, it was meant to be a day-time Oyster and Champagne Bar, for the day-trippers coming to Franschhoek, and at night (mainly over weekends) Camil would be in the Klein Oliphantshoek kitchen.   Bouillabaisse took off, and it was decided to do dinners as well.   A great concept, but Camil had the misfortune that a number of his new chefs at Bouillabaisse walked out in the opening month (this is a Franschhoek affliction all players in the hospitality industry have to deal with in the village), it was rumoured at the time.   This meant that he had to spread himself thin, being at two locations at the same time.  End result: the dinners at Klein Oliphantshoek were closed down, and the guest house was sold about a year later.

2.   Be nice to patrons

The stress of the new Bouillabaisse venture seemed to have gotten to Ingrid Haas in particular, and she was very prescriptive to the locals and tourists that supported the tiny restaurant – one could not combine or mix and match between dishes off their tapas-style menu, one could not book outside tables, and the rules seemed quite heavy, as was her attitude.  In early days, on a Valentine’s Day, when we sat at a (seemingly) unreserved table outside – that was the rule – we were rudely sent away, saying the table was booked, without it having a Reserved sign on it.  I stayed away for a few months after that, but started going back, and went to the Green Point restaurants regularly thereafter.  I have progressed to hugs and kisses now!

3.  Choose a pronounceable name

Bouillabaisse is a fun name, and reflects Camil’s love for fish cooking.  But, for locals, and guest house staff having to make bookings for guests for dinner, it was a nightmare, meaning that staff chose not to mention that restaurant as one of the options to guests, because they could not pronounce its name.

4.  Be a big fish in a small pond

We are all tempted, present company included, to expand the business.   Not having learnt from the first problems in having two restaurants, the Haas couple opened up a Bouillabaisse in The Rockwell building in Green Point, a beautifully appointed restaurant with fishy decor, in January 2009.  Not satisfied with one restaurant only, they opened a restaurant for Ingrid, called Crepe Suzette, in a French Cafe style, next door to Bouillabaisse.   It was beautiful, unique, and affordable.  Franschhoek may have 25 restaurants, but Cape Town has hundreds, if not more.  It was a whole new ballpark to start operating in a city in which the Haas couple was reasonably unknown. (Matthew Gordon, by contrast, keeps opening new restaurants in Franschhoek, having interests in four establishments already, a different, very focused, approach to location choice).

5.   Location, location, location

The Rockwell is set off Somerset Road, opposite the new Cape Quarter as the crow flies, but the building has no branding on the outside, so it is not known nor visible to Capetonians.  The brainchild of the infamous Conrad Gallagher, the ground floor of The Rockwell was conceptualised by him as an indoor epicurean market, operating 7 days a week, of purveyors of organic foods and wines, which was an outstanding concept.  Bouillabaisse, Crepe Suzette and two other restaurants were to be part of the concept.  Gallagher ran away from Cape Town under a cloud of debt, no other food shop or restaurant opened, two decor shops did, but no one could see Bouillabaisse and Crepe Suzette hidden in The Rockwell.   At that time Somerset Road in Green Point was a nightmare area to be avoided, given the building work happening at the Cape Quarter.   The bite of the recession was worse than anyone had expected, and this affected business too.

6.   Branding is key

Suddenly it was announced last September that Bouillabaisse and Crepe Suzette had closed down in The Rockwell, and were re-opening elsewhere.  The new location was kept secret until two months later, when they opened in the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel on Main Road in Green Point, but…… as a newly named Camil’s and Ci Casa.  This meant they had to start branding all over again.   From a brand perspective, throwing away a respected brand name Bouillabaisse, while still operating with this brand name in Franschhoek, was not understandable.  Further, Camil Haas is not well-known as a chef in Cape Town, and opening under his own name was a big risk.   Camil’s menu was very different to that of Bouillabaisse, described in a review on this blog as not conventional.   The new location worked better, in that guests staying in the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, as well as locals, were better able to see and support the new restaurants.  The decor of Camil’s was not to the liking of everyone.  Establishing three new brands, as well as the move of a known Franschhoek brand to Cape Town in the space of a year, would have challenged even the most experienced marketing expert. (In a desperate attempt to attract attention to Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek, the restaurant exterior was recently painted in a most shrill purple, quite unbefitting of the quality of the restaurant).

7.  Be careful about who you get into bed with!

I was surprised when I heard that the Haas couple had gone into a partnership with Jochen Buechel, previous owner of the Place on the Bay in Camps Bay and a property developer, not that I had heard anything untoward about him (although a Google search indicated a Noseweekexpose about a controversial development in Sea Point in 2006), but because I could not see the personalities jelling.   The Buechels had been regular clients of Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek, and are well connected in Cape Town, and the Camil’s opening function in November, co-ordinated by their PRO Dagmar Schumacher, saw dignitaries such as Helen Zille attend (my invitation, with those for other food writers, had been sent, but had got lost in the post, we were told!).   After writing the review after a visit soon after the opening of Camil’s, during which Ingrid had told me that she and Camil were running the operational side of the restaurant, and that the Buechels were doing the marketing, I received a call from Jochen Buechel, asking me to keep his involvement in the restaurant low key.  I did not alter my review.

“Hearing between the lines”, if there is such an expression, it would appear that the relationship between the Haas couple and the Buechels has broken down, and this may have led to Camil Haas’ departure from his restaurant.  The staff remain, and Buechel now is the full owner of the restaurant (or maybe was that anyway?).  Camil and Ingrid Haas are said to have returned to Franschhoek.

POSTSCRIPT 31/5:  Whilst having a cappuccino at Camil’s today, Jochen Buechel asked to speak to me on the phone, to let me know that the Sea Point development referred to in Noseweek is one of the most successful developments in Sea Point.   He was very frank in answering my questions about the reasons for the breakdown, and it appears that Camil was inflexible about his menu items – Camil liked the “differentness” of his menu items, while Buechel wanted a menu that would make patrons come to the restaurant once or twice a week, and not once or twice a month, as was the case.   Buechel regards Camil highly, and said that he is “a fantastic pianist but not able to conduct the orchestra”.    He also indicated that whatever money Bouillabaisse was making in Franschhoek in summer would be lost covering expenses in winter, probably a common curse of the hospitality industry.   Camil’s menu will change tomorrow, being simplified by the General Manager and Head Chef Werner, who has been at Bouillabaisse and Camil’s in Cape Town since the beginning.  It is likely that the creperie Ci Casa will be incorporated into the Camil’s menu, and that the Ci Casa restaurant name will be dropped.

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