Last night I returned from the Hermanus FynArts Festival, having spent six days of the Festival ten-day period enjoying a feast of a fine Festival! I have experienced Festivals in my time, but never for so long a period, and none so extensive in content as the Hermanus FynArts Festival. I cannot wait for the 2017 Festival, to be held from 9 to 18 June 2017! Continue reading →
For the fourth year Hermanus FynArts is showcasing and celebrating the best of South African Arts, from 10 – 19 June. The theme of the Festival this year is ‘French Connection’. Continue reading →
I was recommended to try Ouland Royale on the outskirts of Plettenberg Bay, on the way to the airport. Even when arriving outside the building, I could not imagine what a taste and visual treat was inside what is called the Baroque Barn. It was as close to perfect as one can get, and it was a shame Continue reading →
* The second Cape Wine Auction will be held at Boschendal on 14 February 2015. Last year the inaugural Auction raised R 7 million.
* Uber launched UberCHOPPER today, partnering with Cape Town Helicopters, bookable on the Uber App. An UberBLACK vehicle will collect one from one’s destination, and drive one to the V&A Helipad. Three flight options are available: Two Oceans, covering both the Atlantic Seaboard and False Bay; Cape Peninsula, covering the V&A down to the Cape of Good Hope; and customised tours such as to the Winelands, whale-watching, and shark-cage diving. There is a maximum of three passengers per ride. (received via media release from Uber Cape Town)
It was an incredible experience to attend the opening night last night of David Kramer’s newest show ‘Kalahari Karoo Blues’, which runs at the Baxter Theatre until 19 January. It follows ‘Karoo Kitaar Blues’, which Kramer staged for the first time ten years ago, and features a number of the artists of the past shows too.
Kramer should receive an award for his contribution to the cultural treasure of our country, in taking to the road and finding our unique musicians, playing unique instruments, and singing as yet unpublished folk music. For the first time Kramer travelled to Botswana, in search of Ronnie Moipolai, of whom he had been sent a YouTube clip, an amazing talent. His first attempt to find him failed, but with a connection he found Ronnie, and travelled back to Kapong village in Botswana to include him in the show.
Against a backdrop designed by Kramer, he paid tribute to the artists he had featured in earlier shows, who had passed away, and acknowledged the contribution to his show of Hannes Coetzee and the Sonskynsusters, who have performed with him before. He warned the audience that he cannot predict how the show will go, and what makes it so charming is that the performers get up to dance while someone is singing or playing an instrument. Mary Kriel was a hoot, dressed in typical Namaqua dress, with a ‘kappie’, and getting up on a number of occasions to dance. Last year Hannes and Kramer travelled to the USA, where he had been invited to demonstrate his ‘Teaspoon Slide Technique’ of playing the guitar, and teach his method. They met Dolly Parton’s band’s slide guitarist, and he was most impressed with Hannes. He also recorded with Grammy Award winning band Carolina Chocolate Drops, whilst in the USA. Hannes is the first person in the world to play the guitar with a teaspoon in his mouth. Hannes and Mary danced the typical Karoo Rieldans (the oldest dance form in Southern Africa) on the stage, enjoying the beat of the music.
Ronnie impressed with his guitarmanship, using unusual ‘upside down guitar styling‘ hand movements to create cords, including a number of his fingers, his elbow, and even played the guitar behind his back, to great applause. His fellow Kalahari performers were Babsi Baralong playing a guitar with a bow made from a branch, the instrument sounding like a violin, and Ondong Piet, who spoke English well and was dressed in an outfit made from buck skins, playing an instrument called a ‘kakao segaba’, through which he could replicate a conversation via notes, and create music too, focusing on educating listeners about safe sex.
Kalahari Karoo Blues is highly recommended, in representing the cultural treasure of our country’s folk music history.
Kalahari Karoo Blues, Baxter Theatre, 9 – 19 January. R130. www.computicket.com
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
The long awaited V&A Market on the Wharf has opened in the historic building near the V&A Hotel in the V&A Waterfront, which once housed Planet Hollywood, David Kramer’s Theatre, and Musica, with more than fifty vendors displaying their food and beverage offerings. It is Cape Town’s first permanent market, operating from Wednesdays to Sundays, from 9h30 – 19h30.
Owned by Greg Anderson, or ‘Bubbles’ as Vaughn Johnson informed me, who took over the management of the Market when the previous operators pulled out, the Market offers a kosher deli, fresh seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables, baked ware and delicacies. Greg impressed with his passion, and kindly offered me a V&A Market on the Wharf branded shopping bag, to ‘hide’ my Woolworths bag! Greg is proud of the large number of new business owners that have joined as vendors, very few having been seen at any other markets in Cape Town. V&A Waterfront tenants Vaughn Johnson and Ian Halfon had come to have a look, and we had coffee and tea together.
A last-minute building regulation hitch saw the opening of the Market delayed by two days to last Friday. The space is large, one main hall with an upstairs section housing the craft beer bar and seating for Continue reading →
It was a surprise earlier this week to discover that the buffet-style dinners at the Baxter Theatre have been discontinued, to be replaced with a fine-dining style restaurant called Act, and owned by The Forum, a catering company from Johannesburg, I was told. I went twice this week, preceding the Beethoven Piano Concerto Festival performances.
On my first visit only six tables were available for service, those deeper in the restaurant not laid as there were construction workers working on the bathrooms. Luckily they did so without one hearing them. One must pre-book a table, and I did so for the second concert. The manager found a small table for me for the first (unbooked) dinner. The second evening was almost fully booked when I arrived, and my booked table could not be found. I was taken deep into the restaurant, not as attractive looking as the entrance section. A table was found for me there. The tables have a yellow table cloth and serviette, a vase with a pink dahlia (an old-fashioned flower type not often seen, yet so pretty), a little candle, and small containers with coarse salt and ground black pepper, one with a spoon, and the other without. The modern cutlery is by Fortis Hotelware, and beautifully new and shiny. The glassware is of an excellent quality. This is where the quality ends.
With so many more tables to serve on my second visit, the service was even worse than it was on my first visit. I quickly saw that one should only order one item from the menu to have any chance of seeing one’s show on time, even if one arrives an hour or longer before the start of a concert or show. The service is inconsistent – on the first visit I received a basket with bread presented in a serviette, but not on my second visit. The menu is in a good quality leather holder, and easy to read. Surprising was that the winelist was not offered on both occasions, and that I had to ask for it.
To try out the restaurant on the first visit, and due to less time available, I only ordered a green pea, spinach and watercress soup, sprinkled with bits of feta (R36). This symphony in green was nice and thick, filling, the feta was a good marriage with the mix of three greens, and offered good value. On my second visit I ordered organic trout on potato rosti, with vodka cream cheese, black caviar and chives (R72) – the dish sounded promising, and looked beautiful, and there were two slices of trout, in between two slices of very thin rosti, sprinkled with a little caviar. The rest of the dish I struggled with, not tasting the chives, nor the vodka in the cream cheese. The rosti was very dry, and the cream cheese was just a drizzle, not adding enough moisture to the rosti to make it pleasant to eat. I felt it to be overpromised and overcharged for what one gets. The port and peppercorn chicken liver paté (R48) was more successful, served with bruschetta, yet I could not detect the peppercorns nor the port in the taste nor the texture! This order caused a service let-down. When I explained that I wanted to take the paté home with me, due to a time shortage, the supervisor said they do not do take-aways. I asked him to bring me the starter, wanting to photograph it anyway, and then I would ask for a doggy bag. I was surprised when I received the take-away container with the paté, and had to request that they plate it for the photograph, and then put it back in the container! Other starters include beetroot and apple soup (R32) and mussel pot (R55). Main courses range from R65 for “fish and fat chips” to R145 for loin of lamb wrapped in potato rosti. One can also order fillet; lamb shank; spinach and feta cannelloni; Thai green calamari; and chicken stuffed with truffled mushroom and Gruyere cheese. Desserts cost around R45, and include Amarula crème brûlée, yoghurt Amaretto panna cotta, twice baked goats’ cheese and red wine pear soufflé, and chocolate fudge torte.
The serving of the two starters took an hour, but I did manage to get a weak cappuccino (R13) organised from my waitress. Her initial response was to point upstairs, meaning that I should get it in the upstairs bar. I asked her to oblige, which she did! Payment by credit card was done at the table, but took time to organise. The bill was presented with a “commenting” card, the waitress asking me to provide my feedback. I have not received a response from the restaurant to my feedback. One of the biggest service issues is that the entrance to the restaurant, leading from the steps down to the theatre entrances, is not manned by any staff, to deal with new ‘arrivals’, mainly being Baxter ticket holders who are inquisitive about the new restaurant, distracting the staff from serving the guests who are eating there.
As an alternative, one can go upstairs to the Play Bar, have a drink and order tapas, which come from the same kitchen, probably causing some of the service issues experienced. The tapas menu is a tiny laminated list consisting of five options: olive plate, mezze, chicken and mushroom, savouries, and cheese, ranging from R46 – R68 for two persons. By day the Play Bar is a coffee bar, serving sandwiches and other light meals, on Mondays to Fridays, until 17h00.
The winelist is a tiny unlaminated piece of paper, almost looking like an after-thought, and its selection of four white and three red wines is far too small to match the ‘fine-dining’-style of the restaurant, and its typing errors are unforgivable. White wines offered are Pecan Stream (R85), Remhoogte Chenin Blanc (R20/R88), Villiera Sauvignon Blanc (R25/R90) and Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc (R140). The Beyerskloof Pinotage was unprofessionally crossed off the red wine list, leaving only a Remhoogte Aigle Noir (R20/R90) and a “Roupert & Rothchilds” (ouch, with a double typo!) Classique (R150).
Act needs a lot of hard work to improve its act, its service performance being unsatisfactory – all the staff are understandably new, but unforgivabley untrained. The manager seemed nice, but was running in and out of the kitchen with dishes, not managing what was going on in the restaurant on both evenings. The design of the restaurant, being a long ‘rectangular’ shaped open space, seperated by the bar in part, means that staff at the back end of the restaurant have no idea of what is happening in the front section. Act is not cheap, and the time limit one has before the show is likely to cause service issues for its customers. Ideally one should phone through one’s order when making the booking, especially if one is planning to order more than one course! I am not sure if such a service exists.
POSTSCRIPT 11/4/11: I was impressed to receive the following e-mail from Glynis Hyslop, MD of The Forum, today: “Thank you for taking the time to review our new, as yet unopened restaurant. Based as I am in Johannesburg I am delighted to have a Mystery shopper who delivers such comprehensive reports! In particular thank you for your comments on the quality of the table appointments. As you correctly point out, the kitchen services both the restaurant and the tapas bar upstairs which can be difficult if both are busy. To mitigate this you will have noticed the extensive open cooking area within the restaurant. Unfortunately until this weekend this was not in use. During our renovations we discovered that the previous restaurant’s gas installations were both illegal and leaking. As I am sure you are aware the current regulations call for submission of plans to council and approval before new gas points are installed. On Friday morning we received permission from the Baxter for a further temporary installation of gas to the front kitchen whilst we wait for council approval. Even though this is a soft opening it has been very difficult to operate, with only 1/3 of the kitchen, but we hope to be fully operational as soon as this approval is forthcoming. We have noted the comments on the food and have changed the rosti, they will be future be made thicker which will hopefully ensure that they are not dry. Thank you for the comments re the service. This is an issue that we are working on. I am however very perturbed to find that your comment card has not made its way to either the Exec chef, the manager of the restaurants division, or myself. The forum is committed to world class food and service and you clearly experienced neither. I would be delighted if you could let me know when you will next be at the Baxter so that I can organize a complimentary meal for you to experience the forum as it should be. I would also be delighted if you could attend the opening on Thursday evening the 14th. We will be forwarding you an invitation tomorrow.”
POSTSCRIPT 12/4/11: Kim Roberts, the GM of the Restaurant Division of The Forum, has written today: “I am aware that our MD has been in contact with on receiving the review you gave our soon to be opened new restaurant at the Baxter Theatre Centre, feedback is always greatly appreciated as it keeps us on our toes and ensures that we are continually working to achieve on the goals we set out. Attached is your comment card and am in agreement with regards to the service issues not being to standard. We are currently training staff daily to ensure better communication from our staff to our patrons. We run a custom touch points program for all our service staff and believe once they have completed this that service levels will be where they are. I know that you are aware that we have had limited gas supply and with the front kitchen being incomplete, the espresso machine only going in there last Friday and staff running up and down service stairs to get a patrons coffee order has certainly compounded our service delivery. The theatre going crowd is time poor with show starting times, but wanting a nibble, meal or a beverage before a show, we made a call to serve under not so perfect circumstances while building construction was going on, will so I do hope you will return in a more settled time. I am on route to Cape Town today for the re-opening of the Baxter Hospitality facilities on Thursday and am looking forward to meeting you then. In the interim, I am now following you on twitter to see what else you are up to! “
POSTSCRIPT 14/4/11: My colleague and I attended the official opening by David Kramer of Act Restaurant and Play Bar. I met both Kim Roberts and Glynis Hyslop from The Forum. A proper winelist has now been compiled, I was told.
POSTSCRIPT 4/4/12: The Cape Times reported yesterday that the ACT restaurant and PLAY bar vacated the Baxter Theatre overnight last weekend, not having paid their rent for three months. It was predictable that the restaurant and bar would not survive, their service being so exceptionally poor!
Act Restaurant, Baxter Theatre, Main Road, Rondebosch. Tel (021) 685-3888. www.theforum.co.za (The website has only a short reference to Act restaurant and Play Bar, and shows photographs of the renovations, as well as sketches of the new interior design. The site refers to its ‘gourmet a la carte menu’, but none is provided. The Forum positions itself boldly as follows: “The Forum company team is dedicated to delivering world-class services”! The website also refers to Act’s ‘extensive winelist’. I did not see any of this at Act restaurant this week). The Forum has other projects in Johannesburg, and a second project is underway in Cape Town, but the staff could not tell me where it is. Monday – Saturday evenings.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
The main (very, very deserved) winners were Sandra Prinsloo, who won the Best Actress Award in “Die Naaimasjien”, and Jeremy Crutchley, who won the Best Actor and Best Performance Awards for “I am my own wife”, reports the Cape Times. Jonathan Roxmouth won the Best Performance in a Musical Award in “Beauty and the Beast”. Best Set Design and Best Costume Design Awards went to Illka Louw for “The Tempest”.
The Fleur du Cap Awards ceremony was attended by the Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and Cape Town Mayor Dan Plato. Awards were handed out by celebrity guests Soli Philander, David Kramer, Fiona Coyne (“The Weakest Link”) and others.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
Just as the New Space Theatre on Long Street, previously home to the original Space Theatre of many moons ago, has closed down, the Fugard Theatre has opened on Caledon Street, in what was previously District Six. The theatre is named in honour of South Africa’s greatest playwright Atholl Fugard.
The 270-seat theatre, a three-level National Heritage site building which was previously the Sacks Guteran Building, connected to a church for its foyer, opened last week with a performance of ‘The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo’, with dignitaries such as Athol Fugard, David Kramer, Pieter-Dirk Uys and Trevor Manuel attending.
The “distressed walls reveal bricks through peeling plaster, and a glass panel on the floor displays the old stone work, which adds a beautiful historical ambiance to the foyer”, reports the Cape Times.
Two shows are performed on alternate nights: ‘The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo” and ‘The Mysteries -Yiimimangaliso’. ‘The Magic Flute’ has been performed internationally to great acclaim, and has won an Olivier and Globes de Cristal awards. The cast comes from the townships, and all wear traditional dress. Marimbas are played. “…The Magic Flute will no doubt appeal to a large percentage of the population who enjoy big, loud musicals with elaborate props and decadent costumes”, says the review.
In March a new production, ‘The Train Driver’, written by Fugard, will be performed under the direction of Fugard.
The Fugard Theatre: www.thefugard.com tel 021 461 4554. Open Tuesdays – Saturdays. Ticket prices range from R 50 – R 120.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
A week ago I heard about Portofino opening in the ex-Showroom space at a dinner party, and all I could find out was that an unknown Irish 30-something, with no previous restaurant experience, by the name of Cormac Keane, was opening the restaurant. I googled his name, and there were no entries for him. I bumped into Vaughn Johnson, and he told me that he is doing Portofino’s winelist. The opening date was vague, being sometime this week.
On Thursday evening I drove by, coming from a concert close by, at 10 pm. The security guard assured me that the restaurant was open. I went in, unsure if it had indeed opened, and whether I would be welcomed at that time of night. The door was opened by Keane himself, and I received a most hearty welcome. He was intrigued about what I had heard about him, and sat down to chat, sharing some of his story with me. I noticed his red sneakers immediately and told him that they reminded me of David Kramer’s red velskoens, but he had not heard of Kramer. The shoes stand out in the otherwise white interior.
Whilst Keane has had an interior decorator attend to his restaurant, few changes are visible. The ghost chairs of The Showroom are still there, giving the restaurant a familiarity if one has been there before. White curtains separate the restaurant from the luxury car showroom next door, and help to protect oneself against its bright light. Noticeably, the counter is uncluttered, relative to its predecessor, and the chef, Stephen Kruger, previously working alongside Richard Carstens, is very clearly to be seen and willing to assist customers.
Keane grew up in Ireland, with a teacher father and principal mother, but says he was not a good scholar, and never wrote any exams. He did not do anything after finishing school, except fly around the world with a friend in that person’s private jet, partying for three years all over the world. Despite his lifestyle he did not have a cent to his name, he says. Returning to London, he was headhunted to become the social secretary of Oleg Deripaska, a close personal friend of Putin, Russia’s richest man, and 9th on the Forbes international billionaire’s list, with a worth of $ 40 billion prior to the credit crunch, created mainly from aluminium. Keane worked for him for a year, and rubbed shoulders with Silvio Berlusconi, Tony Blair, Putin and Roman Abramovich. A six-month stint working for an American hedge fund investor living in London followed. In this time he discovered Cape Town, and came to Cape Town regularly.
No matter how little money he had, Keane has never cooked food for himself, and has been eating out since he was 17, he says. “I have never cooked a meal in my life, and I have no fridge, and no ‘cooker’ in my home”, he says with pride. This has made him an astute restaurant-goer, who knows what he wants, and is not afraid to ask for it, and to express his dissatisfaction, having been thrown out of restaurants as a result.
His view on other local restaurants is interesting, and he has a few favourites – Bizerca is his top favourite, but he also rates the Foodbarn, Manna, and Table 13. He does not like La Colombe.
Opening a restaurant is something Keane feels he can do well. He is hands-on, changing a table cloth, welcoming guests arriving even later (the ambassador to the United Nations, who lives in the apartment block above the restaurant). He put the menu together himself, buying the best Italian cookbooks in London, and choosing recipes that he likes for his menu.
The prices are reasonable, with starters ranging from R 40 – R 85, pasta dishes at R 50 – R 85, mains mainly costing R 105, and desserts at R 40 each.
Generously Keane offers me a glass of Bruce’s Merlot, which is still in the restaurant. He is selling off the old Showroom wine stock, so that he can bring in new wines, as per Vaughn Johnson’s recommendation. He has the staff bring a platter of dessert samplers, including a pure pannacotta, a mint pannacotta, a delicious Lindt chocolate mousse cake, and an unusual tiramisu. The honey and mustard pork fillet is tasty, and I particularly liked the pumpkin and potato mash and green beans.
Portofino is Cormac Keane, and he is a most amusing host. He is who he is – cross him in his own space, and you stand the chance of being thrown out. Should he not be there, it may not be the same experience. He is irreverent, and a rebel, and has the confidence to believe in his new project and in himself, and to not have to compromise on what he is and what he wants from his staff and his clients. He feels like a friend already, something one does not experience in restaurants easily.
I felt at home at Portofino, and will definitely go back.
Bruschetta x 3 â€“ fresh tomato and basil, griddled courgettes and mint, chicken livers R55
Antipasti plate (for 2) â€“ chilli salt squid, marinated vegetable rolls, Parma ham, salami, olives R85
Beef carpaccio â€“ watercress, parmesan shavings, olive oil and lemon R 60
Melanzane all parmigiana â€“ layers of griddled aubergine, mozzarella tomato, basil R45
Tuscan minestrone soup R45
Orange, almond, parmesan and goats cheese salad with lemon dressing R 45
Seasonal salad R 40
Pumpkin, goats cheese and pumpkin seeds salad with honey mustard dressing R 45
Risotto of the day R75
Warm risone with pancetta, peas, asparagus, porcini mushrooms with truffle infusion R70
Fresh gnocchi of the day R60
Lasagna alla Bolognese R70
Spaghetti Carbonara R65
Broccoli and anchovy pasta R65
Penne Arrabbiata â€“ fresh tomato and chilli R60
Butternut and ricotta ravioli with pine nut butter R55
Tagliatelle with fresh mussels R85
Veal parcel filled with pesto and buffalo mozzarella and ricotta and butternut stuffed ravioli R 105
Grilled fish of the day R105
Honey and mustard pork fillet â€“ pumpkin and potato mash, green beans R 90
Lamb cutlets with rosemary jus â€“ cannellini bean puree, vegetables R 105
Grilled baby chicken marinated in olive oil, garlic and chilli with baby pesto potatoes R 105
Pistachio andalmond cake with yoghurt and honey sorbet and mint pannacotta
Homemade lemon tart with lemon ice cream
Ricotta and honey tart
Lindt Nemesis cake with honeycomb ice cream
Selection of ice creams or sorbets
Portofino Bar & Restaurant
Harbour Edge, 10 Hospital Street, Green Point
tel : 021 418 4500
POSTSCRIPT: Portofino closed its doors on 10 April 2010.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com