Tag Archives: Hepp Exclusive

Restaurant Review:Cape Grace Afternoon Tea sweet, lacks love and care!

We have written about a number of Afternoon/High Tea offerings in Cape Town and the Winelands, including those at the One&Only Cape Town, the Mount Nelson Hotel, Grande Roche, and Grande Provence.  While I have previously been to pop in at the Cape Grace Library lounge, I tried their ‘Traditional Tea’ for the first time on Thursday.   I  found it disappointing relative to the other Afternoon Teas I have experienced.

The Cape Grace hotel introduced a Sugar Buffet about a year ago, and I always enjoyed it, being a beautiful selection of sweet treats, including sweets such as Jelly Tots and Smarties, and each item cost R8.  Now each item costs R12, and the number of treats has reduced dramatically.  Waitress Laeticia told me that it was because hotel guests would help themselves to the sweets, and apparently did not understand that they had to pay for them. 

Compared to the displays of the Afternoon Tea at the One&Only Cape Town and the Mount Nelson, the Afternoon Tea at the Cape Grace looks like a poor cousin, mainly because they do not display all their ‘Traditional Tea’ items – one chooses two of the Sugar Buffet items displayed on the table as part of the Traditional Tea, and the hotel adds three finger sandwiches (one each with cucumber and spring onion cream cheese, egg and aioli and watercress, and smoked salmon, rocket and avocado), specified on the menu, as well as a miniature sultana and orange blossom honey scone and a traditional scone, served with homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream.  The cost of R75 includes a cup of tea.  The Sugar Buffet table contains Pecan Nut tarts, Lemmingtons, Chocolate chip cookies, Blueberry and almond cookies, Oat cookies, Shortbread cookies, Ginger cookies, Koeksisters, Macaroons, Raspberry cupcakes, and three types of fudge – vanilla and nuts, white chocolate and cranberries, and dark Chocolate.  I asked waitress Nqobile to tell me what all the items on the Sugar Buffet display were, and she rushed through them, and was not very clear about what the items were – e.g. the fudge plate, on which the items looked like small slices of cake.  She looked very annoyed when I asked her to call her superior!  

The seven items are put together on a cake stand, brought to one’s table. A sideplate and material serviette with a Hepp Exclusive (the same cutlery brand is used at Azure restaurant  at the Twelve Apostles Hotel) knife was brought to the table.  It was cold in the lounge, with the airconditioning set too cold and a door to the terrace was left open.  No fire was lit.  It took more than half an hour before the stand was served.  The cappuccino itself took some time, and the charge for this was a problem, as it was at the One&Only Cape Town on my first visit to their Afternoon Tea, in that the ‘Traditional Tea’ only includes tea, despite the trend to more coffee drinking.  I was charged in full for the cappuccino, and not just for the difference between the cost of a cup of tea and the cappuccino.  A manager kindly had the cappuccino cost removed.

The Lounge menu also offers other options for the Afternoon Tea: ‘Sugar & Bubbles’ costs R110, and is an unlimited supply of items from the Sugar Buffet table with a glass of Graham Beck Rosé.  Alternatively, for the same price, the ‘Sugar & Spice’ option allows one to eat an unlimited number of items from the Sugar Buffet table, as well as receive hot Malay-spiced sandwich snacks.  I found the service in the lounge disappointing for a hotel that wins accolades as one of Cape Town’s best, and there appeared to be little managerial supervision in the time that I spent at the hotel.   The Cape Grace cannot compete at all with the Afternoon Teas presented by its competitors One&Only Cape Town and the Mount Nelson, with a very small offering, most of which is not displayed in the lounge.  For the few guests in the lounge, and no one else having the Traditional Tea, the half an hour wait to make the three sandwich fingers, and organise the scones and whipped cream, was unacceptable.  There was no attempt to make the display look particularly attractive, as at the One&Only Cape Town, and it makes one think that the Cape Grace is not serious about its Afternoon Tea service.  Even though it only costs about half of that of its competitors, one does not feel that one gets value, as one is only allowed a specified number of items.  The starting time at 11h00 is much earlier than any of the other Afternoon Teas I have tried.

Cape Grace Hotel, V&A Waterfront. Tel (021) 410-7100.  www.capegrace.com (The website has a page for the Afternoon Tea, but the main photograph of the Sugar Buffet is no reflection of what I saw on Thursday – it looked like the display of the Sugar Buffet that I saw a few months ago, when there were more sweet treats as well as the sweets on display, and the bell jars had attractive ribbons on them.  The Image Gallery has no photographs of the Afternoon Tea at all).    Daily.  11h00 – 18h00.

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

Azure Restaurant at Twelve Apostles Hotel moves closer to Camps Bay!

The Twelve Apostles Hotel is located at the foot of the mountain with the same name, with a wonderful view on to the Atlantic Ocean, and whales and dolphins can be seen from it on occasion.   Last night it took a step to move closer to Camps Bay, by inviting the Camps Bay Accommodation Association  member guest houses to dinner at its Azure Restaurant.

The impression created throughout, from the time that the guest house members entered the hotel, a member of the Leading Small Hotels of the World and voted Best Hotel in Cape Town in 2010 by Travel & Leisure USA, was two-fold:  Belonging to The Red Carnation Hotel Collection South Africa, every member of staff interacting with the public proudly wears a red carnation in his/her shirt/jacket pocket, a very clever touch in creating brand awareness for the hotel group, which has other interests in South Africa, being The Oyster Box and the regularly award-winning Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat, in addition to properties in London, Geneva, Guernsey, Florida, and Dorset.  Secondly, each member of staff that we met during our evening at the hotel went out of their way to be friendly, to chat, and to become one of our group, sharing pre-dinner drinks, and seated with us at dinner at Azure.

Horst Frehse is the new GM of the hotel, a doyen of GM’s, and for many years he was “Mr Grande Roche”, followed by Singita. He moved from Asara to the Twelve Apostles in December.  He personally greeted every guest house member, and apologised for not being able to join us for dinner.  He announced that the Spa will close for two months, to undergo a R5 million renovation, whereafter it will be operated by the hotel itself.  Hotel Manager Brett Davidge and his team were present.  A nice touch was that Chef Henrico Grobbelaar flew back from a meeting in Johannesburg especially to prepare the meal, and he chose the guest house group to try out two new starters and two main courses he is including in his new winter menu, to be launched on 1 June.  He personally introduced the menu, and came to us after the meal, to obtain feedback. Chef Henrico told us that he is wanting to focus more on seafood in his new menu, and that he is sourcing ingredients locally and fresh, seafood coming from Hout Bay. Chef Henrico was a FIFA Executive Chef during the World Cup last year, was Sunday Times  Chef of the Year in 2009, and leads the South African team for the Culinary Olympics.

Azure is a very large restaurant room, but divided into two halves via a central table, with big blue and silver vases and lots of candles.  One side has a fireplace, adding atmosphere, and it was cosy and warm in the room, despite the wintry weather outside.   The colour blue given to the name of the restaurant is reflected by day through the lovely seaview from the restaurant, and from Moroccan-style blue lights by night.  Tables have tablecloths, good quality large material serviettes, and were laid with Hepp Exclusive cutlery and good glassware.

The bread basket contained a wonderful selection of home-made breads and rolls, including rye bread, wholewheat bread, and olive bread, as well as bread sticks, impressive in its presentation.   The starter choices were a most delicious Grilled Yellowfin Tuna served with a sweetcorn relish, avocado puree and cilantro vinaigrette.  The tuna looked beautiful on the plate, almost like marrow bones.  The other starter was a salad of roast beetroot, zucchini, parsnip and Fairview goat’s curd with black olive paint.  The tuna starter was by far the most ordered, and was an absolute hit.

The main course choice was lamb loin with stirfried tatsoi, mizuna, julienne vegetables, lentils and spicy peanut sauce, a fusion dish that Frehse had requested of the chef.  The generous portion of pan roasted kingklip with cauliflower white bean truffle puree, mushroom and adzuki with Port miso veal jelly was excellent.  It was nice to see a fish knife for the kingklip. There was no choice of dessert, as Chef Henrico wanted us to try Mrs Bea Tollman’s Lemon cheese cake with Honeycomb ice cream, a special recipe that Chef Henrico described as the one of the best in the country, and which takes three days to make.  

Azure’s current menu is low key in being typed pages bound in a black holder.  Its introduction lists the fynbos that is added to the food preparation, this having been the speciality of previous chef Ricardo de Carvalho.  It states that the Abalone for its main course has been ‘purchased in terms of Section 13 of the Marine Living Resources Act 1998, and is in keeping with Live Aquaculture Abalone harvesting’.  Starters range from R60 for a trio of cold soup, and a chicken noodle soup, to R 175 for Bea’s Eggs Royale, three scrambled eggs served in their shell, with smoked salmon, black caviar and oysters. Main courses start at R110 for mushroom and tofu lasagne, to R 455 for Crispy fried abalone.  Steaks cost around R150.  Desserts cost R70, with Bea’s cheesecake costing R85.

It is clear that The Twelve Apostles hotel group is ultra professional, and all guest houses left with a bag of information about the hotel’s facilities, including the current Azure menu, and about its sister property Bushman’s Kloof.   Thabang Rapotu was an excellent sales executive in encouraging a group of us to book for the “Tea by the Sea” afternoon tea next month.  The guest house guests were invited on a tour around the hotel, and were shown some guest rooms too, the hotel using the opportunity to educate our group about its facilities.  Malusi offered excellent service in looking after the water and wines, and I enjoyed the Rust en Vrede Merlot 2009.  A most generous and enjoyable evening was spent with the Twelve Apostles Hotel team, and the guest houses left the Twelve Apostles feeling that Azure is the best restaurant that Camps Bay has, and that they would recommend it to their guests for fine-dining in future.

POSTSCRIPT 26/5: Thanks to Kurt Ackermann for pointing out an error as to the tuna used in the starter last night.  I must have misheard Chef Henrico, and I called him this evening to check with him, after seeing Kurt’s comment.  He has assured me that he used Yellowfin Tuna, on the Green SASSI list, and I have corrected it above. 

Azure, Twelve Apostles Hotel, Camps Bay.  Tel (021) 437-9000. www.12apostleshotel.com (The website contains the menu but not the winelist.  It is a pity that the Image Gallery does not contain any photographs of the food served at Azure, other than of the seafood platter).

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

Restaurant review: Planet Restaurant puts Mount Nelson Hotel amongst the stars!

After a closure of a few months for a complete make-over, the old Cape Colony at the Mount Nelson Hotel is no more, and what has arisen in its space is the new Planet Restaurant, based on an extension of the planetary theme of the Planet Bar, opening about three weeks ago.  It gives the restaurant, and the hotel with it, a modern feel worthy of the quality of Chef Rudi Liebenberg’s culinary skills.

For a new restaurant to have so much money thrown at it is unusual, with ads in the Sunday Times costing a fortune, even if they are in black and white, and obviously the decor changes were expensive too.  Therefore it was a surprise that when we tried to make the booking a few days prior to our dinner, it was such a struggle to make it with Emmanuel, one of the Maître d’hôtel.   Chef Rudi has been at the hotel for two years now, but the restaurant staff is refreshingly new.  Restaurant Manager Andreas van Breda moved to Cape Town after a long stint at Claridges in London.   For the first time the restaurant has a sommelier, and they could not have appointed a nicer person than Carl Habel, whom I first met at Myoga, and who remembered my love for Shiraz when he came to say hello, even though he was off duty, a reflection of how good he is at customer service.   He enthused about his new job, and his respect for Chef Rudi, whose focus is on quality produce, and on sourcing local ingredients, which makes it easy for him to pair the Planet Restaurant’s food and wine.   It is hard to believe that the Mount Nelson, one of Cape Town’s top hotels, has never had a sommelier before!   It was lovely to receive the warm welcome at the entrance to the hotel from Osnat Gropper, the concierge, and a Twitter friend.

The interior design was done by DHK Interiors, and they have used a less-is-more decor approach, removing the piano and the old-fashioned Capescape mural (excellent decisions).   As one walks down the passage from the Planet Bar, one notices the panels of strings of blue and clear glass balls, representing the planetary theme, interspersed with massive mirrors with illustrations representing the signs of the zodiac, which is carried into the restaurant itself.   Unfortunately not all twelve signs are represented, so I was disappointed to not see Sagittarius on one of the mirrors, having come for a birthday celebration.  The new restaurant is a clean crisp white space, with a central chandelier and new carpet that echo the planetary theme.  The furniture has been replaced, with brown tables, and velvet-covered cream chairs.  In the centre the seating is leather couches. The tables are covered with boring placemats (for the stature of the restaurant and the hotel it could do with a good quality tablecloth), beautiful cutlery from Hepp Exclusive, good light glassware, and a set of modern salt and pepper grinders from Peugeot, which I had also seen a few days earlier at the restaurant at Delaire Graff.  The planetary theme is extended into the sparkly covers of the winelist, the menu and the billfold, as well as on the inside first pages of the menu and winelist.  

The menu is extravagant, running to many pages, with a few items per page. It is printed on a good quality cream board.  It has an introductory statement by Chef Rudi, and is signed by him, stating: “Our kitchen is all about a journey, a journey with many new and sometimes unexpected variables and it is for this reason that we come back inspired and motivated every day. ….The foundation of our process starts with respect, respect for the ingredient, respect for the process, respect for the end product and respect for the guest.   The majority of our ingredients are sourced locally and prepared using a wide range of modern as well as classical cooking methods”.   An insert offers the “Chef’s Suggestions”.    Two tasting menu options are available, strangely a “Vegan Journey” one listed first, followed by the “Journey”, a non-vegan one, both charged at R380 per person for a minimum of two persons to order, and consisting of six courses each.   Each wine recommendation for the tasting menu is priced separately.  Thereafter the menu has a la carte menu options.   Commendably items on the menu are specially marked with a symbol, reflecting them being vegetarian, vegan and containing nuts, where relevant.

Before we could think of choosing anything,  complimentary glasses of Genevieve MCC were brought to the table, as was a small plate of canapés (duck rillette, salmon and feta, as well as ostrich tartare).  If an amuse bouche is a first presentation of the skills of the chef, then this plateful was a disappointment.   We had to ask for the bread.   Three bread options were offered – ciabatta, country bread (the waiter could not explain exactly what this bread contained) and garlic bread.  Starter options range in price from R65 for a “tomato variation, jelly, cloud, sorbet, greens, basil”, not easy to imagine what exactly is served; to R165 for crayfish ceviche and Namibian red crab remoulade.  Duck and quail terrine, smoked salmon trout, and oysters are also available.  One can also order soup and salads, including a crocodile salad (R90), a menu item from the old Cape Colony menu. 

I chose a cold asparagus soup (R85) as the starter, and it was a surprise to have the plate served with a tower of asparagus mousse topped with thin slices of cucumber.   I have seen ceremonious pouring of soup at a table, but the waiter pouring the soup out of the water glass brought from the kitchen by hand, without it being on a tray or in a prettier container, spoilt what I am sure the chef had intended for the presentation of the dish.  I found the dish very bland. It was served in an interesting soup bowl, with a hole in it for design effect.  The advertised egg yolk was left out of the dish, for no reason.   My partner had a slow-cooked free-range egg with local cured ham and mature gouda, served with a pinotage reduction, which he enjoyed, but commented on the runny egg white.   This dish was on the old Cape Colony menu too, and clearly is a hit, for it to have been retained.   For my main course I chose an extravagant abalone and crayfish dish (R295).   The abalone was tiny, making me feel guilty in having chosen something that was clearly undersized (or alternatively out of a can).   It was cut into two, cooked, coated with herbs and then sauteed in butter, but did not have a distinctive abalone taste at all, the herbs overpowering the usually distinctive taste.  A tiny crayfish tail (more guilt), as well as asparagus spears and sweet corn added colour and taste to the dish, but I missed the velouté advertised on the menu as being part of the dish.   No fish knife was served with this dish.   My partner’s flame-grilled beef fillet was butter soft, but the sautéed mushrooms, potato foam and mini fondants were so badly over-salted that he could not finish them (R170).  Other main course options are a pea risotto (R95); monkfish fillet, chicken, pork cheeks and belly, and mussels and calamari, all costing R150; Karoo lamb (R190); and springbok (R180).   For those able to eat more, there is a choice of six desserts, costing around R65, and two cheese options.   Friandises were served with the excellent foamy cappuccino (R20). 

The 24-page winelist specifies vintages and origin, and is introduced with a page of “Sommelier’s latest discoveries”, which were three Solms-Delta wines: Amalie (R60/R175), Langarm (R35/R155), and Hiervandaan (R70/R310), the serving by-the-glass specified at 175ml, making them expensive.   Five “Methode Cap Classique” 150ml wines-by-the-glass are listed, including Pierre Jourdan Brut (R45), Simonsig Brut Rosé (R50) and Genevieve Brut (R60), and surprisingly, the champagnes Billecart-Salmon Rosé (R320) and Veuve Cliquot (R210) were also listed under this heading!   Ten white and seven red wines-by-the glass, the former ranging from R35 – R65 per 175ml, and the latter ranging from R45 – R75 per glass, are offered.   I was disappointed at the small selection of red wines by the glass, and that none of them included a Shiraz.  The rest of the winelist separates white wines into “Crisp and refreshing”, Fragrant and Floral”, “Rich and Opulent” and “Signature and Cellar”.   Red wines are categorised into “Silky and Smooth”, “Elegant and Fresh”, “Rich and Concentrated”, and “The Great Reserve”.  Unique Vin de Constance and Hamilton Russell Pinot Noirvertical vintage selections are also available, but require big cheque books!   Shiraz options by the bottle include Groote Post Reserve (R270), Waterford Kevin Arnold (R430), Saronsberg (R475), Cirrus (R1020), Hartenberg Stork (R1020), Saxenberg Select (R4435), De Trafford (R760), and Fairview Beacon (R515).   Knowing my love for Shiraz, Carl recommended the Saronsberg 2007, a wine not usually available by the glass.  On tasting, it was acceptable, but it had a taste to it that I did not like, the more I drank of it.  We were not charged for the wine.

Having eaten at The Test Kitchen and Planet Restaurant on two consecutive nights, it is clear that the Planet Restaurant is more of a special occasion restaurant, with the staff smartly and professionally dressed befitting the five star status of the hotel, while the food at The Test Kitchen overall was better.  The service levels were on a par.   The Planet Restaurant still needs time to settle in, and for its quality to be consistent, whether Chef Rudi is on duty or not.  The advertising has not yet offered a return on its investment, as we were one of only five tables in what seemed to be a quiet hotel. Having been on the Eat Out top 20 restaurant shortlist whilst at The Saxon, it will be interesting to see if Chef Rudi can take the Planet Restaurant onto the star top 20 restaurant shortlist for 2011.

Planet Restaurant, Mount Nelson Hotel, 76 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 483-1000 www.planetbarandrestaurant.co.za (No menu or winelist on the website, and disappointingly almost no food photographs in the Gallery).  Monday – Sunday dinner only.

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