At the Eat Out Restaurant Awards 2017 this evening, held at GrandWest, some shock results stunned the restaurant industry. Eat Out continues its love affair with Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, with three of his four restaurants making the Top 10 Restaurant List, a spectacular achievement! The biggest shock was the spectacular slide of La Colombe, the restaurant which had all the opportunity to make the number one slot, but only making the seventh rank, a karmic reaction to the restaurant losing focus, opening too many restaurants, and getting involved in restaurant politics! Continue reading →
One cannot get more notorious than being featured in Noseweek (July 2015 issue), and to have a Facebook group created about one’s business. Such an ‘honour’ has been bestowed upon Daniel Waldis, owner of Le Chocolatier, who has operated in Franschhoek, now in Stellenbosch, and with a factory in Paarl!
As a writer I receive invitations to many special events. Yesterday’s Africa/Middle East finals of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015, held at the SA Chef’s Academy, was one of those memorable events, particularly as the nine finalists no doubt will become the future top chefs of our country and of Dubai.
Originally ten finalist chefs aged 30 years or younger were selected to represent Africa and the Middle East. Chef Eka Mochamad of the Pepper Fine Dining Restaurant at Jumeirah in Dubai had to withdraw due to the early birth of his child. The nine finalist chefs were from Johannesburg, Cape Town, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Dubai, many meeting for the first time at the competition. The Continue reading →
I had heard that Craft had opened in the space from which Apprentice operated for a number of years earlier this year, having been a ‘test kitchen’ for the students of Letetia Prinsloo’s Institute of Culinary Arts. An unfortunate association with Le Chocolatier owner Daniel Waldis led to the closure of the restaurant. In its place is a dual restaurant and bar, separated only by a bar counter, but the difference in attitude of the two managers is massive. The two Crafts are owned by Francois Jooste, who also owns Java and Apres Bistro, all close to each other in a tourist rich area of Stellenbosch.
I visited on Monday, entering on the left, at Craft Wheat & Hops, which I did not immediately associate with a bar specialising in beers. Once one enters, it is very clear what it serves, with 16 beers on tap offered, and a similar number of beers displayed on shelves. I recognised the voice of the friendly lady behind the counter, and she reminded me that she was the Chef and Manager of The Stall in Franschhoek when it first opened eighteen months ago. Marilie van Niekerk left when she had her baby. She made a menu available for me immediately, without having to ask for it, it being such a pleasure to experience her excellent service. The bar had not yet been set up, tables having been placed on top of each other, as the bar only opens at 15h00 on week days. Interestingly Craft Wheat & Hops offers food as well, but with only two options. Flammkuchen is prepared in what look like a massive pizza oven inside the bar, seven options offered in a price range from R40 (for Caprese) to R52 (smoked salmon, red onion, rocket, and caviar). An extensive list of Tapas dishes is offered, ranging from R29 (crumbed mozzarella sticks with berry compote) to R45 (roast chicken and cheddar quesadilla served with homemade salsa, guacemole and cream cheese). Other tapas include lamb meat balls, ‘corn dogs‘, chorizo and mozzarella crostini, mini mushroom burgers, and ‘beer brats wrapped in bacon‘. Continue reading →
After two disastrous years, New Media Publishing was brave enough to take stock earlier this year, and asked the industry what it wanted in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards. Last night that hard work paid off, with a new venue for the event, a slick and short presentation, new Awards introduced, and three new restaurants making the Top 10 Restaurant list. The surprise was the emotion which the chefs expressed when receiving their plaques, challenging MasterChef SA Season 2 on tears!
We were one of the interviewees, meeting with Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, its GM Aileen Lamb, MD Bridget McCarney, and Director Irna van Zyl. We were forthright in our feedback and suggestions, including that a team of judges would be needed again (we suggested Garth Stroebel, and have yet to meet him!). We fed back that the preferential relationship with Luke Dale-Roberts in TASTE magazine (also published by New Media Publishing, and of which Abigail is the Food Editor) was unfair towards all other chefs, by featuring him every month – we were told that Woolworths had a contract with him, and therefore he received the coverage in the magazine. This contract was terminated earlier this year, which is excellent news. Other recommendations can be read here. Flowing from the interviews and discussions with previous Top 20 chefs and restaurant managers, owners, and suppliers, as well as media representatives and bloggers, New Media Publishing allowed restaurants to apply to be included in the Eat Out Top 500 Restaurant List, which was selected by a Continue reading →
Last week TV producer Anne Myers and I drove all the way out to the Durbanville Wine Route to try out Chef Nic van Wyk’s Diemersdal Farm Eatery, which I had seen in preparation, prior to its opening, at the Season of Sauvignon Festival in October. Chef Nic’s menu is a good ‘pairing’ with his role as one of the two judges in the new Afrikaans reality cooking programme Kokkedoor on KykNET, which is focused on nostalgia food.
Diemersdal is one of the oldest wine estates in Cape Town, established in 1698, and six generations of the Louw family have lived on the farm since 1885. Their wines are highly rated. What is commendable is that the wine prices in the restaurant are the same as the cellar door prices charged in the Tasting Room across the ‘werf’. Tienie Louw is still in charge, but has handed over the winemaking to his son Thys.
Getting to Diemersdal is easy, but I was unsure of the route, having only been there once before. Getting through on the phone line, which is shared for the restaurant and the tasting room, was difficult as the phone line was engaged regularly. Once I got through, a very friendly assistant in the Tasting Room gave clear directions, which the restaurant may consider sharing on the website.
The menu changes daily, and has a Tapas option, as well as a two/three course option, which changes daily, Chef Nic said, influenced by what is in the fridge, in the vegetable garden, and what his team feel like preparing. The menu is only posted a day or so ahead, so one must check if one likes what is on the menu for that day, as no options are offered. Luckily for us we were happy with the menu, Anne choosing the Tapas platter with six savoury dishes for R120, and I had the three course lunch for R150, both of us sharing each other’s dishes. Of Anne’s Tapas dishes, I especially enjoyed the pulled lamb shoulder served with a white bean sauce (front middle). She also had a prawn and tomato consommé, roasted pork belly and carrot purée (a reduced version of my main course), braised pearl onion and bacon ragout, veal meatballs in a smoked tomato and tarragon sauce, and a most unusual creamed parsnip and fynbos honey soup! My starter was a crumbed chicken ballotine, with an exceptional crispy outer band, served with carrot purée, and smoked beetroot. My main course was a very tender pork belly served with a prawn and chickpea fricassée. We were talking so much that I forgot to ask Chef Nic to replace the chickpeas with something else, not being to my liking.
My dessert was a vanilla roasted guava cheesecake served with guava mousse, the strong guava fragrance reminding me of how much I love this winter fruit. The dry cappuccino was perfectly prepared. Anne’s dessert as part of her Tapas platter was a delicious Champagne mousse served with cranberry sauce and hazelnut biscuits. Chef Nic recently did an ‘Onthoukos’ evening with Hetta, and both cooked courses for the dinner. He will be cooking with Dinner Diva winner and Eat Out Blogger of the Year Anel Potgieter on 13 June, each preparing three courses.
Anne has seen a number of the Kokkedoor episodes, and having produced a number of food-related reality food shows for SABC 2, Dinner Divas having been the most recent one, she shared her feedback with Chef Nic, feeling strongly that he and his co-judge Pierneef à La Motte Director of Cuisine and food historian, Hetta van Deventer-Terblanche, do not receive enough exposure in the Kokkedoor episodes. The programme series was conceptualised by Errieda du Toit, whose PR company also handles the Social Media for Kokkedoor, was filmed in Prince Albert, and is produced by Homebrew Films for KykNet. Chef Nic said that it was a new experience for him, and that he learnt a lot through it, the production being run by ‘pros‘, he said. Many of the contestant profiles were shot at Diemersdal, and that has been good for business, he said. KykNet is happy with the success of the programme, and a season 2 is very likely. We questioned the involvement of MasterChef SA Finalist Sarel Loots in Kokkedoor, which gave him a huge awareness advantage over all the other participants, but he and his team mate have already been eliminated. Anne felt that radio and TV presenter Mariëtta Kruger’s involvement as the presenter may have been a mistake, as she is not so well-known any more, and that she was a little stiff. She also felt that not enough food is shown in Kokkedoor, which is what viewers of food reality TV programmes want to see. She advised that there was no viewer ‘take away‘, in that there is no summation about why certain contestants’ dishes are the best, and why those that did not do well failed in their food preparation. Anne added that daytime viewership on weekends is more successful for food reality programmes than weekday evenings.
Chef Nic uses a vegetable garden on Diemersdal, which belongs to the Louw family, and there are pigs and chickens too. His menu focuses on ‘fresh and seasonal’ foods, expressing disappointment on how few chefs follow this policy. His menu always has fresh vegetables from the garden on it. He and his kitchen team ‘play‘ with food ideas, to come up with new dishes, and leftovers are worked into new dishes. Nic has been a chef for 13 years, having studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA) in Stellenbosch, and starting with Chef Franck Dangereux at La Colombe, before he and Chef Michael Broughton opened Eat Out Top 10 restaurant Terroir at Kleine Zalze. He opened Diemersdal Farm Eatery earlier this year, and had to spend five weeks in Prince Albert for the filming of Kokkedoor, leaving his new restaurant in the capable hands of his sous chef Martin de Kock. Nic calls his food ‘Kontreikos’, translated as regional food.
The decor was done by Juanita Louw, wife of Tienie, and the character of the long narrow horse stable building dating back to 1929 has been retained, with raw brickwork, and a high ceiling, yet with modern touches for the ceiling lighting to which has been added interesting lamps on one side. A reception desk at the entrance door breaks the room into two parts, allowing lots of space between tables. Wooden tables with rustic chairs fill the room, and each table had an unusual candle holder, being an upturned crystal glass on top of another. Chef Nic says that Juanita has decorated the restaurant as she would her own home.
Only Diemersdal wines are offered at the Eatery, the exception being the MCCs, which Diemersdal does not make. They offer Krone at R140 and De Grendel at R165. White wines start at an unbelievable R20 per glass for the Sauvignon Blanc 2013 and Chardonnay Unwooded 2013. The MM Louw Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 tops the price list at R165. Red wine by the glass is even more affordable, starting at R15 for Matys Red 2011, with Pinotage 2012 costing R25 and Private Collection 2011 R40 per glass.
Chef Nic took lots of trouble in chatting to us, and requested feedback after each course, saying that if he is not told things, he cannot fix them. Anne and I felt that Chef Nic’s food is ‘honest food’, putting who he is on a plate, which is done with love, without trying to impress others, as so many chefs tend to do. We loved our experience at Diemersdal, its good food, and the very special service by perfectly bilingual Guenola, speaking Afrikaans to Anne and English to me. The music was too ‘rock’ and loud for us, and did not match the country setting of the restaurant. Cleaning the tables around us with a strong detergent was one of few negatives. The menu is not updated regularly, it being out of date in still showing last week’s menus on the website. The Diemersdal Farm Eatery is well worth a visit, being good well-priced honest food prepared with love.
Diemersdal Farm Eatery, Diemersdal, M58 (Koeberg Road), Durbanville. Tel (021) 976-1810 www.diemersdal.co.za Twitter: @DiemersdalEat Monday – Sunday lunch. Open on Friday evenings (only serving steak).
Kokkedoor, KykNET, Thursdays 20h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
On Friday I attended the Summer Soiree gourmet evening as a guest of Raymond Noppe, Oldenburg Vineyards Regional Sales Manager: Sub-Sahara, as part of the Stellenbosch Wine Festival program. The gourmet delights were prepared by three talented graduates (in March) of the Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA), which is based just down the road in the Banhoek valley. Guests attending paid R450 per head.
The tables were beautifully set, with glass bowls of proteas, which are grown in the valley, and dry ice, which came to effect when we sat down for the dinner, creating steam when the hostesses from the Alheit Academy poured water over it. Oldenburg Wines does not have a restaurant, so the dinner was even more special as it was a one of a kind. On arrival we were offered a glass of Simonsig MCC, sparkling wines not forming part of the Oldenburg repertoire yet.
The menu leaflets provided background to the two pairing partners. Oldenburg Vineyards is a premium boutique winery which produces small quantities of wines, its vineyards being managed to the full potential of their terroir.
The ICA was established eighteen years ago by Letitia Prinsloo, and has trained many of our country’s top chefs, including Kobus van der Merwe of Oep ve Eet, and Simone Rossouw of Babel. It is deemed to be one of the best restaurant and chef training schools in the country. The course covers Advanced Cooking & Pâtisserie, business development, food theatre, research and marketing, product development, media communication, artistry, food science, and wine. Third year students have to prepare a business plan for a new or relaunched fine-dining restaurant. The focus of the chef training is the ‘global trend of molecular gastronomy’. Food science is an important subject to help the students understand the growing international gourmet trend to modernist cuisine. The dishes we were served were some of the dishes prepared for the final practicals by three ICA graduates, the students’ practical work being evaluated by the likes of Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, The Greenhouse Chef Peter Tempelhoff, The Tasting Room chef Margot Janse, as well as food journalists.
The ICA works closely with the Alheit Academy, a relationship of four years seeing the ICA training front of house service staff about cooking, wines, front of house, and more, the students receiving a City & Guilds certificate after three years of study.
I missed the first canapé of ‘Olive T(h)ree’, which was served as thin layers of olive oil biscuit topped with olive tapenade, and olive oil sugar bells on olive soil, which was paired with my favourite Oldenburg Cabernet Franc 2009. All three the canapés were prepared by Inne-Marie Rabie, who started working at Rooi Rose after graduating at the ICA at the end of last year, working with Food Editor Vickie de Beer in doing research for a new book, I was told by Laetitia. Inne-Marie’s dill and garlic Beef Tartare was served en croute, finished off with a deep fried quail egg, and a garlic and caper foam, which was paired with the Oldenburg Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. Raymond told us that Cabernet Sauvignon is the most planted variety on the estate, and is a ‘powerful wine’ matured for 12 months in 300 litre barrels, to reduce the oak influence. It is a big wine, with a higher alcohol content of 14,5%, which they are increasing to 15%. The wine has notes of cedar wood, pencil shavings, black currant, and cassis. The third canapé was Vanilla poached pork belly, which was served with a pear purée, and finished off with a rosewater praline, paired with Oldenburg Chardonnay 2011. The Chardonnay grapes will be the first to be picked at Oldenburg, the harvest commencing this week, and the wine is matured for 11 months. The wine was described as having ‘wooden butteriness‘, creamy vanilla, white pear and peach notes, as well as citrus aromas. It was scored by Robert Parker at 93.
The amuse bouche was a jasmine poached Scented Salmon served with pickled cucumber, crackling crumble, and pancetta shard, finished off with a cucumber foam and granadilla sauce. This dish was prepared by Monché Muller, who already has a column in Taste magazine, and now works at The Test Kitchen.
Inne-Marie prepared the Exotic Mushrooms dish, tagliatelle served on a mushroom cream and sautéed wild mushrooms, with potato soil and garlic roasted walnuts. The dish was also paired with the Oldenburg Chardonnay 2011. Monché returned to present her ‘Homebrew Kudu Loin’, which had been marinated in coffee mud, and was served with cauliflower risotto, roasted lemon chutney, kale pesto, and marinated baby brinjals, which she finished off with a pine nut crust and a stout sauce. This dish was paired with the very smooth Oldenburg Syrah 2009, which was matured in oak for 15 months, and has coffee and mocha tones. Raymond described it as being ‘plush‘, having soft tannins, and offering good drinkability. We laughed when he said that it has won no awards yet it is their largest seller.
The Oldenburg Vineyards pricing policy is to charge at two price points only: R118 for their Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, and R 182 for their Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Later this year Oldenburg is introducing Rhodium, which Raymond summarised as follows: “Rhodium is a chemical element that is a rare, silvery-white, hard, and chemically inert transition metal and a member of the platinum group. It has the chemical symbol Rh and atomic number 45, and is one of the “noble metals. Our first release will be the 2010 vintage, and will consist of 50% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 10% Malbec. The blend proportions and varietals used for the 2011 vintage was substantially different, although Cabernet Franc will always be the backbone and biggest contributor. We plan to release it within the next 2 months, and it should sell for around R330/bottle. Each bottle will be individually wrapped and packed in its own specially printed box. We are hoping that this new premium offering will live up to its name of being noble in all respects and help to establish us further as one of the top premium producers in South Africa.”
Dorothy, the maternal grandmother of Oldenburg Vineyards’ owner Adrian van der Spuy came to South Africa in the ‘Fifties, and met Helmut Hohmann, the owner of the Ivy Knowe farm, over the neighbouring fence, so to speak. He bought the neighbouring Rondekop farm on auction in 1955, consolidated it with his existing farm, and changed the name of the two farms to Oldenburg, after his hometown in Germany. They planted deciduous fruit originally in the ‘Sixties, and then added grapes, with were sold to SFW and to the KWV initially. The farm was placed in a trust by Van der Spuy’s grandmother when Hohmann died, which Van der Spuy bought out of the trust in 2003. Simon Thompson is the viticulturist at Oldenburg, and also its winemaker. The first wines were made in 2007. The Oldenburg wines are made at Glenelly presently, but an Oldenburg cellar is on the cards in the next five years. (Van der Spuy’s paternal grandmother is the late Una van der Spuy, who was a well-known landscaper, and lived at Old Nectar in Stellenbosch).
The highlight dish of the evening was Nico Meyer’s Southern Reef, a marine-inspired dessert, with a coral made from ginger and chocolate, which was served in an oyster shaped chocolate shell in which a chai tea sphere was placed, for one to sip off the shell as one would an oyster, releasing a burst of flavour once in one’s mouth. The dessert creation was placed on flavoured soil, with foam, to complete the marine theme. Each guest had the choice of pairing the dessert with Oldenburg’s Chenin Blanc 2011 or Merlot 2010. The Merlot 2010 maiden vintage has just been launched by Oldenburg. Nico now works at Apprentice, the ICA restaurant in Stellenbosch, and is their head chef. The dessert was followed by friandise of chocolate fondant, baklava, and melon coated in mint jelly, served with coffee.
All three the ICA graduates were very creative, and had taken a lot of trouble to create the perfect dishes to bring out the best in the Oldenburg wines. One certainly will get to hear more about these fledgeling chefs as they develop in their careers. Oldenburg Vineyards and the ICA demonstrated true neighbourliness in their food and wine pairing Summer Soiree gourmet evening.
Oldenburg Vineyards, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-1618. www.oldenburgvineyards.com Twitter: @OldenburgWines Monday – Friday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Interesting news arrived in the media release received yesterday, announcing that Eat Out Editor Abigail Donnelly has appointed Bruce Palling, London-based food blogger, and food writer for Wall Street Journal Europe, to ‘assist in judging South Africa’s top restaurants‘ for the 2012 Eat Out DStv Food Network Restaurant Awards.
Last year Eat Out’s decision to fire its panel of judges (MasterChef SA judge Pete Goffe-Wood, MasterChef SA Culinary Director Arnold Tanzer, and Anna Trapido, author of a biography about Nelson Mandela’s life through food), and the announcement that its editor would be the sole judge, was met with surprise and shock, especially when controversial decisions were made, for example, Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen was appointed Chef of the Year, and is featured in almost every issue of Taste, of which Ms Donnelly is the Food Editor, while The Greenhouse was announced the number one Top 10 restaurant; the most controversial award was that of the newly introduced Boschendal Style Award, which Ms Donnelly awarded to Makaron Restaurant at Majeka House, her (undisclosed) consulting client!; the exclusion of Tokara, with its top chef Richard Carstens, from the Top 10 restaurant list; and the award of Best Country Style Restaurant going to The Table at De Meye, which few had heard of, had only been open for a few months, and is owned by a photographer which Mrs Donnelly uses for some of her Taste shoots.
Mr Palling writes a weekly column for the European edition of the Wall Street Journal, and amended versions of his newspaper columns are featured on his blog Gastroenophile. Interesting is that a Google search found no results for anything written about Mr Palling, one just finding links to his blog posts. For the past six years he has been a judge for the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. Mr Palling is Australian born, was a reporter for the BBC World Service in the former Indochina. He was a reporter for a number of publications in South-East Asia, Zimbabwe, and the USA. He then moved to travel writing for Tatler, and created a Travel Guide for them. Thereafter he created a travel company called Western & Oriental, of which he is the Chairman. He is described as having a passion for ‘fine wine and interesting food’, but also writes about travel.
Mrs Donnelly praised the new judge for being ‘an exceptional food writer’, for bringing ‘extensive international experience and knowledge to Eat Out and our awards – something that we’ve always aspired to‘. Mr Palling will assist Mrs Donnelly in selecting the ‘finalists for the Top 10 restaurants across the country‘. In yesterday’s weekly Eat Out newsletter Mrs Donnelly wrote that Mr Palling will also help to select ‘the winners of the other accolades’, including Chef of the Year, and the Service Excellence Award.
Mr Palling has never been to South Africa, and is quoted in the Eat Out media release as saying: ‘I know from my experience as a judge for the San Pellegrino Awards that South Africa is well represented among the top international contenders and I look forward to experiencing for myself what the local restaurant industry has to offer’. The Eat Out media release describes Mr Palling as an ‘internationally acclaimed gastronome’. Odd then that there is no information to be found written about him.
What dates Mr Palling severely is his reference in his profile to Zimbabwe as ‘White Rhodesia’, and his use of Blogger as his blogging platform (used by newbie amateur bloggers)!
In one of Mr Palling’s articles (‘What’ll it be? Wallaby’) he wrote about a visit to Australia three months ago, and local chefs may pick up some tips about what he looks for from it. He wrote that he was ‘disappointed by the lack of much distinctively Australian-ingredient-led cuisine, except for the occasional piece of well-cooked wallaby. There must be more native produce out there waiting to be used. Increasingly, what excites me is bold cuisine that belongs to a specific location, thanks to its unique ingredients. This is why the best New Nordic places in Scandinavia deserve all the hype. There is something fulfilling about consuming produce that relates to your region. That’s also why I adore fine wine from around the globe because it speaks of its origins and is nuanced on an annual basis by the weather. For this reason, I also think it is slightly depressing that the most famous Australian wine, Penfolds Grange, is a blend of grapes from dispersed locations rather than reflecting a specific vineyard’. In the same article he refers to his ‘passion for foraged cuisine’.
It will be interesting to see how the country’s top restaurants react to the news about the appointment of the new Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant judge!
POSTSCRIPT 29/7: Doing some further research on the new Eat Out Top 10 RestaurantBruce Palling, we have discovered:
* Last year Bruce Palling was one of 837 judges around the world evaluating the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. He has no specific senior position in this capacity. South Africa’s judges last year were Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly, MasterChef SA Culinary Producer Arnold Tanzer, Mont Rochelle Hotel Managing Director Erwin Schnitzler, retired market researcher Henry Barenblatt, food writer and previous Eat Out editor Sam Woulidge, ex-Cafe Max owner and now Londolozi Chef Anna Ridgewell, occasional food blogger David Cope, Grand Provence GM Karl Lambour, Chef’s Warehouse & Cookery School owner and Liam Tomlin Food co-owner Liam Tomlin, Principal of Institute of Culinary Arts Letitia Prinsloo, Platter restaurant writer Jos Baker, GOLD restaurant owner Cindy Muller, winemaker and 96 Winery Road owner Ken Forrester, The Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club Chef and owner Luke Dale-Roberts, Graham Beck winemaker Pieter Ferreira, and Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants co-owner Andy Fenner. The Academy Chairman for Southern Africa is Tamsin Snyman.
* Local restaurateurs with UK connections have never heard of writer Bruce Palling
* Bruce Palling does not appear to have won any awards for his writing, yet is praised by Mrs Donnelly as ‘an exceptional food writer’, not substantiating this accolade.
* The Wall Street Journal‘s Europe edition has a circulation of only 74800 (in 2011), and is on a decline. Mr Palling is one of a number of food and restaurant writers for the newspaper.
* In the quote attributed to Mr Palling in the Eat Out media release, he flatteringly wrote that he was aware that our country was ‘well represented among the international contenders’ – ironically, in the 2012 awards South Africa slipped badly, no local restaurant making the 2012 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the first time in a number of years. The Tasting Room made 57th position (down from 36th the year before) and The Test Kitchen 74th position, reflecting how ill-informed Mr Palling is!
POSTSCRIPT 30/7: Mr Palling has a-palling-ly retaliated on Twitter to this blogpost, calling me a ‘noisy blogger’, and disparaging our Whale Cottages, hardly a gentlemanly response! He must be really mad, as he has continued this afternoon with more attacking Tweets, calling me a ‘pig ignorant peasant’! He is welcome to write a response to this blogpost. Let the Games begin!
POSTSCRIPT 20/9: As we predicted, Bruce Palling’s involvement in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards has been a-palling to date, and he left Cape Town under a cloud of controversy on Monday, after 2 weeks of judging the Top 20 candidate restaurants. Despite his involvement, to help improve Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly’s image due to the controversy last year, a new bomb has burst about the initial inclusion of The Pot Luck Club on the Top 20 list when it has not been open for the 12 months required in the rules of the Award.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
Spice Route is the new name of the wine estate previously called Seidelberg, and also is the name of the brand new restaurant on the wine estate, which now belongs to Charles Back of neighbouring Fairview, which he bought from Roland Seidel last year, and re-opened the renovated estate in October.
The first impression is not a good one as one drives to the restaurant and tasting room, as the Cabernet Sauvignon vines have had to be removed due a red ant infection, and new planting will only take place in winter, I was told by the tasting room staff, my first stop at Spice Route. The staff had no knowledge of the history of the wine range, which was first made for Mr Back by maverick winemaker Eben Sadie. The tasting room has been renovated, painted white now, with new furniture, and has been brought out onto the terrace and the lawn too, with a lovely view, even onto Table Mountain. The Spice Route wines were produced in 1997 for the first time. It was explained that the exceptional Spice Route wine brand, being one of four Fairview brands, was not receiving the attention it deserves, and therefore Mr Back bought the neighbouring farm. All Spice Route wines are made by winemaker Charl du Plessis on the Swartland farm, the Malabar having its own cellar. The Spice Route wine range consists of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Mourvédre, Pinotage, Shiraz, Chakalaka, Flagship Syrah, and Malabar. One pays R25 to taste six of the nine Spice Route wines, and can also order an excellent value-for-money Spice Route wine and food pairing at R90, with a taste of all nine wines and three dishes off the restaurant menu: paté, kingklip, and pork belly.
The restaurant too has been extensively renovated, under the guidance of architect Johan Malherbe of Malherbe Rust, and the interior decor has been designed by René de Waal of Experience Makers. René chose a white interior for the walls, chairs, and tables, and added decor elements from the Middle East and Zanzibar to emphasise the spice link to the restaurant name, through tiles on the floor, lamps, massive jars of spices on the restaurant counter, the chairs, the place mats, works of art on the walls, and wall cornices. The spice theme also manifests in the cinnamon coloured aprons of the waitron staff. The menu/winelist cover is brown leather, and each page is Spice Route branded. Each table (without tablecloth) has a bottle of Fairview olive oil, and a set of Goldcrest coarse salt and black pepper grinders. Quality material serviettes, Fortis Hotelware cutlery, and good glassware is on the table, including a small Greek style water glass. There was no music at all, an element which could have enhanced the theme. Outside the furniture is wooden and looks like it was there before, not tying in with the inside decor. Surprising is that the cloakrooms have not been renovated yet, having been painted in a ghastly pink/red, with wall tiles missing, and having the cheapest toilet roll holders.
Staff are mainly from the previous Seidelberg restaurant, but the Manager Lize Rossouw (studied at the Institute for Culinary Arts and the International Hotel School, and moved across from Fairview) and the Chef Phillip Pretorius (previously at Fairview’s The Goat Shed and Sevruga) are new. Theo, the waiter who looked after me, worked at Meerendal with David Higgs, at Grande Roche, and at Seidelberg.
Exciting changes are planned, and in future visitors will be encouraged to follow the route at Spice Route, with a micro-brewery planned with Jack Black, and a new chocolate factory to be set up by DV chocolates (from Hermanus) in the manor house in the next two months. The DV chocolates have already been incorporated into the menu. A grappa distillery is also being considered, and picnics on the lawn outside the manor house are also planned. An organic vegetable garden is being developed, to supply both the Fairview and Spice Route restaurants, and the School House guest house near the Agter Paarl Road is planned to open as a farm stall, selling its vegetables, chocolates, beer, wine, and more. The Red Hot Glass glass blowing studio is still there, and appears unchanged. Wedding bookings are starting to roll in, Lize said.
The menu is not extensive, but interesting, and each menu item has a Spice Route wine recommendation (without the vintage or price indicated). The menu items are not all Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, but contain spices which leave a spicy after-taste. I chose a prawn and paw paw salad (R65) as a starter, which came with a generous portion of prawns, citrus segments, pineapple, cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, green beans, and paw paw, and was served with a lemongrass, coconut, soy, ginger, and peanut oil dressing, a refreshing start to the lunch. A treat was that Chef Phillip brought the salad to the table, so that we could have a brief chat. The suggested pairing was the Chenin Blanc, but I enjoyed it with a taste of the Shiraz. Very special too was the duck liver parfait served with an unusual pear and ginger chutney (R56), a lovely marriage, and even more unusual was the presentation of the parfait, being coated in the orange-coloured chakalaka and sesame seeds, making me nervous about it initially, but being absolutely delicious, rich and creamy. The parfait pairing recommendation was the Mouvèdre, but I had it with a taste of the Flagship Syrah.
Other starters are a ceviche of cured linefish, a spicy duck breast, pork belly with a Madagascar DV chocolate lentil salad, and a Panzanella Bread salad with marinated buffalo mozzarella, ranging in price from R48 to R62. Six main courses start at R89 for handmade potato gnocchi to R218 for a Roast rib-eye steak on the bone, for two persons to share. One can also order linefish with tandoori paste; Chalmar beef fillet; venison loin served with a DV chocolate, black currant and chilli jus; and an Indian butter chicken served with espresso foam. Five desserts cost between R42 – R58, and include a delicious apple tart tatin served with home-made vanilla pod ice cream and an unusual carrot and ginger puree, which I enjoyed with a perfectly made cappuccino, the coffee coming from Beans for Africa in Paarl; DV dark chocolate and fresh chilli Crème Brûlée; white chocolate and rose water mousse served with goat’s chevin; coconut and banana bread; and beetroot panna cotta.
Selfishly I liked that Spice Route has not yet been discovered by the tourists as is the case at Fairview, and does not feel touristy, the service being personalised and efficient. All the plans for the wine estate are likely to fill up the restaurant in future. I was sceptical about going to Spice Route for lunch, given its past offering, but was impressed with all aspects of it, except for the cloakrooms of course! I will be back to try more of Chef Phillip’s spicy menu and to taste more of the Spice Route wines!
Spice Route restaurant, Spice Route wine estate, Paarl. Tel (021) 863-5222. www.spiceroute.co.za. Sunday – Thursday 11h00 – 18h00, Friday – Saturday 11h00 – 21h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
I cannot remember when last I had been to the Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, it was so long ago, for a dinner at their Cape Malay restaurant, which was previously located in the manor house, where The Greenhouse is now. I found The Greenhouse to be an oasis of freshness and modernity relative to the very dated and old-fashioned Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, a total contradiction.
The Greenhouse has been operating in the current building for a year or so, having previously been in the space now called The Conservatory restaurant. It appears that the venue change sparked the creativity of Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff, having moved there two years ago. It was seeing photographs of his work on Twitter earlier this year, Chef Peter being awarded Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef status (one of only two in South Africa), and the restaurant winning number one Eat Out Top 10 restaurant in November that led me to book a table for my birthday dinner last week, with very high expectations. Disappointing therefore was that booking a table was a problem, as the restaurant phone appeared to be ringing non-stop post 20 November, and so the hotel switchboard person asked me to wait longer or to call back, with arrogance. When I asked for GM Tony Romer-Lee, to see if he could assist with the booking, my booking was quickly made. I only gave my first name and cell number, yet Tony had worked out who the booking was for, and wrote an e-mail a few days ahead of the booking, apologising for his absence from the hotel on the evening of our booking. Despite this confirmation e-mail by Tony, an assistant called on the day of our dinner, to confirm the booking. I was surprised to receive the call, and was called by my surname, not pronounced correctly, and with the wrong title, so I invited her to call me Chris, which she clearly found difficult to do. She spoke a very high-level formal English, saying ‘we shall see you tonight’, and once again I felt a degree of arrogance in her exchange with me. I was therefore very nervous about the actual dinner, given these two annoying interactions.
It is difficult to find the hotel, and we came from the Hout Bay side, knowing we had to turn off somewhere on the road leading to Kirstenbosch. The hotel does not offer to send directions. None of its literature contains an address. It is hard to see the signage when it gets dark, and there are a number of turns to take to find it. The boom was closed and the very old security guard took his time to come to the car, seeming surprised about our arrival, and asking what we wanted! He let us in immediately when we said we had come for dinner, but had no name list to check, and we did not have to complete any form, so one wonders why there is security. We were not told by him where The Greenhouse is located, and we had to check the signage on the building. There was no staff in the parking area to guide one, surprisingly not alerted by the security guard. Inside the building a faux fire warmed up two staff who showed us the way to The Greenhouse. It was going to the bathroom later that alerted me to the contrast in modernity of the restaurant relative to the very old-fashioned English-style drapes and furnishings of the Hohenhort Manor House, forming part of the 53-room five star Relais & Chateaux The Cellars-Hohenhort hotel. Previously part of Klaasenbosch Farm, awarded to Hendrik Ten Damme by Simon van der Stel in 1693, the farm house was transformed by its owner Arnold Spilhaus into a manor house after buying the farm in 1906. Liz McGrath bought The Cellars in 1991, and turned the country guest house into the Relais & Chateaux hotel twenty years ago. Two years later she bought The Hohenhort Hotel, and united the two properties. Although one does not see it at night, the property is endowed with different gardens, the Herb Garden benefiting the kitchens. Four varieties of table grapes are also grown.
The restaurant space is relatively small, only seating about 45, and divided into two with mirrored pillars. As one enters the restaurant there is a lounge section, but we did not see anyone use it at all, feeling like a wasted space. An interesting decor touch is many ceramic rabbits on the windowsills, with the odd watering can, and small trees in pot plants, no doubt to create the greenhouse look, but the rabbits do not quite fit the theme. Walls are painted in a light grey inside the restaurant, with green fern wallpaper in the lounge, which pattern is replicated on the back of the comfortable grey upholstered chairs. The table has no salt or pepper, but there was a vase with a beautiful orange rose and greenery. The Greenhouse clearly is in part an addition to the manor house, with a glass roof, which does not add value for dining at night, and must be a nightmare to keep clean. It also adds heat to the restaurant during the day, and I had to ask for a window to be opened. The design of the addition has become the logo for the restaurant. A lamp stands at each table, a little American touch. A thick tablecloth is covered with a white one, and the table is laid with Eetrite cutlery. Tables are very close together, meaning that the restaurant has a cosy atmosphere, but one can overhear everyone else’s conversations in one’s section. The Relais & Chateaux affiliation dominates the restaurant, in that the staff name badges have the logo and they wear a pin too, the home-made butter has the logo, as do coasters and the menus.
Waiter Lwazi (who was quick to correct the spelling of his name which he saw in my notes!) brought us a complimentary glass of Constantia Brut 2009, a nice touch. I found him difficult to understand, and he had to repeat what he said a number of times. He tried to explain the three menus to us, contained in a cover with the Relais & Chateaux logo and the following introduction: “A beautiful plate of food is eaten with the eyes first”. I chose the 7-course Chef’s Tasting Menu at R575 (with R275 for ‘complimenting’ wines), and my son the 4-course Summer Menu at R450. One can also order a 6-course Sustainable Seafood Tasting Menu at R495 (with an additional R230 for ‘complimenting’ wines). I did not see the rule, but it must have been in the menu, that one may not order two different menus at one table, but the rule was waived on the understanding that my son would have to wait for his courses. The staff wear a tie with ducks, The Cellars-Hohenhort tie design, which they wear with black pants and a grey waistcoat, creating a smart impression. Lwazi was efficient in taking our order, but became relaxed during the evening, stretching in front of me to lay cutlery on two occasions towards the end of the meal, even though there was more than enough space to do so from the other side. I asked for a jug of water for the table, but this was removed after the first glassful was poured. Empty glasses at other tables were not replenished or removed. A delight was the Maitre’d Joshua Crowe, who shared interesting information about working at Reuben’s Franschhoek and at Beluga with me. He is a young gentleman with a bright future, exuding professionalism. He came to check on our table regularly, and seemed very at home in the restaurant, having only worked there for two months. Canapés were brought to the table, consisting of sesame seed crusted prawn toast served with goat’s cheese lollipops on a stick, presented in a glass dish with wheatgrass, the most colourful dish of the evening, as well as chicken and mushroom ballantine, pear chutney, truffle mayonnaise, and an Asian dipping sauce. A selection of breads (cheese rolls, lavosh, baguette, wheat, rye, and crostini) was served in a wooden bowl, with a nasturtium dip and edible soil in a terracotta flower pot, with carrots, pea shoots and mange tout, a further reinforcement of the greenhouse theme, and there it ended.
The Chef’s Tasting Menu started with pan-fried duck foie gras, melt in the mouth deliciousness, and the stand-out course for me, served with raspberry gel, onion marmalade, crispy Asian mushrooms and puy lentils. My son was spoilt with an amuse bouche of crayfish custard and warm celeriac mousse and chives, which was served in an egg shell, a creative presentation, while I had the first course. The second course was Madagascan prawn roulade, served on a beautiful glass plate with cling peach, fermented black bean dressing (too salty for my taste), rice paper tuile, and ponzu snow, a Chef Richard Carstens-like study in liquid nitrogen! I was not keen on the fynbos smoked ostrich tartar for the third course, and was allowed to choose a dish from the other two menus. The oven-roasted rare duck breast, and duck cherry jelly canneloni, was served with cherries poached in Pinot Noir, mash, savoy cabbage, and bergamot-lime jus (salty too). The fourth course was petit poussin served with langoustine, a bacon crisp, sautéed gem lettuce, Vin de Constance gel, enoki mushrooms, and mint pea pureé. The free-range Karoo lamb dish had the Sweet Breads excluded for me, and was served with wild mushroom agnolottio, brown beech mushrooms, pea shoots, broad beans, parmesan velouté, and a (salty) lamb juice.
By far the cleverest dish, and perhaps too clever for some, was the inverted Brûlée, served in the base of a glass filled with strawberry granité, Earl Grey espuma, with salt and green tea on the rim of the glass. One was not told to turn the glass around for the vanilla brûlée. As if this was not enough to chew on already, the seventh course was a ‘camembert’ shaped cheese cake, served on a wooden board with roast pineapple ice cream, pine nut biscotti melba, parmesan, maple crumble, lemon marmalade, and extra virgin olive oil. A final end to the evening was a cutely presented collection of friandise, including truffles, macaroons, and home-made nougat.
Chef Peter came to the table, a nice touch, and told us that he has a Canadian mother and an Afrikaans father, and he speaks with a Canadian accent. He is a gentle and more reserved person. He studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Cape Town, and started his career at the Grande Roche Hotel. He has also worked at Quo Vadis and Automat in London, and at Michelin-starred Hambleton Hall and Zafferano. It was at Grande Provence that he earned his first Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Award, leaving for the McGrath Collection a month after winning the accolade. Chef Peter is proud of the garden on the property from which he can source his seasonal requirements, mainly being rhubarb and herbs. He sources his duck and Karoo lamb from Wild Peacock. He only has a staff of six, with trainees being a welcome addition, he said. He told us that he likes to travel overseas, to find food inspiration there. He also is responsible for Sand at The Plettenberg, and for the two restaurants at The Marine Hotel, and admitted that he has not paid as much attention to them as they deserve, focusing on getting The Greenhouse into the top league, work which clearly has paid off. Chef Peter is justifiably proud of his two achievements, both career highlights for him. One cannot help but feel that Chef Peter and The Greenhouse was short-changed by Eat Out, in winning Top Restaurant, but not Top Chef (the honour went to Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen) and not Top Service (the honour went to The Roundhouse). More coverage of the Eat Out awards, in TASTE magazine as a start, also a New Media Publishing magazine, has gone to Chef Luke than to The Greenhouse. The Eat Out awards signal that The Greenhouse may be the best restaurant in the country, but does not have the best chef nor the best service, a contradiction, and the first time that the Top Restaurant has not also received recognition for Service and its Chef. Interesting is that Chef Luke came to dine at the restaurant a week after the Eat Out Awards, probably highlighting the competition between the two chefs.
I had ordered a glass of Groot Constantia Shiraz 2009 (R75), and it appeared fine on tasting it, but I had to return it when I tasted it after it had been poured. I chose The Yardstick instead, the only other red wine by the glass, a limited choice I felt. The Pinot Noir is a joint venture between Chef Peter and ex-Klein Constantia winemaker Adam Mason, we were told, and is a four-star Platter 2010 vintage, at R55 per glass.
I left with a feeling of contradiction about The Greenhouse, a relatively modern space within a terribly old and old-fashioned hotel, that does nothing for the restaurant, that has arrogant hotel staff taking calls and the bookings (this is due to change, Joshua told me, in that he and another restaurant staff member will be the only one staff taking The Greenhouse bookings), that has a waiter who is near-arrogant too and not well-trained, that has typing errors in its menu, that has a terribly old-fashioned bathroom, that does not have an exceptional interior design, and that is only open five nights a week. The food was excellent, except for the over-salted sauces, and the playfulness of the canapé and bread collection dishes lived up to the theme of The Greenhouse, but all other dishes could have been served at any other fine-dining restaurant.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage