Tag Archives: Institute of Culinary Arts

Maison The Kitchen and Tasting Room: Weylandts’ home of Good Living!

Franschhoek’s newest restaurant The Kitchen opens on Wednesday 16 November on Maison wine estate, in an elegantly renovated 1920’s cottage, decorated with Weylandts’ furniture, not surprising given that the farm belongs to Chris Weylandt and his partner Kim Smith.  The Tasting Room has been incorporated into the restaurant building, and Maison has become a relaxed home away from home of friendly people, good wines, and good food.

Yesterday I attended the opening of the new The Kitchen (could cause some confusion with the Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz) and The Tasting Room (could cause some confusion with its generic namesake at Le Quartier Français) at Maison, Nina Timm and I being the only bloggers, with magazine food writers.  The function also celebrated the launch of the new Maison Chardonnay 2011 (only 2300 bottles produced, 7 months in barrel, and costs R120) and Maison Viognier 2011 (only 1000 bottles, R140).  The function also saw the introduction of new Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg and new Manager Julian Smith.  The opening is the culmination of an eight year investment, planting Chenin Blanc and Shiraz vines from scratch, with a small amount of Viognier and Chardonnay too, and for the Weylandts to build their dream home opening onto the vineyard.  The wine estate was closed for the past few months, while renovations took place.

We were taken through to the spacious Weylandts’ home, and offered a refreshing branded The Kitchen lemonade, in a reusable glass bottle.  I chatted to Chris Weylandt about his latest venture, opening a Weylandts’ store in Sydney, there being a different way of doing business in Australia, he said.  He would not commit to future expansion plans in Australia, stating that they would like to do Sydney well first before considering Melbourne or other locations.  Weylandts’ philosophy is one of Good Living, appreciating the good things of life every day, and living as nature intended, and this he has embodied on his property, having moved to Franschhoek from Camps Bay.  The Kitchen restaurant brand was launched at Weylandts in Durbanville in May, and there is one at their Kramerville branch too.

Winemaker (or ‘process facilitator’, as he calls himself) Antwan Bondesio, who studied viticulture and oenology at the University of Stellenbosch, and who has worked at Spier, Kaapzicht, Uva Mira and at Limerick Lane in California, took us into his 4,6 hectare vineyard.  They make wines from their own grapes, and don’t buy any of it in.  Chenin Blanc, Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Viognier proved to be the grape varieties suited to the terroir and soil on the farm.  Maison has made its first 100% Chardonnay MCC, on the lees for three years already, with another two years to go, Chris said.  They have also made their first port, as well as a Straw wine.   The total wine production of 30000 bottles will be sold via The Kitchen and The Tasting Room, the Weylandts’ stores, and at La Cotte Inn in Franschhoek.  Viognier is a difficult grape variety to grow, and susceptible to downy mildew, Antwan said, especially in this cold and wet summer weather.  The 2009 Shiraz has sold out already, and we tasted the young 2010 vintage.   The production of the Chardonnay and Viognier is so small that Antwan has personally finger-printed each bottle.

In the Tasting Room the Weylandt’s decor touch is immediately evident, with unusual ‘chandeliers’ made from wine bottles.  Outside, the garden space has been reduced, to create organised parking. I chatted to M&C Saatchi Abel’s Weylandts’ account manager and Twitter ‘friend’ Wouter Lombard, and the ad agency’s involvement showed in its professionalism of the function organisation and communication presented.  The agency is responsible for the Weylandt’s communication programme too, and I loved its simple logo for The Kitchen.  Looking out of the window where we chatted, I noticed herbs being grown, for use in The Kitchen.  The Kitchen eating area flows from The Tasting Room, with a wonderful view onto the lawn and vineyards. The restaurant interior can seat 30, and a good 20 more outside.

The menu consists of ‘simplified food’, we were told, with tapas dishes, pizza, steak and more.  Only Maison wines will be offered, with Topiary Blanc de Blanc and Morena Rose Brut MCC’s, and Darling beer.  We sampled a number of the menu’s four tapas-style dishes and eight starters, some individually served and others shared on bigger wooden platters. Chef Arno studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, and worked at Die Ou Pastorie, Terroir, Ginja, Shoga, and Myoga alongside chefs Mike Basset and Richard Carstens. I shared a table with Eat Out and TASTE editor Abigail Donnelly, You/Huisgenoot food writer Carmen Niehaus, Hannah Lewry from TASTE, and Peta Oshry from Fair Lady, and we teased Abigail about the highly sought-after information she has about the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list. The wooden tables were matched with wooden boxes in which the bread baked by Chef Arno is served. The Wilkinson cutlery was folded into a material serviette, and hessian string tied them together.  The attractive white side plate was from a crockery range sold in Weylandts’ stores, and imported from Portugal.  

The first tapas dish was pink salt and pepper squid (R35), attractively served with a wooden spoon with the salt on the side. Other tapas options are smoked bone marrow (R35), Huguenot cheese served with grape pickle (R40), and Jamon and roasted olives (R65).  This was followed by two salads, the first being a shared cured salmon trout served with asparagus, watercress, lime dressing and plums (R75); and the second a colourful shared kudu bresaola, nectarine, rocket, cucumber, and lemon dressing salad (R75).  Lamb rack (R95), prawn tempura (R75), and gnocchi (R65) are some of the other starter options. Prime rib on the bone costs R140.

The wood-fired pizza had a welcome thin base, and was topped with Buffalo mozzarella, artichokes, and wild mushrooms (R85).  Working with Chef Arno at the lunch was Charlene Pretorius, who runs The Kitchen at the Durbanville Weylandts, having a most gorgeous smile.  The meal was finished off with the highlight for most of us, being a pecan and malt tart, gooseberries, and grape sorbet (R45), its verjuice content giving it  a ‘Fanta grape’ taste, according to most palates at our table. Other dessert options are a most interesting sounding tomato sorbet with almonds and basil meringues and goat cheese mousse; vanilla panna cotta with strawberry ice cream; and chocolate torte with fresh berries and berry frozen yoghurt. The staff were professional, their first opportunity to work as a team under the guidance of The Tasting Room Manager Julian, who has worked at the Twelve Apostles Hotel, Grande Provence, Waterkloof, with a short stint at Pierneef à La Motte.

I have found Maison a most welcome and friendly stop in and out of Franschhoek when the tasting room was managed by affable Guy Kedian.  With the opening of The Kitchen, and its easy relaxed atmosphere and good food, it will become a stop again on my regular visits to Franschhoek, when it re-opens next week.

Disclosure: We were given a straw basket (a very practical ‘goodie bag’) with a bag of lemons, a mini baguette, and a bottle of Maison Chenin Blanc 2009 on our departure, with a thank you note from Chris Weylandt, writing that his approach is one that ‘values simplicity, authenticity, and provenance’.  ‘The good life’ for him is farm breads, fresh vegetables, and great wine.

POSTSCRIPT 4/12: Maison will be open on Tuesdays from 6 December onwards, until mid-January.  I had a wonderful squid tapas dish today, and two days ago, at R35.  The cappuccino is excellent at Maison too, the coffee coming from the nearby Terbodore Coffee Roasters based on the Goederust farm outside Franschhoek.

POSTSCRIPT 28/12:  Today I tried Chef Arno’s foie gras parfait with grape jam, a wonderful combination.

POSTSCRIPT 22/1:  I tried the kingklip, langoustines (although I would have preferred it with the crayfish tail as advertised the day before) with coconut sorbet as a main course special, a very eventful lunch with blogger Clare ‘Mack’ McLoughlin making a spectacle of herself in harassing this regular patron.  Manager Julian did not allow me to pay, because of the disturbance she caused.

POSTSCRIPT 26/1:  The prices have increased at The Kitchen, the pink salt and pepper squid by 33% to R45, and the foie gras parfait by 15% to R75.

POSTSCRIPT 5/2:  The Kitchen at Maison seems to have become a local Franschhoek meeting place, or so it seemed today, a nicer alternative to meeting in the local Pick ‘n Pay!  At a temperature of close to 40°C a vanilla panna cotta and strawberry ice cream was very refreshing.

The Kitchen and The Tasting Room, Maison, Main Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-2116.  www.maisonestate.co.za Twitter: @MaisonEstate. Wednesday – Sunday 10h00 – 17h00.

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

Confectionery designer Martin Senekal opens classy take-away Cafeteria!

I know the name of Martin Senekal, from having been impressed with his beautifully designed quiches, cake slices, and other foods, at his stand at the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill.  I was told earlier this week that he has opened a ‘hole in the wall’, as a resident of De Waterkant called it, in Jarvis Street, called Cafeteria, and selling a small selection of home-made take-away sandwiches, wraps, soup, and confectionery. They also offer a delivery service in the area.

Martin studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch, and then worked as a classic chef in a hot kitchen, as well as pastry chef at a range of hotels and restaurants, including the Cape Grace Hotel, Manolo, The Showroom, The Blue Danube, and 96 Winery Road.   Five years ago he went on his own, and created the brand ‘Martin Senekal Confectionery Design’, using the Neighbourgoods Market as his retail outlet on Saturdays, and taking orders for his amazing works of cake art (like the sweet potato and peanut cake above).  Martin assured me that he is not into doing theme cakes.  He does classic cakes, in full size as well as miniatures. 

The Cafeteria opened three weeks ago, and is difficult to see in Jarvis Street.  It is a surprise to see a very small white space, with only three wood and glass counters, made by Senekal himself, to display his sandwiches, wraps, macaroons, tarts, cake slices, and biscuits.   A blackboard lists the styles of häzz coffees, and another the sandwich and wrap options and prices.  There is couch-like seating, with some magazines on a table, but I got the feeling that it was more for design than use.  The space is cordoned off with a white muslin curtain, and the wrap that I ordered was made in the space behind the curtain.  In about six weeks Senekal will open the next door space, for a sit-down service.  Given Senekal’s reputation for confectionery creativity, and the intrigue of this almost hidden space, one can predict that Cafeteria will become a trendy spot.

I ordered a wrap containing a Waldorf salad, with apples, walnuts, raisins in yoghurt dressing and Camembert, a unique combination, and fresher than fresh.   There are three other wrap options: roast vegetables and goat’s cheese; coriander pesto chicken with Brie and watercress; Cape Malay spiced yoghurt with green beans and cashews; and Chermoula chicken, slow roasted plum tomato, and wild rocket, all costing an unbelievably low R20.  I didn’t see the soup of the day, at R25.  Sandwiches cost R30, and options offered on rye or sourdough are Chermoula chicken, mature white cheddar, gammon, and rare roast beef.  Baked phyllo vegetable roulade costs R20.  Parmesan-crusted quiches costs R20, and come as two options:  butternut and goat’s cheese, and oven-dried rosa tomato and olive.  Special dietary requirements and flavour combinations can be catered for, the menu says.

It is the sweet treats that make an impact, being in the central display cabinet, with their colour and beautiful design, clearly reflecting Senekal’s passion.  Petit Tartes, being Belgian chocolate and lemon meringues, cost R10; milk tarts R15; cake slices R20, with a choice of carrot cake and gluten-free chocolate cake; Belgian chocolate brownies cost R15; Macaroons are offered in twelve flavours (the more unusual ones are peanut butter, gooseberry, passion fruit, and raspberry) and cost R5, and miniature cakes cost R40.  The emphasis is on freshness, and flavours and choices change regularly.   The häzz cappuccino did not taste good because it was served in a paper cup, but understandable, given the take-away concept.

Cafeteria, 20 Jarvis Street, De Waterkant, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 418-2830.  www.martinsenekal.com. (The website has mainly photographs of Senekal’s cakes, beautifully shot, reflecting the range of creative ingredient combinations and beautiful ‘packaging’.  There is no information about Cafeteria on the website). Monday – Friday 9h00 – 15h00.

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

Chefs comment: Why the Cape is the Culinary Capital

Nic Dawes, writing in the Mail & Guardian Online last week about the poor presence of good restaurants in Johannesburg relative to Cape Town, with the alliterated headline ‘Dining in the Dumps’, has stirred a North-South culinary debate.  It was restaurant reviewer JP Rossouw’s  response to this article that motivated me to write, to add to the debate about Cape Town’s culinary prominence.

Dawes slates the Johannesburg restaurant scene, blaming restaurants and their chefs for not following international trends, for being expensive, for offering poor service, for offering food which is ‘rote’, for there being too many steakhouses, and for chefs being ‘restaurant entrepreneurs competing to extract money from your wallet”.  He writes about Johannesburg: “…for all its creativity and cosmopolitanism, for all its monuments to material consumption, this town is a culinary desert or, perhaps more accurately, parking lot — which is what you will find yourself looking on to from most of the very few places I do feel able to recommend. The fine-dining scene is most impoverished. Not a single serious restaurant in Johannesburg sets the national food agenda in any way. They don’t even try very hard to follow the big global trends a few months in arrears, as so many Cape restaurants do, or to give them local relevance as the best South African chefs are able to”.

Rossouw responded to the controversy created by Dawes by stating that good restaurants open where there are tourists, stating that :“…the Cape gets the lion’s share of tourism.  Eating out as a tourist means you are ready to spend.  You’re likely to be relaxed.  Restaurant industries naturally do well in these environments”.    It would appear that Rossouw knows more about restaurants than tourism, and almost every part of his quote can be challenged and refuted:

*   Cape Town does not get the most tourists – KwaZulu-Natal receives more tourists than the Western Cape

*   South Africa’s major tourist source countries are Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mocambique, ahead of the UK, USA and Europe, and these tourists mainly visit Johannesburg

*   Tourists have become cash-strapped too, due to the recession, and are therefore far more demanding in respect of value for money and good service.  Bertus Basson, Chef at Overture, says they have seen far more demanding foreign diners this past season than ever before.

To respond to Rossouw fairly, we called three 2010 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant chefs, one each from Johannesburg (Marthinus Ferreira from DW Eleven-13), the Cape (Bertus Basson from Overture), and KwaZulu-Natal (Jackie Cameron of Hartford House), to hear their views on the North/South culinary debate.  The following emerged:

1.  The Cape is ‘sexy’ as a culinary destination, and therefore young chefs are seeking work in the Cape, where they can work alongside the country’s top chefs. Linked to this is that the cost of living is lower in the Cape, compared to Johannesburg, motivating young chefs to start off in the Cape, to retain more of their income.  It is this young blood that helps feed the top restaurants.  Cameron said it was a shame to see talented young chefs leave KwaZulu-Natal, and head for Cape Town.

2.  The Cape chefs are less motivated by money, and more by lifestyle.  They love being able to go for a walk on the beach before or after service, or forage on the mountain.   They love the beauty of Cape Town and the Winelands.  Basson said he blew all his money on a walk-in fridge this month, and he is excited about the new chairs that are due to arrive in August.  One can imagine chefs being inspired by beautiful Cape days on a wine farm (an increasing number of wine estates are opening restaurants, Leopard’s Leap being the next to do so in Franschhoek), or in the bustling city close to the sea. 

3.   The Cape chefs have excellent quality suppliers, which helps them make excellent food.  This is not unique to the Cape, as Cameron says she too is blessed with superb supply sources close to Hartford House.  This supplier quality is not seen to be available to Johannesburg restaurants.

4.  A very real consideration for the location of chefs is where their families and partners are.  Chef Marthinus studied at the Stellenbosch Institute of Culinary Arts, and worked at La Colombe, Le Quartier Français, and Schulphoek in the Cape before working overseas.  When he returned to South Africa, there was only one city for him – Johannesburg – as his family lives here.  So too Cameron grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, and loves living in this province, where she needs five minutes to get to work, and the only reason why she would be late would be because the cows have blocked the road! 

5.   The client profile seems to have a huge influence.  Overture has seen an upswing in local guests, on average of about 65 %, he said.  For Hartford House, it is exactly the opposite, about two-thirds of its clients being international patrons.  In winter, however, their clients are predominantly Johannesburgers, easily reaching the Hotel restaurant in a 3 – 4 hour drive, as well as receiving guests from Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Umhlanga, thinking nothing of driving up to 90 minutes to get to Hartford House.  Similarly, Capetonians will drive up to an hour to travel to Franschhoek or Stellenbosch for lunch.  Cameron was complimentary about her Johannesburg clients, saying that they understand about good food, and are appreciative about what she and her team prepares for them.

It was depressing to hear Ferreira talk about his experience.  First, his Johannesburg clients appear to have a short time window for a three course meal, few staying longer to relax and really enjoy the meal.  At lunch, they arrive at about 12h00, and are out by 13h30, the average lunch period being only 45 minutes.  At night patrons arrive at 18h30, and his restaurant is almost empty by 21h00, the dinner being a ‘starter’ to an evening of entertainment, which could include clubbing, the movies, and/or the theatre.  The businesspersons eating at his restaurant by day are under time pressure and less demanding in terms of their food, almost becoming ‘functional eaters’, rather than ‘dining appreciators’, but they eat at the restaurants as often as five times a week, making the restaurant an extension of their office, he said.   The short time that the guest spends at his restaurant has restricted Ferreira from offering a Tasting Menu.  It was something Ferreira tried when he first opened, but he dropped it, due to his patrons’ time constraint.  He is introducing it again on Monday evenings. 

Ferreira also spoke about the Johannesburg restaurant clients being hyper-critical, posting disparaging comments on websites such as Trip Advisor, but not passing on feedback directly to him and his staff while they are at the restaurant, probably to not offend him.  Yet these clients come back to his restaurants regularly.

Cameron said that Cape Town’s regular international visitors raise the bar for the restaurants in the city, as these patrons want to experience better meals on their subsequent visits, helping to improve the quality that the Cape restaurants offer.  She said that her Johannesburg clients are of a high standard, know their food and wine, and do not order a ‘well-done’ fillet! 

It emerged that the Cape restaurant client tends to be more appreciative of the food and wine that is served, and makes an occasion of a meal at a restaurant, making it the evening’s entertainment, rather than using it as a quick stepping stone to the rest of the evening’s entertainment programme. 

6.  Competition attracts more competition, Ferreira said.  This means that good restaurants in an area attract more restaurants.  He is starting to see this in Johannesburg, and talked about Cube, Roots, Mosaic, The Saxon, and Linger Longer being good Gauteng restaurants.  By contrast too, he said, the lack of good restaurants in Johannesburg had been a good opportunity for him to do something good and different, and it clearly has paid off for him.  He is confident that Johannesburg will improve its culinary performance as new restaurants open.  The move to Johannesburg in July, by Rust en Vrede Eat Out Top 10 chef David Higgs,  to join an hotel group it is speculated, is a huge vote of confidence for the Johannesburg restaurant industry, Ferreira said.

7.  There is no doubt that the money is in Johannesburg, and Cameron noted that more recipe books are sold in this city than in any other in South Africa, there is a larger potential market due to its larger population size, and it has better weather throughout the year, allowing more outdoor eating.   She does not understand why the top-end Johannesburg restaurants are not better supported, and that chefs are not attracted to these restaurants, given the better Johannesburg salaries.

8.  The type of restaurants that patrons support differ vastly in the two cities.  Rossouw wrote that Johannesburg has better steakhouses, and Asian and African restaurants.   Ferreira said that Johannesburg has wonderful restaurants, but these are not necessarily fine dining ones, being ‘curry houses and tratorrias’, more relaxed than fine dining restaurants.  In his two years of running his own restaurant in Johannesburg, Ferreira says he has seen an increase in the number of better restaurants.

 Dawes’ article about Johannesburg’s poor culinary performance is a challenge to the Johannesburg restaurant industry, to prove Dawes and the Cape wrong, Ferreira said.   I loved Basson’s analogy of the difference in the restaurants in Cape Town and Johannesburg, likening them to wines from different terroirs, “both tasting delicious for what they are”!

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