I admire any business owner opening in these difficult times. Refreshing is the opening by two 20-somethings of Toro Wine Lounge and Aperitif Bar in De Waterkant, in the space once housing the luxury crockery brand Villeroy & Boch in the old Cape Quarter. Toro is a chic comfortable wine lounge and bar serving more than 30 wines by the glass, as well as a range of Italian-inspired antipasti.
Three weeks ago Matteo Conti and Grant Lynott opened Toro, meaning ‘bull’ in Italian, realising their dream to start a business together which would involve food and wine. The two co-owners are hands-on, a yin-yang team, with Grant the more introverted partner, and Matteo oozing Italian confidence. What they lack in experience in running a business, they more than make up in passion for their new project. Ideas had led them from a deli, a whisky bar, to finally the idea of opening a wine bar where they could drink wine and enjoy Italian food. They couldn’t find one anywhere, and therefore decided to open their own.
Matteo studied art direction, photography and marketing at the AAA School of Advertising, and has been involved in marketing his mother Renate’s guest house and restaurant Klein Olifantshoek in Franschhoek. Four years ago he was in our school lift club in Franschhoek, and he has come a long way since his Bridge House School days, so much so that I did not recognise him when I arrived. Grant met Matteo, and shared a room with him whilst a first year at the University of Stellenbosch, but he realised that this is not where his passion lay. Matteo advised Grant to study at The Culinary Academy on Backsberg wine estate, run by Chef Ronan Boucher. Over weekends Grant worked at La Bri wine estate in Franschhoek, and so developed his knowledge of and love for wines. He also spent weekends at Matteo’s home, and this led them to brainstorm ideas for a joint business future together. Finishing at the culinary school, Grant went to Overture, where he worked as pastry chef, making breads, preserves and pastries with Chef Bertus Basson. After a year he realised that 18 hours of fine dining food preparation per day was not for him. He moved to La Boheme in Sea Point for a short while, until he and Matteo got together for their new project. Grant’s favorite restaurant, without hesitation, is Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine,for the smokery, his cheese room, and for his amazing breads. For Matteo it is Delaire Graff, with its beautiful scenery and excellent food.
An interesting ‘family tree’ of wines was created for the Wine Bar by a design friend of Matteo’s, and depicts the linkages between different grape varieties. Comfortable brown leather couches create the homely ‘wine lounge’, but there are black tables with black leather chairs too, as well as seating outside. Toro sells a range of crystal decanters costing R400. Over time they may add further wine-related products. The wine list has about 30 wines, all available by the glass, and none would be found in a supermarket. Grant and Matteo visited wine farms in Wellington, Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch before opening, and chose special and interesting wines, all costing R100 – R200, and R25 – R35 per glass. They have a flat screen TV with a list of their wines, but they told me that most of their wines are sold on their recommendation. Popular white wines have been Warwick’s Professor Black and Darling Cellars’ Lime Kilns, and red wines selling well have been La Bri Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz Viognier, as well as Vondeling Petit Rouge and Baldrick Shiraz. Some customers are looking for information about the wines that they drink. If the wine representative shares the information about their wines passionately, Grant and Matteo say they can sell it more passionately to their clients. On the back-lit shelving Matteo has some wines and wine packs on display, including some special Meerlust Rubicons of 2001 and 2002, which he will not easily sell. Coffee is by LavAzza.
Good cutlery, a material serviette, the most beautiful crystal wine-by-the-glass and water decanter (I bought one for R110), as well as a silver sugar bowl impressed, adding class to Toro. The Antipasti is excellent value for money, and one can chose one’s own selection from a black menu. Imported cheeses are Brie, Camembert, Teleggio, Manchego, Parmigiano and Gorgonzola, costing R15 each. The Charcuterie selection includes Mantanara salami, parma ham, chorizo, coppa ham and Black Forest ham, each costing R15. I chose the Brie and Camembert, and it was served with Grant’s home-made onion chilli salsa with a bite, plum cardamon jelly, grapes, fig preserve, and delicious sunflower rye bread from Jason’s Bakery in Bree Street. The Pickle and Preserve Experience costs R50, and is served with Grants’ home-made preserves and pickles, including onion chilli salsa, candied aubergines, fig confit, plum cardamon jelly, passion fruit coulis, pickled olives, jalapenos and baby cucumber, and marinated peppers. The Gratin also costs R50, and changes daily. Yesterday it was a choice of Tagliatelle with macadamia pesto, chicken marinated in coconut milk, pink pepper corns, and gratinated with Manchego cheese. Bruschetta options were Truffle artichoke heart, and Pizzaiola (mozzarella cheese, basil, and tomato), at R40. A Bar Snack board costs R80, and includes chilli poppers, chipotle salsa, jalapenos and biltong.
An innovative service for lucky De Waterkant residents and businesspersons is a daily Box Lunch delivery service, from 11h30 – 14h30. Costing R50 and presented in a neat sturdy carton container reflecting Matteo’s art background, it contains an Insalate house salad of the day, a choice of Panino (tuna and lemon ailoi, roast beetroot and fromage blanc, roast chicken with smoked mozzarella, or honey glazed ham and mature cheddar), a trio of freshly baked cookies, and a 250 ml bottle of San Benedetto mineral water.
Having been to Toro twice in two days, I am impressed with the professionalism of the running of the Wine Bar, the passion of the two owners, the presentation and excellent value of the antipasti, the vast selection of good value wines, the free wi-fi, and the welcoming homeliness of the Toro.
POSTSCRIPT 3/6/12: Toro has closed down.
Toro Wine Lounge and Aperitif Bar, 68 Waterkant Street, De Waterkant (next to Andiamo Deli), Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-2846. SMS 079 063 7055. Bbm: 27029f94. www.torowines.co.za (The website has the menu, but no winelist, nor any photographs). @ToroWines. Monday – Friday 10h00 – late, Saturday 16h00 – late.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: WhaleCottage