Tag Archives: Kensington Place

Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club spoilt at Steenberg and Bistro Sixteen82 in September

The members of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club have been very fortunate to have been wined and dined in the past eighteen months of the Club’s existence.  This month is no different, and our visist to Steenberg Vineyards, and to their Bistro Sixteen82, is likely to be a very popular event.   The meeting will feature two speakers, being Anetha Homan, Sales and Marketing Manager of Steenberg Vineyards, and Chef Brad Ball of Bistro Sixteen82.

Anetha Homan has been the Sales and Marketing Manager of Steenberg Vineyards for the past four years, and worked at Constantia Uitsig for eight years prior to that. She graduated with a BA Communications at the University of Stellenbosch.  Steenberg’s winemaker is JD Pretorius.  Steenberg is committed to Social Media, having the Totally Stoned Steenberg Blog, which includes wine news and news about its restaurant Bistro Sixteen82.  Anetha says that Social Media allows Steenberg to communicate with its customers in an informal way, and it allows the wine estate to receive feedback from their customers too.

Chef Brad Ball is destined for great things, and deserves to be in the Eat Out Top 20 restaurant list, and is a strong contender for the newly created Bistro category.  Chef Brad comes from a foodie family, in that his mom managed a catering company.   It was a heavenly Tuna Nicoise that inspired him to apply for his first position as chef, and he was appointed at Simon’s Table in Simonstown 14 years ago.  Two years later he went to London, where he worked with Chef Patron Rowley Leigh, known as the father of modern British cuisine, at Kensington Place. It is here that his love for Bistro-style food was born.  On his return to Cape Town he worked as Head Chef at Olympia Café and Deli, followed by the Post House Hotel & Restaurant in Greyton, Pastis Brasserie in Constantia, and at The River Café.  He started his own catering consultancy before he joined Steenberg Vineyards to open the new restaurant Bistro Sixteen82.  Chef Brad believes in ‘simple is better’, and ‘local is lekker’.   He is inspired by Japanese cuisine and Provencal food. He puts his heart and soul into whatever he does, delivering passion and pizzaz in the food that he serves.  Bistro Sixteen82 is probably best known for its Friday Steenburger, and Beef Tataki.

The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club was formed to reflect the tremendous growth in and power of food and wine blogs in forming opinion about food, restaurants and wines.  Most bloggers do not have any formal training in blogging, and learnt from others.   The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club aims to foster this informal training, and to serve as a social media networking opportunity.

Anetha and Chef Brad will talk for about half an hour each about the Steenberg Blog, and what they have learnt about blogging.  The Club will give fledgling as well as experienced bloggers the opportunity to learn from each other and to share their knowledge with others.  Attendees can ask questions, and get to know fellow bloggers.  The Club meetings are informal and fun. Anetha Homan will lead bloggers through a tasting of the Steenberg wines, while snacks will be prepared by Chef Brad.

Future Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meetings have been organised as follows:

*   19 October:   Roger and Dawn Jorgensen of Jorgensen’s Distillery, and Anthony Gird and Michael de Klerk of Honest Chocolate, with a chocolate and potstill brandy tasting, at Haas Coffee on Rose Street.

*   12 November: Visit to new Leopard’s Leap tasting room and cookery school in Franschhoek

Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club, Wednesday 21 September, 6 – 8 pm: Steenberg Vineyards, Steenberg, Cape Town. Bookings can be made by e-mailing Chris at whalecot@iafrica.com. The cost of attendance is R100.  Twitter: @FoodWineBlogClu  Facebook: click here.

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

Condé Nast Traveller guides tourists to Cape Town, with glaring errors!

A ‘Cape Town’ Google Alert two days ago alerted me to an(undated) Condé Nast Traveller  ‘Guide To Cape Town’, a twelve page listing of accommodation and restaurant recommendations, as well as containing suggestions for shopping, what to do, and what to see in Cape Town.  While all publicity is good for our city, it is interesting to read one of the world’s most highly regarded travel magazine’s tourist suggestions, and to note how out of date the guide is, and what blatant errors it contains.  One would have thought that Cape Town Tourism would work with the publisher of such a Guide, to check the accuracy of the content before it is published!

The introduction to the Guide is short and sweet: “With the striking Table Mountain as a backdrop, beautiful beaches and a relaxed and cosmopolitan atmosphere, it is no wonder Cape Town is attracting more visitors than ever.  Fortunately, there are enough stylish and affordable places for every visitor to stay in, ranging from chic boutique hotels in the city centre to out-of-town mansion houses.  The city also boasts historical buildings, interesting museums, shopping malls, restaurants, jazz cafés, theatres and nightclubs. On top of this, there are excellent surfing beaches and charming vineyards along the pristine coastline, and the spectacular Cape of Good Hope 70 km south of the city”.  Two observations: This description of Cape Town says “beauty”, long the positioning for Cape Town, but one that Cape Town Tourism has thrown away for the city, now focusing on ‘Inspiration’ for the city!  Second, the first glaring error is made, in writing about the inaccurate distance of the Cape of Good Hope from the city! 

*  Accommodation establishments are recommended across various price levels, denoted with £ symbols, up to 5 for the most expensive.  Interestingly Newmark Hotels’ Dock House, the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, and the One&Only Cape Town are denoted at £££££, but the exact rate range is not defined.  However, Dock House dropped its rates by about 28 % recently, which is not reflected.  The Cape Grace Hotel was the city’s second most expensive hotel in the Cape Town hotel rate survey  we conducted earlier this month, but was given a ££££ rate rating by Condé Nast Traveller, as are No 7 Glen Beach, and the Table Bay Hotel.  Even more oddly, Ellerman House was the most expensive hotel in our survey, yet is indicated at only a £££ rate level, together with Ezard House, The Mount Nelson, the Grand Daddy (clearly not in the same price league), the Twelve Apostles Hotel, and POD in Camps Bay.  The Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel is rated at a ££ rate, odd for this very upmarket 5-star hotel, with the Hout Bay Manor, and the Bishop’s Court.  The most affordable rate recommendations are Head South Lodge, Hemingway House, Ikhaya Guest Lodge, Kensington Place, La Splendida, Les Cascades de Bantry Bay, Rosedene Lodge, The Walden House, and Welgelegen Guest House, with vastly varying rates in this most ‘affordable’ category.  We miss the über-trendy new Queen Victoria Hotel in this list. No ‘World Cup hotels’ are listed at all.

*   Restaurant recommendations are even more interesting, being Beluga, Blues (‘one of Cape Town’s best-known eateries’, says the Guide!), The Codfather, La Colombe (‘considered by many to be South Africa’s finest‘), Den Anker, Haiku, Giovanni’s Deli, La Perla, Mano’s, Noon Gun Tea Room & Restaurant, and Tokara (‘lots of springbok and ostrich, but also pasta and seafood’, probably describing the Tokara under the chefmanship of Etienne Bonthuys, who left almost a year ago.  Also, the restaurant is not in Cape Town!).  The list seems old as well as old-fashioned, and does not capture the exciting new city restaurant openings such as The Test Kitchen, Dash, Hemelhuijs, Caffe Milano, What’s On EateryLa Mouette, and Dear Me, and clearly is dated, based on the Tokara description.  Some of the restaurant recommendations included in the list are odd!

*   Nightlife recommendations are Marco’s African Place (for its jazz, and ‘indigenous and international cuisine with a smile’), and Marimba’s Cigar Bar in the Convention Centre.

*   Recommended attractions to see are Robben Island, the Two Oceans Aquarium, and Jazz at the Winchester Mansions, the latter hardly being a tourist attraction!

*   Recommended things to do are Camps Bay beach (except when the south-easter blows, the Guide qualifies), Clifton, walking, the City Bowl (‘a 15-minute drive from Cape Town city centre’!), Fourth Beach (mentioned again, even though mentioned under ‘Clifton’ already), Green Point, and Sea Point. Oddly, there is no mention of going to Cape Point or up Table Mountain, or even to Signal Hill, nor take the popular Hop On Hop Off bus!

*  Shopping recommendations are Belafonte (men’s clothing), Billie Boutique, African Image, Okha, The Plush Bazaar, Dolce and Banana, Olga Jewellery Design Studio, Peter Gilder, Greenmarket Square, the Waterfront Craft Market, and the ‘Victoria & Albert (sic) Waterfront’ (after 20 years of being in existence, this error is unforgivable)!   One wonders if the outlets mentioned are Cape Town’s finest.  A pity is that none of the lovely design outlets on the Cape Town Design Route are mentioned. 

*  In the section of how to get to Cape Town, the Guide does not even get the name of Cape Town Tourism correct, calling it ‘Tourism Cape Town’, on the basis of its web address!  It encourages visitors to visit the Pinnacle Building and other branches.  We urge Cape Town Tourism to provide correct details of its name to Condé Nast Traveller!  The Guide adds in this section: “avoid the tourist influx during December and January, when accommodation is expensive and hard to find, and stay clear of the gales from September – November”!  This is a very scary sentence, and is enough to wipe out the mainstay of the Cape Town international tourist support, with the inaccurate information about the ‘tourist influx’ (a window of 26 December – 3 January only), and the description of the south-easter is exaggerated and the time period mentioned not accurate!

*  A gross error in the Travel Information section is the reference to the languages ‘most commonly spoken’ in Cape Town are English, Afrikaans, Sesotho (!), isiXhosa and isiZulu(!).  It also lists Ascension Day as a public holiday (long been abolished).  Food that is popular is described as meat, especially sosaties (incorrectly described as ‘curried lamb chops’), ‘boerwors sausage’ (sic), and cuts of ‘springbok, kudu, bush-pig and eland cooked over wood coals’, a joke!  Fish, especially crayfish, is also on the menu, and ‘South Africa produces excellent wines, too’, says the Guide  An ‘interesting fact’ listed is that the country used to have two official languages, and now there are 11, it writes!  ‘Compulsory reading’ for future visitors to Cape Town is “Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Road (sic) to Freedom”!

The numerous errors and out-of-date information contained in the Condé Nast Traveller  Cape Town Guide are not only unforgivable for such a prestigious and influential travel publication, but are also damaging in their reference to the wind and New Year season.  One wonders whether the compiler of this Cape Town guide ever came to Cape Town, based on the geographical inaccuracies it contains!   Cape Town Tourism’s PR department should urgently address the inaccuracies in the Guide, when it has time in-between its incessant Tweeting!

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

Recession brings the future of food back to the past!

I had heard of and spoken to Sonia Cabano almost a year ago, but we had never met, until last week, and we have done so twice in a week!   Sonia has a refreshing view on many things in life, and I was interested to speak to her about her love for food, and the cookbooks that she had written to date.  She is proudly South African in her love for local foods, and sees that the food preparation of generations past will become that of the future.

Sonia (de Waal) became a well-known advertising model for Lancome, Mary Quant and Yves St Laurent after leaving Brandfort, living in Milan, Paris and London for twelve years.  She grew up in a food-loving family, with her mother being an amazing baker and cook, says Sonia, and her family ate in the way Sonia proposes we should all go back to – they had a vegetable garden at home, and meat came from a smallholding her dad owned.  They ate organically then, not giving it a name, but by its principles. Sonia was always in her mom’s kitchen, and helped her mom, and now her children do the same when she prepares food.

It was in London that she was asked to cook for clients, word having spread about her wonderful dinner parties.  She loved the supply of fur and feathered game in the city, and London’s specialist shops, something she would love to see more of in Cape Town.  Her love for shopping at food markets stems from this.   Her dream to study cooking at the Ritz Escoffier School in Paris did not materialise, but her second best option was to go to London’s top restaurants and ask for an apprenticeship, and it was Bistrot 190 and Kensington Place that gave her places in their kitchens.   When many left the country in 1994, it was the year that Sonia returned to South Africa, and to Cape Town specifically.  She started a catering company, but closed it down after five years when she had her children.

She received a call out of the blue to audition for SABC 3’s “Pampoen tot Perlemoen” food programme, was hired, and made four series with them. She added food writing to her activities, for VISI, TASTE, Sarie, Insig, and House & Garden.  To this she added writing cookbooks, and two have been published to date:

*   ‘Kombuis’ – was written in Afrikaans for Afrikaans foodlovers.  She said she found it harder to express herself in Afrikaans, as cooking terms have not evolved in this language.  The book contains traditional ‘boerekos’ recipes interpreted by Sonia, and she included a chapter on how to larder.

*   ‘Easy, Simple and Delicious’, which she says is the easy way to make fresh staples in the lazy and fast way!

Her newest book, to be called ‘Relish’, will be published in September.  It will focus on sauces, seasonings, and condiments to make at home.  It includes making preserves, as well as cheeses, such as ricotta and mascarpone.

Sonia wants to share her passion for local food, and wants to keep her readers out of supermarkets for basics, which she would like them to make, like pasta sauce, instead of buying them out of a tin, and/or containing preservatives and colourants.  She includes chef’s tips in her books too. In addition to writing, she does cooking demonstrations, and is a recipe development consultant.   She wanted to set up a Slow Food shop, but could not find the right venue for it.

She espouses the principles of Slow Food, and it ties in with her food philosophy of “Tradition is Modern”!   She feels it important that small food and wine producers be encouraged and supported, and that a small food collective be organically nurtured to become a valuable resource.   Sounding similar in her food philosophy to Neil Stemmet, Sonia talks about “Kontreikos”, which is eating seasonal food from one’s region and which the farmer has been fairly remunerated for.  Sonia is very anti-supermarket, and proudly told me that she has not stepped into a Woolworths in six months. She sees supermarkets as ‘dehumanising’, pushing their wares down consumers’ throats, and Woolworths in particular does not practice its environmentally-friendly claim it proudly advertises inside its stores.   She supports ethical production of foods, and wants us “to live in harmony with nature”.  She would love us to go back, and she wants to document, to how the ‘old country ladies’ made foods like butter, and beverages in the past.  She would love Capetonians to get out of their homes again, and to connect in the neighbourhood, not just with their neighbours but also with the local shops in these areas.  She thinks that the recession is fantastic in making us all return to basics, to discover what is essential, and to no longer be shopping-driven.

Having rejected it initially, due to the disparagement she had seen on it, Sonia has now taken to Twitter, and finds it a fantastic tool for networking, for sourcing information, for the immediacy of response, and to communicate and share one’s thoughts and feelings about anything and everything!

POSTSCRIPT 23/5:  The comment by Maria has upset Sonia, and she has been contacted by 12 persons, she says, who all claim that we wrote the comment as “Maria”. Michael Olivier of Crush! made this claim to Hetzner last year, when he tried to get our blog closed down!  Sonia sent an sms today that she felt that she ‘was being set up’ by me in having interviewed her, writing the blogpost, and then writing the ‘Maria’ comment – it is an absolutely ludicrous allegation, as we have the blog in which we can write what we like, and we do not have to resort to writing comments on our own blog, nor on anyone else’s. I would not have spent the money and time in inviting Sonia for lunch, had I not been interested in her as a person, and her writing about food.  It is sad that such nastiness goes around in Social Media, and that people talk about others without having met them.  Sonia has decided to block us on Twitter as a result, from having been in praise of us getting her starting on Twitter only three weeks ago, and being happy with our blogpost about her when it was posted on Thursday.

Sonia Cabano. Tel 071 674 0222. www.soniacabano.co.za Twitter: @SoniaCabano1

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

Build more hotels, open more restaurants in Cape Town: TripAdvisor tourism tsunami on its way!

Cape Town has made it to the top of the TripAdvisor 2011 Travelers’ Choice Destinations Awards, beating world cities and destinations Sydney, Machu Picchu, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, New York City, Rome, London, Barcelona and Hong Kong.  It is a fantastic accolade for our wonderful city, and could lead to millions of visitors to Cape Town, if the TripAdvisor numbers are to be believed!

“With beautiful scenery, great wine and gorgeous weather, it’s easy to see why Cape Town, which also played host to last year’s World Cup, has topped this year’s list” said Emma Boyle, TripAdvisor spokesperson.

I am extremely sceptical of TripAdvisor, a love-hate site for hospitality establishments, that allows users to rate hotels and restaurants around the world.  Boldly they claim to have “over 45 million trusted travel reviews and opinions”, which Cape Town Tourism promptly misinterpreted on its blog as being the number of voters for Cape Town.

 

While I am delighted at the visibility for Cape Town as a result of the top ranking of our Mother City, the market researcher in me was disappointed in TripAdvisor’s announcement not answering two key questions:

*   who participated and voted for the top destinations?

*   what methodology was used, including sample size, vote methodology, time period of vote, etc, or was it purely based on the number of Google-type searches recorded on the TripAdvisor site? 

A vague sentence in the TripAdvisor announcement stated: “honor top travel spots in the world based on millions of real and unbiased opinions from TripAdvisor travelers.  Award winners were determined based on a combination of travelers’ favourite places and overall destination popularity”.  “Millions of TripAdvisor travelers around the globe have helped identify the world’s top travel spots,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor. “The Travelers’ Choice Destinations awards not only recognize some of the most beloved travel destinations worldwide, but serve as inspiration for millions of travelers looking to plan their next trip.”

As a registered TripAdvisor owner for my four establishments, each with their own e-mail address, I received four e-mail announcements of the winning destinations, which means that all TripAdvisor users and product owners will have received the e-mail on Thursday, clearly a potential benefit for our city in terms of future enquiries and bookings.  Yet I was not requested to participate in a poll to choose my favourite travel destinations on any of the e-mail addresses.

When one clicks onto ‘Cape Town’ on TripAdvisor, a top ranking of B&B’s, hotels, restaurants and things to do appears.  Here the rankings are explained, in that they are based on a ranking derived from an average user score out of 5.  The number of reviewers having stayed/eaten at an establishment is also mentioned.

Once again the TripAdvisor sceptic that I am, and knowing that reviews can be written by establishments themselves (a severe criticism TripAdvisor faces continuously), by competitors wishing to disparage fellow establishments via false reviews (another severe criticism TripAdvisor faces), and by vindictive anonymous past guests, with a difficult procedure for owners/managers to respond to these, I was particularly interested in the Restaurant top 10 listing for Cape Town, as judged by TripAdvisor reviewers:

1.   La Colombe – on the 2010 Eat Out Top 20 shortlist

2.  The Opal Lounge 

3.   Caffe Hausbrandt – this is where it gets to be odd – this is a coffee shop on Green Market Square that I have never heard of

4.   Miller’s Thumb in Gardens

5.   Constantia Uitsig

6.   Savoy Cabbage

7.   Fork

8.   Willoughby’s

9.   Brio

10.  Carne

Only La Colombe made the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist, but did not make its Top 10 list in 2010, as its chef Luke Dale-Roberts left and opened his own restaurant The Test Kitchen.

The Top 10 Hotels list for Cape Town, as rated by TripAdvisor users, is as follows, ranked from 1st onwards: 2Inn1 Kensington, Derwent House Boutique Hotel (which was rated by an astounding 598 reviewers), Blackheath Lodge, Four Rosmead, An African Villa, Steenberg Hotel, dysART, Kensington Place, Villa Zest Boutique Hotel, and Table Bay Hotel.  Only two hotels are on this list, the rest being guest houses or small boutique hotels. 

The Top 10 things to do in Cape Town is an odd collection, and appears to include companies who offer tourism services: Table Mountain Walks with a guide, Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Cape Hiking and Cycling Tours, Langa Township (a strange inclusion), Lion’s Head, Boulder’s Beach, Cape of Good Hope, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, and Abseil Africa from Table Mountain.

Time will tell whether the TripAdisor 2011 Travelers’ Choice Destination Award for Cape Town will make itself felt in terms of the benefit of ‘millions’ of TripAdvisor reviewers visiting our country and our city, something every accommodation establishment and restaurant sorely needs and hopes for for the bleak winter lying ahead.  There has been no sign of any increase in enquiries since the TripAdvisor 2011 Travelers’ Choice Awards were announced last week.

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

Restaurant Reviewer receives harsh ‘reviews’ about restaurant review

Rossouw’s Restaurants is South Africa’s only restaurant guide (Eat Out may have more glitz and glamour, but it does not come close to this ‘Platter’ equivalent to restaurants), and its owner JP Rossouw has established himself as a credible source of restaurant information, despite one not actually knowing what credentials Rossouw has to be a restaurant critic.  That credibility has now been questioned, with readers of his largely negative review of the new La Mouette restaurant in Sea Point grilling (pardon the pun!) Rossouw on his use of other reviewers, yet marking them with his initials, as if he had written the review himself.

Whilst knowledgeable about wines, and earning a living from them, in that he often wrote about wine in the Cape Times, is said to compile restaurant winelists, and consults to restaurants about wines, Rossouw commendably has been focused on only writing about restaurants in his blog (even though he does not know the difference between a blog, a blog post and a website) and in his annually updated Rossouws’ Restaurants hard copy guide.   Confusingly the book may contain some reviews that his blog does not, and vice versa.

On Friday, after publishing his very critical review of La Mouette, the first critical commenter “Eric” lashed out at Rossouw for his review: “Phew JP, you were mean! This review is so out of character for you – long, nitpicking, nasty, disparaging. You must have been having a bad day before you went for lunch to La Mouette. I hope you go back to get with the programme”.  This was followed by a further critical comment by “Cormac” (someone using the name of Portofino Cormac Keane, or the man himself?) “I am also quite surprised reading your review, it is unduly harsh for a restaurant that has been open for two weeks. I have eaten there twice and found the food to be very good, and I am not easily pleased”.

Rossouw’s loyal fans “Bazil” – could he be a Rossouw reviewer, the same Bazil that is a ‘Food Fanatic’ on Eat Out’s restaurant review panel, who lists La Mouette as one of the restaurants that he has reviewed, and who wrote in his 2 May Eat Out “review” that he had been to the “new and officially not open” La Mouette? – (and likens Rossouw to AA Gill, the “revered and feared London food critic”!) and “Michael” quickly jumped to Rossouws’ defence, and a spat developed, which led to the closing of the Comments section of the restaurant review, an unprecedented move.  Rossouw later explained that he felt that comments had become personal between commenters, and removed the offensive comments. When this writer had exposed Carne in not being truthful about its “organic meat” and Karoo origin claims, Rossouw allowed commenters to attack the comment writer without censorship.  This was picked up by one of the commenters and questioned.

Impatiently wanting to get her point of view across, and reacting to Rossouw’s comment censorship, “Sisteranna” used another restaurant’s comment box to give Rossouw a most articulate piece of her mind, questioning:

1.   Rossouw’s censorship and deletion of comments

2.   The cowardice of commenters in using pseudonyms

3.   Writing restaurant reviews after one visit only

4.   The credibility of reviews published with Rossouw’s initials JPR but not written by himself :”I am afraid thie (sic) entire state of affairs has cast serious doubt in my mind as to the integrity and veracity of any reviews published here”.

Every time she wrote a comment, Rossouw wrote back, and he clearly started tripping over his words, in that he had to admit that he had sent another reviewer to review the restaurant.  Here things become a little hazy, especially as Rossouw had removed a response by him, in which he had admitted to “Cormac” that he himself had not been to the restaurant, but that his reviewer had written the review.  He added that what was posted was far less harsh than how the reviewer had written it, implying that he had edited it to tone it down (one questions why the ‘truth’ should not have prevailed, given that it was a pretty harsh review anyway).  

When he was challenged about not writing all reviews himself by the commenters and on Twitter, he changed his tune, and implied (in a fudgy sort of way), that he had first sent a reviewer, and then had gone to the restaurant himself to review it.   However, observing this as a regular Rossouw’s Restaurants blog reader, it is quite out of character for Rossouw to review a restaurant within 2 weeks of it opening.  In the past Rossouw has been surprisingly slow on restaurant opening and closure news, and reviews of new restaurants.  Many reviewers will give a new restaurant some time to settle in before they attempt a first review, and one saw Rossouw’s time delay in the past to be for this reason. 

Then he tripped himself up by stating that his reviewer had been to the restaurant for dinner, yet he quoted lunch prices (La Mouette has different prices for its dishes for lunch and dinner).  Had Rossouw been at the restaurant himself, he would have known about the price difference.   Rossouw claims his reviews are independent, paid for and unannounced, which is how it should be, but he his well known to established restaurateurs.  Restaurants would pull out all the stops were they to see him arrive.   One wonders how he deals with the “independence” issue if he is paid by restaurants to consult to them about their wines.

Rossouw further claimed that he had written the review himself.  However, it was unusually long, and very critical, especially about the wine prices, and this again is out of character with Rossouw’s “Mr Nice Guy” image, according to “Eric”.  Rossouw normally only writes three paragraphs or so, and often one has been frustrated that he has not been critical enough, but he clearly does not want to offend restaurants (generally).  Rossouw replied to “Sisteranna”: “Where I do use a team is for the reviews that appear in the printed guide.  …. the blog and the book are separate but are linked”.   Does this mean that Rossouw will publish the review in his 2011 printed guide?  He continued: “All blog reviews on this website are written by me and only after a meal which I pay for”, contradicting himself again.

One of the commenters has told me that his comment was edited by Rossouw before being posted, to make himself look good and the commenter look apologetic, which was not what he had intended.

Many of the 33 comments to date (as at 10h00 this morning) are the diatribe between Rossouw and the tenacious “Sisteranna”, who, when challenged, revealed her identity as Sonia Cabano.  A Google search identified her as a chef (who trained in London, at Kensington Place amongst others, where La Mouette chef Henry Vigar was the head chef until a few months ago), cookery book writer (KOMBUIS) and as having presented cooking programmes on kykNET and SABC3, a lady who clearly knows what she is talking about.  She is persistent in her questioning of Rossouw’s inconsistencies in his comments, and subsequent responses. 

In having created a stimulating debate and raised a few laughs, the La Mouette review and the comments received have raised important ethical and procedural issues about restaurant reviews.

Rossouw’s review and all the comments can be read here.   Read our review of La Mouette here.

POSTSCRIPT: JP Rossouw has written a very calm and reasoned response to this post on his website.

POSTSCRIPT 8 JUNE: In response to a request by JP Rossouw to “correct” my blog post, I replied to him on Friday 4 June, and asked him to meet with me, to tell me the whole story and to show me the two La Mouette invoices for the meal for himself and for his reviewer, to prove that both of them ate at the restaurant.   He has not replied to this invitation to date.   We also note that Rossouw has edited some of his comments on his website relating to this issue, to emphasise that he and another reviewer went to the restaurant on separate occasions, telling a different story to the way he originally told it via his responses to comments to his blog post.

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

Restaurant Review: La Mouette Restaurant flying high

A Tudor-style restaurant building, built in the 1930’s, has become the home of one of Cape Town’s best “finer dining” restaurants, offering excellent value for money.   La Mouette (The Gull) has opened on Regent Road in Sea Point (there is no branding on the outside yet, so one must look for the number 78, near Checkers), and is named in honour of the noisy landmark of this suburb, even though there were no seagulls to be seen nor heard while I was there.  The building was previously the home of Europa and The Carvery.   Coats of paint, chic decor inside, and a bubbling fountain filled with Koi in the entrance courtyard and surrounded by French-style bistro tables and chairs, have given the building a new lease on life. 

But it is the owner trio of General Manager Mari Vermaak, Chef Henry Vigar, and Marketer/Righthand Gerrit Bruwer that has “rejuvenated” the building and its interior, with a refreshing approach to running a restaurant of excellence, based on Henry and Mari’s experience in the restaurant industry in London.    Vigar is a passionate chef whose cooking style is modern French-style cuisine with a Mediterranean influence.  He has worked at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants (The Square, La Noisette and The Greenhouse in London, Rascasse in Leeds, and Hotel des Pyrenees in France) as well as at The Quayside in Sydney.  He was the Head Chef at Kensington Place, where Eric Bulpitt, chef at Jardine on Bree Street, worked for him for a while.

Mari is a bubbly yet serious restaurateur, who has a firm hand on the operation of the restaurant.   She has done all the staff training, and impressed me with her description of how they employed the best of more than 400 applicants for the waitron and kitchen positions, including making applicants write food and wine knowledge tests.   All the staff have sampled all the dishes on the menu, and whenever a new dish is introduced, Chef Henry explains it to the waiters.  Wine estates like Villiera and L’avenir have come to the restaurant, to train the staff about their wines.   The service from my waiter Peter was perfect, a reflection of Mari’s thorough training. 

Mari grew up in George, and was a graphic designer before moving to London, where she was a Restaurant Manager at Gilmours on Park Walk, at Kensington Place, and at Launceston Place.   It was at Kensington Place that Chef Henry showed her his interest by sending specially made chocolate macaroons to her desk. The rest is history, as they say in the classics!  Mari’s London background shows, in her neat black shirt, skirt and stockings, the ultimate classic front-of-house dress.  Mari is a warm, friendly, down-to-earth and generous hostess, giving up three hours of her time, sitting and chatting to me about their background, and receiving a quick overview about the importance of social media marketing from me.   Whilst they have just started a blog, they agreed that it is time to embrace Twitter, especially given their gull theme, and did so immediately!   Gerrit and Mari both studied graphic design at the University of Potchefstroom, and Gerrit has designed a beautiful corporate identity for the stationery, menu and winelist, with flying seagulls and flowers.  Mari and Henry are partners, and both Leos!

Mari felt it important to not alienate locals, and hence all menu items were named in English instead of their French equivalent.   The menu has a small selection of dishes, making it relatively easy to choose.   The lunch and dinner menus are almost identical in terms of dishes offered, but the prices differ somewhat.  For lunch, for example, one can order extra sides, at R 25 each, whilst they do not appear on the dinner menu.  For lunch all Starters and Desserts cost R 35, and Mains cost R 80, a total of R 150 for a 3-course lunch, whilst the dinner cost is R 210 for 3-courses, or R 50 for the Starters and Desserts, and R 110 for all Mains. The dinner menu offers one or two more options for each course.

I had the Chicken liver parfait, chicken reillette, pear chutney and toasted brioche as a starter, a lovely combination, the pear chutney being a surprise but well-matched.   I overheard a neighbouring table proclaim that the French onion soup was the best they had ever eaten.  Other lunch starters are a tomato salad served with tapenade and smoked mozarella; mushrooms on toast served with walnut salad and roasted fig; and prawn and ginger ravioli.   I ordered the sweetcorn risotto served with the cutest tempura pea shoots, almost a work of art, and decorated with lime and coriander gremoulata.   Alternatives are “house-made” linguini (by an Italian in the kitchen), hake, chicken, confit duck, and minute steak.  The dessert options are really interesting, and gives one a feel for Chef Henry’s creativity (he still seems somewhat more classic, but with a twist, on the starters and mains), and I will come back for these:  peanut butter parfait and chocolate ganache; a “gin and tonic” with a difference; and passion fruit curd, doughnuts, Greek yoghurt and honey foam.   The cappuccino was excellent, the coffee being supplied by Deluxe, a small specialist coffee roastery in Cape Town.

An alternative to the menu is a choice of tapas style dishes to share, at R 35 each: marinated vegetables and olives; truffle and cheese croquettes; tempura style vegetables and roasted pepper dip; sweet onion tart, olive, thyme and marinated anchovy; and crispy calamari, smoked paprika and saffron aioli.

The winelist is neatly presented, and offers an impressive list of 15 wines-by-the glass, and about 75 wines.  One senses that many of the wines stocked are because of a special relationship that developed between the wine estate and Henry and Mari when they were compiling their winelist, and Avondale, Villiera, Springfield and L’avenir feature strongly on the list, as does Tokara Zondernaam.   Champagnes are stocked (Moet & Chandon, Billecart Salmon Rose, Champagne Barons de Rothschild and Bollinger Special Cuvee), while the very recently launched La Motte Methode Cap Classique (R500), as well as Villiera, Pierre Jourdan and L’avenir sparkling wines are also stocked.   A number of Shiraz options are available, ranging from R 150 for Villiera Shiraz, to R 280 for the Thelema.   No vintages are offered on the winelist, one of few points of criticism.

Mari refused to allow me to pay for the two course lunch, glass of bubbly and two cappuccinos I enjoyed with her.   I therefore returned for a paid-for dinner with a friend three days later, and we were impressed with the Butternut squash soup served with toasted pine nuts and blue cheese, and the sweetcorn risotto and the pan-fried Duck breast as main courses.  We were spoilt with a taste of the Bouillabaisse, with a plump prawn, tiny mussel, tender tube of calamari and crayfish.  For dessert we had the signature “Gin and Tonic”, consisting of tonic jelly, gin syrup, and lime ice cream, the most unusual dessert I have ever experienced, refreshing and revitalising. 

La Mouette is planning themed evenings, and will open a chic wine bar upstairs in December.   One can sense the energy and innovation in what is still a very early start for the restaurant, my visit having been a week after opening.   La Mouette is a restaurant to watch, and will soon be flying high on the Cape Town restaurant scene.  

POSTSCRIPT: I was privileged to have been invited to the Chef’s Table at La Mouette on 20 May, in the company of Clare Mack of Spill Blog, JamieWho of JamieWho Blog, Kim Maxwell, Rey Franco, and Sam from L’Avenir.   The amuse bouche was a butternut soup served with a to-die-for cheese and truffle croquet, followed by a prawn and ginger ravioli, mushrooms on toast served with walnut salad and vanilla roasted fig, a highly praised Bouillabaisse, Rib of Beef, the famous “gin and tonic” dessert of Chef Henry, passion fruit curd served with mini-doughnuts, and the “crunchie” dessert, served as a chocolate fondant, honeycomb espuma and ice cream. Every course was perfectly paired with a L’Avenir wine.  Such a good time was had that the last guests left long after midnight.    The La Mouette branding has now been erected at the entrance to the restaurant, and should make it easier to find the restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 4 JULY: I have returned to La Mouette a number of times, and always had attentive service from Mari.   My last visit was a disappointing one, probably due to Mari not being on duty that evening.   The manager on duty was not on the floor except for showing us our table and apologising about the winelist error.  A winelist “typing error” for an incorrect Villiera wine-by-the-glass vintage, which had been identified ten days prior as an error, was still on the winelist.   The waiter stretched in front of us to put down the cutlery.  The wrong amount was taken off my credit card for payment.  There was no one to greet us when we left the restaurant.  I wrote to Mari after the dinner, and received a very defensive “Dear customer” letter.

POSTSCRIPT 2/9:  I returned for the first time in 2 months today, sitting in the fountain courtyard, dominated by a massive motorbike parked there.  Mari was professional, yet very changed in attitude, due to our feedback about the 4 July dinner.   The restaurant has changed to a Spring Special menu at R175 for 6 courses (or R350 for wines paired to 5 of the courses), with a typing error.  An Express 2-course lunch at R99 has been introduced, which was not good value – my colleague had the marinated tomato salad and chicken.  We shared a bowl of Chef Henry’s new cheese and ham croquettes, and I ordered my favourite, the chicken liver parfait.   The Beef Sirloin was average, four small slices expensive at R105 – one pays a R25 supplement for it.   The Tapas selection has been taken off the menu. The service from Hazel was sweet, and she was very willing to please, but stretched across us in replacing the cutlery.  Mari did not want us to pay for the meal today, due to the problems with our 4 July meal, but we refused her generous offer.  

La Mouette, 78 Regent Road, Sea Point.  tel 021 433-0856. www.lamouette.co.za (the website is one of the best I have ever seen for a restaurant, informative, with menu and winelist, and link to the blog).    Twitter @teamlamouette.    Open Tuesdays – Sundays for lunch, and Mondays – Saturday evenings for dinner.

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