Tag Archives: La Belle Cafe and Bakery

Review: High Tea at 5Rooms at The Alphen bling-bling, not a high!

5Rooms Table Display full Whale CottageIt was an e-mail from the Kove Collection I received about two weeks ago which attracted attention to the new High Tea at 5Rooms Restaurant at The Alphen Hotel in Constantia.  On Thursday my friend Whitney and I went to try out the afternoon tea offering at the Stefan Antoni interior design hotel

Our interaction started off badly, when I first sought information about the High Tea, the Events Manager Nicola Howard not yet having details about what would be served, nor a photograph.  With the intervention of Hotel GM Hannelie Wiese, I received a menu of items to be served, and a photograph, which we blogged about.

I made the booking a day ahead of our planned visit, and this was efficiently taken by the switchboard hostess.  Irritating therefore was the call from Lydia McGrail, the 5Rooms Restaurant Manager, who called on the morning of our booking, to check our booking, less than 24 hours 5Rooms High Tea menu Whale Cottageafter it was made!  She is clearly from the UK, and I  struggled to understand her, due to her broad British dialect, and a bad line, which meant that she called twice.  Then she made Hannelie call me, to sort out any problems ahead of our arrival, which was an irritation, as such confirmation calls are intended as ‘a courtesy‘, Hannelie explained, but I said that it makes one feel distrusted and that one does not have manners.  I promised her that I would never not arrive for a booking! Hannelie ended off her call by saying  that I would really be impressed with the service from Lydia, as all their guests feed back.  When I heard this ‘hotelspeak’, I wanted to laugh, being sceptical already. Continue reading →

The Alphen hotel a beautiful blend of romantic history and a hip future!

The hospitality industry was shocked to hear last year that the Alphen Hotel had closed down, after the Three Cities Group had relinquished its contract in operating the hotel. Unknown to most was that Paul Kovensky, owner of Camps Bay restaurants such as The Kove, Zenzero, Pepenero, Bungalow, and Paranga had taken a 30 year lease on the hotel, and was furiously renovating and transforming the then 3-star hotel into a five-star boutique hotel six months later, creating an interior that according to its room book is a ‘little eccentric, somewhat bohemian, rather eclectic and causally elegant and definitely sensual’. The Alphen opened in December last year, and has already been named one of only two South African Hip 100 Conde Nast hotels in the world!

The Alphen once was part of Groot Constantia, converted from a farm to an estate over the years, the first building having been established in 1773.   It was taken over by the Cloete family 150 years ago, and declared a national monument in 1973.  Wine was made and sent to the kings in England and France, The Alphen being the first wine producer, its sweet wine being particularly well-known.  Over the years the estate hosted a number of names from the history books, including Mark Twain, Captain Cook, Cecil John Rhodes, Lord Charles Somerset, George Bernhard Shaw, Jan Smuts, Dr James Barry, royalty, and ambassadors, most of the visitors having been captured in portraits.  I was taken around the estate by The Alphen GM Robert van Gent (ex Cullinan Hotel consultant, ex-Hollow Hotel, ex-Euro Disney), and he shared the passion for ‘his’ hotel. He said that Lord Charles Somerset was said to have pistol duels on the garden alongside the hotel. Dr Barry was the first medical doctor to conduct a Caesarean section, and was discovered to be a woman on ‘his’ death, women not being allowed to practice as medical practitioners at that time. In 1962 Sandy Bairnsfather-Cloete inherited the land, and opened The Alphen hotel.  The Alphen has ‘inherited’ 300 paintings of the Cloete family, and these have been rehung and grouped into themes, and ‘married’ with paintings specially commissioned by a British artist, for a more modern touch.

In planning the renovations of the buildings on the estate, the very strict requirements of The Heritage Council had to be considered.  Mr Kovensky wanted to create something unusual and unique, and Stefan Antoni was appointed to tackle the refurbishment of the 21 rooms of the hotel, as well as create two restaurants and conference rooms.  The designers looked to marry the historial heritage of the building with modernity, in its lighting, furniture, fabrics, paint and fabric colours, textures, and artwork, its room book commenting: ‘not your typical 5-star hotel, a modern and playful twist has been added to the décor and design while preserving traditional and exceptional, age old hospitality’. In their design, they looked at respecting the heritage framework, but also wanted to add ‘provocation, contemporary glamour and surreal fantasy’.

The hotel reception is in a small area, unlike the vast reception areas of many hotels, and here the classic and modern contrast is evident already, with gilded guest chairs and artwork frames, and modern artwork, and leather office chairs for the staff.  The porter Green showed me the room, switching on the TV to find the soccer, and explaining that the mini bar was empty, and that one can order drinks from a list.  It appears that guests have abused the ‘honesty bar’.  Now the mini bar contents can be tailor-made to suit each guest, said Mr van Gent. The room opens onto a little courtyard, with big windows, a king size bed, a white leather couch, a red velvet upholstered chair, a historic writing desk, a modern-to-look-old unit containing the mini bar, a dressing table, a massive dress mirror, a large old wooden wardrobe, and large bedside units, with lots of gilded touches introduced in the feet of the couches, the frames of the artwork and mirror, the structure of the room lamp, and gold curtains. Modern touches are the underfloor heating (which kept the room comfortably warm on a chilly night, without the need for airconditioning, even though it is provided), a LavAzza coffee machine, the flat screen TV, a Samsung DVD player with speakers, and an iPod docking station.  A ‘cheeky’ chair, resembling the shape of a women’s figure, is in most rooms, in red or white.  The bathrooms are modern, with black wall tiling, white bathroom fittings, silver taps, white floor tiles, silver heated towel rails, and black and white bathroom amenities by Charlotte Rhys, with a massive old-fashioned style gilded mirror to link the bathroom to the bedroom decor.  All rooms have his and her basins, and a bath and shower.  Some of the larger rooms even have ‘his’ and ‘her’ bathrooms.  Mr van Gent explained that they have renamed their room types, in keeping with their ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking.  For the turn down a bath robe and slippers were laid out on the bed, with a massive brightly coloured macaroon from the hotel’s La Belle Café and Bakery.

The estate has different buildings, the original Manor House, now housing the 5Rooms restaurant, Reception, and conference rooms having been the home of the oldest Cloete son.  Daughters and young children were housed in The Dower House, and some of the lower doorways reflect this. The Mill House has rooms too. The entry level room type is called ‘Cool Suite’, at the winter room rate of R2000. As the rooms get bigger, and if they open to the garden, their room type names and rates change to ‘Amazing Suite’, ‘Stunning Suite‘, and the honeymoon suite ‘Magic Suite’, which will have a private outside jacuzzi and daybed.  Children 4 years and younger stay for free, and 5 – 16 year olds pay R500 per bed brought into the larger rooms.

Breakfast is served at La Belle Café and Bakery, and one can choose to have a health or English breakfast, Eggs Benedict, flapjacks, Churros, fresh fruit, and the Alphen Breakfast, with fruit, pastries and eggs, presented on branded wooden boards. Breakfast ends at 11h45, a treat for hard workers and late sleepers.  Coffee is by LavAzza.  One can buy delectable pastries, slices of cake, cupcake, and freshly-baked breads at La Belle too, and they are very busy for lunches and early dinners, closing at 21h00. They have become the taste of the Constantia and other Cape Town residents, making booking a necessity.  Dinner is also served at 5Rooms restaurant.  The hotel also sports the The Rose Bar, a popular meeting place with a gorgeous garden view, and is heat-protected in winter. A spa is being set up and a consultant has been appointed for it.  Treatments can also be done in guest rooms. As it will open onto the lawn, they will offer their guests Pilates, Tai Chi, and yoga outside. Wi-Fi is complimentary, room service is 24 hour, and a safe is provided.

The Dovecot is a beautiful building in the far corner of the lawns, and in it is the power house, and the Cloete family ashes.  There is a little family chapel behind it.  The old Watermill is to be reinstated near the Rose Bar. Weddings are hosted on the lawns, and special marquees are erected.  The brides come down the original steps of the Manor House, more than 200 years old, which are not allowed to be fixed and not even the grasses growing in them are allowed to be removed.   Close by is the slave bell.

This area smells beautifully of the lavender planted there. The hotel sports its own herb garden, from which the two restaurant chefs pick their daily kitchen requirements. The original cellar is let out as offices, with auctioneer Stephan Welz using one of the buildings for storage.  Robert proudly spoke about the ‘Little 15′ they have on the estate, and the squirrels jumping around in the old oak trees are definitely his favourite.  At The Alphen one feels that one is far from the city, and cannot hear the motorway not too far away.  Music is piped throughout the estate, and is light lounge music, adding a modern contrast to the historical structures on the estate.

Despite being in Cape Town, staying at The Alphen was a lovely break away, as good as a holiday.  One does not need to leave the estate at all, there being more than enough to do and eat and drink, and entertain one’s friends.

Disclosure: I was a guest of The Alphen Hotel for one night.  Service feedback was provided to the management.

The Alphen, The Alphen Estate, Alphen Drive, Constantia. Tel (021) 795-6300     www.alphen.co.za Twitter@TheAlphen. Monday – Sunday. La Belle Cafe and Bakery 7h00 – 21h00. 5Rooms dinners every day and Sunday lunch.  The Rose Bar open from 16h00 – 23h00 on weekdays, and 12h00 – 23h00 on weekends.

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

Restaurant Review: La Belle Café and Bakery at Alphen Hotel serves beautiful pastries!

It was a shock to the hospitality industry to hear last year that the Alphen Hotel had closed down in Constantia, one of Cape Town’s oldest hotels, and even more so that restaurateur Paul Kovensky had taken over the property and had created a magical transformation of a historical building, re-opening the hotel in December with two new restaurants. La Belle Café and Bakery serves a beautiful selection of pastries, and has become a popular meeting place for breakfast, lunch, and drinks in the Southern Suburbs.

One can see the popularity of the rejuvenated Alphen Hotel from the mass of cars on the grounds, something one never saw before.  The original entrance has been closed, to create more parking.  I asked a staff member where La Belle was, as there is no branding visible for the restaurants, and he pointed me to ‘La Bella’, not knowing its correct name.  The staff are all new, and have no knowledge of the history of the building, and what the La Belle room was used for before.   It is a large room seating 60 inside, with an open thatched roof giving it the look and feel of a barn, dominated by a display counter almost the length of the room, containing the most beautiful selection of pastries, the breads being less easy to see in the shelving behind the counter.  There are individual tables inside, and one long shared table, which appeared to become the waiting table, with everyone wanting to sit outside on the beautiful day yesterday. There are few decor touches inside, with two large mirrors on one wall, and a beautifully written blackboard, with the bread range (R15 – R25), milkshakes (R30), and hot chocolates (R20 – R30).  There are delectable looking cheese cakes, chocolate tortes, coconut layer cakes, orange vanilla sponge cakes, carrot cakes, and smaller summer fruit tarts, passion fruit meringue tarts, blueberry pies, macaroons, chocolate cupcakes, berry frangipane, red velvet cupcakes, and nut tarts, displayed with potted herbs.  The small tarts are larger than one normally sees, and cost about R30. One cannot buy a cake without pre-ordering.  Pastry Chef Inge le Roux studied at the SA Chef’s Academy, and has worked at the Table Bay Hotel, Singita, 15 on Orange, and The Round House. Charl Coetzee is the La Belle chef. Cappuccino is by LavAzza.

Despite the many staff, wearing a white T-shirt and La Belle branded apron, service was slow in bringing the menu when I arrived, and bringing out the main course I had ordered.  Different persons came to check about ordering, so there is no ownership of a table or customer.  I moved to an outside table, and the tables and chairs look more old-fashioned outside, with a blue-white striped fabric for the chair cushions, possibly more suited in colour to one of Kovensky’s seaside restaurants in Camps Bay, given the dominant green and white of the hotel.  Seating is provided for 80 outside.  The tables have Himalayan Rock Salt and Mixed Pepepr grinders on the table, and a glass vase with a pin cushion protea in it.  There are no table cloths, but a material serviette and cutlery by Eetrite.

The menu looks like that of The Grand, an A5 tabloid size printed on newsprint, in green, with its positioning of ‘Light, Fresh & Tasty’ on the opening page.  The menu is clearly divided into sections, with a small selection of items for each.  Breakfast is served until 11h45, but the menu does not state this.   The Breakfast section offers the largest variety, ranging from a simple croissant with cheese and preserves (R35) to the ‘Five Star Breakfast with a Glass of Champagne’, consisting of poached eggs, Scottish salmon, buckwheat blinis, a tomato coriander salsa, and a glass of Veuve Clicquot, at a whopping R250, easily Cape Town’s most expensive Breakfast!  I was told by the PR and Marketing Manager Heidi Prinsloo that the Eggs Benedict are really good, served with ham or salmon, and a toasted English muffin (R70).  One can also order Churros, flapjacks, ‘Ricotta hotcakes’, French Toast, a fruit platter, and ‘The Alphen Breakfast’ (R130), consisting of pastries, blueberry pancakes, fruit, yoghurt, and a cooked breakfast.

Salads range from R70 – R90, and the more unusual ones are Spring Pea & Plum, and Chermoula Tuna.  On a choice of ‘artisan breads’ (baguette, ciabatta, sourdough, rye), sandwiches are served, including pastrami and mustard, chicken & Brie, ‘Smokey Sirloin’, and roast chicken with mustard and mayonnaise, costing R 60 – R90. The Light Meals section offers a charcuterie platter for two at R130, a cheese board with preserves for R80; six oysters served with an apple, beetroot and ‘Champagne Salsa’ for R80; braised lamb pie; fish cakes; and grilled asparagus with poached egg (R85).  Main courses include the La Belle Beef Burger, with avocado, and a Porcini Sauce, at R80; a chickpea burger; a very tasty mustard and herb roast chicken (R85) served with olive oil mash and a green bean salad – the salad was misleadingly named, being mainly rocket decorating the edge of the plate and about 4 green beans, but the chicken was a generous portion, the mustard adding an interesting taste to it; tuna steak (R110); beer battered kingklip (R120), fillet steak (R140); Sirloin Forester (R115), and Meatballs & Tagliatelle (R85).  Extra sides can be ordered at R20. No desserts are listed on the menu, but one is probably encouraged to order a pastry.  The names of the large range of pastry items are not listed. Interesting sounding Raw Juices (about R30) and Smoothies (R40) are offered.  Nine teas cost R20. A selection of cocktails is served. Veuve Clicquot costs R170 per glass and R850 per bottle, while Graham Beck Brut is offered at R220 and their Rosé at R490, not being available by the glass.  Pongrácz Brut costs R40/R200 and its Rosé R50/R240.  A small selection of Constantia wines is offered, as is a Red and a White wine section, without vintages mentioned.  Kevin Arnold Shiraz costs R85/R320, and Haute Cabrière Chardonnay/Pinot Noir R45/R170.

Heidi showed me the new sister evening dining restaurant, rather oddly named but literally 5 Rooms Restaurant, connected with a bar room, seating 100 guests inside, and a further 80 outside.  It is beautifully decorated with red and blue velvet chairs, and all the original paintings of the hotel.   I was assured by Heidi that despite its beautiful decor, that it is not a fine dining restaurant.  Fernando Roman is the chef.

The Alphen Hotel has been beautifully transformed by Antoni Associates design interiors, and each space has a unique design, giving it modernity within an historic framework.  La Belle has clearly made its mark in Constantia already, judging by how full it was yesterday. Prices are reasonable, with a good variety of items and prices to choose from.   La Belle is Simone Kovensky’s project, and she has done a great job in getting the restaurant running smoothly since its opening two months ago.  A kitchen staff shortage appears to be a problem, however, given the slow arrival of the food.  The waiters were very friendly, as was Amber, the hostess.

La Belle Café and Bakery, Alphen Hotel, Alphen Drive, Constantia.   Tel (021) 795-6336.  www.alphen.co.za Monday – Sunday 7h00 – 18h30. Opening until 22h00 from 12 March onwards, with a dinner menu.

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