It must be fabulous living in the country estate of Val de Vie, with fantastic sport facilities and country living, equidistant from Paarl and Franschhoek, and not too far from Cape Town, and now have Reuben’s & Co Café open its doors, alongside the gym and largest swimming pool in Africa, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Continue reading →
It had been rumoured that Chefs Richard Carstens and Reuben Riffel were starting a joint venture after Chef Richard left Tokara Restaurant, after eight years in its kitchen, at the end of September. Despite requesting both chefs for information about the new partnership since then, the collaboration of the two chefs in the restaurant consultancy RiffelCarstens was only formally announced this week. Continue reading →
Last Friday I drove to McGregor via Franschhoek, so that a friend and I could try out the new Reuben’s Franschhoek, which opened two weeks ago in a new location off the main road. The year of reshaping and renovating the new venue has been well worthwhile, the restaurant feeling homely, offering good service, the food being excellent, and with Chef Reuben in the kitchen. Continue reading →
I spent the past four days in Franschhoek, and was able to meet with Chef Reuben Riffel for a coffee, to catch up on his new restaurant in Franschhoek, his new TV show ‘Recipe for Success‘, and the other activities in which he is involved.
I met with Chef Reuben Riffel in December, for a coffee date at Crisp. I spoke to him about going to Racine, his second restaurant in Franschhoek which he opened two years ago, and he requested that he accompany me to Racine. Last Thursday our diaries both had a lunch opening, and we met for what was an early but long lunch.
He told me that the idea of the second restaurant arose when Chamonix wine estate owner Chris Hellinger ate at Reuben’s Franschhoek, and suggested that Chef Reuben take over what was already a vacant restaurant, after the owners of the former Mon Plaisir had left. The rental offer by Mr Hellinger was a very generous one, and Chef Nico Pretorius working with Chef Reuben at the One&Only Cape Town was looking for growth, so Chef Reuben signed the lease and offered Chef Nico the job two years ago. I met Chef Nico when I arrived, and he seems very quiet and introverted, not returning to our table during our three-hour lunch.
Having only been to Racine once before, I had not noticed that Racine has its own entrance, Continue reading →
Before preparing his ‘Feast‘, Chef Reuben took a drive to some of his favourite food suppliers, including Malan’s Dairy; Ryan Continue reading →
Yesterday I met Chef Reuben Riffel for a Day of Reconciliation coffee at Crisp in Franschhoek, around the corner from his Reuben’s restaurant, a follow-up from our reconnection at the Mercedes-Benz Eat Out Restaurant Awards.
As he sat down, Chef Reuben apologised for not feeling 100%, starting a cold, and expressing that he is exhausted after a very busy year, but seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. Ironically he and his wife Maryke had planned 2014 last year, wanting it to be a less busy year than 2013, but looking back, he said it was even busier. In the past year he has done the following:
* filmed MasterChef SA Celebrity Edition, a series we are yet to see, in January 2015, in which he cut his MasterChef judging teeth, apologising that he was still new at being a TV cooking show judge. Food24 reports that the 10 celebrities, cooking for a prize to be donated to charity, are Singer Patricia Lewis, Comedian Chris Forrest, Comedian TolAssMo, Continue reading →
Reuben’s Franschhoek and our Whale Cottage Franschhoek both opened seven years ago, and I fell in love with Reuben’s when I first stumbled upon it in 2004. It was fresh and different, with a unique menu, the service was outstanding with Maryke Riffel heading front of house, a young French sommelier was charming, and Chef Reuben Riffel cooking and often coming out of the kitchen to chat to his guests. Despite the last visits having been disappointing, we kept supporting his restaurant, well positioned for our guests to walk to in Franschhoek. We have reached the end of our tolerance of poor service and mediocre food at Reuben’s Franschhoek.
Reuben Riffel had opened a restaurant in Cambridge for friends when Boekenhoutskloof directors Tim Rands and Marc Kent invited him to come back to his home town to open a signature restaurant on the main road. Reuben had started working as a barman at Chamonix in Franschhoek, and started cheffing when a chef did not come to work. He loved it so much that he developed himself without any formal chef training. Reuben’s fame in Franschhoek was instant, with an Eat Out Top 10 award in 2004 for Best Restaurant and Best Chef, a mere 6 months after opening, something that had never occurred before. Reuben’s opened a branch at the Robertson Small Hotel, owned by Rands, about three years ago, and last year it was a huge honour for him to have been invited by Sol Kerzner to open a branch at the One&Only Cape Town. It was obvious that the food and service quality would suffer as Reuben tried to stretch himself across his three restaurants, and it is in Franschhoek that we have heard other locals complain, and other guest houses too no longer send business there. Chef Reuben tried to get help, having chefs Richard Carstens and Camil Haas working with him in Franschhoek, but both left him at short notice.
The main restaurant interior is large, with a separate room for functions or more guests, and an unpopular passage close to the noisy kitchen. The bar has an interesting counter made from a plane wing. Reuben’s has a large fireplace, making it warm and cosy, but it was smoky at times, due to the heavy wind on my last visit. Tables are wooden, with the Reuben’s name engraved into the top, with white leather chairs, and a bench against the wall. The managers sit behind a counter, in front of a Reuben’s branded wall, and it looked rather untidy from my angle, with a silver handbag on the floor, and boxes visible. A bowl of fruit was on the counter, looking more like a hotel dining room reception than that of a restaurant, with no flowers at all, as they used to have. Each table has a little ceramic jar of coarse salt. No pepper grinder is on the table, nor is it offered for any dish. Cutlery is by Maxwell Williams. Staff wear white shirts, and black pants and aprons. There are no tablecloths on the tables.
When I popped in at Reuben’s, just wanting something warm but light, after a long two and a half hour concert in the church, a table was available, after a five minute set-up, in a still busy restaurant. I was handed the standard menu, and saw with a shock that it has changed: individual prices have been removed, and the prices are listed as R220 for 2 courses, R268 for 3 courses, and R315 for 4 courses, which was not what I was looking for. I asked about the winter special, but the Manager Carmen, Chef Reuben’s sister, looked at me as if I had lost it. The Winter Special (3-courses for R150) is no longer available, she said. She then fetched the Street Smart special menu, which ran until the end of last week in honour of all the Street Smart restaurants collecting monies to help street children rebuild their lives, with a voluntary R5 donation at 57 participating restaurants, which offered four courses for R195. This is also not what I had in mind. I was then told by Carmen that locals are allowed to order individual items off the menu, at R65 per starter, R 120 for a main course, and R65 for a dessert. Somehow the maths did not add up, in that a starter/dessert and main would only cost R185, instead of the quoted R220. I also want my guest house guests to enjoy a meal without the pressure of having to order for a minimum of R220 per person, given the tight financial times. As guest house owners we were not informed by Reuben’s that this had changed.
In the confusion of the two menus presented and the price issue, I chose the Street Smart option, and Carmen kindly allowed me to replace the oxtail main course with a steak. It was the worst ever dining experience at Reuben’s Franschhoek (our previous dinner on 24 April coming a close second, with the fireplace not lit on a chilly night, two wines on the list being out of stock, no vintages specified for the wines by the glass, the lunch menu still on the blackboard at dinner, very expensive wine by the glass, messy pouring of the wine, kingklip served for the ‘tuna pickle’ and blamed on a typing error, no cheese on the French Onion soup, and very slow service in a long wait for the main course).
Reuben’s brother Jevon was the waiter, and brought two slices of dry-looking wholewheat bread, the nice bread tray with a choice of breads baked by Chef Reuben’s mother clearly no longer being offered. Jevon ‘wipped’ when I asked him to remove the bottled water he brought to the table without checking with me. I only drink fresh Franschhoek water! After bringing a jug of water, and pouring a glassful, he did not top it up again. Chef Reuben was not on duty, and it was Chef William Carolissen doing the honours in the kitchen.
The only Shiraz by the glass available was a Reuben’s house wine made by Goose wines, at R45, which I declined. It surprised me that Reuben is not Proudly-Franschhoek in his choice of branded wine. The ‘pre-starter’ was a French Onion soup, with epoise toast and gruyere, nothing special at all. Of the four courses, I enjoyed the Warm duck salad the most, a rather busy collection of shredded duck, toasted cashews, avocado slivers, papaya, orange, sprouts, radishes, cucumber, served with a cinnamon soya dressing and miso honey. Listing the ingredients, only two or three items of each, seemed an overpromise, and perhaps more of fewer ingredients would have been better. The biggest disappointment was the grilled Chalmar beef sirloin, served with what was called ‘glazed vegetables’, but were steamed mange tout and green beans, ‘swimming’ in a port and mushroom ‘jus’! In a separate bowl came the worst ever chips, thick cut, over-dosed with salt and pepper, and raw inside. I asked Carmen if it is customary to bring chips, as the menu did not state it, and she said it was. I suggested that she check with clients about the choice of starch, as I am not a chip eater and would have preferred something healthier and saltless. She ‘wipped’ and did not respond to my feedback, nor to my returned bowl of chips! The steak was more medium than the ordered medium-rare, and the very heavily salted and liquid ‘jus’ spoilt it completely. Things looked up with the attractive dessert, being Apple tarte tatin (delicious), apple panna cotta (nice green colour but bland and tasteless), and a most odd-tasting green vanilla Calvados sorbet, the description sounding better than the actual dessert.
Wishing to understand why Reuben’s had changed the menu to a non-price one (not seen in seven years), and how I could still bring my guests to the restaurant with responsible pricing, I spoke to Carmen once more. She showed her irritation, stating that no one else had complained about it (neither had I – I was just trying to understand it), and that if guest house guests arrived, they would offer them the local price choice as well. What she did not know was that the Pohl family of four staying with us over the same weekend had reserved a table directly on the same evening, on our recommendation. They were not offered any special pricing on the a la carte menu, nor the Street Smart menu. Carmen became more and more defensive about the menu, and said that I should question Reuben about it, as he had designed it. She could not explain the rationale for such an expensive winter menu, but she did tell me that individual prices will be added to the menu in summer again, which confused me even further! I was struggling to pick up 3G for Twitter inside the restaurant, and when checking this with Martell Smith, the Deli Manager who doubles up as a hostess in the restaurant at night, she assured me that the internet was switched on. When I stepped outside, the internet worked perfectly, as it did when I returned inside the restaurant. Martell seemed to ‘wip’ about this. Martell had come to the table to check on my satisfaction with the steak (no other course was checked), and it was so bad that I just shook my head, not wanting to have anyone else ‘wipping’ around me if I were to express what I was feeling!
Reuben’s brother Jevon had worked for us a good six years ago, and had run off in a huff and a puff without giving notice when he was reprimanded for making a costly error. He has never served me at Reuben’s previously. He did not speak a word to me, just being a ‘fetcher and carrier’, except at the end, when he demanded that I sign the credit card slip. When I questioned his lack of communication, he walked off while I was speaking to him, throwing a ‘wip’ with his colleague. When he walked past my table, I asked him why he had walked away, and I received a rude torrent of abuse from him, which was completely uncalled for. I told Carmen about Jevon’s rudeness, and she then lashed out at me, saying that I should speak to Reuben, as Martell had called Reuben, complaining to him about our interaction about the internet, and then she walked off while I was speaking to her!
The menu has shrunk in size to A4, with many more menu items that on the previous A3 menu we had. I was surprised to see advertising on the menu for Reuben’s recycled ‘stemware’, as well as for Moniki chocolates from Tulbagh, when Franschhoek has the excellent Cafe Le Chocolatier and Huguenot Fine Chocolates! The menu no longer lists the who’s who of the kitchen. The menu is changed daily, Carmen told me. On the evening that I was there, the soup choices were French Onion, mushroom, and rich cauliflower. Eleven starters included the signature squid, blue cheese and onion tart, salmon sashimi, chicken liver parfait, mussels, oysters, and a butternut salad. There were 10 main courses, including chicken and prawn curry, pork belly, sole, gnocchi, oxtail, springbok steak, calf’s liver (always been my favourite), and beef tartar. Ten dessert options included lime creme brûlee, Valrhona chocolate pave, carrot cake pudding, poached pears, and a cheese platter. Sides of vegetables can be ordered at R35.
For the seven years of daily business sent to Reuben’s in the summer months, with regular problems tolerated over the years in making bookings with Reuben’s staff telephonically, the last dinner was a sad one, as it appears that Reuben’s staff feel that they can lash out at customers. The service standard is inconsistent, as I have had nothing but excellent service from another Manager Raymond, and from Jessica, a long-standing waitress. It is sad that Chef Reuben’s family members should have been the rudest of all the staff on Saturday, and disappointing was his nepotistic “my staff are perfect” response to an e-mail I sent after the dinner, informing him that I no longer felt comfortable in sending guests to the restaurant after the rudeness I had experienced. There was no apology nor thanks for all the business that we had sent there over the years, nor acknowledgement of our almost evangelical promotion of what was a favourite restaurant for a long time.
It would appear that Reuben realises that he has grown too big, and he has bought a building up the road from Place Vendome, to which he will move his restaurant in November, being a smaller sized 50-seater, with space for an extra venue at which he can do cooking demonstrations, to keep business going in winter, and ensuring a big saving in rent, he told me at the Mandela birthday meal media conference at the Drakenstein Prison a few weeks ago. His Manager Raymond told me that both Franschhoek restaurants will run concurrently until the lease of the current restaurant expires, meaning that Reuben will have four restaurants for at least another year, which can only mean further service problems. Talk about Reuben trying to get out of his contract at the One&Only Cape Town continues to circulate in Franschhoek, despite his denial, but then he blatantly denied that he was opening at the One&Only Cape Town a year ago!
Reuben’s Franschhoek is not worthy of an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant nomination any more. If one dares to pass on any feedback to the staff, one might be reported to ‘headmaster’ Chef Reuben, and be abused by the staff! Reuben has lost the passion for his business, and the Franschhoek restaurant needs a professional full-time Manager who can go beyond the Groendal-syndrome. Reuben has to be at the One&Only Cape Town restaurant three times a week, appears in Robertson’s spice advertising, does cooking demo’s, and increasingly appears to be ‘commercialising’ himself, losing touch with what is going on in his restaurants as a result! The current pricing policy is cheeky, and communicates that Reuben’s does not seek the support of locals. We wish Reuben well in balancing all his balls!
POSTSCRIPT 8/8: We are delighted to hear from our guests who went to Reuben’s on Saturday evening that the 2-, 3-, and 4-course price option has been dropped, and that each item on the menu is back to being individually priced! They found the food excellent, especially the bean soup, but were disppointed that the waitress had no knowledge about the wines on the board at all.
POSTSCRIPT 7/9: We have heard that the sale of the building that Reuben’s was buying in Franschhoek fell through. They may be considering another option close by.
Reuben’s Franschhoek, 19 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Tel (0-21) 876-3772. www.reubens.co.za (The website contains an Image Gallery, but one must click onto thumbnails to view them. The menu is an out of date one for 11 August of last year. A Winter 2011 Special menu, looking very similar to the Street Smart one, is listed!). Monday – Sunday Lunch and Dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
Chef Reuben Riffel’s connection with the One&Only Cape Town is putting him, and Cape Town with it, on the world map, and he recently returned from a whirlwind tour of New York, with the compliments of SAA and the One&Only Hotel group.
He stepped off the aircraft with his Reuben’s Franschhoek chef William Carolissen, and was whisked off to the studios of the Martha Stewart Show immediately. Despite her poor performance at the Design Indaba a year ago, Stewart remains an icon of American domesticity, and her show is watched by an audience of about 80000. Chef Reuben had to prepare South African dishes in front of the camera and studio audience, and had pre-organised which ingredients he would require for it. He had a time limit of 4 minutes to create Cape Malay pickled fish, and a grilled peri peri beef salad. The Reuben’s slot ran for 15 minutes and had shots of the One&Only Cape Town too, with Stewart endorsing the hotel by stating that it is her favourite resort in South Africa. The show will be broadcast on 9 March.
He was also invited to appear on NBC’s Today Show, with a viewership of 3,3 million on the day of broadcast. Chef Reuben cooked with Today Show personalities Al Roker and Natalie Moralis, and here too he had to prepare two dishes (crisp prawn dumplings with rooibos tea salt, and pan roasted red snapper prepared in a West Coast basting sauce of apricot jam, garlic and soya, served with a salsa of tomato, cucumber, chilli and cilantro) in front of the audience.
Reuben is no stranger to cooking in front of a camera, making more and more TV appearances, on Pasella in particular, so this stood him in good stead to do our city and country proud. Chef Reuben said the American TV staff are well organised. Chef Reuben also prepared food for an One&Only Hotel event for travel agents and tour operators, as well as one for the media (journalists represented the New York Times Style Magazine, Travel+Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, New York Post and Travel Africa.)
Meeting Chef Reuben and his wife Maryke at Reuben’s at the One & Only Cape Town last week was an opportunity to catch up, and to check whether he is still connected to his restaurant in Cape Town, given my observations after my last visit. He laughed when we chatted about how incorrect deductions can be made from bits of staff information one receives, and it showed him how important it is for him to communicate with all levels of staff. Talking of staff, a number of changes have taken place since Reuben’s opened in Cape Town in October: The Manager Samantha Housden has left, after only a short stint, and has been replaced by Kagiso Mmebe. In the kitchen Maritz Jacobs has been joined by Aviv Liebenberg, previously at Reuben’s Robertson, and Chef Reuben is encouraging them to visit the Old Biscuit Mill market on Saturdays, so that they can stay in touch with interesting food suppliers, and they come back with fresh products for a new special “Market Day” menu on Saturdays. Reuben’s staff will ‘cross-pollinate’ between Cape Town and Franschhoek, so that they get to experience the other branch. Camil Haas, who was meant to shadow Chef Reuben in Franschhoek and Cape Town, will be more behind the scenes now, and will manage Chef Reuben’s appearances, and the requirements linked to these, as well as the preparation for outside events.
Chef Reuben explained why the current menu does not have the chefs’ names on it, and why the Reuben’s branding is so low key, in that the hotel had printed it at a time when the regular Reuben’s printer was closed over the festive season. The new menu to be launched on 16 February will go back to its “Reuben’s” look, and its content will have a stronger Cape Town focus, with a new dessert for example called ‘Taste of Cape Town’, with small tastes of Hertzoggies, date slices, melktert, rooibos tea ice cream and a coconut koeksister. In Franschhoek a menu change can be expected at the end of the month, but will have a different focus to the Cape Town one. A Sunday buffet lunch will be introduced in Cape Town on 27 February, costing R 195. The Reuben’s Cape Town menu indicates which dishes contain alcohol (for Sol Kerzner, who does not drink alcohol, and for Muslim guests), shellfish, nuts, and pork.
We spoke about the winelist, which I see as overpowering, and not really suiting a Bistro-style restaurant. Chef Reuben said that Singita is buying up a portion of the wine collection, and he said that they may develop a reduced winelist for Reuben’s. The One&Only Hotel has influenced the operation of Reuben’s in Cape Town, and has meant more paperwork and adherence to systems, but there are benefits too, such as the international marketing that the hotel group does. Chef Reuben emphasised that Kerzner does not interfere with his operation of the restaurant. In fact, there is a good relationship between the hotel and the restaurant management, and they meet regularly to address common issues. Reuben is featured in the international One&Only Hotel newsletter, which was sent out earlier this week.
The decor is evolving, and new multi-coloured glass menu boards have been erected on the columns of the restaurant, to advertise specials. When I visited last week, a West Coast seafood special was advertised, consisting of a number of dishes. The boards help the Cape Town branch make spontaneous additions to the menu, without having to reprint it, a greater logistical challenge here than in Franschhoek, Chef Reuben explained.
A new cookbook is in the pipeline, and will focus on seasons. It will allow Chef Reuben to continue with the format of his first recipe book, and to reminisce about his childhood in Franschhoek, and his mother’s influence on his cooking. Richard Carstens is highly praised by Chef Reuben, and he says that Richard “is one of the best” and that “no one can touch him”.
Chef Reuben says there are definitely no further restaurant openings on his agenda, and he is learning to delegate more, to enjoy a more balanced personal and business life. I left him and Maryke with the feeling that they will make the best of their new relationship with the One&Only Hotel, and that there will be no repeat of Gordon Ramsay’s distant relationship with the ex-maze, the previous restaurant at the One&Only Cape Town, and the resultant demise.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Let me admit at the outset that I was sceptical as we set off to our dinner on Saturday evening at the new Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, which opened last Wednesday. I need not have been. I was overwhelmed by how outstanding the food and service was, with fair prices for the food, but with generally more expensive dishes than those at Reuben’s in Franschhoek, and with very high prices for mostly exceptional wines. Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town is a ‘grown-up’ and sophisticated Reuben’s, the best Reuben’s by far!
I have never written a review about Reuben’s Restaurant, despite it having been my favourite ever since I stumbled upon it in June 2004, when it first opened in Franschhoek. Immediately I felt it was a restaurant for me, and it became my favourite, and we recommended it passionately to our Whale Cottage Franschhoek guests. The initial service levels, which made Reuben’s the top of the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants as well as Reuben Riffel the Top Chef six months after opening, could not be maintained, and gradually the service levels dropped, starting with the telephonic bookings, down to rude service from the then-sommelier/manager.
A review of the new Reuben’s needs to trace back the history of its opening at the One&Only Cape Town. It is well-known that Gordon Ramsay’s maze opened at the hotel in April 2009, and that the contract with the restaurant was abruptly cancelled by the hotel at the end of July. Reuben Riffel was tipped to open in Ramsay’s place, but Reuben denied this to us and to the media. Clare McKeon-McLoughlin of Spill Blog confidently predicted Reuben’s appointment, even though Reuben had not yet made a final decision nor signed the contract. We were told that her disclosure caused mayhem in the hotel, as staff at the hotel did not know about the appointment, and that the then Hotel PRO Etienne de Villiers’ supposed “endorsement” of the apppointment in the Spill blog post was untruthful, and may have led to his recent departure from the hotel. It would appear that an Irish maze staff member, who has since returned to London, was the mole, spilling the beans to Spill. In less than a month after the announcement of Reuben’s appointment, the restaurant has opened its doors at the One&Only Cape Town, and is confidently trading. In terms of this controversy, Reuben says he prefers to stay out of it and remain in the kitchen!
When I made the booking on the morning of our dinner, the restaurant answered as “Restaurant at One&Only”, the interim name that the restaurant had before Reuben’s opened. We were allowed to park in the basement of the hotel, and there is no charge. When we walked into the restaurant, we could not help but feel that we were in maze. I was looking for the Brasserie that Reuben had been quoted to be opening at the One&Only Cape Town, but we could not see it. The same horrid carpet and massive orange lampshades are still there. The furniture has not changed, although the table tops have been varnished and the Reuben’s name engraved into them. Other than branding on the chic black and burgundy staff aprons, on the lift list, and on the menu, there is no Reuben’s branding outside or inside the restaurant. Surprisingly, the orange/brown colouring of the maze interior matches Reuben’s rust brown colour scheme almost perfectly. We were critical of the maze interior when we went there soon after its opening last year. Reuben says that the interior will be amended in three stages, with the tables completed, and bistro boards with specials going up shortly. The interior decorator that Reuben’s has used in Franschhoek and Robertson will be coming this week to see how she can soften the harsh hotel interior.
The maze and Reuben’s marriage will take some time to gel to the benefit of the new restaurant. From maze the restaurant has inherited the decor, all the waitrons (there was no shortage of staff on the floor), managers and also kitchen staff, the outstanding sommelier Andre Bekker and his Diamond award-wining Diner’s Club Restaurant Winelist, a wine library of over 700 wines, the choice of three breads baked by the kitchen, and the waitron service standards that have been set in the past, being much higher than those of Reuben’s in Franschhoek. From Reuben’s comes the menu, the little coarse salt pots on the tables, a far more informal style of dress (the ties of the managers have come off), a more relaxed interaction with customers, something that was not encouraged at maze, as well as new serving dishes and some cutlery. The One&Only staff were trained by Reuben’s wife Maryke about their service standard, the menu and the food. The staff have tasted the dishes, and are still doing so as Reuben fine-tunes the menu for the official 1 October start. The winelist and the menu are miles apart, and need to find each other, the former being very expensive and also out of character with the Brasserie feel which Reuben’s wants to create, and with the winelists in Franschhoek and in Robertson.
The exact relationship between Reuben Riffel and the One&Only Cape Town is unclear, but the hotel employs and pays the Reuben’s kitchen and waitron staff. The brief was for Reuben to get the best kitchen staff possible. This reduces the risk for Reuben, and means that he is compensated for his brand name and for his time through a share of the turnover. Having a room at the hotel is a fringe benefit the Reuben’s Franschhoek staff are enjoying when they come through to town. The arrangement with the hotel has allowed Reuben to appoint Camil Haas, previous owner of Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek and Green Point and of Camil’s in Green Point, to substitute for him at the One&Only Cape Town and in Franschhoek from October, giving each of these two Reuben’s a heavyweight chef every day. In addition, Maritz Jacobs, previously of Le Quartier Français and 15 on Orange hotel, is the new Head Chef at the One&Only Cape Town, meeting Reuben’s requirement for a young and energetic chef. The Pastry Chef is René Smit. Reuben is called the Concept Chef on the menu, as he is on the Reuben’s menus in Franschhoek and in Robertson. Samantha Housden from Tank will be joining as the Restaurant Manager on 1 October. Reuben recently bought out his Boekenhoutskloof partners Tim Rands and Marc Kent, who helped him set up the business six years ago. He says this gives him new flexibility to make decisions more quickly, and to steer his business where he wants it to go.
The menu is A3 in size, and has the same format as that in Franschhoek and Robertson. It is neatly divided into a Starters, Main Courses and Desserts section, as well as a mini Vegetarian menu of Starters and Main Courses, a Fish and Seafood section, as well as Side Orders. In future it will also carry the names of the special suppliers of fine organic produce that Reuben’s will be sourcing. The menu content in terms of dishes offered is vastly different at the new Reuben’s, compared to the Franschhoek branch. The menu is being fine-tuned in the next 10 days before the official opening, and has already seen changes in the first four days of its operation.
A small bowl of olives was brought to the table, as was three types of bread: a baguette, tomato bread and black olive bread. Butter was on the table, as was a bottle of Willowcreek olive oil. I ordered Asparagus with a hollandaise and orange reduction (R60) as a starter from the Vegetarian section, which was topped with the most wonderful micro-herbs, being miniature coriander, basil and rocket, and adding the most wonderful taste to this dish, beautifully presented on a glass dish. Other starters are oysters at R25 each, pickled veal tongue (R60), chilli salted baby squid and shredded duck salad at R70 each, salmon tartar and cured venison at R75 each, mussels (R80), and a white asparagus and langoustine salad (R110).
My main course was the most wonderful kingklip (R140) – a good portion of firm fish, served with the unusual combination of avocado, on a bed of mash (I chose it to be plain, but the menu specified it to be tumeric mash), and with crunchy Chinese cabbage, a mint salsa and coconut cream. The same micro-herbs served as garnish for the dish, and again added a unique taste to round off the dish, the best kingklip I have ever eaten. My only criticism was that a serrated knife instead of a fish knife was served. My colleague had Karoo lamb curry (R135), served in a bowl, with sambals (yoghurt and pineapple, and chopped tomato and cucumber) and basmati rice in a tiny iron pot, presented on a separate dish. She loved the genuine Cape Malay taste of it, and picked up garlic and ginger notes, as well as jeera, cardamom and barishap spices in her lamb stew, with dhania leaves on top. She called it “hemelse kos”, it tasted so good! Other Main Course options are lamb rack (R175); ostrich fillet, 180 g beef fillet and a 450 g rib-eye steak at R 170 each; quail saltimbocca (R130); 240g sirloin and pork belly at R125 each; veal tripe (R120); and Reuben’s faithful wonderful calf’s liver at R115. Other Fish options were yellowtail (R110) and Tandoori spiced prawns (R170). Side orders cost R 35, but all main courses come with a starch and a vegetable.
For dessert my colleague had Muskadel crÃ¨me with poached hanepoot grapes, ginger crumble and raspberry ice cream, in a glass bowl and served on a slate plate. Slate is used extensively at Jordan’s Restaurant with George Jardine, and to a lesser extent at Jardine’s. My dessert was a fascinating Lemon and olive oil custard, to which was added cocoa crumble, a half-round thin slice of chocolate as well as Swiss chocolate mousse, finished off with edible gold paper which I thought the kitchen had forgotten to take off! Desserts cost R65, expensive I felt, but the portions were generous. Other desserts are a seasonal fruit compote, Amarula scented malva pudding, Tequila sundae, and a bitter chocolate fondant, the latter costing R80. I felt, on the basis of two desserts, that the desserts needed more work. My cappuccino did not arrive at the same time as the dessert, as requested, and was not very foamy. It was immediately replaced with one in a bigger cup size, and was very foamy. Petit fours were brought to the table after the dessert plates were cleared, also on a slate plate.
The sommelier Andre has been at the hotel almost since it opened, and he says that the winelist has not changed much from its impressive start. They have added wines bought at the Nederburg and CWG auctions, as well as garagiste and boutique winery brands. Some international wine prices have been reduced over time, and some local wine prices have increased. The 37-page winelist will be changed, the lengthy introduction to the South African wine industry to be removed. I disliked the division of the wines by region, and then by varietal on the maze winelist, but this will not change. It means that if one likes drinking a Shiraz, for example, one has to check through every region’s Shirazes to check which one to order. It could take one a whole evening to wade through the many wines on offer, including 50 wines-by-the-glass, 32 champagnes, and 18 MCC sparkling wines, as well as wines imported from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, the USA, and Australia. I did not like the file/folder look of the winelist, and do not remember it looking like this at maze. Its practicality in updating vintages and prices is an obvious advantage. The yellowish cover of the wine list does not match the Reuben’s colour scheme. Wines-by-the-glass can be served in 50ml, 150ml and 250 ml quantities, making the expensive wines a little more affordable by reducing the quantity one drinks! Wine flights in three’s are also available, by region or by varietal. I chose a glass of 2006 Glen Carlou Shiraz, which cost R 72 for a 150ml glassful – 50ml cost R24, and 250ml R120. The 2005 Luddite Shiraz prices were R37/R112/R187 per glass. The 2007 Brampton cost R9/R28/R47. Migliarina Shiraz 2006 cost R17/R52/R87. A glass of 150ml of bubbly cost R260 for Ayala ‘Rose’ Majeur, R200 for Billecart Salmon Brut, R98 for Graham Beck RosÃ©, R49 for Graham Beck Brut, and R44 for Villiera. It is clear that the wine prices are exceptionally high. Andre spoilt me with a complimentary glass of dessert wine.
We felt privileged that Reuben came out of the kitchen to sit and chat with us. He intends to come out of the kitchen a lot more in future, and having chefs working for him will allow him to do this. Starters will be prepared behind the counters inside the restaurant in future, to allow diners to connect with the food preparation and the kitchen staff too. Reuben is working on creating synergy in the menus for his three Reuben’s, yet having unique items on each menu that reflect what customers like in each area. At the One&Only Cape Town the calf’s liver is extremely popular, he says, as is his Veal tripe (‘Pens en Pootjies’). We were struck by Reuben’s humility and quiet confidence that he has made the right decision by opening his latest Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town. He recognises that service levels can improve in Franschhoek, and he sees a benefit of exchanging his staff between the two locations, so that the One&Only Cape Town service standards can become those of the Franschhoek staff too. There will be no launch function, Reuben preferring to quietly open and delivering on the expectations of a more demanding Cape Town as well as international clientele. Reuben’s staff also prepare the hotel breakfasts.
We will recommend Reuben’s at the One&Only to our Whale Cottage Camps Bay guests with confidence, and we will return.
Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, One&Only Cape Town, V&A Waterfront. Tel (021) 431-5888. www.reubens.co.za (The new restaurant is not yet listed on the Reuben’s website, nor on the One&Only Cape Town website). Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday – Sunday.
POSTSCRIPT 20/9: Samantha Housden’s restaurant experience includes launching London’s Level 7 CafÃ© at the Tate Modern Gallery and managing the Eyre Brother’s restaurant owned by the godfather of gastro-pub cuisine David Eyre. She started Cilantro in Hout Bay, having been its chef too. She has left Tank to join Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town.
POSTSCRIPT 25/9: We returned for dinner a week later, and met the new Restaurant Manager Samantha Housden for the first time. She came to check on our table regularly, as did Marcus, an interim manager. Due to a strong attempt to upsell us by a waiter, we asked for waiter Victor, who had served us the previous week, and his service was as good as ever. The recognition by the staff from our visit a week ago was impressive – from the hostess as we arrived (I had used my son’s name for the booking this time), to the sommelier Andre and the waiter Victor remembering specific requests and likes from a week ago – in line with Reuben’s Franschhoek. Disappointingly the food was not as good as it was a week ago – the kingklip was undercooked and did not have the lovely microherbs (but a generous portion was brought to the table when I asked about them) and the sirloin had lots of sinews. Reuben was in the kitchen, and spontaneously came to say hello. I was delighted to hear that sommelier Andre has heeded our feedback, and will revise the winelist, to arrange it by varietals, and to mention the regions, which will make wine selection much easier in future.
POSTSCRIPT 14/1: I arrived in good spirits, and was shocked at the disappointing food quality and service. Although the telephonist tried to put through my call three times, so that I could check if I could still get a table at 22h00, no one in the restaurant answered the phone. I decided to arrive anyway. I was warmly received by the hostess, and discovered immediately that Manager Samantha Housden is no longer at Reuben’s. The evening shifts were getting to her, I was told. Kagiso Mmebe is the new Manager, and started three weeks ago, having been a lecturer in Restaurant Practice at the University of Johannesburg. A sweet waitress Unite took my order efficiently, and that is where her service support ended. She brought butter and olives, but never came with the bread. I had to ask a manager for it. It was explained to me that Unite is a runner, being trained up to be a waitress, but she wears the same colour shirt as do the waiters, so one cannot identify her lesser skills. She is meant to work under the guidance of a waiter, but this did not happen. I ordered the baby chicken main course (R135), which was not cooked properly, even after sending it back once. My choice of carrots with vanilla and honey as the side-dish was an excellent one. The wild mushroom sauce tasted strongly of an Oxo stock cube, with not a piece of mushroom to be seen. The sauce was taken away, and mushrooms added. I had to ask for a finger bowl. The wine steward Tinashe Nyamudoka was wonderful, just taking my wine order and pouring the Glen Carlou Shiraz 2004 at the table, as requested. The frozen espresso cake with a berry coulis and an odd-looking meringue was excellent (R65). Assistant Manager Marcus Isaacs kindly took the chicken off the bill. It was disconcerting to hear from the staff that Reuben Riffel has barely been seen at the restaurant in the past two weeks, although Marcus disagreed. Camil Haas is not at Reuben’s One&Only at all anymore. There is no sign of any further decor changes, after the curtains were opened. The new summer menu, launched last week, has very understated Reuben’s branding, and does not look like a Reuben’s menu anymore, and there is no listing of the names of the chefs on it anymore – not even Reuben’s name is mentioned! Chef Aviv Liebenberg from Reuben’s Franschhoek (and previously Robertson) has been moved to Cape Town, working with Chef Maritz. I could not help but be concerned as to where Reuben’s in the One&Only Cape Town is heading – it certainly is no longer a-maze-ing!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio : www.whalecottage.com