Tag Archives: Meerlust Rubicon

Corona Virus: Lockdown Journey Journal, Day 90 of Level 1, 29 December 2021


Wednesday 29 December 2021, Day 90 of Level 1 ūüė∑

Corona Lockdown Gratitude ūüôŹ

#grateful for a bizarre high and low day today, waking up from a horrid nightmare, almost never dreaming ūüėĪ; for a working morning; for meeting Florian Gast and Barbara Lenhard for lunch at Zest, spoilt with the gift of a cellphone holder ‚Äėsling bag‚Äô, all the rage in Europe, catching up on more news and enjoying the sunshine and lunch #vielendank; for both my newkings and Zest Status meetings falling away, but meeting with staff of both clients, spending four hours there in total; for two Discovery Gameboard plays today; for putting in almost a full tank of petrol, at R900 ūüėĪ; for a Continue reading →

How much does Bruce Palling really know about food and wine? Not much, it seems!

Speaking to some of the chefs whose Eat Out Top 20 restaurants were bashed by blogger Bruce Palling in the past few days, a new picture emerges, in that he appears to have enjoyed our South African wines so much that he seems to have made a number of errors in his ‘reviews’ of the restaurants, writing about them six months after visiting them, misspelling wine and dish names, and even getting the meat types he was served wrong! ¬†He has done our country’s restaurant industry great damage and harm, and demoralised our country’s best chefs.

Palling had two bottles of wine per meal on average, and four bottles per day, on each of 15 days, a total of 60 bottles he blogged proudly, now an expert on South African wines too! Some of Palling’s faux pas were the following:

* ¬† Ordering Steenberg at Planet Restaurant, which he called ‘Steenburger’!

* ¬† He couldn’t spell Biesmiellah and denningvleis, even though he Tweeted about his (private) meal directly from the restaurant!

* ¬† He got the Vriesenhof variety he BYO’d at Makaron Restaurant incorrect, mistaking Continue reading →

Passionate Toro Wine and Antipasti Bar bullish about future!

I admire any business owner opening in these difficult times.  Refreshing is the opening by two 20-somethings of Toro Wine Lounge and Aperitif Bar in De Waterkant, in the space once housing the luxury crockery brand Villeroy & Boch in the old Cape Quarter.  Toro is a chic comfortable wine lounge and bar serving more than 30 wines by the glass, as well as a range of Italian-inspired antipasti.

Three weeks ago Matteo Conti and Grant Lynott opened Toro, meaning ‘bull’ in Italian, realising their dream to start a business together which would involve food and wine.¬† The two co-owners are hands-on, a yin-yang team, with Grant the more introverted partner, and Matteo oozing Italian confidence.¬†¬† What they lack in experience in running a business, they more than make up in passion for their new project.¬†¬†¬†Ideas had led them from a¬†deli, a whisky bar, to finally the idea of opening a¬†wine bar where they could drink wine and enjoy Italian food.¬† They couldn’t find one anywhere, and therefore decided to open their own.¬†

Matteo studied art direction,¬†photography and marketing at the AAA School of Advertising, and has been involved in¬†marketing his mother Renate’s guest house and restaurant Klein Olifantshoek in Franschhoek.¬† Four years ago he was in¬†our school lift club in Franschhoek, and he has come a long way since his Bridge House School days, so much so that I did not recognise him when I arrived.¬†¬†¬†Grant met Matteo, and shared a room with him whilst a first year at the University of Stellenbosch, but he realised that this is not where his passion lay.¬† Matteo advised Grant to study at The Culinary Academy on Backsberg wine estate, run by¬†Chef Ronan Boucher.¬† Over weekends Grant worked at La Bri wine estate in Franschhoek, and so developed his knowledge of and love for wines.¬† He also spent weekends¬†at Matteo’s home, and this led them to brainstorm ideas for¬†a joint business future together.¬†Finishing at the culinary school, Grant went to Overture, where he worked as pastry chef, making breads, preserves and pastries with Chef Bertus Basson.¬† After a year he realised that 18 hours of fine dining food preparation per day was not for him.¬†¬† He moved to La Boheme in Sea Point for a short while, until he and Matteo got together for their new project.¬† Grant’s favorite restaurant, without hesitation, is Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine,for the smokery,¬†his cheese room, and for his amazing breads.¬† For Matteo it is Delaire Graff, with its beautiful scenery and excellent food.

An interesting ‘family tree’ of wines was created for the Wine Bar by a design friend of Matteo’s, and depicts the linkages between different¬†grape varieties.¬† Comfortable brown leather couches create the homely ‘wine lounge’, but there are black tables¬†with black leather chairs too, as well as seating outside.¬†Toro sells a range of crystal decanters costing R400.¬†Over time they may add further wine-related products.¬† The wine list¬†has about 30 wines, all available by the glass, and none would be found in a¬† supermarket.¬† Grant and Matteo visited wine farms in Wellington, Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch before opening, and chose special and interesting wines, all costing R100 – R200, and R25 – R35 per glass.¬†¬† They have a flat screen TV with a list of their wines, but they told me that most of their wines are sold on their recommendation.¬† Popular white wines have been Warwick’s Professor Black and Darling Cellars’ Lime Kilns, and red wines selling well have been La Bri Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz Viognier, as well as Vondeling Petit Rouge and Baldrick Shiraz.¬† Some customers are looking for information about the wines that they drink. ¬†If the wine representative shares the information about their wines passionately, Grant and Matteo say they can sell it more passionately to their clients.¬† On the back-lit shelving Matteo has some wines and wine packs on display, including some special Meerlust Rubicons of 2001 and 2002, which he will not easily sell.¬† Coffee is by LavAzza.

Good cutlery, a material serviette, the most beautiful crystal wine-by-the-glass and water decanter (I bought one¬†for R110), as well as a silver sugar bowl impressed, adding class to Toro.¬†¬† The Antipasti is excellent value for money, and one can chose one’s own selection from a black menu.¬† Imported cheeses are Brie, Camembert, Teleggio, Manchego, Parmigiano and Gorgonzola, costing R15 each.¬† The Charcuterie selection includes Mantanara salami, parma ham, chorizo, coppa ham and Black Forest ham, each costing R15.¬† I chose the Brie and Camembert, and it was served with Grant’s home-made onion chilli salsa with a bite, plum cardamon jelly, grapes, fig preserve, and delicious sunflower rye bread from Jason’s Bakery in Bree Street.¬† The Pickle and Preserve Experience costs R50, and is served with Grants’ home-made preserves and pickles, including onion chilli salsa, candied aubergines, fig confit, plum cardamon jelly, passion fruit coulis, pickled olives, jalapenos¬†and baby cucumber, and marinated peppers.¬†¬† The Gratin also costs R50, and changes daily.¬† Yesterday it was a choice of Tagliatelle with macadamia pesto, chicken marinated in coconut milk, pink pepper corns,¬†and gratinated with Manchego cheese.¬† Bruschetta options were Truffle artichoke heart, and Pizzaiola (mozzarella cheese, basil, and tomato), at R40.¬† A Bar Snack board costs R80, and includes chilli poppers, chipotle salsa, jalapenos and biltong.

An innovative service for lucky De Waterkant residents and businesspersons¬†is a daily Box Lunch¬†delivery service, from 11h30 – 14h30.¬† Costing R50 and presented in a neat sturdy carton container reflecting Matteo’s art background, it contains an Insalate house salad of the day, a choice of Panino (tuna and lemon ailoi, roast beetroot and fromage blanc, roast chicken with smoked mozzarella, or honey glazed ham and mature cheddar), a trio of freshly baked cookies, and a 250 ml bottle of San Benedetto mineral water.

Having been to Toro twice in two days, I am impressed with the professionalism of the running of the Wine Bar, the passion of the two owners, the presentation and excellent value of the antipasti, the vast selection of good value wines, the free wi-fi, and the welcoming homeliness of the Toro.

POSTSCRIPT 3/6/12: Toro has closed down.

Toro Wine Lounge and Aperitif Bar, 68 Waterkant Street, De Waterkant (next to Andiamo Deli), Cape Town.  Tel (021) 418-2846. SMS 079 063 7055. Bbm: 27029f94.  www.torowines.co.za (The website has the menu, but no winelist, nor any photographs). @ToroWines.  Monday РFriday 10h00 Рlate, Saturday 16h00 Рlate.

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

Restaurant Review: There is no cellar at Sotano by Caveau!

Sotano by Caveau Mediterranean restaurant opened officially¬†today in the newly renovated funky La Splendida Hotel on Beach Road in Mouille Point, near the lighthouse.¬† Its name has caused confusion on Twitter, as it has been referred to both as Sotano (meaning ‘cellar’ in Spanish) and Sontano (the till slip spells it this way).¬† Given that¬†the name is to link to Caveau (‘cellar’ in French), the spelling must be the former.¬† However, there is no cellar visible or accessible to patrons at Sotano!

The restaurant is operated by Caveau, a Wine Bar and Deli in Heritage Square on Bree Street, and At the Mill in Newlands.   The owners are the trio of Jean-Yves Muller, Brendon Crew and Marc Langlois.   It is a surprise that Newmark Hotels, who operate the new hotel, has chosen to contract out the running of the restaurant to Caveau, when it has restaurant interests in OYO (in its V&A Hotel) and Salt Restaurant (in its Ambassador Hotel).   Talk on the street is that Caveau has lost its charm and attraction, and lots of its good staff.  

General Manager of the restaurant is Bruce Philemon, who has worked at Buitenverwachting as Restaurant Manager,¬†at Steenberg as Food & Beverage Manager, and as sommelier on cruise ships, he told me.¬† Chef Philip Myburgh was previously at Caveau, and before that at 48 on Hout Street, which no longer exists.¬† He was enthusiastic about his focus on ‘authentic Mediteranean’ food that will be served at Sotano, with an emphasis on seafood and shellfish.¬†¬†

The¬†wooden deck leading to the pavement, covered to protect patrons from the sun and wind (the south-easter can pump in that corner of¬†Cape Town), with wooden chairs and tables locally made from “French wine barrels”, the imprint on each says, is clearly the most popular space on a good summer’s day.¬† The problem with the outside seating is that non-smokers have to endure the smoking habits of others.¬† The beauty of the interior design could be lost to those patrons sitting outside, Inhouse Interiors having constructed a fascinating bar in white with coloured¬†bar stools.¬†¬†The restaurant section caters for a substantial number of patrons inside, on rainy and windy days.¬†¬† For ambiance, the restaurant could have done with music.

The restaurant opens at 7h00 every morning and will be serving breakfast until 11h00 every morning.  There are eleven breakfast options, and they seem expensive, but the prices can only be judged on portion sizes.   A health breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and honey costs R50; a charcuterie and cheese platter sounds an interesting breakfast option, at R 55; a salmon bagel with chive cream cheese and smoked salmon costs R60; French toast with fruit and mascarpone (R 55); full English breakfast costs R65; Eggs Benedict R60; and omelettes range from R58 РR70.   After 11h00 the blackboards offer snacking, as well as lunch and dinner options, until 23h00 every day of the week.  The staff are neatly dressed in white branded golf shirts and in grey aprons, with either Anthonij Rupert or Paul Cluver branding.

The Mediterranean menu is written onto two blackboards, and the writing is not easy to read for all menu items.¬†¬† My eye caught the expensive Caprese salad at R 82 immediately, and in general the prices seem on the high side.¬† Chef Philip explained that the mozzarella has been sourced¬†from an Italian in Cape Town, who makes the mozzarella from cow’s milk, and the full 100g ball is served in the salad.¬†¬† Greek salad costs R58.¬† Oysters cost R 18 each.¬† Vitello tomato costs (R65), Beef carpaccio (R60), Tomato salad (R60), Fish soup (R70) and Gazpacho (R40).¬†¬† The Gazpacho was spicy, and consisted of raw tomatoes, baguette slices, red and yellow pepper, as well as herbs, red wine vinegar and lemon juice¬†blended together to¬†make a thick refreshing summer’s day soup, a little on the oily side.¬†¬† Mains range between R98 (chicken supreme) and R125 (for grilled salmon and poached egg), seafood paella and crumbed veal being the only other options.¬† One can order flat bread at R20, with hummus (R10) or Tzatziki (R8).¬†¬† An avocado and feta pizza costs R70.¬†¬† For dessert one can order fresh watermelon, a summertime treat one rarely sees on a menu (R25), as well as nougat glaze (R28)¬†or lemon tart (R30).

Teething problems were the Cappuccino machine not working yesterday (although the hotel has a 70 % occupancy, and has been open since last week, and invitations on Twitter encouraged one to try the restaurant ahead of its official opening), and the toilet paper running out without any spare supplies.  Waiter training was happening in front of patrons.  A group of four next to me wanted to order a bottle of Pierre Jourdan Brut Rosé (R232), but the waiter offered to bring it by the glass, and the manager had to be called for assistance.   The winelist is not yet ready, but information on the winelist will be added to this review after it is finalised tomorrow.

POSTSCRIPT 16/11:¬† I went back to Sotano by Caveau this evening, to finalise the winelist information for this blogpost.¬† When I looked for a table on the deck, I was blocked by Caveau/Sotano by Caveau Operations Manager Ross Stillford, who told me that the three owners of Caveau have decided that I am not allowed to eat at Sotano by Caveau, nor at Caveau, ever again¬†because of the review I wrote about Sotano by Caveau.¬† To add insult to injury, co-owner Brendon Crew Tweeted about this incident, referred to me as a “bitch” in a Tweet, and continued in disparaging and defamatory vein in subsequent Tweets.¬† Not a good start to a restaurant that has only officially been open for less than 24 hours!

POSTSCRIPT 22/11:¬† I have managed to obtain details of the Sotano by Caveau winelist.¬† Seperated into “Bubbles, Whites, Rose, Reds, Desserts”, it details vintages but not region of origin.¬†¬† Two sparkling wines (Graham Beck Brut – R49/R195 and Pierre Jourdan Brut – R 38/R150) are offered by the glass.¬† No champagnes are served.¬†¬† About ten options per variety are offered, and each variety offers wines-by-the-glass.¬† Sauvignon Blancs range from R28/R110¬†for Haut Espoir to R51/R205 for the Warwick Professor Black.¬†¬†I was interested to see the name of a wine (Parlotones Push me to the Floor), a white blend sold at R116, I had not heard of before, and its red blend ‘sister’ Parlotones Giant Mistake.¬†¬† Shiraz options range from R25/R110 to R620¬†for De Trafford CWG 1999.¬† Magnums are available for Vriesenhof Grenache 2007 (R650), Jordan Cobblers Hill 2000 (R1000)¬†and Meerlust Rubicon 2001 (R1250).

POSTSCRIPT 2/12:  Neil Markovitz, the owner of the La Splendida Hotel in which Sotana by Caveau is located, was most apologetic about the Sotano/Brendon Crew incident when I saw him at the Newmark Hotels function two days ago.  

POSTSCRIPT 4/12: Today we went to have breakfast at Caveau, to try out the restaurant, given the many negative comments it attracted to this blog post.¬† We were served by the charming Lilly, who brought the breakfast board to the table, and took our order of scrambled eggs (R19) and cappuccino.¬† The prices were most reasonable, and the coffee was served in Origin-branded cups I have not seen anywhere else.¬†¬† We were shocked at how run-down the place looked on the outside, with paint peeling off the walls, the chairs wobbly, the tables and chairs not having been varnished for ages, and the Vin d’Orrance umbrellas dirty.¬† It generally smacked of neglect.¬†¬† Before we could be served our egg orders, we were asked to leave by the Caveau Operations Manager Ross Stillford, but not before we paid for our coffees!¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

Sotano by Caveau, 121 Beach Road, Mouille Point, Cape Town.  Tel 0711962660    www.sotanobycaveau.co.za (website under construction)  Monday РSunday.   7h00 Р23h00

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

Restaurant Review: Rust en Vrede almost faultless

One of South Africa’s Top 10 restaurants, Rust en Vrede,¬†did a special dad’s 94th birthday celebration proud on a weekday night¬†2 weeks ago, just four days after¬†it was announced as 3rd place winner on the Top 10 list, as winner of the Service Excellence Award in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, and a week after it was named the best Restaurant in the winelands in the world, by the Great Wine Capitals Network.

A terrible drive due to after-hours roadworks near the airport made the journey from Cape Town doubly long.   The arrival at the wine estate wiped away the frustration, it being dark already, and the lighting romantically showing off ancient oak trees and a beautiful garden.

A staff member stood outside the door to welcome us, and we were taken to the rest of the party, having a drink on the terrace outside.  Our table for 6 was set apart from the rest of the restaurant, in its own alcove, two sides filled with wines on glass shelves.   This gave a feeling of privacy, yet one felt to be part of the restaurant.

The menu and winelist covers were¬†one of the few¬†aspects to criticise, looking like plastic “mock-croc”.¬†¬† The menu is informative, with a foreword by Jean Engelbrecht, the owner of the wine estate, David Higgs the chef, and Neil Grant, the sommelier.¬†¬† The menu is simple – one has two choices – 4 courses at R 400, or 6 courses at R 550 without paired wine, or R¬†800 with wine paired per course.¬†¬† The only catch is that all persons in the party must have either the 4- or 6-course meal.

As the 4-course meal allows one an option of three choices per course, our party chose this option.¬† A first course choice offered was a scallop “gazpacho” that was not a soup at all, foie gras and cherries, and sweet onion soup.¬† The second course choice consisted of a salmon trout, organic chicken, and fennel and creme fraiche risotto.¬†¬† The third course offered tuna, loin of lamb and springbok.¬†¬† The 4 th course choice was between goat’s cheese and melon, strawberry and nut parfait with marzipan, and baked apple and pastry with cream cheese ice cream.

The 6-course meal starts with tuna, followed by scallop, rabbit, Chalmar beef, Tetede Moine and ends with Chocolate Marquis.  No options are provided within each of the 6 courses.

The menu also contains the supplier information, looking a little like an add-on to the otherwise slick menu.¬†¬† Beef and venison come from the estate’s Kalahari farm, herbs come from the estate’s herb garden, Magic Steve supplies the vegetables, The Wild Peacock supplies ingredients, duck and rabbit, Neil Jewel the chacuteries, and Wayne Rademeyer from Wellington the Buffalo Mozzarella.¬†¬† Reubens is the only other known restaurant which states its suppliers¬†in its menus.¬†¬†

The meal was preceded by an amuse bouche of scallop.   As each dish is brought to the table per course, the waitress reminds one of the choice one ordered, pointing out what is on the plate.   She explained everything so well and efficiently, that everything seemed to taste even better.

The winelist reflects about 270 wines on 28 pages, and a neat index at the start of the winelist categorises the wines on offer, and an easy reference to the page.¬† An oddity is the fact that only Champagne is served, and that South African Cap Classiques¬†are not available.¬† This is justified in the menu on the grounds of David and Neil being fanatical about the Champagne region in France!¬†¬† The winelist has 24 Champagnes, ranging from R 500 for a Mailly to R 1 800 for a Laurent Perrier.¬†¬† Wines by the glass are available, at R 30 for a Cederberg Chenin Blanc to R 50 for a Fryer’s Cove.

Similar to The Big Easy, a Portfolio of Wines is referred to in the winelist, and all wines from Rust en Vrede, Cirrus, Guardian Peak, Ernie Els, and Engelbrecht Els are listed separately in the winelist.   The Rust en Vrede wine offering is extensive, and a separate price is quoted for each vintage.   So, for example, the Rust en Vrede Merlot ranges from R 200 for a 2008 to R 900 for a 1989, the shiraz from R 230 for a 2006 to R 750 for the 1992, and R 95 for a Cab blend.    Other wine brands are offered as well, and the Meerlust Rubicon costs R 350, and the Schalk Burger costs R 700.   A Pol Roger bubbly was followed by the Rust en Vrede Shiraz, and was decanted by Neil.  So professional is the wine team that when a second bottle of the same Rust en Vrede Shiraz was opened, a new round of Riedel glasses was brought to the table.  

The spacing of the serving of the four courses was just right Рnot too slow nor too fast, and one lost track of time, not necessarily a good thing on a weekday evening!   Service is unobtrusive, polite, reserved, and no proactive conversation is made Рall communication relates purely to the meal and the drinks.   An interesting but professional looking touch is the pouring of the bottled water with a cloth, to prevent the bubbles from wetting the guest or the tablecloth.   This has not been seen anywhere else ever.

Unusual too is the multi-gender bathrooms Рone does not expect to see a gentlemen coming through the door!  Molton Brown bathroom products are available, being of a very good quality.

What was missed relative to a visit a year ago was David Higg’s regular visits to the table, after each course, to check on the guests’ satisfaction with and feedback about each course.¬†¬† David appeared more hands-on in the open-plan kitchen¬†than a year ago, and would not have had the time to do so.¬†¬† He did come to chat after the meal, and¬† impresses with his modesty, charm and gentleness.¬†¬† Even more commendable is the pride and dedication to¬†his restaurant – if he should be ill, or is travelling, he closes the restaurant, he said.¬† He will not allow it to operate without him being present.¬† This places a huge burden on him in the five nights a week that the restaurant is open, but ensures consistent service – David Higgs probably is the only chef in the country to take his craft and reputation so seriously.

A small irritation, which Rust en Vrede shares with almost every restaurant in the country, is a bad habit of staff stretching past one from the left to place a knife or spoon on one’s right.¬†¬† This was the only aspect of the service that can be faulted.¬†¬† The music is nondescript and irritating, and sounds too canned – it¬†is not well-matched to the decor, and quality of the food and wine, and does not add to the ambiance.¬†¬† Smoking is strictly forbidden on the estate, but an exception is made for cigar smoking when one is outside with no one else present, the cigars¬†are for sale on the menu!

The 4-course meal for 6, a bottle of Pol Roger champagne,¬†2 bottles of Rust en Vrede Shiraz, some pre-dinner drinks, cigars as well as the mandatory 10 % service charge for a table of 6 came to R 4 700.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†The birthday boy received a tiny chocolate cake to take home, and each guest receives a roll wrapped up as a “gift”, an oddity, as rolls are¬†not served with the meal, when one leaves.

POSTSCRIPT 9/4: Sommelier Neil Grant tonight telephonically denied the rumour on Twitter that David Higgs is leaving Rust & Vrede and moving to Johannesburg in June.

POSTSCRIPT 15/4:¬†It has been announced that David Higgs has resigned, and is leaving Rust en Vrede mid-June.¬† John Shuttleworth will step into David’s chef’s shoes.

Rust en Vrede is open from Tuesday to Saturday evenings.  During the day one can enjoy only one dish Рsteak and chips Рfor lunch.  Bookings are not taken for lunch.  Tel 021 881 3881, www.rustenvrede.com.  On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

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

Restaurant Review: Bosman’s too Grande for its own good?

After a three year absence, an unbooked¬†dinner at Bosman’s at Grande Roche in Paarl earlier this week was an impromptu decision and a disappointing experience.

Bosman’s has everything going for it – it is housed in a beautiful manor house, has a captive audience with¬†the Grande Roche¬†hotel guests dining there, it is a 5-star hotel, and it¬†is¬†a member¬†of Relais & Chateaux, an international quality accommodation association.¬†¬† For years the restaurant competed with Le Quartier Francais for first and second place in the gourmet stakes, and both were Top 10 restaurants for many years.¬† Bosman’s introduced a tasting menu, with winepairing, before Le Quartier did.

What is it that has made Bosman’s fall off the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list completely over the past 3 years or so, and not even make the top 20 shortlist in the past two years, I asked myself, and the new German waiter Tom.¬† He diplomatically declined an answer to the question, and I wondered if it was the lack of awareness of Executive Head Chef Roland¬†Gorgosilich that may be the reason.¬†¬† He has worked at Bosman’s for at least 4 years, and took over the¬†kitchen when his predecessor Frank Zlomke passed away last year.¬†¬†Yet no one knows of Roland, and the hotel has not publicised his appointment, except on Facebook.¬†¬† Tom the German waiter ventured one comment – perhaps the very new team at Bosman’s has not quite jelled, he observed.¬†¬† Every winter the hotel and restaurant closes for a substantial break, and it loses staff who take on part-time winter jobs elsewhere and then stay on.¬†¬†¬† So, for example, the staff told me, a lot of staff left for Reubens, and more recently, to Asara, where ex Grande Roche GM Horst Frehse is the new GM.¬†¬† In the past 2 years the hotel management has been (surprisingly) taken over by the Mantis Collection, the company running Shamwari, amongst others, and hardly known for its gourmet food there, and also was running the restaurant at Delaire Graff, but has already been relieved of its restaurant involvement there.

As a local one is surprised when an establishment that sets itself up as the extreme epitome of dining, can treat locals so shabbily.  The man at the boom, George, did not welcome me on arrival, just pointing his arm in the direction of the hotel, a robot just doing his duty.   When I walked in, I stood for a while in the entrance foyer, waiting for attention, and finally Edwina van der Westhuizen, the head waiter (no gender specification in her title) arrived.  She showed me to a table, and immediately asked if I did not want a Bistro menu instead.   Was this because I am a local, or because I came on my own?  It turned out that Edwina was the most senior person on duty, with all waiters and sommeliers reporting to her.  No restaurant management was on duty, despite the restaurant being fully booked, mainly with hotel guests.

Edwina talked me through the Bosman’s menu, like¬†a machine, at an extreme speed¬†so that¬†one could not understand what she was saying.¬† She was repeating something off a ‘song-sheet’, without having the passion for what she was talking about.¬† All she tried to say was that one can mix and match the items between the a la carte and the tasting menus.¬† Tom, the new German waiter, took over the table, and took the order efficiently.¬†¬† The bread plate arrived, and a dry slice of wholewheat bread and another type was served, with (soft) butter, a cream cheese and a balsamic/pine nut kernel spread, a threesome that has not changed¬†in 3 years ago.¬†¬†¬†

I was asked what I wanted to drink before the winelist was presented, and had to ask for it.¬† It is intimidating, at 77 pages of wines, separated by variety and by region, making it easier to choose a wine than at the One&Only, where the region is dominant, and one has to find one’s favourite variety region by region throughout the whole winelist.¬†¬† In total, 550 lables are stocked by the hotel.¬† Surprisingly, the Assistant Sommelier took some time to come to the table, to help with the wine-by-the glass choice.¬†¬† The head sommelier ignored my table completely, only stopping briefly once, to clear the glasses without a word.¬†¬† As a shiraz lover the choice of only two wines-by-the glass was disappointing, especially as the Migliarina was an unknown.¬†¬† The sommelier said that the wine is made by an ex-Bosman’s sommelier, but he did not have any further details about the winemaker, himself probably being new to the restaurant.¬† Interestingly the sommelier tastes the wine before he pours¬†a tasting for the guests, but only for full bottles sold, and this did not happen for the wine-by-the glass.

The white wine by the glass is as inexpensive as R 38 for a Graham Beck ‘Gamekeeper’s Reserve’.¬†¬† Red wines-by-the glass range in price from R 43 for a De Waal Pinotage to R 155 for the Zorgvliet Richelle.¬†¬† I was allowed a tasting of the 2005 Migliarina (R 57 per glass) ¬†and the 2006 Ataraxia ‘Serenity’ (R 65 per glass), and chose the former.¬†¬† The most expensive shiraz by the bottle was a Mont Destin ‘Destiny’, at R¬† 1 150, a 2005 De Trafford costing R 850, and the Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2005 costing R 850 too.¬† The 2004 and 2006 Boekenhoutskloof were a little more reasonable in price, at around R 650.¬†¬† The most reasonably priced shiraz is a Black Oystercatcher, at R 220.¬†¬† Meerlust Rubicon costs R 950 for the 1999, R 800 for the 2001, and R 1 100 for the 1998.¬† Water was brought to the table without a slice of lemon, despite a request.

Bosman’s is unashamedly expensive, more so than maze at the One&Only in Cape Town.¬†¬† It offers a “Harmony of South” menu choice, with mainly seafoods, at R 525 for 4 courses and R 580 for 5 courses.¬† The tasting menu costs R 620 for 6 courses, without wines (Le Quartier Francais’ Tasting Room charges R 550 for 5 courses and R 700 for 8 courses).¬†¬† A vegetarian menu option costs R 320 for 3 courses and R 480 for 4.¬†¬† On the a la carte menu there are a limited number of choices, starters ranging in price from R 60 for the veloute’ of potato and sour cream, braised white leek and pickled duck breast¬†– R 125 for the veal cassoulet of sweetbread.¬†¬†The chef’s amouse bouche was a pepper-crusted impala. ¬†I chose the veloute’, and¬†it was poured over the pre-prepared duck and leeks, the little that there was on the plate, at the table by a junior waitress.¬† It could have been done with panache by¬†a professional.¬†¬† It was tasty, but tasted very floury.¬†¬† The 6 main courses range from R 125 for a sundried tomato and marjoram risotto to R 235 for a springbok loin, the beef fillet costs R 230, the kingklip R 210 and the rack of lamb R 225.¬†¬† The beef fillet was extremely tender, so much so that one could take it apart with one’s fork, but quite salty in taste.¬† The portion was tiny, as was the accompanying 3 minute baby potatoes.¬†¬† It was amusing to see the silver dome serving still happen at Bosman’s, but the more modern rectangular plates do not lend themselves to the round dome.¬† The impressive simultaneous dome ‘upliftment’ of the past has been lost in the past 3 years.¬†

The few dessert options were of no interest, and as the wait for the main course to be served had been 2 hours after arrival, they were declined, but an apple strudel from the Bistro taken home in a most boring cardboard box, with no attempt to decorate it, other than sprinkled with castor sugar, as it would have been on a plate.   The full menu price was charged.

A visit to the cloakrooms showed up another 5-star hotel, the second in a week (see the review of Seafood at the Marine Hotel in Hermanus here), with a less than adequate public bathroom.¬† The toilet doors and seats are wooden, giving these bathrooms a cottage-like feel, contradicting the crystal chandeliers and high gloss tiled floors in the restaurant.¬†¬† Some messy trunking to hide the wiring of the airconditioning caught one’s eye immediately.¬†¬†¬† A definite bathroom upgrade is needed.

Grande Roche has been known to have a large following of German guests, and it was a language heard spoken by the guests throughout the evening.  Only one German speaking waiter was on the floor, and the head sommelier appeared to be able to speak the language as well.   Given a full restaurant, and more staff than guests, it seemed, this must be a disappointment for them.

The most glaring deficiency of the evening was that no one came to the table to check on one’s satisfaction with each course, and this is where Bosman’s falls short.¬† The staff seemed static and mechanical, lacking spontaneity, only Tom the German waiter responding to questions put to him.¬†¬† Not one staff member was interested in one’s reason for coming to the restaurant, one’s past history with it, or the motivation for coming to eat there – in fact it seemed that the restaurant staff are totally disinterested in their clients!¬†¬† It took a concerted effort, after a number of reminders, to obtain details of the new F & B Manager Alan Bailes¬†– he is so new that it took some time to find his e-mail address in the computer!¬†¬† What was impressive was the spontaneity and service interest shown by the German-speaking hotel receptionist, the only staff member seemingly enjoying her job.¬†¬† On driving out one had to hoot for George to open the boom, despite the longish driveway between the restaurant and the boom, which should have made him stand at the boom already when the car arrived.¬† He got into an argument with the guest about the fact that he felt that he had been at the boom promptly.¬† His attitude was a¬†disappointing end to an evening that confirmed that the staff’s arrogance at Bosmans, bar an exception or two, is the downfall of this once¬†highlight of gourmet grandeur!

The total cost of the veloute’, the beef fillet , the glass of red wine and the ‘take-away’ slice of strudel¬†was R 402.¬†¬† Bosman’s Restaurant, Grande Roche Hotel, tel 021 863-5100. www.granderoche.com.

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

maze not quite a-maze-ing yet!

Since the opening of the One&Only Cape Town last week, Capetonians are coming to check out the hotel, and are having dinner at its two branded restaurants, Nobu and maze.

maze is a Gordon Ramsay restaurant, the first to merge maze Tapas and maze Grills, which are separated elsewhere in the maze world.    Sol Kerzner, the One&Only owner, encouraged Ramsay to add a South African touch to the menu.   The touch is most visible in the dessert menu.

But, to get to the beginning.¬†¬† We had dinner five days after the opening day.¬† We were greeted with confusion as to what we should do with the car.¬† Mistakenly we had assumed we could just drive in at the low key entrance (at night), and a lit up One&Only sign was the only branding one saw upon entering the grounds, surprising for one of the world’s leading hotel operations.¬†¬† The car problem was quickly solved, when it was valet parked, organised by a most impressive looking and charming doorman, wearing a waistcoat with leopard print over his smart black suit¬†– it looked superb.¬†¬† Unfortunately this dress theme was not carried through once one steps inside the foyer.¬† One’s first impression is the stunning chandelier in the Vista Bar.¬† The Bar has¬†a magnificent view onto Table Mountain in the day, but it is not visible at night.¬†¬† Staff were on hand, proactively assisting in providing directions for the two restaurants, to the left and right of the bar.

As one comes down the staircase to maze, a manager comes to greet his guests with the reservations list, and one is quickly seated.¬†¬† The menu is cream-coloured, and its cover understated, with the zen-like maze logo on the outside.¬†¬† The menu pages¬†number three in total, with a surprising small selection of¬†starters, mains and desserts.¬†¬† The pleasant surprise was the affordability of the dishes – not inexpensive, but on a¬†par with the more expensive restaurants in Cape Town:¬† R 160 for a 250 gram South African or Namibian fillet,¬†Karoo lamb at R 130, kingklip at R 90, and dessert prices range from R 60 –¬†R 90.¬†¬† All side dishes for the main course are charged extra, at R 25 – at that price, the portion sizes are small.¬†¬† Interesting is that a side order of bobotie can be ordered with one’s steak or fish.¬†¬† In addition to chips, one can have side orders of sherry mushrooms, mash, braised carrots, french beans, etc.¬†¬†¬† We learnt that the signature dish of maze is the beetroot salad.

Staff in the hotel wear uniforms designed by local fashion designer Jenni Button.   A strong turquoise blue is used throughout Рin the waistcoats of the bar staff, the ties of the male managers, in the scarves/sashes of the female managers.   The less blue the staff member wears in the uniform, the more senior he/she is.

The restaurant interior is very brown, earthy, chocolatey and darkish, with dark woods,¬†and oval-shaped orange lights.¬† With only a little tea light on the table, it was very hard to read the menu.¬†¬† Special clip-on reading lights are available, but this was not communicated in advance.¬†¬† Turquoise is not reflected in the decor at all.¬†¬† The restaurant carpet had massive geometric blocks on it – garish, hotel-like, but fortunately one’s attention is not on the floor.¬†¬† Tables for two are on the side, with one person sitting on a fixed bench, not well matched to the height of the table, making this an uncomfortable seat.¬†¬†¬† The cutlery is beautiful and new, and no table cloths or overlays decorate the tables.¬†¬†¬† The use of slate as coasters and underplates is unusual but practical.

The winelist is impressive, with 35 pages of varietals of 150 international and  450 local wines, and more than hundred wines-by-the-glass.   Irritating for a winedrinker preferring wines by variety, is the winelist that is arranged by Wine of Origin region.   So, for example, one has to check every region to find a preferred Shiraz.  Complicating this further is the Wine of Origin grouping, so that  Boekenhoutskloof will be found under Paarl, and Franschhoek does not appear at all.   The prices are reasonable РR 590 for the Boekenhoutskloof Shiraz 2006, Meerlust Rubicon is available per vintage, ranging in price from R 560 for the 2004 to R 1 850 for the 1993.

If one compares the service from the superb One&Only sommelier Steven Towler with the waiters at maze, the former wins hands-down.¬† His personal approach,¬† extensive knowledge, and ability to assist in selecting a suitable wine could not be matched by his maze counterparts.¬†¬† The recommendation¬†of a Rijk’s 2004 Shiraz, which had been enjoyed by Nelson Mandela and Sol Kerzner at their lunch in the hotel last week, was spot on, and was priced at a reasonable R 320.¬†¬† After the main course, a special¬†invitation was extended to show the customers the Wine Loft, with 6 000 beautifully¬†displayed bottles of wine on silver racks¬†in a glass-enclosed space,¬†with its own tasting table, and wines cooled at 18 C.¬†¬† The cherry on top was the complimentary Joostenberg Chenin Blanc sent to the table with the desserts.¬†

On the maze side, things were a little slow.   The crayfish starter, priced at R 65 per 100 gram, was beautifully presented on ice, with the meat displayed on the open tail.   It took an hour after the starter was cleared (2 hours after arrival) to be served the main course of a steak and kingklip.   The kingklip was very bland and boring, and served with the skin side up, not very attractive.  It had bones, which was an immediate no-no.   The steak was juicy and good, but served on a Spur-style wooden board that captures the juices.   The main course certainly was a disappointment, in terms of the reasonably small portions, and the bland display of the food, by comparison to the attractive presentation of the starters and desserts.

The dessert list is interesting, with¬†unusual combinations, and almost overdone-South African touches (“melktert, pink grapefruit granite, lemon curd” and¬†“malva pudding with poached apricots, gingerbread ice cream”).¬†¬† The most interesting sounding dessert was the “maze peanut butter and cherry jam sandwich with cherry sorbet”.¬†¬† A delectable range of sorbets (including lime, cream cheese, basil) and ice creams (including gingerbread, honey and milk, smoked salt and almond) can also be ordered, costing only R 15 for three small scoops.¬†¬† The melktert dessert was disappointing, in that the milk part of it was soft and runny, and not set, as one is accustomed to in South Africa.¬† Ramsay’s chefs will have to learn how to make their South African dishes.¬†¬†

The maze waiters are supported by local waiters, and the gap between the service levels is understandable, and will need more training to reduce.   It was encouraging to learn that former Grand Roche sommelier, and ex-Steenberg and Singita staffer Kent Scheermeyer is the Food & Beverage Director of One&Only Cape Town.

The food preparation is largely done inside the restaurant, and electric equipment is used, sounding just like a vacuum cleaner, disturbing the ambiance of the restaurant.

The bill took a long time to come, and had a price error for the crayfish, it being charged at R 500 instead of at the R 130 for the 200 gram ordered.    It took two revisions to get the bill fixed to reflect the correct amount.

The cloakrooms are bizarre, with a glass panel on one wall, and blown-up photographs of a woman’s fishnet stockinged legs, plastered on all the toilet doors.¬†¬† Bins holding the toweling cloths overflowed and only two of the nine toilets had toilet paper.

maze will improve, and needs to meet the standard of the One&Only Cape Town service levels as far as the wine side of the hotel goes.    Impressive was Assistant Manager Phillip, who came to the table, to request feedback about the evening.

The car was returned promptly, and ten out of ten for the driver for moving the seat back to its original position before getting out of the car.

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