The January 2016 edition of Qantas’ Spirit of Australia in-flight magazine has named a dish by Tokara Chef Richard Carstens as one of the top 10 dishes in the world in 2015, rubbing shoulders with two dishes from Michelin-star restaurants! The photograph of the dish is the main Continue reading →
* Cape Town has been named the winning city (ahead of Vancouver and Venice) in the Telegraph Travel Awards 2013. Describing all three cities as water-based, Cape Town’s point of difference is its ‘Michelin-starred restaurants’ (sic), staying in traditional as well as modern accommodation, climbing mountains, surfing the Atlantic Ocean, and relaxing at the beach. The city’s status as World Design Capital 2014 is also highlighted. ‘This really is a city that everyone who visits it loves: an English-speaking destination that offers sun, sea and culture in one place – and all just 11 hours’ flight away, with no jetlag’.
* The inaugural World Travel Market Africa, to be held in Cape Town from 2 – 3 May, is planning to sign up 700 exhibitors.
* Alan Wong, Jamie Oliver, and Gordon Ramsay are the world’s richest chefs!
* Stellenbosch Street Soirees will be held again to demonstrate the town’s Continue reading →
De Grendel wine estate must have the most beautiful view of all wine estates in the Western Cape, with its idyllic setting looking over Table Bay and onto Table Mountain. Now the wine estate owned by Sir David Graaff has opened De Grendel Restaurant in its winetasting centre, not only offering a magnificent view, but also beautiful food.
I was invited by De Grendel’s Public Relations consultant Errieda du Toit to share lunch with her a week after De Grendel Restaurant opened. I had only been to the wine estate once before, more than a year ago, with the Gastronauts, when catering had been brought in from outside. The room was transformed in collaboration with the Graaff family, blue brought into the table legs, into the upholstery fabric of some the chairs, as well as into the magnificent underplates made by ceramist Mervyn Gers (once the head of Radio Kontrei, the predecessor of Kfm). The underplates have the Graff family crest, showing a Paschal lamb, five stars representing the Southern Cross, flanked by the Boer farmer on the one side and a miner on the other, with three spades and armour. The blue pattern on the rim of the plate is repeated in bowls on the tables, and matches the Delftware in the armoire in the restaurant. Matching the underplates in quality is the most stylish, classic but modern, cutlery by Robert Welch, used in Michelin-starred restaurants, we were told by restaurant owner Jonathan Davies, which he was surprised that @Home has the agency for in South Africa. The Graaff family was awarded the baronetcy in 1911 for service rendered to the Crown in South Africa. The first Sir David had introduced the commercial cold storage and transportation of meat in South Africa, was the Mayor of Cape Town, introducing electricity to the city, helped set up the dry dock in the Cape Town harbour, and was involved in the building of the Table Mountain cableway. One wall has a collection of Graaff family photographs, including his son and politician Sir De Villiers Graaff dancing with the then Princess Elizabeth, now the Queen of England, on her Royal visit to Cape Town in 1947. The far end of the dining room has a glass window which allows one to look into the wine cellar, while the kitchen is visible behind a glass window on the opposite end. The ambiance created is to make one feel as if one is dining with the Graaff family.
The involvement of Jonathan Davies raises the cuisine bar for Cape Town, given that he owns the The Crown at Whitebrook, voted the best restaurant in Wales and one of the Top 50 restaurants in the UK, and has been awarded three AA rosettes, and one Michelin star for a number of years. He has worked at Ellerman House, and at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta, and has been coming to South Africa for seven years, having married his Pretorian wife. He met the Graaff family via a Bishops function where the respective children and grandchildren are in the same class. The deal was struck when Sir David came to have a meal at the Welsh restaurant. Jonathan has training in both front of house and as a chef, but has decided to concentrate on the former, and has brought in Chef Ian Bergh, previously of Pure at the Hout Bay Manor, Five Flies, and La Colombe. This exciting team has created a wonderful menu of creative dishes, and one senses that they had fun in coming up with new dishes never seen before on a local menu. A classic was Jonathan telling us about his Brandy and Coke ice cream he is working on, having observed how popular this drink is in South Africa, and a guinea fowl burger is planned. Jonathan says he will offer ‘fine dining’, his definition of it being that it is ‘food prepared well and with passion’. They are also bringing the De Grendel wines into the cuisine, and are using the wines to make chocolate truffles, a weakness of Sir David, I was told.
Chef Ian brought out four dishes to give us a taste of his menu, and Jonathan brought glasses of De Grendel wines paired with each dish. We sat in the ‘Conservatory’, a smaller room alongside the main restaurant, overlooking a large dam, and the green fields of the farm, on which Arab horses are kept for an equine remedial therapy programme, helping children with impediments, and in which geese, goats, Nguni cattle, and sheep can be seen too, against the landmark backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain. Grain and grapes are farmed at De Grendel.
The meal started with a slice of roast potato bread, served with home-made butter in a ceramic dish made by another top Cape Town ceramicist Lisa Firer, who also made the salt and pepper pots. The salad of fig, Buffalo Ridge mozzarella, cherry tomato and a raspberry dressing was a fresh starter, and a beautiful medley of leaves, which Jonathan paired with the 2011 De Grendel Sauvignon Blanc, the cool breeze off the sea being ideal for growing this grape variety. The Winifred blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Semillon was paired with a pea ravioli, free range chicken, Gorgonzola spuma, and a creamy De Grendel Chardonnay sauce. The starters range in price from R75 – R130, and other options include scallop, cob, duck liver, and squid.
The pork belly main course was superb, served with apple puree, roasted as well as pickled baby beetroot, and a sage and De Grendel Winifred jus, which Jonathan paired with the De Grendel Pinot Noir. Other main courses are Beef onglet (a French beef cut), venison, lamb, veal, and line fish, ranging from R135 – R155, and guinea fowl with foie gras (R240). The piece de resistance, that impressed with its beauty, creaminess, and simplicity, was the dessert, a basil panna cotta served with pomegranate (a special sweet taste, with a popping sound when one bites the kernels, and a beautiful deep red colour), served with strawberry and basil sprout. Given that Jonathan had told us about his Brandy and Coke dessert, a portion of it was made, which Errieda and I shared, being a malva pudding served with an apricot samoosa, a ball of Coca Cola ice cream, and a Brandy sauce.
For dinner a 6 – 8 course tasting menu is offered. The restaurant is child-friendly, and has sourced a children’s range of cutlery. Children under 3 years do not pay. Child-friendly dishes can be made, or children can order smaller portions of their parents’ dishes. High-chairs will be available for children. A range of children’s activities is planned, mainly to educate the children about vegetable growing and harvesting. They will even be able to plant their own vegetables, and would be encouraged to return to see them grow.
I didn’t look at the winelist, but Jonathan told me that the wines are sold at cellar prices, a most commendable pricing strategy! Errieda told me that the Graaffs started wine farming twelve years ago, making good wines at affordable prices. The farm is 350 meters above sea level and 7 km from the sea. Charles Hopkins is the Cellar master and Elzette du Preez the winemaker. The De Grendel wine range includes MCC, Rubaiyat, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Rosé, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc. Sir David has had a wine made in honour of his wife Lady Sally, called the Winifred, her second name. They have recently launched a Sauvignon Blanc-based Noble Late Harvest. Bottled triple carbon filtered water comes from the farm, and the glass bottles are re-used. Sundays sees traditional lunch fare, and Jonathan will carve a roast or chicken for a family at the table. The Crown at Whitebrook Chef James Sommerin, who was featured in the BBC’s ‘Great British Menu’ series, will do guest visits to De Grendel Restaurant, and will showcase some of his menu items.
De Grendel Restaurant is an exciting new addition to the Cape Town gourmet collection, combining a feeling of history and tradition on the wine estate, with the modernity and creativity of the cuisine offered in its restaurant. I will definitely be returning.
De Grendel Restaurant, De Grendel wine estate, M14, Plattekloof Road, Plattekloof. Tel (021) 558-6280. www.degrendel.co.za Twitter:@DeGrendelWines. Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Tuesday – Saturday dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter@WhaleCottage
Franschhoek still officially carries the Gourmet Capital crown, even though it faces strong competition from Stellenbosch, which is seeing the opening of an increasing number of excellent restaurants, so much so that we recently suggested that the town establish the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.
Franschhoek probably has sat back on its gourmet laurels for a while, but must be delighted about the opening of two new excellent restaurants, Ryan’s Kitchen and Pierneef Ã La Motte, which add new interest to Franschhoek as a culinary destination. In fairness to Franschhoek, I have suggested a Franschhoek Restaurant Route:
* Pierneef à La Motte is culinary art, and has upped the quality of Franschhoek’s restaurant choice. Its focus is Winelands Boerekos with a contemporary twist. Chef Chris Erasmus is a breath of fresh air, working with historic recipes and transforming them into works of art, reflecting Pierneef’s standards. Tel (021) 876-8000
* Grande Provence is quietly delivering quality cuisine, with chef Darren Roberts doing the most beautiful presentation of his food. The restaurant is not afraid to charge a price that reflects his standards of cooking. Outstanding decor, and surrounded by artwork from its Gallery. Perfection is visible from the time one drives into the wine estate. Top 10 restaurant for the past two years. Tel (021) 876-8600.
* The Tasting Room is loved by some, but not by all. It is expensive. It seems to have good nights and bad nights. Joint 10th with Overture on Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant List last year. Tel (021) 876-2151
* Ryan’s Kitchen has only been open for three months, set in a guest house, with a high-tech kitchen, and quality cuisine by chef Ryan Smith. “Contemporary South African cuisine” is the restaurant positioning, and a stronger African feel will be introduced in October, with a “Taste of Africa” menu. Tel (021) 876-4598
* Reuben’s has been the darling of Franschhoek, and a recent Tweet stated that it is the restaurant that tourists visit, while those that know go to Le Bon Vivant. Opened 6 years ago, the restaurant’s service standards have dropped as Reuben’s has expanded to Robertson, and chef Reuben Riffel has taken on more projects. Recently lost the sommelier to Bosman’s, but may not be a bad thing for the restaurant, as she was not very customer-friendly. The biggest compliment to Reuben and his team, but also the largest challenge, in opening Reuben’s at One&Only Cape Town (A first meal at the new Reuben’s was a-maze-ing). Tel (021) 876-3772
* Allee Bleue has been very low key restaurant-wise, and it is uncertain exactly where the management wants to go with its dining options. The Bistro at the entrance to the wine estate has always been friendly, and serves Bistro-style food at reasonable prices. The departure of Chef Dane Newton is a shame, but with his replacement currently working at the Michelin-starred Schwarzer Adler, interesting things could be coming out of this kitchen soon. Tel (021) 874-1021
* Cafe Bon Bon is one of the most relaxed and friendly breakfast and lunch-time stops in Franschhoek, on a most beautifully developed small-holding. Tel (021) 876-3936
* Haute Cabriere is owned by Franschhoek restaurant mogul Matthew Gordon. While many find the ‘cave’-like interior a shame given the beautiful view outside, it remains popular, also as a wedding venue, and has a good relationship with Cabriere wines. Tel (021) 876-3688
* La Petite Ferme is one of the best known restaurants with consistent quality and does not amend its menu much. Visitors return, not only for the quality food but also for the wonderful view over Franschhoek, and for the relaxed atmosphere. Tel (021) 876-3016
* Dieu Donné also has an excellent view from its glass ‘walls’. Its food quality was better when it first opened about two years ago. Tel (021) 876-2493
* Le Bon Vivant is tucked away, off the main road, and is a ‘loner’, doing its own thing. Beautiful presentation of food by chef Pierre. Tel (021) 876-2717
* Rickety Bridge has a restaurant right at the vineyards, and offers picnics in summer. Tel (021) 876-2129
* French Connection is another Matthew Gordon restaurant, and is a pedestrian favourite of locals and tourists. Good main road location. Serving breakfast as well now. Tel (021) 876-4056
* Dutch East was struggling when we visited it in June. It seemed to be trying too hard. There is no particular style of food served. Tel (021) 876-3547
* Chez d’Or was previously Cafe Rouge, and has expanded its size, and brought the restaurant closer to the main road. Sandwiches and pedestrian Bistro food. Tel 082 372 7645
* Allora is a good quality Italian restaurant. Despite sister-restaurants in Johannesburg, the welcome is personal and one does not get a chain-feel at all. Good value family eating. Tel (021) 876-4375.
* Col’Cacchio is one of a chain by the same name, and one can predict what is on offer. Not the best service, but very popular for outside sitting. Tel (021) 876-4222
* Boschendal– other than going there for historical reasons, or to eat their long-standing buffet lunch, there is little to attract one to an estate that does not yet embrace excellence, a shame given its heritage. Its Le Piqniques are well-known and very popular in summer. Tel (021) 870-4272
* Fyndraai at Solms-Delta wine estate is a pleasant surprise, with interesting Kaapse kos. On good weather days, sitting on the terrace is a treat. Tel (021) 874-3937
* Cotage Fromage is a joint venture between Matthew Gordon, Duncan Doherty and Pierre Smith, serving breakfasts and lunches, and doing the catering for wedding and other events at Vrede & Lust. The menu does not reflect the capabilities of the three chefs. Tel (021) 874-3991
* The Grillroom is another Matthew Gordon restaurant, and fills a niche for patrons wanting mainly steak. Unique restaurant in that one can buy good quality meat to take home too, as well as Franschhoek wines. Tel (021) 876-2548
* Cafe des Arts has taken over from Topsi’s, a Franschhoek institution. Topsi still appears to be there regularly. (Tel (021) 876-2952
* Salmon Bar is undergoing a renovation in part of the old Bouillabaisse building, which will enhance its visibility when it re-opens in November. Tel (021) 876- 4591
* Bread & Wine is linked to Le Quartier FranÃ§ais, and only serves lunches. Previously included in Eat Out Top 10 list, to the surprise of many. Good bread and charcuterie. Tel (021) 876-3692.
* Mon Plaisir is on the Chamonix estate, and is owned by a French couple offering French fare. Little ambiance inside the restaurant. Tel (021) 876-2393
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
I had only heard good things about Ryan’s Kitchen, which opened on the Franschhoek main road almost three months ago. The restaurant is an asset to Franschhoek, Ryan Smith being a creative chef with a passion for contemporary food. What makes the restaurant interesting is that it is small and cosy, seating a maximum of 50 guests inside and out, in what is the breakfast room of guest house Rusthof in the morning, and the dining room for lunch and dinner for Ryan’s Kitchen. It is an ideal main road location for Ryan’s Kitchen, and its new bright neon sign must be an irritation for the local Aesthetics Committee, which likes to approve all design elements in the town.
Ryan is a Capetonian, who left the Mother City at 16, and has spent the past 16 years around the globe, on Crystal cruise ships, in the Middle East, in the UK, and even in St Petersburg, where he met his lovely wife Lana at the Astoria Hotel. Four years ago he returned to his ‘homeland’, and joined Mange Tout restaurant as chef at Mont Rochelle Hotel in Franschhoek. Then came the big step of setting up his own kitchen restaurant. The restaurant is so small inside that one’s table can be against the kitchen counter, allowing one to chat with Ryan while he is preparing the food. The high tech stainless steel kitchen and the restaurant country-cottage decor are a contradiction, especially as far as the chairs are concerned, which look dated and are not particularly attractive. Good quality napery, cutlery, crockery and glassware is on the table. Lana is assisted by staff in taking orders for the food and wine, and a number of waiters looked familiar from previous restaurants they had worked at (Allee Bleue and Bouillabaisse, amongst others).
When Lana handed the menu to us, she told us that Ryan’s Kitchen served “South African contemporary food”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, as it seemed a dish here and there were South African in nature, but that the bulk of them are cosmopolitan. The menu is printed on hardboard, with the distinctive Ryan’s Kitchen logo of a collection of hanging kitchen utensils, one of few restaurants I know to have a logo. The winter special of R 195 for three courses, including a glass of wine, only offers one choice per course (seared yellowfin tuna, Elgin chicken breasts and poached sago pudding). The a la carte menu offers five starters and mains each, and four desserts are offered. The starters range from R68 – R88, and include Madagascar prawns, Green Asparagus (with spiced veal and red pepper mince), duckliver parfait ‘peri-peri’, organic beetroot tapioca, and pickled butterfish â€˜Cape Malay’.
We were offered a choice of three breads, and an amuse bouche of braised spicy chicken with eggplant and butternut foam. It was more generous than a normal amuse bouche, and the butternut taste dominated, I felt. I was unsure what to eat it with, the spoon served with it, but I preferred a fork. There was no salt or pepper on the table, and we were not offered any during the meal. When I asked for salt to have with the bread, it was brought to the table. I forgot to ask Ryan why it is not on the table. My colleague had the butterfish, and we could not believe how beautifully it was plated and presented. She loved it.
I had seen calf’s liver on a previous menu, and asked Ryan if he would have it available on the menu on the night we ate there. Despite it having been taken off the menu, he had arranged a slice of liver for me, which he served with soft yummy pork-belly, mash, spinach and chicory, garnished with pea sprouts, once again beautifully presented. The liver was prepared medium rare, absolutely perfect. Main course options are veal sweetbreads, beef fillet, Kalahari game duo, fish of the day, and creamed African samp, ranging from R95 â€“ R128, fair prices given how expensive some restaurants have become. For dessert I had an Amarula Parfait, which had a chocolate biscuit base with peppermint crisp chips, a soft caramel centre inside the parfait, and grass green peppermint liqueur foam, which had an almost marshmallow texture. The colours in my colleague’s Ginger Malva were on the brown side, not as attractive as my colourful dessert. Desserts range from R 50 â€“ R 60, and a selection of cheeses costs R80. A surprise was the cost of the cappuccino at R 20 â€“ rarely have I seen it charged anywhere at such a high price, even if it is LavAzza. However, it was served with a platter of three mini-desserts of strawberries and cream, a carrot cake delight, and chocolate malva with beetroot caramel, which made the coffee good value, but we had already eaten a dessert each. I was also surprised to see a charge for a â€˜palate cleanser’ (Kumquat sorbet) of R15.
The winelist is presented in a blue plastic folder, and could be improved, with loose sheets being replaceable should pricing or availability change, but the pages were coming out of the folder. The wine selection is very proudly-Franschhoek, which is commendable. Vintages are indicated, as well as the ‘flavour’ of each wine described. I had a glass of Jean Daneel Initial, a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, not my normal choice, but a very pleasant wine to match the liver. The MCC sparkling wines include the increasingly popular pink bubblies – Graham Beck Brut Rose (R170) and Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Belle Rose (R210). Shiraz options are Kleinood Tamboerskloof (R 190), Mont Rochelle (R210) and Waterford Estate Kevin Arnold (R250).
The staff was professional in their service, except for stretching across us to take cutlery away â€“ a pet peeve. I did not like seeing the kitchen being mopped at the end of the evening, but that is the price one pays when one has a table close to the open kitchen, and one eats later. The kitchen looked spotless on completion of the cooking, and dishes must have been washed up elsewhere. Only once did we hear a clang from the kitchen, and it must be tough on staff to keep things calm and quiet. Ryan delegates very little in the kitchen, or so it seems, yet he made time to chat to the guests at the tables not as close to his work station as ours. He is proudly awaiting a new stove, to make soufflÃ©s and more.
Ryan has added an exciting dimension to the main road of Franschhoek, and is a breath of fresh air joining a very small selection of top restaurants (Reuben’s and The Tasting Room) on it, given the closure of Bouillabaisse, and the other more average restaurants catering for the day-tripper/motorbiking tourist. It will be interesting to see how the opening of a number of restaurants outside Franschhoek will effect business in the village itself – Pierneef Ã La Motte, the opening next year of the Restaurant at Maison, the excellent work of chef Darren Roberts at Grande Provence (I saw similarities in the work of chef Darren and of chef Ryan), and the newly appointed chef at Allee Bleue, currently training at Michelin-starred Schwarzer Adler. Ryan’s Kitchen is re-inventing itself already, even if it is less than three months old. An e-mail from Ryan indicated that his Spring menu ingredients will include asparagus, artichokes, broad beans, tomatillos, tarragon, fresh berries, Namibian Red Crab, and Madagascar Prawns. In October a 5-course “Taste of Africa” will be introduced in addition to the a la carte menu, with springbok, crocodile, ostrich, abalone and swordfish.
Ryan’s Kitchen, 12 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-4598. www.ryanskitchen.co.za. Open for lunch Wednesday – Sunday, and for dinner Tuesday – Saturday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
A Tudor-style restaurant building, built in the 1930’s, has become the home of one of Cape Town’s best “finer dining” restaurants, offering excellent value for money. La Mouette (The Gull) has opened on Regent Road in Sea Point (there is no branding on the outside yet, so one must look for the number 78, near Checkers), and is named in honour of the noisy landmark of this suburb, even though there were no seagulls to be seen nor heard while I was there. The building was previously the home of Europa and The Carvery. Coats of paint, chic decor inside, and a bubbling fountain filled with Koi in the entrance courtyard and surrounded by French-style bistro tables and chairs, have given the building a new lease on life.
But it is the owner trio of General Manager Mari Vermaak, Chef Henry Vigar, and Marketer/Righthand Gerrit Bruwer that has “rejuvenated” the building and its interior, with a refreshing approach to running a restaurant of excellence, based on Henry and Mari’s experience in the restaurant industry in London. Vigar is a passionate chef whose cooking style is modern French-style cuisine with a Mediterranean influence. He has worked at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants (The Square, La Noisette and The Greenhouse in London, Rascasse in Leeds, and Hotel des Pyrenees in France) as well as at The Quayside in Sydney. He was the Head Chef at Kensington Place, where Eric Bulpitt, chef at Jardine on Bree Street, worked for him for a while.
Mari is a bubbly yet serious restaurateur, who has a firm hand on the operation of the restaurant. She has done all the staff training, and impressed me with her description of how they employed the best of more than 400 applicants for the waitron and kitchen positions, including making applicants write food and wine knowledge tests. All the staff have sampled all the dishes on the menu, and whenever a new dish is introduced, Chef Henry explains it to the waiters. Wine estates like Villiera and L’avenir have come to the restaurant, to train the staff about their wines. The service from my waiter Peter was perfect, a reflection of Mari’s thorough training.
Mari grew up in George, and was a graphic designer before moving to London, where she was a Restaurant Manager at Gilmours on Park Walk, at Kensington Place, and at Launceston Place. It was at Kensington Place that Chef Henry showed her his interest by sending specially made chocolate macaroons to her desk. The rest is history, as they say in the classics! Mari’s London background shows, in her neat black shirt, skirt and stockings, the ultimate classic front-of-house dress. Mari is a warm, friendly, down-to-earth and generous hostess, giving up three hours of her time, sitting and chatting to me about their background, and receiving a quick overview about the importance of social media marketing from me. Whilst they have just started a blog, they agreed that it is time to embrace Twitter, especially given their gull theme, and did so immediately! Gerrit and Mari both studied graphic design at the University of Potchefstroom, and Gerrit has designed a beautiful corporate identity for the stationery, menu and winelist, with flying seagulls and flowers. Mari and Henry are partners, and both Leos!
Mari felt it important to not alienate locals, and hence all menu items were named in English instead of their French equivalent. The menu has a small selection of dishes, making it relatively easy to choose. The lunch and dinner menus are almost identical in terms of dishes offered, but the prices differ somewhat. For lunch, for example, one can order extra sides, at R 25 each, whilst they do not appear on the dinner menu. For lunch all Starters and Desserts cost R 35, and Mains cost R 80, a total of R 150 for a 3-course lunch, whilst the dinner cost is R 210 for 3-courses, or R 50 for the Starters and Desserts, and R 110 for all Mains. The dinner menu offers one or two more options for each course.
I had the Chicken liver parfait, chicken reillette, pear chutney and toasted brioche as a starter, a lovely combination, the pear chutney being a surprise but well-matched. I overheard a neighbouring table proclaim that the French onion soup was the best they had ever eaten. Other lunch starters are a tomato salad served with tapenade and smoked mozarella; mushrooms on toast served with walnut salad and roasted fig; and prawn and ginger ravioli. I ordered the sweetcorn risotto served with the cutest tempura pea shoots, almost a work of art, and decorated with lime and coriander gremoulata. Alternatives are “house-made” linguini (by an Italian in the kitchen), hake, chicken, confit duck, and minute steak. The dessert options are really interesting, and gives one a feel for Chef Henry’s creativity (he still seems somewhat more classic, but with a twist, on the starters and mains), and I will come back for these: peanut butter parfait and chocolate ganache; a “gin and tonic” with a difference; and passion fruit curd, doughnuts, Greek yoghurt and honey foam. The cappuccino was excellent, the coffee being supplied by Deluxe, a small specialist coffee roastery in Cape Town.
An alternative to the menu is a choice of tapas style dishes to share, at R 35 each: marinated vegetables and olives; truffle and cheese croquettes; tempura style vegetables and roasted pepper dip; sweet onion tart, olive, thyme and marinated anchovy; and crispy calamari, smoked paprika and saffron aioli.
The winelist is neatly presented, and offers an impressive list of 15 wines-by-the glass, and about 75 wines. One senses that many of the wines stocked are because of a special relationship that developed between the wine estate and Henry and Mari when they were compiling their winelist, and Avondale, Villiera, Springfield and L’avenir feature strongly on the list, as does Tokara Zondernaam. Champagnes are stocked (Moet & Chandon, Billecart Salmon Rose, Champagne Barons de Rothschild and Bollinger Special Cuvee), while the very recently launched La Motte Methode Cap Classique (R500), as well as Villiera, Pierre Jourdan and L’avenir sparkling wines are also stocked. A number of Shiraz options are available, ranging from R 150 for Villiera Shiraz, to R 280 for the Thelema. No vintages are offered on the winelist, one of few points of criticism.
Mari refused to allow me to pay for the two course lunch, glass of bubbly and two cappuccinos I enjoyed with her. I therefore returned for a paid-for dinner with a friend three days later, and we were impressed with the Butternut squash soup served with toasted pine nuts and blue cheese, and the sweetcorn risotto and the pan-fried Duck breast as main courses. We were spoilt with a taste of the Bouillabaisse, with a plump prawn, tiny mussel, tender tube of calamari and crayfish. For dessert we had the signature “Gin and Tonic”, consisting of tonic jelly, gin syrup, and lime ice cream, the most unusual dessert I have ever experienced, refreshing and revitalising.
La Mouette is planning themed evenings, and will open a chic wine bar upstairs in December. One can sense the energy and innovation in what is still a very early start for the restaurant, my visit having been a week after opening. La Mouette is a restaurant to watch, and will soon be flying high on the Cape Town restaurant scene.
POSTSCRIPT: I was privileged to have been invited to the Chef’s Table at La Mouette on 20 May, in the company of Clare Mack of Spill Blog, JamieWho of JamieWho Blog, Kim Maxwell, Rey Franco, and Sam from L’Avenir. The amuse bouche was a butternut soup served with a to-die-for cheese and truffle croquet, followed by a prawn and ginger ravioli, mushrooms on toast served with walnut salad and vanilla roasted fig, a highly praised Bouillabaisse, Rib of Beef, the famous “gin and tonic” dessert of Chef Henry, passion fruit curd served with mini-doughnuts, and the “crunchie” dessert, served as a chocolate fondant, honeycomb espuma and ice cream. Every course was perfectly paired with a L’Avenir wine. Such a good time was had that the last guests left long after midnight. The La Mouette branding has now been erected at the entrance to the restaurant, and should make it easier to find the restaurant.
POSTSCRIPT 4 JULY: I have returned to La Mouette a number of times, and always had attentive service from Mari. My last visit was a disappointing one, probably due to Mari not being on duty that evening. The manager on duty was not on the floor except for showing us our table and apologising about the winelist error. A winelist “typing error” for an incorrect Villiera wine-by-the-glass vintage, which had been identified ten days prior as an error, was still on the winelist. The waiter stretched in front of us to put down the cutlery. The wrong amount was taken off my credit card for payment. There was no one to greet us when we left the restaurant. I wrote to Mari after the dinner, and received a very defensive “Dear customer” letter.
POSTSCRIPT 2/9: I returned for the first time in 2 months today, sitting in the fountain courtyard, dominated by a massive motorbike parked there. Mari was professional, yet very changed in attitude, due to our feedback about the 4 July dinner. The restaurant has changed to a Spring Special menu at R175 for 6 courses (or R350 for wines paired to 5 of the courses), with a typing error. An Express 2-course lunch at R99 has been introduced, which was not good value – my colleague had the marinated tomato salad and chicken. We shared a bowl of Chef Henry’s new cheese and ham croquettes, and I ordered my favourite, the chicken liver parfait. The Beef Sirloin was average, four small slices expensive at R105 – one pays a R25 supplement for it. The Tapas selection has been taken off the menu. The service from Hazel was sweet, and she was very willing to please, but stretched across us in replacing the cutlery. Mari did not want us to pay for the meal today, due to the problems with our 4 July meal, but we refused her generous offer.
La Mouette, 78 Regent Road, Sea Point. tel 021 433-0856. www.lamouette.co.za (the website is one of the best I have ever seen for a restaurant, informative, with menu and winelist, and link to the blog). Twitter @teamlamouette. Open Tuesdays – Sundays for lunch, and Mondays – Saturday evenings for dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
Tomlin has been in the country for a few months now, busy overseeing the renovation of the building that will become both a chefs’ school, as well as a warehouse, which will sell every ingredient and the equipment used in the preparation of the dishes when one attends a course or an event at the chefs’ school. He is a consultant to British Airways, and also to local restaurants, La Motte’s new restaurant being one of his projects. He is also opening a guest house in Tamboerskloof, so that he can accommodate Chefs’ School students. I met Tomlin at Portofino at the end of January, when he first started revealing details of his new project.
Tomlin grew up in Dublin, and worked at the London Hilton, The Hotel Central in Zurich, the Regent Hotel in Melbourne, and in Sydney at the Park Lane hotel, Level 41 and Brasserie Cassis before starting Banc, named as Sydney’s top restaurant. His staff and colleagues describe him as a tough and exacting chef, who demands perfection from all, yet lends a hand in peeling potatoes, to assist his staff.
When meeting Tomlin, he expressed his fear of writing – even though he has published two cookery books already. I challenged him to blog about his craft, but he says he will leave this to his efficient wife Jan, who is very much his right hand in the new venture.
Tomlin’s “Basic Techniques and Methods of Cookery” courses will commence on Saturday 24 April, and will be held every second Saturday morning, from 9h30 – 13h30. Twenty courses run through until 5 February 2011, and cover such topics such as sauces, plated desserts, eggs, shellfish, salads, stocks, potatoes and more. The course costs R 10 500.
Local celebrity chefs will be invited as guest speakers, and the list includes Laurent Deslandes from Bizerca, Neil Jewell from Bread & Wine, Chef Bruce Robertson, Reuben Riffel of Reubens, Margot Janse of Le Quartier Francais, Topsi Venter, Pete Goffe-Wood of Wild Woods, and Malika van Reenen of Signal at the Cape Grace Hotel. Richard Corrigan of Corrigan’s in London, and also the owner of Bentley’s in London and Dublin, will be invited to run classes, as will Brett Graham of London-based Ledbury, and The Harwood Arms, the first Michelin-starred pub.
The pay-off line for the new Chefs’ Warehouse is: “where retail and culinary education blend in perfect harmony…”. The building will be used not only as a Cookery School and Warehouse, but also as a venue for shoots, product launches, book signings, food and wine events, and media events.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com