I have experienced the cuisine creativity and presentation of Chefs Rikku O’Donnchü and Warwick King three times at Gåte when they opened at Quoin Rock wine estate outside Stellenbosch a year ago, and three times since they established their own SŸN Group since leaving Gåte, first as a SŸN Pop-up, and then as their brand new Exhibit A, in the past year, In this period I have seen the growth in this creative chef team, challenging itself continuously to do things differently and to break their own boundaries. Continue reading →
It was at a dinner with Katie Friedman of Urban Lime that I heard about the opening of Victoire, a French Boulangerie, Pâtisserie, and Bistro in the newly redeveloped Speakers’ Corner building on Church Square in Cape Town. I attended the opening, as well as had breakfast at Victoire the following day. Continue reading →
Every winter is a tough time for the restaurant industry. With the dip in Tourism due to the water shortage, and the early heavy winter rains, the restaurants in Cape Town and the Winelands are feeling the pinch, and many have closed down, even some on the iconic restaurant Bree Street, as well as in the Waterfront! Continue reading →
I requested a list of suggestions for pâtisseries to visit whilst in Paris from Chef Glen Williams of Foxcroft, who had visited Paris for a week last year. His top recommendation out of a list of about ten pâtisseries was L’Éclair de Génie. Continue reading →
Michalak pâtisserie came highly recommended by Foxcroft Chef Glen Williams for top pâtisseries to visit in Paris. It has a modern and funky feel, and I got the feeling that its owner Chef Christophe Michalak has had fun in creating his Michalak pâtisserie range. Continue reading →
Chef James Martin is a top UK celebrity chef, and has been connected with Chewton Glen over many years, having worked at the UK’s leading hotel as a pastry chef twenty years ago, and is now set to open the James Martin Cooking School, Bakery, and Relaxed Dining on 1 December. Continue reading →
The Village Tart is Franschhoek’s newest restaurant, having opened two months ago on the main road, where the Pancake place used to be. It is a friendly restaurant, offering the best baking in Franschhoek, but serves lunches and breakfasts too. Continue reading →
My first encounter with Caffe Milano Pasticceria & Bar on Kloof Street, next door to ex hot-spot Manna, for lunch last week made me undecided as to how I felt about it, something that doesn’t happen very often. A return visit for breakfast on Saturday morning made me a firm supporter, enjoying the good food, the good service, and extreme friendliness.
I could not help but compare the new restaurant, the fifth that restaurant mogul Giogio Nava has opened in Cape Town (his other restaurants are 95 Keerom Street, Carne, Down South Food Bar, and Mozzarella Bar, and he is soon to open an events and entertainment venue in the old Art Deco Land Bank building in Queen Victoria Street) with Cassis Paris’ Salon de Thé in Newlands. Both restaurants focus on the patisserie side of their outlets, and both produce beautiful pastries. While they are freshly baked on the Caffe Milano premises from about 2h00 every morning, the Cassis Paris delicacies are baked at a central factory in Montague Gardens. The product display at Cassis Paris is more attractive, in that it has a larger pastry range, and they are neatly displayed in rows in the display cabinets, while those at Caffe Milano are placed on platters inside the display cabinet. As I went to eat after lunchtime, a number of the Caffe Milano pastries on the platters had been sold, and were not replenished, probably waiting for the fresh load to be baked the following day. Caffe Milano’s pastry display is inside the restaurant, whereas it is in a neighbouring shop at Cassis Paris, with no direct client connection. The service is definitely far better at Caffe Milano, and the food, based only on two items at each, definitely was better at Caffe Milano. Brand focus is far better at Cassis Paris. Cassis Paris has a marketing edge on Caffe Milano, in that it started brand building three years ago.
While I was well looked after by the waitress Zoe, I felt something was missing in the restaurant, especially given the rave reviews I had read by blogging colleagues. There is no music. There is perhaps too much open space inside the two restaurant sections, which does not create cohesion. The tables have wooden tops and with the wooden chairs they did not give me the feeling of the latest elegant Milanese design (Nava’s partner in the Mozzarella Bar, Matteo Amatruda, owns a+1 in The Foundry, an interior design shop specialising in Italian furniture and lighting, and I did not see his decor hand at Caffe Milano). The walls are painted a boring beige, and the staff tops are beige and branded, matched with brown aprons, a not very modern colour combination. Downlighters and ordinary looking round lamp shades light up the bar section and display cabinet area. I loved the large LavAzza wall poster (on the right), and would have liked to see more of this theme inside the restaurant – unfortunately the poster is hidden from the view of most clients sitting in the entrance section of the restaurant. I loved the cake displays in the windows. The menu (with winelist) looks boring and old-fashioned with little brown illustrations of food items subtly printed on it, which initially made me think that it had coffee stains on it. It also looks cheap, just being an A3 page which looks heavily used, given that the restaurant has only been open for a month. A white paper serviette is on the side plate and the knife and fork are pedestrian. The teaspoon is Italian designed, and looks far better quality. Zoe brought Morgenster olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the table, the latter bottle having only a last drop in it. A Robertson’s pepper grinder is on the table, as is an ordinary salt cellar.
Nava arrived and was active behind the counter for a while, but never appears to connect with his customers. Vanessa Quellec is the co-owner of Caffe Milano, and the pastry chef, having previously worked at The Roundhouse. She has worked in top restaurants in New York, and went to Germany and Italy before opening the restaurant, to learn more about bread baking. She had left for the day, I was told, as she works with the baking staff in the early hours of the morning. The chef in the kitchen is Brendon Stein, previously having worked at the River Café at Constantia Uitsig. The manager is Charlene van Heerden, and she was very helpful in proactively opening the pastry display cabinet, so that its glass door would not reflect in my photograph.
Breakfast is served until midday, and offers five options: Kloof Street Breakfast (bacon and eggs) at R45; Eggs Benedict R52, scrambled eggs cost R45, and R55 with bacon, and R 65 if served with salmon; French Toast made from cinnamon and pecan brioche costs R58, and a Muesli Mix with fruit and yoghurt R 55. Breakfast pastries such as croissants filled with almonds, chocolate, apricot jam, or cream, or served plain, cannoncino, bombolone as well as sticky buns, range in price between R10 – R18. “Filled” croissants can also be ordered, with mozzarella, parma ham or smoked Norwegian trout on them, costing R30 – R42. The LavAzza cappuccino is excellent, and costs R15 (Nava discounts it to R10 at his Mozzarella Bar down the road). I loved the neat LavAzza sugar sachet holder, which I have not seen elsewhere.
Lunch is served between midday and 16h00, a decent time range, and a bowl of toasted thin slices of some of the Caffe Milano breads is brought to the table. Only eleven lunch items are available, of which five are salads (avocado, smoked mozzarella, roasted chicken, calamari, and caprese), quite expensive at R 60 – R75. I ordered the La Tartare di Mazo (R70), being ‘hand chopped raw prime fillet dressed with Morgenster olive oil, onion, egg, capers and parsley’, and served with three slices of toast, a perfect accompaniment to the tartare, one of the best I have tasted, less fine than that which one can buy at Raith Gourmet. The presentation was rounded off by three half slices of lemon, each of these having a tiny amount of chopped onions, washed and chopped capers, and chopped parsley. When I did not recognise the dried and chopped capers, Zoe brought before and after capers to the table, to explain how they get to look so brown when washed, dried and chopped up. Parma ham and melon costs R95, smoked yellow fin tuna carpaccio R80, Norwegian salmon R85, beef carpaccio R70 and lasagne pasta, spinach and ricotta costs R65. There is only one ‘Dolci’ item on the menu, which is the Il Fondente “95”, from Nava’s 95 Keerom Street restaurant, which he also serves at the Mozzarella Bar. I suspect that most patrons will make their way to the display cabinet, and will chose a dessert from it, the selection including cannoncino (R10); mini apple tarts, lemon tarts, Sacher Torte, Coconut Daquoise, and Portuguese custard tarts costing R15, and lots more. I had a berry pannacotta, which was served in a beautiful glass, and I savoured its creaminess, whilst chatting to an American visitor sitting at a table across from me.
Cap Classiques on offer are Villiera (R40/R160), Graham Beck Brut (R45/R210), Graham Beck Brut Rosé (R50/R230), Steenberg Brut 1682 (R280) and Krone Borealis Brut Rosé (R270). Taittinger Brut costs R720, and Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé R950. No Shiraz is on the winelist, and generally the winelist is weighted to white wines. Wines by the glass include Graham Beck Rail Road Red (R28/R110), Villiera Cabernet Sauvignon (R35/R110), Dombeya Merlot (R48/R190), Felicite Pinot Noir (R41/R165), Kleine Zalze Sauvignon Blanc (R30/R120), Graham Beck Chardonnay (R45/R180), and Kloof Street Chenin Blanc (R28/R110).
One can go home with pastries and artisanal breads under one’s arm, as well as with a beautiful LavAzza cappuccino machine, ranging in price between R2800 – R 3300, depending on the colour scheme of the machine. LavAzza coffee pods can also be bought.
I had mixed feelings about my first visit to Caffe Milano, relative to the hype I had read, and saw no bar counter, as promised in the name of the restaurant. Perhaps the marriage between the restaurant and the pasticceria is not there yet. There is nothing on the menu to encourage one to peek at the pastry display cabinet, especially when one does not see it in the side room, and it would be nice to have the names of these items listed on the menu too, to see them as dessert options, and also to get to know their Italian names with English descriptions. Given Nava’s restaurant experience, I think the restaurant can stretch itself with a greater variety of Italian dishes over time, only two dishes on the lunch menu being cooked, and I have read that it may open for dinner in future. The pastries are good value, especially given their quality, but I felt that the lunch portion of steak tartare was expensive relative to the amount that was served. The food quality is excellent. The main attraction is the pastry section, and perhaps it could do with being fuller for most of the day, with pastry plates refilled, and more neatly presented, as per Cassis Paris. I will be back, and my next visit will be for breakfast. Parking is a challenge however, the popularity of Caffe Milano making it hard to find somewhere close by to park.
I had written the above (with the exception of the first paragraph) after my first visit for lunch, and my return visit clarified some things, and changed my mind about Caffe Milano completely. First, it was buzzing on Saturday morning, and I was lucky enough to get the last table, as well as to find a (creative) parking spot close by, so great is their popularity. Charlene, the Manager, welcomed me back like an old friend, and the waitress Zoe took over some of the service at my table too. The pastry display cabinet was fully packed, and all the trays were filled. The service was fast and efficient, despite the restaurant being so full. The scrambled egg (R48) I ordered was the most delicious and the most yellow I have ever eaten, served with lovely toasted rye bread. When I commented on the colour of the eggs, Charlene brought me an information booklet from Spier BD (for Biodiversity) Farm, whch is their supplier of eggs, chicken and beef. I was fascinated to read their claims that ‘pasture-fed’ animals are “freer than the free ranging” animals and birds, and therefore implies healthier to eat. The chickens, for example, spend 21 days on the pasture in ‘predator-proof houses’. They lay their eggs in ‘eggmobiles”. The pastures have 19 varieties of grasses and legumes, the brochure explains, and the farming is biodynamic. “The chickens are treated as animals, and not as production widgets”, it continues. Slaughtering is done by hand, it says, as ‘humanely as possible’. The chickens are not injected with brine, up to 25 % being allowed in South Africa.
The co-owner Giorgio Nava looked very cheffy in his white chef top, and was behind the counter the whole time that I was there. The biggest delight of all was Vanessa Quellec coming to say hello. She is very friendly and welcoming, and I loved her two pigtails, making her very down to earth. She kept checking that everything was in order, and showed me her new bread ‘baby’, a baguette epi (right), which she had baked for the first time that morning. She also compiled a list of her bread styles for me, which is not in the menu. On weekends she has a greater variety of breads available, and it includes the epi, milk bread rolls and sugar milk bread, in addition to the weekday range of ciabatta, baguettes, 60 % as well 100% rye sourdough, focaccia with sea salt and rosemary, and bialy. Vanessa comes from Minnesota originally, and worked in some hotshot New York restaurants, where she met PJ Vadis, the chef at The Roundhouse. He suggested that she work for Markus Farbinger at Il de Pain in Knysna, who is internationally known as one of the best bread bakers and pastry makers in the world, having worked in New York too, including at Le Cirque. Vanessa spent a year in Knysna, and says that Farbinger has changed breadmaking in South Africa (one of his other proteges is Fritz Schoon at De Oude Bank Bakkerij in Stellenbosch). Through her friendship with Vadis, she worked at The Roundhouse as pastry chef, until the opportunity arose to start Caffe Milano with Nava. While she waited for the restaurant to be ready for opening, she spent time at a sourdough bread and at a roll factory in Germany, and also at a bread factory in Italy, such is the love for her craft. She told me that she only uses the best ingredients, and recently introduced Valrhona chocolate from France to South Africa, using it for all her chocolate requirements, and also selling it in slabs.
Vanessa also told me that the menu will evolve, and this week the first additions to the menu will be introduced. They will focus on creating greater synergy between the pastry and bread side of the business, and the restaurant side, through the menu. Vanessa confirmed that opening in the evenings is on the cards, but not in the immediate future, as she wants her staff to be perfectly trained first. I thought they were doing very well for having only been open for a month.
POSTSCRIPT 13/3: I went back to Caffe Milano today, and enjoyed the most beautiful Eggs Benedict. I asked to have the bacon excluded, and Charlene spontaneously offered me avocado and mushrooms to replace it. The restaurant was so full, that I had to wait for a table. It had a wonderful buzz.
POSTSCRIPT 27/4: Vanessa Quellec leaves Caffe Milano in July, and is heading for Valrhona in France, where she will undergo training in the use of their chocolates. She plans to return to Cape Town as a representative of the company. Giorgio Nava will bring in an Italian pastry chef.
POSTSCRIPT 26/9: The Weekend Argus reports that Caffe Milano will open for dinner from November.
Caffe Milano Pasticceria & Bar, 153 Kloof Street, Gardens, Cape Town. Tel (021) 426-5566. www.caffemilano.co.za (The website is still under construction). Tuesday – Sunday 7h00 – 17h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
I have been to Cassis Paris in the Gardens Centre many times, and often had a sit-down quiche at the tables and chairs just outside the shop there. The sit-down service there has been disappointing, not matching the wonderful products they serve in their Patisserie and Boulangerie. The owner Patrick Moreau now owns three Cassis Paris outlets, and has just added a good Salon de Thé to his Newlands branch, bringing Paris to Newlands, and matching the quality of his wonderful breads and pastries, with some service deficiencies.
Moreau was born in Brittany, but grew up in Paris. He met his South African wife on a cruise ship, where both were working, and they worked in Bangkok before Moreau had the yearning to start his own business. A holiday back ‘home’ in South Africa in 2007 led him to identify a gap in the market for an upmarket French-style patisserie and boulangerie. He opened in the Gardens Centre, well located next door to Raith Gourmet, three years ago, and in Newlands eighteen months ago. The Salon and the outlet in Constantia Village were opened in December. His products inside the display cabinets at the 15 on Orange hotel have been removed. The business is so successful that Moreau is at his Montague Gardens factory, overseeing the production of the pastries and breads, during the week. Over weekends he circulates between his outlets. He told me that Somerset West and Mouille Point are on his wishlist for future outlets.
I was impressed to see Patrick hands-on behind the counter of his Newlands branch, in which the patisserie counter was filled with the most beautiful selection of pastries. A smaller counter deeper in the shop sells a selection of breads, croissants and brioche.
The Salon de Thé is a smallish space, with white tables and chairs set inside as well as outside, with branded Cassis Paris umbrellas protecting the outside tables against the heat. My table was wobbly, but the waiter quickly fixed this problem. The colour scheme at Cassis Paris is a most definite purple, and the bench attached to the wall inside the restaurant is purple. Cutlery is by Fortis, and is obviously shiny new, offered with a purple paper serviette. The menu cover is purple, as is the apron the staff wear over a black shirt and black pants. The menu is extensive, and is neatly presented in plastic sleeves. It focuses on the products which Cassis makes, presented in the French style. French style chanson music was switched on after about an hour of my arrival, and was well matched to the theme.
I love that the Salon serves an all day breakfast, even if their breakfast dishes differ from our usual South African taste. I had the Cocotte Cassis, served as a one-pot (in a purple Le Creuset mini-pot) breakfast with potato croquettes, tomato, eggs and bacon (R38), served with toast. It consisted mostly of potato. Other Light Meals are muesli, yoghurt and fruit (R35); the Le Classique two-egg and bacon breakfasts costs R30; Pain Perdu (French Toast) costs R 22; a Cocotte Paris consists of crème fraîche, camembert, Toulouse sausage, bacon, spinach, onions, croûtons and egg (R45). The La Complète is a savoury pancake containing Gypsey ham and egg, and costs R40; salads range in price from R 32 – R50; lovely quiches (spinach and feta, and ham and cheese) cost R26; a Provençale tart costs R28, and sandwiches R25 – R33. The Viennoisseries section lists about fifteen pastries which are available from the patisserie. Brioche, croissants, pain au chocolate and apple turnovers can also be ordered. A full page of the menu is dedicated to twenty-five “Sweets”, including chocolate eclairs (R16) and their popular Concerto (chocolate mousse and chocolate biscuit) costing R26. My dessert choice was a Tiramisu (R28), served in a plastic cup that looked shabby in that it had a crack in it. Its content was excellent however, drier than we are used to locally, with not much creaminess. Imported French teas Mariage Frères are available at R24. If one would like wine with one’s meal, one can buy it next door at Wine Concepts.
Initially the waiter serving me was attentive, and fetched and carried what I requested, but once I had finished eating, he left me stranded, and I had to ask another waitress to bring a dessert and Illy cappuccino (R14). Moreau’s wife came to take over the service, and apologised, explaining that my waiter had to take over the coffee-making as the person designated to do this had to have a lunch break! If one takes any pastries away, they are neatly packed in a purple Cassis Paris box, with branding in gold and a golden board on which the pastry is presented. The bill says thank you in English and French.
Cassis Paris has a fantastic opportunity to win business from the nearby Melissa’s, which is attracting greater dissatisfaction from its long-standing customers. However, it needs to improve its service, as this is Melissa’s weakness too. There is only a service door connecting the shop and the Salon, which could mean that Cassis Paris staff may neglect the clients in the sitdown Salon de Thé. I walked past Melissa’s to get to my car, and Melissa’s was half full, showing that it had lost some custom to Cassis on that day. Moreau will have to check on his branches – I was in the Constantia branch yesterday, and was served by a chewing gum chewing staff member, an absolute no-no in the hospitality industry. Cassis Paris has an opportunity to serve teas and coffees from its Constantia branch on a reduced scale, served with its great pastries, given the poor coffees served by the close-by The Village Beanery.
POSTSCRIPT 3/6/12: Cassis Salon de thé has just opened in Gardens’ Centre, with a superb menu and excellent service. It is located on the upstairs level, and not next to its shop. The Vol au vent is excellent value at R48. All pastries stocked in the shop can be ordered to eat or take-away at the restaurant, but at a surcharge. Opening hours are Monday – Friday 7h30 – 19h00; Saturday 7h30 – 17h30; Sunday 7h30 – 14h30.
Cassis Paris Salon de Thé, Newlands Village, corner Kildare and Main Road, Newlands. Tel (021) 671-1305. French Oven Head Office Tel (021) 552-1305. www.cassis.co.za. (The website contains a listing of every product sold in the stores, with a description and a good quality photograph of each. The website does not list the new Constantia store, nor the Salon de Thé). Monday – Friday 8h00 – 18h00, Saturday 8h00 – 16h00, Sunday 8h00 – 14h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
A brand new restaurant to open in Cape Town just over a week ago is Cafe Chic, located in Gardens. A beautiful historical building has been lovingly restored over a period of eight months, to meet the Heritage Council as well as City Council requirements, and beautifully furnished, with lots of chandeliers, interesting couches, and a surprise in every room of the house.
Cafe Chic is a multi-purpose building, which has an informal breakfast and lunch room, a formal dining room, a non-smoking whisky and cognac bar in strong red tones, a smoking bar, a patisserie, and a Moroccan tent room, as well as a small boutique selling handbags and clothes, and a few shoes.
Francoise Queyroi, the owner, ran restaurants in Paris and in Ibiza, and has been in South Africa for six months. Her husband is an engineer and architect, and he masterminded the renovation of the building, as well as the interior design. Her daughter Gillian is a lawyer, who runs the boutique and conceptualised the whisky and cognac bar.
Francoise was not at the restaurant on the night of our first visit, but Lucas, the “Floor Manager” was a welcoming host, doing a guided tour of the premises. No expense has been spared in making this restaurant tres chic. It is immediately visible if one drives up Breda Street, as the lighting on the building and on the tree attracts attention, and shows off the beautiful building. The restaurant also has generous parking across the road, and alongside it.
It being a hot evening, a smallish table outside the front door seemed a good choice. The menu and winelist have the same silver covers, adding to the chic-theme. Most of the food listed has a French feel to it, yet not all (e.g. an interesting sounding Caprese soup). Twelve starters range in price from R 38 for the soup to R 175 for a crayfish salad. Foie gras is offered, at R 130, and the Le Chic salad with chicken livers spinach and apples costs R 45. The crayfish salad was served cold, to the customer’s request, but had very little salad served with the three tiny crayfish tails – they looked decidedly underweight , and the ‘lettuce leaves’ were of a spiky variety, not easy to pick up with a fork!
Vegetarians are catered for, at R 70, with a gratin and a vegetable crepe. Meat main courses start at R 95 for the baby chicken. Other mains are a rib-eye steak at R 115 (served with 4 skimpy mini potato wedges, and a grilled tomato, the steak was very tough and had to be sent back, and no steak knife was offered), lamb a la Provencale at R 140, a sirloin roll at R 145, and expensively, duck breast and venison at R 180, For fish lovers grilled sole costs R 95, R 175 for a warm crayfish curry dish, and R 145 for a prawn risotto dish.
The dessert list feels decidedly French, with a choice of twelve desserts, some from the patisserie. Sliced fruit costs R 35, as does ice cream, a Rum baba costs R 40, as does a Trio of Creme Brulee. A lovely Tarte Tatin with fresh cream cost R 45, as does the Strawberry Mille-feuille, a Mont Blanc cost R 50 , as does a Chocolate Kif. A “Samoosa”, described as containing chocolate, blue cheese, sweet chilli enhanced with vanilla ice cream, and strawberries, costs R 55. The pastries are beautifully made and presented, and cost between R 10 – R 20, and can be bought as take-aways. One senses that their strength lies in the desserts and patisserie.
Ten champagne brands are stocked, ranging from R 650 for a Moet & Chandon to R 10 000 for the Cristal Roederer! But South African Cap Classique wines are also available, at R 190 for Villiera to R 220 for the Graham Beck Rose’. Three or four wines per variety are offered, and a number by the glass too. Arra is offered for almost every category, coming from Paarl. An Arra Shiraz costs R 120, while an Arra Reserve Shiraz was on the winelist at R 375. The most expensive red wine listed is an Anthonij Rupert Cabernet Franc at R 960, while a De Meyr white wine cost R 100, the most expensive whites being the Waterford Sauvignon Blanc and the L’Ormarins Chardonnay, at R 220.
The chef was not on duty and perhaps this showed in the food quality, in a kitchen still finding its feet. The Executive Chef is Morne Botha, previously with the Bay Hotel and the Giggling Gourmet. Michelle Gawinowicz is the General Manager, having worked in London for 15 years, but has returned to her country of birth.
On receiving the bill, a glaring error was evident, which should have been picked up by the waiter and his manager, in that a strawberry tart was charged ten-fold. However, the bill was quickly rectified.
A lunch organised by Cafe Chic for the guest houses of Camps Bay four days later went much better. The garden salad with a poached egg, and the blue cheese litchi salad received rave ohhhhhs and ahhhhs. The linefish in a sauce vierge was acclaimed too, while those ordering the Roasted Coquelet felt the chicken to be too bony and too dry. A trio of tiny desserts was equally impressive.
If the food quality is addressed, as well as the presentation of the food, and a touch of French music is added, then Cafe Chic has all the potential to be a winner!
Cafe Chic, 7 Breda Street, Gardens. tel 021 465 7215 www.cafechic.co.za
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com