After seven years at Grande Provence, Chef Darren Badenhorst is set to leave the wine estate to open his new restaurant Le coin Français By Darren Badenhorst on the Franschhoek main road. Stepping into his shoes from today is new Executive Chef Guy Bennett. Continue reading →
On Monday I stopped at the Robertson Small Hotel for a bite to eat and a cappuccino, where Monica van Niekerk of Paul René MCC came to greet me, she having been surprised at the hotel with a stork party for the imminent birth of her daughter. She contacted her husband Henk, and he in turn contacted me, inviting me to a tasting of their sparkling wines. Continue reading →
Reuben’s Franschhoek and our Whale Cottage Franschhoek both opened seven years ago, and I fell in love with Reuben’s when I first stumbled upon it in 2004. It was fresh and different, with a unique menu, the service was outstanding with Maryke Riffel heading front of house, a young French sommelier was charming, and Chef Reuben Riffel cooking and often coming out of the kitchen to chat to his guests. Despite the last visits having been disappointing, we kept supporting his restaurant, well positioned for our guests to walk to in Franschhoek. We have reached the end of our tolerance of poor service and mediocre food at Reuben’s Franschhoek.
Reuben Riffel had opened a restaurant in Cambridge for friends when Boekenhoutskloof directors Tim Rands and Marc Kent invited him to come back to his home town to open a signature restaurant on the main road. Reuben had started working as a barman at Chamonix in Franschhoek, and started cheffing when a chef did not come to work. He loved it so much that he developed himself without any formal chef training. Reuben’s fame in Franschhoek was instant, with an Eat Out Top 10 award in 2004 for Best Restaurant and Best Chef, a mere 6 months after opening, something that had never occurred before. Reuben’s opened a branch at the Robertson Small Hotel, owned by Rands, about three years ago, and last year it was a huge honour for him to have been invited by Sol Kerzner to open a branch at the One&Only Cape Town. It was obvious that the food and service quality would suffer as Reuben tried to stretch himself across his three restaurants, and it is in Franschhoek that we have heard other locals complain, and other guest houses too no longer send business there. Chef Reuben tried to get help, having chefs Richard Carstens and Camil Haas working with him in Franschhoek, but both left him at short notice.
The main restaurant interior is large, with a separate room for functions or more guests, and an unpopular passage close to the noisy kitchen. The bar has an interesting counter made from a plane wing. Reuben’s has a large fireplace, making it warm and cosy, but it was smoky at times, due to the heavy wind on my last visit. Tables are wooden, with the Reuben’s name engraved into the top, with white leather chairs, and a bench against the wall. The managers sit behind a counter, in front of a Reuben’s branded wall, and it looked rather untidy from my angle, with a silver handbag on the floor, and boxes visible. A bowl of fruit was on the counter, looking more like a hotel dining room reception than that of a restaurant, with no flowers at all, as they used to have. Each table has a little ceramic jar of coarse salt. No pepper grinder is on the table, nor is it offered for any dish. Cutlery is by Maxwell Williams. Staff wear white shirts, and black pants and aprons. There are no tablecloths on the tables.
When I popped in at Reuben’s, just wanting something warm but light, after a long two and a half hour concert in the church, a table was available, after a five minute set-up, in a still busy restaurant. I was handed the standard menu, and saw with a shock that it has changed: individual prices have been removed, and the prices are listed as R220 for 2 courses, R268 for 3 courses, and R315 for 4 courses, which was not what I was looking for. I asked about the winter special, but the Manager Carmen, Chef Reuben’s sister, looked at me as if I had lost it. The Winter Special (3-courses for R150) is no longer available, she said. She then fetched the Street Smart special menu, which ran until the end of last week in honour of all the Street Smart restaurants collecting monies to help street children rebuild their lives, with a voluntary R5 donation at 57 participating restaurants, which offered four courses for R195. This is also not what I had in mind. I was then told by Carmen that locals are allowed to order individual items off the menu, at R65 per starter, R 120 for a main course, and R65 for a dessert. Somehow the maths did not add up, in that a starter/dessert and main would only cost R185, instead of the quoted R220. I also want my guest house guests to enjoy a meal without the pressure of having to order for a minimum of R220 per person, given the tight financial times. As guest house owners we were not informed by Reuben’s that this had changed.
In the confusion of the two menus presented and the price issue, I chose the Street Smart option, and Carmen kindly allowed me to replace the oxtail main course with a steak. It was the worst ever dining experience at Reuben’s Franschhoek (our previous dinner on 24 April coming a close second, with the fireplace not lit on a chilly night, two wines on the list being out of stock, no vintages specified for the wines by the glass, the lunch menu still on the blackboard at dinner, very expensive wine by the glass, messy pouring of the wine, kingklip served for the ‘tuna pickle’ and blamed on a typing error, no cheese on the French Onion soup, and very slow service in a long wait for the main course).
Reuben’s brother Jevon was the waiter, and brought two slices of dry-looking wholewheat bread, the nice bread tray with a choice of breads baked by Chef Reuben’s mother clearly no longer being offered. Jevon ‘wipped’ when I asked him to remove the bottled water he brought to the table without checking with me. I only drink fresh Franschhoek water! After bringing a jug of water, and pouring a glassful, he did not top it up again. Chef Reuben was not on duty, and it was Chef William Carolissen doing the honours in the kitchen.
The only Shiraz by the glass available was a Reuben’s house wine made by Goose wines, at R45, which I declined. It surprised me that Reuben is not Proudly-Franschhoek in his choice of branded wine. The ‘pre-starter’ was a French Onion soup, with epoise toast and gruyere, nothing special at all. Of the four courses, I enjoyed the Warm duck salad the most, a rather busy collection of shredded duck, toasted cashews, avocado slivers, papaya, orange, sprouts, radishes, cucumber, served with a cinnamon soya dressing and miso honey. Listing the ingredients, only two or three items of each, seemed an overpromise, and perhaps more of fewer ingredients would have been better. The biggest disappointment was the grilled Chalmar beef sirloin, served with what was called ‘glazed vegetables’, but were steamed mange tout and green beans, ‘swimming’ in a port and mushroom ‘jus’! In a separate bowl came the worst ever chips, thick cut, over-dosed with salt and pepper, and raw inside. I asked Carmen if it is customary to bring chips, as the menu did not state it, and she said it was. I suggested that she check with clients about the choice of starch, as I am not a chip eater and would have preferred something healthier and saltless. She ‘wipped’ and did not respond to my feedback, nor to my returned bowl of chips! The steak was more medium than the ordered medium-rare, and the very heavily salted and liquid ‘jus’ spoilt it completely. Things looked up with the attractive dessert, being Apple tarte tatin (delicious), apple panna cotta (nice green colour but bland and tasteless), and a most odd-tasting green vanilla Calvados sorbet, the description sounding better than the actual dessert.
Wishing to understand why Reuben’s had changed the menu to a non-price one (not seen in seven years), and how I could still bring my guests to the restaurant with responsible pricing, I spoke to Carmen once more. She showed her irritation, stating that no one else had complained about it (neither had I – I was just trying to understand it), and that if guest house guests arrived, they would offer them the local price choice as well. What she did not know was that the Pohl family of four staying with us over the same weekend had reserved a table directly on the same evening, on our recommendation. They were not offered any special pricing on the a la carte menu, nor the Street Smart menu. Carmen became more and more defensive about the menu, and said that I should question Reuben about it, as he had designed it. She could not explain the rationale for such an expensive winter menu, but she did tell me that individual prices will be added to the menu in summer again, which confused me even further! I was struggling to pick up 3G for Twitter inside the restaurant, and when checking this with Martell Smith, the Deli Manager who doubles up as a hostess in the restaurant at night, she assured me that the internet was switched on. When I stepped outside, the internet worked perfectly, as it did when I returned inside the restaurant. Martell seemed to ‘wip’ about this. Martell had come to the table to check on my satisfaction with the steak (no other course was checked), and it was so bad that I just shook my head, not wanting to have anyone else ‘wipping’ around me if I were to express what I was feeling!
Reuben’s brother Jevon had worked for us a good six years ago, and had run off in a huff and a puff without giving notice when he was reprimanded for making a costly error. He has never served me at Reuben’s previously. He did not speak a word to me, just being a ‘fetcher and carrier’, except at the end, when he demanded that I sign the credit card slip. When I questioned his lack of communication, he walked off while I was speaking to him, throwing a ‘wip’ with his colleague. When he walked past my table, I asked him why he had walked away, and I received a rude torrent of abuse from him, which was completely uncalled for. I told Carmen about Jevon’s rudeness, and she then lashed out at me, saying that I should speak to Reuben, as Martell had called Reuben, complaining to him about our interaction about the internet, and then she walked off while I was speaking to her!
The menu has shrunk in size to A4, with many more menu items that on the previous A3 menu we had. I was surprised to see advertising on the menu for Reuben’s recycled ‘stemware’, as well as for Moniki chocolates from Tulbagh, when Franschhoek has the excellent Cafe Le Chocolatier and Huguenot Fine Chocolates! The menu no longer lists the who’s who of the kitchen. The menu is changed daily, Carmen told me. On the evening that I was there, the soup choices were French Onion, mushroom, and rich cauliflower. Eleven starters included the signature squid, blue cheese and onion tart, salmon sashimi, chicken liver parfait, mussels, oysters, and a butternut salad. There were 10 main courses, including chicken and prawn curry, pork belly, sole, gnocchi, oxtail, springbok steak, calf’s liver (always been my favourite), and beef tartar. Ten dessert options included lime creme brûlee, Valrhona chocolate pave, carrot cake pudding, poached pears, and a cheese platter. Sides of vegetables can be ordered at R35.
For the seven years of daily business sent to Reuben’s in the summer months, with regular problems tolerated over the years in making bookings with Reuben’s staff telephonically, the last dinner was a sad one, as it appears that Reuben’s staff feel that they can lash out at customers. The service standard is inconsistent, as I have had nothing but excellent service from another Manager Raymond, and from Jessica, a long-standing waitress. It is sad that Chef Reuben’s family members should have been the rudest of all the staff on Saturday, and disappointing was his nepotistic “my staff are perfect” response to an e-mail I sent after the dinner, informing him that I no longer felt comfortable in sending guests to the restaurant after the rudeness I had experienced. There was no apology nor thanks for all the business that we had sent there over the years, nor acknowledgement of our almost evangelical promotion of what was a favourite restaurant for a long time.
It would appear that Reuben realises that he has grown too big, and he has bought a building up the road from Place Vendome, to which he will move his restaurant in November, being a smaller sized 50-seater, with space for an extra venue at which he can do cooking demonstrations, to keep business going in winter, and ensuring a big saving in rent, he told me at the Mandela birthday meal media conference at the Drakenstein Prison a few weeks ago. His Manager Raymond told me that both Franschhoek restaurants will run concurrently until the lease of the current restaurant expires, meaning that Reuben will have four restaurants for at least another year, which can only mean further service problems. Talk about Reuben trying to get out of his contract at the One&Only Cape Town continues to circulate in Franschhoek, despite his denial, but then he blatantly denied that he was opening at the One&Only Cape Town a year ago!
Reuben’s Franschhoek is not worthy of an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant nomination any more. If one dares to pass on any feedback to the staff, one might be reported to ‘headmaster’ Chef Reuben, and be abused by the staff! Reuben has lost the passion for his business, and the Franschhoek restaurant needs a professional full-time Manager who can go beyond the Groendal-syndrome. Reuben has to be at the One&Only Cape Town restaurant three times a week, appears in Robertson’s spice advertising, does cooking demo’s, and increasingly appears to be ‘commercialising’ himself, losing touch with what is going on in his restaurants as a result! The current pricing policy is cheeky, and communicates that Reuben’s does not seek the support of locals. We wish Reuben well in balancing all his balls!
POSTSCRIPT 8/8: We are delighted to hear from our guests who went to Reuben’s on Saturday evening that the 2-, 3-, and 4-course price option has been dropped, and that each item on the menu is back to being individually priced! They found the food excellent, especially the bean soup, but were disppointed that the waitress had no knowledge about the wines on the board at all.
POSTSCRIPT 7/9: We have heard that the sale of the building that Reuben’s was buying in Franschhoek fell through. They may be considering another option close by.
Reuben’s Franschhoek, 19 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Tel (0-21) 876-3772. www.reubens.co.za (The website contains an Image Gallery, but one must click onto thumbnails to view them. The menu is an out of date one for 11 August of last year. A Winter 2011 Special menu, looking very similar to the Street Smart one, is listed!). Monday – Sunday Lunch and Dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
I have written about Crush! 1, Crush! 2, Crush! 3 and Crush! 4 and 5, the food and wine digital magazine, and had not yet got around to reading Crush! 6, when a follow-up e-mail arrived last week, requesting me to read it. The publishers must be able to track who has read the latest issue, and who has not, in sending out reminder e-mails. I was pleasantly surprised that great improvements have been made to the presentation of the content. Overall, it is evident that the Crush! designers are starting to understand that ‘less is more’ design is more attractive and efficient in getting one to read what is presented.
The cover page is the best of the six issues, with a beautiful salmon dish photograph, and because the Crush! designers have finally learnt that one cannot place text on top of visuals, a fundamental design rule in making copy readable. The salmon colour has inspired a strong orange masthead, making it striking and attractive, and making one want to read the content.
Advertising support has shrunk to Old Mutual, with two ads, and Fairview, with a ‘talking’ ad. Pack recognition on the ‘Essentials’ page is far improved, the brand names being far easier to read, with typed names alongside, and this also applies to the ‘Quaff Now’ page. Yet it fails on the ‘High Five’ page, on which the labels are barely legible. The child-like banner for the ‘Tomato and Veg pasta’ recipe below the ‘Essentials’ feature attracts attention away from the featured products on the same page, a ‘conflict of interest’. The Fairview feature is introduced through an illustration, which appears to look similar to the design of its ad, but uses two light blue banners that are barely legible, and one of these is obscured by a goat. It is not immediately clear that one must click onto each of the flags/banners, to get a full overview of Fairview.
I loved the page by Meeta K. Wolff, whose name I have seen on Twitter, but about whom there is no introduction. The photograph of her ‘Carrot and Red Soup with a hint of cumin’ makes one want to eat the page! I am happy that editor Michael Olivier has accepted our suggestion to use a selection of talented food bloggers locally and even from overseas (Wolff lives in Germany). The Creative Pot blogger Marisa Hendriks also has a double page, previously that of Andy Fenner/JamieWhoSA?, the same irritating shaking flashes containing the links to her five stories on Vanilla Rose ‘Pana Cotta’, ChilliJammer, Mushroom and White Rock Flatbread, 5 Ways with Beets, and the Wild Peacock Food Emporium.
The ‘Breakfast with Brad at Bistro 1682’ is very stylish-looking, the most stylish article I have seen of all in the Crush! issues, and the restaurant deserves it. The photography of the egg dishes is excellent. Following this is the rather pedestrian and boring looking ‘Quick and Delicious’ Monday – Sunday recipe suggestions, a complete contrast to the style and quality of the two pages that had preceded this section. The ‘Four ways with Salmon’, with food preparation and styling by Sophia Lindop, and photography by Russel Wasserfall, is excellent, the salmon colour used to its best photography advantage. Luisa Farello is a clever food stylist too, and this is the third Crush! issue for which she has worked. Her Formal Dinner page, with Weltevrede MCC, looks beautiful and good enough to eat. Pick ‘n Pay has a ‘Green Zone’ page for the first time, and is intended to reflect its environmental conscience, including the SASSI code fish that they sell.
Five unknown food bloggers are ranked in a ‘Rate Your Recipe’ feature, and these differ per issue. It is unfortunate that the writers are not introduced. An oddly designed feature on the Robertson Small Hotel uses the block number system, and one has to click on a series of these to get a good overview of the featured product, many readers probably opting out before opening each block. An interview with Boets Nel of De Krans also uses the block method, and I doubt if readers will open all 16 of these blocks.
The messiest and poorest page in the issue is that by David Cope, The Foodie blogger, whose rambling on about a Bachelor Party is boring and not easy to read on a dirty-looking red-and-white check background, with black and white photographs, an absolute no-no when writing about wine or food. His story on the Coffee Revolution is far better in presentation, but again is so superficial in only featuring Truth and Origin, when there are so many exciting new coffee suppliers opening, including the Haas Coffee Collective, and is therefore not comprehensive. Another messy page is the ‘Fine Print’ book review page – eight books fight for attention, and one does not comprehend any of them, as the page is too busy. The classified ‘Crushifieds’ page is much simpler and more readable.
Rudi Liebenberg, Executive Chef at the Mount Nelson Hotel, is featured, also in a classy design, but there is almost no photography of his food at Planet Restaurant, and too many black and white photographs of Rudi and his chefs. The feature does not inspire one to eat at the Planet.
‘Less is more’ is a good design principle, and fewer, rather than more, design bells and whistles will make Crush! close to perfect. I am happy to see how the ‘bells and whistles’ have been reduced drastically over the six issues. Now all Crush! needs is greater design consistency throughout the whole magazine – one could think that each feature has been designed by a different designer, not what the magazine needs!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Restaurant closures seem to have ground to a halt, the last being the final liquidation of celebrity chef Conrad Gallagher’s Geisha Wok in the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, and his Sundance coffee shops. His departure from Cape Town and his shady business dealings have also influenced the operation of Crepe Suzette and Bouillabaisse in the Rockwell Centre in De Waterkant, which opened on the basis of Gallagher setting up an Epicurean Food Market on the ground floor, around the two new restaurants. This deal fell flat earlier this year already, just as the restaurants were moving into the building.
Last month Reuben Riffel opened his second Reuben’s restaurant, in the new Small Hotel in Robertson. Nook is the cutest ‘cosy eatery that specialises in homemade pastries, cakes, sandwiches and a wide variety of daily specials’, that also opened last month in Stellenbosch’s Van Reyneveld Street, where the Greek Kitchen used to be. The owners Luke and Jessica are young, and this is their first restaurant venture. They are refreshing in the way they connect with their clients, and understand customer relationships.
Last week Portofino opened where the Showroom used to be in De Waterkant, by fun and hands-on owner Cormac Keane with chef Stephen Kruger, previously working with Richard Carstens, in the kitchen. See the review on this blog.
Yesterday the 12th branch of Doppio Zero opened on Somerset Road, Green Point, in a lovely renovated Victorian building with modern lighting, and is fantastically positioned opposite the Green Point stadium. Doppio Zero is a franchise operation, which has an impressive website that is upfront about what the company stands for. Its promise is “to consistently deliver beyond your expectations”. The company’s vision is to be a “leader in our industry and in the market in which we trade, and to imprint the Doppio experience in the culture of our guests.” Its mission is to ensure that guest satisfaction is “number 1”, to offer staff growth opportunities, to offer uncompromising best quality food, service and people, to develop lasting relationships with guests, to continuously improve, and to make a “fair profit.” Its values are passion and enthusiasm, integrity and honesty, an unconditional commitment to the brand, and individual responsibility and accountability. These are strong words, and one hopes that the company can keep its promises, especially as they are stated so publicly.
Bruce Robertson’s Showroom Cafe and The Quarter on Long Street are doing well, and he was bubbling last week about four restaurant openings he is consulting on, all scheduled for October. October also sees the opening of Vanilla, owned by the Newhouse father and son duo from Tuscany Beach in Camps Bay, in the new Cape Quarter building on Somerset Road. Cru Cafe will also open in the center.
Kathy and Gary Jordan from Jordan Wines in Stellenbosch will also open a restaurant for light lunches in October, on their wine estate, reports The Sunday Independent. Critically, they comment:”Too many people chase Michelin stars, but I am not a fan of that system. To win those stars, you have to throw away your food from one sitting, and start again in the evening. To me, it is just a waste. It adds a huge cost to the restaurant bill. Almost all the food rejected is still perfectly good. I can’t stand seeing food wasted.” Their restaurant will “offer simple, well-cooked, wholesome food”. The Jordans are co-owners of the High Timber restaurant in London, with Neleen Strauss, and “a significant percentage” of the 40 000 wines in the restaurant are Jordan wines.
The Waterkloof wine estate in Somerset West, which belongs to one of the largest wine importers in the UK, Paul Boutinot, and who calls himself the “Custodian” of the wine estate, according to its website, will open its restaurant in November, with chef Gregory Czarnecki in the kitchen and Julian Smith from Grande Provence managing the restaurant. Czarnecki was previously at The BIg Easy in Stellenbosch, the restaurant belonging to Johan Rupert and Ernie Els, amongst others, and left when he was expected to cook hamburgers, it is said. He worked with 3*** Michelin chef Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton. Waterkloof’s website states that it makes ‘slow wines’, with fermentation taking place between one to eleven months instead of the usual 20 days, and it would be excellent if its new restaurant embodies “slow food”.
Little has been said or written about maze and Nobu locally lately, and one wonders what the effect of the poor reviews Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants in the UK got in the 2010 edition of The Harden’s restaurant guide will be on the local restaurant in the OneandOnly Cape Town hotel. According to a report in the Daily Mail, the guide has placed four of Ramsays’ restaurants on the “10 most disappointing restaurants” list. Three of the restaurants also featured on the ‘most overpriced’ list. The author of the guide, Richard Harden, said of maze and of Ramsay that it is suffering from “imperial over-reach” and feels that ‘it has deep-seated problems’. Harden continues about Ramsay: “He wants to be an international film star and be accorded Beckham levels of international fame yet he wants to run this internationally recognised group of restaurants.” Ramsay’s profits fell by 90 %, according to the report, in the last year, and received negative feedback when it was discovered that some of his restaurants serve mass-produced food, prepared off-site and delivered to the restaurants.
Word about Stellenbosch town is that Etienne Bonthuys will not be at Tokara restaurant in the Helshoogte Pass for much longer. He is opening up a new restaurant in Stellenbosch later this year, it is rumoured. No doubt Tokara owner GT Ferriera will look for a heavyweight chef to counteract the competition from Delaire Graff across the road.
A late-comer to social media marketing is Le Quartier Francais, which announced with fanfare that it was starting a blog at the beginning of this month. It has only posted two posts, of which one has already been removed again. Perhaps the owner does not know that a blog needs a dedicated commitment to regular posting to be credible and to help with search engine optimisation.
Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com