Tag Archives: Sand

Restaurant Review: SeaFood at 5-star The Plettenberg still has service issues, now kitchen ones too!

On our recent trip to Plettenberg Bay, my friend from Paris and I tried to visit as many of the better restaurants in the town as we could fit in. Given the disappointing visits to SeaFood/Sand at The Plettenberg in the past five years, it was not on my list of restaurants to eat at, but as it was on my friend’s list, I obliged, holding thumbs that things have improved! Sadly the service and food left much to be desired, despite it being under the guardianship of Eat Out Top 10 Group Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff!  Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: Seafood at The Plettenberg not 5-star Relais & Chateux standard!

imageI have been to The Plettenberg hotel a number of times to eat at its former Sand and now renamed Seafood restaurant.  Given that the hotel is five-star graded, a Relais & Chateux property, and under the supervision (long distance) of Eat Out Top 10 Chef  Peter Tempelhoff, my expectations are high of the restaurant in being the best in Plett, yet sadly are  Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: not all fishy at SeaFood at The Plettenberg!

Seafood at The Plettenberg View ocean Whale CottageOne of the better restaurants in Plettenberg Bay (there aren’t many, and two favorites The Grand and Nguni are currently closed for winter breaks) has been Sand at The Plettenberg.  Two years ago the restaurant changed its name to SeaFood at The Plettenberg, in line with a similar restaurant at sister hotel The Marine in Hermanus, and last year new Executive Chef Grant Parker took over the kitchen when the hotel re-opened after a long winter break.  The setting and selection of mainly seafood dishes was perfect on a beautiful day.

I had been assisted in the foyer of the hotel by Guest Relations Manager Laula, who did everything, including serving me in the restaurant.  She is a very new staff member, but was willing to find information for the questions which she could not answer.  She sent Annemie Parker, the General Manager and wife of the chef, wearing her Relais & Chateaux pin, to explain the changes in the branding of the restaurant. Little about the restaurant interior has changed since she took over in running the hotel a year ago, coming from Seafood at The Plettenberg Interior restaurant Whale CottageCybele Lodge, except for two panels of photographs with Southern Right whales, but hard to identify as such, with the way the light falls on the glass panels over them. Annemie said that McGrath Hotels Group Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff comes to visit every two months or so.  She said that Chef Grant devised most of the dishes on the new restaurant menu, with guidance from Chef Peter, but with a section of The Collection signature dishes, which are served in all three the McGrath hotel restaurants, including The Conservatory at the Cellars-Hohenhort in Constantia.   With the change in restaurant name,  the style of the restaurant to that of a Bistro was also changed, away from fine-dining. Continue reading →

The Rotisserie at Leopard’s Leap, Antipasto Bar, Café Blanc de Noir, Kloof Street House, and more restaurants have opened in Cape Town and the Winelands!

There have been a number of restaurant openings, four in Franschhoek in December alone, and restaurant closures are minimal at present, a good sign of recovery. This list of restaurant news is updated continuously, as we receive information:

Restaurant Openings

*   The Rotisserie at Leopard’s Leap has opened in Franschhoek, with Chef Pieter de Jager (left), moving across from Pierneef à La Motte

*   Antipasto Bar has opened at the new Anthonij Rupert Wines tasting room, where Graham Beck used to be, outside Franschhoek

*    Sacred Ground has opened as a Deli and Bakery in The Square in Franschhoek

*   Kloof Street House has opened where Opal Lounge used to be.

*   Col’Cacchio has opened a new outlet in Westlake, and new ones are coming in Claremont and Hermanus.

*   New Vida é Caffe new branches are to open on Maindean Place in Claremont, at the new Wembley Square 2 development, at The Paddocks, Groote Schuur, and Roeland Street.  Two more branches are planned for Mauritius.

*    Honest Chocolate is opening a second outlet, a ‘production kitchen’ in the Woodstock Industrial Centre

*   Moyo has opened, where the Paulaner Braühaus was, in the V & A Waterfront.

*   FEAST is to open where Franschhoek Food Emporium was, in Place Vendome

*   Cavalli restaurant is said to open on the stud farm on R44, between Stellenbosch and Somerset West, this year or next

*   Camphors at Vergelegen has opened, with Chef PJ Vadas.

*   David Higgs (ex Rust en Vrede) has opened Five Hundred,  a new 30 seater restaurant in The Saxon in Johannesburg.

*   Cousins has opened in the Parliament Hotel, where Il Cappero used to be.

*   Gourmetboerie has opened at the bottom end of Kloof Street

*   Kushi Indian Restaurant has opened a branch on Main Road in Sea Point

*   Thai Café is opening on Plein Street, Stellenbosch

*   Bellini’s is said to be opening on Greenmarket Square

*   Moksh Authentic Indian Cuisine restaurant has opened in Paarl

*   Alfama’s has opened on Waterkant Street

*   It’s a House is to open on Jarvis Street, as a bar, coffee shop, and design art space.

*   Lion’s Head Bar is to open on Bree Street, selling craft beer and food

*   Shake your Honey Mumbai is to open in the original Madame Zingara building on Loop Street, in August.

*   A new bar and Café is to open underneath the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, where Bamboo used to be

*   Café Blanc de Noir has opened on Brenaissance wine estate in Stellenbosch

*   Chef Nic van Wyk, previously with Terroir, has opened The Eatery at Diemersdal in Durbanville.

*   Lizette’s Kitchen has opened in Vöelklip, Hermanus.

*   Paulina’s Restaurant has opened at Rickety Bridge in Franschhoek

*   Buitenverwachting has opened Coffee Bloc Coffee Shop and Roastery

*   Wakaberry has opened on Kloof Street

*   Rock Sushi Thai has opened in Meadowridge

*   Jimmy Jimanos sports bar is opening on Long Street

*   The Salzburger Grill has opened in Sea Point

*   The Stall has opened as a Bar and Family Café in the old Pippin Farm Stall, at the entrance to Franschhoek

*   Burger King will open its first South African branch in Cape Town later this year!

*  A coffee shop, chocolaterie, bar, and fashion boutique will open in a 3-storey building on Long Street in February, as yet unnamed.

*   The Beer Bar is to open on Long Street

* Eataria is to open on Long Street

*   Portuguese restaurant Alfama has opened on Bree Street

*   Shimmy Beach Club has opened in the V&A Waterfront in December, involving Chef Seelan Sundoo.

*   McDonald’s is opening new branches in Wynberg, Lansdowne, and Claremont in Cape Town

*   The Red Table Restaurant at Nederburg has opened for lunches Wednesday – Sunday

*   Wilderer Distillery and La Grapperie at Spice Route restaurant are opening in Spice Route wine estate, in addition to their existing location

*   Tridici has opened on the N2 near Swellendam.

*   TriBakery is to open near Moyo in the V&A Waterfront

*   Latitude33 has opened on Bree Street

*   Luke Dale Roberts appears to be continuing his expansion trail, and is said to be opening on Long Street.  He has been seen with plans together with Giorgio Nava of 95 Keerom Street and Carne, as well as with Bertus Basson of Overture.

*   Mischu: The Coffee Showroom has opened on Regent Road in in Sea Point.

*   Deluxe Urban Café has opened in the old Cape Quarter.

*   Gourmet Cakes has opened on Kloof Street

*   Peter’s House has opened on Kloofnek Road

*   A new restaurant and micro brewery is to open next door to The Bromwell in Woodstock (name not yet known).

*   Le Venue has opened at The House of JC le Roux

*   The Harbour House group is opening a new restaurant at 107 Loop Street.

Restaurant Closures

*   French Toast Wine and Tapas Bar has closed down, following the death of co-owner John Harrison.

*   The Kove in Camps Bay has closed down, its space has become part of sister restaurant Zenzero

*   Sinnfull has closed down in Camps Bay

* Planet Green Salad has closed down

*   Freedom Hill Restaurant has closed down (and subsequently burnt down).

*   Wale Rose Lifestyle has closed down in Bo-Kaap.

Restaurant staff/venue changes

*   The V&A Waterfront Food Court has re-opened, with Primi Express, Anat, Carnival, Nür Halaal, Royal Bavarian Bakery, KFC, Boost Juice, Simply Asia, Steers, Debonairs, Subway, Marcel’s, Haagan Dazs, and Nando’s.

*   Fyndraai Restaurant will move to another building on the wine estate, and will offer fine dining.  The current restaurant will serve light lunches and picnics.

*   Giulia’s Food Café Restaurant has opened where Miss K was on Main Road, Green Point. Serve Italian-style lunch and dinner, but have retained some Miss K breakfast and pastry items.

*   Orphanage Cocktail Emporium has expanded into a property at its back, opening on Orphan Street, creating The Dining Room downstairs.  It is opening Orphanage Club upstairs, with 1920’s style music by live performers, in about 6 months.

*   Marcellino’s Bakery has changed its name to EuroHaus, with a restaurant added to the bakery.

*   Maryna Frederiksen is the new Executive Chef at The Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz.

*   The ex-Caveau owners have taken over the running of the Twankey Bar of the Taj hotel.

*   Sand at The Plettenberg hotel has changed its name to Seafood at The Plettenberg.

*   Lasse Presting is the new Manager of the Haute Cabriere restaurant

*   Chef Alistair Lawrence has taken over from Fernando Romano at 5 Rooms at The Alphen Hotel

*   De Oude Bank Bakkerij is expanding, and will open a retail section selling charcuterie, fresh meats, home-made ice cream, and wines, collectively called De Companje, from February

*   Taste Restaurant has moved to Bilton Wines

*   Bar1 has opened where Sunbird Bistro was in Camps Bay.

*   Oppie Dorp has opened where Cognito was on Dorp Street in Stellenbosch.

*   Chef Reuben Riffel and his colleague Maritz Jacobs have been contracted to design the menus and prepare the food for weddings and events at Allée Bleue.

*   Thai Café is to open where the coffee shop was at the entrance to Piazza St John in Sea Point

*   Sensei Deon de Jongh has left Okamai at Glenwood wine estate in Franschhoek.

*   Baked Bistro has open in Bakoven, where Marika’s and Saboroso used to be

*   The Urban Garden Restaurant is to open where Bistro on Rose was.

*   Sadly Isabella Immenkamp, the excellent service-orientated hostess at Burrata, is leaving for Jordan Restaurant at the end of February.

*    The Pot Luck Club has re-opened in its new venue at the top of the Old Biscuit Mill in February.

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

Western Cape restaurants dominate American Express Platinum Fine Dining awards!

Western Cape restaurants won 41 of the 83 American Express Platinum Fine Dining Awards at a ceremony earlier this week, with Gauteng following in second place with 29 awards.

The Awards recognise ‘quality and creativity of cuisine, service, wine list, décor,  and ambiance as well as overall excellence’, reports Food24. Acceptance of American Express credit cards is a requirement.  Judges were Victor Strugo and Anna Trapido from Johannesburg, and Tamsin Snyman from Cape Town, a similar team judging the South African entries for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Twelve first-time winners of an American Express Platinum Fine Dining award include Azure at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Bombay Brasserie in the Taj hotel in Cape Town; The Kurland Hotel Restaurant in Plettenberg Bay; DW11-13 in Johannesburg; and Ninth Avenue Bistro in Durban.

Western Cape winners of American Express Platinum Fine Dining Awards are the following: Aubergine, Azure, Bistro Sixteen82, Bombay Brasserie, Buitenverwachting, Bukhara in Burg Street, Catharina’s at Steenberg, Constantia Uitsig, The Foodbarn, Gold, The Greenhouse, Haiku, Il Leone, La Colombe, Nobu, Planet Restaurant, The Roundhouse, Savoy Cabbage, 96 Winery Road, Boschendal, Bosman’s, Bread & Wine, Fraai Uitzicht 1798, Grande Provence (photograph), Jardine at Jordan, Mimosa Lodge, Overture, The Pavilion at The Marine hotel, Pierneef à La Motte, Reuben’s in Franschhoek, Seafood at the Marine hotel, The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, La Locanda in George, Kurland Hotel Restaurant, Sand at The Plettenberg hotel, Zinzi at Tsala in Plettenberg Bay, Serendipity in Wilderness, Trans Karoo in Great Brak, Pembreys, Zacharays at Pezula, and Kalinka Karoo Cuisine.

Obvious exclusions from the list, probably due to not accepting Amex credit cards, are The Test Kitchen, Tokara, Delaire Graff, Terroir, Babylonstoren, Waterkloof, Makaron Restaurant, and Rust en Vrede.

The list is an interesting mix of top restaurants in the running for Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, some one wonders about having made the list, and some one has never heard of before.

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

Restaurant Review: The Greenhouse is an oasis in The Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel!

I cannot remember when last I had been to the Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, it was so long ago, for a dinner at their Cape Malay restaurant, which was previously located in the manor house, where The Greenhouse is now.  I found The Greenhouse to be an oasis of freshness and modernity relative to the very dated and old-fashioned Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, a total contradiction.

The Greenhouse has been operating in the current building for a year or so, having previously been in the space now called The Conservatory restaurant. It appears that the venue change sparked the creativity of Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff, having moved there two years ago.  It was seeing photographs of his work on Twitter earlier this year, Chef Peter being awarded Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef status (one of only two in South Africa), and the restaurant winning number one Eat Out Top 10 restaurant in November that led me to book a table for my birthday dinner last week, with very high expectations. Disappointing therefore was that booking a table was a problem, as the restaurant phone appeared to be ringing non-stop post 20 November, and so the hotel switchboard person asked me to wait longer or to call back, with arrogance.  When I asked for GM Tony Romer-Lee, to see if he could assist with the booking, my booking was quickly made.  I only gave my first name and cell number, yet Tony had worked out who the booking was for, and wrote an e-mail a few days ahead of the booking, apologising for his absence from the hotel on the evening of our booking.  Despite this confirmation e-mail by Tony, an assistant called on the day of our dinner, to confirm the booking.  I was surprised to receive the call, and was called by my surname, not pronounced correctly, and with the wrong title, so I invited her to call me Chris, which she clearly found difficult to do.  She spoke a very high-level formal English, saying ‘we shall see you tonight’, and once again I felt a degree of arrogance in her exchange with me.  I was therefore very nervous about the actual dinner, given these two annoying interactions.

It is difficult to find the hotel, and we came from the Hout Bay side, knowing we had to turn off somewhere on the road leading to Kirstenbosch. The hotel does not offer to send directions.  None of its literature contains an address.  It is hard to see the signage when it gets dark, and there are a number of turns to take to find it.  The boom was closed and the very old security guard took his time to come to the car, seeming surprised about our arrival, and asking what we wanted!  He let us in immediately when we said we had come for dinner, but had no name list to check, and we did not have to complete any form, so one wonders why there is security.  We were not told by him where The Greenhouse is located, and we had to check the signage on the building.  There was no staff in the parking area to guide one, surprisingly not alerted by the security guard. Inside the building a faux fire warmed up two staff who showed us the way to The Greenhouse.  It was going to the bathroom later that alerted me to the contrast in modernity of the restaurant relative to the very old-fashioned English-style drapes and furnishings of the Hohenhort Manor House, forming part of the 53-room five star Relais & Chateaux The Cellars-Hohenhort hotel. Previously part of Klaasenbosch Farm, awarded to Hendrik Ten Damme by Simon van der Stel in 1693, the farm house was transformed by its owner Arnold Spilhaus into a manor house after buying the farm in 1906.  Liz McGrath bought The Cellars in 1991, and turned the country guest house into the Relais & Chateaux hotel twenty years ago.  Two years later she bought The Hohenhort Hotel, and united the two properties.  Although one does not see it at night, the property is endowed with different gardens, the Herb Garden benefiting the kitchens. Four varieties of table grapes are also grown.

The restaurant space is relatively small, only seating about 45, and divided into two with mirrored pillars. As one enters the restaurant there is a lounge section, but we did not see anyone use it at all, feeling like a wasted space.  An interesting decor touch is many ceramic rabbits on the windowsills, with the odd watering can, and small trees in pot plants, no doubt to create the greenhouse look, but the rabbits do not quite fit the theme. Walls are painted in a light grey inside the restaurant, with green fern wallpaper in the lounge, which pattern is replicated on the back of the comfortable grey upholstered chairs. The table has no salt or pepper, but there was a vase with a beautiful orange rose and greenery.  The Greenhouse clearly is in part an addition to the manor house, with a glass roof, which does not add value for dining at night, and must be a nightmare to keep clean.  It also adds heat to the restaurant during the day, and I had to ask for a window to be opened. The design of the addition has become the logo for the restaurant.  A lamp stands at each table, a little American touch. A thick tablecloth is covered with a white one, and the table is laid with Eetrite cutlery. Tables are very close together, meaning that the restaurant has a cosy atmosphere, but one can overhear everyone else’s conversations in one’s section. The Relais & Chateaux affiliation dominates the restaurant, in that the staff name badges have the logo and they wear a pin too, the home-made butter has the logo, as do coasters and the menus.

Waiter Lwazi (who was quick to correct the spelling of his name which he saw in my notes!) brought us a complimentary glass of Constantia Brut 2009, a nice touch.  I found him difficult to understand, and he had to repeat what he said a number of times.  He tried to explain the three menus to us, contained in a cover with the Relais & Chateaux logo and the following introduction: “A beautiful plate of food is eaten with the eyes first”. I chose the 7-course Chef’s Tasting Menu at R575 (with R275 for ‘complimenting’ wines), and my son the 4-course Summer Menu at R450.  One can also order a 6-course Sustainable Seafood Tasting Menu at R495 (with an additional R230 for ‘complimenting’ wines).  I did not see the rule, but it must have been in the menu, that one may not order two different menus at one table, but the rule  was waived on the understanding that my son would have to wait for his courses.  The staff wear a tie with ducks, The Cellars-Hohenhort tie design, which they wear with black pants and a grey waistcoat, creating a smart impression. Lwazi was efficient in taking our order, but became relaxed during the evening, stretching in front of me to lay cutlery on two occasions towards the end of the meal, even though there was more than enough space to do so from the other side. I asked for a jug of water for the table, but this was removed after the first glassful was poured.  Empty glasses at other tables were not replenished or removed. A delight was the Maitre’d Joshua Crowe, who shared interesting information about working at Reuben’s Franschhoek and at Beluga with me.  He is a young gentleman with a bright future, exuding professionalism.  He came to check on our table regularly, and seemed very at home in the restaurant, having only worked there for two months.  Canapés were brought to the table, consisting of sesame seed crusted prawn toast served with goat’s cheese lollipops on a stick, presented in a glass dish with wheatgrass, the most colourful dish of the evening, as well as chicken and mushroom ballantine, pear chutney, truffle mayonnaise, and an Asian dipping sauce.  A selection of breads (cheese rolls, lavosh, baguette, wheat, rye, and crostini) was served in a wooden bowl, with a nasturtium dip and edible soil in a terracotta flower pot, with carrots, pea shoots and mange tout, a further reinforcement of the greenhouse theme, and there it ended.

The Chef’s Tasting Menu started with pan-fried duck foie gras, melt in the mouth deliciousness, and the stand-out course for me, served with raspberry gel, onion marmalade, crispy Asian mushrooms and puy lentils.  My son was spoilt with an amuse bouche of crayfish custard and warm celeriac mousse and chives, which was served in an egg shell, a creative presentation, while I had the first course. The second course was Madagascan prawn roulade, served on a beautiful glass plate with cling peach, fermented black bean dressing (too salty for my taste), rice paper tuile, and ponzu snow, a Chef Richard Carstens-like study in liquid nitrogen!  I was not keen on the fynbos smoked ostrich tartar for the third course, and was allowed to choose a dish from the other two menus. The oven-roasted rare duck breast, and duck cherry jelly canneloni, was served with cherries poached in Pinot Noir, mash, savoy cabbage, and bergamot-lime jus (salty too).   The fourth course was petit poussin served with langoustine, a bacon crisp, sautéed gem lettuce, Vin de Constance gel, enoki mushrooms, and mint pea pureé.  The free-range Karoo lamb dish had the Sweet Breads excluded for me, and was served with wild mushroom agnolottio, brown beech mushrooms, pea shoots, broad beans, parmesan velouté, and a (salty) lamb juice.

By far the cleverest dish, and perhaps too clever for some, was the inverted Brûlée, served in the base of a glass filled with strawberry granité, Earl Grey espuma, with salt and green tea on the rim of the glass. One was not told to turn the glass around for the vanilla brûlée.  As if this was not enough to chew on already, the seventh course was a ‘camembert’ shaped cheese cake, served on a wooden board with roast pineapple ice cream, pine nut biscotti melba, parmesan, maple crumble, lemon marmalade, and extra virgin olive oil.  A final end to the evening was a cutely presented collection of friandise, including truffles, macaroons, and home-made nougat.

Chef Peter came to the table, a nice touch, and told us that he has a Canadian mother and an Afrikaans father, and he speaks with a Canadian accent. He is a gentle and more reserved person. He studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Cape Town, and started his career at the Grande Roche Hotel. He has also worked at Quo Vadis and Automat in London, and at Michelin-starred Hambleton Hall and Zafferano. It was at Grande Provence that he earned his first Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Award, leaving for the McGrath Collection a month after winning the accolade.  Chef Peter is proud of the garden on the property from which he can source his seasonal requirements, mainly being rhubarb and herbs.  He sources his duck and Karoo lamb from Wild Peacock.  He only has a staff of six, with trainees being a welcome addition, he said. He told us that he likes to travel overseas, to find food inspiration there.  He also is responsible for Sand at The Plettenberg, and for the two restaurants at The Marine Hotel, and admitted that he has not paid as much attention to them as they deserve, focusing on getting The Greenhouse into the top league, work which clearly has paid off. Chef Peter is justifiably proud of his two achievements, both career highlights for him.  One cannot help but feel that Chef Peter and The Greenhouse was short-changed by Eat Out, in winning Top Restaurant, but not Top Chef (the honour went to Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen) and not Top Service (the honour went to The Roundhouse).  More coverage of the Eat Out awards, in TASTE magazine as a start, also a New Media Publishing magazine, has gone to Chef Luke than to The Greenhouse.  The Eat Out awards signal that The Greenhouse may be the best restaurant in the country, but does not have the best chef nor the best service, a contradiction, and the first time that the Top Restaurant has not also received recognition for Service and its Chef.  Interesting is that Chef Luke came to dine at the restaurant a week after the Eat Out Awards, probably highlighting the competition between the two chefs.

I had ordered a glass of Groot Constantia Shiraz 2009 (R75), and it appeared fine on tasting it, but I had to return it when I tasted it after it had been poured. I chose The Yardstick instead, the only other red wine by the glass, a limited choice I felt.  The Pinot Noir is a joint venture between Chef Peter and ex-Klein Constantia winemaker Adam Mason, we were told, and is a four-star Platter 2010 vintage, at R55 per glass.

I left with a feeling of contradiction about The Greenhouse, a relatively modern space within a terribly old and old-fashioned hotel, that does nothing for the restaurant, that has arrogant hotel staff taking calls and the bookings (this is due to change, Joshua told me, in that he and another restaurant staff member will be the only one staff taking The Greenhouse bookings), that has a waiter who is near-arrogant too and not well-trained, that has typing errors in its menu, that has a terribly old-fashioned bathroom, that does not have an exceptional interior design, and that is only open five nights a week.  The food was excellent, except for the over-salted sauces, and the playfulness of the canapé and bread collection dishes lived up to the theme of The Greenhouse, but all other dishes could have been served at any other fine-dining restaurant.

The Greenhouse, The Cellars-Hohenhort, Constantia.  Tel (021) 794-2137.  www.collectionmcgrath.com www.petertempelhoff.com Twitter: @GreenhouseCT   @PeterTempelhoff  Tuesday – Saturday dinner.

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

American Express Platinum restaurant list highlights Cape cuisine capital, tough economy!

The number of 2012 American Express Platinum Fine Dining Programme restaurants has dropped for the first time in its 14 year history, down from 88 restaurants in 2011 to 78 this year, with twelve of last year’s winners having closed their doors, reports Chef!.  This demonstrates the severity of the hospitality crisis.

The dominance of the Western Cape, with 33 of the 78 awards, highlights that the province is the cuisine capital of South Africa.  New award entrants are also largely from the Cape, being Nobu, Bistro Sixteen82, Planet Restaurant, Reuben’s at the One&Only, and Pierneef à La Motte, out of eight new entrants.  Three re-admissions are The Restaurant at Grande Provence (photograph), Bosman’s at the Grande Roche Hotel, and Saagries in Johannesburg.

Chefs said that the recognition is welcome, in being a member of the fine dining programme, given the difficult time of the year, after a very long and bleak winter.  The major criterion for consideration by the Programme organiser Tamsin Snyman, in partnership with restaurant critic Victor Strugo, is accepting payment by American Express, which may have disqualified many other top restaurants (such as Dash, The Test Kitchen, Casparus, Johan’s @ Longridge, Terroir, Waterkloof, Indochine, Tokara, and Delaire Graff) from being eligible for evaluation. The judges evaluated the quality and creativity of the cuisine, the service, the wine list, decor and ambiance, the overall excellence, and acceptance of a booking for a table of four on the same day.

Eight of last year’s Programme restaurants did not make the 2012 list, including Rust en Vrede (probably due to the departure of Chef David Higgs), Haute Cabriére Cellar Restaurant (probably due to the recent change in chef), Emily’s, Myoga, Bizerca and Belthazar. Snyman said that ‘there is an increasing mediocrity on the South African fine dining restaurant scene’, reports Chef! The restaurants that have closed their doors in the past year include Auberge Michel, Linger Longer, Jardine, and Hunter’s Country Restaurant.

The 2102 American Express Platinum Fine Dining Programme restaurants are as follows, according to Business Day:

CAPE PENINSULAAubergine, Buitenverwachting, Bukhara (city bowl), Catharina’s, Constantia Uitsig, The Food Barn, Gold, The Greenhouse, Haiku; Il Leone, La Colombe, Roundhouse, Savoy Cabbage
CAPE WINELANDS:  96 Winery Road, Boschendal, Bread & Wine, Fraai Uitzicht 1798, French Connection Bistro, Jardine at Jordan, Mimosa Lodge, Overture @ Hidden Valley, The Pavilion, Reuben’s (Franschhoek), Seafood @ The Marine, Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français
EASTERN CAPE: Hacklewood Hill (Port Elizabeth)
FREE STATE:  De Oude Kraal
KLEIN KAROO:  Kalinka Karoo Cuisine
GARDEN ROUTE: La Locanda (George), Sand @ The Plettenberg, Zinzi @ Tsala (Plettenberg Bay), Serendipity (Wilderness), Trans Karoo (Great Brak), Pembreys, Zachary’s at Pezula (Knysna)
JOHANNESBURG: Bellagio, Bellgables, Bukhara (Sandton), Butcher Shop & Grill, Byzance, La Cucina di Ciro, Gramadoelas, La Campagnola, Le Canard, Mastrantonia, Metzuyan, Osteria Tre Nonni, Piccolo Mondo, Pigalle (Sandton), Roots @ Forum Homini, Saxon, Sel et Poivre, Wombles, Yamato
PRETORIA:  Geet, La Madeleine, La Pentola, Mosaic, Ritrovo Ristorante,
KWAZULU-NATAL: Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, Daruma, Hartford House, Harvey’s, Ile Maurice, Roma Revolving Restaurant, Spice, Sugar Club

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

Restaurant Review: Laborie Le Restaurant food surprisingly good, service not!

It was the photograph of the prawn and pineapple tian that wine writer Edo Heyns took at Laborie Le Restaurant earlier this week, and tweeted, that made me drive to Paarl to try Laborie Le Restaurant.  I was surprised to find a restaurant with outstanding food, but sadly the service left much to be desired.  I am not sure of the exact name of the restaurant – it is generally referred to as Laborie Restaurant, but the winelist and the website refer to it as ‘Laborie Le Restaurant’, as does the business card for Executive Chef Alicia Giliomee.

My last visit to Laborie was a few years ago, for a family birthday lunch.  I remember it being a set menu, and being okay, nothing spectacular.  I’ll start at the end, which was the part that finally drove the nail in the service coffin, and that is that the property belongs to the KWV, and the restaurant is leased out to the Belgian owner Peter Rues.   The security staff at the boom are contracted out, and when I wanted to exit, I had to stop at the boom and hoot, despite the security guard being able to see me driving down from the parking area, which meant that he could have opened it so that I could just drive through.  He was incensed that I had hooted, and a war of words erupted.  I had to call the restaurant to ask them to get the boom opened, and as soon as he saw me making the call, he opened it.  I was seething when I left.   The incident left a very bad taste, and the Manager Nadia Beutler was very sweet in reporting the matter to the estate manager, and in apologising via Twitter.

Since I had last been to Laborie, the parking area in front of the building has been planted to lawns, and the parking is now behind the building.  There is no signage to indicate where to go to the restaurant entrance, so I followed other guests to find the entrance.  On non-windy days one can sit outside, and enjoy the view onto the Drakenstein mountains.  On my way in I noticed an outside table that had an old tree trunk as the base, with a glass top.   As the southeaster was blowing quite strongly, all the doors were closed, and we were uncertain as to where to enter.  I chose the first door, and saw staff talking to guests who had used the next door.  I was ignored and had to request someone to seat me – the waitress spoke to me across the spacious restaurant, and no one bothered to come over to me.   Flora finally decided to help me, and I chose a table.   The restaurant filled up quickly, and it was a contrasting mix of older Paarl residents lunching ahead of the Garden Club AGM to be held there, and business executives, including some journalists, and KWV CEO Thys Loubser, whom I have known for many years. 

The restaurant building is beautiful from the outside, dating back to 1961, and looks like a historic building with thatched roof and gable in the Cape Dutch style.   Inside the large room is functionally filled with tables, with a surprisingly modern chandelier, and chairs are brown leather.  The table cloth is a yellow/gold colour, and the patterned green curtains could probably do with an update.  The serviette was white, and one set of heavily used cutlery was set on the table.  I liked the vase with fresh flowers on each table.  Greenhouse olive oil and balsamic bottles are on the table, with small salt and pepper grinders.  Flora brought the menu and winelist, both with a mock-croc cover, and well-branded and identifiable as the winelist and menu (the bill was presented in a green plastic holder, and should have had the same cover, to create synergy).  Flora and I did not get on well at all, and she neglected me service-wise, so much so that I had to request my order to be taken by another waiter.  I was told that she has worked there for 30 years, and unfortunately it shows.  I asked her for the name of the chef, and she only knew her first name, but quickly added that she was off-duty, and that Lesley was in the kitchen, being “the Coloured one”!   Flora’s apron was dirty, not acceptable for the start of the lunch service, and her name tag was upside down.   Staff wear white shirts and black pants, and a Laborie branded apron.   She removed my side plate and serviette when she removed the other table settings.  I had a wow moment when I received a Direct Message on Twitter, welcoming me to the restaurant.  I had not booked nor had I identified myself on arrival, and I also had not tweeted about being at Laborie at that point in time.  The Manager Nadia said she recognised me, and had been the Tweeter.  She was helpful in providing information, and coming to my rescue at the boom.   The chef is Alicia Giliomee, who previously worked at Sand at The Plettenberg hotel and at Fairlawns in Johannesburg.

The menu has ‘footnotes’ on almost every page, some of which are repeated, and one is the pay-off line: “Laborie – where yesterday and today meet…”, not a bad description, the ‘yesterday’ aptly describing the service, and the ‘today’ the excellent cuisine, not quite what the owner had in mind, I am sure!   Another note warns one not to be in a hurry: “We are passionate about delivering delicious food and quality service, and thank you in advance for your patience”.  The note that impressed me was the following: “Laborie Restaurant is passionate about reducing our carbon footprint.  We support accredited suppliers within a maximum of 150 km radius and only serve seafood on the SASSI accredited green and orange list.  Our meat and poultry products are all free range and grain fed to add to your taste experience.  We also support small industry producers that can provide a product of quality”.  They write that they recycle waste too, as part of this policy.

The menu has a number of options: ‘Light Lunch’ includes salads ranging between R55 – R68, a Laborie Winelands platter of charcuterie, patés, cheeses and pickles (R85), a seafood platter of pickled calamari, mussels, tiger prawns and linefish (R92), as well as a mezze platter (R82).   A quick business lunch, entitled “Pronto! Pronto!”, consists of a Laborie salad, Cape Malay chicken curry and wild berry Vacherin, at a cost of R145.   A Food and Wine Tasting menu costs R245 for four courses, with a wine paired to each course.  Then follows the a la carte menu.  Flora brought the bread basket with wrapped butter portions.  I liked the bread with raisins in it.   I ordered the prawn and pineapple tian (R62), and felt it to be a generous portion as such, and also in terms of the number of prawns that it contained.  I was a little disappointed that there was little avocado in it, one of my favourites.  It was set on thin strips of cucumber, sprinkled with coconut flakes, decorated with cherry tomatoes, a miniature apple on top, and drizzled with a sweet chilli vinaigrette, almost a meal in itself.   Other starter choices include an onion tarte tatin,  steak tartar a l’Americaine, springbok carpaccio, and a salmon and spinach/basil cream roulade, all costing around R60.  

For the main course I had the slow roasted duck, with a crispy skin (R118), two pieces served with mash, peach slices, raspberries, an orange slice, and topped creatively with the thinnest potato wafer, a twig of rosemary, and a branch of basil, giving it a decorative touch.   It was the best duck I have had in a long time.  However, I was unimpressed with the side dish of mixed stirfried vegetables, so old-fashioned, and ‘done before’, consisting of red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, carrots, beans, corn cob, red cabbage, courgette and mange tout, being superfluous, given the generous duck portion.  None of the main courses exceed R129, and average at about R100.  One can also order linefish (silverfish on Thursday), roast chicken, artichoke and green olive gnocci, Cape Malay chicken curry, Chateaubriand, beef fillet, rolled stuffed loin of lamb, and Karoo lamb shank (I am not sure how the 150 km radius links to this item on the menu).   Desserts range from R30 – R45, and include a raspberry soufflé, truffles, cinnamon brûlé, frozen mint mousse, and a summer fruit savarin. 

The wine list has an introduction to the Laborie wine estate, and is named after the La Bri district in France.  In 1685 the farm was awarded to the first French Huguenot farmer Jean Taillefert, and the manor house was built in 1750.  The wines made by him on this farm were subsequently described as being “the best in the colony and similar to our small wines of Champagne”.  The wine list also states the following about the restaurant: “Your visit to Laborie Restaurant will allow you to reminisce about the Cape as it once was hundreds of years ago”.   The winelist is proudly-Paarl, or rather proudly KWV/Laborie.  Cap Classiques offered include the Laborie Blanc de Blanc (R40/R135), its Brut (R35/R125), and Brut Rosé (R35/R125).  KWV Cuvee Brut and Pearly Bay Celebration (also by KWV) cost R85.   KWV Roodeberg is available at R95.  The Laborie Shiraz 2008 is very reasonably priced at R35/R105, while the Laborie Limited Collection Shiraz 2008 costs R135.  The flagship Laborie Jean Taillefert Shiraz 2006 costs R 295.

Nadia is relatively new in managing Laborie Restaurant, and she is full of ideas.  She has marketed the Laborie Lazy Days market, which started three Saturdays ago, and it has become hugely popular already, being held on the new lawns – Nadia has an events consultancy background.   The lawns are ideal for functions, such as weddings and other parties.  She also wants to set up a champagne bar at the far end of the restaurant, to kill “the dead space” there, she said.   Gourmet picnics can be ordered at R145 per person.   There was good synergy between the restaurant and the tasting room, a note in the billfold inviting one to visit the tasting room.  I did not see where it is, relative to the restaurant.  The bill had a thank you in English, Afrikaans, German and French, a nice tourist touch.   I will certainly come back to Laborie Le Restaurant for the excellent food, and hope that I will strike it luckier with the service via a different waiter and in being let out at the boom.  I am confident that Nadia will look at improving all aspects of the restaurant, and will focus on the service side too. 

POSTSCRIPT 19/3:  I returned to Laborie le Restaurant for lunch today, after visiting the disappointing Laborie Lazy Days market.   I received a friendly reception from Nadia, and was delighted to receive her excellent service throughout the meal.  I was disappointed with the roulade of salmon and pesto, mixed with cream cheese, feeling it to have been overpromised in its description, but loved the airy and light frozen mint mousse. 

Laborie Le Restaurant, Taillefert Street, Paarl.  Tel (021) 807-3093.  www.laborierestaurant.co.za  (The website lists the full a la carte menu.  The Gallery only has a few photographs of events, and there are barely any photographs of Chef Alicia’s beautiful food presentation).  The business card for the Executive Chef is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, with appetite appeal, showing a delicious dessert and glass of wine, representing exactly what the restaurant is all about.  Twitter: @LaborieResto   Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Thursday – Sunday dinner.

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

Bosman’s and Zachary’s sparkle in Diner’s Club Winelist Awards

Bosman’s at the Grande Roche Hotel and Zachary’s at Pezula Hotel & Spa were the two restaurants whose winelists were chosen as the best in the country in the Diner’s Club Winelist Awards, announced on Monday.

A record number of restaurant winelists was entered for the prestigious Diner’s Club Winelist of the Year 2010, an increase of 10 % on last year, reports Hotel and Restaurant.  Under the chairmanship of Dave Hughes, the Diner’s Club Winelist Awards recognises the wine range offered, as well as the matching of a restaurant’s wines to its menu.  To be able to enter, the restaurants have to accept Diner’s Club credit cards.

The judges gave each winelist a rating, depicting their winelist performance.  The results for the Western Cape follow:

*  The top accolade a restaurant winelist can achieve is Diamond, with a score of 91 % or more.  The superior winelists are those of the following restaurants: 96 Winery Road, Asara Wine Estate and Hotel, Aubergine, Azure at Twelve Apostles, Balducci’s, Balthazar, Bientang’s Cave, Bistro Allegro, Blowfish, Bosman’s, Bushman’s Kloof, Carne, Catharina’s, Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, City Grill, Ellerman House, Flavours, Greek Fisherman, Harbour Rock, Hunter’s Country House, Jardine, Karibu, La Colombe, Le Quartier Français, Marc’s, Meloncino, Nobu, Pembrey’s, Pure, Restaurant at The One&Only, Rioja, Rodwell House, Sand, Signal at Cape Grace, The Atlantic Grill at the Table Bay Hotel, The Square at the Vineyard Hotel, The Wild Fig and Zachary’s.

*   Winners in the Platinum category (81 – 90%) were the following: 95 Keerom, Abalone House in Paternoster, Cru Cafe, Den Anker, Durbanville Golf Club, Harveys, Kitima at the Kronendal, Kurland Hotel, Milkwood, Panama Jacks, Pistachio, Salt, Simola Country Club & Spa, Bayside Cafe, The George, The Grill Room, Hussar Grill (all branches), The Marine Hotel, The Raj, The Red Herring, The Roundhouse, The Turbine Hotel & Spa (winner in this category) and Umngazi River Bungalows & Spa.

*   Winners in the Gold Category, with a score of 71 – 80 %, are the following restaurants:  3106 Restaurant @ The Cullinan, Blue Water Cafe, B’s steakhouse in Hermanus, Col’Cacchio (Camps Bay, Blouberg, Canal Walk, Cavendish, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Foreshore and Willowbridge branches), De Viswijf, Hermanos, Jenna Viva, Southern Sun, The Garden Lounge, The Quarterdeck and Yizani.

*   Silver award recipients, with a score of 61 – 70 %, are Bourbon Street, Harbourview, Jemima’s, and Newlands Cafe.

The scores for the above categories seem very high, given some of the restaurants that have been included in them, and one wonders how a top winelist of ex-maze at the One&Only can compete with that of restaurants such as Bientang’s Cave and Harbour Rock in Hermanus, with scores over 90%.

The judges noted a better presence of more affordable wines on the winelists, reflecting the current economic climate.  An increasing number of restaurants offer wine-by-the-glass, the judges noted.  The judges also praised the greater synergy between the winelist and the menu: “Now more and more restaurateurs take a lot of care in assembling a range of wines they believe complement their food and then guide the patron by means of the wine list in making an appropriate choice”, said judging Chairman Dave Hughes.

It is interesting to note that many Eat Out Top 10 restaurants are not on the winning winelist list, and include Rust en Vrede, Overture, Bizerca Bistro, Reubens, Grande Provence, Terroir, and the Mount Nelson.  Other top restaurants whose names are missing are Myoga, Bombay Brasserie at the Taj Hotel, Restaurant at Majeka House, Jordan’s Restaurant with George Jardine, Restaurant Christophe, Waterkloof, the Blonde …collection of restaurants (Beluga, Sevruga, Blonde), The Kovensky Quartet (The Kove, Paranga, Zenzero and Pepenero), and Delaire Graff, indicating that they do not accept Diner’s Club credit cards due to the higher commission this company takes on payments relative to Mastercard and VISA, and/or that these restaurants snub the Awards, in not seeing the value of participation.

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