Tag Archives: sauvignon blancs

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 30 March

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The price of petrol will increase by R1,60 per litre in the Cape at midnight tomorrow, unfortunately not an April Fool’s joke, driving the price of petrol to R12,46.  The higher price reflects the higher oil price, the weaker $/Rand exchange rate, and the increase in the Road Accident Fund levy announced in the 2015/16 Budget last month.

*   European beer brands such as Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, SABMiller PLC, Heineken NV, and Carlsberg A/S will be detailing the calories and other nutritional details on their products.  Diageo brands Smirnoff and Guinness will soon specify their calorie content. The salt, fat, and carbohydrate content will increasingly be seen on beverage packaging.

*   Catharina’s at Steenberg is hosting a 5-course lunch on 30 May, pitting Constantia Sauvignon Blancs against those from Continue reading →

‘Season of Sauvignon’ Festival showcase of Durbanville Wine Valley!

This weekend the Durbanville Wine Valley celebrates the arrival of Spring, and its fresh and crisp Sauvignon Blancs, produced on eleven wine estates on the Durbanville Wine Route, with the ‘Season of Sauvignon’ Festival. Each wine estate is offering tastings of its wines, as well as food, and many are offering live music, other entertainment, and activities too.

The Durbanville wine region, with a valley of rolling vineyards, benefits from a cool climate terroir, and has been celebrating its Sauvignon Blanc festival for eight years.  The ‘Season of Sauvignon’ Festival has been designed to encourage wine lovers to visit as many of the Durbanville wine estates as possible, although all the Durbanville wines will be available to taste at each of the wine estates on the Route via the ‘Ward in a box’.

Each Durbanville wine estate has organised its own entertainment and food offering for the ‘Season of Sauvignon’ Festival, has different opening hours this weekend, and has different entrance/tasting fees:

*   Altydgedacht: Vineyard tours with viticulturist and owner John Parker, live music, slow food.  R20 tasting fee. Open 10h00 – 16h00 Saturday and Sunday.  Tel (021) 975-7815

*   Bloemendal:   This wine estate has the second oldest Bush Vine in South Africa. They will be offering picnics. Their new Cap Classique will be launched this weekend.  Savvy On-Tap Lounge.  Presentations in the Wine Theatre.  Open 11h00 – 21h00 on Saturday and 11h00 – 17h00 on Sunday.  R40 tasting fee.  Tel (021) 976-2682

*   D’Aria: A ‘Cirque de Sauvignon‘ will offer a carnival atmosphere with ‘jokes and giggles‘, there will be a Cocktail Bar, food stalls, and one can dance to live music. 11h00 – 20h00 Saturday, 11h00 – 18h00 Sunday.  R 20 entrance fee.  Tel (021) 801-6772.

*   De Grendel: Meet the farm animals, learn how to make mozzarella, sow and grow, learn to bake bread, food pairing with Sauvignon Blanc, Chocolate World, and Family Olympics. 10h00 – ‘sundown’ Saturday and Sunday.  No tasting charge.  Tel (021) 558-6280.

*   Diemersdal: Live music, entertainment, food stalls, tasting of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Rosé 2012. 11h00 – 18h00 Saturday and Sunday. R60 tasting fee.  Tel (021) 976-3361

*   Durbanville Hills:  Oyster and sushi bar, foot-long boerewors rolls, cheese platters, picnics, free tutored tastings by Cape Wine Academy.  Rugby match between Springboks and All Blacks screened in Barrel Cellar from 17h00.  10h00 – 20h00 Saturday, 10h00 – 17h00 Sunday. No tasting charge. Tel (021) 558-1300

*   Groot Phesantekraal: Live music, Wine tasting. 11h00 – 16h00 Saturday and Sunday.  R50 tasting charge.  Tel (021) 976-2114

*   Hillcrest: American Rock music on Saturday, and New Orleans Blues on Sunday.  Food stalls, gourmet burgers, hot dogs, olives, cheese platters. 11h00 -17h00 Saturday and Sunday.  R40 tasting charge.  Tel (021) 976-1110.

*   Klein Roosboom: Catering by Café Rugby, pancakes, cheese platters, live music.  11h00 – 17h00 Saturday, 11h00 – 16h00 Sunday.   Tasting charge R50.  Tel 082 784 5102.

*   Meerendal: Farmer’s Market, live entertainment, and free tutored tastings by Cellar Master Liza Goodwin and Marketing Manager Bennie Howard, all on Saturday.  West Coast Braai Buffet with crayfish, mussels and snoek on Sunday, 9h00 – 17h00 Saturday and Sunday. No entrance fee.  Tel (021) 975-1655.

*   Nitida:   Live music at Cassia restaurant 11h00 – 16h00 Saturday and Sunday.  Live jazz and picnic baskets at Tables at Nitida restaurant 9h00 – 17h00 Saturday and Sunday. No tasting fee.  Tel (021) 975-9357/976-0640.

DISCLOSURE: We received a bottle of Altydgedacht Sauvignon Blanc 2012 with our media pack.

POSTSCRIPT 6/10: My visit to the Durbanville Wine Route started at Meerendal, lying outside Durbanville, in the countryside.  They had a Farmer’s Market in a hall on the farm, with homemade chicken pies and melktert, biltong and droë wors, cheeses, charcuterie, breads, olives, and vegetables. The Deli had a selection of good looking tarts and sweet treats.

At Diemersdal I met the Louw family, the owners of the farm, even the 7th generation Louw who is about one year old. The farm was first registered in 1698, and the first Louw forbear took over the farm in 1855. Current owner Tienie Louw came to chat, and struck us as a humble wine producer yet proudly shared the success of his wines at the China International Wine Awards, at which the MM Louw, Private Collection Pinotage and Matthys won Double Gold, and the latter wine winning the Wine of the Show, out of 3500 – 4000 wines judged.  They are also eagerly awaiting the results of the China Decanter Awards on 24 October. Tienie shared that the success in the Eastern market is having a family business, reflecting the passion for its business, and being a ‘friend of a friend’. Tienie’s son Thys told us that his father would only give him eight rows to grow his own grapes and make wine from them initially, and it turned out to be an award-winning Sauvignon Blanc, which he branded Eight Rows.  He is now in charge of the whole farm! Diemersdal also lies outside Durbanville, and despite more than 1000 visitors tasting the food of Ocean Basket, Piroschka, Bacini’s, and more to the music of a live band, we were truly out in the countryside. A new Restaurant is about to open, with Chef Nic van Wyk at the helm, previously of Terroir, and we tasted a most unusual Brandade, a Portuguese salted dried fishcake made from smoked snoek and hake, with poached milk and mash, olive oil, cumin, lemon zest and parsley, with a crispy coating.  Errieda du Toit, PR Consultant to the Durbanville Wine Route, a gracious hostess today, shared that Durbanville has developed a signature dish served by many restaurants in the area, consisting of a sosatie with a cooked curry sauce, served with pearl barley in a risotto style, and pumpkin pickle.  Errieda showed me the sweet tiny jam storage building, Tienie’s grandmother having been a keen jam maker.

‘Season of Sauvignon’  Festival, 6 – 7 October. Tel 083 310 1228.  www.durbanvillewine.co.za Twitter: @DurbanvilleWine

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

Restaurant Review:Nguni Restaurant as hardy as Nguni cattle!

Nguni Restaurant is one of my favourites in Plettenberg Bay, located in one of the oldest buildings in Plett, having been built as a fisherman’s cottage 160 years or so ago.   It has been offering good value cuisine, with friendly service, for the past four years, and is withstanding the recession that has hit Plettenberg Bay badly.

Nguni is the name of the language group comprising Xhosa and Zulu, but is also the name of a cattle breed, and it is the latter that the restaurant is named after.  Nguni cattle offer the benefit of optimal production, are the mainstay of the Zulu culture, have multicoloured hides, and are hardy, much like the restaurant.   A painting of a Nguni bull is on one of the walls, and a Nguni skin is under the largest table.  Black and white photographs of Plettenberg Bay adorn the walls.

The restaurant forms part of The White House complex belonging to the Ovenstone family, its hall being used for functions, shows and exhibitions.   Nguni joint-owners Jacqui Carter-Johnson and Natalie Eray use their restaurant kitchen not only to cook for the restaurant, but also do catering for weddings and other events from it.  The restaurant can seat 40 guests inside, and another 30 outside.  An ornamental vine outside provides shade for the lunches.  Inside the original wood-burning stove adds cosiness on cold winter evenings.

Table overlays have stripes on them, and are made from linen, as are the serviettes.  The metal top tables remind me of those at Grande Provence in Franschhoek, as do the overlays.   Nice black water glasses match the black and white flowered upholstery on some of the chairs, whilst other chairs have light striped upholstery.   Candles are used extensively to create a romantic atmosphere at night.  Good quality leather menu and winelist holders are presented to the table by the friendly waiter Robert, whom we first met when he was working at the Grand Café and Rooms in Plettenberg Bay more than four years ago.   It is lovely to see his beautiful smile whenever we go to Nguni and he knows my love for water with lemon, the jug being ready at our table when we arrive.   Clint is the manager, and keeps an eye on things at night.

Plettenberg Bay is suffering the effects of the recession worse than the Cape Town could dream of, and it was shocking to hear how many Plett landmarks have closed in the past few months.  Therefore all the greater the relief that Nguni has survived, the catering side of the business helping to keep it alive.  It was noticeable that the menu prices were very reasonable, and it felt as if prices have dropped since we were last there eight months ago.  Yet the reality of the economic situation was that only four tables were booked in total for the dinner, and I was the only guest for lunch the day before.   In winter Nguni impressed with its weekly Wednesday special, down to about R50 a dish.

One of the most interesting breads served in a restaurant is that of Nguni, a wholewheat mini-loaf baked in a terracotta flower pot, and is meant to be shared.  It is served with a generous slice of butter.  I ordered grilled chicken breast for my main course, and asked Robert to ask the kitchen to leave out the quinoa in the salad with avocado and tomato it was meant to be served with. I felt that the chicken portion (one breast) was too small to justify the R82 price tag.  My partner ordered the lamb chops roasted in rosemary and garlic, prepared medium,  juicy and tender, served with roast potato slices, for R85.  We felt that the plate needed some colour.   It is clear that Nguni is focusing on affordability, and while this is commendable, it may come at the expense of cuisine expectations.   When I muttered about the small chicken portion, manager Clint comped the meal, agreeing that it was not good value.  Other main courses are a 350 g Nguni rib-eye steak, at R98, an ostrich “hot dog” (R65), seared tuna (R98), grilled linefish (SQ) and a Cape prawn platter is the most expensive at R160.  Starter options are a chilled soup (R38), trademark Bobotie springrolls which have been on the menu since the restaurant opened (R38), smoked springbok carpaccio (R52), game salami and cheese board (R58), and a tomato and a goat’s cheese onion tart (R48).   Four salad options, ranging from R48 – R58, are also available. 

The cappuccino was a good foamy one, made with Illy coffee.  We didn’t have any wine, as a long night of work still lay ahead.   The winelist is dominated by Sauvignon Blancs. Brampton is the entry level, at R30/R88, and includes Thelema, Southern Right, and Ataraxia, at R147; and Chardonnays ( R452 for Hamilton Russell and R195 for Jordan) on the white side.  No vintages are specified, but each wine is described and the region specified.   Saxenburg Grand vin Rouge is the only red wine offered by the glass, at an affordable R25/R63.  The varieties of the other red wines offer a good spectrum, Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir being the most expensive at R472.   The wine list states that Champagnes and Cap Classiques are available to order, but the brands are not specified.

We will always go back to Nguni first when we visit Plettenberg Bay, ahead of any other restaurant, feeling so at home there.  I also like that little changes there, other than the odd menu item, making it feel familiar, even after a longer absence.  Most of all, it is special because the staff are so friendly.

Nguni Restaurant, 6 Crescent Street, Plettenberg Bay.  Tel (044) 533-6710. www.nguni-restaurant.co.za (not much detail on the website and few photographs).  Mondays – Fridays 10h00 – dinner, Saturdays 18h00 – dinner.  Open Mondays – Sundays 10h00 – dinner in peak season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The restaurant opens at 7h00 every morning and will be serving breakfast until 11h00 every morning.  There are eleven breakfast options, and they seem expensive, but the prices can only be judged on portion sizes.   A health breakfast of muesli, yoghurt and honey costs R50; a charcuterie and cheese platter sounds an interesting breakfast option, at R 55; a salmon bagel with chive cream cheese and smoked salmon costs R60; French toast with fruit and mascarpone (R 55); full English breakfast costs R65; Eggs Benedict R60; and omelettes range from R58 – R70.   After 11h00 the blackboards offer snacking, as well as lunch and dinner options, until 23h00 every day of the week.  The staff are neatly dressed in white branded golf shirts and in grey aprons, with either Anthonij Rupert or Paul Cluver branding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sotano by Caveau, 121 Beach Road, Mouille Point, Cape Town.  Tel 0711962660    www.sotanobycaveau.co.za (website under construction)  Monday – Sunday.   7h00 – 23h00

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

Restaurant Review: Leaf Restaurant and Bar still very green, but good value!

It is a strange feeling to enter the newly opened Asian Leaf Restaurant and Bar in what was the location of two favourite restaurants – The Showroom and Portofino – in that the restaurant interior is exactly as it was when Cormac Keane closed Portofino in April, with a few changes – grass green serviettes on the side plates, brand new staff wearing green Leaf-branded T-shirts, and a massive ghetto-blaster out on the deck, with too-loud music.  The hardest thing about going to Leaf will be to choose what to eat, its choice of dishes being so vast.  In general, the prices are very reasonable, and the portions generous, offering excellent value for money.  Anyone looking for the two previous restaurants and their cuisine should stay away.

The opening of the restaurant was delayed due to a problem in getting the credit card machine installed. The restaurant had opened just more than a week before I visited it, and I went back on the following day, as I did not have much time on my first visit.    I sat outside on the deck for my Saturday lunch, and almost choked on my calamari when I saw the massive ghetto-blaster, which had been set up on the deck, on a table with a table cloth.  I asked if they were going to have a party, but it was meant to create atmosphere outside, to attract a younger crowd, said the Manager Ambrose.  Fortunately the music was switched off when I sat outside, it being unbearably loud.  The deck looks fuller in having more chairs and tables than in the past, and each outside chair has a red blanket, a clash with the green theme.    A hand-written blackboard welcomes one on arrival, advertising a most amazing sushi special offer – 51 % (no, not a typing error) off all a la carte sushi from 11h00 – 19h00 daily, and all-day on Sundays.

Owner James Ye (Chinese for ‘leaf’) bought the restaurant from Keane, and took over all fixtures and fittings.   Manager Ambrose, with ‘cheffing skills’, he said, when he prepared my calamari for the first lunch, worked at the Cape Town Fish Market for the past twelve years, leaving as Executive Head Chef responsible for menu development and costing.  Ye came from China to be a sushi chef at the V&A Waterfront branch of the Cape Town Fish Market, and left to open The Empire on Main Road in Sea Point, and also opened Saki in the Sable Centre in Montague Gardens.  He is also a frozen seafood supplier.  A number of staff at Leaf have worked at the Waterfront branch of the Cape Town Fish Market, and this made me nervous about my first meal there.   I was pleasantly surprised when my calamari was served – a massive plate with a very large portion of Patagonian calamari tubes, egg rice, tartar sauce made with Japanese mayonnaise, and the most wonderful steamed carrots and beans, an absolute steal at R79.  I was the only guest in the restaurant on this first visit.

I returned for Sunday lunch, now sitting inside, and having two more tables for company.  The ghetto-blaster had been moved under the outside table, but the table cloth which was meant to hide it was not long enough to do so.  The table cloths and serviettes look badly ironed, if at all, and we questioned the side-plates being on the right – Ambrose said he wants Leaf to be different!   Some knives had their serrated edges to the outside, rather than facing inside the setting, little signs of how new the staff are.   Staff stretch in front of one when clearing items away, or in bringing additional cutlery, a pet hate.  Any ex-regular would cringe if they saw the rose patterned cushions that are placed over the definitive ghost chairs of the restaurant.  We were served a very tasty onion focaccia bread with a crispy cheese crust, with a milk jug each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.   It is clear that things are less pretty and more functional at Leaf, and I missed a woman’s hand in the management.

We were offered a complimentary cocktail, and I chose the ‘virgin’ “Peach Tree Mosquito”, a refreshing mix of fresh mint, lime juice, cane sugar, peach juice, soda and crushed ice.   Two champagnes are on the winelist, Veuve Cliquot and Pommery Brut Royale, at R999 and R1100, respectively.  MCC sparkling wines offered are Simonsig (R29/R175), Beyerskloof Brut Rose (R24/R145) and Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose (R265).  An innovative touch is the choice one has of ordering wine by the glass in 175 ml and 250 ml quantities, as well as by the bottle, allowing one to have different wines with each course or dish one eats.  The Sauvignon Blancs, for example, start at R 19 (175ml), R27 (250ml) and R79 (bottle) for the Du Toits Kloof brand, Zevenwacht 360 being the most expensive (R40/R60/R170).   For Shiraz lovers the entry level is Robertson (R20/R29/R87), and Diemersdal (R14/R62/R185) the most expensive.   A good selection of wines is offered per varietal.

Leaf has three menus: Sushi, Hot Pot and Dim Sum, and a standard a la carte menu. None of the three menus are integrated design-wise, and some have photographs of some of the dishes, while others do not.  The a la carte menu is the most professional looking, and is dominated by leaves on the pages.  I started with a Hand roll of avo and prawn from the Sushi menu, which normally has salmon and caviar added, but which I declined – the normal price is R 39, but with the 51 %-off, it only costs R19.   I cannot eat a hand roll by hand, so I was brought a steak knife to cut it.  I love the prawn and avo hand roll at Fu.shi in Plettenberg Bay, and that is my benchmark.  That of Leaf came close, but the end bits were dry, with the mayonnaise too concentrated in the middle.   Sushi lovers will delight in the vast variety offered, including Sashimi platters (16 pieces for R138), Salmon platters and Tuna platters (21 pieces for R149), and eight combination choices of R99 Sushi platters.   The Sushi menu also offers Crab, Prawn, Vegetable, Seared Tuna and Japenese (sic) Seafood salads, ranging from R30 – R58.   Other options are smaller portions of Sashimi, Nigiri, Fashion Sandwich, Maki, Inside Out Roll and Edo Roll, as well as Tempura vegetables and prawns, and a selection of hand rolls.

The Dim Sum menu offers eighteen choices of steamed and pan-fried dumplings, deep fried wontons, and more, with prices ranging from R28 – R48, while the Hot Pot menu offers sixteen choices, ranging from R22 for Tofu to R150 for Crayfish.  I did not have anything off this menu, being overwhelmed by the menu options offered across the three menus.

The a la carte menu tries hard to get away from the “Chinese” label the restaurant has already earned prior to its opening, and Manager Ambrose asked me specifically to not refer to it as a Chinese restaurant.  The Starters include Oysters (R15 – R20), Harumaki (deep-fried spring rolls), Calamari, Mussels, Tuna Tartare, Tempura, and Dumplings, no item costing more than R59, and Crayfish Cocktail (R99).  The Tempura prawn starter had five Indian Tiger Prawns, served as the most wonderful deepfried crispy thick “Japanese style battered morsels of food”, with sweet chilli sauce, at R40.  The Chicken springrolls were delicious, with a different crispy batter, costing R25.  Soups are Eastern in style, including Tom Yum, at R48.  Salads range in price from R48 – R58.  Fish and chips cost R40. Three calamari dishes range from R59 – R79.  Crayfish is served grilled or steamed, at R249, or Thermidor, at R299 – no weight/size is specified.   Seafood platters, served with a choice of two sides, range from R99 for line fish to R499 for the Executive (crayfish, scallops, line fish, prawns, baby squid, calamari and mussels).   Steak options are Sirloin (200 g for R79, 300 g for R109), and fillet (250 g for R119), and one can also order lamb shank, lamb chops and oxtail.  Three chicken dishes range from R59 – R79, while two Duck options are available, Peking Duck at R149, and Marinated Duck at R119.  I chose the latter, and was disappointed with its taste and presentation – it was served on a bed of chopped lettuce, with a very rich dark sweet soy sauce, making the plate look very messy.  The duck was nowhere near my duck benchmark, being that of Haiku.  Sticky rice and steamed vegetables were well prepared.   I was surprised to not see any desserts on the menu, but I am sure that no one could manage to eat any, after the great selection of starters and main courses. Coffee is by LavAzza.

One leaves Leaf confused about whether one likes the restaurant or not, and one tends to think back of wonderful meals and chats one had with Bruce and Cormac, given the familiarity of the furnishings.   If one loves Eastern food, and seeks value for money, one can do no better than to eat at Leaf.  The staff need time and practice to get their service up to speed, but in general they are friendly and eager to please.  Food is served the whole day, and not in lunch and dinner time bands, as is so common, which means that one can pop in at any time if one is feeling peckish.  Given time, Leaf can blossom, and bring new life to this restaurant space.

Leaf Restaurant and Bar, Harbour Edge Building, Chiappini Street, Green Point, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 418-4500. www.leafrestaurant.co.za (The “webside” is still under construction).

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

Restaurant Review:Sommelier Restaurant at Sante Hotel has no sommelier!

Yesterday we set the scene for the Sante Hotel and Wellness Centre, which re-opened just over two months ago.  In our review of the Hotel and Spa, we painted a picture of mis-management, and our tale continues with our review of the Hotel’s restaurant Sommelier, a disappointment, in not having a sommelier, for being expensive in what it offers, and for its below-average service.  The restaurant Sommelier was in place when the Hotel originally opened.  I am not aware that a sommelier was ever in operation. The new owner of the hotel has maintained the restaurant name.

The restaurant is large, and not well filled with furniture, seating about 50 persons on four completely different styles of chairs, which makes it look more empty.  There was no music, no candles, nothing to create some mood – even if I was the only person eating there on the first night.  The menu was neatly typed on a sheet of paper, presented on a brown leather holder which I have seen often recently (Restaurant at Majeka House, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, Overture), but nothing like the “gourmet menu” nor offering a “choice of South African and international cuisine”, as claimed by the Hotel website.  Three choices are offered per course.

The “Wine Collection” (nice name) is an impressive looking document, bound in brown leather, and commendably has the Platter star-rating of every wine listed.  Each of the more than 70 wines is described in detail.  It is however the most difficult winelist from which I have ever chosen a wine.   Instead of going the predictable wine variety route in classifying the wines, the “authors” of the winelist (the GM Kristien de Kinder and two wine consultants) went the wacky route of trying to be “clever” in classifying the wines stocked in terms of sometimes funny, sometimes weird headings they have given, which means that one does not understand what the headings refer to, and therefore one must go through each of the 17 pages to find a wine one knows or would like to try, which could easily take half an hour.  The Wine Collection must be so new that one feels that one is touching its pages for the first time.

Only one Wine Collection category is understandable (“French Champagnes”), but most are not.  So, for example, “Taste the Stars” lists sparkling wines (e.g. Miss Molly from Moreson, Krone Rose Cuvee Brut); “Great Whites” (all Sauvignon Blancs); “White Collar Whites” (e.g. Groote Post Unwooded Chardonnay, Bosman Old Bush Vines, Veenwouden Vivat Bacchus, Warwick Professor Black); “The Crowd Pleaser” (e.g. Altyd Gedacht Gewurztraminer, Glen Carlou Chardonnay); “Rich Whites” (Constantia Uitsig Semillon); “Scented Garden Wines (all Rose’s); “The Outsiders” (De Krans Tinta Berocca (sic), Idiom Sangiovese);  “Cheerleaders” (Seidelberg Cabernet Sauvignon); “Sensual Reds” (Seidelberg Un Deux Trois); and “Incredible Reds” (De Toren Fusion V).  Wines-by-the-glass cost between R40 – R50, and the vintages of the two reds (Seidelberg Cabernet Sauvignon and Bell Post Merlot) are both 2006.  I enjoyed a bottle of Rijks Shiraz 2004, which I spread over my two dinners whilst at the hotel.  Commendably, they have a special closure to pump out the oxygen once the bottle has been opened, to keep for the next day.

I was interested in finding out about the chef, and Terence told me his name is Neil.  He went to find out his background, and told me that he came from the restaurant at Rickety Bridge outside Franschhoek.  I asked if I could meet him – when he came to the table, his name had changed to Neville, Chef Neil Rogers having been one of the 20 staff to have been fired the week prior.  Sous Chef Neville Appollis came to the table wearing the chef’s outfit of Proviant Hospitality, a catering company he worked at more than two years ago.  He had been at the “old” Sante, and his last job was at Rickety Bridge.   There is no Executive Chef at Sante, I was told.   (Guests Larry and Heather Katz I met in the restaurant on the second night were told that a chef from Grootbos is to start in September).

I was not offered any bread, and when I questioned the waiter Terence about it, he said they don’t serve it.  The chef Neville was more honest in admitting that they had forgotten to bring it to the table!    Starters are a choice of butternut and orange soup, expensive at R50, a smoked “salmon gravadlax” salad, and a chicken salad, both at R55.

The main course (Pan-grilled lamb noisette rolled in marjoram, coriander and paprika) was served within 5 minutes of giving the go-ahead, after the difficult wine choice.   This meant that the food had been pre-prepared, even though I had asked for it not to be prepared until I had been through the Wine Collection, which explained why the food was not served hot.  The lamb was very fatty, served on mash (which I had requested instead of the couscous), and served medium rare, even though the waiter had suggested it should be served medium.  Stirfried red cabbage and red pepper strips were served with the dish, and had a surprising sweet taste. The dish was served with a Red Wine jus.  I felt that the cost of R130 was expensive for a restaurant stuck away in the middle of nowhere, not having a sommelier, not serving bread, and for having no ambiance at all.  Chef Neville admitted that he may not have cut off enough of the fat before preparing the dish.  Other main course choices were Grilled Dorado (R95) and Oxtail (R140).

I had springrolls with an orange and chocolate filling, with a spoonful of vanilla pod ice cream served in a  Chinese spoon for dessert (R45) – the rolls were very crispy, but I felt that the orange was dominated by the chocolate filling.  Other options are creme brule (sic) and chocolate fondant with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce, at the same price.

Things looked up on the second night, as there were more guests in the restaurant, music was played and a candleholder was on the table, but the candle was not lit.  A new waitress was far more efficient in service, but once again there was no bread (I had been promised it for the second night).    Mannie, the Duty Manager of the hotel, came to the rescue, and bread was brought to the table.  I had chosen to eat at the hotel again, because of the bad condition of the gravel road off the R45 to the hotel, and because the waiter Terence had promised that the menu changes every day.  Only one of the three dishes per course was different to the menu of the night before.   A Greek salad was brought to the table, which was not for me, and was not a menu option.   I had the Beef fillet served on shitake mushroom risotto, served with vegetables, and could not help but think that the mushrooms were fresh out of a tin, chopped up.  The size of the steak was tiny, meant to be 200 gram, I was told, and the risotto was heavily overcooked, cloying and mushy.

The bottom line is that the restaurant name is misleading, in there not being a sommelier.  The quality of the service staff is poor, and there is no Restaurant Manager on duty in the evenings.  The food is not well prepared, portion sizes are small, prices are high, and the kitchen seems to be out of its depth without an Executive Chef.  The winelist is odd, the ambiance non-existent, and there is poor co-ordination between the kitchen and the waiters.  The retrenchment of 20 staff last week, only two months after opening, plus the threatened further staff cuts, have created a staff complement that is ready to jump off what could become a sinking ship, badly influencing the operation of every aspect of the hotel, spa and restaurant.

Sommelier Restaurant, Sante Hotel and Spa, off R 45, between Klapmuts and Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 875-1800.  www.santewellness.co.za (The website does not feature the menu of Sommelier, but it does have a menu for Cadeaux, a restaurant which is meant to be run in the Spa building, but has not re-opened.  It states that Chef Neil Rogers is running both these restaurants, but is dishonest in that only Sommelier is open, and that the Chef has been fired.  The food photographs are extremely misleading relative to the presentation of the food).

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

Restaurant Review: Pepper Club on the Beach spices up Camps Bay

The Pepper Club on the Beach was a safe refuge on a night that a black southeaster swept through Camps Bay, keeping potential restaurant patrons at home.   Whilst its name makes one think of summer specifically, its menu is suitable for all seasons, as it has one of the most extensive menus, challenging Tuscany Beach further down the road on number of menu items!

The Pepper Club on the Beach was called Summerville before it went into liquidation, and was taken over by the owners of The Promenade in Camps Bay.  The Solomon Brothers are not the favourite landlords in Cape Town, but they have money, and they invest heavily in the projects they take on.   When they built the Pepper Club Hotel in the center of town, on the corners of Pepper, Long, Loop and Bloem Streets, they came up with a novel idea of bringing their hotel guests to Camps Bay, by renaming Summerville as Pepper Club on the Beach, offering the Pepper Club hotel guests a free transfer to Camps Bay in the hotel’s Rolls Royce Phantom, and usage of deck chairs, beach towels and a shower facility, in the hope that they will eat at the Camps Bay restaurant.   The manager was honest in telling us that the Pepper Club Hotel guests are still slow in making the journey to the beach in Camps Bay, given the weather, and that the hotel only opened in April. 

As the owner of a guest house in Camps Bay, I received a voucher to try out the restaurant a few months ago.  Somehow I never got to go.   A call from the General Manager of Pepper Club on the Beach, Gavin Lockitch, inviting me to try the restaurant, was the call to action which my colleague and I needed to get us to try out the restaurant.   Our “welcome” outside the blustery entrance to the restaurant was odd, in that the hostess would not let us inside until we told her our name.  We could see that only one other table was occupied, so that availability of tables, or matching our booking with that on a list, would have been simple.    She did not appreciate my feedback in this regard.  

The restaurant is large, probably seating 100 – 150 persons, so it needs lots of guests to make it buzz.  With three tables filled in total during the evening, this was difficult, although the Buena Vista Social Club CD playing initially helped “fill” the space.   In some sections of the restaurant the tables are further apart, which makes it feel even bigger.  A private smoking dining room can seat up to 20 persons.   The colour scheme is neutral, with white and beige.   Nothing stands out decor wise, but many tiny downlighters give the restaurant a sophisticated touch.   The chairs are comfortable.   The only splash of colour is the collection of red menus.   The deck outside the restaurant has new furniture, and new heaters will make it comfortable to sit outside on cooler evenings.

We met two Managers, one newer, and the other, Lynn, had been at Summerville.  Ten of the Summerville staff are at Pepper Club.  We had the feeling that we were almost “over serviced”, there being more staff on duty than patrons in the restaurant.  The Austrian chef Reinhard Schwaihofer came to visit our table, to tell us about his favourite dishes on the menu, a welcome touch.   Reinhard was previously at Summerville, and has worked at Zerbans, Fancourt and the Paternoster Lodge, amongst others, in his 20 years in this country.  Carsten Kocke was the Executive Chef previously, and was a Michelin-starred chef.   It was surprising to receive an e-mail from him recently, requesting that his past connection to the Pepper Club be removed from the www.campsbayinfo.com/blog.  No one wanted to tell us why the chef had left after such a short time at the Pepper Club.   

Our waiter offered us a drink while we paged through the big red plastic menus and winelist, branded on the outside but difficult to read, and therefore difficult to differentiate between the two documents.  The menu contains a vast choice, and contains many of the Summerville items, to which has been added burgers, sandwiches, and other light meals which are served outside of lunch and dinner times.   Starters are expensive, in ranging from R 64 for Calamari to a Lobster avacado cocktail at R 105. Five salads are offered, including a Prawn and Avocado salad at R 89.  Steaks range from R 120 for a 200g ladies’ fillet to R 150 for a 300 g beef fillet, and they are served with a choice of two side orders, including chips, salad, mushrooms, and mash. Four sauces can be ordered additionally, each costing R 25.   Other interesting dishes are the Cape Malay lamb curry (R 130), Trio of game (R 165), 13 fish dishes (the cheapest seafood platter for one costs R265), and six pasta dishes start from R 70, five pasta types available for each dish.   Close to 30 sushi options are available as well. 

Once we placed our order, we received European style rolls with cumin seed, served with the most attractively presented garlic butter, herb butter and paprika butter.   My Avocado Ritz (R79), a favourite, was excellent, with the avocado taken out of the skin, and the three prawns thick and juicy.  I could only fault the over-decoration of the plate with bits of lettuce, paprika and tomato.   My colleague was very happy with her grilled calamari starter (R64).   For the main course I enjoyed veal cutlet (R130), looking and tasting as if it came straight off the “braai”, absolutely tender, placed on top of the best mash I have ever eaten, as well as three asparagus spears.    My colleague’s herb-crusted ostrich steak (R148) was too large (250g) for her to finish.   The portions are generous, and so too was the Apfelstrudel (R55), which Chef Reinhard recommended as his speciality.  It was served warm, with well-cooked apple and large raisins, “oven fresh” the Austrian way, said Chef Reinhard.   A very generous portion of real fresh cream came with the dessert.    

The winelist is even more extensive than the menu, running to ten pages, a page per variety.  Laurent Perrier is the most pricy of the three champagne brands stocked, at R1490, and Pongracz Desidirius the most expensive of the four sparkling wines, at R395 – however, the standard Pongracz costs R169.  Sauvignon Blanc wines feature most prominently on the list, including Southern Right (R149), Neil Ellis Groenkloof (R158), Steenberg (R167), and Iona (R198).   Twelve wines-by-the-glass are offered, and the reds include L’Omarins Terra Del Capo Sangiovese (R38), Warwick 3 Cape Ladies (R58), and Porcupine Ridge (R32).   The Ridgeback Shiraz, one of the two shirazes which can be ordered by the glass, was out of stock, but the waiter brought an Asara with the same vintage in its place, a commendable gesture.  Corkage is R25 for the first bottle, and R40 thereafter.

My colleague and I were most pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our dinner, and would return and recommend it to our guest house guests.   One would hope that it would fill up, to give the large restaurant more of a buzz and a vibe,

Pepper Club on the Beach, The Promenade, Victoria Road, Camps Bay.  Tel 021 438-3174.  www.pepperclubonthebeach.co.za. (only the menu is available)

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

Restaurant Review: The Grillroom – restaurant, butchery and vinoteque all in one

The Grillroom opened on the main road of Franschhoek, not far from the Huguenot Monument, in a historic building belonging to Franschhoek property mogul Trevor Kirsten, almost two months ago.   The owner of the restaurant is Franschhoek restaurateur Matthew Gordon, who owns Haute Cabriere, French Connection (with Kirsten as well), and is a co-owner of Cotage Fromage on Vrede & Lust wine estate.   It opened as a unique one-stop restaurant, butchery and vinoteque.

The building has an L-shape, and allows the restaurant to be divided into three separate sections – the main restaurant section has about 10 tables, and a welcoming fireplace for those cold Franschhoek winter nights.  The butchery section is much smaller, whilst a private dining room upstairs can seat about 16 guests.  The Vinoteque is also upstairs.

The restaurant interior is sparsely decorated, with some black and white photographs.  Red light fittings dominate.   Raw brickwork gives the restaurant a cosy informal feel, not as gourmet as some of the other restaurants on the same road in this gourmet village of note.

Before we looked at the menu, we are told about an extensive list of non-steak specials, mainly seafood ones, which seemed to contradict the “steakhouse” feel of the restaurant.   The no-nonsense menu is a large A3, and introduces the restaurant: “It is a restaurant that takes pains to source the finest meat and age it to perfection.  Only the freshest fish and shellfish from the sustainable list is served.  Each plate is masterfully created for your enjoyment.  Match this with a winelist of international standards and friendly, informed staff.   All our beef is aged for a minimum of 2 weeks before delivery to us.   We then wet age it in a vac pac for a further week before it gets put onto your plate.  We only deal with one producer and our meat is fully traceable to its source to guarantee quality”.

The starter list offers a choice of eight starters, including a “modern day king prawn cocktail with avocado and spicy cocktail sauce” (nice generous portion of juicy prawns, 3 slices of avocado, and too many leaves, tasty cocktail sauce); salmon sashimi; mussels, chicken liver pate and Grabouw wors with chakalaka (a surprise!).  Four salad options are offered, ranging from R 48 for a roasted butternut, beetroot, tomato and chickpea salad with humus, to R78 for a seafood style salad.

The mains are served with delicious crispy thin cut French fries (a Gordon speciality, I have been told, with his mussels), baked potato with sour cream, black mushroom couscous, or savoury rice.  In addition, stir-fried vegetables were also served.  Fillet steak is served in 200 g and 250 g cuts, at R115 and R135, respectively, sirloin and rump R98 for 300 g, 300 g Hanger steak at R88, a 500 g T-bone costs R115 and a 300 g Rib eye steak R105.  A range of sauces can be ordered for an additional R18.  A choice of bastings and of rubs is offered, according to the menu, but was not asked by the waitress (we only saw this after we had left).  My rump steak had a strong peppercorn taste to it, and burnt my mouth when I bit onto the peppercorns.  I expected it to be served plain.   My colleague’s spicy chicken stirfry dish, a special, was to her liking, and was not too strongly spiced. 

Venison is also served, two springbok dishes cost R 125 and R 135.  Beef, ostrich, lamb, chicken and vegetarian burgers are offered, costing R65 – R95.   A list of favourites, such as duck (R125), lamb shank (R95), veal chop (R130), ribs (R110), baby chicken (R95) and calamari (R90) can also be ordered.   Fish is treated as a daily special, but Norwegian salmon is regularly available at R130, as is a mussel dish.  Subject to availability, prawns, crayfish, langoustines, and seafood platters can be ordered.   Dessert choices are limited to creme brulee, chocolate mud cake, pear tart tatin, chocolate spring rolls, at about R40, and a cheese board.

An A3-sized winelist offers an impressive selection of 160 wines, about half of them being from Franschhoek.   The list has a very brief description of the cultivar offered, and lists the region in which the wine is made.   Unfortunately the vintages are not denoted.   All 15 wines-by-the-glass are from Franschhoek wine estates, and are most reasonably priced at about R 25 for the red and white wines.  I was offered a tasting portion of the Eikehof Shiraz first, without asking, and then a generous glassful was poured.  Champagnes are stocked, ranging from R 395 for the Tribaut Brut Rose to R995 for the Bollinger Special Cuvee. Cap Classiques are reasonably priced between R140 – R240, Sauvignon Blancs cost R95 – R250, Chardonnay R90 – R350, Shiraz R95 – R950, Cabernet Sauvignon R95 – R795, Merlot R125 – R285, and Pinotage R120 – R495.  A range of dessert wines is also available. 

The Butchery of The Grillroom  sells 3-week aged beef to take home.  Fillet costs R143 per kg, rump and sirloin R80 per kg, Boerewors R48 per kg, Rib Eye steak R84 per kg, hangar steak R58 per kg, and T-bone steak R88 per kg.   The Vinoteque sells all the wines that are on the winelist, as a wine shop, and restaurant patrons are invited to select a wine from it for their meal. 

The Grillhouse will give locals and visitors to Franschhoek a different style of wining and dining – no-nonsense in an unusual building – historic on the outside, and modern facebrick inside , with friendly staff.   It is a big space to fill.  One wonders how all the restaurants in the village will keep going in winter, when we were one of only 2 tables on a cold wintry mid-week evening.

A request for a photograph to be e-mailed to me for the review was actioned immediately that evening, which is commendable.  A follow-up visit for a cappuccino and pear tart tatin (requested with real cream) over the Franschhoek Literary Festival allowed me to try a dessert, and to meet Dominic Dear, the GM of the restaurant, with a professional and very friendly touch.   The Head Chef is Geraldine White, previously from Dieu Donne in Franschhoek.

The Grillhouse, Heritage Square, Huguenot Street, tel 021 876-2548.  www.thegrillroom.co.za (no content).

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

Platter pours taste of 2010 winners

The highly regarded South African wine guide Platter’s has announced its two winning white and red wines for 2010, being Palladius 2008 from Sadie Family Wines, and Le Riche Wines’ Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005.

Platter’s Wine Guide has given an early taste of its winning wines, and has also revealed that 41 wines have made the highly-sought after 5-star category, the highest number of 5-star wines since Platter’s was introduced.  As the Platter’s Wine Guide will only reach the shops in November, few clues as to the Winery of the Year, Superquaffer of the Year, and the five-star wines have been revealed.

However, the Platter’s media release states that 6 000 wines were evaluated this year, and 105 of these made the five-star shortlist, for the final selection of 41.  By wine variety, five-star winners include 5 sauvignon blancs, 5 Bordeaux-style red blends, 4 Bordeaux-style white blends, 4 shiraz wines, 4 unfortified dessert wines, 3 ports, 3 chardonnays, 2 cabernet sauvignons, 2 Pinot Noirs, 2 red blends, 1 grenache, 1 chenin blanc and 1 pinotage.

Platter’s has also revealed that multi 5-star winners are Woolworths, with four 5-star wines, which include a sauvignon blanc and a bordeaux-style red blend.  The other two 5-star Woolworths wines have not been revealed.   Boplaas Family Vineyards, traditionally a port winner, Cape Point Vineyards, Distell (5-stars for its Nederburg and Fleur du Cap wines) and Sadie Family Wines are also multi 5-star winners.

The Platter’s South African Wine Guide will be launched in November, with a detailed evaluation of all the South African wines tasted.

Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com