When I walked past Restaurant Casa Rita in Baiona in Galicia, Spain, on my Camino walk at lunchtime last week, and I saw a chef placing fresh fish and shellfish on ice into the display window, I had to photograph it. When I saw that the restaurant has a Michelin knife and fork accreditation, I went inside to book for that evening. Chef Sefi Brea promised me that a waiter would be able to serve me in English. Continue reading →
Just two months after the termination of the ten-year relationship between Chef Peter Tempelhoff and The Liz McGrath Collection, and with it Top Ten Greenhouse restaurant, it has been announced that he has been appointed as Culinary Director at the prestigious Ellerman House in Bantry Bay, Cape Town. Continue reading →
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 →
Late last night I received an email from Chef Peter Tempelhoff, announcing that he is banning me from eating at his new FYN Restaurant. This is a reversal to what Tempelhoff told me at the Eat Out Awards ten days ago, in that I was welcome to eat at FYN, and that he does not discriminate against anyone, when I asked him directly! It can only signal that Tempelhoff is petrified that I might judge his new fine-dining restaurant, opening on Friday, to not be good enough! Continue reading →
It’s an Eat Out week, with the restaurant guide announcing not only its Top 30 Restaurant nominations for 2018, but also celebrating the top Everyday Eateries for the Western Cape, Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal. Generally most would find the Eat Out Everyday Eatery choices to be acceptable, but could question why in some categories restaurants were not awarded. Continue reading →
I 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 →
Last week Eat Out dropped the bombshell that it is changing its ‘Best Of‘ awards, awarding an award in 10 categories (five of them new), in each of our country’s provinces, making it a total of 90 ‘Best of‘ awards! The method of selecting the ‘Best of‘ winners has changed dramatically, making the new winners of 2015 incomparable to those of the past four years! It appears to stem from Eat Out‘s desperation to be national, and not to be criticized for being so Cape-dominant in its awards. It makes a mockery of what the Eat Out awards stand for!
Almost three weeks ago Eat Out announced the shocking news that it had separated the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards from the ‘Best Of‘ awards, the latter awards to be presented in October already, in Cape Town and in Johannesburg. Given the news of the award base of what they are now calling Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Best Everyday Eateries Awards Continue reading →
Despite good publicity for the WWF-SASSI classification of seafood available in restaurants, and for sale in supermarkets on MasterChef (Seasons 1 and 3), and on ‘Hayden Quinn: South Africa‘, a study has found that many consumers do not question the sustainability of the fish they buy!
A survey, conducted by Added Value for the World Wild Fund (WWF) campaign for its South Africa Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) communication, concluded that most South African consumers do not consider sustainability when buying seafood, and almost half do not ask Continue reading →
After writing about Woolworths confusing labelling of its seafood packs, and its in-store SASSI posters, we were invited to meet with Justin Smith, head of the retailer’s ‘Good Business Journey‘ sustainability programme, and Michael Basson, their Seafood Technologist, on Thursday, to explain and clarify Woolworths’ seafood sustainability commitment and programme ahead.
What the retailer had communicated in one of its e-mails to us, but what was not clarified despite our request, is that the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) has requested all retailers, including Woolworths, as well as restaurants which have aligned themselves to the principles of sustainable seafood practices, to remove any SASSI colour rating on packaging of their fish offering, due to the misleading ‘greenwashing’ practiced by some retailers and restaurants. The term was explained as the use of the colour green on a pack of fish to imply a ‘green’ SASSI rating, without the content in fact being a SASSI ‘green‘ rated fish.
One would have thought that SASSI would be grateful for all consumer education and communication about its sustainable seafood initiative, but the organisation must have picked up so many problems that it has taken this radical step. From this month onwards no new packaging with the SASSI rating may be printed by any retailer, but existing packaging material may be used until it runs out. This explains why we found packs of fish with and without the SASSI rating at Woolworths.
In response to the SASSI directive, Woolworths has launched its ‘Fishing for the Future‘ campaign, which declares its commitment to sustainability. A new logo and colour scheme (currently blue, but likely to be used in white and black) will go onto all fish packs sold at Woolworths. The retailer still endorses SASSI, but will be more focused on communicating the international Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) rating of its fish (currently only hake) through the blue MSC logo. The MSC evaluation is not based on a colour rating – either a fish supplier has the rating or it does not, so a fish pack bearing the logo will be proof that the fish was caught, processed and sold according to sustainable seafood standards. Woolworths has had a You Tube video prepared to explain its seafood sustainability. Oddly, the description below the video states that ‘Woolworths offers the widest range of MSC certified fish’. However, currently the MSC only certifies ‘trawled hake’, we were told. All MSC certified fish automatically is rated as ‘green’ by SASSI. In MasterChef SA’s episode 15 Woolworths first flighted a TV commercial to declare its seafood sustainability, and featured the MSC ‘eco label’, but did not refer to SASSI. In-store (i.e. in the St John Piazza store in Woolworths and in Canal Walk) there is no MSC information, and only SASSI information.
The company realises that it needs to be far sharper at communicating what the different seafood assessment companies and their systems stand for, and what it means for the quality of the seafood it sells. We talked about the ‘blue’ rating which Woolworths has used on its in-store poster, not an official SASSI colour rating, but which it uses to denote ‘imported or farmed fish’ with the blessing of SASSI. We asked why hake is ‘green’ rated by SASSI but that the pickled fish sold at Woolworths, which its label says is made from hake, is rated ‘orange’. Michael explained that the hake for the pickled fish comes from Namibia, and therefore carries this rating.
The retailer acknowledged that it must work far harder with its staff to educate it about sustainability generally, and about seafood specifically, through its internal ‘Champions’ programme.
Kingklip cannot be caught as such, but is a by-catch with hake. To preserve the kingklip stocks, a number of fishing actions are implemented, including the reduction of ‘bird bycatch‘, as sea birds caught in fishing nets drown. Torry lines are used as ‘bird-scaring devices‘ on the boats and nets to scare birds away from the boats. It was explained that kingklip does not have to be thrown back when caught in a net with other fish varieties, and that the torry lines ensure that the stock of kingklip and other endangered fish varieties will grow. When we challenged the Woolworths representatives as to why they are selling an ‘orange‘-rated kingklip, they said that it was better to sell and control it, than to have no influence over it at all. Woolworths does not sell Cape salmon, but sells a substantial amount of Norwegian salmon. It is a large and well-managed industry in Norway, prestigious, and of high quality standards. Its catch and export to South Africa meets sustainability standards. Trout is now rated ‘green’, having previously been rated ‘orange‘, as stocks have improved.
The value of the SASSI education campaign is that it has enhanced the awareness of the consumer and the restaurant client in choosing ‘green’ rated fish, which means that the supply of green rated fish will grow. It was heartening to hear that SASSI is adding more and more imported fish species sold locally to its rating list.
Woolworths is known to be a tough taskmaster to its suppliers in setting quality standards. The Woolworths Seafood and Fish Sustainability questionnaire which suppliers have to complete checks the fishing companies’ sustainability policies, their environmental policies, the fish varieties that are targeted, the fish varieties that are by-catch, where the fish is caught, the method of catching which is used, the use of torry lines, methods used to prevent bird, turtle and mammal (i.e. dolphin) catch, and the sustainability status. In addition to the paperwork, the retailer has random ‘traceability‘ (i.e. checking the origin of the fish via a paper trail) and DNA tests conducted on its fish supplies via a third party.
In October consumers can expect to see a co-ordinated in-store and marketing awareness campaign to explain the source of Woolworths’ farmed fish; to educate the shopper about SASSI, MSC and the benefit of eating ‘green‘ fish; the retailer’s policy on selling ‘orange’ fish; and the goals Woolworths has for its continuous improvement in its sustainable seafood programme. It is anticipated that SASSI and the MSC will also run a joint communication programme to educate consumers about sustainable seafood.
From a consumer perspective it seems a shame that SASSI has decided to disallow retailers to label their fish ratings in future, given that it currently causes confusion as packaging stock runs out, and it undoes the good work that a leading retailer like Woolworths has done in making the SASSI, and to a lesser extent the MSC, sustainable seafood standards, the basis on which South Africans should buy and eat fish, better known.
POSTSCRIPT 18/7: SASSI’s John Duncan wrote a detailed response to this blogpost, to support the information provided by Woolworths about the withdrawal of the SASSI coding on retailers’ packaging. It contains valuable detail, and therefore we have copied it into the blogpost. “It’s great to see that Woolworths took the time to meet with you to explain the current challenges with regards to their seafood labelling programme. Just to clarify some of the background to SASSI’s decision to ask Woolworths and other retailers to remove any SASSI related prodcut labelling, please find some more information below: Over the last few years, as awareness of SASSI’s traffic light system of colour-coding has grown, a number of seafood-related companies, have begun to add green, orange, red and blue labels to seafood products both on packaging and on menus. Although WWF recognizes that the majority of these companies have adopted these strategies in order to communicate about sustainability with their clients, it is important to point out that globally, WWF does not support 1st party ecolabelling schemes (i.e. self-regulated). In line with the FAO’s Guidelines on Ecolabelling of Fish and Fishery Products from Marine Capture Fisheries (FAO, 2005), we believe that the most credible ecolabelling schemes accepted in international forums such as WTO, ISO, FAO and ISEAL are voluntary, third party and operated independently of those with interests in the issue in question. Third party schemes such as the MSC and the developing ASC are generally considered to offer buyers of labelled products the greatest confidence and levels of credibility because compliance with criteria is usually based on verifiable, impartial and transparent certification procedures and standards. It is important for retailers and consumers to understand why WWF cannot support 1st party eco-labelling processes such as colour-coding of seafood with SASSI colours. Although SASSI has some level of oversight on labeling processes with SASSI Retail participants such as Woolworths, it seems clear that there are now a number of companies that are adding unaudited colour-coded logos to their products, which poses significant risks to sustainability as these companies can and do add the incorrect colour coding to their products either because of a lack of understanding or, intentionally in order to greenwash unsustainable products. A similar risk is that companies employing unaudited colour-coding systems can be developing their own definitions of what each colour means, which would be misleading to consumers who assume that all colour-codes relate to SASSI colour categories. These are clearly significant threats to WWF’s work and in order to mitigate these risks, SASSI requested that retailers remove any colour-coded labeling associated with seafood products. Ultimately, SASSI is not an eco-labelling organization and WWF strongly encourages companies wanting to communicate with consumers about sustainability through on-product labeling to investigate the options of independent 3rd party eco-labelling schemes such as the MSC. Woolworths have done an amazing job over the last few years of raising awareness of our work and we are greatly encouraged by the work Woolworths has done to develop its range of MSC certified products (which include SA’s trawled hake as well as imported products such as Alaskan salmon, Portuguese sardines and others). I hope this helps to clear up any confusion around this topic, for more information on all of these issues, please have a look at our website (www.wwf.org.za/sassi). Many thanks John”
POSTSCRIPT 26/7: At Woolworths’ Willowbridge branch they had a new information banner (‘We’re hooked on sustainable fishing’) next to the smallish fish department today, focused on the Marine Stewardship Council, which they will use in their seafood sustainability communication, as reflected in the interview reported above. It simply communicates: ‘By buying MSC-certified seafood, you’re helping to make sure there will always be plenty of fish in the sea’.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
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