Tag Archives: service

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 17 October

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   The Top 5 restaurants based on service in the UK are: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, The Fat Duck in Bray,
Carters in Birmingham. HKK in London, and Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London.  Perhaps Eat Out could add such an evaluation to its Restaurant Awards?!

*  McGrath Collection Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff is opening Mondiall as a Brasserie in the former Green Dolphin Restaurant in the V&A Waterfront on 29 November with Patrick Symington, and Chef Oliver Cattermole as Head Chef. (received via media release from FIVESTAR PR)

*   Uma Thurman is the star chosen for the cover picture Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 27 September

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*  It’s World Tourism Day, with a theme focused on water!

*   Klein Constantia has received excellent in-depth coverage on Nederburg Auction 2013 American key-note speaker Joe Roberts’ 1 Wine Dude Blog.

*   The American State Department has issued a world wide travel warning about potential terror attacks.

*   The first ProWein China will be held in Shanghai on 13 November, and all its 500 stands have been sold.

*   Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille is placing pressure on SAA to reinstate a direct route between Cape Town and the USA. and she is routing for Miami, just having returned from a trade visit to that city.  Such a direct route would be beneficial for tourism.

*   Noise is the most common complaint of hotel guests in 19 tourist destinations, but Cape Town hotels are an exception in not receiving complaints about noise.  Modernity, location, and service speed are the most common compliments.  Cape Town hotels also ranked top on GRI (Global Review Index), the average online reputation of hotels, followed by Melbourne, St Petersburg, Sydney, and Dublin.

*   Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir and Chardonnay will be paired with a 5 course dinner at Nobu at the One&Only Cape Town on 2 October, at a cost of R595. (received via newsletter from One&Only Cape Town)

*   Author E.L. James has launched a Fifty Shades of Grey wine Continue reading →

Poor Service green Cape Town’s biggest Tourism downfall!

Writing in Huffington Post earlier this month, journalist Jennifer Schwab praised our scenic beauty, but slated the service offered during the 24 hour visit she paid to Cape Town three months ago.

Ms Schwab likened Cape Town to Del Mar and La Jolla in California, yet without the myriad of shops and franchise restaurants.  Her focus was on our city’s sustainability, and she wrote about her visit to Cape Point, Stellenbosch, and Camps Bay that ‘Cape Town might just be my new ideal green design city‘.  With Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles, flanked by the ocean, ‘it is clear that Cape Town received more than its fair share of God-given raw materials’.   She praised the City of Cape Town’s development policy, and in it calling for public participation, ‘thanks to smart zoning that puts aesthetics above tax revenue’. She praises the low height of the Atlantic Seaboard  buildings, and that the houses aren’t built all the way up the slopes of the mountains.  Our highways are described as encouraging ‘Bond-like driving‘!

After heaping praise on Cape Town, the closing paragraph is a let down, but is not far from the truth:“The downside of Cape Town? One is the apparent lackluster feeling that service people have for their jobs. From the employees of the airport to receptionists and porters, there was an apparent disconnect – even when you tipped them generously. The government and airport employees in particular looked kind of like Stepford wives while doing their jobs: an empty glazed stare with little enthusiasm for the task at hand and equal lack of interest in pleasing the customer. Service at private establishments was somewhat better, but not a high point of the Cape Town experience’. Of course the Apartheid word had to creep into the article, and the journalist blames our divided past for the poor service standard in our city!

But all is not lost when Ms Schwab concludes that ‘it appears one can live a quite splendid life in Cape Town, and a very sustainable one at that. If you ever have the chance, visit this southern outpost of urban vision, terrific food and wine and incredible natural gifts of scenic beauty!

A number of our guest house guests have fed back for the first time how they have noticed how slow staff are in our city, be it in restaurants, shops, and tourism attractions, asking how business owners and managers cope with this speed, and commenting that they would never remain employed in Europe with such a slow speed.  Last night I experienced unacceptable service at Gibsons in the V&A Waterfront, with an arrogant manager, and no service check as to my satisfaction with the meal, no offer of a dessert menu, and no paper in the credit card machine when I paid.  For their smart uniforms and reasonable value, the service let-down is so great that it will be hard to go back again.  Poor English pronunciation, poor ability to bring a menu when a customer has sat down, out of stocks on menu items, clearing the table when the bill is requested, getting the order wrong, stretching in front of the customer when adding or removing cutlery, and not checking up on one’s satisfaction with the dish are common restaurant service failures in Cape Town, giving our city a poor service reputation.

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

Civil Court Sweet Service and Cape to Cuba Sour Service Awards!

The Sweet Service Award goes to Nonnie Xelitole in the Civil Court in the Justicia Building, for her assistance in getting a document for the Small Claims Court stamped. The Supervisor Belinda Jayiya in the Small Claims Court office is the only staff member dealing with the public, and was holding an unauthorised hearing in her office, the waiting public hearing the two disputing parties scream at each other for about an hour.  The Supervisor was rude, and could not explain why the hearing was not held in court, and was holding up the rest of the queue.  Nonnie came to the rescue, getting the hearing stopped, and the paperwork stamped, with professionalism and friendliness.

The Sour Service Award goes to Cape To Cuba, whose owner chased Johannesburg customers from the restaurant and told them to not return as they had only tipped the waitress 5%!  It is not the first time that the restaurant has attacked its patrons about a poor tip.  The story has been widely reported. contaminating Cape Town’s restaurant service reputation.

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

SA Sommeliers Association to add sparkle to MasterChef SA winner prize!

As one of the main sponsors of MasterChef SA, Nederburg brand owner Distell has appointed the recently-formed South African Sommelier Association to develop a 50 hour programme that will enhance the wine knowledge of the MasterChef South Africa winner.  This MasterChef prize is valued at R100 000, monies which will go to developing the Sommeliers Association

Neil Grant, the Chairman of the South African Sommeliers Association, and co-owner of Burrata, said that he met with Distell, and they brainstormed what the winner of MasterChef should know about wines, to complement his/her food knowledge.  As they do not know who has won, they can only finalise the exact course outline once the MasterChef South Africa winner is announced on 17 July.  The Wine education course will introduce the winner to the wine regions in the Winelands, and to the wineries of the region.  The winner will meet some of the winemakers, will be taken to eat at Eat Out Top 10 restaurants, will meet other sommeliers, will do sparkling wine tastings, will be taught how to open a bottle of wine and sparkling wine, and how to pour them.  The Sommeliers Association will also be available to the Masterchef South Africa winner on a consultative basis.

Neil will be supported in presenting the wine course for the MasterChef South Africa winner by his fellow Sommeliers Association committee members of Miguel Chan of Southern Sun, Jörg Pfùtzner of Fine Wine Events, Mia Mârtensson of The Winery of Good Hope, and Francis Krone of The Saxon.  Nederburg will provide a year’s supply of its Winemaster’s Reserve, and its winemaker Razvan Macici will conduct masterclasses with the MasterChef South Africa winner.

The South African Sommeliers Association was established in 2010 to help uplift and promote the service of wine, and its mission is “To promote a culture of fine wine, food and service excellence in Southern Africa”. The Association will offer training and mentorships to grow the professional standards. It represents the profession in this country, and liaises with similar associations internationally.  It will accredit sommeliers educated and trained by the association, promote the Sommelier profession, offer a platform for information exchange, and encourage an interest in the ‘culture of fine wine, food and service excellence’, writes Sommelier Miguel Chan on his blog.  The Executive Committee also includes Higgo Jacobs and Kent Scheermeyer.

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

Cape Town festive season tourism up on 2010

Cape Town is bursting at the seams, and will get even fuller from today onwards, when international visitors fly into the city after their Christmas celebrations with their families.  While the occupancy for the festive season (i.e. Christmas – 8 January) is improved, the overall occupancy for December is on a par with that of last December.

The Cape Argus front page story headline ‘Tourists pour into Cape’ was based on a 4% increase in domestic arrivals in November, relative to the year before, and is therefore sensationalist and incorrect. Expectations of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (100000 visitors estimated for December) and the V&A Waterfront (3 million visitors expected in December) are optimistic, but comparative 2010 figures are not provided .   The newspaper, which also reported a 14% increase in international arrivals on 21 December, relative to the ‘last festive season’, appears to be confused about the definition of the ‘festive season’, seen by the industry as only starting with Christmas, and running until the day before the first working day in January (as early as 3 January, or 9 January for most).

The article also quoted Cape Town Tourism in saying that the arrival statistics were not reflected in the occupancy levels of accommodation establishments in the city, many arrivals staying with friends and family.  Cape Town Tourism’s market research methods have been dubious in the past, and do not appear to reflect that many international visitors now own a house or apartment in the Cape.  The tourism body spokesperson Skye Grove also blamed price sensitivity for hotels and guest houses not being fully booked, due the ‘current economic conditions’. One wonders how Cape Town Tourism drew this conclusion, without interviewing tourists.   She also blames the unfilled beds on the 40 % increased room capacity in the past four years, in preparation for the 2010 World Cup, with a current total bed availability of 60 000 in greater Cape Town, she said.  Ms Grove did not mention the feedback about Cape Town having become an expensive destination.  She also said that tourists are “looking for added value and expect excellent service. They are, more than ever, prepared to shop around for the best deal when it comes to experiences, food, drinks and accommodation”.

The competing tourism body Cape Town Routes Unlimited provided a different statistic, its CEO Calvyn Gilfellan saying that 20 % more beds had been added in the past two years, and his body expected a ‘slight return to normality’, without a definition thereof.  He warned the industry to not overcharge: “Competition is tough, people know they have to be realistic with their rates”. Alan Winde, Western Cape Minister of Tourism and Finance, echoed Gilfellan, in stating that there would be a slight improvement in visitor numbers, but he warned the tourism industry to ‘…don’t expect fireworks’.  He added: “The market is tough and is going to become even more competitive, so we have to up our game. Quality and service will set us apart from the rest”.

Whale Cottage Camps Bay is likely to finish December with an occupancy of 70 %, slightly up on December 2010, but a huge drop from the 90+% occupancy of December 2007 – 2009.  What is different is that the guest house is fully booked for the Christmas days, which is an improvement on the past years. However, the first two weeks of December were much quieter than in the past.  A similar pattern is evident in Franschhoek, although the occupancy level for the month is below 20%, while occupancy in Hermanus is much reduced relative to last December.  The Mount Nelson Hotel is not full at the moment, but will fill up later this week, one of the managers told me yesterday.

For Cape Town to be a world class city offering quality service, as per the call by Minister Winde, restaurants should be encouraged to open on Christmas Day, and particularly in the evening. Kloof Street is a restaurant street boasting 35 restaurants, of which only three were open yesterday evening, two of them being franchise restaurants, and Mason’s being filled with tourists staying in the Tamboerskloof and Gardens areas.  The service at Mason’s was particularly slow, the owner apologetically saying that all his staff had called in sick, so patrons had to expect a 25 minute waiting time for food (my cappuccino took this long to make too). Poor spelling on their Christmas dinner menu does not give our city a professional image.

Newspaper headlines about the tourism season should wait until the festive season has ended, and should be based on reliable information, journalists having to be responsible in their information sources. Cape Town tourism bodies should be professional in conducting their market research!  The increased tourism numbers, mainly domestic tourists, do not seem to be the result of any marketing efforts by Cape Town Tourism or by Cape Town Routes Unlimited. Cape Town Tourism launched its ‘You don’t need a holiday, you need Cape Town’ campaign to huge fanfare at the World Travel Market in London and at its AGM in the past two months, but the campaign seems to have run out of steam, and is not visible in any media.

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

Ja wohl: German tourist numbers to the Cape on the increase!

Given the near drought of UK accommodation bookings for the coming summer season, it is gratifying to see an above average number of bookings from German tourists.  A recent visit to South Africa, and to Cape Town specifically, of a group of German travel agents should see an even greater number of German tourists.

The 2010 Soccer World Cup led to the immediate benefit of German bookings, given the outstanding coverage our city and country received on each of the days that a German team played during the World Cup.  German TV station ZDF, using our ex-Miss South Africa Jo-Ann Strauss as its presenter, and directed by local resident Dagmar Schumacher, broadcast from a number of destinations around the country for an hour prior to each match.

Last week a group of 55 travel agents from Meier’s Weltreisen, a tourism company specialising in long-distance package tours for Germans and Austrians, including the rental of cars and campervans, as well as offering tailor-made tours, visited South Africa, and spent time in Cape Town too.   Meier’s Welreisen is one of the largest German tour operators, and is celebrating its 30th year of operation this year.

“Germany is a key and crucial tourism market for South Africa, and we invest significantly in encouraging Germans to visit here. While our arrivals from the country are already posting a strong recovery, more than 17.5% increase recorded for the first five months of 2011, we also recognise the need to continue strengthening trade relations as an avenue to long term sustainable growth”, said Fiona Buchner, Regional Director: Europe, of SA Tourism.

The itinerary of the Meier’s Weltreisen group visit, organised in conjunction with SA Tourism, SAA and Private Safaris, included Johannesburg, Sun City, the Garden Route, the Eastern Cape, Madikwe Game Reserve, and the Western Cape.  Buchner said that over and above showing the agents the tourist sites, they also wanted to show them the ‘welcoming people and enriching experiences‘ of the country, being the ‘typical encounter that the German traveller sees’. Meier’s Weltreisen Director of the Africa Division, Martina Beeken, said: “South Africa is one of our most important partners in terms of long-haul travel and we look forward to fully experiencing the fascinating cultural mix; warm, friendly and welcoming people and the beautiful scenery that South Africa offers.  South Africa is a world-class tourism destination with an outstanding hospitality offering of which service, accessibility, and value for money are the foundation”. Fantastic praise indeed!

In Cape Town the group was spoilt with a welcome dinner at which Cape Minstrels performed, an Amazing Race-style event through the V&A Waterfront, ‘champagne and oysters’ (one would hope that it was good Winelands MCC!) at Cape Point, and a transfer to the Winelands in vintage cars, reports The Event.

The Whale Cottage Portfolio has seen a marked increase in bookings from German guests, some being return visitors, and others booking at Whale Cottage Hermanus in particular, to see the whales, guests seeing listings about the guest house in a number of German travel guides.

It is surprising and disappointing that Cape Town Tourism and Cape Town Routes Unlimited appeared to not have been involved in the visit by the Meier’s Weltreisen travel agents, in that no welcome was accorded the group via Twitter or media presence!

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

Hotel guests of future want automated service with personal attention!

Contradictory needs of the hotel guest of the future could make it difficult for accommodation establishments to offer their guests the best possible satisfaction, in their almost contradictory need for greater automation, yet they increasingly require personal service.   This is one of the trends identified in the ‘Hospitality Trends and Opportunities 2011″ report prepared by Market Metrix.

In focusing on ‘Key trends that will impact hospitality” in its report, the following four trends are identified for the hospitality industry:

1.  The Generation Y, now 17 – 34 years old, are seen to be the largest consumer group in the USA – this age group is least loyal, most emotional, and least satisfied as guests of hospitality establishments.  They are the most “fickle, unpredictable, picky, fussy guests of all!”.  The report says that due to their young age, this group will be around for some time to come, and therefore one needs to win them over for long term success.   Despite their focus on all things technical, such as electronic check-in, concierge, and room service, this group also wants personal attention and customised service.  This is in contrast to hotels such as Comfort Xpress, which has automated the entire guest stay, to such an extent that the guests do not have to speak to a staff member throughout their stay!  The report recommends segmenting this group into specific target markets, such as sport lovers and music lovers.  Loyalty programs are of interest to this group, but should be customised and personalised, and not be bureaucratic in their administration.

2.   Guests look for experiences  to enrich their travel, and are no longer just seeing a hotel as a place to sleep.  Guest are interested in staying fit and connecting with nature, by going to parks, by hiking, and by doing adventure activities.   Green tourism is an important trend, in that guests want to stay in environmentally-friendly hotels, walk, cycle and use public transport.  Hotels should make bicycle hire a service to offer, and even rent hybrid cars.   It could even extend to arranging for guests to volunteer for a community project.  The history of a region, cultural growth, visits to the theatre, and educational activities are of increasing interest to tourists.  Guest loyalty will result more from emotional connections made than from ‘rational, incentive-based initiatives’. 

3.   Travellers hard hit by the recession are seeking value.  This is the frugal traveller personified, one who looks for deals ‘like a competitive sport’, and therefore the brand loyalty is low.  There is great resistance to rate increases. The key is to offer guests value, which means that expectations are met or exceeded relative to the price paid.   Online searches reflect that guests look for promotions, and discounts on or free parking and airport shuttle services.  A swimming pool is an important feature to offer.

Value is created through five elements, says the report:

    *   The room and what it offers – cleanliness, its size, the comfort offered, the entertainment it has, and the equipment in the room

    *   The physical property – its exterior and public space, including landscaping, cleanliness, architecture and size

    *  Personal Service –   the friendliness of staff, and their attentiveness, professionalism, and personal recognition

    *   Functional Service – speed of service, efficiency, and the check-in and check-out efficiency

    *   Food and Beverage – quality, room service, variety, good prices

Exceptional service is highly regarded by guests, and can represent up to 65 % of the guest’s value perception.  The report recommends spending more time on improving service rather than adding more product features.   The accommodation establishment should try to turn the focus of the guest away from low prices and more on value.

4.   Guests are staying connected more, and technology  can be used to communicate with guests before they arrive as well as during their stay.  For example, the guest receives an e-mail as well as sms confirmation of the booking.  A link to the hotel mobile website is sent to the guests, enabling them to check out the facilities, sport matches to be shown, etc.  Details about shopping, recommended places to visit, events taking place in the area during the guests’ stay, prices one could expect to pay for a taxi, etc are provided.  The cellphone is swiped over a sensor on arrival, and then serves as the room key.  On opening the room door, the curtains open, the lights turn on, and the TV displays a personalised message.   On checking out, guests receive an sms, thanking them for their stay, and requesting feedback.   Later an sms is sent, with another thank you, and a promotional offer for another stay.  “You can’t wait for your next trip!”.

The report states that hotels are slow to adapt to the technology which makes the above possible, and encourages establishments to gather more information about, and to connect with, their guests more quickly.

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

Restaurant Review: Le Bon Vivant one of most creative Franschhoek restaurants, but probably poorest service!

When I first came to Franschhoek seven years ago, to set up Whale Cottage Franschhoek, Le Bon Vivant was already operating off the main road, on Dirkie Uys Street.  Dutch  Chef Pierre Hendriks impressed me then with his cuisine creativity, long before it became trendy.  I was always bothered about the poor management of the restaurant, Chef Pierre leaving the running of the restaurant to his waiters, with no strong manager to run the restaurant.  Sadly nothing has changed since my last visit to the restaurant about five years or so ago.

What has improved greatly over the ten year history of the restaurant is the interior of the renovated house converted into the restaurant, it having been painted in an interesting combination of yellow and a tomato red/orange colour in different sections.   New furniture in beige and a reddish fabric has been introduced, as well as the most interesting chandeliers, one made from a colander and graters, which cleverly suit the restaurant theme.   The tables are set apart with a lot of space, at the cost of creating cohesion, and are covered with good quality tablecloths, a material serviette is offered, but the cutlery is pedestrian.  An unbranded bottle of olive oil is on the table.  If one sits inside, one can see the chefs preparing the food behind glass, and I think that Le Bon Vivant was one of the first restaurants to open up its kitchen to its patrons.   It would be great if Chef Pierre could use his glass window to look out to the restaurant too, to see what is happening inside his restaurant.   The three chefs were hard at work to cope with the busy restaurant.  As the owner and chef, Pierre is in the kitchen all the time, and has no time to leave the kitchen to sort out any customer issues.  

It was not very busy when I arrived, and I requested an outside table due to the hot evening, but I was told that all the tables were booked.  I was seated inside at a window, but it got hotter and hotter inside.  There are no big doors to open to the garden, to let in more fresh air, nor are there any airconditioners, unforgivable in terms of how hot Franschhoek can get. 

It was not clear that Sheralee is the manager, as she did not introduce herself, and was running back and forth herself, as were all the waitresses, instead of checking her guests’ satisfaction.  She only came to my table because I asked my waitress who the manager is.  She wore a black and white top, whereas her staff all wear black tops and slacks, and I should have probably made the deduction.   Four waitresses dealt with me in the hour that I was there, and there was no carry-over between them, in knowing what had been discussed between myself and the colleagues.   No one asked how I had enjoyed the two courses I had eaten.   A question about the starter to Chef Pierre via a waitress came back as a ‘broken telephone’ response, Chef Pierre refusing to answer my supposed question as to what was in the duck foie gras – my question had been what was in the ‘parfait’, as per my waitress, which actually was a praline, when I checked it on the menu, a bad ‘Lost in Translation’ incident, reflecting that the staff do not know what they are serving.   When a waitress brought what I assumed to be an amuse bouche, and I confirmed with her that it was, she said no, and insisted that it was a beetroot sorbet!   She clearly did not know the term, and also did not explain why she had brought this to the table, and only rattled off its content.   The same waitress, who moved from Camps Bay to Franschhoek two months ago, stretched in front of me to place additional cutlery (including a fish knife for the crayfish for the main course, as well as a sharp knife for the pork), instead of coming around to the other side, there being enough space.

The restaurant has always had an odd old-fashioned illustration as its logo, and its menu/winelist looks old-fashioned with the illustration on the front cover (behind Chef Pierre in the photograph on the left).   The typeface and presentation is not as modern or sophisticated as the restaurant decor.   On looking at the menu, one sees immediately how creative Chef Pierre is, in what he combines in a dish, sometimes complementary, sometimes a surprise “opposition” of ingredients.   The ingredients of each dish are clearly stated, including the vegetables, so there should be no surprises, or so I thought.

A plate with three self-baked bread items was brought to the table, containing a roll, and a slice of white bread and brown bread.  No explanation was given of the bread types.   With it came a duo of vegetarian salsa (an odd combination of carrot, tomato and baby marrow) and a boring looking anchovy paste, the latter not to my taste at all, anchovies being one of the few items I don’t eat.  Then the amuse bouche of beetroot sorbet and apple crumble with a basil leaf arrived.  I remember how impressed I was five years ago when Chef Pierre served a finely chopped chicken salad as an amuse bouche in an egg shell.   I had not finished eating the amuse bouche when the starter arrived already, demonstrating poor co-ordination between the kitchen and the waiters.   The amuse bouche was more successful than the vegetarian salsa, having a distinctive beetroot taste, and served ice cold, good for such a hot evening.

In retrospect I should have ordered the ‘surprise menu’, a five-course menu costing R360, with Chef Pierre deciding what he will serve.  Interesting and innovative is a “combination” starter, which allows one a taste of all the starters, excluding the two oyster options, at R75 for a smaller portion and R 90 for a larger one.  The starter that I ordered was described on the menu as rouleau of foie gras and crispy duck leg confit with praline and caramelized popcorn (R95).  It must have been the popcorn that swayed me in choosing this starter, and the popcorn tasted just like I remembered it from Baker Street Snacks’  Jumping Jack, once a PR client of mine.  The dish did not come with toast or a specialist bread, and I used some of the content of the bread basket to eat with the foie gras, but it was not ideal for the fine foie gras.  Chef Pierre can present dishes beautifully, and the praline wore a ‘crown’ of the finest onion rings.   It was an excellent starter choice.   Other starters are Saldanha oysters, at R15 each, and ‘oysters three ways’, served as tempura, with foie gras and Thai, at R70.   Goat’s cheese and beetroot (R70), tuna and mango (R90), crab and chorizo, as well as beef and pork (both cost R85), prawns and scallops and salmon cost R90, and soup R60.  These are very high prices for starters, and the portions are small.    As the restaurant filled up, the service slowed down, and a table next to me, arriving half an hour later than I did, left after losing patience with the poor service.   After the speedy arrival of my starter ahead of me finishing my amuse bouche, it took another half an hour for someone to clear the dishes on my table and to bring the main course.

My main course choice should have been a winner, given its unique combination of braised pork belly and crayfish tail, with butternut substituting lentils that I did not want, but it had a curry sauce that was not mentioned on the menu for the dish, a sharp off-putting taste.  When I fed this back to one of the waitresses, and she told Chef Pierre, the message I received back was an apology, but that there was no curry in the sauce, a contradiction in itself.  There was no correction as to what could have been in the sharp sauce, and after the ‘praline’ communication performance, I did not bother any further about trying to communicate with Chef Pierre, who is ‘locked’ in his glass kitchen cage!   The dish is expensive, at R155, with two half crayfish spring rolls and two small pieces of pork belly topped with crayfish, placed on top of the butternut, and accompanied by tiny pieces of delicious crackling.  A pity that all of this was marred by the sharp and unnecessary sauce.   Other main course choices are Lamb (served four ways as rack, loin, black pudding and shepherd’s pie – R130), Veal (a trio of loin, osso buco and sweetbread – R130), Chicken and Duck served with curry rice (R90), Springbok loin and shank (R135), Kingklip and dried olives (R120), Salmon and Sole (R125), Beef fillet (R155), and Suckling pig (served as a trio of loin, rib and rilette, with apple – R125).

I did not have a dessert.  One can taste a taste of all the desserts at R90, or pay R55 – R75 per dessert, including Lemon and Orange, Soufflé, Chocolate, an interesting sounding Strawberry and Basil, Sorbets, two cheese platter options at R80, and coffee and friandises at R26.

The winelist forms part of the menu, and I did not initially see the wines by the glass in the Aperitif section.  Wines are almost exclusively from Franschhoek, and are very well-priced.   I ordered a jug of water, and a glass of Lynx Blanc de Noir, most reasonably priced at R26.  But they had run out of the wine, and offered me a Boschendal Blanc de Noir instead, at the same price, usually only sold by the bottle.  Pierre Jourdan Brut is the only sparkling wine available by the glass (R35/R165), and Colmant Brut Reserve costs R220. Eikehof Chardonnay costs R24/R95, Klein Dassenberg Sauvignon Blanc R26/R95, Stony Brook Semillon (R36/R155), Terra del Capo Pinot Grigio (R30/R120), Chamonix Rouge (R36/R90), La Bri Affinity (R36/R130), Eikehof Cabernet Sauvignon (R28), Bellingham Pinotage (R36/R140), and Porcupine Ridge Syrah/Viognier (R28/R120).  

Despite asking the waitress for the bill, it did not arrive.  I stood at the Reception for 10 minures, until a waitress (who had not served me at all) prepared the bill and took my payment.    A flurry of waiters as well as the Manager had passed me in this time.  It is such a shame that Chef Pierre’s culinary leadership is destroyed by unknowledgeable waiters, whose service does not match what he and his chefs create in the kitchen, and therefore does not justify the prices at Le Bon Vivant, expensive even for Franschhoek!

Le Bon Vivant, 22 Dirkie Uys Street, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-2717.   www.lebonvivant.co.za  (Surprisingly modern website, menu available, and commendably lots of photographs in the Image Gallery, which would sell the restaurant to any prospective customer).   Thursdays – Tuesdays lunch and dinner.

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