Tag Archives: signature dish

‘Master of the Trade Routes’ Culinary Challenge spices up V&A Waterfront restaurants!

The V&A Waterfront is running a spicy winter restaurant promotion to encourage locals and tourists to try out 27 of its restaurants, and to vote for the restaurant with the best ‘fusion, winter-style dish’ that is affordable too.  The promotion runs until 22 August, and reflects the Cape’s culinary roots over the past 360 years, including Indian, Malay, Chinese, French, British, Dutch, Portuguese, and French, the port of Cape Town being the melting pot of the flavours of the Cape.

The promotion was designed by the V&A Waterfront’s advertising agency Jupiter Drawing Room, and its communication quality reflects the V&A’s leadership as the best shopping mall in the Cape.  The Culinary Challenge is communicated via a Sunday Times insert, the electronic boards and posters in the V&A, and a ‘Master of the Trade Routes’ display emblem resembling a plate at participating restaurants.  Dash at the Queen Victoria hotel, Signal at the Cape Grace, The Atlantic at the Table Bay hotel, Nobu and Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, Willoughby’s, Wang Thai, Harbour House, San Marco, La Playa,  Quay 4, Balducci’s, Meloncino, OYO at the V&A Hotel, The Quarterdeck (Portswood Hotel), Primi Wharf, Clipper at the Commodore Hotel, Den Anker, City Grill Steakhouse, Krugmann’s Grill, Karibu, Jewel of India, Greek Fisherman, Hildebrand Ristorante, Sevruga, Tasca De Belem, and, interestingly, The Grand on the Beach, are the participating restaurants.  In addition, but not participating in the Culinary Challenge as such, are Emporio Leone, offering a trio of South African dessert classics (malva pudding, a milk tart macaroon, and peppermint crisp tart truffle) at R35, and Gelato Mania, offering a gelato flavoured with vanilla pods from Mauritius.

Each restaurant will offer a ‘signature dish‘, and other dishes may form part of a winter special for the Culinary Challenge.  Nobu’s Winter Bento Box costs R275, with a cold and a hot section of three dishes each and a dessert; Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town is offering a Steak & Guinness Pie at R125; Willoughby’s signature dish is ‘The Bomb’, a tempura prawn roll with spicy seared Tuna and Avocado wrapping, at R129; Harbour House is offering a free-range short rib at R120; The Atlantic has a 2 course offer, being Lamb Parpardelle, preceded by a cauliflower puree with smoked Franschhoek trout and poached quail egg for a good value price of R120; Hildebrand Ristorante charges R90 for its signature Chocolate and Ginger Venison; Quay 4 has Malay Kreef Curry as its signature dish for R90; and Dash is serving pan-seared magret duck breast on spiced pear purée with sage and quinoa, at R95.

Not having been to Signal restaurant since it changed from Bruce Robertson’s One.Waterfront, I chose the Cape Grace restaurant, which has painted wall murals reflecting the Cape’s historic origins, done when the restaurant changed its name, and these make Signal a forerunner for the V&A Culinary Challenge on its decor and interior design alone! There is no shortage of staff at Signal, and each one of them greets one as if one is there on daily basis.  The tables have tablecloths, with a mix of traditional wooden chairs, ghost chairs, and leather upholstered chairs. Each table has a vase with a protea, and throughout the hotel the national flower is used, suiting the ‘Proudly Cape’ promotion theme too. Cutlery is posh Hepp Exclusiv.  Three chandeliers have small copper pots with the crystals.  Seating sections in the restaurant are divided by what look like sash window frames, giving the room a Cape Dutch feel.  Its A la Carte menu states that it offers ‘Cape Cosmopolitan Cuisine’, being ‘global contemporary dishes with a unique Cape twist’. The menu introduction echoes the theme, stating that sailing boats braved the high seas to introduce the ‘world to the wonders of fragrant herbs and spices’. Using marine-inspired terminology, it continues about its approach to food: ‘Signal encourages the global traveller to plot a course over the Cape’s ancestral landscape. With ingredients encompassing responsible and sustainable food practices and dishes crossing worldwide borders, we welcome you and hope you enjoy your journey’. The black leather covered winelist contains an extensive collection of 40 wines by the glass, and 150 wines by the bottle, complementing the cuisine served. The wines are not inexpensive, but there is a wide price range offered.  For example, in the Shiraz category, the thirteen wines offered range from R72/R195 (Glenwood 2008) to R925 for Haskell Pillars 2008.

As the V&A had booked the table on my behalf, the staff handed me the beautifully designed Culinary Challenge menu automatically, but I did ask to see the A la Carte menu too.  The restaurant offers as its Culinary Challenge signature dish a ‘De-constructed Bobotie‘, being a very rare prepared bobotie-spiced Springbok loin, roasted parsnip, pickled mango purée, almond crumble, and a curried lentil jus, costing a mere R95.  One can also order 3 courses, at R195, very good value. As I am allergic to mussels, the Assistant Restaurant Manager Sean O’Brien kindly allowed me to substitute a starter from the A la Carte menu for the Aromatic coconut and ginger broth with steamed mussels and coriander foam.  The dessert was a typically South African Peppermint Crisp Tart, served with fresh peppermint ice cream, and Pastry Chef Lorraine Meaney had made gold-dusted Valrhona chocolate discs to place on top of each individual tart.  With the cappuccino friandises, being an apricot jelly slice, a beetroot chocolate blondie, and a caramel macaroon, were served.

Voting for the ‘Master of the Trade Routes’ is done by food bloggers, writers, and critics, as well as by the public, for the People’s Choice Award, in selecting the winning restaurant(s).  Food writers were spoilt with a most beautiful spice box, to encourage them to review a restaurant of their choice. A beautifully designed locked box collects the evaluation sheets diners have to complete for the voting.  Various aspects have to be rated, including presentation, taste, interpretation of the fusion theme, service, ambience, and value for money.  Clients eating at a participating restaurant stand a chance to win meal vouchers and attendance at the gala event aboard the SA Agulhas II, at which the winners out of the Top 8 restaurants will be announced.

The quality and value for money offer experienced at Signal restaurant for the ‘Master of the Trade Routes Culinary Challenge’ will make me try other restaurants that I have not been to in the V&A Waterfront in the next two months, not only for their good value, but also for the creative and spicy interpretation of the winter promotion theme.

POSTSCRIPT 3/8: The Top 8 restaurants in the V&A Waterfront’s Master of the Trade Routes Culinary Challenge have been announced in the Cape Times today: Signal at the Cape Grace hotel, Dash at the Queen Victoria hotel, Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, Den Anker, The Grand on the Beach, Sevruga, Harbour House, and Willoughby’s.

POSTSCRIPT 31/8: Signal restaurant at Cape Grace won the Master of the Trade Routes Culinary Challenge, with Dash at the Queen Victoria Hotel coming second.  Sevruga won the People’s Choice Award, with its Miso-marinated kingklip dish.

V&A Waterfront ‘Master of the Trade Routes Culinary Challenge‘, see www.waterfront.co.za for the list and menus, and operating hours and days of the 27 participating restaurants. 1 June – 22 August.

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

Restaurant Review: Bistro Sixteen82 recipe for success, excellent value for money

I had read about Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg wine estate in Constantia on Twitter, and about its Beef Tataki in particular, one of Chef Brad Ball’s signature dishes.   My first visit last week was one of wow – amazement at the wonderful setting, the amazing decor, the friendliness of the staff, the wonderful food, as well as the value for money, a perfect recipe for success.  I felt that the “Bistro” name, which Wikipedia defines as “a small bar serving moderately priced simple meals in an unpretentious setting” is completely inappropriate for this wonderful restaurant, the restaurant underselling itself, and thereby overdelivering.

Bistro Sixteen82 opened just less than a year ago, in a new building built on the historic Graham Beck Foundation-owned wine estate, which was given to Catharina, “the widow Ras” as she was known, by Simon van der Stel in exchange for (undefined) “favours”, I was told by the charming Lida van Heerden, the Cellar Door Manager.  Catharina must have been quite a lady, having had five husbands, and was the inspiration for the name of Catharina’s, the other Steenberg restaurant.   With the historical heritage of Steenberg, the modern building housing the tasting room as well as the Bistro is a surprise, but fits into the environment well, probably because the building is quite a distance away from the historic Steenberg Hotel buildings.  There is ample parking, and the building opens onto a well-kept lawn, which seems to melt into the vineyards on the mountain slope above.  There is a lovely water feature, making it very tranquil to sit outside.

When one steps into the tasting room, which one has to walk through to get to the restaurant, one notices the dominant chandelier, made from 2700 green and red resin oval shapes, depicting grapes, with pips and all!   The light was made by Carole Carr-Harris from Divali Lighting in Hermanus, and weighs a ton, needing a reinforced ceiling to hold the weight.   The tasting section is a round island in a generously sized room, from which leads a lounge, at which one can taste wines too, or just enjoy sitting at the fireplace on a wintry day.   The architect and interior decorator is Richard Perfect, and he certainly did a perfect job in creating an architecturally unique building inside and out. 

The restaurant is a large space, with tables seating 70 patrons close together, especially against the two end walls, which have a fixed seat against the wall.   The close proximity of the tables, and the fully booked restaurant, gave it a wonderful buzz and energy.  It was nice to see Jenna, the hostess, who has attended one of Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meetings.  Chef Brad was off-duty, but kept an eye on things with his staff as soon as he had read via Twitter that I was at the restaurant, and also provided the exact details of the sauce served with the asparagus starter on Twitter, even though he had the day off!   A large structure made from branches is a decorative feature on the ceiling, and bunches of pin-cushion proteas presented in large glass vases give a flash of orange in an otherwise white-dominant restaurant interior, the same protea-filled vases being seen at the entrance to the building, from which can also see the steel vats of the winery. The comfortable chairs have a natural wood look, with what looks like a modern-day ‘riempie’ for the seat, matching the ceiling wood structure.  The vats are also visible behind the Raw Bar, and the estate’s white and red wines are cleverly displayed on two of the walls, creating a design feature.  A Raw Bar refrigerated display counter contains salamis and hams, capers as well as cheeses, with an Oyster Tank next to it.  Staff look smart and professional, with white shirts, a smart slim silver tie, with a tie clip, and black slacks and black aprons. 

The tables have white table cloths and impressive serviettes with the name of the restaurant embroidered on them.  Cutlery and glassware is of good quality.  The menu and winelist is made from black leather, and is a simple insert.  The number of choices of dishes and wines is reasonable, yet very varied, making it easy to choose.   The reasonable cost of the dishes impressed, Front of House Manager Jürgen Welp telling me that from the outset Chef Brad Ball wanted the Bistro to stand for value for money, both in terms of its food as well as the wines (the mark-up is no more than 25 % for the Steenberg wines, unlike some of its Constantia neighbours charging threefold for their estate wines, even if the tasting room is only a few steps away).  With a corkage fee of R40, it would be more expensive for a customer to do a BYO with corkage added, compared to ordering from the winelist.

Chef Brad Ball was previously at River Cafe, Olympia Café and Pastis, while Jürgen had worked at Buitenverwachting for seven years.  Both set up Bistro Sixteen82 a year ago. 

Our waitress Natalie brought the bread basket to the table, consisting of a bread stick, slices of focaccia and ciabatta, with a small platter of olives and sundried tomatoes, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar served in tiny milk jugs.  The Summer menu is divided into four sections, labeled as “Stimulate” for the starters, including smoked pork paté, pea and pancetta risotto and snails, costing R46 each, and mussels, slightly more expensive;  “Rejuvenate” contains two dishes : Beetroot tarte tine served with smoked trout mousse (R68) and the house salad (R45/R64).  “Inspire” contains the main courses, ranging from R78 for Broccoli feuillette (gorgonzola fondue) to R 120 for Franschhoek Trout and Steak au Poivre.  Other mains include a pork belly ragout, line fish, a charcuterie selection and sticky pork belly.  The “Indulge” selection contained five desserts, costing between R44 – R50, all interesting sounding, and a cheese platter at R48.

I ordered the Asparagus starter (R50), served with a truffle mousseline with parmesan, and decorated with tiny snippets of tomato, a lovely melody in green, yellow and red. The sauce was delicious, and overshadowed the steamed crispy asparagus, it was so special.   My son had the Beef Tataki, which is seared beef fillet and then thinly sliced in carpaccio style, served with soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, chilli, sesame oil, radish, spring onions, and lime juice. It is a unique combination of ingredients causing a taste explosion, costing R49 as a starter and R 105 as a main.  My (student) son could not finish the main course portion, it was so filling.  I ordered the entrecote steak, simply served as two thick slices, with mash (a bit stodgy, I felt, but it was my choice – normally the steak is served with potatoes and peppercorn sauce) and steamed carrots and beans.  An excellent small but effective steak knife was provided.

The Raw Bar board shows prices to be R18 for an oyster, and Gravadlax at R44.  Other options are Pink Tartar, being Norwegian salmon with chilli and lime, costing R60/R105 as starter/main course, and the Red Tartar, being a tartar of Chalmar beef served with capers and a quail egg (R56/R98).   The cappuccino was served with two pieces of home-made Turkish Delight. 

We were offered a complimentary glass of the Steenberg Brut, made from 100 % Chardonnay, the first tasting of this bubbly, crisp and dry, and a good marriage with the asparagus.   The Steenberg wine range consists of 1682 Chardonnay MCC, Sauvignon Blanc, HMS Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc, HMS Sphynx Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, 1682 Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Nebbiolo, Catharina, Magna Carta, and Klein Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Bordeaux Blend.   The Steenberg wines understandably dominate the winelist, with almost all their wines being available by the glass.  The Klein Steenberg Bordeaux Red costs R24 for a 250 ml carafe and R70 for a bottle, and the most expensive is Steenberg Catharina 2007 at R77/R230.   It also lists a few other Constantia wine brands, keeping it proudly-Constantia.  Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve costs R 585 and the Rosé R750.  

I don’t always make a point of visiting the cloakroom, and here I saw the only aspect of the decor that came across as kitsch – the cloakroom and the toilets are covered with a wall paper that is a close-up of a vineyard, making one claustrophobic.  It is such a contrast to the good taste of the decor in the rest of the building. 

I loved my first visit at Bistro Sixteen82, and will be back again to try some of the other dishes on the Summer menu.  I felt it to be excellent value for money, and a happy and relaxed space, with very friendly staff and happy customers who did not seem to want to go home.  I am very surprised that Bistro Sixteen82 did not make the Top 20 Eat Out Restaurants shortlist, but should be sure to do so in 2011.  The Breakfasts, and the Eggs Benedict in particular, are legendary at Bistro Sixteen82 too.  

POSTSCRIPT 22/2: A visit to my accountant in Constantia was a good opportunity to make a return visit to Bistro Sixteen82.   I had an early lunch, and was served by Manager Jürgen, and was offered a glass of Steenberg Brut – I accepted a half glass. I tried two new starters on Chef Brad Ball’s menu, and absolutely loved the presentation as well as the taste of the Duck liver parfait and duck prosciutto, creating a beautiful dark/light effect underneath the mousse, and served with a small wine-poached pear.   Then I had the Capellini and truffle créme, topped with chopped tomato and a poached egg, a more simple but filling and tasty dish, beautifully paired with the Steenberg Semillon.  

Bistro Sixteen82, Steenberg wine estate, Constantia.  Tel (021) 713-2211.  www.steenberg-vineyards.co.za   Twitter :@Bistro1682.  Mondays – Sundays, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, 9h00 – 20h00. 

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

Restaurant Review: Food and prices at Blonde more than a little ….blond!

The Caviar Group (Beluga, Sevruga, Caviar Fine Foods) owner Oskar “Blonde” Kotze has a weakness for blonds, or so his marketing tells us, as most photographs used to market his restaurants feature sexy girls, particularly blond ones.  Blonde, the newest restaurant of the Caviar Group, opened earlier this month as a dinner-only venue on Hatfield Street.   While the female staff are all blond, the male waiters are not, and the food as well as the prices of Blonde leave much to be desired.

If one drives to the restaurant from the Parliament side, one will see an ueber-massive billboard with a ……blond on it, and the name of the restaurant (but only during the day, and not at night, as it is not lit).  If one comes down Hatfield Street from Orange Street, one would not notice the 110 year old Victorian restaurant building, and drive past it.  The red carpet entrance is through stylish glass double doors, down a passage with a massive chandelier.   The white walls are adorned with large murals of ……blonds drinking Moet et Chandon.  The chairs have a black and white floral design, and are very comfortable.   The double story house, home to a number of failed restaurants previously, is divided into a number of small dining rooms, none having more than 3 or 4 tables or so in them, giving one a feeling of being cramped inside the small rooms after a while. 

One is greeted by a hostess (Nikita), who is so new that she does not know where table 301 is, as per the booking sheet.   The service from waitress Karien is professional, but she seemed incredibly nervous, stuttering and shaking.   Three Managers were on duty, and each one of them regularly came to check if all was in order at the table, meaning that up to seven persons ask one the same question in an hour, a nagging irritation.   One receives an A3 menu, with a full page …… blond on the reverse side, and another …… blond at the top of what is called the “Unofficial Menu”.   A “menu explainer” comes to each table, and he explains the menu, making his personal recommendations, not surprisingly for the most expensive items on the menu (the Foie gras balentine and the Roasted foie gras starters, at R 139 and R 129, respectively) and the Truffle-infused fillet as a main course, indicated as being the restaurant’s signature dish, at R 189.

Very nice bread rolls were served, with a complimentary generous platter of little toasted breads, duck liver pate, roast beef, pickled onions, and homemade sweet chilli sauce.   An amuse bouche was then sent to the table, butternut soup served in an espresso cup.

The wine list has about 60 wines, and eleven each are by-the-glass.  For white wines the wine-by-the-glass choice is mainly from Greyling (“The Doppie”, Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, “Botterbek”, “Mengelmoes”), all at R 29, up to R 59 for Sterhuis Barrel Select and a Mulderbosch 2006.  Red wines by-the-glass also start at R 29 for Saxenburg and Greyling HMI Collection, up to R 55 for Boschendal 1685, Greyling Family Reserve and Clos Malverne Pinotage Reserve.   Between 5 – 10 options are offered per wine variety, and then an additional heading adds about 20 further options, being more select and more expensive (e.g. the “Special red wines” list includes Vergelegen V 2006 at R 1685, Meerlust Rubicon in various bottle sizes and vintages, and Raats Mr De Compostella 2007 at R 1065).  The “Special white wines” list includes a Vergelegen White 2006 at R 665.  Very few of the wines have vintages provided on the list.  The Graham Beck Merlot was served in an odd glass, very bulbous at the bottom and a very narrow top, almost like a larger wine estate tasting room glass, which does not allow the wine to breath well.

The 40 minute wait for the main course is long, but the restaurant was almost full.  The “truffle-infused fillet”, served with “garlic galette potato, mushroom ragout, bordelaise jus and beef reduction”, was a huge let-down.  Not only was the 220 gram fillet bland, but the truffle infusion could not be detected.  The terrible taste of the potato bake cannot be described in words without making the reader of this review run to the bathroom.  The mushroom ragout was the most tasty element on the plate.   When the complaint was lodged with the Manager, she was very condescending, saying that maybe it just was not to the liking of her patrons.   When this approach to “customer service” was questioned, she apologised, said that she would reprimand the chef, and offered complimentary desserts (a chocolate terrine, and a peach cobbler) and Glen Carlou dessert wine.    It was clear that the Manager does not yet know the Blonde menu, in that she did not know the detail about all the desserts.   A basil sorbet palate cleanser was sent to the table before the desserts were served. 

The menu uses an interesting pricing technique, in that the prices are not written in numbers but in words, making it harder to “see” the R number, perhaps to hide the high Blonde prices!   The Starter choice of ten dishes ranges in price from R 49 (Roast vegetable salad, Baby calamari, or Herb salad) to R 129/R139 for the two foie gras dishes.   Roast tomato tarte tatin, calamari cerviche, duck breast, and onion veloute are other options.   Ten Mains are offered, ranging in price from R 109 (smoked aubergine and goat’s cheese cannelloni) to the beef fillet at R 189.  Other choices are Chicken breast, Smoked springbok, Ostrich, Confit duck roll, Kingklip, Linefish (Cape Salmon), and Beef rib.   A second column offers lighter, smaller and less expensive dishes , under the heading “Simply Blonde” – it is not explained if these are for the ladies?  Nine options include Roasted chicken breast, at R 99; East coast sole and linefish cost R 109; Kingklip, Salmon, Lamb rump and Lamb shank pie cost R119; and Fillet steak and Duck breast cost R 129.  A choice of sides includes an unusual selection of pickled vegetables; beef and poultry reduction; chilli jam, tomato compote, beetroot and onion chutney; and “braised” mixed vegetables, each at R 25.   Last, but not least, the menu makes a recommendation for “Next time at Blonde”, being a “whole roasted fillet steak for two, roasted vegetables, duo of potato, herb salad and a beef reduction.”  No price is provided, and it does not encourage one to order it during one’s current visit to the restaurant.  

Underneath the menu a line is printed : “anything but pepenero” – obviously a private joke, in that it could be a reference to another restaurant group that also has 4 restaurants (Pepenero, The Kove, Zenzero and Paranga – I have been told that there is no love lost between the owners of the two restaurant groups), and that no black pepper (only …… blond pepper, i.e. white peppercorns) is available.   The menu also states that “A discretionary 13 % service charge will be added to your bill.  Please feel free to ask us to remove it if you are not comfortable with this addition”.   The tip was removed before the bill came to the table, due to the problems experienced with the main course. 

The dessert menu is short, offering lemon sabayon tart, creme anglaise soup, and Absolut mango chocolate martini as options in addition to the peach cobbler and chocolate terrine, in a price range of R 49 – R 59.  The Glen Carlou “The Welder” is offered on the Dessert menu at R 59.

The bathroom is very ordinary, with average standard fittings, and feels tiny and cramped.

Blonde, 129 Hatfield Street, Gardens. Tel 021 462 5793.  Tuesdays – Sunday dinners. www.blondedining.co.za (website still under construction!).

POSTSCRIPT: A further sign of the ……blondness of Blonde’s marketing department is an ad with a ……blond in the Business Report of 19 May, which lists the telephone numbers and website addresses of all four the restaurants in the Caviar Group – for Blonde it says “opening soon” and provides the web address, which is still under construction!

POSTSCRIPT 7/2: Blonde is to close down at the end of February, the current concept not having brought in the feet nor revenue, despite heavily discounted prices of its expensive menu and winelist.   This is the e-mail that was sent today:

“Our sexiest socialite Blonde had an amazing summer , met some remarkable people and brought out some incredible dishes. In fact, we’re so happy with our concept kitchen’s wonderful creations, that over winter we’ve decided to send her shopping for even more exciting new ideas!! Sadly, this means we’ll be closing our doors for a while, but don’t despair we’ll be back with a brand new menu concept, served with our signature style and charm. In the meantime, look for your favourite Blonde creations at Beluga and Sevruga, or book Blonde as a private venue for your event, and get a sneak peek at what spring will bring. For her farewell, we are giving you 50% discount on your entire food and drinks bill for the entire month of February. Closing dates: March 2011 – August 2011”

POSTSCRIPT 28/2:  Blonde has closed today, until September.

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