Tag Archives: spa

Chewton Glen offers a variety of cuisine for its guests, made with ingredients from its Kitchen Gardens!

I have visited Chewton Glen in the New Forest annually since my son Alex started working there five years ago, moving over from Delaire Graff Estate to the fellow Relais & Chateaux property. Over time I have tried out the various eating options at the hotel, and tried them all out again on my most recent visit last week. Continue reading →

Leeu Collection expands its accommodation portfolio to include Florence!

The Leeu Collection is on an acquisition trail, and appears unstoppable in expanding its hospitality portfolio, in not only acquiring restaurants and accommodation establishments locally, but hotels in Europe, their U.K.-based Linthwaite House acquired last year being followed up by a new purchase in Florence, the former Collegio Alla Querce. Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 25 March

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   KWV has launched its first ever Finish Great‘ consumer advertising campaign, reflecting the wine and spirits company’s proud heritage and product innovation it has embodied since 1918.  The campaign has been launched with the flighting of its first-ever TV commercial, representing both its range of wines and its brandies. Ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi Brandrock motivated its campaign as follows: ‘This is a tribute to the great legacy of KWV, but also demonstrates that by standing on the shoulders of giants, we are inspired to aim higher, to reach even greater heights and inevitably ‘Finish Great’.  The campaign idea was based on a core insight that through persistence, character is revealed and in everything we do, we strive to finish great. The heart of KWV is Proud Pioneers brought to life through the spirit of: respecting tradition while challenging convention and through persistence character is revealed. We are telling this story through the campaign theme of ‘On the shoulders of giants’’.  Giants have stature, they are larger than life and undeniably impressive. We revere them and in South Africa, KWV is a giant, it’s a brand that has a 97 year-old history and credible credentials to support such a bold statement.  The story line follows an affirmation to the giants who enable us to Finish Great. We are bringing to life this story with a 360 degree approach, which we will aim to further build on the ‘Giants’ theme through a product-centric print and fully integrated user generated social and digital campaign’.  The TV ad will be Continue reading →

Babylonstoren celebrates 3rd anniversary with Long Table in the Garden!

Babylonstoren Long Table early Whale Cottage PortfolioThe invitation I received from new Babylonstoren Food & Beverage Manager Simoné Rossouw did not reveal what a special honour it was to be invited to the third anniversary celebration of the innovative wine estate, with a top restaurant, boutique hotel, wellness spa, wine tasting and shop, and retail outlet.

We met outside the retail area, which has been expanded to add the shop which originally was located opposite Babel restaurant.  Owner Karen Roos (with husband Koos Bekker) has created the most amazing transformation of the wine estate, which had commenced behind the scenes three years prior to their opening, with their GM Terry de Waal and his team planning and implementing their future direction. Karen is one of the most stylish South Africans, having won most stylish dress awards when they were still awarded, and having been the editor of  Elle Decor.

We were welcomed with three drink options, being home-madeBabylonstoren Bread Sticks Whale Cottage Portfolio ice tea with waterblommetjie, mint and lime; melon and mint cordial with fresh thyme; and strawberry and rose geranium with lavender and lime.  Alternatively one could drink the Babylonstoren wines.  On the table was the most interesting ‘pick up sticks’ presentation of smoked salmon and Serrano ham bread sticks.  The new Spa will be the reason for a future visit, as I never saw it, being distracted with the extensions to the retail building. Continue reading →

Wellington Wine Route: friendly wine estates

I spent the past weekend in my old hometown Wellington, and stayed at Grand Dédale Country House  on the Doolhof wine estate, at the end of the Bovlei Road.   Angelo of Grand Dédale had set up some appointments to visit the private wine estates (Nabygelegen and Klein Optenhorst).  My wine estate visits were concentrated on the Bovlei Road (4 km of it is untarred, which rattled me and the car when I first arrived, but two days later it was no longer an issue), and my impression of this first taste of the fine Wellington wineries is one of overwhelming friendliness and good neighbourliness.  I did not manage to visit all the wine estates in Wellington, and Welvanpas, Bosman Family Vineyards, Andreas, the Jorgensen Distillery (not a wine estate but producing very exciting spirits), and others will have to wait for a next visit:

Doolhof

The 380 ha wine estate lies at the end of the Bovlei Road, and while its name means labyrinth in Afrikaans, a cul de sac was also given this name.  Doolhof belongs to Dorothy and Dennis Kerrison.  Its soils are “finer, more balanced and deeper than in the surrounding countryside, with clay content evenly distributed”.  The roots are able to grow to four meters and beyond, the Room Directory informs Grand Dédale guests.   The location of the farm allows it to have cooler summers and warmer winters than the norm in Wellington.  Less than 10 % of the farm is under vine.  Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot, Pinotage and Shiraz are grown.  The remainder of the farmland is uncultivated, and consists largely of fynbos.  The Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is supported by Doolhof, and a programme is in place to remove alien Black Wattles, and to plant indigenous wetland plants and trees.  The cellar was started in 2004, and the tasting room once was the stables on the farm.   Its architecture and interior decor reflects that of Grand Dédale Country House on the wine estate, but is less extravagant.  The Doolhof hostess used the word “elegant” to describe it perfectly.  One can sit inside the spacious airconditioned tasting room, or outside at a water feature.   One can order food as well, I was told, and an arrangement with Grand Dédale Country House to provide this service has ended, with a dedicated chef starting next week, to prepare meals for the Doolhof tasting room visitors.  

There are three Doolhof wine ranges, and their labels are equally elegant:

*   the Cape range is the entry level range, and its wines are a blend of own grapes as well as those of other estates.  Sauvignon Blanc, Cape Robin Rosé, Cape Boar (Merlot-based blend) and Cape Roan blend with Shiraz.  The price ranges from R 33 – R49.

*   the Signatures of Doolhof range is made from Doolhof grapes only, and Sauvignon Blanc (R54), Chardonnay Unwooded (R54), Chardonnay Barrel Fermented (R92), Cabernet Sauvignon (R70), Shiraz (R70), Pinotage (R86), Petit Verdot R124), Renaissance blend (R80), Merlot (R81) and Malbec (R124) is produced.  

*   the Legends of the Labyrinth range has three wines: The Minotaur is the most expensive wine sold at Doolhof, at R150, and is a blend of six grapes: Merlot, Malbec,  Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz;  Lady in Red is a Bordeaux-style blend (R70); and Dark Lady is a Pinotage with chocolate and mocha aromas (R70). 

The Doolhof Tasting Room staff are smartly dressed, in blue shirts with Doolhof branding.  Natasha was a self-confident and knowledgeable hostess, and made photocopies of more detailed notes on each wine, in colour, and for each wine a suitable food pairing suggestion is provided.  A stem tag identifies the wine one is tasting, a professional touch.  The brochure is attractive and professional looking.   One can join the ‘Denizens of Doolhof Wine Club’, a rather unfortunate name!  The wine estate is largely bottling with cork, but is planning to move more towards screwcaps in future.

It seems a shame that Grand Dédale and Doolhof do not interact more, by displaying each others brochures.  The Grand Dédale Room Directory has detailed information about the wine estate.  Both are on Twitter, and should support each other in that medium too.   The Doolhof wines dominate the Grand Dédale wine list.

Doolhof Wine Estate, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873- 6911. www.doolhof.com Monday – Saturday 10h00 – 17h00, Sunday 10h00 – 16h00

Dunstone Winery

Dunstone Boutique Winery opened in 2006, and 2,7 ha of the 4 ha is planted to vine.  The name of the winery was chosen by its owners Lee and Abbi Wallis, Dunstone being the place in the United Kingdom in which the couple got engaged.  A lot is made of the ‘stone’ part of the Dunstone name, in that the entrance wall is built from stone, there is a stone display as one walks from the tasting room to the garden, the vases with fly-deterrent branches have little stones in them, and the bill for The Stone Kitchen restaurant (separate review to come) comes with a large stone on the silver holder, to prevent it from flying away.   I felt that the wine estate is “schizophrenic”, in not knowing what character it wishes to have, judging by its entrance, building and interior.  The most beautiful stainless steel Weimaraner dog logo is erected on each of the walls at the entrance, in honour of the Wallis’ dog named Shiraz.  The stainless steel dogs lead one to expect a very high-tech winery, being so new and with its strong use of stainless steel, and also as the winery calls itself ’boutique’, but the wine tasting building is very ordinary, without a defined architectural style.   But what is even odder is the cottagey wood furniture in the tasting room, which also is the interior seating for the restaurant.  The restaurant tables and chairs look really old-fashioned, and a long table has benches with cushions on them in different colours and patterns – the material from these have been laminated, and are used as (small) place mats in the restaurant.  A lamp above the wine tasting counter has been made from a ‘wingerdstok’, and has fairy lights laced through it.  The big stainless steel vats are in the room too, as is a display fridge with chef Johan van Schalkwyk’s muffins to buy, and some of his jams and muesli mixes which he sells, as well as trays of desserts he was serving at a wedding that same evening, as he also runs a catering company called Twist.  The beautiful brochure for the winery creates even more confusion, in that it has a beautiful image of the Weimaraner logo on the stone wall, in silver, on the front cover, again giving the winery a very hi-tech image.  The Dunstone labels also have the Weimaraner logo on them, also in silver.   

Carina Stock is a friendly German wine hostess, and she will be increasingly involved in all aspects of the wine production.  She studied art and jewellery design, and spent many years at Uitkyk, in restoring wallpaintings.  She has worked at Boschendal and at DG Bellingham.  More than 11000 bottles are produced per year.   At Dunstone all vineyard work is done by hand, and tractors are not used.     Carina offered me four Dunstone wines to taste: 

Rosé 2010 (R45):   Crisp and dry, with strawberry, raspberries and plum.

Merlot 2007 (R65): Silver Medal won at Veritas Awards 2008 – full-bodied, ripe dark fruit, spices and oak, matured in French oak barrels for up to 14 months.  The Merlot 2008 (R65) is a lighter wine.

Shiraz 2009 (R120): First 5-star Platter rating for a Wellington wine, in 2010 edition, for the 2008 vintage, as well as Gold won at International Wine Challenge and Old Mutual Trophy Awards, and Double Gold at Michelangelo Awards.  2008 vintage sold out.  2009 vintage described by Jancis Robinson as “Dry, baked nose but sufficiently juicy fruit on the palate.”  The wine is matured in French, Hungarian and American oak for up to 14 months, is heavier, and “with a long finish”.     

Adi Badenhorst is the consultant winemaker.  Alli’s father Robert Frith is always on the farm during the harvest, Carina said.  He encouraged the Wallis couple to take out some of the guava trees, and plant grapes, being a garagiste in the UK.  Wine lovers are encouraged to come and help harvest the grapes and to participate in the winemaking process, even stomping the grapes, a personalised participation.  One must call to ensure that there is harvest or winemaking activity taking place on a given day.

Dunstone Winery, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873-6770. www.dunstone.co.za  Open Monday – Friday 10h00 – 17h00, Saturday 11h00 – 15h00. 

 Bovlei Cellar

As one drives out of Wellington, towards the Bain’s Kloof Pass, the Bovlei winery is on the right, a co-operative of 32 farmers producing 8000 tonnes per year.  Established in 1907, it is the oldest in Wellington (there are two others) and is the second oldest co-operative in South Africa, I was told by Tasting Room hostess Melissa van Wyk.   The wines sold at Bovlei are extremely good value, but range in Platter rating from 2 – 3,5 stars.

There are four ranges:

*   The winemakers selected specific grapes from specific members’ farms to make the Vineyard Selected Range, consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and a Shiraz/Mouvedré blend, all costing R50

*  the rest of the members’ grapes go into the making of their Lifestyle range, consisting of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Beaukett, Gewürztraminer and Special Late Harvest, all costing between R 22 – R25.  The reds are Pinotage, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, at R30 a bottle.  Rosé costs R20, and a sparkling Brut R30.  The Shiraz won the Best Shiraz and Best Red in the 2010 “Quest for the Best” of Wellington competition. 

*   The Thomas Kipling range is available in Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Red, Dry White and Cabernet/Merlot blend, made exclusively for Pick ‘n Pay, Game and other liquor outlets, starting off at R19,99.

*   The Bovlei Centenary Selection is available in a Shiraz, Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, each costing R35, a 100th birthday celebratory range made in 2007.

Bovlei Cellar, Bain’s Kloof Road, Wellington. Tel (021) 873-1567.  www.bovlei.co.za  Monday – Friday 8h00 – 17h00, Saturday 8h30 – 12h30. 

Nabygelegen

I was extremely fortunate to get an appointment to meet James McKenzie, from the private wine estate that is highly rated by wine writer Neil Pendock, I was told.   A misunderstanding about my expected time of arrival was quickly forgiven by James, and he patiently sat with me, doing a detailed tasting of his Nabygelegen and Snow Mountain ranges. He told me that he bought the 35ha farm (19,5ha under vine) ten years ago, having been a banker in London and Zürich.  He was so determined to become a winemaker that he studied wine making by correspondence course, and first worked on wine farms in France, Spain, New Zealand and Chile, to learn from them.  The farm dates back to 1712, and one of his wines is named after this date.  He is hands-on, harvesting, marketing, receiving journalists, wine-making, organising the use of the cottage by guests, and the planned use of the old stables as a winetasting facility and restaurant.  Johan Wiese is a consultant viticulturist for Nabygelegen.  The pricelist states that his wines are “handcrafted wines”.  The brochure states the mission of Nabygelegen to be “To create of wines character and concentration reflecting vineyard specific terroir, using environmentally sound techniques, subscribe to ethical labour practices and enthusiastically pursue upliftment in the valley”.  It recommends a suitable food type to eat with each of the wines.  James makes the Nabygelegen range, utilising grapes from his own farm, which consists of the following:

*   Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (R40) – very fruity, the best Sauvignon Blanc he has made to date, James said, and his 2010 vintage of 6000 bottles has just sold out

*   Lady Anna 2009 (R32) – a light and fruity chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and semillion blend, named after the neighbouring farm owner Anna Lategan, who is respected for having freed her slaves a number of years ahead of the official abolition of slavery in 1815.  Her ghost is said to wander on Nabygelegen and De Compagne, the neighbouring farm!

*   Chenin Blanc 2009 (R45) – full-bodied chenin, which is barrel fermented

*   Scaramanga 2008 (R50) – the Spanish nickname for Tempranillo, and also the name of the “baddie” character in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ Bond movie. Tempranillo is one of the grape types from which this wine is made, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  It is made in the New World style, with focus on its flavour and smell. Only four wine estates grow Tempranillo in South Africa.  It is an upfront wine.

*   Merlot 2007 (R62) – sweet cherry and berry

*   Petit Verdot 2008 (R80) – intense fruit with layers of vanilla and chocolate

*   Seventeen Twelve 2006 (R90) – a classic Bordeaux Blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon,

The Snow Mountain range was launched last year, out of a need for a more pronounceable name for the English market, and it was named after Sneeukop, the highest mountain peak in Wellington.  The grapes are bought in from other Wellington farms, which are higher up, and therefore grow in a ‘continental climate’ and not a Mediterranean one, as do most other local wines, excellent for the production of the Pinot Noir in particular, he said.

*   Rosé 2009 (R30) – made in the French style, not sweet, served at Wimbledon

*   Pinot Noir 2009 (R90) – highly regarded, has been served at Kensington and Buckingham Palaces

One of James’ greatest enjoyments is the ‘number of beautiful places’ in which his wines are sold.  I asked him which these are, and his top three are the following: Librije’s in Zusje in Holland; Claridges in London; and The Green and Blue Wine Shop in London, owned by ex-South African Kate Thal.  We started tasting in the tasting room initially, tasting the whites and Rosé, then walked through the maturation cellar, which is used as a function venue, for which James’ friend Matthew Gordon from Franschhoek cooks, and tasted the Pinot Noir and reds in a most special tiny underground cellar, which has a glass window showing the soil depth and the rock formation.   I was lucky enough to be given a bottle of the Snow Mountain Shiraz 2009, which has not yet been released.

Nabygelegen, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel (021) 873-7534.  www.nabygelegen.co.za  Monday – Friday 10h00 – 16h30, Saturday 9h00 – 12h30.

Klein Optenhorst

Jenny and Naas Ferriera have lived on Klein Optenhorst since 1987, on a farm that once was the home of my classmate Beverly Pywell and her family, and which I had visited for birthday parties.   A small 1 ha property has Pinot Noir grapes and the most beautiful garden, which the Ferreiras developed over time.   A gazebo with a whale weathervane has become the logo for the boutique wine estate, and caught my eye immediately.   Since 1994 the family produced Pinot Noir, but last year decided to make a Pinot Noir MCC sparkling wine instead, utilising the talents of Pieter Ferriera, whose wife Ann is the niece of Naas.   I was offered a glass of the beautiful bubbly by Ferreira daughter Jane Eedes, who is marketing the sparkling wine, a total of 1592 bottles of this maiden vintage having been produced. The inspiration for the label design by Eddy Haumann is the salvias from Jenny’s garden.  I was treated to a guided tour of the garden, and was most generously given a bottle of the Pinot Noir as well as the Pinot Noir MCC.  

Klein Optenhorst, Bovlei Road, Wellington.  Tel Jane Eedes 083 324 6855.

Diemersfontein

Located at the entrance to Wellington from the Paarl side, Diemersfontein has become a ‘residential estate’, is a wine farm, a spa, has a preparatory school, and has 30 rooms of accommodation.  I have not been to Diemersfontein for many years, and have not ever drunk their wines nor seen their wine tasting room.  I had booked a table for lunch, and had a vision of an old manor house with a big stoep, which was the original Diemersfontein homestead.  It is only used as accommodation and David Sonnenberg, the current owner, has an office there, I was told.  The Sonnenberg family (linked to Woolworths) has owned Diemersfontein since 1943, and originally apricots were the main fruit harvest.   Then export plums were farmed.      Wine has been made in the past ten years, and the property is described as a “Residential Wine Estate”.

 I was disappointed to find a modern building which houses both the restaurant Seasons (see review) and the Tasting Room.    The Tasting Room was not immediately visible, and we could not work out which door was unlocked, to allow us to enter.  It is small, compared to some of the others I visited in Wellington over the weekend, just containing a counter with bar chairs.   Aubern was friendly, and hunted down the last brochure for the wine estate.  Brett Rightford is the cellarmaster, and he is responsible for making all the Diemersfontein wines other than Pinotage, which is the responsibility of Francois Roode.

There are three ranges at Diemersfontein, for which 70 % of the grapes come from the estate, and the remainder are bought from other Wellington farms.  The Platter star rating of each wine is listed on the price list:

*   Carpe Diem is the flagship, and its wines are matured in French and American oak for 15 months as a minimum.  The Pinotage 2008 was awarded 4,5 stars by Platter, and is sold out.   Prices are on the high side, between R 89 (Chenin Blanc and Viognier) and R110 for Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Malbec.

*   The Diemersfontein range spends 6 months in oak, and is priced at R70, only the Pinotage being slightly more expensive.  There is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Summer’s Lease Shiraz-based blend and a Heaven’s Eye Bordeaux-style blend.  A red blend called “For the Birds!” sells at a low price of R45, and 10 % of sales goes to the “Save our Seabirds” Fund of Birdlife South Africa 

*   The Thokozani range was launched last year, and is an empowerment project, with staff, investors and the Sonnenbergs as shareholders, and Aubern is focused on his goal to become a shareholder too.  The Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay/Viognier blend costs R49, Rosé R 39, and the Shiraz/Mourvedré/Viognier blend costs R 69.

For its good reputation, duration of wine production, and stature of wine estate, I was disappointed with the lack of marketing collateral, photocopied price list, and the ‘ordinariness’ and small size of the tasting room. Diemersfontein came across as the most ‘commercialised’ of the Wellington wine estates I visited, yet was friendly too.

Diemersfontein Wines,  Jan van Riebeeck Drive, Wellington.   Tel (021) 864-5050. www.diemersfontein.co.za  Monday – Sunday 10h00 – 17h00.

A tear-off map of Wellington’s accommodation, wine estates, restaurants and shops was printed about three years ago, but does not appear to have been updated.  It is similar to the excellent Franschhoek Wine Valley map, providing not only a location perspective, but also the contact details and tasting times.   It appears to have been replaced with a recent brochure on Wellington.   An update of the tear-off map for the wine estates would be a good idea, to encourage winelovers to visit as many wine estates as they can.   A website of the Wellington Wine Route, or even a blog, may be a consideration too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotel Review: Santé Hotel and Wellness Centre still a sleeping beauty, not awake yet!

Santé means health in French.  While it may be built in the Tuscan style, Santé is anything but healthy, and has a long way to go to reach the level it once had when it opened six or so years ago.   It is badly maintained and managed, and should not have opened so early, a mere two months ago, before achieving its 5-star grading it once had.

Let me start at the beginning.  Santé was the dream of Eduard du Plessis and his then partner in a design agency KSDP Pentagraph.  They sold their agency to the largest London-based design agency, and it was the money they made that led to the development of the “160 hectare working wine estate”, consisting of a 10-bedroom Manor House, 39 Spa Suites (different buildings with suites in each), and privately-owned homes, which were to be rented out to give the owners rental income.  Southern Sun was awarded the contract to run the hotel at that time, and it was professionally run, and its Walter Battiss collection, the private property of Du Plessis, lent it class and modernity.  It had an outstanding Spa, which Conde Nast voted as one of the Top 3 in the world in 2006.

Du Plessis and his partners sold Santé to Fidentia, whose Arthur Brown is facing fraud charges.  When he was arrested, the Hotel was closed down, as there was no money for its upkeep.  In the past two years numerous rumours circulated as to hotel groups buying the property, said to be valued at around R300 – R400 million.   I had stayed at Santé in both the Southern Sun and the Fidentia eras, the former a good, the latter a bad, experience.

In May this year, after a two year silence, the first media reports announced the re-opening of the Hotel and Spa on 1 June, it having been leased by Carlos Vilela from the liquidators for a 10 year period, with the option to buy it during this period, according to a media report.  It was a Cape Timesfeature on Santé, as well as a glowing review in the August edition of The Franschhoek Month, that made me pick up the phone and make a booking.   I wanted to stay after the Women’s Day long weekend, thinking the hotel would be full over the weekend, but the reverse was true.  A large contingent of police persons was to take over the hotel for a conference this week, and therefore I chose to spoil myself for the weekend. (After my stay, a staff member confirmed that the police party had cancelled).

I did the reservation with Ilse Bock, who quoted R 1500 per room, but R1000 for single occupancy.  She nagged me to book, but I received nothing from her.  In frustration I spoke to Janet Samuel, the Deputy GM, who had an attitude which should have served as a warning.   She told me that the server was down, which was not allowing e-mails to go through. They resorted to faxing the reservation details and credit card authorisation form (plus a string of most off-putting terms and conditions), barely legible because the type size was so small.   Lo and behold, a second warning I should have heeded, was that the rate was confirmed as R 1500, but Ilse quickly changed it, saying she had quoted me an incorrect rate but that she would honour it.

I asked Ilse what star grading the hotel has, and Ilse could not answer initially, but then said 5-stars.   She sounded so hesitant about this, that I asked her to ask the General Manager to call me.  Despite the GM Kristien De Kinder being off-duty, she did call, and confirmed that they are not 5-star graded yet.  She told me that she would not accept a lesser grading, and that they are working on achieving the 5-star requirements.  In the same breath, without asking her, she shared with me how difficult it is to manage staff, and told me that she had “fired” (her words) 20 staff in the previous week.  This should have been the strongest warning of all, but I was optimistic that the staff remaining would be efficient in running the Hotel and Spa.

I was chased by Spa Manager Anja Liebenberg to make the Spa bookings, as she said they book up very quickly, especially over weekends.  I understood later why she was pressurising me to book, as she was off for the first two days of my stay, and wanted to make the bookings personally, on request of her GM.  Second, I discovered that they have many treament rooms but only six therapists, which means that they cannot take many clients.  I checked with Anja whether I would be eligible for the 25 % Spa treatment discount, which Ilse had sent with all the documentation (8 pages of Spa prices alone) – she was shocked, saying it was only 10 % off, but if I had been sent this offer (an opening special for June), she would honour it!

The dreadful dirt-road to the hotel, off the R45 from Klapmuts to Franschhoek, is still as bad as ever, and no grader has been sent there recently to scrape the road.   When I came to what I thought were the gates of the estate, there was no branding for the Hotel – just a brown tourism sign and the name of a farm on the walls.  It took the security person five minutes to get up to move the cones, without checking who I was from the board he had in his hand – a worrying introduction to the hotel security!  I was greeted by name by receptionist Michelle, and I asked her how she knew who I was – it transpired that I was the only guest staying in the hotel on the first night.   I was assisted with my luggage, had a room with a view onto the Paarl mountains and a dam, and on the surface nothing had changed, the original furniture still being in place.  Towels are new.   Michelle sweetly helped me get the internet going, always a concern, and it worked perfectly.  I asked her which TV channels they have, and she told me 11!   She could not tell me which they were, and they were not in the room book (they are SABC 1,2, 3, e-tv, M-Net, two SuperSport channels, Movie Magic1 and CNN).  After dinner I discovered that SABC3, which had the only decent movie, had no volume, and it took 45 minutes for the staff on duty to fix this.

Much later that evening I discovered that there were no drinks in the room bar fridge, the bath towels were not bath sheets, which one would expect for a 5 star-to-be hotel.  There were no spare rolls of toilet paper.  The glass shelf in the shower tilts, so the products tend to slide off it when it gets wet.  I froze that evening, discovering that there was only a thin artificial duvet on the bed, and no blankets in the cupboards – I was told that the CEO does not want to allow down duvet inners (a cost issue?) .   I could not get the underfloor heating to work, even though the setting was at 30 C.  In the end I had to switch on the airconditioner, to be able to sleep.  I had to call Reception to check how to switch off all the room lights, in a central control panel hidden behind the bedside table, but too far from the bed to switch them off!

The next morning I rushed to breakfast to meet the 11h00 deadline (not how I like to spend my precious time off). I stepped into the Breakfast Room, only to find the tables laid but no buffet table laid out at all!  I was told by the waitress that they don’t do it when they have so few guests.   The Restaurant Manager Sofia reiterated this, and I told her that I did not find this acceptable, and she laid out a tiny set of bowls with cereals, fruit and yoghurt, on the corner of the buffet table furthest away from me.   There was miscommunication between the waitress and Sofia, as I had ordered two slices of toast with my eggs, and the waitress only brought one slice.  I was told that I had only ordered one slice, and therefore I did not receive another!  I had to beg for a second slice.   I had to ask Sofia to not serve me any further food, as she smelt so strongly of smoking when she brought the eggs.  Kristien the GM came to chat and asked if all was in order, but when I told her of my experiences since my arrival, she looked at me as if it was completely normal that I should have experienced all these problems.  She seemed particularly sensitive about my reaction to their restaurant winelist (see my review tomorrow of Sommelier Restaurant), which she had received from her staff.   I must commend her presence at the hotel on each weekend day – a first for a GM in any hotel I have ever visited!

The Housekeeping Manager Anja had come to chat at dinner on the first night, even though she had nothing to do with the restaurant, and gave me some valuable background.  She herself runs a guest house in Wellington, while the GM Kristien runs her 5-bedroom guest house Perle-du-Cap in Paarl alongside her GM job at Sante.  It transpired that the new CEO Carlos Vilela runs a restaurant called Asia in Paarl, and closed down another two weeks ago, called Perola Restaurant (could be first signs of cashflow problems, in conjunction with the staff firing, especially as some of the more forthcoming staff told me that the fired staff  – with one exception who is working out a month – left with immediate effect, due to cost cutting).  Anja met Carlos at the latter restaurant, and this led to her appointment, and seemed the route of the GM’s appointment too – these two managers were not mentioned in media reports covering the opening function on 1 June (at which Western Cape MEC for Finance, Economic Development and Tourism Alan Winde spoke and over-optimistically praised the hotel for helping to boost the economy of the Western Cape, creating “150 employment opportunities”).   Most staff working in the Hotel come from Paarl, not known as being the centre of service excellence.  Both Anja and Kristien are Belgian and friends.  Anja was willing to please, and she organised extra blankets (very thin summer throws) but brought to the room by equally heavy smoking-smelling housekeeping staff, and got electric blankets from the Spa when I asked her if this was possible.   The bar fridge was stocked the following day, but was not switched on, so no drinks were cold.    After this I was ready to settle in and enjoy myself, after the bad start, or so I thought.  An enjoyable facial by a most friendly and obliging Charlene confirmed that all was on track, except that an error had been made for a massage booking for the following day, but was quickly fixed.   I was surprised that the GM and her Managers wear “civvies”, a most unusual dress code for a 5-star-to-be hotel.

In a paid-for advertorial in a Wellness supplement in the Cape Times of 30 July the hotel writes: “We are not here to re-invent the wheel, but to bring Santé back to life and provide our guests with the ultimate in service excellence and bestow upon them the luxury spa experience that one would expect from an establishment as ours”.  It goes on to state:  “All staff was hand-chosen and appointed for their distinctive customer-service ethics (sic) and their outstanding achievements in their professional fields.  Our mission is to offer you a place where you forget all your worries and trust us as professionals of beauty, rejuvenation, wellness, relaxation, tranquillity and peace to bring you back to life”.   It concludes with Vilela being quoted: “We are aiming high to exceed previous standards and guest expectations.  Every member of my team has the same vision and is committed to making this a reality”!  Promises I discovered that they are nowhere near achieving.

I was woken by the “Niagra Falls” outside my room on the second (rainy) day of my stay – the hotel building does not appear to have gutters, and all the rainwater came down in one section outside my room.   I saw some buckets in the passage to the Breakfast room too, to catch water from the leaks inside the hotel. The occupancy of the hotel had improved to full house in the Manor House, and so a Breakfast Buffet was set up in the Restaurant, and not in the breakfast room.  I was not told this, so once again I saw the bare buffet table, and sat waiting for service, but there was none!  When I went looking for staff, I was told that the breakfast was served in the restaurant.   Most dishes were three-quarter empty, and there was no fresh fruit at all.  There was no one to ask for some for about 15 minutes.  When I saw Sofia and asked her about the fruit, she said that they were busy cutting it, and stated that she had been checking the mini-bars in the rooms, explaining aggressively that she cannot be expected to be in the restaurant all the time, and that breakfast finishes at 11h00.  She had a list she was ticking off in terms of hotel guests who had come for breakfast, and she would have seen that three further rooms’ guests had not yet come for breakfast, arriving even later than I did.   Kristien the GM came to greet and chat to guests at a table close by, and ignored me completely, not a good sign.

I went to the Spa, to enjoy the facilities, or so I had hoped.  The first step was to sign an indemnity, requested by Anja the Spa Manager.   I went upstairs, and was shocked to see that most of the lovely innovative original features of the Spa were not working – the Experiential showers were in near-darkness, riddled with wet used towels lying on the floor, and the lovely fragrances of the showers of days gone by – e.g. rainforest, mint – have gone, and the water was ice cold, not attractive on a cold and wet winter’s day.   The Laconium door was open, and its light on, but it was not working – there was no sign on the door to tell one that it was out of order!   An open door intrigued me, but I soon discovered that it was the geyser room, and not a treatment room, so I retreated out of that quickly!   All that was left to enjoy then was the pool, but it had two babies and very loud foreigners dominating it, whom the Spa Manager was unable to get to leave, as children under 16 are not allowed in the Spa section of the property at all.  Some downlighters in the pool area do not work.   I wanted to shower after being in the pool, but all the showers in the Ladies cloakroom had no hot water.  I was now close to having had enough.  The Spa Manager Anja apologised, saying that it was a day in which everything was going wrong (it was only lunchtime then).   There was no notification on the cloakroom to warn one of the lack of hot water.

I saw Kristien the GM in Reception, and reported the Spa cold water problem to her – once again, she had the “I know all about it, and we are working on it” air about her, and then lashed out at me, in close distance of hotel guests who heard her, about how I had done nothing but complain since I had arrived.  I reminded her of all the problems I had experienced, and she did the “my staff are perfect” routine, adding insult to injury by asking why I had not left if I was not happy.  I told her it was because the hotel had taken a 50 % deposit, and would be taking the balance on my departure.  The way she said it, it sounded as if she would absolve me from the second 50 % payment, and this made me decide to leave, given everything that I had experienced.  When I went to the Reception, the Duty Manager Mannie asked me to sit down to pay – the second 50 % of the accommodation cost being on the bill, even though I was leaving one day early, at the “invitation” of the GM.  I “invited” Mannie to ask Mr Vilela, the hotel CEO, who once worked at Sun City, the only background that I could find about him on Google, to call me to discuss the bill.  I am still waiting for him to call, and to react to my review, which I sent to him for comment, offering to post his reply with it.

The Santé website is full of exaggerations and dishonesty: it describes the 10 Manor House rooms as “gorgeous suites”.  They have a massive bed (although 5 of them have two double beds, which cannot be made up as king beds, as they are stand-alone, annoying Larry and Heather Katz, one of the couples staying there).  It quotes UK Elle as it being “One of the Top 16 Spa’s on Earth” – yes, about 4 years ago, with working, state-of-the-art facilities at that time!  It provides the menu for Cadeaux, a restaurant meant to be in the Spa section, but the restaurant has not been in operation since the hotel opened!  The Sommelier restaurant is mentioned, but there is no menu for it!  Chef Neil Rogers is mentioned as being in charge of “both” restaurants, but he was one of the 20 staff to be fired!  (I heard that a chef from Grootbos is starting in September).  The food photographs on the website are nothing like the food that was served at Sommelier.  The “Terms and Conditions” state that children are welcomed in the Spa Suites only, but two children were in the Manor House, and were not kept quiet by their parents or the hotel staff.  The hotel brochures are more than two years old, reflecting the paintings on the walls at that time, and not what has replaced them now, and also refer to its “5-stars”, an absolute no-no!  The room folder had the “Happy Anniversary” card to Mr & Mrs Nothnagel still in it!

What can I praise? The location and its view, but far more attractive in summer – my room was in shade all day, making it cold and dark.  The “captiveness” of it, as the gravel road is so bad that one is not encouraged to leave the property to take a drive to Paarl, Franschhoek or Stellenbosch.   The Sunday Times and Weekend Argus being available.   The wonderful therapist Charlene, who did the facial.   The use of the innovative grape-based TheraVine product range in the Spa (but not carried through into the hotel rooms, where the Rooibos range is stocked).

I was most relieved to leave the Santé “zoo” after enduring two days of stress whilst staying there, the exact opposite to what I had come for!   The Hotel’s marketing is dishonest and its website misleading and out of date.  Santé is still a “sleeping beauty” and has not yet woken up to the real world of accommodation hospitality and Spa excellence it so proudly boasts about!

POSTSCRIPT 10/5: I was informed today that Santé has a new CEO, being Hans Heuer, who took over from 1 April. This has been confirmed in an article in the Indaba newsletter, which states that “Santé Hotel, Resort and Spa is under new management and ownership”.  I will look for more information on Mr Heuer’s background.  Carlos Vilela and his wife Sharon have left.  The receptionist told me that Kristien, and both Anjas left some time ago, and that all the managers working there in August last year have left.   The new Resident Manager is Leanne Myburgh, the Resident Manager is Basil Trompeter, and the new Spa Manager is Friena Beukes. 

POSTSCRIPT 10/8:  Hans Heuer, the new Santé CEO, read and left a comment with his cell number on this blogpost.  I called him and we agreed to meet for coffee.  I was keen to meet at Santé, to see how things have changed since my stay exactly a year ago.  We made an appointment to meet yesterday at 2 pm, on my way back from Franschhoek to Cape Town.  When I arrived at the security gate to Santé, and I told the ‘lady’ called Smit that I was seeing Mr Heuer, she let me past her traffic cones.  Two staff members stood outside in the sun when I walked to the reception, and both greeted me, but none asked how they could assist.  Mannie stood in Reception, and recognised me from my last visit, but called me ‘Mrs Ulmenstein’, getting both my surname and marital status wrong.  He seemed surprised when I told him about my appointment with Mr Heuer, saying that he was in Cape Town.  He called Mr Heuer, who said that something had come up!  Mr Heuer sent me an sms to apologise for standing me up fifteen minutes later, meaning that he had my cell number, and could therefore have called to cancel our appointment.  I did not respond to the sms, but Tweeted about being stood up.  This led to a number of less than complimentary Tweets about Santé, one of the Tweeters being a tour operator who had stayed at Santé the week before.  When we left the property, the security ‘lady’ did not remove the traffic cones, which meant that we had to stop at the gate and hoot for her to do so.  I asked whether she had not seen us driving the 200 meters to the gate.  She glared at me, and then burst forth in an uncalled-for attack, saying ‘You people with money think that you can be rude to us’!  What a send-off!  This morning Mr Heuer called, with quite an aggressive tone, saying that I should know that things come up in the last minute in the hospitality industry (no, I don’t know this!), and saying that he had sms’d me – I reminded that it was half an hour after our appointment time!  He then became personal, saying that he had done research on me, and that I am just out to write negative things.  Yet Mr Heuer had admitted in a previous conversation that things at Santé had been disastrous under the previous management, and that is why he had taken over the running of the hotel and spa!  I could not help but think that Santé is a stand-up comedy, and will never make it back to its original glory!

Santé Winelands Hotel & Wellness Centre, on R45, between Klapmuts and Franschhoek.  tel (021) 875-8100  www.santewellness.co.za

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

Cape Town stars in Penny Vincenzi novel

UK blockbuster novelist Penny Vincenzi has included Cape Town in her latest 750-page book, “The Best of Times”, which was launched in Cape Town just over a week ago.

Speaking at the book launch lunch, organised by the Cape Times and Wordsworth, and held at Sevruga, Vincenzi explained that no experience or information she gathers is lost to her books.  Vincenzi and her husband had visited Cape Town for the launch of her previous book two years ago.

The new novel refers to two of the characters visiting Cape Town for a medical congress, staying at “the Vineyard: a five-star wonder nestled just below Table Mountain, with rambling showpiece gardens, complete with giant tortoises and incredible flowers, and a superb spa”, going up Table Mountain, driving along Chapman’s Peak to Cape Point, visiting the townships, going out to Robben Island, and then leaving Cape Town on the Blue Train, travelling to Pretoria, from where the couple flies to the Kruger National Park.

Cape Town’s popularity as a tourist destination should increase due to the reference in the book, given the success Vincenzi has in her book sales, selling millions of copies.  Her books hook the reader in, and are “utterly unputdownable”, as the cover of the book says accurately.

Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com