On Thursday evening The Alphen hotel hosted hundreds of Constantia and Cape Town VIPs, to present its transformed blanko restaurant, previously 5Rooms, which was the name of the restaurant when the hotel was first taken over by the Kove Collection five years ago. Continue reading →
It was an e-mail from the Kove Collection I received about two weeks ago which attracted attention to the new High Tea at 5Rooms Restaurant at The Alphen Hotel in Constantia. On Thursday my friend Whitney and I went to try out the afternoon tea offering at the Stefan Antoni interior design hotel
Our interaction started off badly, when I first sought information about the High Tea, the Events Manager Nicola Howard not yet having details about what would be served, nor a photograph. With the intervention of Hotel GM Hannelie Wiese, I received a menu of items to be served, and a photograph, which we blogged about.
I made the booking a day ahead of our planned visit, and this was efficiently taken by the switchboard hostess. Irritating therefore was the call from Lydia McGrail, the 5Rooms Restaurant Manager, who called on the morning of our booking, to check our booking, less than 24 hours after it was made! She is clearly from the UK, and I struggled to understand her, due to her broad British dialect, and a bad line, which meant that she called twice. Then she made Hannelie call me, to sort out any problems ahead of our arrival, which was an irritation, as such confirmation calls are intended as ‘a courtesy‘, Hannelie explained, but I said that it makes one feel distrusted and that one does not have manners. I promised her that I would never not arrive for a booking! Hannelie ended off her call by saying that I would really be impressed with the service from Lydia, as all their guests feed back. When I heard this ‘hotelspeak’, I wanted to laugh, being sceptical already. Continue reading →
The hospitality industry was shocked to hear last year that the Alphen Hotel had closed down, after the Three Cities Group had relinquished its contract in operating the hotel. Unknown to most was that Paul Kovensky, owner of Camps Bay restaurants such as The Kove, Zenzero, Pepenero, Bungalow, and Paranga had taken a 30 year lease on the hotel, and was furiously renovating and transforming the then 3-star hotel into a five-star boutique hotel six months later, creating an interior that according to its room book is a ‘little eccentric, somewhat bohemian, rather eclectic and causally elegant and definitely sensual’. The Alphen opened in December last year, and has already been named one of only two South African Hip 100 Conde Nast hotels in the world!
The Alphen once was part of Groot Constantia, converted from a farm to an estate over the years, the first building having been established in 1773. It was taken over by the Cloete family 150 years ago, and declared a national monument in 1973. Wine was made and sent to the kings in England and France, The Alphen being the first wine producer, its sweet wine being particularly well-known. Over the years the estate hosted a number of names from the history books, including Mark Twain, Captain Cook, Cecil John Rhodes, Lord Charles Somerset, George Bernhard Shaw, Jan Smuts, Dr James Barry, royalty, and ambassadors, most of the visitors having been captured in portraits. I was taken around the estate by The Alphen GM Robert van Gent (ex Cullinan Hotel consultant, ex-Hollow Hotel, ex-Euro Disney), and he shared the passion for ‘his’ hotel. He said that Lord Charles Somerset was said to have pistol duels on the garden alongside the hotel. Dr Barry was the first medical doctor to conduct a Caesarean section, and was discovered to be a woman on ‘his’ death, women not being allowed to practice as medical practitioners at that time. In 1962 Sandy Bairnsfather-Cloete inherited the land, and opened The Alphen hotel. The Alphen has ‘inherited’ 300 paintings of the Cloete family, and these have been rehung and grouped into themes, and ‘married’ with paintings specially commissioned by a British artist, for a more modern touch.
In planning the renovations of the buildings on the estate, the very strict requirements of The Heritage Council had to be considered. Mr Kovensky wanted to create something unusual and unique, and Stefan Antoni was appointed to tackle the refurbishment of the 21 rooms of the hotel, as well as create two restaurants and conference rooms. The designers looked to marry the historial heritage of the building with modernity, in its lighting, furniture, fabrics, paint and fabric colours, textures, and artwork, its room book commenting: ‘not your typical 5-star hotel, a modern and playful twist has been added to the décor and design while preserving traditional and exceptional, age old hospitality’. In their design, they looked at respecting the heritage framework, but also wanted to add ‘provocation, contemporary glamour and surreal fantasy’.
The hotel reception is in a small area, unlike the vast reception areas of many hotels, and here the classic and modern contrast is evident already, with gilded guest chairs and artwork frames, and modern artwork, and leather office chairs for the staff. The porter Green showed me the room, switching on the TV to find the soccer, and explaining that the mini bar was empty, and that one can order drinks from a list. It appears that guests have abused the ‘honesty bar’. Now the mini bar contents can be tailor-made to suit each guest, said Mr van Gent. The room opens onto a little courtyard, with big windows, a king size bed, a white leather couch, a red velvet upholstered chair, a historic writing desk, a modern-to-look-old unit containing the mini bar, a dressing table, a massive dress mirror, a large old wooden wardrobe, and large bedside units, with lots of gilded touches introduced in the feet of the couches, the frames of the artwork and mirror, the structure of the room lamp, and gold curtains. Modern touches are the underfloor heating (which kept the room comfortably warm on a chilly night, without the need for airconditioning, even though it is provided), a LavAzza coffee machine, the flat screen TV, a Samsung DVD player with speakers, and an iPod docking station. A ‘cheeky’ chair, resembling the shape of a women’s figure, is in most rooms, in red or white. The bathrooms are modern, with black wall tiling, white bathroom fittings, silver taps, white floor tiles, silver heated towel rails, and black and white bathroom amenities by Charlotte Rhys, with a massive old-fashioned style gilded mirror to link the bathroom to the bedroom decor. All rooms have his and her basins, and a bath and shower. Some of the larger rooms even have ‘his’ and ‘her’ bathrooms. Mr van Gent explained that they have renamed their room types, in keeping with their ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. For the turn down a bath robe and slippers were laid out on the bed, with a massive brightly coloured macaroon from the hotel’s La Belle Café and Bakery.
The estate has different buildings, the original Manor House, now housing the 5Rooms restaurant, Reception, and conference rooms having been the home of the oldest Cloete son. Daughters and young children were housed in The Dower House, and some of the lower doorways reflect this. The Mill House has rooms too. The entry level room type is called ‘Cool Suite’, at the winter room rate of R2000. As the rooms get bigger, and if they open to the garden, their room type names and rates change to ‘Amazing Suite’, ‘Stunning Suite‘, and the honeymoon suite ‘Magic Suite’, which will have a private outside jacuzzi and daybed. Children 4 years and younger stay for free, and 5 – 16 year olds pay R500 per bed brought into the larger rooms.
Breakfast is served at La Belle Café and Bakery, and one can choose to have a health or English breakfast, Eggs Benedict, flapjacks, Churros, fresh fruit, and the Alphen Breakfast, with fruit, pastries and eggs, presented on branded wooden boards. Breakfast ends at 11h45, a treat for hard workers and late sleepers. Coffee is by LavAzza. One can buy delectable pastries, slices of cake, cupcake, and freshly-baked breads at La Belle too, and they are very busy for lunches and early dinners, closing at 21h00. They have become the taste of the Constantia and other Cape Town residents, making booking a necessity. Dinner is also served at 5Rooms restaurant. The hotel also sports the The Rose Bar, a popular meeting place with a gorgeous garden view, and is heat-protected in winter. A spa is being set up and a consultant has been appointed for it. Treatments can also be done in guest rooms. As it will open onto the lawn, they will offer their guests Pilates, Tai Chi, and yoga outside. Wi-Fi is complimentary, room service is 24 hour, and a safe is provided.
The Dovecot is a beautiful building in the far corner of the lawns, and in it is the power house, and the Cloete family ashes. There is a little family chapel behind it. The old Watermill is to be reinstated near the Rose Bar. Weddings are hosted on the lawns, and special marquees are erected. The brides come down the original steps of the Manor House, more than 200 years old, which are not allowed to be fixed and not even the grasses growing in them are allowed to be removed. Close by is the slave bell.
This area smells beautifully of the lavender planted there. The hotel sports its own herb garden, from which the two restaurant chefs pick their daily kitchen requirements. The original cellar is let out as offices, with auctioneer Stephan Welz using one of the buildings for storage. Robert proudly spoke about the ‘Little 15′ they have on the estate, and the squirrels jumping around in the old oak trees are definitely his favourite. At The Alphen one feels that one is far from the city, and cannot hear the motorway not too far away. Music is piped throughout the estate, and is light lounge music, adding a modern contrast to the historical structures on the estate.
Despite being in Cape Town, staying at The Alphen was a lovely break away, as good as a holiday. One does not need to leave the estate at all, there being more than enough to do and eat and drink, and entertain one’s friends.
Disclosure: I was a guest of The Alphen Hotel for one night. Service feedback was provided to the management.
The Alphen, The Alphen Estate, Alphen Drive, Constantia. Tel (021) 795-6300 www.alphen.co.za Twitter@TheAlphen. Monday – Sunday. La Belle Cafe and Bakery 7h00 – 21h00. 5Rooms dinners every day and Sunday lunch. The Rose Bar open from 16h00 – 23h00 on weekdays, and 12h00 – 23h00 on weekends.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Salt Deli, a sister coffee shop to the Salt restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel on Victoria Road in Bantry Bay, operated on its second day to total shambles, not being able to cope with being full. It is a bad reflection on the Salt and Ambassador Hotel brands.
The Deli upset most of its clients who were not served for up to half an hour, and who sat at tables with dirty dishes. To make a point, two clients got up and played “waiter”, clearing the outside tables. Other clients went inside to fetch their orders themselves. Some just left without being served!
When the Assistant Manager came to take the order, she informed us at 12h00 that the deli had run out of food, and that they were only taking beverage orders. She was able to organise a croissant with cheese and ham, according to the menu, but it came “deconstructed”, without butter, in that one had to make it up oneself (costing R35!). The cheese slices looked a few days old and dry. While we were sitting there, we saw the Rosa’s Bakery van doing a delivery, spoiling the illusion that everything is prepared and baked at Salt Restaurant across the road.
A further disappointment was that no cooked breakfasts are served at Salt Deli at all, as they have no proper kitchen, it just being a “satellite kitchen” to the restaurant, the Assistant Manager explained.
For the amount of money that the Ambassador Hotel must have put into the renovation of the Deli, previously Carlucci’s, in appointing Stefan Antoni as the architect and interior design company, it is a shame that they were so badly understaffed and understocked. The interior design quirks (a pile of wood with a top is the desk, the flooring is made up of a mixture of slate, wood and tile, and the ceiling in part has a wooden crate look) pale into insignificance when one experiences such chaos and poor service. No management was visible from the Ambassador Hotel, to assist the obviously new staff in coping with the full Deli.
The menu is disappointing, given that Eat Out Top 10 chef Jacques de Jager from Grande Provence will be joining Salt next month. Breakfast options are yoghurt and berries, bagel and cream cheese (with or without salmon), muffin and preserve, and smoked ham and gouda croissant (as described above).
Salads range from R 45 – R 65, and include nicoise, caesar, caprese, chicken and salmon. Three types of wraps are offered, as are three types of unexciting sandwiches, three basic pasta dishes, soup (in summer!), a tart, tapas (including oysters, olives, parma ham and melon, smoked salmon) and cheese, meat and Mediterranean platters. It was good that the planned oyster and champagne bar upstairs has not yet opened, as this would have caused even greater problems.
The management of Salt Deli should close it until they can train their staff properly, can appoint more staff, and have a better supply of ingredients needed to make the dishes they offer on their menu. The overall experience as well as menu was a disappointment, relative to the pre-opening hype. One may say that a new restaurant should not be judged in its opening days, but it should not open if it is not ready to do so. The opening day had been delayed a number of times in the past 2 weeks.
Response from Neil Markovitz, MD of Newmark Hotels, owner of the Ambassador Hotel, and Salt restaurant and deli: “Thanks for the mail yesterday. Clearly a disaster as you have described. I am told that the lunch service went a bit smoother and a complete post mortem of the days disaster was discussed and analysed in full. Opening on boxing day was clearly not the best idea, but then again opening on in December was always going to put us under tremendous pressure. Absolutely no excuse though and I apologise for the experience. We will get it right. There is a problem on the that side of the road with extraction at the moment and the hence no cooked breakfast. This is something we are working on but a bigger problem to solve.”
Salt Deli, Victoria Road, Bantry Bay, tel 021 439 7528.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
Cape Town and its surrounding towns are seeing a flood of restaurant openings and relaunches, to such an extent that one wonders how they, and all the existing restaurants, will be full when the Festive Season is over.
New restaurants that have opened recently are the following:
* Kuzina is a Greek restaurant in the Cape Quarter, which opened last weekend
* Salt Deli opens later this week, in the space that was Carlucci’s in Bantry Bay, across the road from the Ambassador Hotel and its Salt restaurant. Its interior is Stefan Antoni designed, with an eclectic flooring mix of slate, wood and tiles, and an eyecatching desk which looks like a pile of wood. It has a staircase to an upper level, and the deli will serve oysters and bubbly.
* Eight has just opened at Spier outside Stellenbosch
* Waterkloof restaurant opened 2 weeks ago at Waterkloof wine estate in Somerset West – read our review here
* Vaudeville opened as a supper club in the city center a week ago – its show is outstanding, but it needs work on the menu and food preparation – read our review here
* The Grand on the Beach has only recently received its liquor licence, and is fully booked for dinners 2 weeks ahead. Lunch bookings can be made more quickly. The newest of the three Grand Cafe’s, it is located on the beach between the Water Club in Granger Bay and the V&A Waterfront.
* Truth.coffeecult is a new coffee shop and roastery, and has opened in the hard-to-find Prestwich Memorial center on the corner of Somerset and Buitengracht Streets, owned by David Donde
* Warwick’s gourmet picnics, designed by chef Bruce Robertson, opened at the beginning of the month on Warwick wine estate outside Stellenbosch
* Jardine at Jordan opened on the Jordan wine estate outside Stellenbosch at the end of last month
* Camil’s opened in the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel in Green Point last month – read the review here
* DeliCATessen has opened at Tokara wine estate in the Helshoogte Pass, and is owned by Tokara owner GT Ferreira’s daughter
* Cafe Chic is a new French-style restaurant in a beautifully renovated and chic building on Breda Street in Gardens. Read the review here
* Bistro 1682 has opened at Steenberg wine estate in Constantia.
Restaurant relaunches include the following:
* Sapphire is a new bar serving snacks, redecorated and renamed from the previous Baraza, next to Blues in Camps Bay
* St Yves is the new nightclub in the place of Ignite in Camps Bay, above Pepper Club on the Beach
* Pepper Club on the Beach is the new restaurant previously called Summerville in Camps Bay, above Paranga. It is linked to the Pepper Club, a hotel/apartment block opening in the city centre (on Pepper Street) in February. It will offer Pepper Club hotel clients changing rooms, when they return from the Camps Bay beach. Dinner Dance “in the tradition of grand Old Hollywood” is offered on Friday and Saturday evenings. The Group Executive Chef is Michelin-starred Carsten Kocke, who has 30 years of experience in Germany. The menu contains a selection of starters such as Avocado Ritz (R 79) and Lobster Cocktail (R 98); crayfish, prawn and avocado, and Caesar salads; seafood dishes such as salmon, calamari, and prawns; steaks at around R 120 for 200 grams – R 165 for the beef fillet, as well as ostrich game, curry, and duck; pasta dishes ranging from R 70 – R 189; and desserts.
* The Raj in Camps Bay has taken over from where the Gateway to India restaurant was in The Promenade in Camps Bay, taking over the furnishings of the restaurant as well. The Raj has sister restaurants in Johannesburg.
Other restaurant news is the following:
* Top 10 Eat Out chef Jacques de Jager is moving to Salt restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel in January, leaving Grand Provence just 2 months after winning the Top 10 accolade. This is the second time that a chef has left Grande Provence soon after winning the Top 10 award – Peter Tempelhoff left even sooner after his win in 2007, joining the McGrath Hotel Collection.
* Table 13, a lovely breakfast and lunch venue inside the T & Co furniture and deco shop across the road from the Green Point Traffic department, is offering a 3-course dinner and a glass of bubbly for R 170, for the first time, tonight and tomorrow night. They serve all day breakfasts, and lovely home-made lunches. Tel 021 418-0739
* Overture has started its Le Piqnique picnics at Hidden Valley wine estate outside Stellenbosch.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com