Entries tagged with “sushi”.


On Monday I was hosted for lunch by the Twelve Apostles Hotel, invited to try its new Sushi Menu, which was launched at the beginning of this month. With Chef Sarawut Sukkowplong, previously with Nobu at the One & Only at the helm, I knew that it would be a good experience. (more…)

The Sweet Service Award goes to Ben Weí Asian fusion sushi restaurant in Wembley Square, which spoilt my guest Stephanie Neubauer on her birthday. I had met Stephanie and her partner Jörg an hour before at the Gernan Embassy, and overheard their sad tale about a mugging in Woodstock they were subjected to, losing their valuables and passports. I took them with me, to fetch a spare cellphone at my home, to help them find an ATM to draw cash from an extra credit card they had, and spontaneously invited them to a birthday lunch at Ben Wei. I mentioned this to the waiter when I ordered a glass of bubbly for Stephanie, and the kitchen brought out a plate of salmon roses for the birthday girl. It was a lovely touch to make the couple feel much better after a traumatic 24 hours.  (more…)

Last month Llewellyn Lambert and I went to try out Ben Wei Sushi, Asian, and Fusion restaurant in Wembley Square, by invitation from PMPR Solutions, the PR agency representing the restaurant. We were served a wide variety of Asian, sushi, and fusion foods. Ben Wei means ‘original taste’ in Mandarin. Some of the dishes we tried had not yet been added to the menu.  (more…)

Sirocco facing Sushi Bar Whale CottageI had been led to believe that one of the better restaurants in Knysna is Sirocco, and I do recall having eaten there once before, when it was more of a fine-dining restaurant.  I was very disappointed when I spent part of my S&T allowance from the Department of Justice at Sirocco last night. Sirocco entrance Whale CottageLoadshedding was not the only problem the restaurant had to cope with, Manager Sonia de Lange having shed her service ethic too!

I had popped in at Thesen Island earlier in the afternoon, and had a look at the fire-damaged Ile de Pain, speaking to staff at a neighbouring shop, and they recommended Sirocco.  When I visited Knysna a month ago, also with the compliments of the Department of Justice, I had experienced
dreadful service at three restaurants I had attempted to eat at, in particular at the Island Café at The Turbine Hotel & Spa! On Facebook a number of visitors to Knysna shared that the town appears to have a problem with restaurant service.

It was hard to see the entrance to the restaurant, as there is a Col’Cacchio now, and (more…)

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   While international sporting events boost tourism to South Africa, our country has a great potential to increase tourism spend.  Two constraints to tourism income have been identified: the perceptions about crime, created through media reports; and the negative publicity relating to the new Immigration Regulations, making it far more onerous for international tourists to visit our country, especially if they have children.

*   Charlize Theron and Sean Penn were seen at the Mount Nelson Hotel with co-star Javier Bardem on Friday evening, after which they had dinner at Duchess of Wisbeach in Sea Point.  Filming of their ‘The Last Face‘ movie is reported by the Weekend Argus to commence next month.   Wedding bells are said to be ringing for a South African wedding of the couple later this year.

*   The Sunday Times reported today that a number of other top actors are in Cape Town to film movies, including Sacha Baron (more…)

One of the most unique restaurant experiences was the opening of the new Okamai (meaning ‘home-brewed hospitality’) Japanese Restaurant at GlenWood wine estate in Franschhoek on Thursday evening.  It is a unique marriage of the Umami in the delectable Japanese food created by Sensei (meaning teacher) Deon de Jongh, and the special GlenWood wines created by winemaker DP Burger.

PR consultant Erica Liebenberg and DP welcomed us at the GlenWood reception with a glass of Morena Rose Brut.  The Japanese touch was immediately evident, with Sensei Deon’s wife Rayne wearing a kimono.  We moved through to the tasting room with a welcome fireplace on a still chilly Spring evening, from which we only saw the branding on the ‘noren’ , or hanging cloth, which was the first lesson we learnt in Japanese culture, in that there are no closed doors, denoting the sacred space between the different sections of the restaurant and kitchen. The writing on the entrance noren, replicated on the serviette, was the greeting: ‘We bid you welcome’. Between the kitchen and the scullery and pantry there is another noren, visible in the photograph of Sensei Deon. I slipped into the restaurant while the others were still tasting the wines, and noticed the bonsai on a side table, a collection of ornamental swords, a decorative holder for the swords, and a picture of a Samurai ‘Grand Master long passed’, with decorative lettering written by the Emperor’s calligrapher, with wording ‘The fighting spirit through harmony and respect’, Sensei explained.  He was dressed in a black chef’s outfit, but with Japanese touches.  He has the most charming smile, looking at peace and in harmony, and reminded me of Chef Reuben Riffel. The word ‘humility’ was used a number of times at our table to describe the Sensei.

Sensei Deon studied 16th century samurai swordmanship in Japan, and lived in that country for 27 years.  Once one has passed the highest level of swordmanship, ‘they entrust you to cook’. Sensei studied the Japanese and western style of sushi creation for 15 years.  Erica told me that the Sensei has written Japanese novellas, being collections of stories related to him while he lived there.  He has also founded and run a school of martial arts in New York, is a motivational speaker and life coach, and was awarded a Nelson Mandela Momento for his contribution to social upliftment and better relations, the website states.

Alistair Wood is the owner of GlenWood, which he bought 28 years ago, and DP has been his winemaker and General Manager for 22 years. They share the same long term vision and focus.  Alistair told us that DP is a fourth generation Franschhoeker, and his great-grandfather saw the last elephant leave the Franschhoek valley in 1856. Alistair and his partner Nikki de Havilland were regular customers of the Japanese restaurant which Sensei had opened on the Franschhoek main road, and invited Sensei Deon to open his restaurant on their wine estate when he closed the village restaurant.  They were excited about the good pairing between Sensei Deon’s food and their wines, a good marriage of the umami in both, and ‘between Japanese boutique cuisine on a boutique winery‘, said Nikki.  The word ‘umami’ was mentioned a number of times, and it is the fifth sense, with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, an element discovered by a Chinese scientist 1200 years ago, we were told.  Umami was found to be an ‘indescribable’ taste in seaweed, and described as being ‘addictive’.

The restaurant can only seat 16 customers at a time, because the Sensei prepares everything fresh, and therefore booking is recommended. However, the kitchen is open from 12h00 until closing time, so one is not restricted to only eating there at traditional lunch and dinner times.  While GlenWood wines are served, one can also order Japanese beer and sake.  ‘Oshibori’ is ‘to clean the hands for the meal one is about to receive’, and a cloth was brought to each guest, and after we returned it to a hostess, we were told that the correct way of doing so would be to roll it up as we had received it: ‘By the way it is received you will return it’, we were told.  Nikki invited us to be ‘adventurous’ in our eating.

Before the meal, Sensei spoke an appreciation ‘of the journey of the food before me’, and ‘I honour your journey and my journey for being here’, acknowledging the uniqueness of the Sensei and customer connecting at that time and space.  He also told us that the Japanese customer would meet the chef before committing to the table, to ‘get a feel of his intentions’ which could harm one if the chef has negative energy or is in a bad space. Should the customers pick up negativity in the chef, they would leave.

We started with a Miso soup (R20), and Sensei Deon taught us how to hold the bowl on the tips of our fingers, and drink from it by slurping, this being how soup is drunk by the Japanese. The Miso soup is a traditional start to the meal, keeping the Japanese healthy, and is made with Dashi stock and has chunks of tofu, and was paired with the GlenWood Sauvignon Blanc 2011.  Miso soup is a good preparation for the meal to come, and an excellent way to counter a hangover, we were told. Thereafter we were served a black Bento Box (meaning ‘lunch box’ ) with a red edging, looking very smart, and with compartments inside for the different foods.  The Bento Box contained the following:

*   ‘Edo Unadon‘, eel meal, paired with the GlenWood Unwooded Chardonnay 2011 – there is no such thing as a ‘California Roll’, Sensei said. This dish costs R62.

*   Sashimi, cut and seared salmon, which was paired with GlenWood’s flagship wooded Vigneron’s Selection Chardonnay 2011

*   The Tempura prawn was described as being high in umami, and was paired with the GlenWood Semillon 2010 (4 prawns cost R34)

*   Chicken dumplings were paired with the GlenWood Merlot 2009 (4 chicken dumplings cost R32)

*   Salmon Roses were paired with the GlenWood Shiraz 2009 – this should be made from the tail of the salmon, which contains the sweetest part, Sensei said.

Rice should be prepared a day in advance, we were told. Wasabi only has a three hour life span, and should never be bought in a tube, we were advised.  Wasabi should never be mixed with soy sauce, as it loses its health benefits.  A leaf of ginger should be eaten in-between courses to clear the palate.  Kewpie mayonnaise should be Japanese and not Chinese, being more healthy.  Sushi means ‘finger food’. The meal as we had it, with the Miso soup and Bento Box, costs R170. One can also order Temaki handrolls at R38 – R53; 6-piece Makimono at R33 – R47; 8-piece Uramaki ‘inside-out rolls’ at R55 – R68; 2-piece Nigiri at R31 – R43; 2-piece Inari R 33 – R45; salads from R40 – R48; 4-piece sashimi R50; two salmon roses at R45; and 4-piece fashion sandwiches at R43 – R55.

The dinner was concluded with a Japanese crepe containing thinly sliced strawberry and banana, and cream. We were told to close the Bento Box when we finished eating, and return it to the hostess, to prevent her from having to lean over the guest to clear the table. Traditionally, hostesses were used to ‘eavesdrop’, to obtain secrets from guests eating by overhearing their conversation, information which was used competitively in warfare.  The best time to eat Japanese food is from 13h00 – 17h00, when the digestion and metabolism are at their optimum, Sensei said.  We were advised to eat only 80% of the meal, and then take a breather before finishing the meal.

Alistair and I talked about the new wine range that will be launched, and without giving away any secrets, he shared that he is excited about an idea which came to him while travelling through France for three months in our winter, being that Franschhoek is well-suited to make a Sauternes noble rot ‘sweet wine’ in the style of Chateau d’Yquem.  Watch this GlenWood space!

Okamai is an educational experience.  It serves ‘cuisine based on ‘Wakon-yosai, an ideal of adopting and applying western learning and knowledge in confirming the native cultural traditions, creating a familiar & authentic blend of known and traditional dishes’, the Okamai website relates.  Sensei Deon is most charming, and he makes eating at Okamai a fascinating experience, given the personal attention that he can pay to his 16 guests at a time.

Disclosure: We received a bottle of GlenWood Merlot 2009 with the media kit.

POSTSCRIPT 25/1: Sensei Deon sent an e-mail this evening, announcing that he left Okamai at Glenwood on 20 January: “I trust you all are doing well and had a good festive season. I am emailing to let you know I am no longer at Okamai…I resigned January 1st 2013…and Sunday January 20th was my last day…for many reasons not known to many..and such It need remain to preserve the integrity of others and the code of samurai conduct that mandate my discreetness and reasons :-). The Very Best Regards & Care. Whereto from here?…I do not know…but shall keep you posted..at GlenWood it is business as usual as they have indicated with the employ of a new sushi cook. Thank you Deeply for your past association and support. Kiyomasu Deon Sensei. 076.997.3786”

Okamai Japanese Restaurant, GlenWood wine estate, Robertsvlei Road, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-2044. www.glenwoodvineyards.co.za www.okamaijapan.com Tuesday – Sunday, from 12h00 – 21h00.  Booking advisable.

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

Yesterday Rougié, the world’s largest producer of foie gras, introduced a number of us to their method of foie gras production, dispelled all myths of the ‘cruelty’ of this production, and spoilt us with a wonderful Chef’s Table lunch at the Mount Nelson Hotel.

Guy de Saint-Laurent, Directeur: Commercial Export of Rougié Sarlat, flew in from France to explain to Chef Rudi Liebenberg from the Mount Nelson’s Planet Restaurant, Chef Dylan Laity of Aubergine, and Chef Darren Badenhorst from Grande Provence how duck foie gras is produced.  The company specialises in foie gras supply to the restaurant industry, and calls itself the ‘Chef’s Foie Gras’.  We were told that foie gras is one of the oldest food products, having been developed in Egypt 5000 years ago, the Pharaohs already force fattening wild birds at that time.  For their long journeys to other parts of the world in winter, the birds naturally overfeed to create a natural layer of fat around their liver, for their long flights, doubling their weight. The first foie gras recipes emanate from Rome, and were based on geese livers. Now 80% of the world’s production comes from France, with another 15 % being produced in Spain, Belgium, Japan, and the USA.  With the introduction of corn from America to France, the production of foie gras was revolutionised, in being used to force feed the ducks and geese.  Foie gras is produced from Moulard ducks, a cross between Muscovy and Pekin ducks.  Up to 98% of all foie gras is made from duck, taking 12 weeks to breed and 10 days to be fattened, while geese need 14 weeks breeding time and 21 days of fattening.  Duck foie gras is more affordable therefore, and tastes better, Guy said.  Its preparation has been mainly pan-fried or seared in the past, but Rougié is working on guiding chefs to find more uses for it. The company has recently set up the L’Ecole Du Foie Gras, teaching chefs the art of foie gras usage.

We were shown a video of how duck are fed a boiled corn ‘mash’ with a tube which goes into their crop, the process called ‘gavage‘.  This process takes 3 minutes, and is done once a day over the last 12 days of the duck’s life.  Vets visit the foie gras farms, and confirmed that ducks are ‘anatomically pre-disposed to be force fed’,  having a long neck, and that there is ‘no indication of stress’ to the ducks, a study showed.  The quality of the treatment of the ducks is reflected in the quality of the foie gras that is produced.  Rougié exports foie gras to 120 countries around the world, either raw, in cans, or flash frozen, the latter having a taste and texture ‘as good as fresh’. The company is a co-operative of about 700 duck farmers, foie gras being one of the products they make.

Foie gras has nutritional benefits, containing Vitamins B, C, and E.  A slice of foie gras has 260 Kcal, compared to a hamburger having 275 Kcal, and a pizza 600 Kcal.  It has good fat similar to that in olive oil, and protects the heart.  It is a food that can be adapted to the food traditions of the world, going well with the sweet, sour, and acidity in ingredients.  The Japanese are even making foie gras sushi, and the Chinese are making foie gras dumplings for Dim Sum.

While we were listening to the presentation, Chef Rudi’s team was busy preparing a foie gras feast for us, a nine-course lunch of small portions, to demonstrate the diversity of foie gras.    Chef Rudi’s brief to his team was to do him and the foie gras proud in the dishes that they created for this unique lunch. Three foie gras canapés were served with Villiera Tradition Brut NV, a terrine with beetroot, a macaroon, and a whipped foie gras torchon.   We discussed the reaction to foie gras, and that the state of California has banned its use in restaurants, despite foie gras being USDA approved.  Restaurants in the state wish to reverse the ban through legal action.  Guy said that the negative reaction comes from foie gras being seen to be for the well-to-do, making it elitist, the gavache method of feeding, and the love for comic characters such as Daffy and Donald Duck.

We started with frozen shaved foie gras, which was served with pine nuts and litchi, a  fresh surprise combination of ingredients, which Assistant Sommelier Farai Magwada paired with Bellingham’s The Bernard Series Chenin Blanc 2011.  Guy told us that he has chefs which visit restaurants around the world, especially to those far away from France, to educate and excite chefs about the preparation of foie gras. Last week Guy and Sagra Foods, the importers of the Rougié foie gras, had hosted similar lunches at The Westcliff with Chef Klaus Beckmann, and at The Saxon with Chef David Higgs, of whom Guy said that his work was two star Michelin quality, having been more classic in his foie gras usage.  Foie gras served with fresh apple, apple chutney, on an oats streusel, was paired with Spier Private Collection Chardonnay 2007.

I asked Guy about cookbooks about foie gras, and he told me that three have been written to date, one produced for Rougié, another done by Chef Nobu of the restaurant group by the same name, and the third by Beijing restaurant Da Dong. Given that Rougié was not prescriptive about how the foie gras should be served at its South African lunches, it seemed a good idea to develop a compilation of the dishes served, perhaps even including those lying ahead for Guy in Mauritius and Reunion.  An indian touch came through with foie gras and curried banana being sandwiched between two poppadom crisps, served with a fresh Solms-Delta Koloni 2010. A fun dish was pairing foie gras with popcorn and chicken breast, which was paired with Jordan Chameleon 1995.  As if we had not eaten enough already, we had a small palate cleanser, being duck confit with artichoke and mash.

We moved to fish, for which we were served fish knives, for hake cured with lemon and lemon grass, served with foie gras spuma and grilled melon, and paired with Cederberg Bukettraube 2011.    Guy explained that sous vide was invented for foie gras, and has since been adapted for use for other foods.  He also told me that French chefs predominantly used foie gras in terrines, but since Rougié has started marketing their products, and running their chefs’ courses, they are seeing it put to a greater number of creative uses. The beef, marinated mushrooms, and foie gras emulsion was paired with L’Omarins Optima 2006.  We talked about Chef Rudi’s support of Farmer Angus at Spier, buying his free-range meats, and having guinea fowl and turkey bred for his restaurant.

The Mount Nelson’s creative pastry chef Vicky Gurovich has just returned from a stage at Chef Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir in Great Milton, and visited Valrhona in Paris.  Her dessert creation of a foie gras, Valrhona chocolate and toffee terrine served with hazelnuts was the pièce de résistance. It was paired with Nederburg Eminence Noble Late Harvest 2009.

Sagra Foods was established in 1994, and operates from Cape Town, but distributes a range of exclusive foods and wines nationally, and even into Southern Africa, planning to make this country a hub of distribution of its fine foods into Africa, Darryn Lazarus said.  They commenced with Italian products, but decided to focus and specialise on premium products such as truffle oils, truffle butters, and many more, to make these products more affordable for local chefs.  Darryn said they are the ‘pioneers in specialty ingredients’, using wholesalers like Wild Peacock to offer chefs a single source of supply.  They import products ‘that make a difference’ from France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Australia, and the USA. So, for example, they sell El Bulli’s Texturas range, being the technical elements which once world best Chef Ferran Adria uses in his molecular gastronomy; De Cecco pasta from Italy; Vilux French mustards and vinegars; Borde dried mushrooms; Belberry jams, sauces, syrups, and vinegars; pastry cases with an 8 month shelf life; Australian Massel beef, chicken and vegetable stocks which are kosher, halaal, and gluten-free; and Tea Forte, the original designers of the tea pyramid, with such award-winning tea flavours as Blueberry Merlot and Lemon Sorbet.

The Mount Nelson was praised by Guy for its playful and less classic interpretation of the foie gras challenge, and he liked how the structure and taste of the foie gras was brought to the fore with the ingredients used by Chef Rudi’s chefs.  It was a most informative, once-in-a-lifetime lunch highlight, with excellent food, paired with a amazing range of wines, good company, and hosted in a special venue inside the sixty year old Mount Nelson kitchen.  Merci beaucoup!

Sagra Food & Wine Merchants, 10 Flamingo Crescent, Lansdowne, Cape Town. Tel (021) 761-3360. www.sagrafoods.com.  Twitter: @SagraFoodsZA

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

The MasterChef SA pace was fast and heavy last night, or so it seemed, with the 50 contestants that made the ‘bootcamp’ being whittled down to half in episode 2, by setting them what seemed to be three basic tasks: chopping onions, separating and whisking egg whites, and preparing a potato dish.  The confidence of the judges had grown, there were no more sympathy votes, and the judges set more fair measurable goals to decide on the future of the contestants.

The ‘bootcamp’ was held in Johannesburg, and most dramatically started on what probably is the Nelson Mandela Bridge, which was closed for the duration of the shoot.  The judges looked far more relaxed compared to episode 1, Chefs Benny Masekwameng and Pete Goffe-Wood wearing a T-shirt and waistcoat, and Chef Andrew Atkinson slightly more formal in an open shirt and waistcoat. The contestants proudly wore their Masterchef SA aprons.  Three activities were given to the contestants, with the judges asking the contestants once again to ‘impress us’ and to show their ‘passion’. This would reduce the number of contestants down to 25, for participation in the second day of the ‘bootcamp’, a braai they were told, which will reduce them down to 18, and take them to Nederburg, where the rest of the 15 episodes were filmed.

Even more dramatic than the bridge was the arrival of a helicopter, flying in a container of 3 tons of onions. Chef Pete showed the contestants how to professionally chop an onion, and then each contestant had to chop onions until they were told by one of the judges to stop, having mastered the art of chopping.  Some contestants clearly had not done much onion chopping before, and cried their eyes out, knowing that they might not be proceeding. Ten contestants were eliminated for their poor onion-chopping skills. Chef Pete said that it takes a good chef three years to learn how to chop onions perfectly. They were warned to watch their fingers, as the knives were razor sharp, and there were some mishaps.

Below the bridge, the old Johannesburg Market was pointed out to the visitors to the city, and the venue for the next two contestant challenges was the Bus House, a massive warehouse.  A massive long table contained eggs and bowls, and each contestant was instructed to separate the yolk from the egg whites, and beat twelve of them so stiff that they could turn the dish around and put it above their head without its content falling onto their head.  Not all contestants managed to keep their heads and hair clean!  The first five to finish were allowed to skip the third task of the day, and could go through to the second day (episode 3).  Ilse Fourie was the first to finish this task, and already impressed in episode 1, with the judges heaping great praise on her cooked dish.

The third task was to take the humble potato, and prepare a hot dish out of it in 45 minutes, adding some ingredients which had been made available in the hall.  Chef Pete was particularly harsh of (singing in episode 1) Sanjeev’s colourful dish, criticising it for being ‘plated by a four year old’, and after tasting it, saying that it tasted as if it was ‘made by a 4 year old’.  Jonathan was criticised for being over-ambitious with his potato fondant in the time available, Marianna’s potato soup was described as ‘dishwater’  (on Twitter this morning Chef Pete had even worse things to say about it), Mel’s dish was‘too basic’, and Peter and Ashley were told that their dishes were a ‘let down’.

The contestants that were eliminated across the three challenges last night included Dael, Anel, Abby, Mel, Ashley, Peter, Luxolo (a sympathy vote recipient last week, and who received lots of Twitter support last night), Megan, Karen, Helena, Stefan, Fortune, Charles, Cameron, Marianna, Sanjeev, Jonathan, Ken (he appeared to receive a sympathy vote last week too), Candice, Vani, and Bonguwusa.

There seemed to be more TV commercials in the ad breaks, including those for MasterChef SA sponsors Robertson’s, Nederburg, Woolworths, and Hyundai (with an interesting pay-off line ‘There’s a Hyundai for every taste’, and the commercial featured the car with sushi!).  Other advertisers were Spur, Outsurance, a Lindt promotion with M-Net, ESKOM, Clicks, Cape Town Fish Market, L’Oreal, Virgin Active, Jaguar, Johnnie Walker Red Label, Nivea, Cell C, Valentino perfume, and Hippo.

The MasterChef SA contestants seemed surprised about the tasks that they were given, and the time pressure placed on them, and preparing their dishes in front of others raised their level of nervousness.  Some of the contestants seemed to have been over-confident initially, and there seemed to be a correlation between this and their departure from the programme in yesterday’s episode!  The pace of the programme reminded one of Charly’s Cake Angels, who had impossible sounding cake challenges to complete against the clock, the episodes creating anxiety for the viewers too.  There is no doubt that MasterChef SA is gripping TV viewers, probably to the detriment of cinemas, restaurants, and theatres, as much of South Africa stays home on Tuesday evenings for the next sixteen weeks.

POSTSCRIPT 28/3: Candice Le Noury, who writes Gorgeous Blog, has written about her experience as a MasterChef SA Top 50 finalist.

POSTSCRIPT 1/4:  I met MasterChef SA Judge and Chef Pete Goffe-Wood at the Bay Harbour Market today, where he and his wife Elize have a steak sandwich stand. I enjoyed his feedback to the questions I asked him about MasterChef SA.  I asked him if Ilse Fourie or Jade de Waal is the winner, but (predictably) he said neither, as he may not share this information. He told us that pigeons were in the Bus House, and Marianna’s soup got hit by pigeon poo 5 minutes before her soup was judged. The judges were warned, and carefully avoided it in the soup they had to taste.  It was dreadful anyway, he said.  The judges wore an ear piece, and were reminded by the director of incidents about the particular contestant, to help shape their responses.  Not all the high and low lights experienced could be shown, and had to be edited to fit the hour time limit.  Three contestants were too scared to put the bowl with the whipped egg white over their heads by the deadline, and were sent off the programme.  The judges had a dress code, in what they should wear. Being a TV programme, the judges had to be more animated that on other TV cooking programmes.  Because the judges were not actors, they remained pretty natural throughout the show.  There are no programme viewership figures available yet.  Chef Pete is pretty confident that there will be a second MasterChef SA series.

MasterChef SA, M-Net, Tuesdays 19h30 – 20h30. www.masterchefsa.co.za Twitter:@MasterChefSA

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

I had been to Nobu just after it opened two years ago, and was not very impressed by it, due to a service issue, but a return visit on Saturday evening, at the invitation of the One&Only Cape Town and its PR Consultant Ian Manley, was a delight, with a noticeable menu and service evolution in the past two years, with unique Japanese, Peruvian and even South African elements in it.  Nobu serves the largest sushi and sashimi selection in South Africa, I was told, and with the most unusual ingredients, such as abalone, scallop, lobster and langoustine.

Hostess Delphine welcomed us, and said that she had left after the opening training, but had returned again, and did the traditional Nobu greeting of Irashamase, which is echoed by all her staff, meaning ‘welcome to our house’.   We were well looked after by waitress Nonte and sommelier Keith, and especially by manager Sebastian, who was most knowledgeable and sought information from the chef when  he could not answer a question.  He has been at Nobu since its opening.  I asked Sebastian why he and the staff were not wearing a name badge, and he told me that all the staff are part of the team, and no individual stands out.

The restaurant, like Reuben’s, is downstairs, with a very high ceiling which contains lighting that looks like Japanese paper lamps.  We asked about the circles which run along the walls, but could not find an explanation for them, as they are unique to Nobu.  Sebastian found out that American Adam D. Tihany was the interior designer.   Tables have black lacquer tops, and chairs are dark stained.  In general, the lighting is low.

Owner Nobuyuki Matsuhisa worked in Peru after he trained in Japan, and then opened a restaurant in Alaska.  It burnt down two months after opening.  He then opened Matuhisa in Los Angeles, and in 1992 he opened Nobu in New York, with actor Robert de Niro as a major backer.  There are now 28 Nobus around the world.  Sebastian told me which dishes are the classic trademark ones, which one is likely to find at any Nobu (we can attest to that, as a group of Americans sat next to us, and they immediately discussed these as well, clearly knowing them from past experience at another Nobu):

*   Yellowtail sashimi and jalapeno (R115)

*   New style sashimi, lightly seared (R75 – R210)

*   Tiradito (sashimi and chilli) (R105 – R210)

*   Tuna sashimi salad (R110)

*   Black Cod Den Miso is the best known dish of all, the cod being marinated in the Den Miso sauce for 3 days (R395)

*   Prawn Tempura in rock shrimp style, fried in cotton seed oil, and served with ponzu, creamy spicy and jalapeno sauces (R125)

*   Omakase, the chef’s recommendation, in which the chef prepares a 7-course meal based on what the patron likes to eat, consisting of two cold appetisers, a salad, one hot fish dish, one hot beef dish, soup and sushi (served after the main courses in Japanese style), and a dessert, at R 550.

The menu had a cardboard cover, with replaceable pages inside, allowing for regular menu changes.  Blanched soya beans sprinkled with sea salt were brought to the table while we were discussing the menu, and they became more-ish as I got the hang of eating them out of the pod.  If I eat Asian foods in Cape Town, I have gone to Haiku  in the past, and therefore I tried more Haiku-like dishes to start, to serve as a comparison.  I started with abalone (R16) and lobster (R28) sushi, its presentation very different to my past experience of what I can now call more ‘commercialised’ sushi.  The lobster sushi was soft and almost jelly-like, and it was explained that it was because it had not been cooked.  I could not recognise it from  the lobster I know.  The abalone had some tough sections to it, and I know that abalone generally needs a good beating and cooking in a pressure cooker because it is so tough.  After posting the photograph of this dish, there was some criticism of the serving of abalone, but Sebastian assured me that the restaurant has a licence to obtain and serve it.  The avocado (R18 for two slices), asparagus (R25 for two), and shitake mushroom (R20 for two) tempura was delicious, with a very light crispy batter.  The highlight however was a new dish recently created by chef Hideki Maeda, which he has included in his 7-course Chef’s Special Omakase tasting menu (R850), being a 100g portion of Wagyu beef imported from Australia, served with foie gras, fig jam, fig tempura and a balsamic reduction (R395) – it was heavenly, a perfect main course size, given the preceding starters and the dessert to follow!   What made it even better was the beautiful slim and elegant Elia cutlery that I ate it with, having used chopsticks for the starters. 

For dessert I ordered Suntory whisky cappuccino, a delicious cappuccino look-alike served in a coffee cup, with four layers inside, and one is encouraged to scoop deep inside the cup to have a taste of all four the layers of coffee brûlée, cocoa crumble (adding a wonderful crunch), milk ice cream and the Suntory infused froth on top – an absolute treat.   I was surprised to see a selection of desserts, all costing around R60 – R75, that were largely ‘Westernised’, including a local malva pudding.  The winter menu special is a 5-course meal with one appetiser, the Rock shrimp tempura, Beef Toban Yaki, soup and sushi, and a dessert, at R299, and is a good way to try some of the classic international Nobu dishes.

The winelist has a brown leather cover, and contained a selection of cocktails and Sake (R150 – R590 for 150 ml), as well as of mainly local and some French wines.  It is not as extensive as that at Reuben’s by any means.   Sommelier Keith is Let’s Sell Lobster trained, and worked at The Round House after his training.  It showed in that the wines-by-the-glass we ordered were brought to the table poured and untasted by ourselves, Keith saying that this is how he had been taught.  He did oblige by pouring the subsequent wines at the table, and allowing us to taste them.  Wines served by the glass include Pommery Brut Royale (R175/R850), Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve (R200/R975), Billecart Brut Rosé (R295/R1550), Graham Beck Brut (R49/R240), Villiera Tradition Brut (R44/R210), and Graham Beck Brut Rosé (R98/475).  White wines range from R34 for 150 ml of Ken Forrester Sauvignon Blanc to R74 for Rustenberg Chardonnay.  Red wines start at R54 for 150 ml of Springfield Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon to R118 for Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2009.  About five options are offered per variety, and the Shiraz selection started at R 280 for La Motte 2008, up to R560 for Luddite 2005.

Nobu has something and more for everyone that appreciates excellent Asian style cuisine, and Haiku won’t be seeing me in a great hurry again, as there is much more variety, friendlier service, and no star order minimum at Nobu.  The professional service by Sebastian was a large part of the enjoyment of our dinner at Nobu. 

Nobu, One&Only Cape Town, V&A Waterfront. Tel (021) 431-5888. www.oneandonlycapetown.com. (The hotel website contains a page for Nobu, with a menu and winelist, but the photographs are in a general Image Gallery, unmarked, and mixed with those of Reuben’s and the Vista Bar).  Monday – Sunday, dinner only.

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

I have the highest regard for the entrepreneurial spirit of Robert Maingard, although he is not Franschhoek’s favourite semi-citizen.  Mr Maingard has incredible faith in Franschhoek, judging by his investment in this village, including ownership of Dieu Donné, Le Franschhoek Hotel, Crepe et Cidre, numerous small shopping centers on the main road (one which includes a Clicks and the village’s second Pick ‘n Pay, which has had the residents up in arms), and now owner of Café Benedict and the newly opened Le Coq restaurant.  I visited the restaurant three times over two days, to get a grip on this ‘schizophrenic’ restaurant, which is located in the new (as yet unnamed) centre which was built where the old Huguenot Hotel once stood.

The French rooster is the symbol of all things Gallic, Wikipedia informs, and Mr Maingard’s Mauritian roots show in his choice of name for the restaurant in this French-faux village.   The rooster that graces the entrance to the restaurant was found under a table in Mr Maingard’s home, Llewellyn Lambert told me.  The restaurant is huge, with an industrial feel to the space, with visible airconditioning trunking.  The restaurant is divided over two levels, each seating about 60 patrons, probably the largest restaurant in Franschhoek.  The upstairs level has its own Grill menu, and focuses on steak.  Here too is a coldroom, so that one can see the meat hung for use for grilling, and from which meat can be sold to customers to take home.   Downstairs, the menu focus is on affordable light meals.   

With its French name, its interior design is a surprise, it is so bizarre! The downstairs section has a fireplace, which will be cosy in the cold Franschhoek winter, and above it hangs a Salvador Dali ‘replica’.  Here is where things go dreadfully wrong with the decor, the designer being Carol Cornwall, of Cornwall Interiors in Durban, who has done all Mr Maingard’s Quarters Hotels, Dieu Donné and Crepe et Cidre.  Dali was a Spanish abstract artist, now used in a French style Franschhoek family restaurant.  There is another Dali ‘replica’ upstairs, a copy of the famous ‘The Persistence of Memory’ above its fireplace, the well-known pocketwatch one, hence all the clocks on the walls.  Without the explanation by Lambert, I would not have made the connection.  There are more ‘Dali’s’ to come, I was told!

But worse still is the lounge sections that have been created in each of the two levels, for those patrons who have to wait for a table (it will take some time to get to this stage, given that Franschhoek is already seeing its first pre-winter casualties, with restaurants and other shops closing down).  The furniture for these two sections looks like it comes straight out of Joshua Doore –  a white ‘plastic’ couch upstairs, and ‘velour’ high back chairs in orange and blue downstairs!   Going back for the third time, I understood the decor approach, being to pick up the blue and the burnt orange from the ‘Dali’s’ for the chairs, but it is the execution that I cannot understand, in that they make the restaurant feel common and kitsch.  The rest of the decor, in terms of the tables and dining chairs (white leather downstairs and beige fabric upstairs) is absolutely fine.  Lambert told me that Mr Maingardis an avid antique collector, and antique sewing machines have formed the bases for the upstairs granite-top tables.   One can sit outside on the terrace upstairs, with a lovely view onto the Franschhoek mountains, but also onto the large parking area below. Parking is a benefit of the new development, given that Franschhoek lacks parking on its main road.  

Mr Maingard recently bought the Lecca il Gelato franchise for Franschhoek, and will be using one of his already vacated shops in the new center in which Le Coq is located for the new ice cream shop.  It is so big, that he has decided to make the shop a play and activity centre for children while their parents eat at Le Coq – I could think of nothing better for a kid to play in an ice cream shop!  

I could not help but think that the large industrial-style two-tier restaurant reminded me of my own joke that the two Franschhoek Pick ‘n Pays have two target markets: one serves the ‘bodorp’, and the other the ‘onderdorp’, and so too the restaurant’s upstairs grill and downstairs Light Meal section is likely to see a similar divide!

The managers are a collection of staff from Maingard properties.  Lambert came from Quarters in Durban earlier this year, to open Café Benedict.  Manager Nikki Leu comes from Durban too, where she did staff training for Mr Maingard’s businesses.  I found it very hard to connect with her.  Food & Beverage Manager Alan Smith comes from the Grill Room, opposition to Mr Maingard, previously owned by Matthew Gordon and the late Trevor Kirsten, who was also a Franschhoek property mogul, vying for the same high street properties.  Chef Albert van der Loo comes from Dieu Donné.   He said that running a kitchen for a 120 seater restaurant is no problem, especially as the orders are staggered over the evening, compared to the 240-seater Dieu Donné, where all guests wanted to order immediately after the sun has set, creating huge pressure on the kitchen.  He has a massive downstairs kitchen for the light meals, and the steaks are prepared upstairs.  Chef Albert is excited about the new challenge he has in running his own kitchen, and says he worked hard on creating the right balance of dishes for the Light Meal menu.  He is bringing in a sushi chef from Japan, a relative of the sushi chef’s girlfriend from the ‘bodorp’ Pick ‘n Pay. His vision at Le Coq is to offer good quality affordable meals for Franschhoekers.

The tables do not have table cloths, but material serviettes and St Tropez cutlery.  A very light weight steak knife by Victorinox seemed too light to be effective, but did  a good cutting job.  There are no condiments.  Only a little glass candle holder is on the table.  No one offered pepper on any of my three visits.   My first visit was for lunch on Saturday, in the downstairs section, and I had a most delicious pea and mint soup from the Cold menu selection (good value at R35, but when Etienne Bonthuys charges R30 for the thickest and creamiest Avocado soup with prawn, it is not!).  I asked the waitress whether it comes with bread, but she said it did not. I returned on Saturday evening, on my way to Stellenbosch, and tried the Tempura prawn from the Hot menu selection.  I asked specifically if it is de-shelled, and the waitress checked that it would be.  The tempura batter is around the prawn tail as well, and I was talking so much that I bit into the tail which did have the shell over it, which spoilt the dish for me.  I had a good Cuturra coffee, with a strong coffee flavour.  If one sits downstairs, one may order from the Grill menu, but one may not order from the Light Meal menu if one is sitting upstairs, which seems odd and inflexible.   Other Cold Meal options (R35 – R75) are smoked salmon salad, roast beef and blue cheese salad, Caprese salad and Bruschetta of Beef Tartare. Oysters cost R90 for six.  The Hot Meal menu prices range from a most affordable R60 – R75, and include mussels, fish and chips, oxtail, beef burger, Cape Malay chicken curry and penne pasta carbonara.  Gelatos, jellied sparkling wine, chocolate brownies and ‘American Dreams’ cost R30 – R40.

The Grill menu has three starters:  The Prawn cocktail was wonderful, with six juicy prawns, at R65, but I did suggest to Chef Albert that he take off the tails; beef carpaccio (R50), and a Chef’s salad at R55.  There are seven grilled meat options, served with chips and onion rings, ranging from R75 for an Algerian spatchcock baby chicken to R105 each for a 500 gram T-bone steak, and 250 gram fillet.  The weight of meat is not specified on the menu, but the waitress told me the weight when I asked her, unfortunately getting the weight of two items wrong, one of them being for the fillet I ordered.  The fillet was good, served alone on a plate, and the sauce and mash came in two extra dishes.  I had ordered the steak Medium Rare, but it tended to Medium, and Chef Albert (who commendably came to check after every course) explained that it has to do with the ageing of the meat, taking away some of the pink colouring of the meat.  It was very tender, and Chef Albert told me that they source their meat from Tomi’s near Hermon, where they farm with Angus cows.  Le Coq is the first Franschhoek client, and Chef Albert was very impressed with the marbling of their meat. Sauces cost R15, and one can choose Hollandaise, Bourbon mushroom, Classic red wine steakhouse, and green peppercorn sauces.  Desserts here are simply one of four Gelato flavours, costing R35.

The menus and winelist are beautifully presented, and Chef Albert worked with photographer Eddie Wilson to create covers for them using beautiful photographs, one taken from the restaurant.   The winelist covers has a photograph of three Dieu Donné wines, but has a good selection of mainly Franschhoek wines.  It has a description of the wine, but no information on regions or vintages is provided. The white wines range from R30/R100 for Overhex Balance and R30/R110 for Flagstone Noon Gun, to R 380 for Graham Beck Pheasant Run Sauvignon Blanc. Other wines by the glass are Dieu Donné Chardonnay (R35/R110), Protea Chenin Blanc (R30/R90) and Ashton Kelder Chardonnay (R35/R115).  Red wines start at R 30/R110 for Ashton Kelder Satynrooi and R30/R110 for Avondrood Blue Whale, up to R 500 for Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve.  I was surprised to see Chocolate Block Shiraz blend charged at a pricey R390.  Other red wines by the glass are Diemersfontein Pinotage (R50), Perdeberg Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon (R35/R130),  and GlenwoodMerlot at R40/R165.  Sparkling wines are not sold by the glass, which is a shame, and include Dieu Donné Blanc de Blanc Brut (R200), Graham Beck’s Brut Rosé (R240), Colmant (R280), and Moët “en” Chandon (R950).  One can also order “Le Coq-tails” and “Le Moq-tails” at R35 – R45.  

To celebrate the opening of the restaurant on Friday, live music will be played in the lower section every weekend day and evening.  I found the band from Wellington terribly loud, as did the chef, and they were asked to tone things down a little.  Every month there will be new groups playing.

Le Coq is a restaurant out of the usual Franschhoek mould, and one wonders if there are enough locals with families to support this large restaurant, currently being supporters of Kalfi’s, Col’Cacchio and Allora.   It offers very good value for money, especially in the downstairs Light Meals section.  Its staff service and training needs attention.  Its French/Spanish decor conflict needs drastic help. It will survive the winter and any continuation of the downturn, as Mr Maingard is the owner of the building, so that his cost structure is different to that of any other restaurant. It needs a stronger leaderto run the restaurant.  It lacks focus, trying to please too many tastes under one roof, and creates confusion with two-restaurants-within-one.  It will be interesting to see if they receive the support from the anti-Clicks ‘bodorp’ Franschhoekers living in a village known for its nasty politics!

POSTSCRIPT 21/5: I popped in for a cappuccino this afternoon, and immediately noticed the addition of a massive “Dali Atomicus” print by photographer Philippe Haselman, featuring Dali, three thrown cats, and a thrown bucket of water – what a weird composition!  From a Google search I learnt that the photograph took 26 takes over five  It looks very impressive behind the bar, and much nicer than the Dali painting copies hung in the restaurant.  The Manager Alan has already left the restaurant, for a job elsewhere.

Le Coq, 32 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-4224.  No website yet.  Tuesday – Sunday, lunch and dinner.

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