Tag Archives: Tempura

Franschhoek is alive and well, exciting new restaurant plans announced by Chef Darren Badenhorst!

 

While some restaurants have closed down or remain closed until October, there are exciting plans for new restaurant openings and take-overs I learnt in Franschhoek yesterday.  While the La Colombe Group has a strong presence in the village with three restaurants, it is about to be overtaken by Chef Darren Badenhorst, who will own four restaurants by the end of this year, and will be running two further ones too! Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: Leaf Restaurant and Bar still very green, but good value!

It is a strange feeling to enter the newly opened Asian Leaf Restaurant and Bar in what was the location of two favourite restaurants – The Showroom and Portofino – in that the restaurant interior is exactly as it was when Cormac Keane closed Portofino in April, with a few changes – grass green serviettes on the side plates, brand new staff wearing green Leaf-branded T-shirts, and a massive ghetto-blaster out on the deck, with too-loud music.  The hardest thing about going to Leaf will be to choose what to eat, its choice of dishes being so vast.  In general, the prices are very reasonable, and the portions generous, offering excellent value for money.  Anyone looking for the two previous restaurants and their cuisine should stay away.

The opening of the restaurant was delayed due to a problem in getting the credit card machine installed. The restaurant had opened just more than a week before I visited it, and I went back on the following day, as I did not have much time on my first visit.    I sat outside on the deck for my Saturday lunch, and almost choked on my calamari when I saw the massive ghetto-blaster, which had been set up on the deck, on a table with a table cloth.  I asked if they were going to have a party, but it was meant to create atmosphere outside, to attract a younger crowd, said the Manager Ambrose.  Fortunately the music was switched off when I sat outside, it being unbearably loud.  The deck looks fuller in having more chairs and tables than in the past, and each outside chair has a red blanket, a clash with the green theme.    A hand-written blackboard welcomes one on arrival, advertising a most amazing sushi special offer – 51 % (no, not a typing error) off all a la carte sushi from 11h00 – 19h00 daily, and all-day on Sundays.

Owner James Ye (Chinese for ‘leaf’) bought the restaurant from Keane, and took over all fixtures and fittings.   Manager Ambrose, with ‘cheffing skills’, he said, when he prepared my calamari for the first lunch, worked at the Cape Town Fish Market for the past twelve years, leaving as Executive Head Chef responsible for menu development and costing.  Ye came from China to be a sushi chef at the V&A Waterfront branch of the Cape Town Fish Market, and left to open The Empire on Main Road in Sea Point, and also opened Saki in the Sable Centre in Montague Gardens.  He is also a frozen seafood supplier.  A number of staff at Leaf have worked at the Waterfront branch of the Cape Town Fish Market, and this made me nervous about my first meal there.   I was pleasantly surprised when my calamari was served – a massive plate with a very large portion of Patagonian calamari tubes, egg rice, tartar sauce made with Japanese mayonnaise, and the most wonderful steamed carrots and beans, an absolute steal at R79.  I was the only guest in the restaurant on this first visit.

I returned for Sunday lunch, now sitting inside, and having two more tables for company.  The ghetto-blaster had been moved under the outside table, but the table cloth which was meant to hide it was not long enough to do so.  The table cloths and serviettes look badly ironed, if at all, and we questioned the side-plates being on the right – Ambrose said he wants Leaf to be different!   Some knives had their serrated edges to the outside, rather than facing inside the setting, little signs of how new the staff are.   Staff stretch in front of one when clearing items away, or in bringing additional cutlery, a pet hate.  Any ex-regular would cringe if they saw the rose patterned cushions that are placed over the definitive ghost chairs of the restaurant.  We were served a very tasty onion focaccia bread with a crispy cheese crust, with a milk jug each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.   It is clear that things are less pretty and more functional at Leaf, and I missed a woman’s hand in the management.

We were offered a complimentary cocktail, and I chose the ‘virgin’ “Peach Tree Mosquito”, a refreshing mix of fresh mint, lime juice, cane sugar, peach juice, soda and crushed ice.   Two champagnes are on the winelist, Veuve Cliquot and Pommery Brut Royale, at R999 and R1100, respectively.  MCC sparkling wines offered are Simonsig (R29/R175), Beyerskloof Brut Rose (R24/R145) and Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose (R265).  An innovative touch is the choice one has of ordering wine by the glass in 175 ml and 250 ml quantities, as well as by the bottle, allowing one to have different wines with each course or dish one eats.  The Sauvignon Blancs, for example, start at R 19 (175ml), R27 (250ml) and R79 (bottle) for the Du Toits Kloof brand, Zevenwacht 360 being the most expensive (R40/R60/R170).   For Shiraz lovers the entry level is Robertson (R20/R29/R87), and Diemersdal (R14/R62/R185) the most expensive.   A good selection of wines is offered per varietal.

Leaf has three menus: Sushi, Hot Pot and Dim Sum, and a standard a la carte menu. None of the three menus are integrated design-wise, and some have photographs of some of the dishes, while others do not.  The a la carte menu is the most professional looking, and is dominated by leaves on the pages.  I started with a Hand roll of avo and prawn from the Sushi menu, which normally has salmon and caviar added, but which I declined – the normal price is R 39, but with the 51 %-off, it only costs R19.   I cannot eat a hand roll by hand, so I was brought a steak knife to cut it.  I love the prawn and avo hand roll at Fu.shi in Plettenberg Bay, and that is my benchmark.  That of Leaf came close, but the end bits were dry, with the mayonnaise too concentrated in the middle.   Sushi lovers will delight in the vast variety offered, including Sashimi platters (16 pieces for R138), Salmon platters and Tuna platters (21 pieces for R149), and eight combination choices of R99 Sushi platters.   The Sushi menu also offers Crab, Prawn, Vegetable, Seared Tuna and Japenese (sic) Seafood salads, ranging from R30 – R58.   Other options are smaller portions of Sashimi, Nigiri, Fashion Sandwich, Maki, Inside Out Roll and Edo Roll, as well as Tempura vegetables and prawns, and a selection of hand rolls.

The Dim Sum menu offers eighteen choices of steamed and pan-fried dumplings, deep fried wontons, and more, with prices ranging from R28 – R48, while the Hot Pot menu offers sixteen choices, ranging from R22 for Tofu to R150 for Crayfish.  I did not have anything off this menu, being overwhelmed by the menu options offered across the three menus.

The a la carte menu tries hard to get away from the “Chinese” label the restaurant has already earned prior to its opening, and Manager Ambrose asked me specifically to not refer to it as a Chinese restaurant.  The Starters include Oysters (R15 – R20), Harumaki (deep-fried spring rolls), Calamari, Mussels, Tuna Tartare, Tempura, and Dumplings, no item costing more than R59, and Crayfish Cocktail (R99).  The Tempura prawn starter had five Indian Tiger Prawns, served as the most wonderful deepfried crispy thick “Japanese style battered morsels of food”, with sweet chilli sauce, at R40.  The Chicken springrolls were delicious, with a different crispy batter, costing R25.  Soups are Eastern in style, including Tom Yum, at R48.  Salads range in price from R48 – R58.  Fish and chips cost R40. Three calamari dishes range from R59 – R79.  Crayfish is served grilled or steamed, at R249, or Thermidor, at R299 – no weight/size is specified.   Seafood platters, served with a choice of two sides, range from R99 for line fish to R499 for the Executive (crayfish, scallops, line fish, prawns, baby squid, calamari and mussels).   Steak options are Sirloin (200 g for R79, 300 g for R109), and fillet (250 g for R119), and one can also order lamb shank, lamb chops and oxtail.  Three chicken dishes range from R59 – R79, while two Duck options are available, Peking Duck at R149, and Marinated Duck at R119.  I chose the latter, and was disappointed with its taste and presentation – it was served on a bed of chopped lettuce, with a very rich dark sweet soy sauce, making the plate look very messy.  The duck was nowhere near my duck benchmark, being that of Haiku.  Sticky rice and steamed vegetables were well prepared.   I was surprised to not see any desserts on the menu, but I am sure that no one could manage to eat any, after the great selection of starters and main courses. Coffee is by LavAzza.

One leaves Leaf confused about whether one likes the restaurant or not, and one tends to think back of wonderful meals and chats one had with Bruce and Cormac, given the familiarity of the furnishings.   If one loves Eastern food, and seeks value for money, one can do no better than to eat at Leaf.  The staff need time and practice to get their service up to speed, but in general they are friendly and eager to please.  Food is served the whole day, and not in lunch and dinner time bands, as is so common, which means that one can pop in at any time if one is feeling peckish.  Given time, Leaf can blossom, and bring new life to this restaurant space.

Leaf Restaurant and Bar, Harbour Edge Building, Chiappini Street, Green Point, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 418-4500. www.leafrestaurant.co.za (The “webside” is still under construction).

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

Restaurant Review: La Mouette Restaurant flying high

A Tudor-style restaurant building, built in the 1930’s, has become the home of one of Cape Town’s best “finer dining” restaurants, offering excellent value for money.   La Mouette (The Gull) has opened on Regent Road in Sea Point (there is no branding on the outside yet, so one must look for the number 78, near Checkers), and is named in honour of the noisy landmark of this suburb, even though there were no seagulls to be seen nor heard while I was there.  The building was previously the home of Europa and The Carvery.   Coats of paint, chic decor inside, and a bubbling fountain filled with Koi in the entrance courtyard and surrounded by French-style bistro tables and chairs, have given the building a new lease on life. 

But it is the owner trio of General Manager Mari Vermaak, Chef Henry Vigar, and Marketer/Righthand Gerrit Bruwer that has “rejuvenated” the building and its interior, with a refreshing approach to running a restaurant of excellence, based on Henry and Mari’s experience in the restaurant industry in London.    Vigar is a passionate chef whose cooking style is modern French-style cuisine with a Mediterranean influence.  He has worked at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants (The Square, La Noisette and The Greenhouse in London, Rascasse in Leeds, and Hotel des Pyrenees in France) as well as at The Quayside in Sydney.  He was the Head Chef at Kensington Place, where Eric Bulpitt, chef at Jardine on Bree Street, worked for him for a while.

Mari is a bubbly yet serious restaurateur, who has a firm hand on the operation of the restaurant.   She has done all the staff training, and impressed me with her description of how they employed the best of more than 400 applicants for the waitron and kitchen positions, including making applicants write food and wine knowledge tests.   All the staff have sampled all the dishes on the menu, and whenever a new dish is introduced, Chef Henry explains it to the waiters.  Wine estates like Villiera and L’avenir have come to the restaurant, to train the staff about their wines.   The service from my waiter Peter was perfect, a reflection of Mari’s thorough training. 

Mari grew up in George, and was a graphic designer before moving to London, where she was a Restaurant Manager at Gilmours on Park Walk, at Kensington Place, and at Launceston Place.   It was at Kensington Place that Chef Henry showed her his interest by sending specially made chocolate macaroons to her desk. The rest is history, as they say in the classics!  Mari’s London background shows, in her neat black shirt, skirt and stockings, the ultimate classic front-of-house dress.  Mari is a warm, friendly, down-to-earth and generous hostess, giving up three hours of her time, sitting and chatting to me about their background, and receiving a quick overview about the importance of social media marketing from me.   Whilst they have just started a blog, they agreed that it is time to embrace Twitter, especially given their gull theme, and did so immediately!   Gerrit and Mari both studied graphic design at the University of Potchefstroom, and Gerrit has designed a beautiful corporate identity for the stationery, menu and winelist, with flying seagulls and flowers.  Mari and Henry are partners, and both Leos!

Mari felt it important to not alienate locals, and hence all menu items were named in English instead of their French equivalent.   The menu has a small selection of dishes, making it relatively easy to choose.   The lunch and dinner menus are almost identical in terms of dishes offered, but the prices differ somewhat.  For lunch, for example, one can order extra sides, at R 25 each, whilst they do not appear on the dinner menu.  For lunch all Starters and Desserts cost R 35, and Mains cost R 80, a total of R 150 for a 3-course lunch, whilst the dinner cost is R 210 for 3-courses, or R 50 for the Starters and Desserts, and R 110 for all Mains. The dinner menu offers one or two more options for each course.

I had the Chicken liver parfait, chicken reillette, pear chutney and toasted brioche as a starter, a lovely combination, the pear chutney being a surprise but well-matched.   I overheard a neighbouring table proclaim that the French onion soup was the best they had ever eaten.  Other lunch starters are a tomato salad served with tapenade and smoked mozarella; mushrooms on toast served with walnut salad and roasted fig; and prawn and ginger ravioli.   I ordered the sweetcorn risotto served with the cutest tempura pea shoots, almost a work of art, and decorated with lime and coriander gremoulata.   Alternatives are “house-made” linguini (by an Italian in the kitchen), hake, chicken, confit duck, and minute steak.  The dessert options are really interesting, and gives one a feel for Chef Henry’s creativity (he still seems somewhat more classic, but with a twist, on the starters and mains), and I will come back for these:  peanut butter parfait and chocolate ganache; a “gin and tonic” with a difference; and passion fruit curd, doughnuts, Greek yoghurt and honey foam.   The cappuccino was excellent, the coffee being supplied by Deluxe, a small specialist coffee roastery in Cape Town.

An alternative to the menu is a choice of tapas style dishes to share, at R 35 each: marinated vegetables and olives; truffle and cheese croquettes; tempura style vegetables and roasted pepper dip; sweet onion tart, olive, thyme and marinated anchovy; and crispy calamari, smoked paprika and saffron aioli.

The winelist is neatly presented, and offers an impressive list of 15 wines-by-the glass, and about 75 wines.  One senses that many of the wines stocked are because of a special relationship that developed between the wine estate and Henry and Mari when they were compiling their winelist, and Avondale, Villiera, Springfield and L’avenir feature strongly on the list, as does Tokara Zondernaam.   Champagnes are stocked (Moet & Chandon, Billecart Salmon Rose, Champagne Barons de Rothschild and Bollinger Special Cuvee), while the very recently launched La Motte Methode Cap Classique (R500), as well as Villiera, Pierre Jourdan and L’avenir sparkling wines are also stocked.   A number of Shiraz options are available, ranging from R 150 for Villiera Shiraz, to R 280 for the Thelema.   No vintages are offered on the winelist, one of few points of criticism.

Mari refused to allow me to pay for the two course lunch, glass of bubbly and two cappuccinos I enjoyed with her.   I therefore returned for a paid-for dinner with a friend three days later, and we were impressed with the Butternut squash soup served with toasted pine nuts and blue cheese, and the sweetcorn risotto and the pan-fried Duck breast as main courses.  We were spoilt with a taste of the Bouillabaisse, with a plump prawn, tiny mussel, tender tube of calamari and crayfish.  For dessert we had the signature “Gin and Tonic”, consisting of tonic jelly, gin syrup, and lime ice cream, the most unusual dessert I have ever experienced, refreshing and revitalising. 

La Mouette is planning themed evenings, and will open a chic wine bar upstairs in December.   One can sense the energy and innovation in what is still a very early start for the restaurant, my visit having been a week after opening.   La Mouette is a restaurant to watch, and will soon be flying high on the Cape Town restaurant scene.  

POSTSCRIPT: I was privileged to have been invited to the Chef’s Table at La Mouette on 20 May, in the company of Clare Mack of Spill Blog, JamieWho of JamieWho Blog, Kim Maxwell, Rey Franco, and Sam from L’Avenir.   The amuse bouche was a butternut soup served with a to-die-for cheese and truffle croquet, followed by a prawn and ginger ravioli, mushrooms on toast served with walnut salad and vanilla roasted fig, a highly praised Bouillabaisse, Rib of Beef, the famous “gin and tonic” dessert of Chef Henry, passion fruit curd served with mini-doughnuts, and the “crunchie” dessert, served as a chocolate fondant, honeycomb espuma and ice cream. Every course was perfectly paired with a L’Avenir wine.  Such a good time was had that the last guests left long after midnight.    The La Mouette branding has now been erected at the entrance to the restaurant, and should make it easier to find the restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 4 JULY: I have returned to La Mouette a number of times, and always had attentive service from Mari.   My last visit was a disappointing one, probably due to Mari not being on duty that evening.   The manager on duty was not on the floor except for showing us our table and apologising about the winelist error.  A winelist “typing error” for an incorrect Villiera wine-by-the-glass vintage, which had been identified ten days prior as an error, was still on the winelist.   The waiter stretched in front of us to put down the cutlery.  The wrong amount was taken off my credit card for payment.  There was no one to greet us when we left the restaurant.  I wrote to Mari after the dinner, and received a very defensive “Dear customer” letter.

POSTSCRIPT 2/9:  I returned for the first time in 2 months today, sitting in the fountain courtyard, dominated by a massive motorbike parked there.  Mari was professional, yet very changed in attitude, due to our feedback about the 4 July dinner.   The restaurant has changed to a Spring Special menu at R175 for 6 courses (or R350 for wines paired to 5 of the courses), with a typing error.  An Express 2-course lunch at R99 has been introduced, which was not good value – my colleague had the marinated tomato salad and chicken.  We shared a bowl of Chef Henry’s new cheese and ham croquettes, and I ordered my favourite, the chicken liver parfait.   The Beef Sirloin was average, four small slices expensive at R105 – one pays a R25 supplement for it.   The Tapas selection has been taken off the menu. The service from Hazel was sweet, and she was very willing to please, but stretched across us in replacing the cutlery.  Mari did not want us to pay for the meal today, due to the problems with our 4 July meal, but we refused her generous offer.  

La Mouette, 78 Regent Road, Sea Point.  tel 021 433-0856. www.lamouette.co.za (the website is one of the best I have ever seen for a restaurant, informative, with menu and winelist, and link to the blog).    Twitter @teamlamouette.    Open Tuesdays – Sundays for lunch, and Mondays – Saturday evenings for dinner.

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

Restaurant review: Haiku still star-struck, 50 % more expensive!

Haiku restaurant in the Cape Town city center has been one of my favourites ever since it opened more than four years ago.  It is a sister restaurant to Bukhara, one of Cape Town’s leading Indian restaurants.  I have never written a review about it.

Being named as the Eat Out Best New Restaurant 6 months after it opened (a once-off award category of Eat Out) made the restaurant the in-place for Capetonians, and this led to an extreme degree of arrogance from the staff.  One could not book a table for the same day, let alone just arrive without a booking.

The initial success led the Haiku owner Sabi Sabhawal to open a Haiku in London, but the project failed dismally, due to poor location in an alley off a high street, exorbitant renovation and staff costs, and high menu prices, which resulted in the closure of the restaurant.  It proved to be a blessing in disguise for the restaurant, in that its best staff, but also its most arrogant, was sent to London, and most did not return to Cape Town.

For the past few months Haiku has become friendlier and more flexible.  There is no longer drama with cheeky waiters.   The canopy on the outside of the restaurant now proudly carries the Haiku branding.  But now its pricing has become excessive!

A visit back to a busy and buzzy Haiku last week, unbooked and latish at 22h15,  was a shock, because the menu has changed radically.  Haiku is unique in charging its dishes in stars, rather than in Rand, and prescribes that for dinner one has to eat for 4 stars each.   Each star used to cost R42, i.e. a total cost of R168 per head, and the price had not been increased for a good year.   Now the cost per star has been reduced to R40, and while this may seem that the price has reduced, it is misleading, as many dishes have been re-priced, a new half star pricing for menu items having been introduced.  A 3-course meal previously costing 4 stars, consisting of a starter (1 star), a main course (2 stars) and a dessert (1 star), now has increased to a 6-star cost, at R240 for the same meal items, a 43 % increase!   In addition, the plain rice, which was a free staple served with the main course dishes, now costs 1/2 a star.   The waiter David explained that the recosting was done because patrons “abused” the star allocation on the menu previously, choosing dishes which were better value, and which were meant to act as “loss leaders”.

Dave started at Haiku when it opened, and is the only “surviving” waiter.  He is gentle and nice, and informative.  I ask him what changes he has seen over the four year history of Haiku.   He says that while the restaurants patrons no longer are Cape Town’s trendsetters, they now are tourists, production company representatives, Johannesburgers and loyal international visitors.   He does not mention Capetonians.

The price increases of the dishes are not the only change on the Haiku menu.  The previous list of 260 menu items has been reduced to 200.    The look of the menu, and its headings is so different, that one has to get used to finding one’s favourite dishes.   The menu is divided into sections: Dim Sum, costing 1 – 1,5 stars, with a choice of spring rolls, fried wontons, dumplings and steamed rice rolls; Tempura, costing between 1,5 – 2 stars, with a selection of prawn avocado (still as delicious as ever), salmon, soft shell crab, mixed vegetables, and beef; the Sushi section cost ranges from 1 – 4 stars, and contains 38 options, including sashimi, maki, nigiri, California rolls, sandwiches, handrolls and more;  The Grills section dishes cost 1 – 3,5 stars, for Robata, Teriyaki, Tepanyaki, beef fillet and lamb chops;  Salads cost 1,5 stars; Soups 1 star; Noodle dishes cost 2 stars; Rice dishes range from 1/2 – 2 stars; Hot Pots 2 – 3 stars for mixed seafood and beef; ‘Sizzling’ dishes include beef, lamb, chicken and ostrich, and cost 2,5 stars; sixty Wok dishes are offered, ranging from 1,5 – SQ for the crayfish.  The entry level duck costs 3 stars, and the Duck Orange is still the favourite on the menu, as good as ever, with no reduction in portion size; Desserts now costs 1,5 stars, for coconut ice cream, mango ice cream, lychees and ice cream, chocolate spring roil, a trio of Asian desserts, a banana crepe, and chocolate mousse.

The menu is introduced with the following paragraph: “Dear guest, food at Haiku is served as tapas, each dish when ready, to be shared and enjoyed.  10 % service charge for 4 or more persons. A minimum charge is 4 stars per person for dinners only”.   The menu and the winelist are not available to be seen on the Haiku website, a privacy policy of the restaurant!

The Haiku winelist, in mock alligator cover, is branded Bukhara, and is extensive with about 130 wines, confusingly offering a first list of better value for money wines in bottles and by the glass, and then it continues by offering wines by variety, two pages for red wines and one page for white wines.    The value-for-money white wine list ranges from R 105 per bottle/R35 per glass for a Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc to R245 per bottle/R82 per glass for a Constantia Uitsig Reserve Semillon; the red wines range from R135 per bottle/R45 per glass for Jordan Chameleon to R445 per bottle/R148 per glass for Rupert & Rothschild Baron Edmond.    Each variety is described succinctly, but no wine vintages are specified.   Sparkling wines cost R190 for Pongracz and R900 for Moet et Chandon; champagnes range from R212 for Graham Beck to R900 for Krug Vintage.  The classification of the Moet and the Graham Beck is interesting, each appearing to be in the wrong section.   The Overgaauw Chardonnay costs R138, the Hamilton Russell R405; Thelema Sauvignon Blanc costs R150, and the Fleur du Cap Unfiltered R220; a Simonsig Gewuerztraminer costs R124, the Platter White Wine of the Year, the Sadie Family Palladius, costs R790; Le Bonheur’s Cabernet Sauvignon costs R208, and that of Rustenburg Peter Barlow R620;   Vergenoegd’s Merlot costs R200, Durbanville Hill’s Luiperdsberg costs R425;  Grootte Post’s Pinot Noir costs R248, and Bouchard Finlayson’s Pinot Noir Tete Cuv R1 050; The Guardian Peak shiraz costs R133, the De Trafford R627 – Dave checks the vintages of the shirazes, and a Cloof 2003 is available – the other shirazes are 2007; a KWV Roodeberg costs R176, the Vergelegen V costs R1 400.

Haiku restaurant, Bree Street, tel 021 424-7000.  Dinner bookings taken for 19h00 and 21h00.  The website can only be accessed via www.bukhara.com, and is outdated, still featuring a page for the ex-London branch!

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