Tag Archives: tip

Restaurant Review: Kjolle puts Peruvian heritage fruit and vegetables on the table, with a modern twist!


While one might say that eating at Kjolle restaurant is second best to eating at its sister restaurant Central (Sixth Best on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List) in Lima in Peru, I am very grateful that I did, and that I did so the day before my lunch at Central, it giving me a first taste of the philosophy of both the restaurants, owned by husband and wife team of Chefs Virgilio Martinez and Pia León, and in helping me to deal with some of the complexity of the Central Tasting Menu. Continue reading →

Mobile payment technology threatens restaurant/coffee shop tips!

snapscanA Cape Town study conducted by &Innovation has shown that locally-developed mobile payment Apps can influence the tips paid by customers to waitrons, the speed of the payment method making customers feel less guilty when they leave a smaller or no tip.  Based on restaurant turnover of R21 billion per year, the value of tips should be R2 billion.

The study found that the tip payment behaviour when paying by means of SnapScan, FlickPay, GUST Pay, and Zapper differs from payment made by cash or credit card. Whichever payment technique is easiest and most convenient for the customer at the moment of payment is used, without consideration of the impact it may have on the restaurant or coffee shop, and its staff.  The mobile payment method means that they don’t ‘look the waiter or cashier in the eye’.  It also means that the tip jar remains untouched. Continue reading →

La Residence Sweet and Winchester Mansions Sour Service Awards

The Sweet Service Award goes to La Residence in Franschhoek, who made a birthday lunch for my 95 year old father a special day to remember, spoiling the family with Pierre Jourdan Rosé on arrival, a lovely three course meal, excellent service, and a birthday cake, which was a gift from the hotel. 



The Sour Service Award goes to the Winchester Mansions Hotel.  I popped in for a quick cappuccino, on my way home, sitting outside on the terrace, and had to wait for 15 minutes before a waitress acknowledged my presence, despite a number of guests sitting outside.   I asked for the bill when I received the coffee, but it did not arrive, so I gave the waitress a R20 note to pay, expecting her to return with the change.  She never did – thinking that she had earned a 25 % tip!  


The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com.   Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

Restaurant Review: A Tavola not at the table, expensive and poor service

From reviews I had read about A Tavola (‘at the table’ in Italian), it seemed that I had missed a gem by not having eaten at this Italian eaterie in the Southern Suburbs.  After having eaten there earlier this week, I cannot see what they were raving about – the food was average and expensive, and the service was shocking!

I arrived after a tasting of Old Vines’ wines (the Baron von Holdt exceptional) at the home of mother-and-daughter winemakers Irina von Holdt and Fran Botha/Potgieter, at 9.30 pm.  I was not sure whether I would be welcome at that time, especially as the two persons sitting eating at a table nearest the door (turned out to be the manager and a staff member) made no attempt to acknowledge my arrival.  I carried on walking, and was greeted by a waitress, pointing at all the empty tables, to make my choice.

Mike came to present his services as the waiter, and handed me a laminated standard menu, another photocopied menu of “Specialities” (these were defined by him as being on a menu that changes regularly!), as well as a paper winelist (No Diner’s Club Winelist Award for this one).  The menu highlights the ‘rules and regulations’ of this establishment – one may not be there between 4 – 6 pm, nor after 11 pm.  Heaven help you if you are having a good time, and you loose track of time.  No menu ‘changes or variations to any dishes please’, the menu stipulates – all reflecting the Italian ‘flexibilty’ of this restaurant!  All food items on the menu are in Italian, with English descriptions.  Corkage costs R30.

The restaurant is quite large, and I am sure that they can accommodate about 100 guests per sitting, especially as they have outside tables too.   The kitchen is open-plan to the restaurant, with a counter that runs along most of the length of the restaurant.   The walls are a deep-red, with lots of glass doors, which must be ideal for summer dining.  The red colour scheme is carried across to the staff dress, who look smart in uniform red shirts and black pants.  The chairs are unattractive, and make a terrible noise when diners get up and move them on the dark floor tiles.   The tables looked like they were covered with good white table cloths, until I heard the staff scrubbing the plastic (I kid you not!) tablecloths right next to where I was still eating.  There is a tiny deli section as one enters, with Italian products.   Italian music was playing softly.   A holder with Olitalio olive oil and balsamic vinegar is a standard on each table.

I ordered Vitello ai Funghi e Vino Bianco from the Specialities menu, and was disappointed when the “marianted” veal scallops arrived at the table – my plate had more pasta than veal on it, the wine sauce making it look as if there was more meat.  The ‘wild mushrooms’ tasted as if they were out of a tin. The overriding taste was one of extreme saltiness, dominating the promised wine in the sauce.  The dish, with four small veal scallops, cost R115.  I did not think this to be good value.

I asked Mike if I could keep the paper copies of the menu, and he said he had to get permission for this.  I did not get a response to the request.  The same reply came to the request for a copy of the laminated menu.  No reply was received but the Manager Kurt Henderson brought it to the table, being proactive in giving me the new menu effective 2 September.  This was the only interaction I had with him, even though he could see me – no one was interested in how I enjoyed my meal, despite Mike seeing me making notes.  I felt that the manager had little control over his staff – the waiters were huddled in a group, chatting, and I had to request a menu for the dessert, and a bill – nothing came proactively.

I noticed that the prices between the menu of 1 September, and that of the new menu, had decreased for almost all the dishes at A Tavola, with the exception of those for the desserts.  I called the restaurant the following day, and owner GianCarlo Pironi’s ‘buon giorno’ was welcoming and friendly, very different to what I had experienced the evening before in his restaurant.  He confirmed that the price reductions will hold for the time to come, as their supplier of Italian foods has managed to negotiate good deals with their suppliers, and therefore they could reduce their food prices – compliments to the chef for passing this price benefit on to the A Tavola customers!

With the introduction of the new menu, it would appear that the Speciality menu will fall away, as some of the dishes on it have been added to the new menu.  Antipasti dishes have come down in price by around R10 a starter, and start at R42 for Zucchini Fritti, up to R76 for a platter of parma ham, salame, mortadella, coppa, grilled vegetables, olives, brushetta and tomato.  In the Insalata section prices have come down by up to R14 for the calamari salad.  Most salads cost R58.   In the Primi section the pasta dishes have not come down much, and sound expensive in starting from R64 for Penne Arrabiata, Penne Napoli and Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino, up to R92 for seafood pasta Linguine Marinara.   In the Secondi section prices have been reduced by R10, and now cost R 115 for almost all the dishes (mainly veal).  In the Dolci section desserts cost between R38 – R48, and the Tiramisu (an absolute weakness of mine) I ordered was most disappointing – I barely tasted the liqueur, and it seemed terribly dry, with little mascarpone cream.  I did like the chunky chocolate chips at the top of the dessert.  It tasted pre-prepared, without love.   A cheese platter for two costs R78 and gelato costs R38 (number of scoops not indicated).  The cappuccino came as a flat white instead of with froth, and when I questioned Mike about this, he said that this is the way it is made, take it or leave it!

The winelist offers Prosecco at R190, or local Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel at R165.  Food & Wine Guru Michael Olivier recommends Tierhoek Chenin Blanc on the winelist, at R140 a bottle and R46 per glass.  Other white wines include Haute Cabriere, Flagstone Viognier; De Grendel, Iona, and Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc; and Jordan Unoaked and Doolhoof Chardonnay, none more expensive that R165.   Red wines on the list range from Cederberg’s Cape Atlantic Merlot, at R115, to Morgenster Tosca blend at R245.  Five whites and five reds are offered by-the-glass.   Two Italian white and three red wines are offered, at under R 200 each. Certain wines have been crossed off the winelist – as it is a photocopy, it is unforgivable that the list was not revised and issued without corrections.  No vintages are specified nor are the wines described.  The winelist promises that the red wines are ‘cooled’ at 15 C, something I have never seen on a winelist before, but is commendable, says Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira.

When I paid for the meal in cash, R 30 more than the bill, I expected my change to be brought to the table.  I had to ask Mike to bring it to me, lest he thought that I was giving him an ueber-generous tip.   He came to the table sulking, and I asked him why he had not brought the change.  He then let rip at me, saying he had not expected a tip, as I had been ‘impossible’, ‘shutting him out’.  I explained to him that I had found his service to be absolutely reactive, and that he could not make an assumption about a tip, unless told to keep the change.   This was a bad note on which to leave the restaurant – Manager Kurt made no attempt to reprimand the waiter for his rudeness.

I won’t be back at A Tavola, given its rude staff (even though owner GianCarlo sounded really nice over the phone), its prices (even though they have reduced many of their menu items, off a high base), and average food.

POSTSCRIPT 11/4/13:  We received this e-mail today, clarifying that Giancarlo Pironi is not involved in the restaurant, and has not been for a long time: ‘I would like you to cancel the blog associating me with A Tavola restaurant in Claremont.  Yes is true that I started A Tavola Restaurant in december 2009 together with Kurt and David, but I left the partnership few months after the opening.  My Name is still used up to today by A Tavola, but now that I am about to begin a new venture in food I don’t want to confuse my future clients.  Thanking you in advance for your kind understanding I wish you all the best in the future.  Warm regards. Giancarlo Pironi’.

A Tavola, Shop 1, Library Square, Wilderness Road, Claremont (opposite Kingsbury Hospital, off Main Road).  Tel (021) 671-1763.  www.atavola.co.za.  Lunches Monday – Friday 12h00 – 15h00, Dinners Monday – Saturday 18h00 – 22h00.  Closed on Sundays and public holidays.   On Mondays the pasta dishes in the Primi section of the menu cost half price.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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