Tag Archives: Top Chef

Top chefs go green, with some red and white, for Christmas this year!

Classic Wine Whale Cottage PortfolioI am proud of my first professional writing assignment, being an article in the December/January issue of Classic Wine magazine. about how five top chefs ‘Celebrate Green Christmas this year, with some red and white’. Each chef is an ardent supporter of the green movement, focusing on sustainability and seasonality, which is reflected in their Christmas menus. The Christmas menus are paired with fine red and white wines.

Eat Out Top 10 Chef Jackie Cameron will serve a lunch of memories to her guests at Hartford House tomorrow, based on her own Christmas memories and those of her kitchen team.  Her bread board, for example, will reflect the diversity of her team, consisting of Amasi curd called ‘Amaqueque’, with a new age spinach spoom, Indian chilli bites, ‘patta’ (a spicy mixture wrapped in amadumbi leaves, a true rainbow nation combination), Afrikaans mielie bread, and English health bread.  Tel (033) 263-2713

Delaire Graff Chef Christiaan Campbell is serving a magical Christmas Eve dinner at his restaurant this evening, and diners will be assured that the meat is pasture-fed, the fish is SASSI green listed, and that the vegetables and herbs will largely come for  the wine estate’s own garden.  Guests will be serenaded by an accordionist while they enjoy drinks outside, and entertained by a magician whilst having their dinner. Tel (021) 885-8160

Chef Chantel Dartnall of Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient in Pretoria does the most beautiful plating, Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: More than potluck at Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ The Pot Luck Club

Top Eat Out Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, owner of the second ranked Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant The Test Kitchen, has opened The Pot Luck Club, another winning restaurant next door to his existing restaurant.  One need not worry that Chef Luke will only be seen at The Test Kitchen, where he has always been very hands-on, or that one has to bring one’s own ingredients to cook one’s meal, or has to share one’s fabulous food if one does not want to!

The word ‘potluck’ is almost 500 years old, and refers to providing food for an unexpected guest, offering him or her the ‘luck of the pot’, states Wikipedia.  Over time the term evolved to become a gathering of persons, each bringing a dish, to be shared and eaten communally by the group.  In Ireland the potluck practice was for women to share the ingredients they had available, and cook them together in one pot.  At The Pot Luck Club one is encouraged to order different dishes, and to share them with others at the table. At the restaurant the term has a creative interpretation, in that four The Pot Luck Club chefs have a dish each included in the menu, while the rest of the dishes probably have been a team effort devised with Chef Luke.

The Pot Luck Club venue is almost equal in size to The Test Kitchen, but the space is better utilised in that less space is used for the food preparation, being set against the back wall, dedicated to this restaurant only. Running into the food preparation area is the bar, which serves both restaurants, and this is only noticeable as The Test Kitchen staff, with different uniforms, are visible in The Pot Luck Club when they collect drinks. A part of the space has been cordoned off by means of a hanging Peter Eastman resin artwork ‘screen’, and two tables can cater for a larger group booking for The Test Kitchen.  The artwork is for sale, but no prices are indicated, and the staff do not know them, one being connected with the artist if one wants to purchase something. The ‘private’ section has colourful lampshades, which shine through the screen cut-outs, and add character to The Pot Luck Club.  It is hot in the restaurant, with no airconditioning, even if the door is open. Downlighters are well placed on metal beams high above, lighting up the black artwork, not all visible against the black and plum walls, and focusing on the tables. Tables have milled steel tops, as they do at The Test Kitchen, with light wood chairs, and counters running against the left wall and alongside the bar. The tables are laid with ceramic plates, in grey and in a light brown, the latter looking as if it is a piece of wood, and the ceramic water mugs have a similar look, and have probably been made by Imizo, which made The Test Kitchen tableware too.  The cutlery is comfortable to hold and unusual in its design, imported from Europe Chef Luke said, but the brand name is not visible in the logo on the cutlery.  Chopsticks are also on the table. Two tiny glass containers contain coarse salt and ground peppercorns.  Felt-covered glass bowls hold a tealight candle. The music was odd, an eclectic mix of unidentifiable bands and some South American music, with no Asian music at all.  I loved the long rectangular serviettes, long enough to cover one’s lap properly, probably the work of Chef Luke’s fashion designer wife Sandalene, who also designed the staff uniforms, floral for The Test Kitchen, and grey tops with a plum pocket for the male waiters, and dresses for the lady waiters at The Pot Luck Club. The restaurant can seat about 45 guests.  A new door links the two restaurants, and Chef Luke was visible, regularly overseeing the food preparation at The Pot Luck Club.

The menu and winelist are printed on a cream board, with The Pot Luck Club name and wild boar logo.  Chef Luke could not explain exactly how he and Sandalene had got to the logo, but it had evolved from a discussion of where they wanted to take the restaurant, and to give it a visual identity.  All dishes are served on square wooden boards or on the ceramic plates in the same cream and plum colours. There are no headings or sections on the menu, but small space differences allow one to identify ‘snacks’ to order whilst waiting for drinks (such as crispy curried celery leaves, steamed Edamame beans with miso and toasted garlic salt, shaved parsnips with Madagascan black pepper salt, and Chrisna olives, a whole garlic, with red pepper pesto and artisan bread, which we selected, disappointingly boring, yet the smoked olives had an exceptional taste. All of these cost between R20 – R30).   A salad section includes Claus’ Coconut Calamari Salad (the coconut taste was not evident, and it was served with lime, coriander, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, green beans and daikon), Ash’s Tuna Tartare, and Pot Luck Club Tartare, served in both Asian and classic style, each costing R60, as well as a mixed green and tomato salad at R25.  A third section did not appear to have anything in common, being mushrooms on toast (R55), blue cheese mousse with an apple and parsley salad and walnuts (R50), and an excellent rich and creamy foie gras ‘au torchon’ (prepared in a cloth bag in the traditional poached method, we were told), with brioche, sprinkled with grated walnuts and truffle, and served with a most delicious nectarine, grape and champagne chutney, at R120, the most expensive dish on the menu.

The fourth section contained the largest number of dishes, and could be seen to be the main courses, even though the prices were reasonable in ranging between R30 – R80.  My son had Ivor’s crispy duck spring roll, served with daikon and a hoisin dressing, unfortunately with a bone inside. The best dish we tried was the smoked Chalmar beef fillet which was served with a heavenly black pepper and truffle café au lait sauce (with port, brandy and cream).  Other options are steamed queen scallops, crispy pork belly with Luke’s XO dressing, fried prawns, Chinese style pork rib, and smoked and fried quail, served as per the menu description with no extras. Baby potato wedges with smoked paprika salt can be ordered, for R25.  A choice of two desserts is available: Wesley’s Tapioca served with passion fruit sorbet and toasted coconut (R45), and fresh summer berries served with fig leaf ice cream (R50), which we declined.

From the cocktail list we were invited to choose a complimentary drink in honour of my son’s birthday, and we both chose the Summer Berry Kir, with blackberries, raspberries and elderflower, to which Sauvignon Blanc had been added. The bar list has a wide range of liqueurs, beers (including four from &Union), and a good selection of reasonably priced wines, about five per variety.  Commendable is that about 25 wines are offered by the glass, out of a total of about 80 wines, a good selection at very reasonable prices.  Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV costs R950, while local MCC’s range from R40/R195 for Pongracz, to R450 for Pongracz Desiderius 2001.  Shiraz starts at R50/R230 for Kleinood Tamboerskloof 2007, with Luddite being the most expensive at R480. Adam Mason’s Kaboom! already was not available, but his Shazam! was offered as an alternative, a Shiraz Pinotage blend.

The website invites one to pop in at The Pot Luck Club after work for an early bite or a late dinner.  We booked yesterday morning, and while the restaurant was fully booked, Jeanine made a plan for us, showing that booking is advisable.  Eating at The Pot Luck Club is quicker (the dishes arrived rapidly), and far less expensive than at The Test Kitchen, meaning that one can have an affordable taste of Chef Luke’s craft.  On the website he motivates why he created a new restaurant, and did not just expand The Test Kitchen: “…I’m a chef and I like to cook and develop recipes and make new discoveries and The Pot Luck Club will offer both myself and the chefs working here exactly those opportunities”. The open plan nature of The Pot Luck Club places a huge responsibility on all the staff on show behind the counters, and one of the bar chaps eating crisps out of a packet while on service probably wasn’t appropriate.   The service from Manager Simon and Deputy Manager Marcus was attentive and friendly, and Chef Luke coming to chat at our table despite his restaurants being full and busy was a treat.  The Pot Luck Club menu will evolve, with new dishes already having been added in the past two weeks.  Whilst based on the principle of serving small dishes, The Pot Luck Club is far beyond a tapas restaurant.

The Pot Luck Club, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock.  Tel (021)  447-0804.   www.thepotluckclub.co.za Tuesday – Saturday dinners.

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

Restaurant Review: The Greenhouse is an oasis in The Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel!

I cannot remember when last I had been to the Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, it was so long ago, for a dinner at their Cape Malay restaurant, which was previously located in the manor house, where The Greenhouse is now.  I found The Greenhouse to be an oasis of freshness and modernity relative to the very dated and old-fashioned Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, a total contradiction.

The Greenhouse has been operating in the current building for a year or so, having previously been in the space now called The Conservatory restaurant. It appears that the venue change sparked the creativity of Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff, having moved there two years ago.  It was seeing photographs of his work on Twitter earlier this year, Chef Peter being awarded Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef status (one of only two in South Africa), and the restaurant winning number one Eat Out Top 10 restaurant in November that led me to book a table for my birthday dinner last week, with very high expectations. Disappointing therefore was that booking a table was a problem, as the restaurant phone appeared to be ringing non-stop post 20 November, and so the hotel switchboard person asked me to wait longer or to call back, with arrogance.  When I asked for GM Tony Romer-Lee, to see if he could assist with the booking, my booking was quickly made.  I only gave my first name and cell number, yet Tony had worked out who the booking was for, and wrote an e-mail a few days ahead of the booking, apologising for his absence from the hotel on the evening of our booking.  Despite this confirmation e-mail by Tony, an assistant called on the day of our dinner, to confirm the booking.  I was surprised to receive the call, and was called by my surname, not pronounced correctly, and with the wrong title, so I invited her to call me Chris, which she clearly found difficult to do.  She spoke a very high-level formal English, saying ‘we shall see you tonight’, and once again I felt a degree of arrogance in her exchange with me.  I was therefore very nervous about the actual dinner, given these two annoying interactions.

It is difficult to find the hotel, and we came from the Hout Bay side, knowing we had to turn off somewhere on the road leading to Kirstenbosch. The hotel does not offer to send directions.  None of its literature contains an address.  It is hard to see the signage when it gets dark, and there are a number of turns to take to find it.  The boom was closed and the very old security guard took his time to come to the car, seeming surprised about our arrival, and asking what we wanted!  He let us in immediately when we said we had come for dinner, but had no name list to check, and we did not have to complete any form, so one wonders why there is security.  We were not told by him where The Greenhouse is located, and we had to check the signage on the building.  There was no staff in the parking area to guide one, surprisingly not alerted by the security guard. Inside the building a faux fire warmed up two staff who showed us the way to The Greenhouse.  It was going to the bathroom later that alerted me to the contrast in modernity of the restaurant relative to the very old-fashioned English-style drapes and furnishings of the Hohenhort Manor House, forming part of the 53-room five star Relais & Chateaux The Cellars-Hohenhort hotel. Previously part of Klaasenbosch Farm, awarded to Hendrik Ten Damme by Simon van der Stel in 1693, the farm house was transformed by its owner Arnold Spilhaus into a manor house after buying the farm in 1906.  Liz McGrath bought The Cellars in 1991, and turned the country guest house into the Relais & Chateaux hotel twenty years ago.  Two years later she bought The Hohenhort Hotel, and united the two properties.  Although one does not see it at night, the property is endowed with different gardens, the Herb Garden benefiting the kitchens. Four varieties of table grapes are also grown.

The restaurant space is relatively small, only seating about 45, and divided into two with mirrored pillars. As one enters the restaurant there is a lounge section, but we did not see anyone use it at all, feeling like a wasted space.  An interesting decor touch is many ceramic rabbits on the windowsills, with the odd watering can, and small trees in pot plants, no doubt to create the greenhouse look, but the rabbits do not quite fit the theme. Walls are painted in a light grey inside the restaurant, with green fern wallpaper in the lounge, which pattern is replicated on the back of the comfortable grey upholstered chairs. The table has no salt or pepper, but there was a vase with a beautiful orange rose and greenery.  The Greenhouse clearly is in part an addition to the manor house, with a glass roof, which does not add value for dining at night, and must be a nightmare to keep clean.  It also adds heat to the restaurant during the day, and I had to ask for a window to be opened. The design of the addition has become the logo for the restaurant.  A lamp stands at each table, a little American touch. A thick tablecloth is covered with a white one, and the table is laid with Eetrite cutlery. Tables are very close together, meaning that the restaurant has a cosy atmosphere, but one can overhear everyone else’s conversations in one’s section. The Relais & Chateaux affiliation dominates the restaurant, in that the staff name badges have the logo and they wear a pin too, the home-made butter has the logo, as do coasters and the menus.

Waiter Lwazi (who was quick to correct the spelling of his name which he saw in my notes!) brought us a complimentary glass of Constantia Brut 2009, a nice touch.  I found him difficult to understand, and he had to repeat what he said a number of times.  He tried to explain the three menus to us, contained in a cover with the Relais & Chateaux logo and the following introduction: “A beautiful plate of food is eaten with the eyes first”. I chose the 7-course Chef’s Tasting Menu at R575 (with R275 for ‘complimenting’ wines), and my son the 4-course Summer Menu at R450.  One can also order a 6-course Sustainable Seafood Tasting Menu at R495 (with an additional R230 for ‘complimenting’ wines).  I did not see the rule, but it must have been in the menu, that one may not order two different menus at one table, but the rule  was waived on the understanding that my son would have to wait for his courses.  The staff wear a tie with ducks, The Cellars-Hohenhort tie design, which they wear with black pants and a grey waistcoat, creating a smart impression. Lwazi was efficient in taking our order, but became relaxed during the evening, stretching in front of me to lay cutlery on two occasions towards the end of the meal, even though there was more than enough space to do so from the other side. I asked for a jug of water for the table, but this was removed after the first glassful was poured.  Empty glasses at other tables were not replenished or removed. A delight was the Maitre’d Joshua Crowe, who shared interesting information about working at Reuben’s Franschhoek and at Beluga with me.  He is a young gentleman with a bright future, exuding professionalism.  He came to check on our table regularly, and seemed very at home in the restaurant, having only worked there for two months.  Canapés were brought to the table, consisting of sesame seed crusted prawn toast served with goat’s cheese lollipops on a stick, presented in a glass dish with wheatgrass, the most colourful dish of the evening, as well as chicken and mushroom ballantine, pear chutney, truffle mayonnaise, and an Asian dipping sauce.  A selection of breads (cheese rolls, lavosh, baguette, wheat, rye, and crostini) was served in a wooden bowl, with a nasturtium dip and edible soil in a terracotta flower pot, with carrots, pea shoots and mange tout, a further reinforcement of the greenhouse theme, and there it ended.

The Chef’s Tasting Menu started with pan-fried duck foie gras, melt in the mouth deliciousness, and the stand-out course for me, served with raspberry gel, onion marmalade, crispy Asian mushrooms and puy lentils.  My son was spoilt with an amuse bouche of crayfish custard and warm celeriac mousse and chives, which was served in an egg shell, a creative presentation, while I had the first course. The second course was Madagascan prawn roulade, served on a beautiful glass plate with cling peach, fermented black bean dressing (too salty for my taste), rice paper tuile, and ponzu snow, a Chef Richard Carstens-like study in liquid nitrogen!  I was not keen on the fynbos smoked ostrich tartar for the third course, and was allowed to choose a dish from the other two menus. The oven-roasted rare duck breast, and duck cherry jelly canneloni, was served with cherries poached in Pinot Noir, mash, savoy cabbage, and bergamot-lime jus (salty too).   The fourth course was petit poussin served with langoustine, a bacon crisp, sautéed gem lettuce, Vin de Constance gel, enoki mushrooms, and mint pea pureé.  The free-range Karoo lamb dish had the Sweet Breads excluded for me, and was served with wild mushroom agnolottio, brown beech mushrooms, pea shoots, broad beans, parmesan velouté, and a (salty) lamb juice.

By far the cleverest dish, and perhaps too clever for some, was the inverted Brûlée, served in the base of a glass filled with strawberry granité, Earl Grey espuma, with salt and green tea on the rim of the glass. One was not told to turn the glass around for the vanilla brûlée.  As if this was not enough to chew on already, the seventh course was a ‘camembert’ shaped cheese cake, served on a wooden board with roast pineapple ice cream, pine nut biscotti melba, parmesan, maple crumble, lemon marmalade, and extra virgin olive oil.  A final end to the evening was a cutely presented collection of friandise, including truffles, macaroons, and home-made nougat.

Chef Peter came to the table, a nice touch, and told us that he has a Canadian mother and an Afrikaans father, and he speaks with a Canadian accent. He is a gentle and more reserved person. He studied at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Cape Town, and started his career at the Grande Roche Hotel. He has also worked at Quo Vadis and Automat in London, and at Michelin-starred Hambleton Hall and Zafferano. It was at Grande Provence that he earned his first Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Award, leaving for the McGrath Collection a month after winning the accolade.  Chef Peter is proud of the garden on the property from which he can source his seasonal requirements, mainly being rhubarb and herbs.  He sources his duck and Karoo lamb from Wild Peacock.  He only has a staff of six, with trainees being a welcome addition, he said. He told us that he likes to travel overseas, to find food inspiration there.  He also is responsible for Sand at The Plettenberg, and for the two restaurants at The Marine Hotel, and admitted that he has not paid as much attention to them as they deserve, focusing on getting The Greenhouse into the top league, work which clearly has paid off. Chef Peter is justifiably proud of his two achievements, both career highlights for him.  One cannot help but feel that Chef Peter and The Greenhouse was short-changed by Eat Out, in winning Top Restaurant, but not Top Chef (the honour went to Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen) and not Top Service (the honour went to The Roundhouse).  More coverage of the Eat Out awards, in TASTE magazine as a start, also a New Media Publishing magazine, has gone to Chef Luke than to The Greenhouse.  The Eat Out awards signal that The Greenhouse may be the best restaurant in the country, but does not have the best chef nor the best service, a contradiction, and the first time that the Top Restaurant has not also received recognition for Service and its Chef.  Interesting is that Chef Luke came to dine at the restaurant a week after the Eat Out Awards, probably highlighting the competition between the two chefs.

I had ordered a glass of Groot Constantia Shiraz 2009 (R75), and it appeared fine on tasting it, but I had to return it when I tasted it after it had been poured. I chose The Yardstick instead, the only other red wine by the glass, a limited choice I felt.  The Pinot Noir is a joint venture between Chef Peter and ex-Klein Constantia winemaker Adam Mason, we were told, and is a four-star Platter 2010 vintage, at R55 per glass.

I left with a feeling of contradiction about The Greenhouse, a relatively modern space within a terribly old and old-fashioned hotel, that does nothing for the restaurant, that has arrogant hotel staff taking calls and the bookings (this is due to change, Joshua told me, in that he and another restaurant staff member will be the only one staff taking The Greenhouse bookings), that has a waiter who is near-arrogant too and not well-trained, that has typing errors in its menu, that has a terribly old-fashioned bathroom, that does not have an exceptional interior design, and that is only open five nights a week.  The food was excellent, except for the over-salted sauces, and the playfulness of the canapé and bread collection dishes lived up to the theme of The Greenhouse, but all other dishes could have been served at any other fine-dining restaurant.

The Greenhouse, The Cellars-Hohenhort, Constantia.  Tel (021) 794-2137.  www.collectionmcgrath.com www.petertempelhoff.com Twitter: @GreenhouseCT   @PeterTempelhoff  Tuesday – Saturday dinner.

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

Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards 2011 changes its menu!

I had heard from a chef a while ago that the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards will be changed this year, in that all the judges have been let go, and that new judging categories will be added for the annual evaluation. 

I received confirmation of the judging change directly from one of the judges, Anna Trapido telling me spontaneously that she had been “fired” from her one-year tenure as one of the four Eat Out judges.  Long-term judges Pete Goffe-Wood and Arnold Tanzer have been let go too, leaving Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly as the sole judge to choose the elite Top 10 chefs of the country.  The problem with this of course is that every restaurant worth its salt knows what she looks like, and will be expecting her visit if they expect to be on the Top 20 shortlist.  Every restaurant kitchen probably has her photograph, in anticipation of her visit! 

The Eat Out judging change announcement was made in the Eat Out newsletter last week, and there is no mention of the ex-judges, nor is their past contribution acknowledged.  Ms Donnelly writes: “It’s a very big responsibility, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.  Through the year, I make an effort to visit restaurants more than once, so to get the most balanced view possible.  It’s also of the utmost importance for me to get to know the chefs behind the food and find out what their philosophies are”, she wrote.  What exactly she means when she writes that “I won’t be judging for my peers.  I will be judging with knowledgeable foodies in mind.  The people who are actually dining out at Top 10 restaurants on a regular basis”  is unclear. This makes one worry – was Ms Donnelly judging to satisfy her fellow judges in the past, and what would have made their taste in and evaluation of restaurants different to that of the ‘foodies’ she writes about?   This begs the question as to the comparability of the Awards outcome in November this year, compared to that of all previous years.

A further uncertainty is exactly what Ms Donnelly means when she writes about a further judging change: “…the awards are going to be much more inclusive and will celebrate the best Asian, steakhouse, Italian, bistro and country-style restaurants.  The awards are no longer only about the celebration of fine-dining establishments.  It’s very important that the fabulous specialist eateries dotted around the country are given the recognition they deserve.”  It was not clear from the newsletter if the restaurant types mentioned by her will each attract awards for the best in each category, or if all of these styles will compete with fine-dining restaurants.  One would also have liked to see recognition for the best South African-style restaurant, for the Restaurant that is most environmentally responsible in its sourcing, handling and disposal of food, and for the Restaurant with the best Menu. 

In addition to announcing the Top 10 Restaurant list, as well as the Top Restaurant, Top Chef, and Top Service, the following categories will be added: Best New Restaurant of the Year, and Most Stylish Establishment in the Country.  This could cause some compromises, as we saw in the 2009 Awards, when Bizerca won in a newly created Bistro category that year, and fell off the Top 10 list.  It also would be easier for Nobu at the One&Only Cape Town, for example, to win Top Asian restaurant, when it should really be a contender in the more competitive Top 10 Restaurant award.

To gain clarification, we sent Ms Donnelly some questions, and her response time was impressive, especially as she was ill. 

Why the change in judging?

The time to include the voices of our audiences felt right. Everything we do is informed by our network of 30+ national food critics, as well as our (very vocal) online audience of over 70 000. They deliver consistent feedback about their dining experiences throughout the year. As such it is not only my experience that will inform the top 10 list, but also the voices of these Eat Out fans.  
Does it not signal a vote of no confidence in your ex fellow judges?
No. I have great respect for their knowledge and experience and would have no hesitation to work with any of them again.

Does it allow consistency with previous awards?
Absolutely. Consistency will always be key – it’s what our brand is about. Whether the judging is done by one person or ten people, it’s a subjective process. I am however judging restaurants according to criteria and a scorecard. 

Please can you explain how you will cater for the non fine-dining restaurants in the awards?  
Our new award categories are more inclusive – and allows for more non-fine dining restaurants to be recognized. Best steakhouse, Best bistro, Best Italian restaurant, Best Asian restaurant and Best country-style restaurant along with Best new restaurant will celebrate restaurants that will probably not be categorized as fine dining. These eateries make up the bulk of our database of restaurants, as well as the places most frequented by our consumers.

How will you choose your shortlist?
I will be looking at all the specific categories and then shortlist restaurants. Together with our reviewers and online users I will determine who is consistently shining. In the Asian category, I’ll consider places serving anything from sushi to Thai, from inner city to harbour edge. In the Italian category, family-run trattorias to ultra modern pizzerias. Steakhouses to be considered might focus on serving the best-aged or grass fed meat. The best bistro will be a restaurant that is doing something more than casual but just not too fine dining. The country style eatery will be tucked away, off the beaten track, where there is cooked with care and generosity. The best new restaurant will be awarded to a restaurant that has opened its doors in 2011. Thank you so much for taking the time and interest in this. Hoping to hear your voice come through in the top 10 too!

Ms Donnelly and her Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards will be closely watched, no doubt, as no restaurant likes change if it could disadvantage them.  However, it does sound as if the awards will be more inclusive than in the past, and the additional categories give a lot more restaurants a chance of winning recognition at the awards.  There will be many keen chefs holding thumbs that Ms Donnelly will grace their restaurant tables in the next few months!

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

South Africa’s Top Chef David Higgs to leave Rust en Vrede

Sad news since Saturday is that David Higgs, chef at Rust en Vrede and number one Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant, will be leaving the Stellenbosch wine farm restaurant mid-June.  He is heading for Johannesburg, but exact details are not yet available.  David will be replaced by John Shuttleworth.  Higgs is not the first chef to have resigned in his year of being named a Top 10 chef, following in the footsteps of Peter Tempelhoff and Jacques de Jager.  

We received the following media release from Rust en Vrede’s PR agent Emile Joubert:

STATEMENT FROM RUST EN VREDE ON RESIGNATION OF HEAD-CHEF DAVID HIGGS

David Higgs has resigned as head-chef of Rust en Vrede Restaurant to take up a business offer in Johannesburg.

Since starting the restaurant on Rust en Vrede Wine Estate in 2007 with proprietor Jean Engelbrecht, Higgs and his team have developed the restaurant into one of South Africa’s leading restaurants, garnering various accolades in the process. 

Higgs will be running the restaurant until the winter break commences on 18 June. John Shuttleworth, currently sous chef at Rust en Vrede, will replace Higgs as head-chef when the restaurant reopens on 19 July. 

“David will always be known as the chef who established one of the winelands’ finest restaurants as well giving the Rust en Vrede brand an added dimension of excellence,” says Engelbrecht. “I would like to thank him for his invaluable contribution and wish him well on his new career path where I am sure he will achieve the same degree of success he did at Rust en Vrede. 

“Together with David, I have decided to appoint John as the new head-chef as his experience will ensure that our innovative and original cuisine, commitment to service excellence and sourcing of the finest produce will continue to remain at the heart of the Rust en Vrede offering.” 

Higgs said his tenure at Rust en Vrede offered him the opportunity to realise his full potential as a restaurant chef. “As part of a fantastic team, I am proud to say that Rust en Vrede helped push winelands dining to a new level, and I have no doubt that Jean, John and the rest of the team will continue doing so,” he says.  

“Moving to Johannesburg from this environment is not an easy decision. However, the opportunity of being involved on a greater strategic business level within the food industry is one I feel compelled to pursue.”              

We wish David Higgs all the best of luck in his future endeavours, and know that we will see him on a future Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list again.

POSTSCRIPT 17/4: If what Rapport writes today about the reasons for the departure of David Higgs from Rust en Vrede is correct, then it is just a matter of time before the restaurant closes down after he leaves.  The report alleges that Jean Engelbrecht, who leases Rust en Vrede from his father Jannie, at an astronomical rental of R140000 per month, is in financial trouble, and is struggling to pay the rent, leading to cost cutting, which must be affecting the restaurant operation too.   Higgs must have seen that the writing is on the wall.  Jannie and Jean have had an acrimonious father-and-son-relationship, and Jean is accused of financial mismanagement since leasing the wine estate five years ago.  Higgs’ departure is seen to make the financial situation at Rust en Vrede even worse, as he and his restaurant have been an important part of the Rust en Vrede brand, especially when Higgs and his Rust en Vrede team won Top Chef, Top Restaurant and Top Service in the 2010 Eat Out Top Restaurant Awards in November.

Since the first Tweet by Wouter Lombard on 9 April, announcing Higgs’ departure from Rust en Vrede, we have tried to contact Higgs.  He had left for the day when I called that same evening, but I could get Sommelier Neil Grant on the line, and he denied the ‘rumour’ regarding Higgs’ departure.   On Thursday Lombard again Tweeted about Higgs’ departure.  I called the restaurant again, and was told that Higgs was not available, but managed to speak to Grant again, who confirmed the departure and apologised for not revealing the correct information on Saturday evening.   I was given Higgs’ cell number, and called twice, to reach him.  He asked if he could call back, as he was in a staff briefing.  He did not call, but sent the following sms instead: “A little crazy at the moment. Will release something more substantial soon. Thx for understanding”.   Higgs has always been a gentleman, and it would appear that he does not want to talk to anyone about the reasons for his departure, nor about his future plans.

POSTSCRIPT 20/4: We have received another e-mail from Emile Joubert, denying the previous Postscript written on the basis of a Rapport report:  “As mentioned, Rust en Vrede denies the sensationalist allegations in Rapport. We have stated this to the editor, Liza Albrecht, who has launched a “thorough investigation” into the various lies expressed in the article by her journalist Marlene Malan. See my comment on the Rapport article. This pretty much explains everything. I’ll keep you up to speed re further developments”.

POSTSCRIPT 16/5: In Rapport  yesterday the paper retracted its story referred to in the above Postscript, having seen evidence that Rust en Vrede does not belong to Jannie Engelbrecht, and therefore he cannot be leasing the farm to his son Jean Engelbrecht.  Further, David Higgs is quoted in the article as saying that he is leaving Rust en Vrede due to a new business opportunity, and that his departure has nothing to do with the relationship between Jannie and Jean Engelbrecht.

POSTSCRIPT 20/6:Chef David Higgs cooked his last meal at Rust en Vrede on Saturday evening.  The restaurant is closing for a month, and then the sous chef steps into David’s shoes.  David is said to be going to Radissons’s Hotel in Johannesburg, running the Food & Beverage side of the hotel.  It is also said that he is investigating launching a range of products bearing his name.

POSTSCRIPT 22/6:  In the Eat Out newsletter today, David Higgs confirms his move to Radisson’s Blu Gautrain Hotel, where he will be responsible for all the hotel’s food.  He is working on a redesign of the hotel’s unimaginatively named Central One Bar and All Day Restaurant, using Michelin 2-star chef Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier brand as his inspiration.

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

2010 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant, Top Chef, Top Service awards go to David Higgs and Rust en Vrede

In a hotly contested 2010 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards last night, Rust en Vrede and chef David Higgs won all three top categories of the Awards, in being named the number 1 restaurant in the country, Top Chef, as well as the restaurant offering Top Service.   Even before the Top 20 finalists were announced, we had predicted that Rust en Vrede would be named as the best restaurant in South Africa, for the excellent work of Higgs and his team.  

With four Eat Out Top 10 restaurants now in Stellenbosch (Rust en Vrede, Overture, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine and Terroir), there can no longer be a debate about Stellenbosch being the new Gourmet Capital of South Africa.   Cape Town, Paarl, and Franschhoek each have one restaurant in the Top 10 list.

But it was the other Top 10 winners on the list that caused some upsets, in that it appeared that being invited to cook for the Awards evening is no longer an indicator of instant inclusion on the Top 10 list (of the four chefs preparing the meal, only Higgs was in the Top 10 list).   Also having been on the Top 10 list last year was no guarantee of being on the list this year.   So, for example:

*   Number one restaurant for two years running, and 12th ranked restaurant in the world, La Colombe did not make the Top 10 list.  Luke Dale-Roberts, now consultant chef to La Colombe and owner of his new restaurant The Test Kitchen, suffered the same fate as George Jardine did last year, in falling off the list due to the new restaurant.   No doubt Dale-Roberts will be back on the Top 10 list next year.

 *   Number 2 restaurant in 2009, and Top Chef last year, and cooking at the dinner, Chantel Dartnall of Mosaic Restaurant in Pretoria, did not feature on the Top 10 list

*   Aubergine and Bosman’s are back on the Top 10 list, after an absence of many years for both restaurants

*   The Roundhouse made it to the Top 10 list last year, but fell off this year, and chef PJ Vadas also cooked.  Eric Bulpitt from Jardine also cooked for the gala dinner, but did not make the Top 10 list, despite the judges’ emphasis on foraging as an important source of ingredients, something Bulpitt does with his team on the slopes of Table Mountain.

The judges looked for passion (this was emphasised) in restaurants they evaluated, as well as ambiance, seafood sustainability in following the SASSI list for seafood, the pairing of wine and food, service levels, consistency of delivery, the plates used, the relationship with suppliers, serving real food, sincerity, and a new trend – foraging.  Ultimately, the test was whether the restaurant offered their patrons a memorable experience.

The Top 10 Restaurant List, as ranked by the Eat Out judges Abigail Donnelly, Pete Goffe-Wood, Arnold Tanzer and Anna Trapido, is as follows:

1.   Rust en Vrede, Chef David Higgs, Stellenbosch

2.  The Tasting Room, Le Quartier Francais, Chef Margot Janse, Franschhoek

3.   Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, Chef George Jardine, Stellenbosch

4.   Bosman’s ,Grand Roche, Chef Roland Gorgosilich, Paarl

5.   DW Eleven-13, Chef Marthinus Ferreira, Johannesburg

6.   Terroir, Chef Michael Broughton, Stellenbosch

7.   Aubergine, Chef Harald Bresselschmidt, Cape Town

8.   Roots, Chef Allistaire Lawrence, Johannesburg

9.   Overture, Chef Bertus Basson, Stellenbosch

10.  Hartford House, Chef Jackie Cameron, Mooi River

The remaining finalists on the Top 20 shortlist were the following:   The Greenhouse (Peter Tempelhoff), Jardine(Eric Bulpitt), La Colombe (Luke Dale-Roberts), Linger Longer (Walter Ulz), Mosaic Restaurant (Chantel Dartnall), The Restaurant at Waterkloof (Gregory Czarnecki), Restaurant Christophe(Christophe Dehosse), Reuben’s (Reuben Riffel), The Roundhouse (PJ Vadas), and Zachary’s (Geoffrey Murray).

A newly named Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award went to chef Walter Ulz of Linger Longer, a Top 20 finalist, and celebrating his 30 years of involvement with the restaurant, as well as the restaurant’s 50th anniversary on 1 April next year.   Margot Janse read a most moving tribute to Lannice Snyman, the first editor of Eat Out.

The Top 10 restaurant award list countdown only commenced after a four course dinner was served at the Westin Grand.  The hotel’s chef Grant served the canapes, enjoyed on arrival, and I loved the clever mini- “Magnums”, frozen cheese coated in chocolate and on a stick, looking like the ice cream brand in miniature form.   The starter was prepared by Chef PJ Vadas from The Roundhouse, and was a beautifully floral minimalist Buffalo Ridge ricotta served wrapped in pickled Magic Man beetroot and drizzled with Morgenster Olive Oil and balsamic vinegar.  It was paired with La Motte 2009 Chardonnay.

The first main course was prepared by Chantel Dartnall of Mosaic Restaurant, and was called “Land and Sea”, linking langoustine tails to pea purée and asparagus, served with a  langoustine foam, and paired with La Motte’s 2010 Pierneef Chardonnay.   David Higgs of Rust en Vrede prepared the second main course, pan roasted fillet of beef, a sweetbread and caper sausage, warm salad of tongue and cabbage, with a smoked raisin purée, paired with 2007 Rust en Vrede Bordeaux Blend.

Eric Bulpitt of Jardine served his “Pear in ember’ dessert on their trademark wooden boards, with pear jelly, smoked and dried pear ice cream, chocolate streussel, black sesame and walnuts, paired with Nuy White Muscadel.

Given that there are 8000 restaurants in South Africa, all restaurants having made Top 20 on the Eat Out shortlist are worthy of congratulation, said Abigail Donnelly, Eat Out editor.  More than 3000 restaurants are listed in the 2010 Eat Out Guide, which is available in outlets from today.

The 2010 Eat Out Top 10 Awards evening was most enjoyable – the lovely company of the Veritas team, led by Duimpie Bayly and his wife Sue, as well as of Bennie Howard, and Eat Out staff, including writer Annette Klinger, the granddaughter of our neighbours in Wellington from many moons ago, next to whom I was lucky enough to sit.   We were the last to leave, with the lovely Anel and Jan from Spit or Swallow blog.

I cannot wait for the 2011 Eat Out Awards, with the outstanding new restaurants that have opened recently, which will challenge the Top 10 winners of this year, particularly Pierneef à La Motte with Chris Erasmus, Babel at Babylonstoren with Simone Rossouw, the new Tokara with Richard Carstens, and The Test Kitchen with Luke Dale-Roberts.

POSTSCRIPT 15/4: It has been announced that David Higgs has resigned, and will leave Rust en Vrede in mid-June.

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

Restaurant review : Buitenverwachting is beyond expectation

I have not been to Buitenverwachting for so many years, that I cannot remember when last I had been there.  The wine estate has become over-shadowed by its neighbours in the Constantia valley, and seems to have become hidden as a Cape Town restaurant destination in the past few years.  By appointing Sandy Bailey as a PR consultant, this is about to change, and resulted in her extending an invitation to food and wine bloggers and to journalists (including the lovely Jos Baker, Angela Lloyd, John and Lynne Ford, Cathy Marston, Maggie Mostert and Hennie Coetzee) to join her and delightful soft-spoken winemaker Brad Paton and his wife Wendy to enjoy the newly launched Sunday lunch buffet last week.

Buitenverwachting was originally part of the Constantia wine farm, belonging to Simon van der Stel.   In 1773 it was sold to Cornelus Brink, who named it Nova Constantia, writes WINE magazine.  In 1794 Arend Brink bought the farm and called it Buitenverwachting (beyond expectation).   Buitenverwachting is now owned by German citizen Richard Müller, whose son Lars Maack has been running the estate locally for the past few years, and personally handles the international marketing of the wines, especially focused on Germany.  The drive to the wine estate makes one feel that one is leaving the busy city and escaping to the countryside, a beautiful tree-lined lane taking one to the estate, and then one has to drive slowly past vineyards and lawns with grazing sheep, to get to the restaurant. 

The chef is Austrian Edgar Osojnik, who came to Buitenverwachting from Grande Roche.   A six-month stint at Bosman’s culminated in a farewell party for Osojnik, and it was at this party that he met his future wife, and he decided to stay in South Africa.  In 2003 Osojnik was recognised as the Top Chef of the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards for Buitenverwachting.  Chef Edgar offers a fine dining menu for dinners, and a lighter Courtyard menu for lunches.  He is also offering a special Asparagus menu, which costs R260 for three courses, including a glass of wine, until the end of November.

On Sundays the buffet lunch is set up inside the restaurant, and was a most generous selection of starters, mains and desserts, with a cheese plate to follow, at R240 (half price for children under 12 years).   I do not recall seeing so many starter dishes for a buffet before, most unique and special, and not just a variation of salads which one experiences so often.  The presentation of the starters and desserts attracted attention.  For example, the sushi looked like little gift parcels, as Osojnik created square sushi slices with colourful ingredients such as avocado, rice, and salmon, with a black “tie”.

The starters included Vitello Tonnato, Vegetable-goats feta tian with rucola, Cauliflower-broccoli Royale with Dukkah Chicken Breast, Prawn espuma, smoked Norwegian salmon buttermilk terrine, Bobotie in a ramekin, Duck liver parfait set on caramelized apple, smoked fish, roasted asparagus with Parma-style ham, tomato-mozzarella, Melon with smoked Kudu, Potato salad, Roast Beef filled with French salad, and Caesar salad with white anchovies.  Mains are a traditional buffet, with a selection of leg of lamb, Chalmar rib-eye steak, veal breast, roast pork belly, linefish of the day and chicken curry.  Potatoes are served roasted and Dauphinoise, there is basmati rice, a choice of five vegetables, and five sauces are served with the main course. Desserts and cakes included Sacher Torte, Schwarzwälder Torte, Gugelhupf, Kardinal Schnitte, Chocolate Mousse, Yoghurt Crème Catalan, fruit salad with Marsala Zabaglione, Vanilla Pannacotta with fresh strawberries, as well as a cheese platter.

Brad has been the winemaker at Buitenverwachting for the past six years, and his colleague, cellarmaster Hermann Kirschbaum, has been at the wine estate for the past 18 years.  Brad worked at Chamonix in Franschhoek with Gottfried Mocke before studying winemaking at Geisenheim in Germany and worked there too, for a total of nine years, now speaking perfect German.  He is grateful for his German language skills, as they receive many German visitors at the estate.    One gets the feeling that not only is the wine estate steeped in tradition and history, but its staff are loyal, and that consistency in all respects is the success factor at Buitenverwachting.

Brad told me that the recession is hitting wine farms, and the newer small independent operators appear hardest hit, many not being able to pay for their bottles to get their wines sold.  He feels that prices of the newer wine estates are too high.  Sales to restaurants have been badly hit, he said, as BYO is seeing a growth due to excessive prices of wines in restaurants.   He also felt that Constantia restaurants should be more “Proudly-Constantia”, in stocking brands from the Constantia wine estates.  Buitenverwachting has recently appointed Meridian for its distribution.

I was surprised to hear how reasonable the Buitenverwachting wine prices are, with entry level Buiten Blanc costing R45, and the Merifort (a lovely smoky Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot) costing a mere R55.   The other stalwart wines in the Buitenverwachting range are Blanc de Noir, Chardonnay, Rhine Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Christine, and Merlot.  Brad and his colleagues are making “out of the box” wines too:

*   Intensity: 85 % Sauvignon Blanc and 15 % Semillon

*   Trinity: Riesling, a Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend

*   Rough Diamond: 60 % Petit Verdot and 40 % Malbec

Going back to Buitenverwachting after so many years was a reminder of the talent of Chef Edgar and his restaurant team, as well as of the quality of the estate’s wines.  I plan to return to try the Asparagus menu.   I am a new convert of the Buitenverwachting Merifort, even though I am a dedicated Shiraz drinker.

Buitenverwachting, Klein Constantia Road, Constantia, www.buitenverwachting.com. Tel (021) 794-3522.  Monday – Saturday lunch and dinner, Sunday Buffet lunch. Corkage R55.

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

Restaurant Review: Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town is a-maze-ing!

Let me admit at the outset that I was sceptical as we set off to our dinner on Saturday evening at the new Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, which opened last Wednesday.  I need not have been.  I was overwhelmed by how outstanding the food and service was, with fair prices for the food, but with generally more expensive dishes than those at Reuben’s in Franschhoek, and with very high prices for mostly exceptional wines.  Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town is a ‘grown-up’ and sophisticated Reuben’s, the best Reuben’s by far!

I have never written a review about Reuben’s Restaurant, despite it having been my favourite ever since I stumbled upon it in June 2004, when it first opened in Franschhoek.  Immediately I felt it was a restaurant for me, and it became my favourite, and we recommended it passionately to our Whale Cottage Franschhoek guests.  The initial service levels, which made Reuben’s the top of the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants as well as Reuben Riffel the Top Chef six months after opening, could not be maintained, and gradually the service levels dropped, starting with the telephonic bookings, down to rude service from the then-sommelier/manager.

A review of the new Reuben’s needs to trace back the history of its opening at the One&Only Cape Town.  It is well-known that Gordon Ramsay’s maze opened at the hotel in April 2009, and that the contract with the restaurant was abruptly cancelled by the hotel at the end of July.  Reuben Riffel was tipped to open in Ramsay’s place, but Reuben denied this to us and to the media.   Clare McKeon-McLoughlin of Spill Blog confidently predicted Reuben’s appointment, even though Reuben had not yet made a final decision nor signed the contract.  We were told that her disclosure caused mayhem in the hotel, as staff at the hotel did not know about the appointment, and that the then Hotel PRO Etienne de Villiers’ supposed “endorsement” of the apppointment in the Spill blog post was untruthful, and may have led to his recent departure from the hotel.   It would appear that an Irish maze staff member, who has since returned to London, was the mole, spilling the beans to Spill.   In less than a month after the announcement of Reuben’s appointment, the restaurant has opened its doors at the One&Only Cape Town, and is confidently trading.   In terms of this controversy, Reuben says he prefers to stay out of it and remain in the kitchen!

When I made the booking on the morning of our dinner, the restaurant answered as “Restaurant at One&Only”, the interim name that the restaurant had before Reuben’s opened.   We were allowed to park in the basement of the hotel, and there is no charge.  When we walked into the restaurant, we could not help but feel that we were in maze.  I was looking for the Brasserie that Reuben had been quoted to be opening at the One&Only Cape Town, but we could not see it.  The same horrid carpet and massive orange lampshades are still there.   The furniture has not changed, although the table tops have been varnished and the Reuben’s name engraved into them.  Other than branding on the chic black and burgundy staff aprons, on the lift list, and on the menu, there is no Reuben’s branding outside or inside the restaurant.  Surprisingly, the orange/brown colouring of the maze interior matches Reuben’s rust brown colour scheme almost perfectly.   We were critical of the maze interior when we went there soon after its opening last year.  Reuben says that the interior will be amended in three stages, with the tables completed, and bistro boards with specials going up shortly.   The interior decorator that Reuben’s has used in Franschhoek and Robertson will be coming this week to see how she can soften the harsh hotel interior.

The maze and Reuben’s marriage will take some time to gel to the benefit of the new restaurant.   From maze the restaurant has inherited the decor, all the waitrons (there was no shortage of staff on the floor), managers and also kitchen staff, the outstanding sommelier Andre Bekker and his Diamond award-wining Diner’s Club Restaurant Winelist, a wine library of over 700 wines, the choice of three breads baked by the kitchen, and the waitron service standards that have been set in the past, being much higher than those of Reuben’s in Franschhoek.   From Reuben’s comes the menu, the little coarse salt pots on the tables, a far more informal style of dress (the ties of the managers have come off), a more relaxed interaction with customers, something that was not encouraged at maze, as well as new serving dishes and some cutlery.  The One&Only staff were trained by Reuben’s wife Maryke about their service standard, the menu and the food.  The staff have tasted the dishes, and are still doing so as Reuben fine-tunes the menu for the official 1 October start.   The winelist and the menu are miles apart, and need to find each other, the former being very expensive and also out of character with the Brasserie feel which Reuben’s wants to create, and with the winelists in Franschhoek and in Robertson.

The exact relationship between Reuben Riffel and the One&Only Cape Town is unclear, but the hotel employs and pays the Reuben’s kitchen and waitron staff.   The brief was for Reuben to get the best kitchen staff possible.  This reduces the risk for Reuben, and means that he is compensated for his brand name and for his time through a share of the turnover.   Having a room at the hotel is a fringe benefit the Reuben’s Franschhoek staff are enjoying when they come through to town.  The arrangement with the hotel has allowed Reuben to appoint Camil Haas, previous owner of Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek and Green Point and of Camil’s in Green Point, to substitute for him at the One&Only Cape Town and in Franschhoek from October, giving each of these two Reuben’s a heavyweight chef every day.   In addition, Maritz Jacobs, previously of Le Quartier Français and 15 on Orange hotel, is the new Head Chef at the One&Only Cape Town, meeting Reuben’s requirement for a young and energetic chef.  The Pastry Chef is René Smit.  Reuben is called the Concept Chef on the menu, as he is on the Reuben’s menus in Franschhoek and in Robertson.  Samantha Housden from Tank will be joining as the Restaurant Manager on 1 October.  Reuben recently bought out his Boekenhoutskloof partners Tim Rands and Marc Kent, who helped him set up the business six years ago.  He says this gives him new flexibility to make decisions more quickly, and to steer his business where he wants it to go.

The menu is A3 in size, and has the same format as that in Franschhoek and Robertson.  It is neatly divided into a Starters, Main Courses and Desserts section, as well as a mini Vegetarian menu of Starters and Main Courses, a Fish and Seafood section, as well as Side Orders.   In future it will also carry the names of the special suppliers of fine organic produce that Reuben’s will be sourcing.   The menu content in terms of dishes offered is vastly different at the new Reuben’s, compared to the Franschhoek branch.  The menu is being fine-tuned in the next 10 days before the official opening, and has already seen changes in the first four days of its operation.

A small bowl of olives was brought to the table, as was three types of bread: a baguette, tomato bread and black olive bread.   Butter was on the table, as was a bottle of Willowcreek olive oil.  I ordered Asparagus with a hollandaise and orange reduction (R60) as a starter from the Vegetarian section, which was topped with the most wonderful micro-herbs, being miniature coriander, basil and rocket, and adding the most wonderful taste to this dish, beautifully presented on a glass dish.   Other starters are oysters at R25 each, pickled veal tongue (R60), chilli salted baby squid and shredded duck salad at R70 each, salmon tartar and cured venison at R75 each, mussels (R80), and a white asparagus and langoustine salad (R110).

My main course was the most wonderful kingklip (R140) – a good portion of firm fish, served with the unusual combination of avocado, on a bed of mash (I chose it to be plain, but the menu specified it to be tumeric mash), and with crunchy Chinese cabbage, a mint salsa and coconut cream.   The same micro-herbs served as garnish for the dish, and again added a unique taste to round off the dish, the best kingklip I have ever eaten.  My only criticism was that a serrated knife instead of a fish knife was served.  My colleague had Karoo lamb curry (R135), served in a bowl, with sambals (yoghurt and pineapple, and chopped tomato and cucumber) and basmati rice in a tiny iron pot, presented on a separate dish.    She loved the genuine Cape Malay taste of it, and picked up garlic and ginger notes, as well as jeera, cardamom and barishap spices in her lamb stew, with dhania leaves on top.  She called it “hemelse kos”, it tasted so good!   Other Main Course options are lamb rack (R175); ostrich fillet, 180 g beef fillet and a 450 g rib-eye steak at R 170 each; quail saltimbocca (R130); 240g sirloin and pork belly at R125 each; veal tripe (R120); and Reuben’s faithful wonderful calf’s liver at R115.  Other Fish options were yellowtail (R110) and Tandoori spiced prawns (R170).   Side orders cost R 35, but all main courses come with a starch and a vegetable.

For dessert my colleague had Muskadel crème with poached hanepoot grapes, ginger crumble and raspberry ice cream, in a glass bowl and served on a slate plate.  Slate is used extensively at Jordan’s Restaurant with George Jardine, and to a lesser extent at Jardine’s.  My dessert was a fascinating Lemon and olive oil custard, to which was added cocoa crumble, a half-round thin slice of chocolate as well as Swiss chocolate mousse, finished off with edible gold paper which I thought the kitchen had forgotten to take off!   Desserts cost R65, expensive I felt, but the portions were generous.  Other desserts are a seasonal fruit compote, Amarula scented malva pudding, Tequila sundae, and a bitter chocolate fondant, the latter costing R80.  I felt, on the basis of two desserts, that the desserts needed more work.  My cappuccino did not arrive at the same time as the dessert, as requested, and was not very foamy.  It was immediately replaced with one in a bigger cup size, and was very foamy.  Petit fours were brought to the table after the dessert plates were cleared, also on a slate plate.

The sommelier Andre has been at the hotel almost since it opened, and he says that the winelist has not changed much from its impressive start.   They have added wines bought at the Nederburg and CWG auctions, as well as garagiste and boutique winery brands.   Some international wine prices have been reduced over time, and some local wine prices have increased.   The 37-page winelist will be changed, the lengthy introduction to the South African wine industry to be removed.  I disliked the division of the wines by region, and then by varietal on the maze winelist, but this will not change.  It means that if one likes drinking a Shiraz, for example, one has to check through every region’s Shirazes to check which one to order.  It could take one  a whole evening to wade through the many wines on offer, including 50 wines-by-the-glass, 32 champagnes, and 18 MCC sparkling wines, as well as wines imported from France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, the USA, and Australia.   I did not like the file/folder look of the winelist, and do not remember it looking like this at maze.   Its practicality in updating vintages and prices is an obvious advantage.  The yellowish cover of the wine list does not match the Reuben’s colour scheme.   Wines-by-the-glass can be served in 50ml, 150ml and 250 ml quantities, making the expensive wines a little more affordable by reducing the quantity one drinks!  Wine flights in three’s are also available, by region or by varietal.   I chose a glass of 2006 Glen Carlou Shiraz, which cost R 72 for a 150ml glassful – 50ml cost R24, and 250ml R120.   The 2005 Luddite Shiraz prices were R37/R112/R187 per glass.  The 2007 Brampton cost R9/R28/R47.  Migliarina Shiraz 2006 cost R17/R52/R87.  A glass of 150ml of bubbly cost R260 for Ayala ‘Rose’ Majeur, R200 for Billecart Salmon Brut, R98 for Graham Beck Rosé, R49 for Graham Beck Brut, and R44 for Villiera.   It is clear that the wine prices are exceptionally high.  Andre spoilt me with a complimentary glass of dessert wine.

We felt privileged that Reuben came out of the kitchen to sit and chat with us.  He intends to come out of the kitchen a lot more in future, and having chefs working for him will allow him to do this.  Starters will be prepared behind the counters inside the restaurant in future, to allow diners to connect with the food preparation and the kitchen staff too.   Reuben is working on creating synergy in the menus for his three Reuben’s, yet having unique items on each menu that reflect what customers like in each area.  At the One&Only Cape Town the calf’s liver is extremely popular, he says, as is his Veal tripe (‘Pens en Pootjies’).   We were struck by Reuben’s humility and quiet confidence that he has made the right decision by opening his latest Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town.  He recognises that service levels can improve in Franschhoek, and he sees a benefit of exchanging his staff between the two locations, so that the One&Only Cape Town service standards can become those of the Franschhoek staff too.    There will be no launch function, Reuben preferring to quietly open and delivering on the expectations of a more demanding Cape Town as well as international clientele.   Reuben’s staff also prepare the hotel breakfasts.

We will recommend Reuben’s at the One&Only to our Whale Cottage Camps Bay guests with confidence, and we will return.

Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, One&Only Cape Town, V&A Waterfront.  Tel (021) 431-5888. www.reubens.co.za (The new restaurant is not yet listed on the Reuben’s website, nor on the One&Only Cape Town website).  Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday – Sunday.

POSTSCRIPT 20/9: Samantha Housden’s restaurant experience includes launching London’s Level 7 Café at the Tate Modern Gallery and managing the Eyre Brother’s restaurant owned by the godfather of gastro-pub cuisine David Eyre.  She started Cilantro in Hout Bay, having been its chef too.  She has left Tank to join Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town.

POSTSCRIPT 25/9: We returned for dinner a week later, and met the new Restaurant Manager Samantha Housden for the first time.   She came to check on our table regularly, as did Marcus, an interim manager.  Due to a strong attempt to upsell us by a waiter, we asked for waiter Victor, who had served us the previous week, and his service was as good as ever.   The recognition by the staff from our visit a week ago was impressive – from the hostess as we arrived (I had used my son’s name for the booking this time), to the sommelier Andre and the waiter Victor remembering specific requests and likes from a week ago – in line with Reuben’s Franschhoek.   Disappointingly the food was not as good as it was a week ago – the kingklip was undercooked and did not have the lovely microherbs (but a generous portion was brought to the table when I asked about them) and the sirloin had lots of sinews.   Reuben was in the kitchen, and spontaneously came to say hello.  I was delighted to hear that sommelier Andre has heeded our feedback, and will revise the winelist, to arrange it by varietals, and to mention the regions, which will make wine selection much easier in future. 

POSTSCRIPT 14/1:   I arrived in good spirits, and was shocked at the disappointing food quality and service.   Although the telephonist tried to put through my call three times, so that I could check if I could still get a table at 22h00, no one in the restaurant answered the phone.  I decided to arrive anyway.   I was warmly received by the hostess, and discovered immediately that Manager Samantha Housden is no longer at Reuben’s.  The evening shifts were getting to her, I was told.  Kagiso Mmebe is the new Manager, and started three weeks ago, having been a lecturer in Restaurant Practice at the University of Johannesburg.  A sweet waitress Unite took my order efficiently, and that is where her service support ended.  She brought butter and olives, but never came with the bread.  I had to ask a manager for it.  It was explained to me that Unite is a runner, being trained up to be a waitress, but she wears the same colour shirt as do the waiters, so one cannot identify her lesser skills.  She is meant to work under the guidance of a waiter, but this did not happen.   I ordered the baby chicken main course (R135), which was not cooked properly, even after sending it back once.   My choice of carrots with vanilla and honey as the side-dish was an excellent one.   The wild mushroom sauce tasted strongly of an Oxo stock cube, with not a piece of mushroom to be seen.  The sauce was taken away, and mushrooms added.  I had to ask for a finger bowl.  The wine steward Tinashe Nyamudoka was wonderful, just taking my wine order and pouring the Glen Carlou Shiraz 2004 at the table, as requested.   The frozen espresso cake with a berry coulis and an odd-looking meringue was excellent (R65).   Assistant Manager Marcus Isaacs kindly took the chicken off the bill.  It was disconcerting to hear from the staff that Reuben Riffel has barely been seen at the restaurant in the past two weeks, although Marcus disagreed.   Camil Haas is not at Reuben’s One&Only at all anymore.  There is no sign of any further decor changes, after the curtains were opened.  The new summer menu, launched last week, has very understated Reuben’s branding, and does not look like a Reuben’s menu anymore, and there is no listing of the names of the chefs on it anymore – not even Reuben’s name is mentioned!  Chef Aviv Liebenberg from Reuben’s Franschhoek (and previously Robertson) has been moved to Cape Town, working with Chef Maritz.   I could not help but be concerned as to where Reuben’s in the One&Only Cape Town is heading – it certainly is no longer a-maze-ing!

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