Tag Archives: TV

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 12 December

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   A TripAdvisor TripBarometer survey has found that hotel guests expect free wifi, free parking, and free breakfast.  Items which guests are most likely to take home with them are toiletries, tea and coffee, towels, clothes hangers, and TV remote batteries. Guests are interested in learning more about the culture of the inhabitants of the town in which they are visiting, in visiting a unique icon of the town, trying new food but also wanting to eat food from their home country, as well as watching TV and movies in their home language.

*   London hotels have received the lowest ratings of hotels in 30 European destinations on the measure of recommending a hotel to others, according to a survey in the last 24 months on bookings made via Expedia, scoring even more poorly than Paris and Nice. Berlin tops the recommendation rating.

*   Grande Provence in Franschhoek is celebrating its 2014 harvest with a Harvest Festival on 22 February, starting the day with coffee and muffins, followed by a talk by the vine grower, winetasting, and then a country feast.  Cost is R450. (received via e-mail from Grande Provence)

*   It is sad to see how the death of Mr Mandela is being used by his daughter  Dr Maki Mandela and his granddaughter Tukwini Mandela to market their House of Mandela wines, saying that his legacy lives on through their wines! Continue reading →

Hotel Review: Taj Cape Town dinner good, but staff service not 5-star!

I often stay in five-star accommodation, to see what we can learn from it.  When a special offer was made to members of Gastronauts, attending a dinner at The Taj Cape Town last week, I grabbed the opportunity to experience this hotel, and made a booking.   I had booked the hotel room to share with my colleague, to allow her to experience the advertised 5-star service, but a last-minute guest arrival prevented her from joining me.  I was relieved in hindsight that she could not join me, because I would not want the service I experienced at The Taj to be her benchmark for service quality.  I was so frustrated by the poor staff service that I experienced that I checked out of this The Leading Hotels of the World member hotel just after midnight.

It started when I knew that my colleague could not join me, so I called the hotel at 16h00 on the day of my stay, to ask for the room to be changed from a twin-bed one to one with a king bed.  I asked for the Reservations Manager who had handled my booking, and the call went through to his answering machine. I did not receive a call back, and called again an hour later, to be told that he wasn’t feeling well, and that he had been sent home.  Clearly no one was listening to his messages. 

When I arrived, I parked at Mandela Rhodes Place (free parking here is included in the package, as the hotel does not have its own parking), and I had to carry my overnight bag, my computer bag, and my dress bag from the parking garage to the hotel.  A Taj doorman saw me coming along, and quickly opened the door, and welcomed me back (odd, as I had just arrived!), but made no effort to help me with my bags.   There was only one receptionist on duty, and she was assisting a security officer linked to a VIP room.  There was no acknowledgement of my presence until she had finished with the other person.  She then asked me mechanically “How can we be of assistance?”.  It was quite obvious that I was checking in, given the luggage that I had with me, but this seemed to be a surprise to her.   I was then told that I had to sign the ‘Legal document’ – this is when my hair started to stand on end.  She asked if I wanted to go to the lobby for the check-in.  As if I was a tourist, I was asked for my passport, not a document I normally walk around with in my home city of Cape Town!   I was offered a non-alcoholic drink in a tiny glass, but requested a glass of water, lemon and ice from Andrea, when she asked me what I wanted to drink.   I was served a glass of lukewarm tap water without ice and lemon.  When I fed this back to Andrea, she seemed quite relaxed about it, without apology, and the water was replaced with what I had ordered.  

The ‘Legal document’ I signed had no details about my stay, other than my name, the rate, and the date of stay.   However it had eleven Terms and Conditions, in very small print, that I was asked to sign.  Being very cautious of such ‘legal documents’, especially as she used this term, I studied the document in detail.  Some of these terms are rather scary.  For example, it states that the rate on the ‘registration card’ is exclusive of taxes and is ‘for room only’.  It was confirmed to me that the rate included Breakfast, but this is not stated in the terms and conditions, and I had to write this into the ‘legal document’.   The hotel has the right to take a ‘lien’ on guest luggage and belongings if one does not pay what is due, and these can then be sold or auctioned off.   No responsibility at all is taken for theft or other loss.   The clause that caught my eye was the following: “The Management reserves to itself the absolute right of admission to any person in the hotel premises and to request any guest to vacate his or hers (sic) room at any moment without previous notice and without assigning any reason whatsoever and the guest shall be bound to vacate when requested to do so” – not the best way to inspire confidence and trust in the hotel and its operation on arrival.   A clause relates to ‘tenancy’ and ‘sub-tenancy’  and is not understandable at all, it is so full of legalese!   Very nervously I signed the ‘Legal document’; and asked for a photocopy, to record which rights I had signed away!

I was then chased along to go to the room.   Again I had to carry all my own luggage to the room!  I had to laugh when the staff member asked if she could book a table for dinner for me, but I had booked specifically due to the Gastronauts dinner at the hotel, which Andrea said was not reflected on my booking!  She kept calling me by my surname, which is a 5-star hotel habit, but it is so formal.  I asked her to call me “Chris”, but she clearly felt uncomfortable doing so.  It reflected what the problem is in this hotel – a lack of communication between staff members and departments.  Andrea asked me if I would be using the internet, a rather silly question, as I was clearly lugging my laptop with me.    Proactively she offered to expand my internet allocation to a 24 hour one, instead of the half an hour free service guests are entitled to, the only good service I received outside of the Mint restaurant at the Taj Hotel.   I do question the half an hour allocation – surely internet connection is an entry level service accommodation establishments should offer these days, especially at 5-star level.  The cost of the 24 hour service is a preposterous R230.   Andrea called for an ice bucket so that I could add ice to my bottle of water, which was at the bed.  It arrived without ice tongs, and I had to take the ice with my fingers.   Andrea asked me if I would need to know anything else, having switched on the TV, showing a promotional Taj programme.   She did not explain how to find the TV channels or how to use the phone, all of which became an issue later on.  Luckily I referred to the room directory, and I was guided to find it in the drawer of the desk – I would never have thought of looking for it there.  I found a welcome letter in my room, signed with ‘warmest regards’ from the Assistant Front Office Manager, and I was asked to note the ‘key facilities’ of the hotel, so that I could enjoy a ‘memorable stay’!  The room card holder gushes on this theme too: “Our team is committed to making your stay not only comfortable but also memorable in every way” – I am sure the experience I had is not the ‘memorability’ that the hotel had in mind!

The room has a beautiful view onto Table Mountain, especially on the 8th floor level.   It has a comfortable desk, with the clever placement of plug points above the desk, and not below it.  A table had a welcome bottle of Doolhof wine, some fruit, chocolates and a plate with pannacotta on it.  The bathroom is well-appointed, with bath and shower, and Molton Brown  bathroom amenities.  It is not the most luxurious hotel room that I have stayed in, but it appeared comfortable and spacious.

Prior to the Gastronauts dinner we had sparkling wine in the lobby, being a glass of Môreson Solitaire MCC NV (Veritas Gold).   The hotel would have known how many persons were booked for the dinner, but the sparkling wine had run out when I arrived, the waiter told us.   It took some time before he found some more of it.  We were served canapés, being gruyere profiteroles and white asparagus jelly.  We were ushered into Mint restaurant, and I was told at which table I was to sit.  I chose a place in the middle of the table, and was then forced to move from this seat, as the chair was booked by another member, I was told.  There were no name cards on the table, and I was most determinedly moved by the Beverages Manager.   In the end it turned out to be a blessing, sitting with Angelo and Tina Casu from Grand Dedale, Samarie Smith from Die Burger and her partner Paul Swanepoel, with Takuan von Arnim and his wife Christiane of Haute Cabriere, and Michael Pownall, GM of the Taj Hotel.   Michael came to South Africa for the opening of the Cape Sun in 1994, then opened La Vendôme Hotel in Sea Point, moved to the Mount Nelson Hotel, and then spent some time in America for Orient Express, the owners of the Mount Nelson, amongst others. Michael and Angelo worked together at the Cape Sun and at the Mount Nelson.  In 2008 Michael returned to open the Taj Cape Town, a challenge as he was involved in the renovations, which incorporated the old Board of Executors and the South African Reserve Bank buildings.

The set menu, without choices, was printed on hand-made paper with an orange and gold-embossed backing, and rolled up with a ribbon, looking elegant and unusual.   Three sets of cutlery were laid out per guest.  Willowcreek olive oil and balsamic vinegar were on the table, as was a basket of delicious mixed rolls.  The Gastronauts dinner and wine pairing was good, and the service excellent.   The dinner had been specifically paired with 2010 Gold and Double Gold Veritas award-winning wines, Bennie Howard, the Gastronauts’ chairman and Veritas Awards’ Deputy Chairman, and the Taj head chef Sayam Longani pairing the food courses and the wines.  The starter was a duck and goose liver terrine which was served with an interesting grape compote, and thinly sliced toast, and was paired with De Wetshof Finesse Chardonnay 2009 (Veritas Gold).  Bennie told us that De Wetshof makes eight excellent Chardonnays, and that the Finesse goes well with food, being rich and elegant.  I did not enjoy the sage-baked kabeljou, finding it dry and rather boring, but it was paired with a heavenly Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2010 (Veritas Double Gold), a delicious fruity wine.  For the pairing of the softest deconstructed Karan Beef Wellington, served with the cutest porcini mushroom pie, we were offered two wine choices – Bilton Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Veritas Gold) and the Lamond Cape Agulhus Syrah 2008 (Veritas Double Gold), and for many the Bilton was the preferred wine.   Dessert was an unexciting dark chocolate parfait with orange jelly, and one had the choice of pairing it with a yummy Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest 2009 (Veritas Double Gold), or a Van Rhyn’s 12 year brandy (Veritas Double Gold).   Friandises were served with a choice of coffees, to round off a lovely evening.

After dinner I wanted another cappuccino, and I asked a staff member of the hotel when the Twankey Bar closes.  She told me at about midnight or 12.30 am.  I went to pop in at Brio first to have a coffee there, and then went to Twankey.   It was 23h20.   There were other guests in the bar.   When I asked for a cappuccino, I was told that the bar was closed, as they had cashed up already, despite the other guests still being there.  I asked the waiter if he could add the coffee to the room bill, to which he answered in the affirmative, but no coffee ever arrived.  He was very keen for me to use the hotel bar, which I did not see nor was I shown – I thought it was the Twankey!  When I returned into the hotel, I was welcomed back once again by the doorman, clearly a standard line.

On my return to the room at about 11.30 pm the turn-down had been done, and a letter of departure (I had not used the room for more than an hour at that time) was already waiting for me, thanking me for my choice of hotel, trusting that I “had a memorable time”, and wishing me “a safe journey onwards”.   It also requested that I complete a Guest Feedback Survey, and stated that “all at Taj Cape Town look forward to welcoming you back to our special hotel in the very near future”.   The survey has some oddities – it refers to “associates anticipating and meeting your personal preferences” and the “ability of our associates to ensure no disturbances occur…”, meaning that the staff must be referred to as ‘associates’, a first in the hospitality industry, to my knowledge.

Needing to do some work, and always working with the television on, I tried to find channel 23, which the TV list said was Deutsche Welle.   I wanted to pick up on the latest news about the resignation of the German Defence Minister.  I could not get the remote to change anything on the TV, and had to work out how to use the phone to call for help.  I could not be advised about the TV channels on the phone, and was told that someone would call me back.  A knock on the door presented the duty manager and her colleague.  She arrogantly told me that the use of the remote to find the TV channels was self-explanatory!   However, it was not that clear to her either, as she struggled for about ten minutes to get to channel 23 !  However, channel 23 was set on ProSieben (an irritating common channel) and not on Deutsche Welle.  I was told that they could not send an IT person to my room to fix the problem immediately, and would only be able to do so the next morning, when I was due to check out!   I explained to the Duty Manager that they just needed to change the programme selection within the German bouquet.   I heard nothing further, and had to call again.  I was promised a call back, which did come some time later, but I could not work out how to answer the room phone.  I then called the Front Desk.  Here a new person answered the phone, telling me that his colleagues had left for the day, and that I would have to wait for IT for the next day to fix the “Dutch TV” problem!!!   Once again a communication problem between staff was evident.  By now I had quite enough, and decided that I could only escape this service nightmare by checking out and going home.   Michael Pownall was standing at Reception when I left, and asked what was wrong.  I promised him a report.  Kindly he sent a staff member to accompany me to the Mandela Rhodes Place parking garage, and once again I carried all my belongings myself.  So I did not get to try out The Taj Cape Town bed, the bathroom, the pool, or the breakfast, but I was far happier once I had left for home.

The Taj Hotel has a nice GM, and good staff at Mint Restaurant, but the Reception staff have a ‘falseness’ about them, being like ‘tape recorders’, saying the same thing over and over again to each guest without the ability to vary their standard message, and do not have complete information about the hotel (e.g. the Twankey Bar closing time), or about their guests.   The staff arrogance is a shame, as The Taj Cape Town is so beautiful, and could be welcoming to Capetonians too.   I did not experience five-star service at The Taj Cape Town, and certainly did not have a ‘memorable stay’!

Taj Cape Town, Wale Street, Cape Town.   Tel (021) 819-2000.  www.tajhotels.com 

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

Review: Grand Dédale Country House is grand and relaxing!

For a mid-season break, I chose to spend a weekend at Grand Dédale Country House, on the Doolhof wine estate on the Bovlei Road in Wellington, about ten days ago.  I could not have chosen a more relaxing and grander place than this 5-star hotel and its excellent restaurant, which is on the Wellington Wine Route. 

Doolhof is part of a farm that was awarded to the first owner in 1709, and means ‘labyrinth’ in Afrikaans.  It probably was given this name because it was at the end of a cul de sac.  The current owners Dorothy and Dennis Kerrison bought the farm from the neighbouring Retief family.   The homestead was renovated by Mrs Kerrison, who is an interior designer in the United Kingdom, and her initial R7 million budget had doubled at the end of the project.   Money does not appear to be an object in the tasteful design of the very spacious rooms, and almost every detail has been thought of.   Angelo and Tina Casu rent the 6-bedroom homestead and cottage from the owners, having signed an eight year lease, and have called their establishment Grand Dédale, which means ‘large labyrinth’ in French.  The Casus have managed Grand Dédale for the past 17 months, and previously were with the Winchester Mansions in Sea Point and Palmiet Valley in Paarl. 

The house is an old Cape Dutch house, with new additions cleverly married into the Cape Dutch origin of the house.  Some aspects, notably the staircase to the upstairs loft rooms, are extremely modern. The high gloss marble tiles in the public rooms on the ground level have been criticised by some as not being suitable for a Cape Dutch house, but I felt that they looked perfectly clean and chic.  The star attraction for me was the 15 meter salt water pool.  Parking is away from the homestead, at the winery, a benefit in not seeing any cars, but a disadvantage in not being able to keep an eye on one’s vehicle.   The bedroom I stayed in had three sections, a very spacious bedroom, although a slanting ceiling does create space limitations too, with a more than king size bed, and excellent quality linen.   A second section has a basin, the safe and the hanging space.  The bathroom is in the third section, has a bath with shower over it, and a collection of Charlotte Rhys products.  The high gloss tiles are a bit scary to walk on with wet feet, but a very generously sized bathmat is made available.  Airconditioning is a great advantage to cool things down in the renowned Wellington heat.   There are more than enough towels provided, hung on two heated towel rails.  Towels are refreshed continuously.   A fruit platter is in the room, and there is a turn-down treat every night (tasted like fudge).  An iPod player is next to the bed, and one can request iPods to listen to.  

From the terrace and pool area one looks onto the side of Groenberg, and below is the most lucious looking field, on which cows graze.  Angelo laughed when he told me that they are the eco-friendly “lawnmowers” at Doolhof.  A paddock with ex-racehorses is adjacent to the field.

The Room Directory is one of the most comprehensive and best presented that I have seen, bound in a neat brown leather cover, and detailing information about the wine estate (380 ha, Kromme River runs through it, located between Groenberg, Limietberg and Sneeukop), suggestions for day trips, a description of the public areas in the house, the location of the TV lounge in the upstairs loft (there is no TV in the bedrooms, strange for 5-star), and the location of the Spa Room (which I had read about, but was not proactively informed about), the Breakfast serving time, that light lunch and snacks are available, that a complimentary high tea is served in the afternoons (a combination of cake, fresh fruit and a savoury item), and the invitation to enjoy canapes and a glass of Pierre Jourdan sparkling wine before dinner with the other guests (quite colonial in its nature, but a good way to meet the other guests, as one is separated when dining).  Three bar fridges stock beverages in various sections of the guest house, and are complimentary to guests.  The bar fridges are a great idea, as mini bar fridges in rooms are noisy.  The Doolhof winetasting is complimentary to the guests of Grand Dédale.

Breakfast is served on the terrace, and is a generous buffet of different cereals (I loved the Chef’s mix of crunchy and healthy muesli ingredients), fresh fruit as well as a fruit salad (one morning I was intrigued to see a bowl with an unknown white fruit, which was made by the Chef from the inside peel of a watermelon) and different yoghurt flavours.   Cold breakfast treats are offered, and on one of the mornings it was salmon and créme fraîche served on rosti.  Cold meats and cheeses are available, as are home-made jams and breads.  A treat was that John organised frothy cappucinos for me each morning, and kept the ice water supply coming.  A beautiful vase with a rose and a bougainvillea was on each table.   At breakfast one is shown the dinner menu for that day, and one can say if one does not eat a particular ingredient.   I saw the menu changed for one dinner due to my couscous feedback, which reflects great flexibility.  There are no choices on the menu, and therefore the kitchen checks proactively on its guests’ tastes.

Dinner is served on the terrace, with the most wonderful view onto the greenery below.  John and Angelo are in attendance.   Canapés are served with the glass of bubbly.   Heila Basson is the Chef, and Angelo calls her a ‘boeremeisie’.   She previously worked at Grootbos and at Seasons at Diemersfontein.  She has been at the Taj, to train in their kitchen, and will soon join Luke Dale-Roberts at The Test Kitchen for a short session, before he comes to Grand Dédale to cater for a wedding with Chef Heila on the wine estate.  The table is beautifully set, with a silver underplate, professional folding of the serviette, and three sets of Italian Pinti cutlery, to prevent any stretching across clients.   The butterdish and salt and pepper containers are all in silver, making the woven bread basket out of place. However, its content was wonderful, being bread rolls with different toppings.  I love poppy seed rolls, and was amazed to find these in Wellington, of all places!   An amuse bouche is served, prior to the three course meal.  On the first night it was a spicy bobotie, served with mango chutney.  The bobotie was unusual, made from diced rather than minced meat, and with an unusual taste, colourfully presented.   The starter was a beef sirloin carpaccio served with feta crumble and a sesame dressing, adding a sweet taste.    The main course was Norwegian salmon served with sweet and sour balsamic beetroot, mash, a vodka créme fraîche sauce, and roasted pumpkin seeds, creating a good colour contrast on the plate.  I found the pumpkin seeds too hard relative to the soft textures of all the other ingredients.  Dessert was a nougat terrine with berries, moreish, and chewy in texture.  On the second day the amuse bouche was a courgette and brie cappuccino, served in a little coffee cup, an unusual combination and very tasty.  The oregano potato gnocchi starter served with a wild mushroom and gruyere sauce was absolutely delicious, but did not have any contrast in colour.  We were spoilt with a second starter when we discussed mozzarella, and Angelo proudly allowed all the dinner guests a taste of Wellington’s Buffalo Ridge mozzarella, in the form of a small Caprese salad.   The main course was lamb rump, served a little too rare and with too much fat.   The dessert was a pineapple tarte tatin served with homemade milktart ice cream, an unusual combination, but was delicious.   Dinner costs R335, for a three course meal, but includes an amuse bouche and a cheese platter as well, actually making it a generous 5-course meal.   One must book to eat dinner at Grand Dédale if one is not staying over.

The winelist offers Pierre Jourdan for R170 as a Cap Classique, and Champagnes offered are Dom Grossard and Brugnon Brut.   Wine by the glass is from Doolhof and costs R40, but is not mentioned on the winelist.   It is poured at the table from a bottle (I ordered a glass of Doolhof Shiraz 2007) in a silver basket.   The Doolhof wines are good value: Unoaked Chardonnay R 90; Oaked Chardonnay R 154; Cape Robin Rosé R 63; Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon R116.  In the Legends of Labyrinth range, Dark Lady pinotage and Lady in Red each cost R117 and The Minotaur R250.  Wellington wines offered are Nabygelegen’s Lady Anna (R120), its Chenin Blanc (R130) and Snow Mountain Pinot Noir (R235).  Diemersfontein Carpe Diem Viognier and Chenin Blanc cost R190.  Each wine is described, and the vintage specified. 

There is little to suggest to improve at Grand Dédale: a desk lamp on the desk/make-up area; training staff to not move one’s belongings from a chair or a bed (this is a common problem in accommodation establishments and is an irritation); allowing one to park outside the house; any means of improving cellphone reception would be very welcome, and the limited reception should be mentioned in correspondence (I am on 24/7 duty for my business, even when away for a weekend, and I had not made arrangements to divert the company phone line to a colleague’s cellphone, until I arrived and realised the impact of the reception problem on my business); addressing the blocking of outgoing e-mails by the server (incoming e-mails arrived safely), which problem was solved by downloading e-mails at The Stone Kitchen/Dunstone winery, which has a free wireless service which works easily and perfectly, but is only open until 16h00; a TV in each room; instructions on how to switch off the lights in the various sections of the bedroom; a blind for the bathroom window, so that one is not woken up by the light coming through in the morning; a warning to guests that there is 4 km of dirt road, the first part being very bumpy, and therefore not suitable to drive for all motor vehicles.   What I did request while I was there was attended to immediately by Angelo.

It is not inexpensive to stay at Grand Dédale Country House, but I was lucky to benefit from a hospitality discount.  The accommodation cost includes a full breakfast, all drinks from the guest bars, a small high tea, canapés before dinner and a glass of Pierre Jourdan.    If one stays for two nights, dinner is free of charge on one of the two nights, as is a bottle of Doolhof wine.  One has little choice to eat out in Wellington, so one is almost ‘forced’ to eat there, but it is an absolute pleasure to do so, to not have to drive on the gravel road, or to drive all the way to Diemersfontein, or even to Paarl, to find a relatively acceptable restaurant.   If I can manage to leave the laptop and cellphone at home, I would be back for a next visit, to have a proper break! 

Grand Dédale Country House, Doolhof Wine Estate, Bovlei Road, Wellington.   Tel (021) 873-4089.  www.granddedale.com

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

Towards a Code of Ethics for Food (and other) Bloggers!

I have come across a blog called “Food Blog Code of Ethics”, compiled by two food bloggers in America, which has raised the important issue of ethics in food blogging, which principles can apply to wine and other blogging too.  The Code raises important issues for South African bloggers in dealing with the ethics of blogging.

Brooke Burton writes the blog ‘FoodWoolf’, subtitled “the restaurant insider’s perspective”, and Leah Greenstein’s blog is called ‘SpicySaltySweet’.  They got together with other food bloggers to create an ‘union of ethical food bloggers’, setting “Reviewers’ Guidelines” and compiling the Code of Ethics.   We do not necessarily agree with all their principles, but welcome it as a foundation for a Blogging Code of Conduct that we may jointly subscribe to as members of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club.

The blog post on reviewing restaurants states the following principles they subscribe too – our comments are in italics.

1.   One should visit the restaurant more than once, and state if the review is based on only one visit – we do not agree that a review should be based on more than visit, as the strengths and weaknesses of a restaurant are usually the same and apparent immediately.   Restaurants should strive for consistency, so that the reviewer should experience it in the same way on any visit.  Reviews help restaurants improve their food and service quality, if they are smart about facing them and learning from them, not always a strength of restaurantsMultiple visits are expensive, as most visits are paid for by the reviewer.  On our Blog we will update our impression with a Postscript, as we did recently for La Mouette, for example, in that the experience was vastly different compared to previous ones, highlighting a consistency problem.

2.  One should sample the full range of dishes on the menu – this is a hard one to implement, as many menus are excessively big.  Taking a partner to lunch/dinner and ordering different dishes helps, so that the reviewer can try a larger number.  Recently we were criticised by Richard Carstens’ sister-in-law, Leigh Robertson, for not having a starter at Chez d’Or, and that writing a review based on tasting three dishes only was not fair to the restaurant.  I doubt if a starter would have made my review any more positive.  Having a wide range of dishes, when paying for it, is a cost and a space consideration.

3.   One should be fair to a new restaurant and wait for a month after its opening, to give it a chance “to work out some kinks”, and should qualify reviews as ‘initial impressions’ if the review is done in less than a month after opening – bloggers have become very competitive, and some want to write a review about new restaurants before their colleagues do.  Our reviews state when the restaurant opened if it is new, so that the reader can read such “kinks” into it.  The first ‘Rossouw’s Restaurants’ review of La Mouette raised the issue of how quickly one can/should review a new restaurant, one of Rossouw’s inspectors having been at the restaurant on its first or second day of opening.  Two visits to Leaf Restaurant and Bar on two subsequent days showed their acceptance of customer feedback by moving the ghetto-blaster they have set up on the terrace from on top of a table, to below it, after my comments to them about it.   No other business, play or movie has a second chance in reviews being written about it, in that they are normally done after opening night – so why should restaurants be ‘protected’ in this way?   No business should open its doors when it is not ready to do so (Leaf held back its opening because it had problems in getting a credit card machine installed by the bank)!

4.  One should specify if one received a meal, or part of it, or any other product for free, and should also declare if one was recognised in the restaurant – absolutely agree on the declaration of the freebie, and we have regular Blog readers and Commenters who delight in checking blogs for the freebies.  Some bloggers are labelled by such readers as not having credibility, in that they usually only write about meals they received for free, and usually are very positive about them, so that they can be invited back in future!   The recognisablity of the reviewer is an interesting issue.  I always book in the name of “Chris”, with a cell number.   If I know the owner or a staff member of the restaurant, I will state that in the review.

5.   One should not use pseudonyms in writing reviews, and reviewers should stand up and be counted by revealing their names – absolutely agree.  In Cape Town we have a strange situation of Food bloggers who hide behind pseudonyms.  Andy Fenner (JamieWho) wanted to remain unidentified when he started blogging, yet appointed a PR agency to raise his profile, and was “outed” by Food & Home, when they wrote about him, using his real name.  He is now open about his real name (probably being irritated by being called Jamie more often than Andy, I assume).  One wonders what bloggers using pseudonyms have to hide?  Wine bloggers seem to be more open and upfront about who they are.   I would like to add here how difficult it is to make contact with Food Bloggers in particular .  Most do not have a telephone number nor an e-mail address to contact them on their blogs, and one has to use a Comment box to contact them, which most do not respond to.   Yet many of these bloggers are looking to make money from advertising on their blogs. 

The Code of Ethics which the two bloggers prepared with their colleagues is as follows:

“1. We will be accountable

  • We will write about the culinary world with the care of a professional. We will not use the power of our blog as a weapon. We will stand behind our claims. If what we say or show could potentially affect someone’s reputation or livelihood, we will post with the utmost thought and due diligence.
  • We understand why some bloggers choose to stay anonymous. We respect that need but will not use it as an excuse to avoid accountability. When we choose to write anonymously for our own personal or professional safety, we will not post things we wouldn’t be comfortable putting our names to.
  • If we review a restaurant, product or culinary resource we will consider integrating the standard set of guidelines as offered by the Association of Food Journalists.

2. We will be civil

  • We wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech, but we also acknowledge that our experiences with food are subjective. We promise to be mindful—regardless of how passionate we are—that we will be forthright, and will refrain from personal attacks.

3. We will reveal bias

  • If we are writing about something or someone we are emotionally or financially connected to, we will be up front about it.

4. We will disclose gifts, comps and samples

  • When something is given to us or offered at a deep discount because of our blog, we will disclose that information.  As bloggers, most of us do not have the budgets of large publications, and we recognize the value of samples, review copies of books, donated giveaway items and culinary events. It’s important to disclose freebies to avoid be accused of conflicts of interest.

5. We will follow the rules of good journalism

  • We will not plagiarize. We will respect copyright on photos. We will attribute recipes and note if they are adaptations from a published original. We will research. We will attribute quotes and offer link backs to original sources whenever possible. We will do our best to make sure that the information we are posting is accurate. We will factcheck. In other words, we will strive to practice good journalism even if we don’t consider ourselves journalists”.

The above aspects are clear and need no elaboration.  The last sentence of the Code is odd though, in that we are “new age” journalists, and must play by the same rules as the print, radio and TV media do.  That means we must research our stories, to ensure their accuracy.   One can correct a blog post if one makes an error, including spelling and grammar ones.  An American food blog recently added a note about getting the name of a restaurant reviewer wrong – she did not change it in the blog post, but wrote an apology at the bottom of her post, highlighting the error, which most readers probably would not have picked up.  A controversial issue is the announcement of Reuben Riffel taking over the maze space at the One&Only Hotel Cape Town, which Riffel has denied.   No correction or apology to Riffel or the hotel has been posted,

We encourage Bloggers and Blog readers to give us their views on the Code of Ethics as well as the Restaurant Review guidelines, which we will be happy to post.  I would like to get the ball rolling by stating that the Code should include the publishing of Comments, even if they are controversial, as long as they do not attack the writer or the subject of the blog post with malice, and the Commenter is identified, as is the family or other relationship of the Commenter (e.g. JP Rossouw’s and Richard Carstens’ sisters-in-law).   I would also like to hear views about revealing to the restaurant that one is writing a review, in that I was recently criticised by the co-owner of Oskar Delikatessen for not asking permission to write a review and to take photographs, which contradicts the Code on writing unidentified.  A third issue is the acceptance of advertising on one’s blog, or accepting sponsorships for brands, and how this should be revealed.

POSTSCRIPT 22/8 : Reuben Riffel’s appointment as the new operator of the restaurant at the One&Only Hotel Cape Town has been announced in the Sunday Times today.   We congratulate Spill blog on having had its ear to the ground in announcing this news ahead of all other media.  The One&Only Hotel had denied speaking to Spill about Reuben’s appointment at the time that they wrote the story, and Riffel had denied it too. 

POSTSCRIPT 29/8:  Since writing this post, the identity of The Foodie as being David Cope has been revealed by Crush!2.  Furthermore, Clare “Mack” of Spill Blog (with her husband Eamon McLoughlin) has been identified as being Clare McKeon, an ex-Irish TV chat show hostess, columnist, author of “The Emotional Cook”, magazine beauty journalist, and owner of the Bliss Beauty Salon.  

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

Pub review: Watching the World Cup at Harvey’s Bar, Winchester Mansions

We decided that the South Africa versus Uruguay game had to be watched in style and comfort, to give our Bafana Bafana team the best possible support in this important game.

I had popped into the newly renovated Harvey’s Bar earlier that afternoon, for a cappuccino and their scones, which I had read about on Twitter.   What a portion it was – 2 large light scones, and a clever trio dish containing real cream, grated cheese and strawberry jam (which the Congolese waitress pronounced as “ham”, causing some confusion initially).  The price was an unbelievably low R 18 – one scone would have been good value at this price alone.

The space that was previously the bar as well as the meeting room has been consolidated into one large bar area, but divided into three sections, one being an open smoking one (I did not know that this was allowed) with a TV area, which leads into the large bar area with another TV, and a smaller, more private, lounge without TV.   Seating is a mix of chairs and couches, in shades of grey and silver.   In the central bar area, bar chairs look smart and comfortable.   Unfortunately the tables are too low, making it very uncomfortable to eat from, one having to bend so low.   The edges of the chairs are very sharp, quite dangerously so.   The glass-encased chandelier lights over the bar, and in the lounge areas, are the most beautiful lights I have seen in a long time.  Sitting in the small lounge initially, I noticed that the top half of the window, which is hidden from the outside by a canopy, had not been cleaned in months, and the bottom part had not been cleaned recently either.  With the sun setting in the west, one can see the dirty windows easily, and even more so when one is in the hospitality industry oneself.

For the match, we sat in the bar area, on the bar chairs, in front of a serving counter, so that we could see the TV screen.   The counters in the bar area were behind us, so it was a little uncomfortable to get one’s drink and food from behind – a couch on the other side prevents the bar chairs from being put there, something the hotel may consider changing during the World Cup.  The bar was not very full, and therefore it lacked atmosphere.   The staff seemed disinterested in this important match, and it was annoying that the barman mixed drinks extra loud and extra long on his machines, it seemed.   Service is quite shy as well, although our waitress Chrystelle had a beautiful smile.   I was surprised once again that soccer fans in bars do not order food, feeling quite comfortable to only have a glass or 3 of beer.   300 ml of Paulaner and Peroni cost R 22, 500 ml cost R 30; Jack Black costs R17 for 330 ml and R27 for 500 ml; Castle costs R15; Amstel R16; and Heineken R20.

The Harvey’s Bar menu has a small selection of food, and we chose four platters for five of us, too much food in retrospect.   We had a samoosa and spring roll plate (R 48), of which the waitress did not know the content, saying the spring rolls contained beef, but there was no meat inside them;  nachos con queso, with minced beef, almost too spicy nachos and lots of cheese, at R 58; potato wedges with two dipping sauces, at R 21, our most popular order; and spicy chicken wings with a tomato based sauce, making them messy to eat by hand, at R48.  Other options are Flammkuchen, an Austrian pizza-type covered with bacon, onion and sour cream (R28); prawn calamari (R77); Club Sandwich (R68); Tuna pie (48), Ginger chicken wrap (57); a sirloin steak sandwich (R75); and a Winchester Burger at R 75.

The wine prices are reasonable, and 250 ml carafes of white and red wine are available.  The house wine, both white and red, costs R 26.   Fantail Vineyards from Morgenhof, both White and Rose, Leopard’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc, and Tortoise Hill each cost R 30; Bosman’s Family Vineyards Chenin Blanc and Rose cost R 40; and Paradyskloof Chardonnay costs R 45.    Fantail Vineyards Pinotage and Leopard’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon cost R 29, Tortoise Hill and Fantail Merlot cost R 35, Edgebaston costs R45 and Cape Boar from Doolhoof costs R 54.   The sparkling wine is served per glass, Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Brut costing R 30, its Belle Rose costing R 45, and Colmant costs R 48.

The service is reactive rather than proactive.  The decor makes Harvey’s Bar an attractive venue, but it lacks spirit and energy, especially in watching a World Cup match.  There is no World Cup visibility at all except for a match schedule in the smoking section, and therefore it receives a low score as a World Cup soccer pub. Bafana Bafana’s sad loss did not help either!

Harvey’s Bar, Winchester Mansions Hotel, 221 Beach Road, Sea Point, Cape Town. Tel (021) 434-2351.  www.winchestermansions.co.za (no information about, menu for, or photographs of Harvey’s Bar).

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

World Cup puts South Africa into focus, some bad, mostly good!

The World Cup has always been said to have the benefit of showcasing South Africa, and the world’s media are descending on the country to prepare profiles of South Africa.  Some of it is negative, but much so far has been positive, especially in showing off the beauty of Cape Town.

A South Africa-based correspondent for SkyNEWS seems to be in the townships every day, negatively reporting about the poverty of these residents, while the ‘rich’ sector of the country benefits from the World Cup, it is highlighted continuously.

Much more positive reporting is coming from ZDF, Germany’s largest TV station, which is pulling out all the stops to showcase South Africa.  Yesterday, for example, the station did a 24 hour broadcast on its online channel, about our country, a conglomeration of various documentaries the station had produced on previous occasions.  Unfortunately an on-line broadcast is not as powerful as a television broadcast, but it will have attracted a young audience.   ZDF put a lot of advertising muscle behind the 24-hour broadcast, so it created strong awareness amongst ZDF viewers.   The country brand ‘Suedafrika’ is definitely top of mind. 

However, 90 minutes of the on-line broadcast was broadcast on ZDF TV throughout the day, in three sets of 30 minutes each.   The programme started with beautiful shots of Table Mountain, and then of Cape Town filmed from Table Mountain.   It was said that a trip up the mountain by cable car is a must for every visitor.   Then the documentary jumped in contrast to a school in Wuppertal, showing children in a boarding school having to brush their teeth in an irrigation canal, because there are not enough facilities in the hostel for all the children.  Then it moved to showing burning tyres, set alight by taxi drivers protesting against the new BRT bus system to be introduced.   A township resident was interviewed, who positively stated that he would never leave his township : ‘I do not want to change my life for anything’, despite the poor facilities in the township.   Children receiving a swimming lesson in Khayelitsha were filmed, and a sangoma throwing the bones interviewed.   Then the production team interviewed Pieter-Dirk Uys, who initially spoke in German, but switched to English when he spoke about how dangerous it was for him to have mocked the Government when he first started, and melodramatically stated that had he been black, he would have been imprisoned!  (He did not tell the interviewer that he has declared Evita se Perron in Darling soccer-free during the World Cup!).

Then the action moved to Captain Crash, who chases after stolen cars and minibus taxis in his helicopter (I have seen this insert twice already), and then to a Soweto-based Event Manager Tshepiso Mohlala, who is involved in the organisation of the World Cup Concert on 10 June.   A lot of airtime was given to a German wedding co-ordinator from Wedding Concepts, who was organising a wedding at Allee Bleue outside Franschhoek.

Capetonian and ex-Miss South Jo-Ann Strauss features regularly in a ZDF TV advert for the World Cup Concert, from which Strauss and revered ZDF talk-show host Thomas Gottschalk will be presenting for ZDF.  She speaks near-perfect German, her partner being from Munich, saying: ‘Suedafrika begruesst die Fussballwelt’ (South Africa welcomes the football nations).

Other programmes, like ‘Traumstaedte’ (Dream Cities), start off positively, with beautiful views of Camps Bay beach, the Promenade, the Bay Hotel, the Waterfront, but soon move to the townships, and interviews are conducted with extremely negative residents, talking about the crime and drug situation in the townships.   The ZDF reporters talk about Cape Town’s ‘Hell and Paradise’ not the lasting impression we would like to create marketing-wise amongst international viewers.

‘Traumflug durch Afrika: Von Kapstadt nach Kenia’ (Dream flight through Africa: from Cape Town to Kenya) was far more positive, documenting a Eurocopter pilot flying over beautiful Cape Town (Table Mountain and Cape Point), flying 3 meters above the sea, the Garden Route to George and Knysna for some golf and oysters at the Dry Dock restaurant, to the Addo Park for a safari, to St Francis, Coffee Bay, the Hole in the Wall, and then off to Lesotho, reaching his end destination of Kenya. 

In a cooking program with some of Germany’s top chefs, the cooking stars all wore German soccer jerseys, to show their pride in and support for the German team, indirectly attracting attention to the World Cup.

Given that Cape Town Tourism has appointed PR companies in Germany and the U K, and in other European countries, we trust that the city’s tourism body will help influence the content of documentaries of our city, and that they show the tourist side of Cape Town, without having to focus so much on the townships.

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