Tag Archives: value for money

Tourism Service Excellence standard an excellent initiative to enhance SA tourism competitiveness!

The national Department of Tourism has embarked on a welcome Tourism Service Excellence drive, and has released a draft document for comment from the industry until the end of February in developing a tourism service excellence standard and code, to enhance the tourist experience in South Africa.

The development of a ‘National Standard’ for Tourism Service Excellence by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) results from a 2008 National Tourism Skills Audit Report recommendation that customer care training in the tourism sector should be improved, when South Africa ranked 61st of 133 countries in The World Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of 2009, coupled with inconsistent service delivery in tourism, ranging from very poor to very good.  The reason for this was stated as being the lack of ‘integrated standards and norms that can be used as a guiding tool in terms of customer service’. To improve customer service, it was deemed necessary to develop a set of policies, guidelines and programmes, to ‘ensure a holistic approach and collective ownership’ for customer service, thereby improving service excellence throughout the tourism ‘value chain’.  Such a standard would be developed for all businesses which come into contact with tourists, including the Immigration officials (criticised in the past for their unfriendliness), transport services, accommodation establishments, financial institutions, shops, and any other businesses and authorities which deal with tourists when they make bookings for their trip, when they arrive, and interact with them during their stay.

‘South Africa should be seen as the country that offers the best service, diverse experience and value for money.  The overall purpose of this document is to emphasize the importance of the spirit of “Ubuntu” in ultimately achieving the vision of tourism growth and development in South Africa’, states the draft Service Standard document.

According to the Service Standard draft, tourism businesses would be required to support the principles of accessibility, accountability, accuracy, capacity building, commitment, consistency, continual improvement, courtesy, responsiveness, safety and security, value for money, and visible marketing in displaying the logo for the new Service Standard, in running their tourism businesses and operations.  It is not only written for South Africa, but incorporates neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, as if they are service extensions of our country’s tourism product.

The Service Standard document identifies government departments, as well as associations and groupings of tourism businesses which should adopt the service standard, and encourages its usage amongst its staff and members, including the Department of Home Affairs serving tourists on arrival and departure at airports; SA Tourism and the International Marketing Council in marketing the country; provincial tourism authorities; municipalities in providing visitor information services, signage, and infrastructure; telecommunication companies providing cellphone services; SARS for customs clearance; airports; the Banking Association; the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, the industry quality assessment body, not mentioning FEDHASA, the industry hotel association, and the guest house association; the Banking Association; the Restaurant Association of South Africa (although not all restaurants belong to it); the Tourism Business Council of South Africa; and shopping centres.

Tourism businesses are expected to introduce a quality policy, to make service their focal point, to train new staff in service, to offer friendly and professional service, and to review their quality and services regularly.  In running their tourism businesses, they are encouraged to focus on the following:

*   Product: it should offer quality, choices and alternatives, ensure that there is enough staff to assist the tourists (this is the biggest challenge to the tourism industry, and would require a complete work ethic culture change amongst staff), offer value for money (a very relative term), universal accessibility for the disabled, ensure the safety and security of their clients, ensure guest information confidentiality, be environmentally friendly in its operation, and not discriminate against any types of clients.

*   Service: should be friendly, professional, guest focused and driven, and offer an effective service recovery.

*   Marketing: should have a consistent message, be accurate, be updated regularly to create realistic expectations for tourists, be truthful and honest, and not be offensive.

Although written in an academic form, the draft National Service Excellence standard is an excellent step forward for tourism service excellence.  One is surprised that it has taken the Department of Tourism so long to work on the standard, and that it was not prepared in time for the 2010 World Cup.  Most (commercial) tourism businesses would argue that they already apply the principles of service excellence in running their businesses, our country receiving praise for its friendliness and for walking the extra mile, and that it should be the government departments and bigger corporates who have a secondary tourism involvement that should be adopting the new service standard.  The document contains a Tourism Service Excellence code for companies to use as a framework to design their own service excellence codes.  As with most such documents, it has not been widely exposed to the tourism industry in terms of the input and feedback the SABS is seeking.

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

Restaurant Trends: Which USA trends apply to South Africa?

Local restaurant consultant Michael Said has evaluated the potential impact of eleven international restaurant trends on restaurants in our country, writing for www.bizcommunity.com.  The trends were documented by Technomic Inc, an American market research company.

1.   More ordering of “retro cocktails and high-end spirits” and craft beers, away from mass-produced alternatives, at fine-dining restaurants, as restaurant patrons want to celebrate their increasing confidence in the year.   Said’s reaction is that the stricter ‘drink/driving’ legislation may counter this trend locally, and predicts a greater focus on non-alcoholic cocktails in general, and cocktails for designated drivers in particular.

2.   Restaurants are becoming mobile, moving location, without a fixed abode.  Said says that rent-free location is attractive, but is still too large a leap for South African restaurants.

3.   A move away from a celebrity chef to the celebrity farmer, who supplied the ingredients, in marketing communication.  Said is sceptical of seeing “Farmer Brown” style advertising in South Africa.

4.   Technology in restaurants, to gain a competitive edge, including iPads with menus and winelists, and hand-held devices for payment at the table, will grow.  Said says that social media marketing, location-based advertising and online reputation management will certainly be replicated in South Africa.   He is however sceptical about the widespread use of iPads, with the danger of them disappearing with the cutlery and condiments!

5.   The ‘Korean Influence’ is forecast for the USA, resulting from immigration, but is discounted by Said for South Africa.

6.   The trend of ‘Tired of being poor’ could see restaurant patrons spoiling themselves with indulgences on higher-priced menu items.  Said says this could apply locally, given that interest rate decreases have put more Rands into customers’ pockets.

7.  Contradicting the previous trend, but not mutually exclusive, is that customers are demanding even greater value for money, and restaurants will have permanent value offers on their menus, a trend Said agrees will apply locally too.   I would like to add that Cape restaurants have recognised the value of value-offerings, and 37 Cape Town restaurants are offering summer specials, a commendable business policy.

8.  Restaurant chains will reinvent themselves with new branding and looks, as customers look for “new and exciting places to celebrate the new found financial freedom”.   Said recommends that restaurants reinvest their greater income back into their businesses.

9.   Comfort food will remain in demand, as will traditional dishes, either as they are, or with a modern interpretation.   Said questions this trend forecast, as he doubts that patrons want to eat more of the same ‘home food’ at restaurants.  He recommends that they be enticed back to restaurants with ‘old favourites, new experiences and plenty of “love”‘.

10.  Supermarkets are increasingly competing against restaurants, offering their customers family value-for-money eat-in ideas and products.   Locally, Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths “are taking customers out of restaurants and into the aisle”.  Said recommends that ‘warmth and hospitality’ cannot be bought in a supermarket, and are points of difference for restaurants.

11.   Restaurant menus will see a balance of healthy (starters) and indulgent (desserts) items.  Said sees challenges for restaurants caused by menu-labelling requirements, and the Consumer Protection Act, said to be effective from April.   I would like to add my own note to this trend, and call on restaurants to specify the fat content per 100g portion, and the carbohydrate content per serving for diabetics, as it is done on all Woolworths packaging – diabetes is a ‘price’ that is paid by restaurant lovers, and diabetics should be encouraged to eat out healthily without feeling that they are losing out.

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

Restaurant Review: Oishii delicious Caffe is delicious!

Oishii delicious Caffe is a new restaurant in Tamboerskloof, which quietly opened three weeks ago.   It has a gentle presence and welcome when one steps inside the shop/deli/caffe.  Manager Fatima impressed with her friendliness, and the food served is delicious.  “Oishii” expresses the emotion of deliciousness in Japanese, she explained to us. It offers excellent value for money, especially compared to the expensive Melissa’s a few doors away.

When one steps inside, one notices the wooden shelving with a collection of unrelated items, some crafted in Cape Town, and some picked up by owner Marko Helfer from a recent trip as far away as China.   The deli counter is hidden from the entrance, and displays five salads that are freshly made, which one can eat there or take away.   Breads and pastries from Marcellino’s Bakery are available for sale or to enjoy with the lovely Deluxe coffees.  Seven ice cream flavours are sold, and come from Venezia in Sea Point.   Marko owns the Pure Solid 13 clothes, gift and accessories shop next door, with a branch in Cavendish Square too.  

There is no menu.  One blackboard lists the coffee options (one of the cheaper cappuccino destinations in Cape Town, at R13) and another the sandwich (R25 without meat, R35 with meat), salad (R35 without meat, R40 with meat) and noodle (R35) options.  Marko designed all the furniture (including a baby high chair) and shelving for the shop, Fatima told me, and had it made up – it has a lovely earthy Scandinavian feel to it, and the colourful collection of chairs in different styles, shapes and colours add to the decor.  The lamps are unique in design, and Marko’s wife crocheted all the covers for them.   I loved the bunch of fresh flowers from a garden on one of the tables.

Fatima has had short stints working at the Daily Deli and Bonjour Patisserie, both in Tamboerskloof, and last worked in an office.  She describes her customers as locals who work in the area, and who come in to enjoy the coffee and other treats served.  Breakfast options include croissant, avocado, Gruyere and choice of egg for R42; granola, fruit salad and yoghurt at R18; and croissant, jam and butter at R15.   The salads appear to be sold at R7 a portion of a specific salad.  Meat options for sandwiches or salads are roast chicken, salami, and coppa ham.  Pastry choices include cinnamon pretzels, chocolate cigars, chocolate croissants, and the bread range includes rye, ciabatta and Kornspitz.

Oishii delicious Caffe has a chef who comes in every day, making up the salads.   Marko is sent to buy the fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as grain products for the salads.   Anel Clarke is the chef, and spends the mornings at Oishii, making five salads, always a raw salad, a bean one, a chicken or tuna one, a starch one (pasta or couscous), and a potato one.  When we were there last Saturday Anel’s salad selection included orange couscous, mange tout and sundried tomato; chick pea, feta and olive salad; beetroot, apple and rocket salad; and roast chicken, paw paw, and cucumber salad with a coconut dressing.  Anel uses a different dressing for each salad, and tries to make unusual salads not found anywhere else.  She says her chicken and corn salads are the most popular.   When Anel is not at Oishii, she does cooking lessons in customers’ homes, and makes vegan food for the Wellness Warehouse on Kloof Street.  She has started a blog called Daisy Meisie, but does not have much time for it.

We paid R 55 for a selection of four salads as well as a cappuccino, which is excellent value.  

Oishii delicious Caffe, corner Kloof and De Lorentz Streets, Tamboerskloof.  Tel (021) 422-4981.  No website.  Monday – Friday 7h30 – 16h30, Saturday 8h00 – 14h30. 

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

Restaurant Review: Bistro Sixteen82 recipe for success, excellent value for money

I had read about Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg wine estate in Constantia on Twitter, and about its Beef Tataki in particular, one of Chef Brad Ball’s signature dishes.   My first visit last week was one of wow – amazement at the wonderful setting, the amazing decor, the friendliness of the staff, the wonderful food, as well as the value for money, a perfect recipe for success.  I felt that the “Bistro” name, which Wikipedia defines as “a small bar serving moderately priced simple meals in an unpretentious setting” is completely inappropriate for this wonderful restaurant, the restaurant underselling itself, and thereby overdelivering.

Bistro Sixteen82 opened just less than a year ago, in a new building built on the historic Graham Beck Foundation-owned wine estate, which was given to Catharina, “the widow Ras” as she was known, by Simon van der Stel in exchange for (undefined) “favours”, I was told by the charming Lida van Heerden, the Cellar Door Manager.  Catharina must have been quite a lady, having had five husbands, and was the inspiration for the name of Catharina’s, the other Steenberg restaurant.   With the historical heritage of Steenberg, the modern building housing the tasting room as well as the Bistro is a surprise, but fits into the environment well, probably because the building is quite a distance away from the historic Steenberg Hotel buildings.  There is ample parking, and the building opens onto a well-kept lawn, which seems to melt into the vineyards on the mountain slope above.  There is a lovely water feature, making it very tranquil to sit outside.

When one steps into the tasting room, which one has to walk through to get to the restaurant, one notices the dominant chandelier, made from 2700 green and red resin oval shapes, depicting grapes, with pips and all!   The light was made by Carole Carr-Harris from Divali Lighting in Hermanus, and weighs a ton, needing a reinforced ceiling to hold the weight.   The tasting section is a round island in a generously sized room, from which leads a lounge, at which one can taste wines too, or just enjoy sitting at the fireplace on a wintry day.   The architect and interior decorator is Richard Perfect, and he certainly did a perfect job in creating an architecturally unique building inside and out. 

The restaurant is a large space, with tables seating 70 patrons close together, especially against the two end walls, which have a fixed seat against the wall.   The close proximity of the tables, and the fully booked restaurant, gave it a wonderful buzz and energy.  It was nice to see Jenna, the hostess, who has attended one of Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meetings.  Chef Brad was off-duty, but kept an eye on things with his staff as soon as he had read via Twitter that I was at the restaurant, and also provided the exact details of the sauce served with the asparagus starter on Twitter, even though he had the day off!   A large structure made from branches is a decorative feature on the ceiling, and bunches of pin-cushion proteas presented in large glass vases give a flash of orange in an otherwise white-dominant restaurant interior, the same protea-filled vases being seen at the entrance to the building, from which can also see the steel vats of the winery. The comfortable chairs have a natural wood look, with what looks like a modern-day ‘riempie’ for the seat, matching the ceiling wood structure.  The vats are also visible behind the Raw Bar, and the estate’s white and red wines are cleverly displayed on two of the walls, creating a design feature.  A Raw Bar refrigerated display counter contains salamis and hams, capers as well as cheeses, with an Oyster Tank next to it.  Staff look smart and professional, with white shirts, a smart slim silver tie, with a tie clip, and black slacks and black aprons. 

The tables have white table cloths and impressive serviettes with the name of the restaurant embroidered on them.  Cutlery and glassware is of good quality.  The menu and winelist is made from black leather, and is a simple insert.  The number of choices of dishes and wines is reasonable, yet very varied, making it easy to choose.   The reasonable cost of the dishes impressed, Front of House Manager Jürgen Welp telling me that from the outset Chef Brad Ball wanted the Bistro to stand for value for money, both in terms of its food as well as the wines (the mark-up is no more than 25 % for the Steenberg wines, unlike some of its Constantia neighbours charging threefold for their estate wines, even if the tasting room is only a few steps away).  With a corkage fee of R40, it would be more expensive for a customer to do a BYO with corkage added, compared to ordering from the winelist.

Chef Brad Ball was previously at River Cafe, Olympia Café and Pastis, while Jürgen had worked at Buitenverwachting for seven years.  Both set up Bistro Sixteen82 a year ago. 

Our waitress Natalie brought the bread basket to the table, consisting of a bread stick, slices of focaccia and ciabatta, with a small platter of olives and sundried tomatoes, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar served in tiny milk jugs.  The Summer menu is divided into four sections, labeled as “Stimulate” for the starters, including smoked pork paté, pea and pancetta risotto and snails, costing R46 each, and mussels, slightly more expensive;  “Rejuvenate” contains two dishes : Beetroot tarte tine served with smoked trout mousse (R68) and the house salad (R45/R64).  “Inspire” contains the main courses, ranging from R78 for Broccoli feuillette (gorgonzola fondue) to R 120 for Franschhoek Trout and Steak au Poivre.  Other mains include a pork belly ragout, line fish, a charcuterie selection and sticky pork belly.  The “Indulge” selection contained five desserts, costing between R44 – R50, all interesting sounding, and a cheese platter at R48.

I ordered the Asparagus starter (R50), served with a truffle mousseline with parmesan, and decorated with tiny snippets of tomato, a lovely melody in green, yellow and red. The sauce was delicious, and overshadowed the steamed crispy asparagus, it was so special.   My son had the Beef Tataki, which is seared beef fillet and then thinly sliced in carpaccio style, served with soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, chilli, sesame oil, radish, spring onions, and lime juice. It is a unique combination of ingredients causing a taste explosion, costing R49 as a starter and R 105 as a main.  My (student) son could not finish the main course portion, it was so filling.  I ordered the entrecote steak, simply served as two thick slices, with mash (a bit stodgy, I felt, but it was my choice – normally the steak is served with potatoes and peppercorn sauce) and steamed carrots and beans.  An excellent small but effective steak knife was provided.

The Raw Bar board shows prices to be R18 for an oyster, and Gravadlax at R44.  Other options are Pink Tartar, being Norwegian salmon with chilli and lime, costing R60/R105 as starter/main course, and the Red Tartar, being a tartar of Chalmar beef served with capers and a quail egg (R56/R98).   The cappuccino was served with two pieces of home-made Turkish Delight. 

We were offered a complimentary glass of the Steenberg Brut, made from 100 % Chardonnay, the first tasting of this bubbly, crisp and dry, and a good marriage with the asparagus.   The Steenberg wine range consists of 1682 Chardonnay MCC, Sauvignon Blanc, HMS Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc, HMS Sphynx Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, 1682 Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Nebbiolo, Catharina, Magna Carta, and Klein Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Bordeaux Blend.   The Steenberg wines understandably dominate the winelist, with almost all their wines being available by the glass.  The Klein Steenberg Bordeaux Red costs R24 for a 250 ml carafe and R70 for a bottle, and the most expensive is Steenberg Catharina 2007 at R77/R230.   It also lists a few other Constantia wine brands, keeping it proudly-Constantia.  Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve costs R 585 and the Rosé R750.  

I don’t always make a point of visiting the cloakroom, and here I saw the only aspect of the decor that came across as kitsch – the cloakroom and the toilets are covered with a wall paper that is a close-up of a vineyard, making one claustrophobic.  It is such a contrast to the good taste of the decor in the rest of the building. 

I loved my first visit at Bistro Sixteen82, and will be back again to try some of the other dishes on the Summer menu.  I felt it to be excellent value for money, and a happy and relaxed space, with very friendly staff and happy customers who did not seem to want to go home.  I am very surprised that Bistro Sixteen82 did not make the Top 20 Eat Out Restaurants shortlist, but should be sure to do so in 2011.  The Breakfasts, and the Eggs Benedict in particular, are legendary at Bistro Sixteen82 too.  

POSTSCRIPT 22/2: A visit to my accountant in Constantia was a good opportunity to make a return visit to Bistro Sixteen82.   I had an early lunch, and was served by Manager Jürgen, and was offered a glass of Steenberg Brut – I accepted a half glass. I tried two new starters on Chef Brad Ball’s menu, and absolutely loved the presentation as well as the taste of the Duck liver parfait and duck prosciutto, creating a beautiful dark/light effect underneath the mousse, and served with a small wine-poached pear.   Then I had the Capellini and truffle créme, topped with chopped tomato and a poached egg, a more simple but filling and tasty dish, beautifully paired with the Steenberg Semillon.  

Bistro Sixteen82, Steenberg wine estate, Constantia.  Tel (021) 713-2211.  www.steenberg-vineyards.co.za   Twitter :@Bistro1682.  Mondays – Sundays, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, 9h00 – 20h00. 

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

Tourism News: South Africa loses ‘value for money’ image in UK

Tour operators say South African accommodation has become too expensive for their UK clients, and they have called on local accommodation suppliers to relook their prices for 2011, reports South African Tourism Update.

Portfolio of Places representative in the UK, James Westrip of Africa Collection, says that the “good-value-for-money perception” of South Africa has gone in the past year.  This changed perception about tourism prices, coupled with tough economic times in the UK and the strong Rand “…is proving problematic for us all”, he said.  He feels that “SA is pricing itself out of the market”.   Portfolio of Places has experienced its worst year ever in its more than 20-year existence, we have been told.

Another operator said that it is no longer feasible for local establishments to increase their rates by 10 % annually, in excess of the inflation rate.  These increases effect the value for money perception of South Africa, says Louise de Waal of Baobab Travel.  She stated that budget accommodation options often are questionable as far as quality goes, and therefore cannot be booked.  Tourvest Inbound’s Martin Wiest says that high pricing makes our country less competitive globally.

&Beyond’s Gary Lotter acknowledges that not all accommodation establishments have increased their prices above the inflation rate, or at all, but it is the strong Rand that is the root of the problem.  He also said that if establishments were to drop their rates, they could receive more business, although this is not guaranteed.

Westrip also complained about establishments charging their direct clients better rates than they do tour operators, even though their clients may be a once-off and tour operators usually are loyal to establishments and book them regularly.  De Waal queried the wisdom of last minute rate reductions, and called for early-bird discounts instead.

It is interesting to read that tour operators cry wolf about high rates when it is the operators that are exceptionally greedy in their commission demands.  Africa Collection takes 20 % commission on bookings it gives Portfolio of Places clients, on top of close to the entry level R20000 annual advertising costs for the Bed and Breakfast Collection advertisers.  While the standard commission rate is 10 %, tour operators tend to do business with establishments if they can get commissions of 20 % or more, leading their business to go to hotels rather than guest houses and B&B’s, which would be far more affordable for tourists. 

It may well therefore be the tour operators that are the cause of the loss-of-value-for-money image that they are complaining about!

A survey on the Southern African Travel News  website shows that the majority of respondents indicated that they have frozen their rates.

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

Restaurant Review: La Mouette Restaurant flying high

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travel and Tourism Trends for 2010

Tourism and travel in 2010 will remain depressed, but travellers will demand more individualised holidays, and will be seeking value for money, in the form of good rates, travelling to countries that offer good exchange rates, and joining clubs that offer exclusive discounts, according to the website www.mrandmrssmith.com, reports The Star.

Stark minimalist hotels will be replaced with homely “granny-chic” ones, which are comfortable and “homey”.   “Green” travel becomes more important, with travellers checking out the “green credentials” of their destinations.

The Top 10 specific travel and tourism trends highlighted by the website are the following:

1.   “Cheap-chic holiday houses and apartments”, opening up more self-catering accommodation with higher levels of service and presentation

2.   Guest Houses and B&B’s will become “Boutique”, as have their hotel counterparts, to give them “come-hither sexiness”

3.   All-inclusive packages, with no hidden service charges or extras

4.   Hotels are increasingly becoming environmentally independent, to lower their carbon emissions – water from a local spring, solar energy, saving seabirds,  etc.

5.   “Bleisure” travel will increase, whereby business and leisure travel are combined, with business travellers wanting their corporate travel needs met, but within a leisure environment, or adding on extra time to a business trip, to which they invite their partner.

6.   Mexico, and surrounding countries, have increased in attractiveness as a luxury travel destination

7.   “Traincations”  will increase, with high-speed train travel across Europe.

8.   “Flashpacking” is backpacking with a higher budget and more style, closer to 5-star accommodation than youth hostels

9.   “Granny chic” is a move away from “look-don’t-touch minimalist” to “traditional-with-a-twist homey comforts” hotels.

10.   “Hip hotels” that are family friendly – they not only “tolerate” children, but welcome them and make the family holiday an enjoyable one.

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

Value for money magic at La Boheme

La Boheme opened in Sea Point three months ago, and is receiving support from foodies and Sea Point locals for its exceptional value for money.

Faisal, the owner, was previously with Caveau Wine Bar, and has owned the restaurant next door on Main Road, opposite Marais Road, called La Bruixa, the witch, Faisal’s pet name for his Spanish girlfriend Anna, for the last four years, with Anna running it.

A bistro-style menu board lists seven starters, six main courses and six desserts.   A two-course meal costs R 85 and a three-course R 105.    Starters include a French onion soup, crumbed mushrooms, beef carpaccio, roast veal and pork roulade, ranging in price from R 20 – R 34;  the mains cost R 70, and include pork belly, ravioli and mushroom and black ham, stuffed chicken, beef bourguinon, and beef fillet.   Desserts cost R 20, and include Creme Brulee, chocolate pudding, crepes, tiramisu, and orange and carrot malva.

The pork belly was a generous portion, served with a mustard mash (the mustard dominated the dish too much), apple sauce and mixed vegetables.    The tiramisu had a section which was not as tasty as one would have liked it.

An extensive wine list offers a good selection of wines, by the glass too.  The Tokara Zondernaam costs R 25 per glass.  Glassware, crockery and cutlery are of a good quality, and material serviettes are used.

At La Bruixa a board of 15 tapas options in Spanish style is offered, at the cost of R 20 – R 30 each.   Patrons sitting outside may order from the La Boheme or the La Bruixa menus. 

It was noticeable that the waiters all looked happy and unstressed.   La Boheme is an unpretentious friendly bistro, offering exceptional value.  Faisal and Anna are hands-on, and one could mistake them for waiters, both wearing an apron. The two course meal, the glass of red wine and cappuccino cost R 126.

Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com

S A Tourism goes Sho’t Left

Domestic and short-haul tourism are important markets for South Africa, and should be nurtured, says Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk, reports Travelwires.

The credit crunch has demonstrated the vulnerablity of the international tourism market, Van Schalkwyk said, and therefore the new domestic ‘Sho’t Left’ campaign is vital, he said, which he unveiled in the form of a mural.

The Minister said that the local tourism industry had “managed to keep its head above the water and has in fact performed well amidst difficult circumstances”.   While domestic trips declined by 8 % in 2007, the total spend on domestic tourism increased by 17 % to R 26 billion, he added.

“We understand ….many South Africans and visitors from short haul markets are again discovering their own backyards, so to speak.   Visitors are again realising the exceptional value for money South Africa offers as a destination, and we must step up our efforts to boost domestic tourism” said Van Schalkwyk.

The Sho’t Left campaign encourages locals to travel locally, by offering them value for money packages.

Whale Cottage Portfolio www.whalecottage.com