Tag Archives: vineyards

Getting a taste of Chilean wines in Casablanca and Santiago in Chile!

Through a stroke of luck I was invited to visit Santiago in Chile for four days, and in this time I was able to drink some Chilean wines. I also visited Casablanca, a wine region outside Santiago, with my friends Guy and Pia, who live near Casablanca. Continue reading →

Does CNN’s ‘7 stunning Cape Town vineyards’ list have any credibility when they are not in Cape Town?!

haute-cabriere-restaurant-views-2-exlarge-169In my book CNN is a credible news agency, but this image has been severely dented by an article entitled ‘7 stunning Cape Town vineyards with food as good as the wine’, written last week by one Griffin Shea. Not one of the seven wine estates featured are in Cape Town!

The article introduction is short and sweet: ‘It’s no secret that in Cape Town, good wine abounds. But wine farms also host some of South Africa’s best restaurants, which pride themselves on serving up meals from ingredients often grown just steps away from the tables. These restaurants have won enough awards to fill walls, but like so many of South Africa’s best places to eat, they’re generally relaxed, unpretentious affairs where the prices won’t break the bank. Many of the menus are deceptively simple, heavy on local ingredients and farm fare, but prepared with passion and care’.

It does not state on which basis the wine estates were selected, but obviously they had to have a ‘great‘ restaurant, Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 28 April

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   South African Rowan Gormley created online retailer Naked Wines in the UK six years ago, and has funded the expansion of his Naked Wines company into the USA and Australia too, via ‘crowdfunding‘.  Called ‘angels‘, investors pay £20 a month, and receive wines at discounted prices.   This year the company plans to invest £70 million in 145 vineyards in 13 countries.  The system is so popular that investors are ‘queuing’ to join.

*   Former suspended SAA CEO Monwabisi Kalawe, once Chairman of Cape Town Tourism, has tendered his resignation and has withdrawn his attempts to be reinstated by the airline.  He will receive a three-month salary Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 2 July

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*   Former World’s 50 Best Restaurant number 1 chef in the world, Ferran Àdria of elBulli, says that the standard of cheffing is at its highest level ever, being ‘the best in history‘, and that the gap between a 3 star Michelin restaurant and a casual dining restaurant is the smallest ever!  Àdria advised top restaurants to differentiate themselves on aspects other than the food, to justify their higher prices, suggesting their wine list, service, and decor.  Cocktails also are a point of differentiation,with bartenders seeking inspiration for new recipes from chefs.

*   Wine writer Joe Roberts says that a very small percentage of the 8000 wineries (with 16000 brands) in the USA is embracing digital marketing.  While 44% of consumers are connecting with digital, only an estimated 1% of American wine marketing spend is on digital advertising.  No more than 80 of the wineries have dedicated digital practitioners.  In a week, winery brands receive 2 – 20 mentions on digital platforms, of which 80% go unanswered.  One wonders if the South African stats are any better for our local wine estates’ usage of digital marketing?

*   For the third year running vineyards in Burgundy have been hit by a hail storm, causing damage to 40 – 90% of Continue reading →

Condé Nast Traveller guides tourists to Cape Town, with glaring errors!

A ‘Cape Town’ Google Alert two days ago alerted me to an(undated) Condé Nast Traveller  ‘Guide To Cape Town’, a twelve page listing of accommodation and restaurant recommendations, as well as containing suggestions for shopping, what to do, and what to see in Cape Town.  While all publicity is good for our city, it is interesting to read one of the world’s most highly regarded travel magazine’s tourist suggestions, and to note how out of date the guide is, and what blatant errors it contains.  One would have thought that Cape Town Tourism would work with the publisher of such a Guide, to check the accuracy of the content before it is published!

The introduction to the Guide is short and sweet: “With the striking Table Mountain as a backdrop, beautiful beaches and a relaxed and cosmopolitan atmosphere, it is no wonder Cape Town is attracting more visitors than ever.  Fortunately, there are enough stylish and affordable places for every visitor to stay in, ranging from chic boutique hotels in the city centre to out-of-town mansion houses.  The city also boasts historical buildings, interesting museums, shopping malls, restaurants, jazz cafés, theatres and nightclubs. On top of this, there are excellent surfing beaches and charming vineyards along the pristine coastline, and the spectacular Cape of Good Hope 70 km south of the city”.  Two observations: This description of Cape Town says “beauty”, long the positioning for Cape Town, but one that Cape Town Tourism has thrown away for the city, now focusing on ‘Inspiration’ for the city!  Second, the first glaring error is made, in writing about the inaccurate distance of the Cape of Good Hope from the city! 

*  Accommodation establishments are recommended across various price levels, denoted with £ symbols, up to 5 for the most expensive.  Interestingly Newmark Hotels’ Dock House, the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, and the One&Only Cape Town are denoted at £££££, but the exact rate range is not defined.  However, Dock House dropped its rates by about 28 % recently, which is not reflected.  The Cape Grace Hotel was the city’s second most expensive hotel in the Cape Town hotel rate survey  we conducted earlier this month, but was given a ££££ rate rating by Condé Nast Traveller, as are No 7 Glen Beach, and the Table Bay Hotel.  Even more oddly, Ellerman House was the most expensive hotel in our survey, yet is indicated at only a £££ rate level, together with Ezard House, The Mount Nelson, the Grand Daddy (clearly not in the same price league), the Twelve Apostles Hotel, and POD in Camps Bay.  The Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel is rated at a ££ rate, odd for this very upmarket 5-star hotel, with the Hout Bay Manor, and the Bishop’s Court.  The most affordable rate recommendations are Head South Lodge, Hemingway House, Ikhaya Guest Lodge, Kensington Place, La Splendida, Les Cascades de Bantry Bay, Rosedene Lodge, The Walden House, and Welgelegen Guest House, with vastly varying rates in this most ‘affordable’ category.  We miss the über-trendy new Queen Victoria Hotel in this list. No ‘World Cup hotels’ are listed at all.

*   Restaurant recommendations are even more interesting, being Beluga, Blues (‘one of Cape Town’s best-known eateries’, says the Guide!), The Codfather, La Colombe (‘considered by many to be South Africa’s finest‘), Den Anker, Haiku, Giovanni’s Deli, La Perla, Mano’s, Noon Gun Tea Room & Restaurant, and Tokara (‘lots of springbok and ostrich, but also pasta and seafood’, probably describing the Tokara under the chefmanship of Etienne Bonthuys, who left almost a year ago.  Also, the restaurant is not in Cape Town!).  The list seems old as well as old-fashioned, and does not capture the exciting new city restaurant openings such as The Test Kitchen, Dash, Hemelhuijs, Caffe Milano, What’s On EateryLa Mouette, and Dear Me, and clearly is dated, based on the Tokara description.  Some of the restaurant recommendations included in the list are odd!

*   Nightlife recommendations are Marco’s African Place (for its jazz, and ‘indigenous and international cuisine with a smile’), and Marimba’s Cigar Bar in the Convention Centre.

*   Recommended attractions to see are Robben Island, the Two Oceans Aquarium, and Jazz at the Winchester Mansions, the latter hardly being a tourist attraction!

*   Recommended things to do are Camps Bay beach (except when the south-easter blows, the Guide qualifies), Clifton, walking, the City Bowl (‘a 15-minute drive from Cape Town city centre’!), Fourth Beach (mentioned again, even though mentioned under ‘Clifton’ already), Green Point, and Sea Point. Oddly, there is no mention of going to Cape Point or up Table Mountain, or even to Signal Hill, nor take the popular Hop On Hop Off bus!

*  Shopping recommendations are Belafonte (men’s clothing), Billie Boutique, African Image, Okha, The Plush Bazaar, Dolce and Banana, Olga Jewellery Design Studio, Peter Gilder, Greenmarket Square, the Waterfront Craft Market, and the ‘Victoria & Albert (sic) Waterfront’ (after 20 years of being in existence, this error is unforgivable)!   One wonders if the outlets mentioned are Cape Town’s finest.  A pity is that none of the lovely design outlets on the Cape Town Design Route are mentioned. 

*  In the section of how to get to Cape Town, the Guide does not even get the name of Cape Town Tourism correct, calling it ‘Tourism Cape Town’, on the basis of its web address!  It encourages visitors to visit the Pinnacle Building and other branches.  We urge Cape Town Tourism to provide correct details of its name to Condé Nast Traveller!  The Guide adds in this section: “avoid the tourist influx during December and January, when accommodation is expensive and hard to find, and stay clear of the gales from September – November”!  This is a very scary sentence, and is enough to wipe out the mainstay of the Cape Town international tourist support, with the inaccurate information about the ‘tourist influx’ (a window of 26 December – 3 January only), and the description of the south-easter is exaggerated and the time period mentioned not accurate!

*  A gross error in the Travel Information section is the reference to the languages ‘most commonly spoken’ in Cape Town are English, Afrikaans, Sesotho (!), isiXhosa and isiZulu(!).  It also lists Ascension Day as a public holiday (long been abolished).  Food that is popular is described as meat, especially sosaties (incorrectly described as ‘curried lamb chops’), ‘boerwors sausage’ (sic), and cuts of ‘springbok, kudu, bush-pig and eland cooked over wood coals’, a joke!  Fish, especially crayfish, is also on the menu, and ‘South Africa produces excellent wines, too’, says the Guide  An ‘interesting fact’ listed is that the country used to have two official languages, and now there are 11, it writes!  ‘Compulsory reading’ for future visitors to Cape Town is “Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Road (sic) to Freedom”!

The numerous errors and out-of-date information contained in the Condé Nast Traveller  Cape Town Guide are not only unforgivable for such a prestigious and influential travel publication, but are also damaging in their reference to the wind and New Year season.  One wonders whether the compiler of this Cape Town guide ever came to Cape Town, based on the geographical inaccuracies it contains!   Cape Town Tourism’s PR department should urgently address the inaccuracies in the Guide, when it has time in-between its incessant Tweeting!

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

Restaurant Review: Seasons Restaurant at Diemersfontein functional, no Woolworths!

I cannot help but associate Diemersfontein with Woolworths, which creates a very high expectation.  Max Sonnenberg first bought Diemersfontein in 1943 as a fruit farm outside Wellington, and it now is run by his grandson David.  Max Sonnenberg was the founder of Woolworths in 1931, and is South Africa’s leading retail outlet,  synonymous with quality and innovation.   I did not find any such “Woolworths” quality at Diemersfontein and its restaurant Seasons when I had lunch there last Sunday, on my weekend visit to the Wellington Wine Route.  

It starts when you drive in, and the entrance wall states that Diemersfontein is a ‘residential wine estate’, which seems to be more focused on the residential side of things.  As one drives to the restaurant, one does not see any vineyards, just dry dusty land.   The view from the restaurant is onto the Paarl Mountain in the far distance, and onto a very dusty and dry field below, with some horses on it, as well as a dam.  Again, one has no sense of being on a wine estate at all. 

The Seasons restaurant and wine tasting building is a functional one, and the two sections are linked by a courtyard, with shading provided, given the Wellington heat.   There is no Seasons branding on the restaurant building, and if I had not seen guests eating outside, I would not have known where to go.  I had expected the restaurant to be the old manor house, which I had visited many years ago, but that has become guest accommodation, and serves as an office for Mr Sonnenberg, I was told.  For the quality of the wines, the Diemersfontein reputation, and the Sonnenberg ownership, I was shocked at the restaurant interior, with garden furniture inside, and a gap in one section, with no tables at all.   There is no attractive reception counter, or any redeeming feature to make this restaurant look attractive, and it is purely function-driven.  My heart sank, and I feared the worst.    I chose to sit outside, also on garden furniture, which was more appropriate.   Plants have been planted in old wine vats, but looked sadly neglected and probably take a beating from the south-easter and heat, and were more functional looking, to fill a vat, rather than to look attractive or to add colour to the courtyard. 

I was ignored when I arrived, and there did not seem to be a Restaurant Manager on duty at all. I had to ask the waitress Denisia, who walked past me, if she could seat me.  She wanted to know for how many persons the booking was, so that she could find my booking.  She was not interested in my name, as the number of persons booked would identify which table I should be seated at!  My heart sank further when Denisia could not tell the surname of the chef, and she told me immediately that he was not on duty anyway!   Edward Maqegu took over from Chef Johan van Schalkwyk, who now runs The Stone Kitchen on the Dunstone Boutique Winery  on the Bovlei Road in Wellington.   Chef Johan still does the catering for events at Diemersfontein.   Denisia redeemed herself, and was very attentive throughout the rest of my visit, and brought me a massive jug of lemon and ice water.  

The tables have a good quality white table cloth with a burgundy material serviette.  The cutlery is average, certainly not purchased from Woolworths!   Each table has a small Cape Herb and Spice Company salt and pepper grinder, which could have been bought at Woolworths.  The black plastic covered menu has untidy plastic pockets for each menu page, and an introduction promises: “Fresh local ingredients, beautifully presented”.  The latter certainly is an overpromise.  The menu also asks one to tell the waitress if one is rushed for time, something I have not seen before.  The menu has a Tapas list of ten items, which serves as the starters, Denisia said, and then lists main courses (none above R110, which is for venison) and desserts (R35 – R40).   The menu has a Diemersfontein wine recommendation for every item on the menu, including each Tapas item. 

I had ordered the duck liver paté, and it arrived soon after the order was placed, three generous triangular slices, a steal at R20.  I had asked for it to be served with toast, but the bread arrived untoasted, and was quickly returned toasted.  It was functionally presented on a sideplate with a sprig of parsley, not passing the ‘beautiful’ test. I took half of the paté home.   Other Tapas options include Bobotie Wontons, salmon and asparagus, and prawn cocktail, ranging in price from R20 – R38.  One can also order light meals such as burgers and a prego steak roll, and there is a choice of four salads.  The kingklip (R95) was fantastic, to my surprise, just simply grilled, with no hard crust as I had experienced at Mange Tout last week,  two very generous pieces, with crushed new potatoes and a green vegetable mix of beans (slightly undercooked), broccoli and courgettes.  Out of place, and not really adding to the ‘beauty’ of the dish, was a very dangerous-looking orange aioli made with roasted peppers and mayonnaise.   I was served a fish knife for it.  Other main course choices include fillet, lamb cutlets, chicken Malay curry, prawns, and venison.  Had I stayed for dessert, I could have ordered Créme Bruleé, chocolate mousse, milk tart, lemon cheese cake and chocolate and pecan nut tart.

The winelist is in a similar plastic cover, and will not win any Diner’s Club Winelist awards.  It is a very restricted winelist, and consists mainly of Diemersfontein wines and is proudly-Wellington in the choice of the rest, and the prices are exceptionally reasonable.  What is a shame is that the Thokozani (Zulu word for ‘let’s celebrate’) brand is not explained on the winelist, as being an empowerment project at Diemersfontein.  Two sparkling wines are offered: Thokozani (R18/R105) and Villiera Tradition Brut (R150).   The Thokozani “CVV” (a chardonnay, chenin blanc and viognier blend) costs R16/R54. The Thokozani Rosé  costs R12/R39.  The Shiraz options are both from the estate – Diemersfontein Shiraz costs R23/R78 and Carpe Diem R34/R120.

Seasons also serves breakfast from 8h00 – 11h00, costing R55 for Boland Eggs Benedict, and the other egg options cost less.  A fruit platter with yoghurt and muesli seems expensive at R55.  I would go back to Seasons Restaurant for the kingklip alone, but the restaurant is in need of a major interior and management overhaul, and must live up to its ‘beautiful’ plating promise.  Seasons has such amazing potential, with a captive audience of home owners on the estate, and its proximity to the traffic flow in and out of Wellington.  Given that the town is in dire need of good quality restaurants, it is missing a golden business opportunity. 

Seasons Restaurant, Diemersfontein, Jan van Riebeeck Drive, Wellington.   Tel (021) 864-5050.     www.diemersfontein.co.za  (The website dedicates only one page to the restaurant, and has no photographs of the food.  The menu is available.  It clearly has not been updated for a while, as the Thokozani wine range is not featured in the Wine section).   Monday – Sunday, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

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

Restaurant Review: Franschhoek Kitchen refreshingly new!

Inquisitiveness led me to one of Franschhoek’s newest restaurants, the Franschhoek Kitchen, which opened three months ago, on the recently renamed Holden Manz Wine Estate.   I had not seen anything written about it nor heard anyone recommend it yet.  Despite the incredibly hot 42°C day, I was impressed with the refreshing approach to the restaurant, and its chef Bjorn Dingemans. 

The restaurant was previously called Genot, which had been built on the Klein Genot wine estate.  The estate had belonged to Angie and Joey Diamond, but they had to hastily sell by auction last year.  Surprisingly from a marketing perspective, the new owners have decided to change the brand name to Holden Manz, and even the Klein Genot wines will be rebranded in future.   Information about the new owners Migo Manz and Gerard Holden is scant from the staff, saying they are international businessmen.  They are about to open a contemporary African art gallery on the main road in Franschhoek.  The restaurant is into its third phase – it had opened originally under the eye of Bertus Basson from Overture and his colleague Mark.   They withdrew after a year when they did not make money there.  Then Angie Diamond tried to do her own Baia-meets-Franschhoek fish restaurant, which did not succeed either.  Now it has a new chef and a new name, with some of the old staff.

On the surface little has changed.  Branding off the Huguenot Monument Road refers to Klein Genot on the brown provincial signage, but once one reaches one’s destination, the new elephant-themed Holden Manz branding is visible on signage boards and flags.   The security is new, with one half of the narrow gate closed, which means that no one can enter nor leave, even worse so if cars arrive simultaneously from both directions, as happened when I visited.   When I spoke to the security guard, he was very defensive, and said he was busy with paperwork in his security hut.   Not a good welcome, with a wait in the Franschhoek heat.   I became even more nervous when I saw only one car parked outside the cellar and restaurant, and more so when I saw them sitting outside, and not in the restaurant upstairs.   I received an unplanned shower from two sprinklers, which were watering the vines on the way to the restaurant.  

A person looking like a Restaurant Manager asked if I wanted a booking.  However, I had called and made a reservation two days before, and found it odd that he did not seem to know about it, especially as there were no other guests!   He never introduced himself, nor came to speak to me.  I was seated outside, and it probably was a mistake, as the fans on the terrace just circulated the already very hot air.  But Chef Bjorn came to the table when I asked some questions which the waiter Lorenzo could not answer.   He indicated immediately that he knew who I was, as he follows bloggers!   We had never met, and he came to Franschhoek from the UK.   He exuded confidence, told me he grew up in Somerset West, trained at the Greenhouse at the Cellars Hohenhort, and then worked at Soho House in Babington, under Chef Ronnie Bonetti, who used to be the Head Chef at the River Café.  He told me that he has a patch of land behind the restaurant in which he can plant his vegetable and herb requirements, making him self-sufficient up to 80 % of his fresh produce requirements.  Salmon is sourced from the trout farm close by.  On Holden Manz he also has access to figs, peaches, grapes, apples and pears, which he can use in his dishes, and he proudly told me that he makes his own chutney.   He has free reign in terms of his menu and kitchen, and changes his lunch and his dinner menu daily, hence it is printed on paper.   The menu is introduced with “please ask us for the provenance of produce & seasonal offerings, we aim to source only organic and local food”.  It ends as follows: “fruits, vegetable & herbs are sourced from our gardens when in season”.  (The menu on the website is very similar to the one I received on Thursday, which means that only one or two items are changed daily).

As far as the decor goes, nothing inside the restaurant has been changed by the new owners – the chandeliers, the purple upholstered chairs around one table (the others are covered with a more subtle beige velvet) and two couches on one side.  The Kitchen is massive, and is open to the patrons to see from their tables.

The view from the restaurant terrace is onto the wine estate’s vineyards and the Franschhoek mountains in the background.   Tables are laid with good quality napery, and contemporary cutlery.  The waiter brought an attractive looking dish with fresh rosa tomatoes from the garden, mixed olive oil and balsamic, and ground salt and pepper.  A very crispy ciabatta was brought to the table, and I had to stop the waiter when he wanted to serve a second slice of the lovely bread.   I started with the Smoked salmon, rosa tomatoes and asparagus salad, beautifully presented and perfect for the hot day (R60).  Other starters that day were tomato, buffalo mozzarella and garden basil salad (R55); soup (R45); beef carpaccio, rocket and parmesan R(60);  grilled squid (R55); and sea bass carpaccio (R55).  Two persons can share an antipasti platter with cured meats, olives, mozzarella, tomatoes, spinach and grilled bread, good value at R75.   It was too hot for a main course, although I was tempted by the prawns and asparagus dish (R160), and will come back to try it.  Other main courses cost under R100, for a pasta of the day, angel fish, and linefish.  Duck breast costs R125, steak R100 for ribeye, and R135 for fillet; lamb chops cost R145.

I loved the description by Chef Bjorn of his Messy Martini dessert, served in a martini glass, with crumbed meringue, fresh cream, blueberries, strawberries and sprinkled with chopped nuts (R40), a steal at the price and a refreshing end to a surprisingly successful meal.  Other dessert options cost R45 for chocolate pot, lemon tart, and a cheese platter.

The winelist is also printed on paper, and Klein Genot wines feature in all varieties offered, and is the only brand served by the glass, except for the sparkling wine, which is by Pierre Jourdan, at R42 (R170) for a glass of Brut and R59 (R235) for the Belle Rose.   A small selection of no more than three brands is offered per variety.  Only the Klein Genot vintages are supplied, not those of the other brands.   No information about the region of origin is provided.   Other than the Klein Genot 2007 Shiraz (R57/R170), Heron Ridge (R120) and Kevin Arnold’s (R395) Shiraz are sold. 

The Franschhoek Kitchen was a breath of fresh (but hot) air, and I will certainly return, to see what Chef Bjorn has up his sleeve next.  He is planning classic movie nights on Wednesdays, accompanied by a three-course meal.  I wish him and the owners more business, as it felt extravagant to have the chef prepare the meal for me alone, but I did not complain!   I was impressed that the sprinklers had been switched off when I went back to my car, and that the security guard had the gate open for me when I left!

POSTSCRIPT: 11/1  I returned to Holden Manz for the Farmer’s Market last Saturday, which was not a typical representation of the foods which are normally available at the fortnightly markets, I was told.   Tonight I went for dinner with my nephew, and had a Caprese salad, with fresh rosa tomatoes and tender basil, served with a rich Buffalo Mozzarella, as a starter, and the prawns and asparagus for the main course.   I would have preferred the prawns to be deshelled, and had to ask for a finger bowl.   The sprinklers were set on a lower level, but still wet the pathway to the car.  The responsiveness by the security staff at the gate could be faster.   The restaurant has received a number of bookings since this review was published on Saturday, Chef Bjorn said proudly.  Now that I know the name of the Manager Martin, he is more responsive, and less introverted.   Chef Bjorn will also take over the Blog and start a Twitter account for Franschhoek Kitchen.

POSTSCRIPT 18/1:  I returned to Franschhoek Kitchen with two Whale Cottage Managers this evening, and all three of us had the linefish – Carole and I both chose the kingklip, served with baby potatoes, asparagus and the freshest Rosa tomatoes from the Holden Manz garden (R90).  Marianna had the sea bass, and found its taste ‘wilder’.   The kingklip was a generous and juicy portion, outstanding in preparation.  Chef Bjorn spoilt us with a platter of wonderful ham and salmon, mozzarella, greens, and olives, served with toasted ciabatta.   For dessert he sent us trial portions of new desserts that have been added to the menu – a brandy panacotta and a white chocolate mousse, the latter being an especially big hit, indulgently tasting a little like cookie batter with a soft meringue topping.    We had a wonderful evening, impressed even more by Chef Bjorn’s cuisine.   When one eats at Franschhoek Kitchen, one gets a glass of Klein Genot Rosé for free with the meal.

POSTSCRIPT 23/4: I returned to the Franschhoek Kitchen on a cold Easter weekend evening, and enjoyed the cosiness of the fire in the restaurant, as well as the good winter-style food prepared by Chef Bjorn Dingemans – wild mushroom and white truffle risotto starter, pork neck stuffed with sage and apple, and a selection of the desserts, including new pastry chef Stuart’s carrot cake, and poached pear and vanilla cream cheese, which the chef sent to the table.  It is good to hear that lunches are getting busy at the restaurant.  Evenings are still quiet, but guests can be collected from guest houses by the Holden Manz shuttle.

POSTSCRIPT 7/8:  Last night I enjoyed one of the Fondue is Fun evenings at Franschhoek Kitchen, which have been a sell-out success since they were introduced earlier this winter.  A fondue pot with boiling oil was set in the centre of the table, and surrounding it was a collection of glass jars, containing fish, chicken, beef strips and prawns, and bowls of boiled potato pieces and crumbed mushrooms.  Sauces one could dip the meat and vegetables into before cooking them were a champagne batter, sweet chilli sauce, and jus.  A collection of spices was also available for dusting one’s fondue items: cajun, fish and vegetable spice.  Delicious crispy bread was available.   We were offered a glass of new Holden Manz port, in an elegant glass.  The fun really started when all the diners were divided into groups, and wine manager Guy Kedian became the quiz-master, testing the Trivial Pursuit knowledge of all present.  Correct answers were rewarded with a point, and for each incorrect answer, the team lost a point.  This brain-taxing exercise was followed by a wonderful Lindt chocolate fondue, with which was served pieces of fruit, Brownies and donuts, all delicious when dipped into the chocolate.  Everyone had a wonderful fun evening.  Further Fondue is Fun evenings this month take place on 17 and 27 August, and cost R150, excluding drinks.

Franschhoek Kitchen, Holden Manz Wine Estate,  Green Valley Road, Franschhoek.   Tel (021) 876- 2729.  www.holdenmanz.com. (The website contains the menu, still lists the festive season specials, and has a small gallery of only interior shots, with no food shots.   A blog has been started, with only three posts to date).  Open Tuesday – Saturday 10h00 – 22h00, and on Sundays 10h00 – 15h00. (The menu says: “sunday is family day – slow cooked lunch or braai”).  No Breakfast is served, only lunch and dinner (the website says Breakfast is served every second Saturday when they host the Farmer’s Market, contrary to the waiter’s information).   Picnics are also offered.

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

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

The Franschhoek Restaurant Route: highlights in the Gourmet Capital

Franschhoek still officially carries the Gourmet Capital crown, even though it faces strong competition from Stellenbosch, which is seeing the opening of an increasing number of excellent restaurants, so much so that we recently suggested that the town establish the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

Franschhoek probably has sat back on its gourmet laurels for a while, but must be delighted about the opening of two new excellent restaurants, Ryan’s Kitchen and Pierneef à La Motte, which add new interest to Franschhoek as a culinary destination.  In fairness to Franschhoek, I have suggested a Franschhoek Restaurant Route:

*   Pierneef à La Motte is culinary art, and has upped the quality of Franschhoek’s restaurant choice.  Its focus is Winelands Boerekos with a contemporary twist.  Chef Chris Erasmus is a breath of fresh air, working with historic recipes and transforming them into works of art,  reflecting Pierneef’s standards.  Tel (021) 876-8000

*   Grande Provence  is quietly delivering quality cuisine, with chef Darren Roberts doing the most beautiful presentation of his food.   The restaurant is not afraid to charge  a price that reflects his standards of cooking.   Outstanding decor, and surrounded by artwork from its Gallery.  Perfection is visible from the time one drives into the wine estate.  Top 10 restaurant for the past two years. Tel (021) 876-8600.

*   The Tasting Room is loved by some, but not by all.  It is expensive.  It seems to have good nights and bad nights.  Joint 10th with Overture on Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant List last year.  Tel (021) 876-2151

*   Ryan’s Kitchen has only been open for three months, set in a guest house,  with a high-tech kitchen, and quality cuisine by chef Ryan Smith.  “Contemporary South African cuisine” is the restaurant positioning, and a stronger African feel will be introduced in October, with a “Taste of Africa” menu.   Tel (021) 876-4598

*   Reuben’s has been the darling of Franschhoek, and a recent Tweet stated that it is the restaurant that tourists visit, while those that know go to Le Bon Vivant.   Opened 6 years ago, the restaurant’s service standards have dropped as Reuben’s has expanded to Robertson, and chef Reuben Riffel has taken on more projects.  Recently lost the sommelier to Bosman’s, but may not be a bad thing for the restaurant, as she was not very customer-friendly.  The biggest compliment to Reuben and his team, but also the largest challenge, in opening Reuben’s at One&Only Cape Town  (A first meal at the new Reuben’s was a-maze-ing).   Tel (021) 876-3772

*   Allee Bleue has been very low key restaurant-wise, and it is uncertain exactly where the management wants to go with its dining options.  The Bistro at the entrance to the wine estate has always been friendly, and serves Bistro-style food at reasonable prices.  The departure of Chef Dane Newton is a shame, but with his replacement currently working at the Michelin-starred Schwarzer Adler, interesting things could be coming out of this kitchen soon. Tel (021) 874-1021

*   Cafe Bon Bon is one of the most relaxed and friendly breakfast and lunch-time stops in Franschhoek, on a most beautifully developed small-holding.  Tel (021) 876-3936

*   Haute Cabriere is owned by Franschhoek restaurant mogul Matthew Gordon.  While many find the ‘cave’-like interior a shame given the beautiful view outside, it remains popular, also as a wedding venue, and has a good relationship with Cabriere wines. Tel (021) 876-3688

*   La Petite Ferme is one of the best known restaurants with consistent quality and does not amend its menu much.  Visitors return, not only for the quality food but also for the wonderful view over Franschhoek, and for the relaxed atmosphere.  Tel (021) 876-3016

*   Dieu Donné also has an excellent view from its glass ‘walls’.   Its food quality was better when it first opened about two years ago. Tel (021) 876-2493

*   Le Bon Vivant is tucked away, off the main road, and is a ‘loner’, doing its own thing.  Beautiful presentation of food by chef Pierre. Tel (021) 876-2717

*   Rickety Bridge has a restaurant right at the vineyards, and offers picnics in summer.  Tel (021) 876-2129

*   French Connection is another Matthew Gordon restaurant, and is a pedestrian favourite of locals and tourists.  Good main road location.  Serving breakfast as well now.  Tel (021) 876-4056

*   Dutch East was struggling when we visited it in June.  It seemed to be trying too hard.   There is no particular style of food served.   Tel (021) 876-3547

*   Chez d’Or was previously Cafe Rouge, and has expanded its size, and brought the restaurant closer to the main road.   Sandwiches and pedestrian Bistro food.   Tel 082 372 7645

*   Allora is a good quality Italian restaurant.  Despite sister-restaurants in Johannesburg, the welcome is personal and one does not get a chain-feel at all. Good value family eating.  Tel (021) 876-4375.

*   Col’Cacchio is one of a chain by the same name, and one can predict what is on offer.  Not the best service, but very popular for outside sitting.   Tel (021) 876-4222

*  Boschendal– other than going there for historical reasons, or to eat their long-standing buffet lunch, there is little to attract one to an estate that does not yet embrace excellence, a shame given its heritage.  Its Le Piqniques are well-known and very popular in summer.   Tel (021) 870-4272

*   Fyndraai at Solms-Delta wine estate is a pleasant surprise, with interesting Kaapse kos.  On good weather days, sitting on the terrace is a treat.  Tel (021) 874-3937

*   Cotage Fromage is a joint venture between Matthew Gordon, Duncan Doherty and Pierre Smith, serving breakfasts and lunches, and doing the catering for wedding and other events at Vrede & Lust.   The menu does not reflect the capabilities of the three chefs.   Tel (021) 874-3991

*   The Grillroom is another Matthew Gordon restaurant, and fills a niche for patrons wanting mainly steak.  Unique restaurant in that one can buy good quality meat to take home too, as well as Franschhoek wines.   Tel (021) 876-2548

*   Cafe des Arts has taken over from Topsi’s, a Franschhoek institution.  Topsi still appears to be there regularly. (Tel (021) 876-2952

*   Salmon Bar is undergoing a renovation in part of the old Bouillabaisse building, which will enhance its visibility when it re-opens in November. Tel (021) 876- 4591

*   Bread & Wine is linked to Le Quartier Français, and only serves lunches.  Previously included in Eat Out Top 10 list, to the surprise of many. Good bread and charcuterie.  Tel (021) 876-3692.

*   Mon Plaisir is on the Chamonix estate, and is owned by a French couple offering French fare.  Little ambiance inside the restaurant.  Tel (021) 876-2393

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