Tag Archives: vintage

Diners Club Winelist Awards 2019 top Icon Award status goes to two Gauteng restaurants!

The most coveted 2019 Diners Club Winelist Award, its Icon Award, recognising restaurants that meet all the requirements of a Diamond Award, but also feature an extensive collection of international wines, as well as Reserve and vintage wines, having a sommelier on the floor, and having ‘a deep interest in wine curation’, were awarded to Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient Boutique Hotel in Pretoria, and the Saxon Hotel Villas & Spa in Johannesburg. This is the second year that the Icon Awards have been presented, to both restaurants.  Continue reading →

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 27 August

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine news headlines

*  SA Tourism will spend R100 million to market our country domestically, Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom has announced.  The domestic campaign ‘Nothing’s more fun than a Sho’t Left’ communicate that local travel is fun and economical.  Local tourists spent R24 billion last year. The goal is to have 18 million domestic tourists by 2020.

*   The Wine & Spirits Board has revised its definition of premium brandy, following legislation to this effect.  The legislation dictates how vintage and potstill brandies are made. Vintage brandies must be matured in oak casks of maximum 340 litres for eight years or more,while potstill brandy must contain 100% potstill brandy, previously up to 10% unmatured wine spirit having been allowed.   Our country’s brandy industry is worth R3,5 billion per annum.  The changes were introduced as brandies compete directly with single malt whisky and cognac. Continue reading →

Thelema Wines to sparkle with new MCC this year!

Thelema Banner and candle Whale Cottage PortfolioThelema hosted a tasting of its Thelema and Sutherland brand wines for hotel and restaurant staff as well as writers at Dear Me in the city centre yesterday.  At the tasting it was announced that a Thelema MCC will be launched later this year.

We were welcomed with a glass of 1994 MCC, a once-off production, which had been made for a family wedding.  It was disgorged three years ago. Thelema was bought by Gyles Webb in 1983, then a 157 ha fruit farm. It is one of the highest and coolest wine estates in the area.  The first wines were produced in 1988. The Thelema Family Trust bought the 100 ha Sutherland farmThelema MCC Whale Cottage Portfolio in Elgin in 2002, and half of the apple orchards were replaced with vines.  The Sutherland wines are slower to ripen, being grown in the cooler climate Elgin, have more minerality, are more approachable, and can be drunk sooner. They are made at Thelema’s cellar in Stellenbosch.  Rudi Schultz has been the winemaker since 2000, with Webb the Cellarmaster. Thelema is particularly well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon. Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: Knife Restaurant serves good cuts of steak!

Knife Restaurant is an American smoke-house themed restaurant, known particularly for its very tasty BBQ-sauce marinated and smoked ribs, and is a sister restaurant to Fork, a tapas style restaurant in Long Street, described as a “plateful on a fork”.  Knife opened three months ago in the rather kitsch looking Crystal Towers Hotel in Century City, with its magenta lighting, odd furniture, and even odder fisherman ‘fishing’ in a water feature in the Reception. 
It is hard to define what Knife stands for from the décor.  It is dominated by a central bar counter, with a hodge podge of interior styles, and different seating areas around it, accommodating about 100 patrons. Two walls are wallpapered with images of children of the owner Ed Saunders, to reflect that children are welcome to eat there.  Another wall has depictions of beef and pig cuts.  The music was very loud, but was turned down.   The lighting was on an automatic dimmer switch for the whole restaurant, reducing down to a very low ‘dull day’ light setting at 20h00, for which the manager struggled to find the switch to turn the lighting up again.  Raw cement columns dominate the space, and look unfinished, and seem out of place with the rest of the décor.  The décor is in strong contrast to the rest of the hotel.   There are wooden tables and chairs, and massive red/white dishcloth-type serviettes.  We chose a table close to a sliding door leading to the parking area, with a cold inflow of air whenever the door opened on the cold rainy night, so we moved around the corner to stay warm.   
 

I had invited my friend Sarah from Durban to join me for dinner, and our first reaction was one of uncertainty as to whether we would be happy there.  Everything changed when the charming then-Manager David Elsbury came to the table, and took personal care of us, entertaining us with his friendly and cheerful nature. He compared Knife to Carne and HQ as competitors in terms of the quality of their steaks.   David worked at Wakami previously, and helped set up the new bar for Knife.  He has left to move into a non-hospitality job, for the sake of better working hours to benefit his family.  JD Haasbroek is a partner with Saunders in the business, and compiled the winelist, making sure to add boutique wine farm brands.  The chef Jonathan Japha moved over from Fork.

David told us that the Knife at Century City is the first of a number of franchised steak and rib Knife restaurants planned, next ones to be in Johannesburg and Durban.  A Spoon restaurant may also be considered, concentrating on soups and desserts, which seemed an attractive concept, we felt.    

The menu is equally “mish mash”, reflecting the interior.  It offers starters, salads, burgers, fish and shellfish, steaks and ribs, and platters.  A selection of sauces, including creole mayo, wholegrain mustard, blue cheese, cumin and cream, and green peppercorn and bourbon sauce, costs R25 each.   Extra sides of salads and vegetables can also be ordered at R 25 each. 

A 400g portion of “smoked sticky BBQ baby back ribs” costs R 80, and a 600g portion R110.  The ribs are oak-smoked and marinated for 24 hours in a special BBQ marinade.   Steaks are cut from Chalmar beef that has been aged for 28 days before serving.  David explained that Chalmar beef is grain-fed, and has no added hormones. Sirloin and rump steak choices are offered, at an acceptable price of R95/R115 for 200g/300g rump, and R110/130 for 200g/300g sirloin.  Fillet costs R 135, but the portion size is not specified.  Both meat types are served with French fries and corn on the cob (for the American touch!), as well as a sauce of one’s choice.  David organised that my steak came with a boiled potato.  The rump steak was excellent, cooked medium rare perfectly, as ordered, and the taste of the marinade came through.  Sarah ordered the vegetarian sticky sweet potato stack with mozzarella and tomato relish (R40), and felt that there was too little vegetable and too much sauce, overpowering the sweet potato.  She indulged in a Rocky Road dessert (R50), finding the marshmallows quite hard, making them difficult to chew, whilst the rest of the dessert was soft, “melt-in-the-mouth”, in her words.

Starter options range from R 40 – R65, and include a  variety of choices, including Creole mussel curry and Cajun lamb ribs.  The Caesar salad costs R50, while a Nicoise salad made from seared game fish costs R70.  Burger choices included one made from chickpea (R55), and a bacon and cheese burger (R65).  On the seafood side one can order Creole fishcakes (R65), sole and line fish (R90), king prawn gumbo (R110), and crayfish tails at R180.   A Meat platter costs R220 for two persons, and contains a selection of ribs, chicken wings, rump steak, lamb chops and a sauce.  A Seafood platter for two persons costs R240.

The winelist has 16 wines-by-the-glass, and I chose a wonderful 2004 Stony Croft Shiraz from Stellenbosch, a Platter 4 1/2 star wine, according to David, which I had not previously heard of, and which was excellent value at R32.  The list is simply divided into “White” and “Red”, and then sub-divided by variety, and the vintage and region is specified, but there is no description of the wine.  Champagne Henri Giraud Espirit de Giraud NV costs R500, Krone Borealis R 40/R180, and Colmant NV R240.  Sauvignon Blancs offered are Badsberg (R23/R92), Reyneke Organic Reserve White the most expensive at R270.  Boekenhoutskloof Shiraz 2007 costs R400.

We paid R280 for a steak, a starter, a dessert, a cappuccino and a glass of red wine.  As Knife is too far away from where I live, I will only go back when next I go on a shopping trip to Canal Walk.  The steak is well worth a visit, and according to David, the ribs are too.

Knife restaurant, Crystal Towers Hotel, corner Century Boulevard and Rialto Road, Century City, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 551-5000 www.knife-restaurants.co.za . The website is functional, informative, has various menus – Christmas specials, kiddies menu, main menu, brunch menu, etc., lists all the reviews, and has a small gallery – more photographs would be welcome.  Monday – Sunday 11h00 – 23h00.  Weekend brunch 10h00 – 15h00.

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

Hamilton Russell goes vertical with 30 year Pinot Noir celebration

One of South Africa’s top wine estates, Hamilton Russell Vineyards from the Hemel & Aarde Valley outside Hermanus, is celebrating the 30th vintage of its award-winning and iconic Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, by launching a 5-year Vertical-Vintage pack of its Pinot Noirs from 2005 – 2009.

Pinot Noir is quoted in The Essential Guide to South African Wines as an “exasperating variety for growers,  wine-makers and consumers alike.  It is sometimes said to be feminine, alluring or capricious, but mostly it is the pursuit of richness and elegance which makes it ultimately satisfy the Holy Grail of winemaking”.  Hamilton Russell Vineyards is listed as one of the key South African Pinot Noir producers.  The 2010 Platter’s Guide awarded the 2009 4,5 stars and the 2008 4 stars, referring to it as ‘long a local classic”, and describing it as “black cherry, herbal aromas, hints of mushroom, forest floor, rhubarb”.

What makes the Vertical-Vintage Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir packs unique is that their back-labels have been specially made for the five-vintage pack, using the works of five top South African artists:

*   2005   William Kentridge

*   2006   Gerard Sekoto

*   2007   Gail Catlin

*   2008   JH Pierneef

*   2009   Beezy Bailey

Hamilton Russell Vineyards is selling 2400 Vertical-Vintage Pinot Noir packs for R 2000 each from its estate.   Only one-fifth of the total number of packs will be sold per year, for the next five years, and each year the cost will increase.   Half of the Vertical-Vintage Pinot Noir packs will be sold locally and the balance internationally.  Owner Anthony Hamilton Russell said: “While many enthusiasts have cellared Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir over the years, there are still a lot who only encounter the wine at a youthful stage.  This vertical allows enthusiasts to really get to know our Pinot Noir and its story of place over time and through different life stages”.

The first  Pinot Noir was planted on the estate in 1976, and its first vintage was sold in 1981.   Hamilton Russell describes the ‘almost uniquely classic and “European” style within the New World, with each vintage showcasing it in a subtly different way.  This is something which has excited wine collectors and Pinot Noir enthusiasts – particularly Burgundy enthusiasts – for 30 vintages.’

Using artwork on wine labels has been done by Tokara, used by William Kentridge for the promotion of his production of the opera ‘The Magic Flute’, and more recently by La Motte, in using woodcuts by JH Pierneef on the bottles as back labels for their Pierneef Collection.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards: Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus.  Tel (028) 312-3595.

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

Restaurant Review: French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar also serves …. French Toast!

French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar opened about ten days ago, and is a homely cosy wine lounge that has been created in what was previously a warehouse in Bree Street.   It is the type of place that one would pop in to for a drink before or after a function, and have a bite to eat.  It has one of the largest collections of wines-by-the-glass in Cape Town, with over 108 choices of local and international wines.   It is not cheap to eat and drink there, and portions are small, but it does offer a good selection of price options.

French Toast has a heavyweight management.   Owner John Harrison was a stockbroker on the Paris Bourse, and told me that the French bug bit him there, hence the French feel through the name and the café style music that is played.  John was the CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company for many years, and built up its business and introduced the new cable cars during his management of the company.  He was a client of my then-PR company many moons ago.   He spoke passionately about his new project, and how they renovated the double story building in an unbelievable three months, being hands-on in the renovation.   Raw brick walls give it a warm feeling, blackboards communicate the wine and food specials, and windows have been built to add light upstairs. There is a bar counter upstairs and downstairs, and the downstairs one will probably be the more popular one in winter, with its massive fireplace.  The upstairs section is huge, with seating for at least 80-100 persons.  A small boardroom downstairs can host meetings and functions of up to 10 persons, Shane told us.   The decor is upmarket, but the food is not fine dining, with an emphasis on wines, explained Shane.   The cutlery is shiny and new, the glassware is good, but only paper serviettes are supplied.

Karen Visser is a partner in French Toast with John, was a bio-kineticist, and is a passionate golfer and winelover, studying at the Cape Wine Academy.   She compiled the winelist in the main, and has no previous restaurant experience.  GM of the new wine lounge is Gidi Caetano, who was the GM of Salt Restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel, and also oversaw the opening of Salt Deli and Salt Vodka Bar until recently.   She also worked at The Showroom and was a hospitality trainer.   The Manager Shane has an interesting undefinable accent, having grown up in Hawaii, and lived in the UK before moving to South Africa.  He previously worked at the Protea Hotel Victoria Junction, the Devon Valley Hotel, and the 0932 Belgian restaurant in Green Point, which has since closed down.  Chef Jannie Mellis owned East London’s best restaurant, he says, the Two Dogs Bistro, and was at Bushmanskloof Lodge prior to that.  He said he came back to Cape Town “to get into the hub of food again”, a nice compliment for Cape Town. The staff are smartly dressed in black shirts and pants, a French Toast branded apron, and a turquoise tie.

We found it terribly chilly upstairs, but Shane assured me that the airconditioning was not on.  When we moved from table to table, to find the warmest spot, we discovered that a sliding door had been left wide open.  When it had been closed, all was fine.   The music was rather loud when we arrived, but seemed to have been turned down a little while we were there.  

The wines are closed with a wine preservation system Le Verre du Vin, being special rubber wine and sparkling wine bottle stoppers, allowing opened wines to be kept for up to three months.  I chose the same glass of wine I had a week ago, the Mullineux Shiraz 2008, at R83 for a 150ml glass.  The wine has the characteristic of an old-fashioned smoky shiraz, my favourite, but the very chilled serving, at 13°C, was too cold to my liking.  Four Cap Classiques are available, ranging from R44/R195 for Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel to R 81/R380 for Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc.   Seven champagnes can be ordered, Le Mesnil Blanc de Blanc costing R135/R650, and the most pricey is Dom Perignon, sold by bottle only, at R3000.   They also stock Veuve Cliquot, Billecart Salmon Rose and Guy Charbaut.  Seven Sauvignon Blancs are stocked, that of La Motte costing R31/R130, and the Cape Point Vineyard Reserve is the most expensive, at R57/R260.   Seven Shiraz/Syrah wines are served, starting with Rickety Bridge at R35/R165, and Haskell Vineyards is the most expensive at R111/R530.   Imported wines from France, Italy and Germany are also available, and range from R33/R142 – R153/R740.   The branded winelist provides information about the vintage and origin of each wine, but has no descriptions of the wines or the varieties.

The menu, on a laminated sheet without any branding, is broken down into Snacks, Tapas, Charcuterie, Cheese Platters and Desserts, and has a Mediterranean feel to it.   Snacks include olives, almonds, chillies (R30 each) and oysters (R10 each).    The Tapas selection of 16 dishes range in price from R30 – R50, with empanadas, prawns, smoked salmon trout, caprese skewers and more.   The charcuterie platter allows one to select three of a choice of imported meats, including chorizo, parma ham, salami and jamon serano, for R50.  Similarly, one can choose three cheeses for R55, from a selection of six.  Breads come from Jardine Bakery, a few meters away, and sometimes from Knead.   Chef Jannie makes his own preserves and pasta.

There is not much attention paid to the presentation of the dishes, I felt, being functionally presented on white plates.   I had the calamari and lemon (R38), and asked Chef Jannie not to add the chilli.   My (student) son had the delicious herb and pecorini croquettes (R35), as well as the parma ham and mozzarella aroncini fried stuffed rice balls (R45), but was still starving after the two tapas dishes, and therefore ordered patatas bravas with a homemade spicy tomato sauce (R45), which he proclaimed to be excellent.  I had to have the French Toast, after which the restaurant is named, one of the three desserts on the menu (R40), two tiny baguette slices served with not-so-nice almond ice cream. The cappuccino (R16) made from Origin coffee was excellent.   The specials board advertised white anchovies, Pisto bruschetta, and cheddar and rice balls.   Chef Jannie said that from the feedback received to his dishes since opening, he will be amending his menu next week. 

In general the tapas portions are small, and therefore French Toast is not the place to have a meal, but rather a glass of wine with a tapas snack.  We paid R385 for five tapas dishes and two glasses of red wine. 

POSTSCRIPT 15/1:  I have returned to French Toast a few times since I wrote the review two months ago.  Every time I have been warmly received by the management team.   Today I returned for a late Saturday afternoon cappuccino, and was impressed with the new summer menu.   My eye caught the asparagus tapas, at R35, crispy and crunchy, simply served with lemon, the best asparagus I have tasted.   Then I saw a Seafood salad advertised on a Specials board, for R55, and had to have it, when the Manager Gidi explained that it contained steamed prawns and crayfish, with bisque aïoli, beautifully presented, which had been a criticism I had expressed previously.  I felt that Chef Jannie has progressed by leaps and bounds, not only in terms of his menu selection, food preparation, but also in terms of the food presentation.  On the wine side an innovate wine trio 50 ml flight is offered for Sauvignon Blanc (Delaire, Hillcrest and Reyneke Organic), at R40 for the three wines;  the Sparkling wine flight is Steenberg 1682, Teddy Hall,  and Sterhuis, at R65, or R100 if served with a trio of oysters; and the Shiraz flight is from Eagle’s Nest, Haskell Aeon, and La Motte Shiraz Viognier, costing R80.

French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar, 199 Bree Street, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 422-3839. www.frenchtoastwine.com (website still under construction).  Twitter @FrenchToastWine. Monday – Saturday 12h00 – 23h00.  No BYO allowed, the winelist says.

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

Restaurant Review: The Grillroom – restaurant, butchery and vinoteque all in one

The Grillroom opened on the main road of Franschhoek, not far from the Huguenot Monument, in a historic building belonging to Franschhoek property mogul Trevor Kirsten, almost two months ago.   The owner of the restaurant is Franschhoek restaurateur Matthew Gordon, who owns Haute Cabriere, French Connection (with Kirsten as well), and is a co-owner of Cotage Fromage on Vrede & Lust wine estate.   It opened as a unique one-stop restaurant, butchery and vinoteque.

The building has an L-shape, and allows the restaurant to be divided into three separate sections – the main restaurant section has about 10 tables, and a welcoming fireplace for those cold Franschhoek winter nights.  The butchery section is much smaller, whilst a private dining room upstairs can seat about 16 guests.  The Vinoteque is also upstairs.

The restaurant interior is sparsely decorated, with some black and white photographs.  Red light fittings dominate.   Raw brickwork gives the restaurant a cosy informal feel, not as gourmet as some of the other restaurants on the same road in this gourmet village of note.

Before we looked at the menu, we are told about an extensive list of non-steak specials, mainly seafood ones, which seemed to contradict the “steakhouse” feel of the restaurant.   The no-nonsense menu is a large A3, and introduces the restaurant: “It is a restaurant that takes pains to source the finest meat and age it to perfection.  Only the freshest fish and shellfish from the sustainable list is served.  Each plate is masterfully created for your enjoyment.  Match this with a winelist of international standards and friendly, informed staff.   All our beef is aged for a minimum of 2 weeks before delivery to us.   We then wet age it in a vac pac for a further week before it gets put onto your plate.  We only deal with one producer and our meat is fully traceable to its source to guarantee quality”.

The starter list offers a choice of eight starters, including a “modern day king prawn cocktail with avocado and spicy cocktail sauce” (nice generous portion of juicy prawns, 3 slices of avocado, and too many leaves, tasty cocktail sauce); salmon sashimi; mussels, chicken liver pate and Grabouw wors with chakalaka (a surprise!).  Four salad options are offered, ranging from R 48 for a roasted butternut, beetroot, tomato and chickpea salad with humus, to R78 for a seafood style salad.

The mains are served with delicious crispy thin cut French fries (a Gordon speciality, I have been told, with his mussels), baked potato with sour cream, black mushroom couscous, or savoury rice.  In addition, stir-fried vegetables were also served.  Fillet steak is served in 200 g and 250 g cuts, at R115 and R135, respectively, sirloin and rump R98 for 300 g, 300 g Hanger steak at R88, a 500 g T-bone costs R115 and a 300 g Rib eye steak R105.  A range of sauces can be ordered for an additional R18.  A choice of bastings and of rubs is offered, according to the menu, but was not asked by the waitress (we only saw this after we had left).  My rump steak had a strong peppercorn taste to it, and burnt my mouth when I bit onto the peppercorns.  I expected it to be served plain.   My colleague’s spicy chicken stirfry dish, a special, was to her liking, and was not too strongly spiced. 

Venison is also served, two springbok dishes cost R 125 and R 135.  Beef, ostrich, lamb, chicken and vegetarian burgers are offered, costing R65 – R95.   A list of favourites, such as duck (R125), lamb shank (R95), veal chop (R130), ribs (R110), baby chicken (R95) and calamari (R90) can also be ordered.   Fish is treated as a daily special, but Norwegian salmon is regularly available at R130, as is a mussel dish.  Subject to availability, prawns, crayfish, langoustines, and seafood platters can be ordered.   Dessert choices are limited to creme brulee, chocolate mud cake, pear tart tatin, chocolate spring rolls, at about R40, and a cheese board.

An A3-sized winelist offers an impressive selection of 160 wines, about half of them being from Franschhoek.   The list has a very brief description of the cultivar offered, and lists the region in which the wine is made.   Unfortunately the vintages are not denoted.   All 15 wines-by-the-glass are from Franschhoek wine estates, and are most reasonably priced at about R 25 for the red and white wines.  I was offered a tasting portion of the Eikehof Shiraz first, without asking, and then a generous glassful was poured.  Champagnes are stocked, ranging from R 395 for the Tribaut Brut Rose to R995 for the Bollinger Special Cuvee. Cap Classiques are reasonably priced between R140 – R240, Sauvignon Blancs cost R95 – R250, Chardonnay R90 – R350, Shiraz R95 – R950, Cabernet Sauvignon R95 – R795, Merlot R125 – R285, and Pinotage R120 – R495.  A range of dessert wines is also available. 

The Butchery of The Grillroom  sells 3-week aged beef to take home.  Fillet costs R143 per kg, rump and sirloin R80 per kg, Boerewors R48 per kg, Rib Eye steak R84 per kg, hangar steak R58 per kg, and T-bone steak R88 per kg.   The Vinoteque sells all the wines that are on the winelist, as a wine shop, and restaurant patrons are invited to select a wine from it for their meal. 

The Grillhouse will give locals and visitors to Franschhoek a different style of wining and dining – no-nonsense in an unusual building – historic on the outside, and modern facebrick inside , with friendly staff.   It is a big space to fill.  One wonders how all the restaurants in the village will keep going in winter, when we were one of only 2 tables on a cold wintry mid-week evening.

A request for a photograph to be e-mailed to me for the review was actioned immediately that evening, which is commendable.  A follow-up visit for a cappuccino and pear tart tatin (requested with real cream) over the Franschhoek Literary Festival allowed me to try a dessert, and to meet Dominic Dear, the GM of the restaurant, with a professional and very friendly touch.   The Head Chef is Geraldine White, previously from Dieu Donne in Franschhoek.

The Grillhouse, Heritage Square, Huguenot Street, tel 021 876-2548.  www.thegrillroom.co.za (no content).

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

Cape Town restaurants: can we become world class?

A recent blog post by chef, Eat Out Top 10 restaurant judge and owner of Wild Woods restaurant, Pete Goffe-Wood, is the inspiration for evaluating how ready Cape Town’s restaurants are for the World Cup, a mere three months away today, and for becoming world class.

Goffe-Wood wrote that the local restaurant industry is “teetering on the brink of greatness”, and encouraged his colleagues to “make the leap” to offer the “foreign market waiting to be fed, educated and entertained and we must make sure that we give them what they came for”.    Goffe-Wood identified complaints about high food and wine prices, poor service, and inconsistent food quality as being reflective of problems facing the restaurant industry.

He explained how wine-markups of 200 %, whilst creating outrage, are the norm, and that restaurants have to follow wine producers when they increase their prices every year.   Goffe-Wood is critical about the lack of restaurant reviews in “print media”.  He believes that the industry needs “positive input from informed and educated sources”.   Service , he says “is not to be subservient”, and he seeks a “more professional attitude towards the service we provide”.

So what do we as customers say to restaurants in response to Goffe-Wood’s self-analysis, and to guide them to greatness:

1.  First, well done Pete, for acknowledging that not all is perfect, and for wanting to lift the standard for the restaurant industry in Cape Town.

2.  We expect consistency in a restaurant’s food quality, service, and value-for-money, plus an attractive and interesting decor, and an undefined feel-good factor of “I like it here – this is a restaurant for a person like me – I will be back”.

3.  Please answer your phones when we call to make a booking, rather than letting us speak to an answering machine, which may or may not return our call.  Have friendly staff that understand the language we speak, and that can spell a basic name like “Chris”!   Even better, recognise and acknowledge our voice as regulars when we call

4.   Trust us as customers when we have made bookings at your restaurants – confirmation calls are soooo irritating.  Allow a 15 – 30 minute cut-off time, for late arrivers, and then offer the table to the next walk-in.  By all means ban customers if they are habitual late-arrivers, or even worse, non-arrivers!

5.  Retain your staff – we see staff turnover even in the best of establishments, and it is often the staff relationships that maintain the relationship consistency and that influence the service perception we have of your restaurants.  Please do not let your new waiter train on me!   Start an industry initiative, to not appoint the waiter/kitchen person running off (often without notice) from one restaurant to another.

6.  Train your staff – start with the wines.  When the waiter does not understand the word “vintage”, I shudder, and wonder why you did not start at the beginning with your training, or why your winelist cannot list this important detail.

7.  Why do we as patrons have to pay the salaries of your staff via tips?  It is the only industry where the onus lies on the client to make such a payment.  Almost two years ago the Department of Labour promulgated the Sectoral Determination for the Hospitality Industry, and it demands that staff be appointed on a full-time basis, with a monthly salary.  I know of few restaurants where this legal requirement is being applied. 

8.  Charge fair prices.  It’s tough for everyone at the moment.  Price increases of up to 50% (Reubens) and exorbitant World Cup prices (Beluga and Sevruga) alienate customers and make you look greedy.  The days of hoping that tourists alone will fill your coffers because of their foreign currency are over. 

9.   The marketing of restaurants is very poor.  Blond sexy “poppies” in ads does not crack it for most of us!  Few restaurants have websites, and the fewest restaurants seem to understand search engine optimisation, in making sure that patrons can find more information about their restaurants on the internet.   If one does a Google search, restaurant websites often are ranked lower than reviews written about them by industry websites such as Eat Out, or by bloggers.   This means that prospective clients are not hearing the restaurant marketing message directly.   The fewest restaurants in Cape Town understand the power of Social Media (Pizza Club, Cafe Max, Nook Eatery, Arnold on Kloof and Jardine are the few on Twitter) and Goffe-Wood Twitters and blogs very occasionally only.  I am not aware of any restaurant which has an integrated social media marketing strategy! 

10.   Your customers have become your reviewers, horror of horrors, and they say it as it is.  No more white-washing, no more ‘incestuous’ relationships between reviewers wishing to remain best mates with the chefs.  Bloggers are evaluating restaurants as the man/woman in the street would experience them, and the more honest they are in writing about what they experience, the more their evaluations are valued.   Banning them from your restaurants, as Le Quartier Francais, Carne and Beluga have done, if they have given you a critical review or feedback, is not productive, and it means that the restaurants will not improve if they cannot accept feedback.

11.  Treat us with honesty – do not con us with a marketing claim on your website, that is not true – as does Carne, which claims that all its meat is organic and comes from the Karoo, which has proven to be not true.  The dishonest claim remains on the website!

Restaurant patrons will forgive a restaurant many sins if they feel comfortable and “at home”; if they feel respected, even if the feedback provided is not always positive, provided in the interest of making it better;  if they are kept up to date with information from the restaurant; and if restaurants learn to say thank you for regular patronage, for a review, or for business sent to them by a regular client.  Not too much to ask, is it?!

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

Restaurant Review: Hermanos not yet a whale of a restaurant

Hermanos opened as a new restaurant in a revered restaurant space previously called Joubert, in Hermanus, about three months ago.   Rave reviews from Whale Cottage Hermanus guests about the restaurant attracted Whale Cottage Hermanus Manager Carole and I to try it 10 days ago.   Our expectations were high.

The co-owner and chef Wayne Spencer came to our table when we arrived early at 18h30, and gave us a friendly greeting.    He told us his background, and then went off to the kitchen , where he cooks almost on his own, with the help of only two staff.  

“Hermanos” is the Spanish word for brother, and symbolises the relationship between Wayne and his brother, who is a financial partner in the business but does not live in Hermanus.   Wayne trained at the Silwood School of Cooking, and has worked at the Phinda Game Reserve, Birkenhead House in Hermanus and La Residence in Franschhoek, and ‘The Mandarin’ at the Port Palace Hotel, a one star Michelin restaurant in Monaco.   The menu is relatively small, and Wayne closes bookings at 50 persons, even if the space could accommodate more clients.   He believes in “local is lekker” in supporting local wine estates and suppliers, and recognises that his two house wines do not meet this stated belief.

While the interior of the restaurant has not changed much, it is whiter and cleaner than Joubert was just before closing down.  We could not sit outside in the fairylit courtyard, due to the rain, which is the best spot, it is said.   Our table for two was small, and at one stage we had to put the bread basket on the floor, as we ran out of space.  

We were disappointed with our waiter, whom we lost early on when we talked wines – the La Couronne Menage a Trois and Brandvlei house wines were not to our liking, and we were disappointed that there was no other choice.  Also, for a winelist that prides itself on Walker Bay wines for wines, the non-Hermanus wines-by-the-glass were an oddity.   We then had to order a full bottle, and this is where the waiter showed that he was not trained on the wine side – everything we asked for he had to communicate to a colleague who was running the bar, just three steps behind our table.  He would then communicate back to us, all via the third person, who never came to our table for a direct conversation.   The waiter did not know what the word “vintage” meant.   We settled on the Raka Biography, and declined it when we were brought a 2008.  Miraculously a 2007 vintage was found, and we could be served the wine, after a long delay on this alone.  By this time we had lost confidence in our waiter, even though he seemed to exude self-confidence, and so we asked the waitress to take over.

The restaurant filled up quickly, and Carole recognised many of the diners as locals, which will ensure that Hermanos survives the winter months.

The menu has 5 starters, including the flagship tiger prawn and avo stack (R52), asparagus and parmesan risotto (R45), Halloumi salad and fish koftas (both R42) and Carpaccio (R 48).   The prawn and avo stack looked attractive, and was served with melba toast slices in-between.  It was a little hard to eat, as the melba toast does not cut well, and the stack soon collapses.   The avo was sliced too thinly for my liking, and Carole did not like the knife shape digging into her palm while using it to eat.   The 8 main course choices are beef fillet hot rock (R 120), signature rib-eye steak (R 112), Karoo lamb rump (R 98), pork loin (R 94), Chicken Ballantine (R 82), linefish (R 90), Norwegian Salmon (R 125), and Crespella di Verdura, a tasty sounding dish of slices of crepe filled with butternut and spinach.     The rib-eye steak and pork loin could not be faulted, except that the steak was a touch too rare for the “medium rare” ordered.

The dessert choice is creme brulee (R 38), vanilla bean ice cream (R 32), chocolate tart (R 42) and a cheese board at R 62.  Carole enjoyed the creme brulee, and I my cappuccino.   While the service from the waitress was better than that of her colleague, she made no effort to really connect, and just asked the standard “is everything ok?” question, without making one feel that she was really listening or interested.

Hermanos stocks a wide selection of wine varietals, with about three brands per variety, and offers a good spread of Hermanus and Hemel-en-Aarde Valley wines.  So, for example, the Shirazes are Wildekrans (R 135), Raka Biography (R 165) and Sumaridge (R 225). The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Benguela Cove (R 185), and from Jakob’s Vineyard and Raka, both costing R 175.  Chardonnay comes from Bouchard Finlayson (R 160), Domaine des Dieux (R 160) and Ataraxia (R 267).   The Sauvignon Blancs come from Jackson (R90), Hermanuspietersfontein (R 120) and Southern Right (R 137).   Methode Cap Classique bubbly is stocked, from Wildekrans (R 160) and Domaine Des Dieux (R 215).

There was no music to create atmosphere.  There was no relationship formed between diner and staff, to make one look forward to coming back, except for the short interaction we had with Wayne on our arrival.  When I first wrote about Hermanos, without having visited, Wayne said that he wanted to come out of the kitchen and connect with his clients, but he is so thinly-staffed in the kitchen that he is unable to do so.  The waitress does not seem senior enough to guide and manage the seemingly untrained colleagues, which could be the downfall of Hermanos.

Hermanos has great potential if it gets its wine-by-the-glass choice and staff quality right, appoints a manager, and opens over lunch.  The food is of a high standard, in a town that is not blessed with any outstanding restaurants.   

Hermanos, 3 High Street, Hermanus.  Tel (028) 313-1916, www.hermanos.co.za  (menu not up to date)   Tuesday – Saturday evenings.

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