The Cape Town restaurant scene has been buzzing this month, with a number of new restaurants opening, and an e-mail exchange creating the biggest restaurant stir ever experienced in the city.
The opening of the Cape Quarter extension on Somerset Road in De Waterkant has seen two restaurants open in the centre to date: Cru Cafe, a restaurant which has created “its own terroir” in the centre, says director Elsie Pells, in serving a selection of 150 wines hand-picked by Pells, a Cape Wine Master. Voila, an all day breakfast and light meal restaurant, owned by the owners of Wakame, is a friendly addition, with cakes, muffins, croissants, fudge, toffee apples and many more treats prepared on site. A clever touch is that glass domes presenting the treats are placed upon stacks of cookery books! Downstairs, at the entrance, is an Andiamo Espresso, which is a sister coffee shop to the one in the original Cape Quarter, but on a very much reduced scale, only selling coffee, ice creams, juices, sandwiches and muffins. It belongs to the same owners as the amazing Spar Gourmet Food Store at the entrance to the center. Vanilla will open at the end of the month, and is owned by father and son duo Nigel and Simon Newhouse from Tuscany Beach in Camps Bay. It will be the lead restaurant in this centre, with 180 diners catered for on two levels. The chef Evan Coosner worked at Reuben’s and Ginja previously. Kuzina – Greekooking, LAZARI, and BICCCS (Bread, Ice Cream, Cakes, Coffee, Croissants, Sandwiches) are restaurants still set to open in the centre. To celebrate its opening, the Cape Quarter has organised a Food & Brandy Festival on 13 and 14 November, with Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris, in conjunction with the Alchemy of Gold (Klipdrift, Flight of the Fish Eagle, Oude Meester, Nederburg, Uitkyk and Van Ryn’s brandies), talking and preparing food all day long.
The talk and tweet of the town has been an e-mail exchange between Cormac Keane, owner of new restaurant Portofino, and a client, who cancelled a 5 pm dinner reservation one hour before time of arrival. Keane expressed his frustration to the client in no uncertain terms and with true Irish directness. The client was not happy with the replies he received from Portofino, and made contact with some websites that had written favourable reviews of the restaurant, including WhaleTales. He also sent it to a hip website called 2oceansvibe, which decided to post the e-mail exchange on its blog, leading to an outburst of mainly critical and at times extremely crass and defamatory attacks against Keane. On the other hand, many readers of the exchange admired Keane for standing up to an inconsiderate customer, and lauded him for his bold and direct stand. The end result: the customer has gone into hiding, and has requested that his name be deleted from the exchange on the 2oceansvibe website. For Portofino, it has meant a fully booked restaurant ever since the e-mail exchange was circulated around the city, reinforcing that there is no such thing as bad publicity! The WhaleTales’ review of Portofino, which was written shortly after Portofino opened, was offered as a link in some of the website comments, and the review attracted more than 2000 readers in the past week, a record readership. A vindictive customer tried to show up what he felt was a rude restaurateur, and got more than he bargained for. Instead of spreading the word to prevent others from going to Portofino, he has done the restaurant the best possible favour by creating wide-spread exposure for it, a bonus for a restaurant which only opened 6 weeks ago, and now has become the best known restaurant in town! Portofino is not the first restaurant to have told a customer to not return: Le Quartier Francais, Carne, Beluga and Sevruga are known to have done so too! Carne and Le Quartier Francais are finalists for the Prudential Eat Out Top 10 restaurant awards, and it begs the question whether such poor restaurant customer care should make them eligible for such a sought-after award.
Another restaurant that is on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant shortlist is The Roundhouse in Camps Bay, which has demonstrated its arrogance almost since its inception, stating at the outset that its goal is to become the best restaurant in Africa. A response of the owner Fasie Malherbe to a customer comment on the Eat Out website is a scary reflection of what one might encounter at this ‘Big Brother’ restaurant: “every guest that has ever walked through our door and dined with us is on record to the extent that I will outline your exact time of arrival, what you ate, what you drank as aperitif’s, digestif’s wine that was served to you, the guests comments made on each dish, positive or negative feedback, special dietry (sic) requirements, the guest interaction between staff is noted, what car you drove, whether you smoked or not, how many times you went to the restroom and any other details that we could use to ensure that when you return that we may ensure consistency in offering or if you have complaints as we have here that we have all our ducks in a row and can learn from the ordeal”!
Bruce Robertson, the previous owner of The Showroom, which is where Portofino is now located, has confirmed that the Franschhoek restaurant that he is consulting on is that of La Motte, which is due to open in May. The wine estate has just opened its new tasting room. Robertson is also working with Warwick wine estate outside Stellenbosch on their gourmet picnic offering, which will be available from 1 December. Robertson is also a gourmet food tour guide now, and he led the editor and 8 readers of USA foodie magazine Bon Appetit around the culinary delights of the Cape, including Reuben preparing a meal at Boekenhoutskloof in Franschhoek; a winepairing dinner at Grand Roche with Cederberg Wines; a malas tasting at Paul Cluver matched to organic farm foods; a seafood braai paired with Hamilton-Russell wines at Birkenhead in Hermanus, with the Southern Right whales frolicking in the ocean as a backdrop; and an interactive Cape Malay cooking demonstration with Cass Abrahams and paired with L’Omarins wines.
OYO, the restaurant in the V&A Hotel in the Waterfront, is offering a crayfish special at R 185 for 500 grams. A choice of hot or cold crayfish is offered. Sister restaurant SALT at the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay is also offering this special.
Alle’e Bleue wine estate has opened its beautiful top class winetasting room, and has a new outside courtyard restaurant seating about 80 linked to it, serving only five options: Flammkuchen, Bobotie, a cheese platter, a chicken/spinach salad and a mixed grill.
Delaire Graff has made three changes after only being open for four months: its prices have increased, its staff have changed, losing their exceptional Maitre’d, and their menu has changed. Read a report on the latest visit here.
New Italian restaurant Alla Posta is to open at 51 Kloof Street shortly. It will not only offer Italian delicacies, but also Italian furniture, decor and books, and show Italian movies.
Two new restaurants are set to open in Franschhoek soon, both owned by one of Franschhoek’s largest retail and hospitality landowners Robert Maingard. In the old station building once hosting the Tourism Bureau, a sports bar is set to open, while a creperie should have opened a few months ago already close to the Huguenot Fine Chocolate shop. A Franschhoek branch of Gelato Mania, which already exists on Somerset Road, in Green Point, opened recently and is tucked away alongside Col’Cacchio.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio www.whalecottage.com