Entries tagged with “Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay”.

I have loved the Grand Café and Rooms from the time it opened in Plettenberg Bay four years ago, and I stayed in it whilst I was having the building renovated that has become my Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay.  It has had its ups and downs over this period, but seems to have lost its edge since it was taken over by new owner Sue Main, and who subsequently added the Camps Bay and Granger Bay branches in Cape Town.   We were most disappointed with our last visit a week ago.

But to start at the beginning of The Grand Café and Rooms.   Enterprising entrepreneur (Homework clothing) Gail Behr opened this unusual pink-painted 8-bedroom boutique hotel and restaurant in Plett.  It was at the time that I travelled to Plett once a month to oversee the renovations to what was to become our newest guest house.   The Grand became my home from home for a year of travelling, and I was well looked after by the friendly staff, including Steven, Sydney, Robert and Eric.   The room decor is unusual, extravagant in its use of red velvet, extra-ordinarily high beds with bedside stools, and generous baths.   But it was the Café part of The Grand that we loved especially, and the music collection played boldly throughout the day via an iPod compiled by Behr’s son Steven Whiteman was amazing – Mozart for breakfast, opera for late morning, light jazz during the day, Sinatra for the early evening, more jazz at night.  It gave the restaurant the most wonderful atmosphere at any time of the day, and a character which I have never experienced before.   To add to the charm created by the music is the Café deck, with a wonderful view over the Plett lagoon, from which one can see amazing moon rises.  In early days The Grand was a meeting point of all Behr’s friends from Cape Town, Johannesburg and other corners of the world.  It took a long time to meet Gail, and I was quite intimated by her initially, given quite a stern sounding set of house rules.  But she was much nicer than the rules made her sound when we did finally meet. 

All good things come to an end, and Behr decided to move into the hotel, and only use the top four rooms for guests, and she lived downstairs.  The Café was no longer open to the public, falling into Behr’s private space, and guests were served a very restricted breakfast relative to what we were used to, in a non-view courtyard.  The building was painted white, and it lost its charm.   Then The Grand Café and Rooms was sold to Main, who built on the success of this brand to open first in Camps Bay (buying the building for about R40 million), and then The Grand on the Beach a year ago.   It was odd to see The Grand crockery in other restaurants, such as Nguni, before it was sold to Main.   One welcome change Main made was to have the building repainted its landmark pinky colour.  Admirably she changed little about the decor, which also reflects Behr’s initial lush red velvet look.  Main even used Adam Whiteman, another Behr son, who is an interior decorator, to decorate the Camps Bay restaurant.

One comfortable thing about The Grand Café is that its menu has not changed much over the four years, and that the prices seem to have largely remained the same too.   The first problem we encountered with the nice branded maroon menu folder is that the starter and main course/dessert  pages were swopped around in it.  The menu does not resemble the A3 “newspaper” feel of those in the Cape Town restaurants.  Our order was taken, before we were asked if we had been told about the specials by Sybil, who seemed to be in charge and who has been at The Grand from the time it opened. She sent another waiter, but he too struggled to tell us the specials, which will be on the new menu introduced this week, but that had been available to order for the past week already.  Before we could not even reconsider our order, given the specials, our food was served!

The tempura prawn starter (R70) is absolutely mouthwatering, and is a signature dish.  None of the other The Grand branches can prepare it like the Plett branch can, Camps Bay using shrimps which just do not match the wonderful Plett prawns.  The slice of Caesar has also been a standard, costing R60 for the iceberg served with bacon, croutons and parmesan, and R80 with chicken added.  The Waldorf salad costs R 55; tuna (R45) and vegetable (R35) spring rolls; salmon naan (R 75); and calamari rings cost R40 as a starter and R65 as a main.   One of the problems with a menu is that restaurants take them away when one has placed the order.   Only when leaving did I recheck the menu, and realise that our served calamari (crumbed calamari tubes) were not as described on the menu at all – they were not “tender” nor “rings”!   Mussels and chips cost R 75, a prego roll R60/R65 for beef chicken/beef fillet.   There are only five main courses, including fish and chips (R70); line fish (R95); fillet “Bernaise” (R115); and Durban lamb curry (R115), which my colleagues ordered, with super poppadoms, basmati rice and sambals of yoghurt, bananas, tomato and cucumber, and chutney.   Desserts have not changed in five years, being Afagato (R35), Phina Afagato (R45), and Cake of the day (R34).

The new menu was e-mailed to me, and a new addition is pizzas, ranging in price from R70 for the Grand “Margerita” to the blockbuster Grand Seafood Pizza at R220!   Sugared Salmon (R100), an old standard, is back.   Oysters and cold crayfish (both SQ) have been added as starters.

The winelist has a small selection of wines per variety, but vintages are not specified.  The (unspecified) house wines are offered in white, Rosé, red, sparkling, and sparkling Rosé, ranging from R35 per glass/R195 per bottle.  Suzette Champagne costs R150 for 375 ml.  Sparkling wines cost R 220 for Steenberg 1682, “Pierre Jordaan (sic) Belle Rose NV” R275, and Bramon Brut R265, a local Plettenberg Bay bubbly.  Billecart-Salmon Rose costs R900, Moet & Chandon R800 and Dom Perignon R 2800.   Sauvignon Blancs range from R95 for Glenwood, to R180 for Springfield Life from Stone.   Kevin Arnold Shiraz costs R340.

The Grand Café bubble has burst in Plettenberg Bay.  While it is commendable to see it still operating, given how depressed Plettenberg Bay is, the service was shocking, a regular complaint about The Grand on the Beach, but for all the wrong reasons – there were only three of four tables eating in total, and both waiters were very new and poorly trained, and one of them came with attitude too.  Our calamari served was completely different to what the menu described. The trademark magical music is gone.  Sadly, The Grand Café in Plettenberg Bay is no longer grand!  

The Grand Café and Rooms,  27 Main Road, Plettenberg Bay.  Tel (044) 533-3301.  www.thegrand.co.za   (the website is minimalist, quite contrary to the lush interiors, and is shared across the three Grand restaurants.  Surprisingly, no menu, winelist, nor any food photographs are in the Gallery of any of the three website sections).   Open for lunch and dinner Monday – Sunday for the season.

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

Today we celebrate the opening in Hermanus of the first Whale Cottage 14 years ago.   Having an all-women team of staff, it is even more special that our anniversary co-incides with Women’s Day today – I salute my ladies, and thank them for all they do for our guests.   Whale Cottage Hermanus has been heavily booked for the long weekend, and all Whale Cottage guests have been served sparkling wine with their breakfast this weekend, to celebrate our milestone.

Filled with nostalgia, I look back at the early days of running our Whale Cottage Hermanus, then located on Main Road – a great location initially in terms of visibility (we had a blue-and-white striped roof in those days, similar to our Whale Cottage Franschhoek).   Our inspiration for the name came from the Victorian cottage in which we set up our first Whale Cottage in 1996, and in honour of the Southern Right whales that became so popular, and put Hermanus on the map, in offering the best land-based whale watching in the world.

There was no internet in our world of guest housing in those days, and we all only advertised in Portfolio’s Bed & Breakfast Collection, which cost us around R 12000 for a third of a page in those days.  We all hated Portfolio, largely due to its dictatorial and unapproachable owner Liz Westby-Nunn.  Their power was tremendous, as they introduced the first attempt at “grading” our establishments, giving them a yellow, purple or red shield, implying different levels of luxury.   The annual visits for their inspections filled us with fear, and we were not allowed to question their instructions as to what had to be changed.  One dared not speak against the company (even though we were paying advertisers) nor argue their directives, and we parted ways with Portfolio when their greed extended to charging commission for bookings on their website, in addition to the ever-increasing cost of their advertisements.

The internet opened up to us at the same time, and it was a huge relief to see how well we did advertising on the accommodation websites SA Venues and Cape Stay, and the former still holds.  Networking with fellow guest house owners became an important source of business, especially in Camps Bay, where we run the Camps Bay Accommodation Association, and we pass all overflow enquiries to our 24 members.  We also share industry information with each other.

After we opened the seafacing Whale Cottage Camps Bay in 1998, we received feedback from our guests that they were missing a seaview in Hermanus, so we set upon the search for a new property to be set up as a guest house, with a seaview.   We found such a property on Westcliff Drive, on the way to the new Harbour, with a magnificent view of Walker Bay, and opened it in 2002, selling the Main Road property.   Barry Lewis was our long-standing manager, and we are delighted that we have his sister Carole Cessano working with us now, with the faithful Juliette at her side.

From June – December the whales attract visitors to Hermanus, who have not found a place in the world where they can see whales as they can do from the well-developed cliff path, running from the new Harbour to beyond Voelklip, all along the ocean.   But Hermanus has wonderful beaches too, that are warmer than those on the Atlantic Ocean of Cape Town, and also has outstanding wine farms in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley area, including Hamilton Russell Vineyards, Bouchard Finlayson, Creation, Hermanuspietersfontein, and more.

Whale Cottage Franschhoek opened five years ago, and Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay two and a half years ago.   With Whale Cottage Hermanus and Whale Cottage Camps Bay, they make up the unique Whale Cottage Portfolio, welcoming our guests to “a whale of a stay!”.  One of its unique features is the Whale Cottage Loyalty Card, which was introduced from the start in 1996, offering our Whale Cottage guests one night free for every 10 nights that they stay at a Whale Cottage, and this has become a very popular incentive to return to our Whale Cottages.  Nine years ago we introduced our WhaleTales newsletter, which is sent to our Address Book of 25000 every 6 weeks or so, and is written as a tourism newsletter, described by many as the only newsletter which summarises what is happening in the tourism and hospitality industry.  We have never been afraid of being controversial, and of writing the truth.   This policy of independent tourism reporting is also the foundation of this WhaleTales Blog.

We thank our Whale Cottage guests, suppliers, colleagues and friends for their loyal support of our guest houses, and of our WhaleTales newsletters and Blog.

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

Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay is celebrating its second anniversary this month, being the newest Whale Cottage in the Whale Cottage Portfolio, with sister guest houses in Camps Bay, Hermanus and Franschhoek.

The Whale Cottage Portfolio was established 13 years ago, when Whale Cottage Hermanus opened, followed two years later by Whale Cottage Camps Bay.   Whale Cottage Franschhoek opened five years ago.

Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay has state of the art features, such as flat screen televisions, airconditioning, heated towel rails, and baths and showers in 4 of the 8 guest rooms.   It is located in a quiet cul de sac on the Robberg side of Plettenberg Bay.

Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay is located at 26 Boston Light Street, Plettenberg Bay, tel 044 533 2544, gardenroute@whalecottage.com, www.whalecottage.com

The Sweet Service Award goes to Carol of the George regional branch of NEDBANK, for organising the delivery of credit card imprint forms two hours after the order had been placed with the Call Centre,  after the bank had closed its doors.  The Nedbank Call Centre promised a delivery time of three days, and it took 12 minutes to speak to  Samiema to place the order for the forms.    She continuously placed the caller on hold.    When given the merchant name of ‘Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay’, she asked which town it is in!   But Carol saved the day, and showed excellent responsiveness and customer care with the same-day, after-hours delivery. 

The Sour Service Award of the Year goes to TELKOM for causing extreme customer aggravation.     For two months Whale Cottage Camps Bay was without the ADSL service, after it had applied for the ADSL line to be moved to a different and existing Whale Cottage telephone line in the same building.   Over a two month period the TELKOM officials in the ADSL call centre and in the TELKOM shop in Sea Point gave a variety of reasons for the service not working, including that the line had been cut, and that there was a line fault and a cable fault.    When Whale Cottage called in a computer consultant, he found the simple solution – the ADSL line had not been verified, something no TELKOM staff member had asked in the 2 month period at all!   After 20 minutes, the ADSL service was working again.   Not only did this severely inconvenience the Whale Cottage Camps Bay guests, but it also cost Whale Cottage the purchase of  a 3 G card, so as to offer the Whale Cottage guests an internet service on the Whale Cottage laptop in the interim.

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com

Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay is celebrating its first birthday this month, with a sold out festive season.   The newest of the four Whale Cottages, it is receiving good reviews from its guests for its location, decor, and service.


Whale Cottage Hermanus celebrated its 12th birthday in August, the first of four Whale Cottages in Hermanus, Camps Bay, Franschhoek and Plettenberg Bay. What started as a sideline business for owner Chris von Ulmenstein has grown into Whale Cottage Portfolio, South Africa’s first branded Guest House Group.