A year ago I was introduced to the Rare Grill in Kenilworth, after it was named Best Steakhouse in the country in the Wolftrap Steakhouse Championship, as well as Eat Out Best Steakhouse in the Cape in its Everyday Eateries awards, the latter accolade repeated this year. On Saturday evening I spontaneously popped in at the steakhouse, and found its service and steak to be as good as a year ago, and its desserts even better! Continue reading →
Tag Archives: Wolftrap
Cape Town’s smallest steakhouse Rare Grill named 2017 Wolftrap Steakhouse Championship winner!
On Tuesday evening I had the honour of experiencing Rare Grill, which was named 2017 The Wolftrap Steakhouse Championship winner, the first time in the five year history of the Championships that a Cape Town steakhouse has won the award. What makes this Award so amazing is that the Rare Grill only opened in Kenilworth nine months ago, and only seats 26 patrons! Continue reading →
Eat Out changes ‘Best of’ Awards completely, increases from 6 to 90 winners, lacks credibility!
Last week Eat Out dropped the bombshell that it is changing its ‘Best Of‘ awards, awarding an award in 10 categories (five of them new), in each of our country’s provinces, making it a total of 90 ‘Best of‘ awards! The method of selecting the ‘Best of‘ winners has changed dramatically, making the new winners of 2015 incomparable to those of the past four years! It appears to stem from Eat Out‘s desperation to be national, and not to be criticized for being so Cape-dominant in its awards. It makes a mockery of what the Eat Out awards stand for!
Almost three weeks ago Eat Out announced the shocking news that it had separated the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards from the ‘Best Of‘ awards, the latter awards to be presented in October already, in Cape Town and in Johannesburg. Given the news of the award base of what they are now calling Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Best Everyday Eateries Awards Continue reading →
WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 13 – 16 December
Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines
* Greg Lambrecht has created the Coravin device, to draw a glassful of wine from a bottle without removing the cork, thereby preventing oxidisation, and thereby keeping the bottle drinkable for another few months.
* e-Tourism is on the up, says SafariNow, a local booking portal. Due to the weak exchange rate, making international travel expensive, more locals are choosing to travel locally, choosing less expensive accommodation options, spending on average R2300 per day. Social Media is vital, the company says, becoming an electronic word-of-mouth, which is driving the choices of travellers.
* Not one of South Africa’s many steak restaurants have made the e-Turbonews’ world top twelve restaurants for meat Continue reading →
Restaurant Review: Haiku survives seven year itch!
Not having been to Haiku in three years, and attending a concert close by in the Old Town House two weeks ago, I booked a table at what was once my favourite restaurant. While its prices have settled, service remains a problem, unforgivable after being in business for seven years already. Food presentation was most disappointing, and the food quality has declined.
It is seven years ago that Haiku opened to hype and fanfare. It was the bees knees of restaurants, becoming cult almost immediately, helped along by the difficulty in getting a table. It won Eat Out Best New Restaurant six months after opening, a category never awarded since. Those days are long past, the arrogant waitrons losing business for the restaurant, with patrons going elsewhere to get their Asian food fix. It was easy to book the table for a Saturday night, yet when I returned from the concert the restaurant was almost full. The loud disco-style music does not match the Asian theme of the restaurant nor makes it easy for one to communicate at the table and with the waitrons, and one wonders why they need to put up the volume. I remember this as a past irritation, introduced more recently. I was interested to know how the opening of the V&A Waterfront branch a few months ago had affected business in the original branch, and perhaps predictably the waitress said it had not at all. The manager told me later that their best chefs and waitrons had been transferred to the Waterfront, so it would be worth trying this branch too. The standard of the staff was evidenced by two incidents of clanging glasses, falling on the floor and breaking, for all to hear!
I was shown my table by the hostess, booked as a table for one, only to be asked in a most irritating manner by the waiter if I was on my own. He then wanted to clear the table of superfluous dishes, rather than bring the menu. He is one Continue reading →
Restaurant Review: The Stall is Proudly Franschhoek!
The Stall opened in Franschhoek at the beginning of this month in the old Pippin Farm Stall at the entrance to Franschhoek, alongside Franschhoek Cellars. It is an informal eatery, serving only Franschhoek wines, and is decorated in French colours.
Owned by Tim Adams, the owner of Essence higher up on the main road, The Stall attracted attention during its renovations. The building belongs to Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof, and it was rumoured a few years ago that Chef Reuben Riffel would make a steakhouse of it. The builders shared that three potential tenants had been to see the building: Chef Reuben, Tim, as well as the owner of Kalfi’s. Whilst Essence concentrates on Breakfast, light lunches and cakes, The Stall is open for lunch and dinner.
There is ample parking, especially in the evening when the Franschhoek Cellars is closed, and outside seating is provided, with a play area for the children. The branding is not very prominent from the R45, but most of the locals should know where it is by now, many having been invited to attend the opening function, at which a selection of the restaurant’s foods were offered. The interior is plain, with white Greek style chairs and wooden top tables. A Brugge sign brightens up the interior, Tim not knowing why Marc added this decor touch, not really making sense. A fireplace will be cosy in winter. Vases of fresh flowers on the window sills are a nice touch. One long table with red chairs is for larger groups. A surprise is material serviettes, with red stitching. The walls are painted white, and the kitchen wall is tiled in the French colours of blue, white and red, covered with racks for the glasses. The cutlery is very basic, as are the salt and pepper cellars.
The chef is Marilie van Niekerk, previously of Van Hunks in Cape Town, at the Tsitsikamma Lodge and at Storms River. She is bubbly, and a very good hostess. On the day we returned to eat there, some of the staff had not arrived at work due to the farmworker unrest outside Franschhoek, for which Chef Marilie apologised profusely, yet the service was good. Her biggest excitement is that the country’s Eat Out Chef of the Year, Margot Janse of The Tasting Room, had been to eat at the restaurant three times already. Chef Marilie has a herb garden she is developing in wine barrels outside the restaurant. The menu is simple, focused on flat-based pizzas, with interesting topping combinations, such as a delicious spinach, bacon and avocado (R75); an unusual roast lamb, mint, caramelised onion, grilled aubergine and feta (R79); and white anchovy, capers, olives and oregano (R65). The pizza base is very thin, and I found some of the shards when cut to be very sharp. For starters one can order a selection of salads, ranging from R49 for Greek salad to R72 for a carpaccio salad. A variety of burgers is available, made with beef, chicken, vegetables, lamb, and cheese, ranging in price from R65 – R75. Platters are available: cheese with preserves and nuts (R90), antipasti (R120), and mezze (R95). For the main course one can order a 250 g rib-eye steak with pepper sauce and chips at R95; grilled baby calamari (R85); and pasta dishes. I ate the best ever Tiramisu at The Stall, served in an Illy branded cup, and being thick and creamy (38). One can also order chocolate pudding, banana split with butterscotch sauce; and pecan nut flap jacks, the dessert prices ranging from R32 – R45.
It is not a surprise that the Wolftrap wine by the glass comes from landlord Boekenhoutskloof, inexpensive at R15 per glass/R65 per bottle for the White, Red, and Rosé. The sparkling wines offered are a 375ml Graham Beck Cuvee Brut (R110) and Brut Rosé (R180), as well as Pierre Jourdan Cuvée Brut (R150). No vintages are listed for the wines. White wines range up to R 160 for the Stony Brook Cask Selection Semillon, and to R280 for Boekenhoutskloof’ The Chocolate Block for the red wines. The Stall offers a good opportunity to taste a cross-section of wines from fifteen Franschhoek wine estates, including award-winning Chamonix, Glenwood, Lynx, La Bri, La Petite Ferme, and Holden Manz.
The Stall is a friendly, casual, and inexpensive eatery in Franschhoek, likely to be attractive to locals in particular, and to tourists with children. I have already returned for the Tiramisu!
The Stall, R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-4497. Website and Social Media to come. Monday – Sunday, 12h00 – ‘late-ish‘ (closed on Sunday evenings).
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Franschhoek: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Franschhoek Fireplace Route offers warm restaurants and tasting rooms
During the first sharp winter spell earlier this week, questions were asked on Twitter about restaurants with fireplaces in Franschhoek. As a service to the Franschhoek visitor, I have compiled a list of warm and cosy restaurants and wine tasting rooms with fireplaces:
Restaurants with fireplaces
Allora Restaurant: Italian style menu with pizza, pasta and other Italian dishes Tel (021) 876-4375
Bistro Allée Bleue: cosy atmosphere in this blue-decor bistro at the entrance to the wine estate. Tel (021) 874-1886
Café BonBon: Very cosy room, home-cooked style food (right). Tel (021) 876-3936
Common Room: Tapas style restaurant at Le Quartier Français. Tel (021) 876-2151
Country Kitchen: Second restaurant at winetasting center of Mont Rochelle Hotel and Mountain Vineyards Tel (021) 876-3000
Dieu Donné: Large fireplace for the large restaurant with a view, menu varied style Tel (021) 876-3384
Dish: Restaurant at Le Franschhoek Hotel. Tel (021) 876-8900
Dutch East: multi-style menu. Tel (021) 876-3547
Elephant & Barrel: pub tucked behind French Connection, good spot for sports match broadcasts. Tel (021) 876-4127
Franschhoek Kitchen: two rooms, one with a large fireplace, good fresh cooking from Chef Bjorn Dingemans. Tel (0-21) 876-2738
Franschhoek Station Pub & Grill: with its 1915 fireplaces (above), must be Franschhoek’s oldest. Tel (021) 876-3938
French Connection: French style menu Tel (021) 876-4056
Grande Provence Restaurant: smallish fireplace but warm restaurant with excellent fine dining menu. Tel (021) 876-8600
Grillroom: steakhouse that also sells meat. Tel (021) 876-2548
Haute Cabrière Cellar Restaurant: cosy eating in a cave-like cellar restaurant. Tel (021) 876-3688
Kalfi’s Restaurant: the fireplace caused a fire in the restaurant, closing it down for two days earlier this week. tel (021) 876-2520
La Petite Ferme: this long-established restaurant with a view, located at the foot of the Franschhoek Pass, has a fireplace in the entrance room of the extended restaurant space. Tel (021) 876-3016
Le Bon Vivant: highly creative chef Pierre, but disappointing service, tucked away one block from main road, behind ABSA. Tel (021) 876-2717
Le Coq: Two fireplaces, one each for the Grill and Light Meal sections of the new restaurant on the main road. Tel (021) 876-4404
L’Ermitage Restaurant: restaurant at L’Ermitage Hotel, at foot of Franschhoek Pass. Tel (021) 876-9200
Mange Tout: fine dining restaurant inside Mont Rochelle Hotel. Tel (021) 876-2770
Monneaux: multi-style menu, located within Franschhoek Country House. Tel (021) 876-3386
Pierneef à La Motte: soon-to-be award winning restaurant with creative chef Chris Erasmus, Cape cooking with a modern twist. Tel (021) 876-8800
Reuben’s Restaurant: large fireplace in this well-known fine-dining restaurant (right). Tel (021) 876-3772
Rickety Bridge Restaurant in the Vines: hot and hearty meals served include curry and casseroles. Tel (021) 876-2016
Winetasting Rooms with a fireplace
Boekenhoutskloof: Home of highly regarded Boekenhoutskloof wines, as well as of Chocolate Block, The Wolftrap and Porcupine Ridge. Tel (021) 876- 3320
Glenwood: Cellar tours at 11h00 daily. Chardonnay Vignerons Selection is flagship wine. Tel (021) 876-2044
Grande Provence: Both Grande Provence and Angel Tears wines sold. Tel (021) 876-8600
Haute Cabriere: Cabriere Pinot Noir and Pierre Jourdan sparkling wines. Cellar tour and Sabrage on Saturdays at 11h00. Tel (021) 876-8500
La Bri: Its labels are inspired by colourful flowers. Tel (021) 876-2593
La Chataigne: Three wines are made – a Sauvignon Blanc, the Kastanje white blend and Marron red blend. Tel (021) 876-3220
La Petite Ferme: Cellar tour and tasting offered. Tel (021) 876-3016
Le Manoir de Brendel: Produce Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Shiraz wines. Tel (021) 876-4525
Maison: excellent Chenin Blanc and Shiraz with very friendly wine-tasting in Weylandts-interior cottage (left). No charge for the tasting, and blue cheese and biltong are served with the wine tasting. Tel (021) 876-2116
Mont Rochelle Mountain Vineyards: Miko is the flagship wine, named after the late owner of the estate. Cellar tours three times a day. Gourmet food and wine tasting. Tel (021) 876-3000
Rickety Bridge Winery: Cellar tours by appointment. R15 tasting fee for five wines, but waived if wine is bought. Tel (021) 876-2129
Topiary Wines: First Platter 5-star for their sparkling wine in 2010. Tel (021) 867-0258
Vrede en Lust: No tasting fee is charged at this wine estate at the entrance to Franschhoek, in Simondium. Known for Boet Erasmus, Mocholate Malbec, Marguerite Chardonnay, and more. Tel (021) 874-1611
It was interesting to note that a number of restaurants and wine estates called said that they were waiting for the delivery of their wood, and would only have their fireplaces blazing from next week onward.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Restaurant Review: Salmon Bar in Franschhoek serves almost only… salmon!
The Salmon Bar at The Yard in Franschhoek recently re-opened in a new venue in the same centre, but now is visible to the main road. The new venue has an odd shape, but its interior decor is marine-orientated, and it is far better able to communicate that it is all about salmon and trout, but also serves wonderful breakfasts, sells outstanding breads, as well as muffins, croissants and cupcakes, and excellent cappuccinos. The restaurant seems to have got streets better since its re-opening at the beginning of December.
Judy Sendzul is the clever owner of The Salmon Bar at The Yard, which was previously located at a courtyard off the main road when it first opened three years ago, so it was especially popular amongst the Franschhoek locals, who liked the restaurant for its coffee, breakfasts, and salmon meals, to buy wonderful bread, and to sit at a restaurant table without the noise distrubance of trucks driving by on the main road. Initially I was not a salmon fan, and therefore did not consider it for lunches, or even dinners, when these were introduced. But that has changed. The website describes the owner Judy as “chef, restaurateur, retail food product developer and marketer”. She worked at Woolworths, developing new products for two years. The Three Streams Smokehouse, a partner in the venture, also supplies Woolworths with salmon.
When Bouillabaisse closed down, the developers of The Yard moved the Pam Golding offices to the Bouillabaisse space, and The Salmon Bar took the Pam Golding space, but also that of Schwartz jewellers behind it. The result is a long thin extended restaurant, which almost divides itself into two sections: one near the ‘retail section’ of the restaurant and its pay point, and another set further back, towards the courtyard. The space has been used cleverly, with a counter running down the length of most of the restaurant. There are comfortable couches against the other wall, and modern white chairs. I have always admired the modern wave-like glass shelves which The Salmon Bar uses to display its breads, and these were in use in the old location already. Being focused on marine decor ourselves at Whale Cottage, it is a pleasure to see another business’ fish focus, with an engraved outline of a fish in the ceiling, linked to a slogan: “We source our fish responsibly and cook it simply for breakfast, lunch and dinner”. A wooden fish collage has been hung up behind the couches, and fishes have been painted on the wall above the trout and salmon fridges. The table number has a fish on it. On another wall there is another saying: “Produced and passionately hand made in Franschhoek”. The menu says “We source responsibly and cook simply”.
The Salmon Bar describes itself as “Restaurant, Bar, Deli, Bakery” on its menus. There are two menus, one for Breakfast, which is served until midday, and one for the other meals of the day, available throughout the day. The Breakfast menu is a small laminated menu, printed on both sides, and offers a large variety of interesting and unusual choices: croissants cost R15; pain au chocolate R15; muffins R22; toast, grape jam and Huguenot cheese costs R30; a croissant with oak smoked Royale Highlands trout and cream cheese costs R45; scrambled eggs and toast are my favourite, served plain at R30, R35 with tomato relish added, and R40 with bacon; lemon scrambled eggs with trout and crème fraîche cost R55; poached eggs (R30); fried eggs and bacon cost R40; boiled eggs and soldiers (R35); frittata and chorizo R55; bagel and scrambled egg with bacon or trout costs R45; ricotta hotcakes, berries and crème fraîche cost R40; and mushrooms on toast with ham R60. Cappuccino is charged at R15.
Cleverly the winelist is printed on a wine bottle, and is a small selection of mainly Franschhoek wines, heavily weighted to those from Boekenhoutskloof. There are five white wines, starting at R25/R90 for Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, and for the Wolftrap Viognier Chenin Blanc, to R55/R220 for the Boekenhoutskloof Semillon. “Pink wines” offered are Wolftrap (R25/R90) and Haut Espoir (R33/R130). Five red wines start at Wolftrap Syrah Mourvedre Viognier (R25/R90), and The Chocolate Block costs R60/R260. “Fine wines” cost R900 for Bollinger, Krone Borealis Cuvée MCC 2007 costs R35/R170, and Krone Rosé Cuvée R45/R220.
The main menu is A3-sized, and one side sketches the “Journey of the Royale Highlands Trout”: the eggs are hatched in Franschhoek. The fingerlings are transported to the Lesotho Highlands, where the clear and cold water of the Katse Dam is ideal for farming trout. Then the full-grown trout are returned to Franschhoek, where they are cured and smoked. On the other side, the extensive, unusual and unique salmon and trout focused menu is printed. Sashimi is offered, 6 pieces of salmon cost R65 and 6 pieces of tuna R75. “Japanese tapas” offered is salmon and prawn pot stickers – there was far more salmon than prawn in these, and the manager agreed that it is predominantly made from salmon, and explained that the prawn content is finely chopped. I would have expected a 50/50% prawn and salmon content. One could not taste the prawns at all (R35); grilled whitefish (R45); the prawn rice noodle spring roll was crunchy, containing mange tout, with a delicious crispy ‘wrapper’, but containing chilli and therefore had quite an afterbite! (R30); and Oshi Zushi (pressed salmon sushi – R35/R70). “Smoked and cured” offerings are Loch Duart Scottish salmon and toast (R85), and a smoked salmon platter (R125). Trout paté costs R55, prawns Marie Rose R85; Teriyaki salmon bites R85; New Zealand mussels R65; and Richard’s cured meats R75. Salads are unusual too: grilled Yakitori salmon salad, with seaweed and mushrooms (R98); yellow fin tuna (R75); hot smoked trout Niçoise (R85); spicy pear salad (R55); and a 4-cheese platter costs R85. “Grills” available are linefish (R85); fish cakes (R65); Franschhoek trout (R75); Loligo squid (R65); and prawn/salmon Tom Yum” (R55).
The Deli sells Tokara olive oils, as well as jams, honey, cheese, trout, salmon paté, and a wonderful collection of breads – the dough is supplied by Knead Bakery, and baked on the premises: buttermilk rye, light rye, ciabatta with olives, multi-seed health bread, fruited muesli, and barley, potato and rosemary bread, ranging in price from R22 – R28. Baguettes cost R12. One can also buy Black Tiger prawns, tuna, mussels, Norwegian salmon, Rainbow Trout, Richard Bosman’s Quality Cured Meats, and home-made mayonnaise.
I love going to The Salmon Bar, with really friendly staff, and a chef who is willing to bend the rules about which of their lovely breads may be used to make toast. Parking always seems to be available outside on the main road. The prices charged are reasonable, and the restaurant has a niche untouched by any other in Franschhoek or the Western Cape.
The Salmon Bar at The Yard, 38 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-4591. www.salmonbar.com (The website lists the menus and winelist, and each page has a beautiful salmon shot, but the general food items are not featured due to the lack of an Image Gallery. Some photographs of the interior are of the previous location). Open Monday – Sunday 8h00 – 21h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Restaurant Review: Down South Food Bar serves super Southern ribs ‘n prawns
Talk of the town as far as new restaurants go is Giorgio Nava’s newly opened Down South Food Bar in the less savoury southern end of Long Street, near the Long Street Baths. Compared to his 95 Keerom Street and Carne, you won’t find Nava at Down South, the restaurant being far more casual, more friendly, non-Italian, and offering a small selection of good food and beverages, at excellent value for money.
We were told that the restaurant name comes from the restaurant concept of food that comes from the American south, such as gumbo, jambalaya, and cajun fish, something Morton’s did in the Waterfront when the shopping center first opened. Down South does it in a far more casual way, bringing the simple home-style American deep south classics to Cape Town in a tasty and affordable way. It is good as a relaxed place to have a beer, to watch a game with the boys, and to eat inexpensive and tasty food to soak up the drinks, so don’t expect ‘fine’ food here.
Carl Penn is the chef at Down South, having worked with Nava as his right hand man at 95 Keerom Street and Carne. The staff are very friendly and laid back. They wear black pants and T-shirts, strongly Southern Comfort branded.
The restaurant has a narrow front to the street, but extends deep into the space. Light wooden tables are functional, with brushed aluminium chairs and uncomfortable wooden benches providing seating. One wall is wood panelled, another painted cream. The dominant colour scheme is brown. A bar counter has bar stools made in the same brushed aluminium design. Free wi-fi is available. An eclectic mix of music is played, including Coldplay and Moby. The TV is set on sport. Cutlery is cheap and cheerful, with paper serviettes.
The Menu has some stars and typing errors, is made to look old Down South, and is divided into Starters, Ribs, Sandwiches and Prawns, to which is added Sides and Dessert. Having only opened a few days ago, the advertised Daily Specials (Gumbo on Mondays, Jambalaya on Tuesdays, BBQ Brisket on Wednesdays, Best Burger on Thursdays, Cajun fish on Fridays and Fried Chicken on Saturdays) are not yet available, neither were the cheesy grits and coleslaw. Starters cost between R40 – R45, and include prawn cocktail, thick cut bacon, caesar salad, buffalo chicken wings, and 8 of the most wonderful crispy batter fried prawn tails served with a delicious red pepper rÃ©moulade. Ribs are ‘dry spice rubbed and twice baked, basted in Down South BBQ sauce”, and the two racks were sweet and spicy, an extremely tender and generous portion at R 65, which includes one side dish (‘whipped potatoes’, home fries, chopped salad or corn bread). “Po’ Boys” sandwiches (poor boy sandwich originating from Louisiana, usually a submarine sandwich made with meat or seafood) cost R50 – R55, served with pork, prawns or BBQ brisket, while the “Muffaletta” sandwich (originates from New Orleans) costs R45, and contains mortadella, salami, white cheddar, tomato and olive pickle. Butterflied prawns, grilled with olive oil, cost R70, including one side dish too. Desserts cost R35, and the choice is pie – apple, pecan or Mississippi – or baked cheesecake.
The winelist is uncomplicated and simple, the prices being unbelievably affordable, with three categories: Cheap (Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc, Mooiplaas Chenin Blanc, Villiera Down to Earth Red, Wolftrap, Mount Rozier Red Blend, all at R25 a glass and R100 a bottle); Decent (Villiera GewÃ¼rztraminer, Hartenberg Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, and Helderberg Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, all at about R 32 a glass/R120 per bottle); and Good (Fat Bastard Chardonnay, Iona Sophie Terblanche Sauvignon Blanc, Thelema Red and Villiera Merlot, at about R34 per glass/R135 per bottle); and a separate mention for RosÃ© (Kleine Zalze at R20/R80), as well as for “Bubbles” (Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel at R30/R125). Beers cost R18 (Heineken), R17 (Amstel, Windhoek) and R21 for 500 ml of Jack Black Draught. A cocktail list features eight options, all with American South names, most costing a very affordable R35. The cocktail menu carries the branding of Southern Comfort, Jack Daniel’s and Frangelico.
One hopes that Nava does not overextend himself in his opening of new restaurants – he has also just opened the Mozarella Bar in lower Kloof Street (opposite the Vida e CaffÃª), and also plans to open a Down South Sandwich Bar.
Down South Food Bar, 267 Long Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-1155. www.downsouthfoodbar.com (website under construction). Monday – Saturday, “10am – late”.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Franschhoek Uncorked 2010 full of food, wine and fun!
I had not visited Franschhoek for a while, and decided to enjoy a full weekend of the Franschhoek Uncorked Festival, to get to as many of the 20 wine estates as possible. My feedback follows, focusing more on the marketing of the estate, its customer care demonstrated, and the food served (I would never have survived full days of wine tasting!):
Starting at Plaisir de Merle, it was a big disappointment overall. Given that the Festival was on, one wonders why the boom had to be closed and then opened for each individual car arriving and leaving. Commendably all other wine estates kept their booms open for the occasion. The drive up to the wine-tasting buildings is unattractive, with ditches on either side â€“ there is no lane of trees to soften the entrance. Plaisir de Merle is a Distell-owned wine farm, and supplies most of its grapes for the making of Nederburg, I read over the weekend. The farm is one of the largest in the Cape, just under 1000 hectares. We parked and approached the tables at which the tasting was being done and the food was prepared. Seeing other guests queue, we did too, but the procedure was meant to be that we should have sat down at a table, and waited for a “waiter’ to come to us. We gave our waiter the order, but he did not understand the word ‘crÃªpe’, even though it is one of the items on the menu â€“ he asked if I meant a pancake! We decided to place the order with the food preparers directly, and chose an apple and an orange crÃªpe. They were so disappointing compared to the crÃªpes I have enjoyed here in previous years. We had to ask for the bill three times, and in the end we could not be bothered, and left the money on the table. A violinist and flautist provided a lively touch, and the hired staff wore white shirts and black pants, with a branded black beret. The French theme of Franschhoek came through with three serviettes in red, white and blue on the kitsch silver underplates, which seemed out of place, given the history of the estate. Bread was for sale, but nothing told one that it was baked with special flour ground in a recently renovated historic water mill. We left having no knowledge about the wines, but did receive a summary of the wines on request, which had to be printed for us especially, with tasting notes for Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
Allee Bleue focused its Uncorked activities in its Le Grand Hall, which I had not seen since its completion in March. It is a modern structure, with an attractive entrance, and glass stacking doors. It can seat 300 guests, mainly for weddings and product launches, with space for a band stand and dance floor. The security guard had the boom open, and looked very smart with his Allee Bleue blue bow tie, but spoilt the friendly impression when he answered every question I asked with “yup”! On seeing us, the Food & Beverage Manager Desmond Spangenberg, one of the friendliest persons in the hospitality industry, walked up to us and welcomed us â€“ you cannot beat such a personal touch! Immediately he gave us complimentary Uncorked “passports” (Plaisir de Merle did not offer to sell us any!), a glass of the wonderful newly launched Allee Bleue Brut Rose, and their very tasty Flammkuchen, an Austrian speciality much like a thin based pizza covered with ham, cream cheese and onions. It was far too much to have it all. I was sad to hear that the likeable chef Dane Newton had left. The friendliness, professionalism and generosity of Allee Bleue was exceptional.
I was looking forward to the Tasting Masterclass conducted by Graham Beck wine maker Pieter Ferreira, an expert on sparkling wine production. This estate was by far the busiest and buzziest. The Masterclass was held in an exclusive tasting room on the first floor, with a boardroom table set up with a Graham Beck branded sheet, which allowed for 8 tasting glasses, and a pairing plate with a slice of ham, smoked Franschhoek trout, camembert and a lovely piece of thick chocolate. Pieter sharpened our sense of smell by making us sniff at least 20 different wine glasses, with a wide variety of flavours, e.g. vanilla, cloves, fresh strawberries, pepper, and asparagus. These would be typical elements we should have picked up on the nose of the wines we were to taste. We tasted 12 Graham Beck wines, and Pieter was a most patient, informative and passionate tasting leader. He threw in many interesting bits of information: the size of the glass does not really matter in tasting wines, as long as it is not tulip-shaped; white wine glasses do not have to be smaller than red wine ones; Riedel make 27 different types of glasses, some varietal-specific (Pieter helped them select a design for Pinotage-tasting); one does not have to drink white/red wine with white/red meat; wines should be served as cold as possible, even red wines, 15 â€“ 18 C being ideal for reds; chocolate is a good way to clear the palate; â€˜beer pour’ style is the best way to pour sparkling wine, and not into an upright glass, to retain as much of the bubble. A lovely touch was when I received a bottle of the wonderful Graham Beck Brut Rose as a gift. The Masterclass cost R75.
I stopped at the new Maison wine estate, the newest Franschhoek wine farm, and expected a Weylandt’s interior, as it belongs to Chris Weylandt. I was surprised to see a cute cottage, bales of hay on the lawn at which sunseekers were sitting, and a very laid-back atmosphere â€“ even the jazz band had taken some time off. There were two food choices â€“ a salmon or pork belly sandwich served on a nice wooden board, quite expensive at R 50 each, but the staff assured me that they were fabulous, and the pork belly one was. It had a lovely “fish sauce” spread on it, with rocket, served on the most wonderful rye bread from Bread & Wine. Whilst I was catching up on Twitter, Chris Weylandt came over to have a chat, and told me that the Weylandt’s interior will be introduced in the new cellar and restaurant they are opening in the first quarter of 2011. It will serve â€˜real food’, he said. He is very proud of the great interest shown in his estate, having only opened officially two weeks ago (and is now on Twitter @Maisonestate). Wines offered for sale are Shiraz and Chenin Blanc, as well as a limited edition Viognier. Chris is proud of the wines made from the estate’s grapes, and that they do not buy in any grapes. Anton Bondesia is the young winemaker, having worked in Italy, New Zealand, California, and also at Spier. The Shiraz won the 2009 SA Young Wine Trophy. Chris Weylandt has lived in the estate for the last six years, in the oldest barn in Franschhoek with “contemporary additions”, he said, built in 1796. It has been featured in VISI, Elle, and international design magazines.
Grande Provence was quite a contrast, not having pulled in the crowds, and therefore lacking in atmosphere. A number of winelovers sat at the counter in the tasting room. I met up with the curator of the gallery, Johan du Plessis, and he showed me around the new enlarged gallery, with very interesting works of art. Donovan Dreyer is another lovely Franschhoek Food & Beverage Manager, and he brought me a dessert creation from Chef Darren Roberts. The Grande Provence Pinot Noir 2009 was launched for the Uncorked Festival. Five tasting stations were set up on the estate, with a wine matched to a restaurant speciality (e.g. chicken liver parfait, duck with green olive and date tagine, and gravidlax with apple compote and tapenade), at R 100. A four course meal was also on offer over the weekend, at R 375, for a Gateaux of duck and rabbit rillettes, hot and sour seafood broth, osso bucco and chocolate calzone, each course paired with a Grande Provence wine.
Boekenhoutskloof was very quiet at midday on Sunday. I was interested in going there to enjoy Reuben’s Barbeque Extravaganza, and to catch up with Reuben Riffel before he launches his third Reuben’s restaurant at the One&Only Cape Town in just more than three weeks. He probably committed to the Festival BS (before Sol). Reuben was nowhere to be seen, but his branding was on the braai. Some of his staff was doing steak sandwiches, the prices of his dishes written on a blackboard looking rather unprofessional â€“ the food preparation section was untidy and did not inspire one to order food. Empty containers left by departed visitors were left on the table. The band stand was set up, without a band. Inside, the tasting room was busy, and I had to smile when the sweet tasting lady suggested that I rather buy the Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc at Pick â€˜n Pay, as it would be cheaper there than on the estate. Boekenhoutskloof has been one of Franschhoek most successful wine estates as far as Platter performance goes, for its Boekenhoutskloof Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chocolate Block, Porcupine Ridge and The Wolftrap are secondary brands. The massive plastic The Chocolate Block bottle outside the tasting area was the most commercialised I have ever seen the estate, which seems to pride itself on selling its wines in a low key manner, selling itself, so to speak.
My final stop was at La Motte, and I was excited about my visit there, as the new Pierneef Ã la Motte restaurant, the new tasting room, the new Rupert family museum, art gallery, Pierneef art gallery and the Farm Shop had all opened in the past few days. I started my visit at the Farm Shop, and saw the loveliest breads (including a shiraz-based one, and some potbrood), as well as shiraz-filled chocolates in the shop. Then it was off to the galleries and museum, a building that leads one from one room to another, with less space dedicated to the Rupert family and its patriarch, the late Anton Rupert, and more to the art. Quiet corners have been set up dedicated to the music of Hanli Rupert, who is an acclaimed opera singer, and one can choose which of her music one wants to listen to whilst sitting in comfortable chairs. The art gallery appeared to have more modern art, but the highlight was the section displaying 18 oils and 26 other works by JH Pierneef. La Motte had recently bought the priceless Pierneef art collection from his daughter Marita, who lives in the United Kingdom. Dr Rupert had bought 3 sets of 120 Pierneef woodcut prints each for his three children, and some of these have been used as an inspiration on the Pierneef wine labels. They can be seen in the Tasting Room, and in various buildings on the estate. Hein Koegelenberg, husband of Hanli Rupert, and driver of La Motte, sat with me for half an hour of his precious time, and told me about the dedication of the estate to bring this priceless art treasure back to South Africa. The Pierneef Collection was not available for tasting over the Uncorked weekend, but will be in future. The new wine tasting room has allowed La Motte to have two separate wine production sections in its cellar, one for whites (under winemaker Michael Langenhoven, a passionate Sauvignon Blanc lover) and one for red wines (under winemaker Edmund Terblanche, a passionate Shiraz lover). The tasting room is managed by Werner Briedenhann, and he is passionate about his job â€“ a confident welcome, and a firm handshake. He explained that one could taste five wines, and these were served with some chocolate and ciabatta to clear the palate. Long tasting tables show the fun a group of friends can have in enjoying a tasting jointly. Everything was handled with the greatest professionalism, with only one weakness â€“ the lady at the entrance desk told me that the new La Motte Pierneef Hanli R was made from two blends, which I promptly Tweeted, and was immediately corrected by Hein Koegelenberg on Twitter, in stating that it is made from Shiraz, Grenache, Cinsaut and Cabernet Sauvignon. La Motte dominated the Franschhoek Uncorked Experience by far this past weekend, with its beautiful new buildings, oak trees, lawns and water features. This is now a serious wine estate, supported by serious money, but Hanlie and Hein Koegelenberg are very humble, generous and friendly. Our review of Pierneef Ã La Motte restaurant will be published later this week.
Overall Franschhoek Uncorked is a clever way of attracting visitors to the wine estates of Franschhoek, something the Stellenbosch Wine Festival tried for the first time this year. However, given the captive audience they have on their estates, it is disappointing that not one of the seven estates I visited made sure that the visitors left with information about their wines, and with a restaurant menu, if applicable, or with a program of events in Franschhoek for the next few months. The Franschhoek Wine Valley Tourism Association had been more active in sending our Tweets about Franschhoek Uncorked, but stopped doing so late on Friday, with no Tweets at all over the weekend, when it was needed most! It is so easy to pre-schedule Tweets via Hootsuite. The clashing of the first day of Franschhoek Uncorked with the second day of the Nederburg Auction was unfortunate, and one wonders how Franschhoek could have chosen this weekend to schedule the event.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com