After having been announced as a Top 10 restaurant a month ago, a sojourn in Franschhoek gave me the opportunity to try Bosman’s for lunch on Monday, and to celebrate a special birthday at dinner last night.   I was amazed at the radical change in the “personality” of Bosman’s at the Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl, from a restaurant that was stiff and unwelcoming on my last visit, to one that bends over backwards, oozes friendliness, and has made some important changes which clearly are paying off, in that Bosman’s is back on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list, after a long absence, and it was the joint winner (with Zachary’s at Pezula) of the Diner’s Club of the Year Winelist Awards.   Whilst is offers excellent value for lunch, it probably is the most expensive Cape restaurant for dinner.

The person who is probably most responsible for the changes is the Food & Beverage Manager Alan Bailes, and is now also acting-GM.  He impressed when he contacted me after my last visit to Bosman’s, and was non-defensive in his reaction.   Bailes is so hands-on that he walks the floor and makes time to chat to the restaurant patrons, something I have never seen of a hotel GM before.   He laughed when I said that to him, and he said that he still is the F&B Manager, but even then these are rarely seen inside a restaurant in general.   The restaurant’s flexibility is commendable, in that I overheard Bailes telling other guests that the kitchen can prepare anything for them, with 24 hours notice.

Bailes is one of a number of new GM’s at Grande Roche, after Horst Frehse left, and told me that the most important change that they have made was to cancel their Relais & Chateaux accreditation, without dropping their standards, he emphasized.    They have chosen to use the marketing power of the Mantis Collection to attract business.   The Relais & Chateaux decision came from the unsatisfactory return received for the high cost of the accreditation.  Ironically, Horst Frehse was known as “Mr Relais & Chateaux” when he was the (cigar-smoking) GM of the Grande Roche.   I wrote about Asara Hotel’s recent Relais & Chateaux accreditation, and that it may be dropping the accreditation, having just obtained it with the help of Frehse, who has left and is heading for the Twelve Apostles Hotel as GM next month.   The only local Relais & Chateaux properties are Asara Hotel, Le Quartier Français, Cellars Hohenhort, The Marine and The Plettenberg.  The focus has also been on making the lunch far more casual, and the prices far more affordable.   Whilst the dinner menu is far different to that for lunch, and offers two Tasting menu and a la carte options, the formality has been removed, especially when the restaurant was literally moved outdoors on a lovely 30+C evening.     

The service experienced at both lunch and dinner was outstanding and attentive, Glenroy du Plessis, the Wine Steward who recently was crowned as best in the country by Diner’s Club, and who must be one of the nicest hospitality staff around, spoiling us.  Nothing is too much trouble, and he crosses the line between waiter and wine steward.   The sommelier Josephine Gutentoft recently moved across to Bosman’s, and while we clashed badly at Reuben’s, she was charm herself last night.   Raymond is another manager I know from Reuben’s.    Two German staff gave an extra dimension to service quality.   Charming Restaurant Manager Alessandro de Laco talks with a heavy Italian accent, but can speak French and German, coming from Switzerland.  He and waiter Stefan had come to the Grande Roche earlier this year due to the World Cup.   Waitress Loreen had come to the Grande Roche with her boyfriend, who works in the kitchen, and will stay until April.  Staff look smart in a white shirt and black tie, and black apron. 

There were some rough edges, like Ra-ida getting my booking wrong for the dinner, mixing up the date and the number of persons booked.   I also noticed two broken umbrellas on the lunch terrace, probably due to the wind.   A Manager should have picked this up, given that the Grande Roche is a 5-star hotel.   My pet hate is security and a boom, and while it was perfect for my arrival for lunch, the chap who was on duty in the evening mumbled something about whether we wanted a table for two, but we had made a reservation.  Yet he did not ask for the name.   They are an outsourced service.  

Lunch 3 January

My lunch was extremely relaxed, and was probably made so because of the friendly service by Glenroy and Raymond, who were both on duty, and looked after me, together with German waiter Stefan.  

The outside tables have granite tops, and underplates that have a similar look, but these plates are removed before the food is served, so are purely decorative.   Good quality serviettes are on the table, but while mine was clean, it had a stain on it.  An unusually large collection of glasses is on the table, for a lunchtime.   The cutlery shows its age, in being heavily used.  A waitress brought a lovely cool facecloth to the table, a nice way to cool down on the 30 C Paarl day.  Tokara olive oil was brought to the table with a nicely presented plate of three undescribed bread types – baguette, rye and wholewheat – wrapped in a serviette.   The menu is a narrow page, set in a red and black menu holder.   I did not see initially that the winelist was on the reverse.   As a starter I chose a delicious chilled cucumber soup, with two crispy crumbed prawns (R50).  The prawns were brought to the table first, and then a waitress came with a jug of the soup and poured it with far greater style than the asparagus soup I had at the Planet Restaurant at the Mount Nelson recently.    Other starter choices are Caesar salad with chicken leg and quail egg;  Beef Carpaccio; Salmon Trout; Braised Roma tomatoes and mozzarella, all costing R75.   Mixed baby salad with avocado, goat’s cheese and biltong costs R65; and Asian marinated yellowtail tartare costs R70.

Main courses clearly have been kept as close to R100 as possible, and makes the portions a little smaller, not a bad thing for a lunch, especially when one has more than one course.   I ordered the Pan-fried kingklip with pea risotto, beurre noisette foam, and biltong (R95), the biltong not adding anything to the fish dish, and adding a saltiness I would have preferred to do without.  The kingklipwas  firm and well prepared, and the peas in the risotto gave the dish a colourful touch.   A fish knife was served with the dish.  Other main courses choices include Seafood Bowl (R115), Pan-fried prawns with seafood ravioli and Bouillabaisse broth (R115); Linguine (R80), Asian stir fried beef fillet (R140); and Free-range chicken breast (R95).   Dessert options are “Mohr im Hemd” (rum and raisin ice cream), nougat potato ravioli and Amarula Creme Brûlée, costing around R45, and an Exotic Trio at R50, consisting of Creme Brûlée, fruit salsa, and passion fruit sorbet. 

The lunch winelist is short and sweet!  Ten wines-by-the-glass are offered, starting at R40 for Newton Johnson ‘Felicite’ Dry, and peaking at R280 for 87ml of NV Laurent Perrier Brut Rosé.   The Migliarina Shiraz seems expensive at R75 a glass.   Six white wines can be ordered by the bottle, Maison Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc costing R150, while A.A. Badenhorst’s Family White Blend costs R580.   Eight red wines start at R280 for a bottle of Rainbow’s End 2005, up to R650 for a Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2005.

Dinner 5 January

We went to celebrate my son’s birthday today with dinner last night.   The table outside was perfect, was laid with a good quality tablecloth, and three sets of knives and forks as well as a spoon.  A staff member put the serviettes on our laps, an old-fashioned touch.  There were fewer glasses on the table than at lunch.   Glenroy brought an ice bucket, and kept it filled up throughout the evening.    There are no salt and pepper containers on the table, as Chef Roland feels the kitchen should spice the food correctly.  One may request salt and pepper however.

The winelist dominates one’s impressions at Bosman’s, and obviously is the definitive one, judging by its Diner’s Club accolade.  It is a weighty document bound in a grey leather cover, and runs to 62 pages and the hotel’s wine collection exceeds 600 labels, Glenroy told us.  Unfortunately it uses pages that are hooked in, to give flexibility in terms of availability, but a number of these pages had slipped out, making the winelist look just a little unprofessional, despite its impressive collection.   Sommelier Josephine wants to increase this number, by adding smaller producers.   Similarly to the Asara winelist (Frehse probably used that of Bosman’s as the benchmark when preparing the Asara one), the Bosman’s winelist provides a history of the winemaking in this country, describes the winegrowing areas, dedicates a section to South African wine awards, and provides a map of the wine regions.   I joked and said that it would take me the whole evening to go through the winelist alone, and therefore it was recommended that the wine steward advises one about the wines, which is probably what usually happens.   Something I have never seen on a winelist is the name of the winemaker(s).   Obviously regions, vintages and descriptions are provided per wine.

The wines-by-the-glass section spans two pages, and four are MCC sparkling wines: Silverthorn Blanc de Blanes Brut (R85), Silverthorn Genie Rosé (R95), Colmant Reserve Brut (R65) and Graham Beck Bliss Demi Sec (R65).   Laurent Perrier can be ordered in a dinky at R280, and Billecart Salmon Rosé Brut costs R290.  Eight white wines are available by the glass, starting at R 48 for AA Badenhorst Family Secateurs as well as Crios Bride Sauvignon Blanc, and peaking at R70 for Scali Blanc.   The Rosé is by Newton Johnson, at R40.    Six red wines are available: starting at R70 is the Ataraxia “Serenity” and going up to R185 for a Kanonkop.    By the bottle, 25 MCC sparkling wines are offered, starting at R175 for Seidelberg’s Blanc de Blancs Brut at R175, up to R540 for La Motte’s Brut.  There are 42 Shiraz wines listed, Veenwouden “Thornhill” the best priced at R260, and Mont Destin’s Destiny the most expensive at R1150.  

A cold facecloth was brought to the table, to cool one down and to wipe one’s hands, also an old-fashioned touch, but welcome in the heat.   A young waiter came with the bread basket, and offered us a choice of seven breads, the largest choice I have ever seen, and one looked more attractive than the other.  Choices include parma ham and garlic, pumpkin seed loaf, tomato rolls, pretzel rolls and a lovely seedloaf.   Bosman’s is generous with its bread offering, and the waiter came by at least three times.   The bread is served with a collection of three trademark Bosman’s spreads – unsalted butter, lard with garlic and bacon, and cottage cheese with chives.    A gazpacho with white tomato jelly and agar was brought as an amuse bouche, the spicy soup poured out of a jug at the table.  It did not impress me, if one takes an amuse bouche to be a small taste of the chef’s skills.

The menu has a welcome by Executive Head Chef Roland Gorgosilich: “We trust you will have a relaxing and enjoyable evening with us”, the new Planet Restaurant also having such a ‘personalised’ signed touch in its menu.  Gorgosilich is Austrian, and has a low profile.  It is a shame that he does not come out of the kitchen, to chat to the guests.   One can enjoy a 9-course European-style tasting menu at R 660 per person, as well as a reduced “Harmony of the South” menu, 4-courses costing R 520, and 5-courses R580.  This menu is meant to be a representation of South African cuisine. 

For his starter my son had a hot butternut soup (R55) off the a la carte menu, despite the hot evening, which was also poured at the table over three little pieces of braised duck breast.   It was not an exceptional soup, in my opinion.   My foie gras order, billed to be served with Baumkuchentorte, and costing an extravagant R175, was a let down, as the layered cake was barely visible and could not be tasted around the slice of foie gras.   The foie gras itself was wonderful, served with a cherry, and red cabbage puree,  which did not add to the foie grasenjoyment.  Other starter choices include quail (R95); wild mushroom risotto with parma ham, which looked delicious served at neighbouring tables (R75);  poached salmon trout (R105); and poached veal fillet with pan-fried scallops (R155).  

The highlight of the dinner without a doubt was the Fillet Mignon flambee (R200).  It is usually prepared at the table inside, but due to the outsideseating, and the fire danger, we went inside to see Alessandro prepare it for us in the dining room, a most dramatic preparation, especially when the Martellbrandy was added.  The steak was butter soft.   It was served with tagliatelle and mushroom ragout, the most delicious I have had in a long time, simple and focused on providing enjoyment.   An excellent serrated steak knife was served for this dish, barely necessary due to the soft steak.   Other main course choices include Beef fillet Rossini (R285); springbok loin (R210); vanilla milk poached kingklip (R175); pan-fried hake and crayfish (R225); sole and stuffed calamari (R195) and oddly a tomato consommé at R145.  What adds class to the dinner at Bosman’s is another old-fashioned touch – presenting the main course dishes with domes, which the waiters all lift simultaneously at the table.  The waitress then reminds each diner what he/she has ordered, a nice touch.

For dessert, one is presented with a separate menu, to which is added a number of further beverage options.  Strawberry rhubarb, and an interesting sounding peach lavender soup served with chocolate ganache and peanut croquant cost R65; chocolate fondant costs R75; crepe suzetteR80; and a cheese trolley R150, presumably which can be shared.   I had arranged with Alessandro for a surprise birthday chocolate cake, which was decorated with strawberries on the side, came with a candle, and looked beautiful on a glass plate.   We were not charged for this birthday treat.   I had a good cappuccino.    

The bathroom entrance is attractive and luxurious with a beautiful orchid display.  But when one steps inside, the wooden doors are still there, not in keeping with the quality standards of the hotel.   

Bosman’s is not an everyday dinner venue, but one for a special celebration, given how expensive it is.  Yet for lunchtime visits to Paarl it is perfect, as it is affordable and and the food light.   I enjoyed both my visits to Bosman’s this week.

POSTSCRIPT 22/7: Being in Paarl, I popped in at Bosman’s for lunch today.  Once again, I had a problem with the poor quality of outsourced security staff manning the boom.  I was refused entry for lunch at the boom initially, and asked for the phone number, so that I could call.  Instead, the security person decided to call the Restaurant Manager himself, and this caused a traffic jam at the boom!  I was eventually allowed in and welcomed on arrival, and wondered why this had been necessary in the first place.  Thereafter the service was excellent.  I was happy to meet the new GM Anja Bosken,  She told me that they are working hard at increasing the awareness of the Grande Roche, and went onto Twitter last week.   They are also working on being less stiff and more friendly.  Seven members of staff were retrenched before her arrival, she said, and some staff members did not renew their fixed-term contracts.  Bosman’s is very professional, and I enjoyed a main course of kingklip and prawns, with Mediterranean vegetables and seafood ravioli (R95), followed by Apfelstrudel (R45), prices which are very reasonable for a Top 10 restaurant at a 5-star hotel. Alan Bailes and Alessandro de Laco have left the Grande Roche.

Bosman’s Restaurant, Grande Roche Hotel, Plantasie Street, Paarl.  Tel (021) 863-5100. www.granderoche.com   (The website has an Image Gallery, with few food photographs, and all the menus are listed).  Twitter: @Grande_Roche

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