After a three year absence, an unbooked dinner at Bosman’s at Grande Roche in Paarl earlier this week was an impromptu decision and a disappointing experience.

Bosman’s has everything going for it – it is housed in a beautiful manor house, has a captive audience with the Grande Roche hotel guests dining there, it is a 5-star hotel, and it is a member of Relais & Chateaux, an international quality accommodation association.   For years the restaurant competed with Le Quartier Francais for first and second place in the gourmet stakes, and both were Top 10 restaurants for many years.  Bosman’s introduced a tasting menu, with winepairing, before Le Quartier did.

What is it that has made Bosman’s fall off the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list completely over the past 3 years or so, and not even make the top 20 shortlist in the past two years, I asked myself, and the new German waiter Tom.  He diplomatically declined an answer to the question, and I wondered if it was the lack of awareness of Executive Head Chef Roland Gorgosilich that may be the reason.   He has worked at Bosman’s for at least 4 years, and took over the kitchen when his predecessor Frank Zlomke passed away last year.  Yet no one knows of Roland, and the hotel has not publicised his appointment, except on Facebook.   Tom the German waiter ventured one comment – perhaps the very new team at Bosman’s has not quite jelled, he observed.   Every winter the hotel and restaurant closes for a substantial break, and it loses staff who take on part-time winter jobs elsewhere and then stay on.    So, for example, the staff told me, a lot of staff left for Reubens, and more recently, to Asara, where ex Grande Roche GM Horst Frehse is the new GM.   In the past 2 years the hotel management has been (surprisingly) taken over by the Mantis Collection, the company running Shamwari, amongst others, and hardly known for its gourmet food there, and also was running the restaurant at Delaire Graff, but has already been relieved of its restaurant involvement there.

As a local one is surprised when an establishment that sets itself up as the extreme epitome of dining, can treat locals so shabbily.  The man at the boom, George, did not welcome me on arrival, just pointing his arm in the direction of the hotel, a robot just doing his duty.   When I walked in, I stood for a while in the entrance foyer, waiting for attention, and finally Edwina van der Westhuizen, the head waiter (no gender specification in her title) arrived.  She showed me to a table, and immediately asked if I did not want a Bistro menu instead.   Was this because I am a local, or because I came on my own?  It turned out that Edwina was the most senior person on duty, with all waiters and sommeliers reporting to her.  No restaurant management was on duty, despite the restaurant being fully booked, mainly with hotel guests.

Edwina talked me through the Bosman’s menu, like a machine, at an extreme speed so that one could not understand what she was saying.  She was repeating something off a ‘song-sheet’, without having the passion for what she was talking about.  All she tried to say was that one can mix and match the items between the a la carte and the tasting menus.  Tom, the new German waiter, took over the table, and took the order efficiently.   The bread plate arrived, and a dry slice of wholewheat bread and another type was served, with (soft) butter, a cream cheese and a balsamic/pine nut kernel spread, a threesome that has not changed in 3 years ago.   

I was asked what I wanted to drink before the winelist was presented, and had to ask for it.  It is intimidating, at 77 pages of wines, separated by variety and by region, making it easier to choose a wine than at the One&Only, where the region is dominant, and one has to find one’s favourite variety region by region throughout the whole winelist.   In total, 550 lables are stocked by the hotel.  Surprisingly, the Assistant Sommelier took some time to come to the table, to help with the wine-by-the glass choice.   The head sommelier ignored my table completely, only stopping briefly once, to clear the glasses without a word.   As a shiraz lover the choice of only two wines-by-the glass was disappointing, especially as the Migliarina was an unknown.   The sommelier said that the wine is made by an ex-Bosman’s sommelier, but he did not have any further details about the winemaker, himself probably being new to the restaurant.  Interestingly the sommelier tastes the wine before he pours a tasting for the guests, but only for full bottles sold, and this did not happen for the wine-by-the glass.

The white wine by the glass is as inexpensive as R 38 for a Graham Beck ‘Gamekeeper’s Reserve’.   Red wines-by-the glass range in price from R 43 for a De Waal Pinotage to R 155 for the Zorgvliet Richelle.   I was allowed a tasting of the 2005 Migliarina (R 57 per glass)  and the 2006 Ataraxia ‘Serenity’ (R 65 per glass), and chose the former.   The most expensive shiraz by the bottle was a Mont Destin ‘Destiny’, at R  1 150, a 2005 De Trafford costing R 850, and the Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2005 costing R 850 too.  The 2004 and 2006 Boekenhoutskloof were a little more reasonable in price, at around R 650.   The most reasonably priced shiraz is a Black Oystercatcher, at R 220.   Meerlust Rubicon costs R 950 for the 1999, R 800 for the 2001, and R 1 100 for the 1998.  Water was brought to the table without a slice of lemon, despite a request.

Bosman’s is unashamedly expensive, more so than maze at the One&Only in Cape Town.   It offers a “Harmony of South” menu choice, with mainly seafoods, at R 525 for 4 courses and R 580 for 5 courses.  The tasting menu costs R 620 for 6 courses, without wines (Le Quartier Francais’ Tasting Room charges R 550 for 5 courses and R 700 for 8 courses).   A vegetarian menu option costs R 320 for 3 courses and R 480 for 4.   On the a la carte menu there are a limited number of choices, starters ranging in price from R 60 for the veloute’ of potato and sour cream, braised white leek and pickled duck breast – R 125 for the veal cassoulet of sweetbread.  The chef’s amouse bouche was a pepper-crusted impala.  I chose the veloute’, and it was poured over the pre-prepared duck and leeks, the little that there was on the plate, at the table by a junior waitress.  It could have been done with panache by a professional.   It was tasty, but tasted very floury.   The 6 main courses range from R 125 for a sundried tomato and marjoram risotto to R 235 for a springbok loin, the beef fillet costs R 230, the kingklip R 210 and the rack of lamb R 225.   The beef fillet was extremely tender, so much so that one could take it apart with one’s fork, but quite salty in taste.  The portion was tiny, as was the accompanying 3 minute baby potatoes.   It was amusing to see the silver dome serving still happen at Bosman’s, but the more modern rectangular plates do not lend themselves to the round dome.  The impressive simultaneous dome ‘upliftment’ of the past has been lost in the past 3 years. 

The few dessert options were of no interest, and as the wait for the main course to be served had been 2 hours after arrival, they were declined, but an apple strudel from the Bistro taken home in a most boring cardboard box, with no attempt to decorate it, other than sprinkled with castor sugar, as it would have been on a plate.   The full menu price was charged.

A visit to the cloakrooms showed up another 5-star hotel, the second in a week (see the review of Seafood at the Marine Hotel in Hermanus here), with a less than adequate public bathroom.  The toilet doors and seats are wooden, giving these bathrooms a cottage-like feel, contradicting the crystal chandeliers and high gloss tiled floors in the restaurant.   Some messy trunking to hide the wiring of the airconditioning caught one’s eye immediately.    A definite bathroom upgrade is needed.

Grande Roche has been known to have a large following of German guests, and it was a language heard spoken by the guests throughout the evening.  Only one German speaking waiter was on the floor, and the head sommelier appeared to be able to speak the language as well.   Given a full restaurant, and more staff than guests, it seemed, this must be a disappointment for them.

The most glaring deficiency of the evening was that no one came to the table to check on one’s satisfaction with each course, and this is where Bosman’s falls short.  The staff seemed static and mechanical, lacking spontaneity, only Tom the German waiter responding to questions put to him.   Not one staff member was interested in one’s reason for coming to the restaurant, one’s past history with it, or the motivation for coming to eat there – in fact it seemed that the restaurant staff are totally disinterested in their clients!   It took a concerted effort, after a number of reminders, to obtain details of the new F & B Manager Alan Bailes – he is so new that it took some time to find his e-mail address in the computer!   What was impressive was the spontaneity and service interest shown by the German-speaking hotel receptionist, the only staff member seemingly enjoying her job.   On driving out one had to hoot for George to open the boom, despite the longish driveway between the restaurant and the boom, which should have made him stand at the boom already when the car arrived.  He got into an argument with the guest about the fact that he felt that he had been at the boom promptly.  His attitude was a disappointing end to an evening that confirmed that the staff’s arrogance at Bosmans, bar an exception or two, is the downfall of this once highlight of gourmet grandeur!

The total cost of the veloute’, the beef fillet , the glass of red wine and the ‘take-away’ slice of strudel was R 402.   Bosman’s Restaurant, Grande Roche Hotel, tel 021 863-5100. www.granderoche.com.

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