After seeing a Tweet by The Collection by Liz McGrath Executive Chef Peter Tempelhoff about the new interior of SeaFood at The Marine earlier this week, I decided to lunch there yesterday, being in Hermanus for the day. It was a most disappointing experience, given the five star and Relais & Chateaux status of the hotel.
The Marine hotel has a long heritage and was bought by Mrs McGrath a number of years ago. and sat on its own on the cliffs overlooking Walker Bay, technically a magnificent location, but little is made of the beautiful view. A recent flurry of development across the road from the hotel has given it a lift. Mrs McGrath appears to be like Le Quartier Français owner Susan Huxter who renovates her establishment annually. Mrs McGrath did the latest interior design of SeaFood at The Marine, her staff told me. The colour scheme now is grey, with grey chairs, grey tables, and grey mock leather menu and winelist holders. It was a beautiful sunny day yesterday, but I can imagine that it would look even more grey (and depressing) on a grey winter’s day!
I drove into the hotel parking, no security being visible inside the entrance building. I had already parked when the (outsourced) hotel security came to the car, interrogating me (at 12h30) as to whether I had come for lunch… or was I there to check in (I only had my handbag)! Once inside, I entered the left hand door, which has the SeaFood at The Marine menu pasted on its door. The opposite door has the menu of The Pavilion pasted on it, and looked more interesting, mainly because it is an a la carte menu. The room on the left is very dark now (right), as its walls have been painted in a dark grey, having been whiter and lighter before. I was told that I should go to the room across the passage, as the room on the left is for dinners only. I expected to be in The Pavilion restaurant in the room on the right, given its menu on the door, and was surprised when the waiter brought the SeaFood at The Marine menu! He explained that they serve lunch in the room on the right, as it has a view. The view is perfect for the table at the window, in this oddly shaped tiny addition to the large lounge, only separated by a table with four flower arrangements on it, creating an impression of an afterthought or add-on. The table has Maxwell and Williams perspex salt and pepper grinders, an odd out of place glass container with a succulent, as well as another glass container with pebbles, a floating candle, and water. Horror of horrors was the paper serviette and no table cloths in this noble establishment. Both the restaurant rooms suffer reduced light from the west side, having been sandblasted, with a large Relais & Chateaux logo on each window, to hide the view onto the parking area!
The waiter enquired about my water requirement, only offering still or sparkling! He then brought a tiny container with a cheap-looking olive oil and balsamic vinegar pre-mix, with bread slices which were not explained. The menu contains a Winter special choice of 2 courses at R205 and 3 courses at R245, and various starters, main courses, and desserts are listed. In a corner of the menu are some a la carte options. I could not see any fish type specified, and asked the waiter if there was kingklip, as he did not share what the linefish of the day is. Yes, he said, butternut soup and kingklip were the specials of the day, not visible on the menu. I asked him how the kingklip was prepared and served, and he replied ‘with veg’! I asked him if they were printed on a separate piece of paper with a more detailed description, and could he please bring it to me. He returned to say there was no such paper, but pointed to a dish on the menu, being the Tandoori Spiced line-caught fish. It was not surprising that there was only one other table occupied in the restaurant! The Restaurant Manager, who doubles up as the F&B Manager (the GM’s wife Amanda, as it turns out, who also is the hotel telephonist I discovered when I called today to check some details), was nowhere to be seen in the hour in which I was there. Music is non existent.
All of a sudden the hotel GM Hamish Hofmeyr appeared, asking how he could help. I said that I had not asked for him, but would be grateful for assistance, as there was no manager in the restaurant. He explained that she was assisting him with a hotel guest as his deputy, ignorant of the fact that the restaurant was operating unsupervised as a result! I asked him for butter for the bread, which he promised to have sent, but which never arrived in the hour I was there, and in assisting with the kingklip. I explained that I did not want it spicy, so he recommended their new dish, introduced on Thursday when the renovated restaurant re-opened after a three month break, called ‘Simply Roast Fish‘, served simply with green beans and ‘tenderstem broccoli‘, calamari, fennel, ‘noisette new potato‘ (my ‘New Concise Larousse Gastronomique’ describing this dish as ‘small potato balls… lightly fried and browned in butter‘, nothing like the fried potato slices on my plate, soft and watery from the bed of spinach on which they had been placed, or even worse, because the kingklip may have been frozen), and a lemon and chive velouté (there was no taste of chives, the kitchen having replaced this element of the dish with an overpowering fennel, and it was very salty). The hero of the dish, the kingklip, was boring, bland and dry. I have had much better at the restaurant on a previous visit. Unacceptable was that the GM said that he would like my feedback about the new dish, yet he never came back to the table again, not even when he saw me leaving. The waiter had quoted R150 for the kingklip and the GM R135. On the bill it was charged as R130! The GM explained that pasting the menu of The Pavilion on the door on the right was a way of advertising it. My feedback was that it was misleading and confusing!
For the Winter Special menu the starter choices contain soups (a Marine seafood and a vegetable soup), cold starters (prawn Caesar salad, Franschhoek smoked salmon trout, and white fish carpaccio options), and hot starters (ravioli of prawns and creamed leeks, traditional fish cake, and steamed mussels). Main courses are ‘Richman’s Fish & Chips’ (hake in beer batter, a dish Mrs McGrath enjoyed at Harrods, the website informs), which appears to be a signature dish, stir fried calamari, shellfish linguine, and the two linefish dishes mentiond above. Desserts are traditional, and not all very wintry: lemon tart, vanilla panna cotta, Cape Malva pudding, Chocolate Eton mess, and a trio of sorbets. None of these dishes are priced, if one wanted to enjoy only one course. The a la carte menu is short and sweet: West Coast oysters at R20 each, a seafood platter at R750 for two persons, Kleinmond crayfish at R370, Walker Bay sole and Seafood Surf and Turf R155 each, and Tempura Tiger prawns at R185.
The winelist was squashed into the holder, but did not fit properly, looking untidy and worse for wear with a food stain on it when it arrived at the table. It is a surprising mix of very Hermanus Wine Route-friendly white wines, including Southern Right, Ataraxia, La Vierge, Newton Johnson, Beaumont, and Creation, but only has one Hermanus red on it, a region best known for its Pinot Noir! In the bubbly department, Villiera Tradition costs R53/R210, Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose R75/R300, Domaine des Dieux Claudia MCC R360, and Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial R180/R895. Admirable is that about half the twenty wines are available by the glass, the entry level Hermanuspietersfontein Bloos Rosé (listed amongst the whites) costing R40 per glass and R160 per bottle. Top end is Bouchard Finlayson Crocodiles Lair Chardonnay, at R268. The red wines start at R35/R145 for Springfontein’s blend of Pinotage, Merlot, Shiraz, and Petit Verdot, and the Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir dominates in price at R 605. Other reds are supplied by Groot Constantia, Zandvliet, Villiera, L’Ormarins, and Waverley Hills. Corkage costs R50. The winelist would not have even earned a Silver Award at the most recent Diners Club International Winelist Awards, not reflecting vintages or regions, and having some typing errors too!
The waiter brought the bill, in a black heavily commercialised American Express folder, declaring the restaurant a ‘2010 accredited American Express ® Platinum Fine Dining Restaurant‘!
I have the highest regard for Chef Peter Tempelhoff, who was named a Relais & Chateaux Grands Chef, one of only two (with Chef Margot Janse of The Tasting Room) in our country. This is what the Collection by Liz McGrath website says about him: ‘Peter’s approach to food is simple, “If it is not the best it can be, it doesn’t belong on the menu!” It is an approach which he stakes his reputation on every day, and one that has garnered him with many (enviable) awards and accolades over the years. This approach to cooking is expected and evident in each of the 6 restaurants of Liz McGrath’s Collection which Peter oversees. Be it the elegant gastronomic Greenhouse, or the simplistically precise SeaFood restaurant at The Marine, perfection is the ultimate goal that Peter’s food aspires to.Many great chefs have had an influence in Peter’s style, from his beginnings with Marco Pierre-White and Giorgio Locatelli to Joel Robuchon, Anne-Sophie Pic and Daniel Humm of Late. The Collection’s flagship restaurant – The Greenhouse – has become a place where modern cuisine comes together with the rich tapestry of South African ingredients and flavours. A melting pot of ideas and concepts, it is a place revered by many as one of the leading restaurants in the country.Realizing the importance of our delicate planet and all its inhabitants, Peter is continually striving to achieve a balance between sustainability and culinary uniqueness through ecological awareness and sustainable product development.A mission which has seen the development of a myriad of unique and amazing dishes using less glamorous fish and seafood; dishes which are guaranteed to bring guiltless dining pleasure to all guests of The Greenhouse and The Collection by Liz McGrath‘. There was nothing ‘precise’ at SeaFood at The Marine yesterday!
The hotel group’s website of SeaFood at The Marine is equally misleading: ‘Offering diners a contemporary and relaxed environment, with an emphasis on fresh fish, SeaFood showcases a sustainable taste of the Walker Bay region. SeaFood’s modern and inviting design and décor help create a setting that is warm, sophisticated, personalized and inviting. While the interesting open kitchen gives guests a close-up view of the activity in the kitchen, ensuring an unforgettably interactive experience’, in that it is not personalized, the open kitchen is not visible in the daytime section of the restaurant, and not all the seafood comes from the Walker Bay area! When I called back to check on the Kleinmond crayfish sourcing in winter (the season is closed from May – October), Mrs Hofmeyr could not answer the question, saying they only serve it when it is available, referring me to her chef Wesley Abrahamse, but who was not immediately available to speak to! No mention is made on the website or on the menu about the restaurant’s sustainable seafood sourcing policy, if there is any!
SeaFood at The Marine was an annoying poor performance yesterday, so badly executed at all levels, from the lack of welcome at arrival, extremely poor service from the waiter, the non-delivery of the GM’s promises, the bland grey interior, and the poor pretty food, not worthy of a 5 star hotel or the Relais & Chateaux logo so largely and proudly emblazoned on every window! The website has poor search engine optimisation, as it does not come up on the first few pages of Google for the restaurant or the hotel name, making it frustrating to find, being linked to The Collection by Liz McGrath website!
POSTSCRIPT 4/8: Chef Wesley called back, and explained that the crayfish comes from Gansbaai (not specified on the menu) or Kleinmond, the hotel having a licence to obtain crayfish, he said, even though he and his staff don’t do this themselves!
POSTSCRIPT 6/8: Since publishing this post on Sunday, there has been no response from The Collection by Liz McGrath, or The Marine hotel. The only reaction has been that GM Hamish Hofmeyr has started following us on Twitter!
SeaFood at The Marine, Main Road, Hermanus. Tel (028) 313 1000. www.collectionmcgrath.com Twitter: @McGrathHotels Monday – Sunday Lunch and Dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:WhaleCottage