My friend Whitney and I decided to give the new Tashas in the V&A Waterfront a try, after we had both heard good things about the restaurant, which opened in the previous Mugg & Bean space a month ago. It was a poor experience, leaving a bad taste in our mouths, both Whitney and I getting ill from the food.
The owner and chef Raynne Roll told us that each of the eleven Tashas created around the country over the past eight years is themed decor wise, and has signature dishes and specialist wines to tie in with the theme. The theme of the Waterfront branch is Spanish, and hence the additional Tapas menu and Spanish style cakes, which are unique to the branch. Bowls and paella pans have been bought in from Spain for the new restaurant. Tashas Constantia is French Country inspired, Pretoria is South African, Melrose Arch is ‘Sushi, Oysters and Champagne’, Rosebank in Johannesburg is New York, and the Nicolway branch is Portuguese.
I arrived before Whitney did, and walked in from the mall entrance, where the branding is so small that it is easy to miss. The iron gates do not look relevant to a
restaurant, and in fact were off-putting – is it so dangerous inside, I thought. They were of course the decor touch to bring out the Spanish theme! It’s a long narrow restaurant, seating 250 patrons, so I walked right through to the other end, which has a lovely outside seating area, which was ideal after a hot day. I noticed Raynne jumping out of the picture, photographing as I was looking for Whitney, not knowing her status at the time. I received friendly smiles and good evenings from the staff, almost as if we had met before, but not one of the three waiters asked if I wanted a table! I chose to sit outside, next to a homely garden with wild olive, agapanthus, and unfortunately sickly smelling garlic plants too. In another corner there were bougainvillas, obviously to add to the Spanish touch. Na(Tasha) Sideris, the originator and 49% owner (with Famous Brands owning 51%), has a fascination for floor tiles, I heard at a design trend talk late last year. In the Waterfront branch the tiles are white, with two strips of terra cotta patterned tiles, the pattern reflecting that of the entrance gate. The most striking decor aspect is the collection of 292 (Themba the waiter counted them for me) terra cotta plant pots hung upside down from the ceiling in the middle of the restaurant, near the food serving and kitchen areas. I thought they were lampshades for lights, but they do not have a functional purpose. Music was loud rock when I arrived, but became pleasant lounge music eventually, without intervention! Our table was wobbly, and was stabilised when we asked a waiter to help us with it.
The tables have a sideplate, and an unbranded salt and pepper grinder set, Fortis cutlery, with a paper serviette! A bottle each of Willow Creek balsamic vinegar and their in-house Italian salad dressing was brought to the table. I asked if they had olive oil, and the waiter assured us that olive oil is added to each dish, so that we did not need more at the table! There was an irritating fly at our table, which went away when they lit a candle, after pointing out the problem to the staff.
The staff came to chat, our table being closest to the inside of the restaurant. They explained that some staff had worked at the Mugg & Bean in the V&A previously, it also belonging to the owner Colin Roll, who operates the businesses with his daughter (she was adamant that I understood that she is the owner – not ‘co-owner‘ nor ‘owner’s daughter‘) and his wife. We saw Colin walk around the restaurant with a thick file under his arm, admiring the Tashas’ branded scooter near to where we were sitting, a gift to the business when they opened, Raynne explained. Colin did not stop and chat at any of the tables, neither did the Manager Tiney Shamba, who only came to our table when we had a problem. The waiters and kitchen staff all went up to Johannesburg for a two month training programme, and worked in the Tashas outlets there. Raynne said that the pace is so fast that they have already lost half their staff since the training, but she prefers it that way, keeping only those staff members who are motivated and who are passionate about their job. One staff member came to chat too, saying ‘I am a barista, I work in the bar‘!
Whitney is a restaurant owner, and noticed that all the dishes brought to her were not clean, starting with her wine glass. Then a waiter dropped off a small bowl of red pepper paste, also dirty on the outside, but this was soon whipped away, with an apology that it was for another table. Whitney likes her food with a strong spice, and requested some of the red pepper sauce, but was told that it was only for the beef fillet and quail egg dish. The waiters told us about their training time at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, and that Tashas is opening in Dubai next, with Canada and one other international outlet to come! Feeling like best friends having shared all this information, waiter Chuckie decided I needed a slap on the back in camaraderie, which did not go down well at all, so he avoided our table thereafter!
The menu is in the form of a fold-open A5 booklet, and is standard for all Tashas. An aquamarine coloured sheet lists the 60 Tapas options, many with Spanish names, which the poor waiters struggled to pronounce. I chose prawn ‘croquetas’ at R42 from the Tapas menu, three machine produced perfectly shaped crumbed croquettes containing nothing but potato. I ate one, hoping for a sign of some prawn, and the waiter said he spotted a spot of pink, which was the prawn, he told me proudly. Manager Tiney came to the table, and immediately wanted to offer me an alternative. I wanted to know how it was possible to rip diners off so badly by not adding prawn to the croquettes, so that one cannot taste nor see it! He could not answer. I asked him to remove it from the bill. Whitney was not happy either, her ‘Citrus & Avo ensalada’ (R25) looking attractive and was inexpensive, but being liberally sprinkled with raw pistachio nuts, which were not specified on the menu as an ingredient to the salad – in fact there was no further ingredient description on the menu at all, it containing grape fruit, tomato, avocado, wild herbs, and rocket. Whitney was outraged about the nuts, saying that she could have died from the salad had she been allergic to nuts. The menu does not contain a nut warning for any of its dishes! Whitney sent most of her salad back, with no response to the almost full bowl from the waiter nor from the kitchen!
The Tapas menu is divided into egg dishes, mini open food (R24 – R38), croquetas, cheese dishes (R30 – R75), vegetarian dishes (which includes tinned white asparagus served with olive oil as one of the options, ranging from R15 – R52), salads (R25 – R58), meat dishes (R25 – R92), seafood dishes (R20 – R52, oysters costing R15 each), platters to share (from R96 for a ‘chopped house salad‘ to R450 for a seafood platter, not informing patrons about how many persons can share it!), and main courses (from R130 for beef fillet and patatas bravas to R270 for prawns – the quantity not specified – and fries). Spanish ‘signature’ cakes are expensive, and cost R52 for a slice of almond, orange, and apple cake! ‘Sweets’ are Spanish style too, and range from R25 – R48. Whitney and I took caramel shortbread home as a take-away, which caused a problem as Chuckie decided to create a new bill for us, independent of the bill for what we had eaten already, which caused confusion when it came to paying! Spanish sparkling wine Freixenet (R76 per glass/R380) is available, Spanish Super Bock beer, red and white Spanish wines, sherry (R28 – R38 per glass), Sangria, ‘Calimotxo’ (a horrid sounding wine and Coca Cola mix), cocktails, and Spanish hot chocolate drinks are also offered.
The Tashas main menu is in gold and white, the gold being hard to read in the evening, as is the white type on the gold background, and is massive with more than 60 food items. Whitney ordered a meat baked pasta (R86), topped oddly with slices of toast, and I ordered a Wild mushroom pasta (R88 for the cream option, R86 for the ‘plain‘ option) from the main Tashas’ menu. I got halfway to eating my tasty dish, heavily laden with Parmesan slices, while Whitney ate even less, complaining of tummy cramps almost immediately. The menu starts with salads, and here every single ingredient is listed per salad, unlike the Tapas menu, some of the eleven salads being available in half portion sizes but at a huge cost, being 75% of the full portion price, the menu proudly proclaims, and range from R68 – R96! Pasta options are priced from R 56 for Napoletana to R105 for Creamy Steak pasta with fillet. Pasta options are spaghetti, penne, and fettucine. In the ‘Me and You’ section, one can order salmon and parma flat breads (R92 – R96). Sandwiches are very expensive, served on ciabatta, rye, or baguette, starting at R 76, and peaking at R96 for an open salmon sandwich, which comes with camembert, asparagus, and lemon mayo too! Toasted sandwiches start at R23 for anchovette or Marmite. Tramezzinis cost R40 – R88. Quesidillas, Mexican flat breads, cost R74 – R84. The ‘Easy Eating‘ main course section has a list of dishes which require 20 minutes preparation time, including salmon tartare (R96), Steak tagliata (R140 – R150), Prego (R74 – R78), burgers (R68 – R78), lamb cutlets R160), lemon chicken (R72), hot dogs (R72), steak (R72 – R125), salmon fish cakes R102), and seared salmon (R175). A large range of cakes, muffins, and cupcakes is displayed on the counter, including a delicious looking carrot cake, panforte, pear and almond tart, and raspberry and almond meringues.
We only saw the standard winelist on the reverse side of the Tapas Menu much later, which had the Spanish beverages on the front side. Under ‘Champagne – by the bottle’ they list Veuve Clicquot (R975), and Moet Chandon (sic) at R945. Misleadingly and unprofessionally Prosecco and local MCCs are listed under the same heading, including Pierre Jourdan Brut (R220), Viliera (sic) Brut Rose (R230), Morgenhof Brut (R240), and Boschendal Grand Cuvee Brut (R280). None of the listed champagnes describe which of the champagnes in their ranges are offered. The local wine list is dominated by Sauvignon Blanc, and red and white blends, and no vintages are specified! Only three Shiraz options are available: Guardian Peak (R44 per glass/R135), Zandvliet (R170), and Kanu (R225).
Raynne came to our table after we had eaten, and was not interested in our feedback about the food, being very focused on herself, probably due to my many questions. She is proud to own the eleventh Tashas; confirmed the Dubai opening; shared that she and her parents have owned the Mugg & Bean in the V&A Waterfront from the word go; that she was at her dad’s side as a young girl in his restaurants (Wimpy in Umhlanga and Spur in Pinelands), proudly telling us that her dad Colin created the Monday Spur Burger Special; that she had done a Hospitality course at the Hotel School at the Cape Technikon in Granger Bay; that she has a great kitchen team, which sings when they clean the kitchen floor; that she loves working, being there from 5h00 in the morning until 21h30 at night seven days a week; that her sister is a hairdresser; that her mom does front of house at Tashas but had been sent home early that day; that past lecturers and fellow students pop in regularly to see how well she is doing; that Chuckie was just being friendly by slapping me on the back; that the V&A Waterfront is a great landlord, tough but their guidelines are clear; Hans Pleysier, the V&A Food and Beverage outlet specialist, is a ‘foodie gem‘, she raved, knowing everything about the restaurant scene in Cape Town, but we had never heard of him before; and that her favourite restaurants are Sotano and Café Dijon, to which she can bring her Schnauzer! Nothing phased bubbly and babbly Raynne, and she had a positive excuse and explanation for everything. She had no interest in why I was taking notes, asked questions, and was photographing, gushing about the fabulous TripAdvisor reviews they have had to date, and how excited she is that Cape Town Magazine had called that day, and that they wanted to visit for a review, calling herself a ‘junkie’ in reading it fervently, which put me firmly in my place! She also raved about the Weekend Argus ‘tattoo journalist’, whose name she couldn’t remember (Bianca Coleman), and who has given them good coverage.
Tashas at the Waterfront is too large for any personal interaction to take place, or for any staff to recognise anyone returning. Their tapas makes the tapas at La Parada on Bree Street look like fine-dining, it is so bad. The restaurant should be closed down for hygiene reasons, as we became ill immediately, and we noted a dog in the restaurant too. There is no proactive service, everything is reacted to, and then not always to one’s satisfaction. The Manager is out of his depth in his role, and was quick to call Raynne when it got too difficult for him. We felt that he should have done so even sooner! The website is slow to open, entertaining one with music, and oddly does not yet feature the V&A Waterfront branch! The errors on the winelist are unforgivable for the stature of a Famous Brands’ outlet! Raynne is young and naive, and needs to get back to reality about the responsibility she has in ‘owning‘ Tashas in the V&A Waterfront.
POSTSCRIPT 27/1: The best that the Tashas’ management could do in response to our review was this ‘bubbly and babbly‘ Tweet: ‘@WhaleCottage Saw it. Thx for the feedback. New store, new team. Passionate and learning. We are always looking to make things better!’
Tashas, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Tel (021) 421-4350. www.tashascafe.com Twitter: @TashasCafe Monday – Sunday, 7h30 – 21h45 (Tuesdays – Saturdays)/20h45 (Sundays and Mondays).
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage