Restaurant Review: Chez d’Or is a Carstens compromise!


I decided to try the new Chez d’Or restaurant on the main road in Franschhoek for lunch, after the 60th birthday concert on Sunday of well-known potter David Walters in the NG Church, diagonally across the road.  I had read in the local rag ‘The Franschhoek Month’ that six-time Eat Out Top 10 chef Richard Carstens had opened the restaurant, which led me to believe that he was the new owner of the restaurant.   It was a massive disappointment and let-down.

Previously low key Cafe Rouge, which was set back in Bijoux Square, making it hard to see, the new restaurant has been brought forward and expanded in this Square, in the space in which the optometrist was previously located.   Owner Jason de Jongh has re-invented the restaurant completely, with the larger space, more upmarket interior design, changing the restaurant name to bring it in line with his guest house name (Val d’Or), and bringing Carstens in on a three-month consultancy contract only (not mentioned in the article).   Carstens is the South African ueber-chef, who indulges in foams, is a good trainer of staff, and is good at helping set up new restaurants, but has had little staying-power (except at Lynton Hall, where he worked for five years).  Jason explained that he wanted to create a Bistro-style restaurant, with Carstens’ input, but without the type of cuisine Carstens has become known for, so as to not create a huge difference in the quality of the food served after Carstens leaves the restaurant in September.   Carstens is quoted in the article as saying about the restaurant: “Its a classic yet contemporary bistro with Asian influences”.  The red and white tablecloths with white overlays create the Bistro look.  The cutlery is neatly wrapped inside the serviette, probably a Carstens’ touch.

The problem with the restaurant and Carstens’ connection was immediately evident when the hardboard menu started with a list of sandwiches!  These are served between 11h00 – 17h00, and are quite expensive, in ranging from R 45 for an aubergine, mushroom, pepper, coriander pesto and gruyere sandwich, to R58 for a ribeye and aioli or smoked salmon sandwich, and a beef burger.  A further problem was that Carstens explained some of the menu items but not all – the Carstens touch shows when he described the Soup of the Day (the waitress just called it a Butternut Soup).   Carstens described it as a Butternut Soup served with almonds and snoek, changing its nature completely, snoek not being to everyone’s taste.  The spiced tomato, coconut, lime and chilli sorbet soup sounded delicious too.  The wholewheat bread did not look home-baked, and in fact seemed to show its age with first signs of mould, so we did not eat it.  The butter was untidily cut and presented.   Other starter choices are spiced calamari (R58), duck liver pate (R52), smoked rainbow trout (R65), chicken spring roll (R47), and a mushroom and artichoke salad (R45). 

The Pork belly (R85) was served on a tiny portion of mash with butternut, the black eggplant puree looking unattractive in the brown (with green oily bits) mustard sauce.  Overall, the plate of food looked unattractive, and the pork had an odd taste.  My son’s Ribeye steak(R98) was ordered medium rare, but was prepared more to the medium side. It was tender, but the chip portion was tiny, so the waitress brought more, without extra charge.   The spinach was tender and tasty.  The Tempura linefish (R80) was kingklip.  Other main courses are Duck leg (R85), Asian braised lamb shank (R98), and Beetroot and aubergine curry (R70).

The winelist is on the reverse side of the menu, and will not feature on the Diner’s Club Winelist of the Year awards list.  It is simply divided into “Methode Cap Classique Sparkling”, White Wine, Rose Wine, Red Wine and Dessert Wine/Port and is commendably Proudly-Franschhoek in its wine selection, with the exception of the Landskroon and Quinta Do Sul Vintage Reserve ports.  Each wine is described in brief, but no vintages are listed.  The wine-by-the glass prices are so low (R18 for Porcupine Ridge Viognier/Grenache, Haut Espoir Sauvignon Blanc R20, Eikehof Cabernet Sauvignon R18) that one wonders how young they are, and whether they are drinkable.  The Haute Cabriere Pinot Noir is the most expensive wine on the list, at R250, but most wines are under R200, making the wine choice affordable.

We skipped the starter to leave space for Carstens’ signature dessert, which is not on the menu – frozen dark chocolate mousse served with saffron ice cream on biscuit crumbs, with mint sauce.   The dessert sounded better than the real thing, which were four unequally cut blocks of frozen chocolate mousse.  The saffron ice cream and mint sauce were delicious.   Other options are an interesting sounding Gin and lemon tart (R40); Poached banana ice cream (R38); Vanilla creme (R38); Chocolate tart, cardamom ice cream with pear (R50); and a Cheese board (R65).

We left Chez d’Or bitterly disappointed, in having expected Richard Carstens’ quality but getting a most unsatisfactory meal, even though he was in the kitchen!   Anyone who would think of coming to eat at the restaurant, on the basis of Carstens’ association with it until September, should not eat here.   I felt cheated, as I could not sense Carstens’ hand here at all.

Carstens is rumoured to be taking over the Tokara restaurant when his consultancy contract at Chez d’Or comes to an end in September, but Tokara is denying this.

Chez d’Or, Bijoux Square, 60 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-4197.  (The website is disappointing, with only a Home page, giving contact details and a restaurant interior shot, no menu or winelist).  Monday – Sunday.  Lunch and Dinner.

POSTCRIPT 30/7: It has been confirmed that Richard Carstens will be the Executive Chef of Tokara Restaurant, in conjunction with Jardine’s Wilhelm Kuehn, from October.

POSTSCRIPT 1/8: I have been informed by Wilhelm Kuehn, the new operator of the Tokara restaurant, that Richard Carstens has left Chez d’Or.  The Chez d’Or staff confirm that he left on Wednesday, the day of our review, and that he left ahead of the end of his contract.    We were clearly told by the owner that he would be at the restaurant until September.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:

Please follow and like us:
Tweet 27k

WhaleTales Blog


We don’t spam!

Read our privacy policy for more info.

7 replies on “Restaurant Review: Chez d’Or is a Carstens compromise!”

  1. Having dined at Chez D’Or on the same day as Chris von Ulmenstein, and around the same time (she left halfway through our delightful and lingering meal), I am obliged to comment owing to the fact that my own experience was the extreme opposite to the writer’s dismal account, which shocked me by its extraordinarily vitriolic tone. To urge readers of her blog to not dine at this lovely little eaterie located on a busy thoroughfare, and quite visible from the road owing to the tables that spill out onto the sunny pavement, seems a little harsh, even if Ms Von Ulmenstein’s own experience – sans starter, and having shared only one dessert between two diners, was not to her personal satisfaction. I can’t disagree enough, having eaten (gleefully, lipsmackingly, and with much effort not to mop up the last of Richard’s sublime sauces with my fingers) a starter (plus another, shared between our table of six serious foodie adults) plus a main and a dessert – and a few tastes from my fellow diners’ plates. I’m aghast that anyone, critic or not, would be so quick to diss a restaurant without bothering to try more than a dish or two – it’s grossly unfair, to say the least. I for one am recommending Chez D’Or to everyone I know, regardless of whether Richard will be in the kitchen or not. He’s done a fabulous job in setting the tone for a relaxed bistro with dishes that can only be described as yummy and satisfying – oh, and very well priced at that. It almost goes without saying that Richard’s hundreds of foodie followers will be excited about his next move and follow him there in droves.

  2. The Sauvignon Blanc is a 2008 vintage (not so young) and is supremely drinkable, for the price a bargain. Pop into Ludwig for a chat about wines you question the price/drinkability ratio of. I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

  3. Hi Chris

    Not sure why you came to the conclusion that Richard had opened Chez d’Or, based on what you read in The Month. Here’s the article from The Month’s July edition:

    As part of the revamp of Franschhoek’s Bijoux Square by the de Jongh family, the former Café Rouge has been re-launched under the new name of Chez d’Or Restaurant. The de Jonghs moved to Franschhoek 13 years agoand founded the Val d’Or Guesthouse just outside the village. It is their second collaboration with the award-winning chef Richard Carstens (Chef of The Year 2005) who returns from a stint on Kwazulu-Natal’s South coast at Lynton Hall to stamp his brand on Chez d’Or Restaurant. “It’s a classic yet contemporary bistro with Asian influences” he says and draws particular attention to the confit Duck leg with pommes puree, lentils, mustard brussel sprouts with star anise glaze and the Asian braised lambshank as speciality dishes. The restaurant has moved to the front of Bijoux Square and offers 80 seats either inside or in the courtyard under the tree, and is open every day for lunch and dinner at 60 Huguenot Street. Chez d’Or Restaurant is also offering a Bastille Day special of a three course set menu with a glass of wine or bubbly for R180. Call 082 6692200 for bookings and for more information.

    From the article:
    It’s the de Jonghs’ restaurant and
    Richard is to “stamp his brand” on it.

    That you’re dissapointed is a pity and I’ll be sure to pass the message on.

    Kind regards

  4. Thank you for your feedback Leigh. I am flattered that you spent so much time analysing what we ate, without us sitting at the same table. We are all entitled to our opinion, and I respect yours.

    The menu (with sandwiches), mouldy bread, lightweight waitress, fatty sauce on pork belly plate and generally unattractive presentation, overdone steak, too few chips served with the steak, and the disappointing dessert were my reasons for writing what I did. I stand by my review. I believe that anyone searching for Richard Carstens’ cuisine talents must wait until he starts at Tokara – they won’t find them at Chez d’Or.

  5. Hi Brett

    You featured a massive pic of Richard with your article about Chez d’Or. Nothing in your article indicated that Richard wasn’t here to stay – “collaboration” does not denote a short-term relationship. Knowing Richard’s past, one could have asumed that it would be that, and now we know that he will take over Tokara from Etienne Bonthuys.

    Be that as it may, if Richard Carstens is in the house, then it should reflect his standards and reputation, for his sake and for the sake of his customers. I was told a number of times by Jason (the owner)that they cannot afford to drop their standard when Richard leaves, which implies that it is at a lower level than it should be.

  6. […] this link: Restaurant Review: Chez d'Or is a Carstens compromise! | Whale … AKPC_IDS += “5821,”;Popularity: unranked […]

  7. Leigh

    You did not declare your family connection to Richard Carstens, or his wife more specifically, when you wrote the above comment.

Comments are closed.