Tag Archives: gourmet picnic

WhaleTales Tourism, Food, and Wine news headlines: 15/16 December

WhaleTalesTourism, Food, and Wine new headlines

*      Etihad Airways and SAA have announced one of the benefits of their ‘strategic partnership’, in that SAA is commencing flights between Johannesburg and Abu Dhabi from 29 March, doubling the number of flights on this route.  Abu Dhabi is a hub, with access to India, the Middle East, and Asia.

*   The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that the profit of its member airlines is expected to grow, due to the lower oil price and GDP growth. Airfares are expected to decrease by 5%.

*   The R 2 million Sun Star sculpture on Signal Hill has unleashed a debate about the role of corporate sponsorship in Continue reading →

Restaurant News: Warwick launches new improved summer picnics

Yesterday Warwick wine estate launched its new Summer picnics, with a number of changes relative to last year.  Earlier this week I was invited to a sneak preview of the changes, and was one of a panel of volunteer blogger tasters (with Nikki Dumas, Lesley Cox, Anel Grobler, Polly Howard, Cathy Marston, Maggie Mostert and Hennie Coetzee) to give feedback about the new picnic.   I was critical of the picnic  on a first visit last year, and was happy to see a number of improvements on my latest visit.

So what has changed?:

1.   There is a new chef in the house!   Mark Springhorn has left Vergelegen in Somerset West, to join Mike Ratcliffe and the Warwick team.  Given that Chef Bruce Robertson, who designed the original gourmet picnic for Warwick, is on tour so frequently, he no longer is the consultant chef.  Chef Mark has built on Bruce’s quirkiness, and added more of a “Spring-feeling” to the picnic.

The quirky picnic “basket”, consisting of a cutting board, a table cloth, a box with the food items, a baguette and the Warwick newspaper, cleverly held together with a handle so that one can carry everything, remains as is.  The packaging containing the food is recyclable.  The bread is certainly better than I remember it, and comes from Sweet in Stellenbosch.  Inside the box is the following:

   *      Duo of cheeses: Simonsberg camembert and 12 month matured cheddar

   *      Charcuterie selection, including salami and coppa ham

   *      Chickpea fritters served with home-made tzatziki – this was the only dish that did not excite me

   *      Home-made rooibos and oak smoked Chilean salmon served with a buttermilk-dill dressing – oh boy, I have never seen such good looking deep-orange salmon cubes (looking like pumpkin), and with the most wonderful smoked taste – the absolute highlight of the picnic.

*        Biltong, mushroom and brandy pate – more brandy and mushroom can now be tasted in this foundation element of the picnic

*        Homemade apple, pear and pecan chutney

*        Tricolour tower of basil pesto, sun dried tomato puree and hummus

*        Honey cashew chicken salad with herb mayonnaise and orange slices – the oranges were a nice colour and taste touch

*        Decadent chocolate brownies topped with white chocolate ganache and onto which was sprinkled cranberries and pistachios, incredibly rich, and looking like an early mini-Christmas cake.

*        A box of Maynards wine gums.

The tasting panel ummmed and ahhhhed, enjoying all the elements.  Chef Mark plans to change an item on the picnic menu every week, testing the customer response and reacting to it as the season goes along.  When one books, special dietary requests will be ascertained.  Vegetarian and kiddies picnic baskets are available too.

2.  The price has stayed the same, costing R 299 for a basket enough for 2 persons.   (One can order an extra baguette)

3.    To address the congestion in collecting the picnic baskets inside the wine tasting building, a new outdoor picnic collection area has been created, which will also be where Jack Black beer can be bought on tap.

4.   To address the issue of staff not checking on guests’ drinks’ requirements well enough in the past, a trolley with “flat tackies” and a bell will be wheeled around the vast Warwick picnic area, containing ice cream, Jack Black beer and Warwick wines. 

5.  “Picnic pods” have been built around the dam, shielded from the South Easter, with tables that have built-in ice buckets to keep the Warwick wines chilled.   They differ in size, and can be booked to accommodate groups of picnickers.

6.   The Warwick vineyards are hidden from the picnic area, but can be seen on a Big Five Safari (showing the five vine types grown on the wine estate).  Grapes have now been planted close to the picnic area, and also at the entrance to Warwick.

7.  A suggestion for Warwick to have a presence on Twitter, in addition to that of Mike Ratcliffe, was implemented the following day (@Warwickchef), demonstrating how responsive Mike and his team are in accepting feedback.

A picnic at Warwick on a gorgeous Winelands summer’s day is an enjoyable family outing, with good food and wine, and lots of safe space for the kids to play on the jungle gym, in the little shallow stream, and to just run around.

POSTSCRIPT 20/5: For winter Warwick has introduced a good value Tapas menu, and I popped in for lunch to try it on my way to Franschhoek today.  There was very little happening there, and therefore it was a surprise to not see anyone in the Tasting Room nor in the next door restaurant/shop/picnic counter.  I called, but no one responded.  Luckily the waitress Vanessa came back inside, and showed me to a table outside – it was such a lovely warm day.  A material serviette and excellent quality St James cutlery is brought to the table, and the lack of a tablecloth is a disappointment therefore.  She brought a blackboard with the Tapas menu to my table, and the handwriting on it did not reflect the stature of this wine estate.  Chef Mark Springhorn was on leave and owner Mike Ratcliffe is travelling overseas, so it was disappointing for me.  I chose the Mixed cold plate (R35), which was only ‘mixed’ because it contained two slices each of cold meat (coppa and salami), two blocks of cheese and a sundried tomato relish.  It was served with a basket of ciabatta bread, which was wonderful.  Other Tapas options are:  cheese soufflé, smoked camembert and chef’s soup, each costing R25; sole paupiettes, and chef’s salad, all costing R35; Venison samoosas and denningvleis each cost R 45.  Sweet treats cost R25, for Persian love cake, and Brownies.  Children are also catered for, with salami pizza, a cupcake that the children can make themselves, and ice cream, at R25 each.  I enjoyed the LavAzza cappuccino.   One can still enjoy picnics at Warwick, but must pre-book them in winter.

Warwick wine estate, R44, between Klapmuts and Stellenbosch.  Tel (021) 884-3144 Twitter: @WarwickChef   www.warwickwine.co.za  On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

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

Introducing the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route!

Stellenbosch has always been top of the pops as far as its wine selection and quality goes (i.e. wines winning awards), but has played poor cousin to Franschhoek for many years when it comes to its restaurant status, that is until recently, when the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list included more Top 10 restaurants in Stellenbosch (Rust en Vrede, Overture and Terroir) than in Franschhoek (The Tasting Room and The Restaurant at Grande Provence).  Stellenbosch has always been the best marketed collective wine region, and was the first to introduce the Wine Route concept, which has been adopted by most wine-growing regions now.

My visit to Stellenbosch last week, to experience recently opened restaurants, confirmed my view that Stellenbosch by rights now should be called the Gourmet Capital of South Africa, not only due to the Eat Out Top 10 listings, but also in terms of the newer restaurants bubbling under.  I believe that the tourism authority should be ahead of the game, and introduce a Restaurant Route for Stellenbosch, given the wealth of its creative and gourmet talent.   It is easy to see that opening good quality restaurants on wine estates is a growing trend in Stellenbosch, and is good for business, as Werner Els told me at Haskell Vineyards, its Long Table restaurant leading to wine sales from restaurant patrons.

My recommendation for the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route is the following, based on own experience and recommendations.  It is not comprehensive.  I have added links to the restaurant listings that I have reviewed, and reviews of the newer restaurants will be published shortly.

Rust en Vrede – probably the best restaurant in the town currently, a slick operation, run by modest but talented chef David Higgs, on the Rust en Vrede wine estate.  Featured on the Eat Out Top 10 list 2009 and 2010, number 74 on 50 Best Restaurants in the World 2010 list, and Top vineyard restaurant of 2010 Great Wine Capitals in the World – read the review here.  Tel (021) 881-3881  CHEF DAVID HIGGS LEFT THE RESTAURANT ON 25 JUNE, NOW WORKING AT RADISSON’S BLU GAUTRAIN HOTEL IN JOHANNESBURG. 

*   Overture – Chef Bertus Basson is a hard-working re-inventor of his menu and operation, always looking to improve his complete package.   On the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list for 2009 and 2010.  Fantastic views from the location on the Hidden Valley wine estate – read the review here.  Tel (021) 880-2721

*   Terroir does nothing for me, I must admit, and therefore I do not understand that it is a perennial on the Eat Out Top 10 list (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010 – the Terroir website does not list the awards after 2006, so some awards may have been left out!).  I have been there a number of times, and have not been excited about its menu, restaurant interior, and service.  The outside seating on the De Kleine Zalze wine and golf estate is great for a warm day.  Tel (021) 880-8167

*   Restaurant Christophe – Die Skuinshuis is the setting for this exceptional restaurant, Chef Christophe Dehosse being the hands-on owner and chef, who talks to his customers in his charming French accent, a rare treat in restaurants.  The foie gras, served with toasted brioche, is to die for – read the review here.  Tel. (021) 886-8763. THE RESTAURANT CLOSED DOWN ON 24 JUNE.

*   Delaire at Delaire Graff –  no money was spared in building and decorating this restaurant and winery building, and it houses a most impressive art collection.   Chef Christian Campbell is doing outstanding work, and his crayfish lasagne is exceptional.  Turnover of staff has reduced the quality of service  – read our latest review     Tel (021) 885-8160

*   Indochine at Delaire Graff – this is the newest Stellenbosch restaurant, and is relatively less opulent in its interior design compared to its sister restaurant.   Young chef Jonathan Heath is a star to watch, and his Asian fusion menu is sure to attract the attention of the Eat Out Top 10 judges.   He explains the menu, and the dishes when he serves them personally.  The two course special at R225 sounds expensive, but it does not reflect the amuse bouche, sorbet and sweet treats (with cappuccino) one receives at no extra charge.  The Tikka Duck Marsala starter is excellent –  read our review.  Tel (021) 885-8160

Restaurant at Majeka House –the restaurant is overshadowed by the Boutique Hotel in terms of its branding, and is not known to most foodlovers, a hidden gem in Paradyskloof, a suburb opposite the Stellenbosch Golf Course.   Its young Chef Anri Diener trained at Tokara and Delaire, and is a rising star, presenting exciting French cuisine.  The Millefeuille of chocolate mousse served with coffee meringue bars is to die for – Read the review.  Tel (021) 880-1512

*   Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine –  a mouthful of a brand name but also a mouthful in value and excellent quality, a far cry from Jardine, which he co-owns in Cape Town, but rarely still cooks at.  It is set at the end of a long road, on the Jordan wine estate, overlooks a big pond and the beautiful Stellenbosch mountains in the far distance, teeming with birdlife.  Interior functional, as in Cape Town.  Most beautiful and unique “bread” plate ever seen.   Read the review.  Tel (021) 881-3612

*   The Long Table Restaurant and Cafe – set at the end of a long road up a hill, above Rust en Vrede, on the Haskell Vineyards (marketers of Haskell and Dombeya wines), the food of Chef Corli Els is a wonderful surprise.  The restaurant interior and waiter service do not match the excellence of her food or the quality of the Haskell wines. The Papaya and Avo salad stands out as one of the special treats I enjoyed last week.   Read the Review.  Tel (021) 881-3746

*   The Big Easy – set on Dorp Street with some parking, and owned by Ernie Els and Johan Rupert, the restaurant is large, but divided into different rooms, allowing private functions.  Average food, below average service generally.  Sweet Service Award.  tel (021) 887-3462

*   Warwick wine estate – owner Mike Ratcliffe is a good marketer, and his gourmet picnics, designed by Chef Bruce Robertson, and prepared by their chef Bruce, are a great hit in summer.  Winter warmer foods available too – read the picnic review here.  Tel (021) 884-3144

*   Nook Eatery – has been operating for a year, and has developed a reputation for good value, healthy (organic where possible) and wholesome food.  Restaurant location in ‘League of Glory’ TV series, and next door to Restaurant Christophe.  Good value buffet lunch, Wednesday pizza evenings, and sweet treats throughout the day.  Hands-on owners Luke and passionate Chef Jess do not open the Eatery if they are not there themselves.  Read the review here.  tel (021) 887-7703  

*   Tokara DeliCATessen – has a buffet lunch too, very large restaurant space combined with a deli, but service poor and food quality average – read the review here.   Tel (021) 808-5950

*   Eight at Spier – the menu was designed by Judy Badenhorst, ex-River Cafe, and now running the Casa Labia Cafe in Muizenberg.  Have not read much about it, and not experienced yet.   Tel (021) 809-1188

*   Melissa’s on Dorp Street – a perennial favourite, with a limited menu and standardised across all the branches.  Fresh and wholesome foods, service not always great.  Sour Service Award Tel (021) 887-0000

Wild Peacock Food Emporium on Piet Retief Street (ex Okasie) – this is the newest eatery to open, belongs to Sue Baker and is managed by ex-Rust en Vrede front of house manager and daughter Sarah, selling deli items, a range of cold meats, imported French and local cheese, fresh breads, and has a sit-down menu as well.    Review to follow.  Tel 082 697 0870

*   Mila, The Cake Shop– this must be the tiniest eatery interior in Stellenbosch, next door to The Big Easy, but it is crammed full of the most delectable cakes and pastries.  Service not great when sitting outside.  Review to follow.  Tel 074 354 2142.

*   Cupcake – serves a range of cupcakes, but not as wide a variety as one would expect.  Good sandwiches and cappuccino, pretty square with water feature in which to sit.  No review written.  Tel (021) 886-6376

*   Umami – set in the Black Horse Centre on Dorp Street, this restaurant had not wowed me, but serves satisfactory lunches and dinners.   No review written, and I rarely hear anyone talk about it.  Tel (021) 887-5204

*   Wijnhuis – located on Andringa Street, in the vicinity of tourism outlets.  Given its name, it should be very popular in this town, and given the connection to its namesake in Newlands, and its parental link to La Perla, it should offer a lot better food quality and service than it does.  Not reviewed, and would not recommend.  Tel (021) 887-5844

  Pane E Vino – this food and wine bar is hidden to those who do not come to Bosman’s Crossing.  Owned by Elena Dalla Cia, husband George and father-in-law Giorgio do wine and grappa tastings in the restaurant too.  Good Italian fare. Not reviewed yet.  Tel (021) 883-8312 

*   Cafe Dijon – French-style bistro on Plein Street.  One experience not satisfactory due to owner not being there.  Rated by JP Rossouw of Rossouw’s Restaurants.  Tel (021) 886-7023

*   Bodega @Dornier – I have not been to this restaurant on the Dornier wine estate, and have not read any reviews yet.  Tel (021) 880-0557

*   Cuvee Restaurant, Simonsig – Interesting Cape Dutch modernist interior curation by Neil Stemmet. Excellent quality food, Simonsig wines, napery, cutlery, tableware, stemware, and service.  Read the Review Tel (021) 888-4932

*   De Oude Bank Bakkerij, Church Street – newly opened, opposite Vida e Caffe, this artisan bakery and cafe allows one to order from a list of cold meats, cheese and preserves what one wants to eat with the breads they sell.  Read the review.  Tel (021) 883- 2188  

*   Tokara – Etienne Bonthuys has left Tokara, and Richard Carstens is said to be stepping in his shoes, when his contract with Chez d’Or in Franschhoek finishes in September (he left in July already). Tokara denied that Carstens is taking over the restaurant lease.   It has now (30/7) been confirmed that Jardine’s Wilhelm Kuehn is taking over Tokara, and that Richard Carstens will be the Executive Chef.  Opened on 19/10.  Read the review. Tel (021) 808-5959.

*   Towerbosch Earth Kitchen on the Knorhoek wine estate. Lovely fairy-like setting, fantastic Boerekos feast served in bowls rather than dishing up per plate.  Read the review.   Tel (021) 865-2114.

*   Stellenbosch Slow Food Market, Oude Libertas – previously the Bosman’s Crossing Market, it moved to Oude Libertas late last year.    Good quality and often organic foods, not quite as top level and exciting as in its previous location, only open on Saturdays

*   Casparus is the name of Etienne Bonthuys’ new restaurant on Dorp Street, an amazing marriage between the cuisine creativity of Bonthuys and the interior design creativity of partner Strijdom van der Merwe.  There is no restaurant like this in South Africa!   Read the review.   Tel (021) 882-8124.

*   Johan’s at Longridge is a refreshing new restaurant on Longridge Winery, with a focus on fresh vegetables from its large vegetable garden alongside the restaurant.  Co-owner Chef Johan comes from a Michelin two-star restaurant in Holland, as does Chef Marissa.  Attentive service led by Chris Olivier, excellent food, great wines.  Read the review.   Tel (021) 855-2004 

*  de Huguenot, on De Huguenot Estate in Johannesdal, Pniel, is a superb fine-dining restaurant which opens in July, headed up by Chef Tanja Kruger, a member of the South African Culinary Olympic team.  Beautiful view onto Groot Drakenstein mountains.  Read the review.

POSTSCRIPT 17/10:  The Top 20 finalists for the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards were announced at the end of last month, and the list contains five Stellenbosch restaurants (compared to only two from Franschhoek):  Rust en Vrede, Overture, Terroir, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, and Restaurant Christophe.   The Top 10 winners will be announced on 28 November.

POSTSCRIPT 29/11:  Stellenbosch now wears the Gourmet Capital crown, with four Eat Out Top 10 restaurants:  Overture, Rust & Vrede (now South Africa’s number one restaurant and top chef David Higgs), Terroir, and Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine.

POSTSCRIPT 15/4:  It has been announced that David Higgs has resigned, and will leave Rust en Vrede mid-June.

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

Review: Warwick picnic more wacky than gourmet

The “Boozy Bloggers Picnic” at Warwick wine estate on Sunday was a disappointment in a number of respects, despite the bloggers (and other visitors) present having a good time on a perfect picnic Sunday.

WhaleTales has not written about wine estates much, except if they have restaurants on them.   Warwick wine estate, on the R44 between Klapmuts and Stellenbosch, attracted attention because Chef Bruce Robertson, a previous Top 10 chef when he owned The Showroom, was contracted to put together the picnic at Warwick.   When the invitation was received that bloggers were welcome to attend the picnic on Sunday, and that a generous special bloggers’ rate was offered, the booking was made immediately  

Despite being a big fan of Chef Bruce, and enjoying meeting Warwick owner Mike Ratcliffe on the day, one left the picnic disappointed in that a golden opportunity had been lost by Warwick.   Whilst the bloggers were on a special list, they were not told to sit in a defined section with other bloggers, so that they could get to know each other, and exchange information about this new medium.   Not even Ratcliffe knew who the bloggers were and what they looked like.   On a Big 5 wine safari drive during the afternoon, the Backsberg bloggers were on board, and at least one connection was made.  Anel Grobler from @spitorswallow was also present, and came over to chat later in the afternoon.   By this time Ratcliffe had left for his home already.

The vast picnic area is located around a dam, with lawns, and a section with tables under trees, as well as private “picnic pods”, resembling birdwatching ‘houses’, so one has a good choice.  Unfortunately one is not told where one can or should sit.   Also unfortunate is that one cannot see vines from the picnic area at all, so it feels less like a wine farm when one is there.   When one goes on the drive there is no mistaking that Warwick is a wine farm.

The picnic is a little higgeldy-piggeldy, much like the character of the wine estate.   The building houses the wine tasting section when one enters, and here the dissonance begins.  On the right is a beautiful modern wine cooling “cabinet”, with glass and modern white shelving.   In the middle of the room, along the wall, is a ‘mature’ wooden shelf with wine related gadgets for sale.   Behind the ordinary wooden counter the wines are sold.   It is a long room, not well filled, with wasted space at the back end of it.   One walks through to the picnic section, and there is another ordinary looking counter, with a table behind it, filled with the picnics.   It is a vast room, with a single table with things to sell, lost in the open space.   A decor hand is clearly missing in this venue, all is functional but not particularly attractive.

Given this decor, a ‘gourmet’ picnic concept for this wine estate is ill-matched.  One gets the feeling that the staff are very friendly, but things are not well organised.  Time is a commodity the staff have, but maybe not their guests.    The staff are still putting things together for the picnics when one arrives, even though they have taken bookings for them in advance.  One pays and receives a most unusual “picnic basket”, nothing like one has ever seen before.   A bottle of water is sold as is a cold drink, but no glasses are provided.   No attempt is made to sell one a bottle of wine with the picnic – is that not what the picnic is all about?   The wine sales department is in the first room, so the two departments do not marry their services and sales.  The sweet picnic lady tells us that it is the first day that the guests have to collect their picnics – previously they were brought to the tables.  Perhaps the former method would have caused less of a queue at the collection point.

We sit at a table under the trees, in what is meant to be the bloggers’ section, but see no one familiar, not that a list of names has been provided.   We unpack our picnic:   it has been cleverly put together in a stacked fashion, with two boards, one plastic and one wooden, a baguette wrapped in a massive “Warwick News”, a box of treats, a table cloth, and plates and cutlery, with a silver handle that clips underneath the boards, making one able to carry everything.   The tablecloths are brightly coloured (ours a grass green polka dot). The cutlery is ‘green”, being biodegradable, made from “a starched (sic) based bioplastic”.   

The box of treats contains the food in little plastic and cardboard boxes, and it is a treat to open them to see what is inside:   a delicious “Bruce’s ‘lekker’ biltong and brandy pate”, hummus with peppadew coulis, a small camembert, charcuterie (2 tiny slices of smoked something), poached chicken breast with truffle mayo (chicken tastes bland, but interestingly cut in tiny round slices), “frikkadelle” with tomato bredie (not out of the ordinary), “tabouli” – a green salad with couscous sprinkles (difficult to eat), baby potato salad with yummy mayo), “maketaan” – a yummy watermelon and ginger preserve, a box of Maynards wine gums, and a ‘death by chocolate’ brownie (not very special).   The most gourmet out of all this is the biltong pate.  The food is more wacky than gourmet, and is enough.  We hear bloggers mutter about the price of R 150 per head.  The pink paper menu is not of a “gourmet” standard.

We buy a bottle of wine (we would have loved a Rose with the picnic, but Warwick only does a Chardonnay and a Sauvignon Blanc on the light side), but receive no ice bucket on a 30+ C day.  No staff come to the tables at all, to sell us more to drink.  When we do see some, and call them over, they look at us in surprise that we could ask them for another bottle of water and for an ice bucket.  But it is brought to the table.  Do not expect any proactive service from the staff. 

Verdict – Warwick is sooo laid back, that it does itself a disservice in not focusing on its wine sales.  We left the wine estate knowing little more about Warwicks’ wines (except that there are 5 varieties planted on the farm, hence the Big 5 Landrover drives they do).  The newspaper wrapped around the baguette was placed under the boards for later reading, and was cleared by the staff before one could think of reading it – it is massive, and one is more interested in the contents of the boxes than in the newspaper at that stage.

Great concept, but on the wrong wine estate, in that its design does not reflect “designer” nor “gourmet”, normally associated with Chef Bruce Robertson.   Very child-friendly, and the kids get their own picnic box.   Mike Ratcliffe is a very nice owner, and he came to check on us regularly, and very friendly staff.   Very clean and modern bathroom, which is commendable.  A lost opportunity by Warwick, in getting bloggers together and connected, the prime reason for them coming.  A lost marketing opportunity in that the paper menu does not have contact details nor the web address if one wanted to book again or tell others about it.

Warwick wine estate, R44, Stellenbosch, tel 021 884-3144. www.warwickwine.com   Twitter @mikeratcliffe

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