Tag Archives: Jean Engelbrecht

Bocca restaurant to open shortly, first to offer pizza on Bree Street!

Bocca coming soon Whale CottageLast night my friend Whitney Wentzel and I enjoyed a very generous dinner at Burrata, losing track of the number of courses we enjoyed.  I had been invited to hear from co-owner Neil Grant what exciting developments are planned at Bocca, which will open on the corner of Bree and Wale Streets in mid-September, as well as longer term at Constantia Uitsig, when they take over the former River Café, with a name change.

Bocca (means ‘mouth’ in Italian) will seat 70 diners on two levels inside, as well as a further 23 on a deck extending out of the restaurant on Bree Street, which has an extra-large pavement.  Neil and Chef Annemarie Steenkamp will open Bocca, with the assistance of Matteo, a sommelier who has worked on the cruise ship The Residence at Sea.  He in turn will have a sommelier supporting him.  The Bocca kitchen is smaller, Chef Annemarie said, but she is excited in having designed most of it herself.  A sister pizzaBurrata Chef Anemarie Steenkamp Whale Cottage oven to the one at Burrata, also sourced from Naples, has been installed, in orange.  Space has been allowed for a bar counter.  Seating is at counters, as well as at custom-designed tables and chairs.  There will be more colour in the interior, and less industrial design, than at Burrata. The interior design was done by INHOUSE designers, who also designed the interiors of Burrata, The Test Kitchen, The Butcher Shop & Grill, and Carné. A number of locations were considered for the new restaurant, including the former Rhapsody’s space on Main Road in Green Point.

Neil and his business partner Barry Engelbrecht are delighted that they found the Bree Street Continue reading →

Exclusive AfrAsia Bank charity Cape Wine Auction 2014 to educate Winelands communities!

Cape Wine Auction collage of picturesThe AfrAsia Bank Cape Wine Auction 2014 is an inaugural exclusive, almost elitist, charity event which aims to raise monies which are to be used for educational purposes in the Winelands.   It takes place at Delaire Graff Estate over lunch today, with 250 guests, half of whom are likely to travel from overseas to the Cape especially for the auction.

With an aura of a by-invitation-only attendance, Auction organiser Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick Wines invited 30 Auction Ambassadors to assist him in spreading the word about the event, to assist in raising lots for the auction, and to invite guests as bidders to the event. Ambassadors include May de Lencquesaing of Glenelly, Wendy Appelbaum of De Morgenzon, Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte, Rose and Michael Jordaan of Bartinney, Delaire Graff, Charles Banks of Mulderbosch, Paul Cluver, Jeremy Ord and Kevin Arnold of Waterford, Chris and Andrea Mullieneux and their partner ‘Anlajit’ (sic) Singh, Zelma Long and Dr Phil Freese of Vilafonte, the Buys family of Vrede en Lust, Francois Pienaar, Eben Sadie, Ryk Neethling, Jean Engelbrecht, Ken Forrester, Anthonij Rupert Wines, Lanzerac Estate, Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, and Giorgio and George Dalla Cia.  One wonders why so many of the country’s top winemakers have not been involved in the Auction, the list of Auction Ambassadors clearly concentrated in Stellenbosch. Missing from the list, one would think, is Babylonstoren, Backsberg, Boekenhoutskloof, and a winery or two from the Constantia, Paarl, Wellington, Robertson, Tulbagh, and Durbanville Wine Continue reading →

South Africa’s Top Chef David Higgs to leave Rust en Vrede

Sad news since Saturday is that David Higgs, chef at Rust en Vrede and number one Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant, will be leaving the Stellenbosch wine farm restaurant mid-June.  He is heading for Johannesburg, but exact details are not yet available.  David will be replaced by John Shuttleworth.  Higgs is not the first chef to have resigned in his year of being named a Top 10 chef, following in the footsteps of Peter Tempelhoff and Jacques de Jager.  

We received the following media release from Rust en Vrede’s PR agent Emile Joubert:


David Higgs has resigned as head-chef of Rust en Vrede Restaurant to take up a business offer in Johannesburg.

Since starting the restaurant on Rust en Vrede Wine Estate in 2007 with proprietor Jean Engelbrecht, Higgs and his team have developed the restaurant into one of South Africa’s leading restaurants, garnering various accolades in the process. 

Higgs will be running the restaurant until the winter break commences on 18 June. John Shuttleworth, currently sous chef at Rust en Vrede, will replace Higgs as head-chef when the restaurant reopens on 19 July. 

“David will always be known as the chef who established one of the winelands’ finest restaurants as well giving the Rust en Vrede brand an added dimension of excellence,” says Engelbrecht. “I would like to thank him for his invaluable contribution and wish him well on his new career path where I am sure he will achieve the same degree of success he did at Rust en Vrede. 

“Together with David, I have decided to appoint John as the new head-chef as his experience will ensure that our innovative and original cuisine, commitment to service excellence and sourcing of the finest produce will continue to remain at the heart of the Rust en Vrede offering.” 

Higgs said his tenure at Rust en Vrede offered him the opportunity to realise his full potential as a restaurant chef. “As part of a fantastic team, I am proud to say that Rust en Vrede helped push winelands dining to a new level, and I have no doubt that Jean, John and the rest of the team will continue doing so,” he says.  

“Moving to Johannesburg from this environment is not an easy decision. However, the opportunity of being involved on a greater strategic business level within the food industry is one I feel compelled to pursue.”              

We wish David Higgs all the best of luck in his future endeavours, and know that we will see him on a future Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list again.

POSTSCRIPT 17/4: If what Rapport writes today about the reasons for the departure of David Higgs from Rust en Vrede is correct, then it is just a matter of time before the restaurant closes down after he leaves.  The report alleges that Jean Engelbrecht, who leases Rust en Vrede from his father Jannie, at an astronomical rental of R140000 per month, is in financial trouble, and is struggling to pay the rent, leading to cost cutting, which must be affecting the restaurant operation too.   Higgs must have seen that the writing is on the wall.  Jannie and Jean have had an acrimonious father-and-son-relationship, and Jean is accused of financial mismanagement since leasing the wine estate five years ago.  Higgs’ departure is seen to make the financial situation at Rust en Vrede even worse, as he and his restaurant have been an important part of the Rust en Vrede brand, especially when Higgs and his Rust en Vrede team won Top Chef, Top Restaurant and Top Service in the 2010 Eat Out Top Restaurant Awards in November.

Since the first Tweet by Wouter Lombard on 9 April, announcing Higgs’ departure from Rust en Vrede, we have tried to contact Higgs.  He had left for the day when I called that same evening, but I could get Sommelier Neil Grant on the line, and he denied the ‘rumour’ regarding Higgs’ departure.   On Thursday Lombard again Tweeted about Higgs’ departure.  I called the restaurant again, and was told that Higgs was not available, but managed to speak to Grant again, who confirmed the departure and apologised for not revealing the correct information on Saturday evening.   I was given Higgs’ cell number, and called twice, to reach him.  He asked if he could call back, as he was in a staff briefing.  He did not call, but sent the following sms instead: “A little crazy at the moment. Will release something more substantial soon. Thx for understanding”.   Higgs has always been a gentleman, and it would appear that he does not want to talk to anyone about the reasons for his departure, nor about his future plans.

POSTSCRIPT 20/4: We have received another e-mail from Emile Joubert, denying the previous Postscript written on the basis of a Rapport report:  “As mentioned, Rust en Vrede denies the sensationalist allegations in Rapport. We have stated this to the editor, Liza Albrecht, who has launched a “thorough investigation” into the various lies expressed in the article by her journalist Marlene Malan. See my comment on the Rapport article. This pretty much explains everything. I’ll keep you up to speed re further developments”.

POSTSCRIPT 16/5: In Rapport  yesterday the paper retracted its story referred to in the above Postscript, having seen evidence that Rust en Vrede does not belong to Jannie Engelbrecht, and therefore he cannot be leasing the farm to his son Jean Engelbrecht.  Further, David Higgs is quoted in the article as saying that he is leaving Rust en Vrede due to a new business opportunity, and that his departure has nothing to do with the relationship between Jannie and Jean Engelbrecht.

POSTSCRIPT 20/6:Chef David Higgs cooked his last meal at Rust en Vrede on Saturday evening.  The restaurant is closing for a month, and then the sous chef steps into David’s shoes.  David is said to be going to Radissons’s Hotel in Johannesburg, running the Food & Beverage side of the hotel.  It is also said that he is investigating launching a range of products bearing his name.

POSTSCRIPT 22/6:  In the Eat Out newsletter today, David Higgs confirms his move to Radisson’s Blu Gautrain Hotel, where he will be responsible for all the hotel’s food.  He is working on a redesign of the hotel’s unimaginatively named Central One Bar and All Day Restaurant, using Michelin 2-star chef Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier brand as his inspiration.

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

Restaurant Review: Rust en Vrede almost faultless

One of South Africa’s Top 10 restaurants, Rust en Vrede, did a special dad’s 94th birthday celebration proud on a weekday night 2 weeks ago, just four days after it was announced as 3rd place winner on the Top 10 list, as winner of the Service Excellence Award in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, and a week after it was named the best Restaurant in the winelands in the world, by the Great Wine Capitals Network.

A terrible drive due to after-hours roadworks near the airport made the journey from Cape Town doubly long.   The arrival at the wine estate wiped away the frustration, it being dark already, and the lighting romantically showing off ancient oak trees and a beautiful garden.

A staff member stood outside the door to welcome us, and we were taken to the rest of the party, having a drink on the terrace outside.  Our table for 6 was set apart from the rest of the restaurant, in its own alcove, two sides filled with wines on glass shelves.   This gave a feeling of privacy, yet one felt to be part of the restaurant.

The menu and winelist covers were one of the few aspects to criticise, looking like plastic “mock-croc”.   The menu is informative, with a foreword by Jean Engelbrecht, the owner of the wine estate, David Higgs the chef, and Neil Grant, the sommelier.   The menu is simple – one has two choices – 4 courses at R 400, or 6 courses at R 550 without paired wine, or R 800 with wine paired per course.   The only catch is that all persons in the party must have either the 4- or 6-course meal.

As the 4-course meal allows one an option of three choices per course, our party chose this option.  A first course choice offered was a scallop “gazpacho” that was not a soup at all, foie gras and cherries, and sweet onion soup.  The second course choice consisted of a salmon trout, organic chicken, and fennel and creme fraiche risotto.   The third course offered tuna, loin of lamb and springbok.   The 4 th course choice was between goat’s cheese and melon, strawberry and nut parfait with marzipan, and baked apple and pastry with cream cheese ice cream.

The 6-course meal starts with tuna, followed by scallop, rabbit, Chalmar beef, Tetede Moine and ends with Chocolate Marquis.  No options are provided within each of the 6 courses.

The menu also contains the supplier information, looking a little like an add-on to the otherwise slick menu.   Beef and venison come from the estate’s Kalahari farm, herbs come from the estate’s herb garden, Magic Steve supplies the vegetables, The Wild Peacock supplies ingredients, duck and rabbit, Neil Jewel the chacuteries, and Wayne Rademeyer from Wellington the Buffalo Mozzarella.   Reubens is the only other known restaurant which states its suppliers in its menus.  

The meal was preceded by an amuse bouche of scallop.   As each dish is brought to the table per course, the waitress reminds one of the choice one ordered, pointing out what is on the plate.   She explained everything so well and efficiently, that everything seemed to taste even better.

The winelist reflects about 270 wines on 28 pages, and a neat index at the start of the winelist categorises the wines on offer, and an easy reference to the page.  An oddity is the fact that only Champagne is served, and that South African Cap Classiques are not available.  This is justified in the menu on the grounds of David and Neil being fanatical about the Champagne region in France!   The winelist has 24 Champagnes, ranging from R 500 for a Mailly to R 1 800 for a Laurent Perrier.   Wines by the glass are available, at R 30 for a Cederberg Chenin Blanc to R 50 for a Fryer’s Cove.

Similar to The Big Easy, a Portfolio of Wines is referred to in the winelist, and all wines from Rust en Vrede, Cirrus, Guardian Peak, Ernie Els, and Engelbrecht Els are listed separately in the winelist.   The Rust en Vrede wine offering is extensive, and a separate price is quoted for each vintage.   So, for example, the Rust en Vrede Merlot ranges from R 200 for a 2008 to R 900 for a 1989, the shiraz from R 230 for a 2006 to R 750 for the 1992, and R 95 for a Cab blend.    Other wine brands are offered as well, and the Meerlust Rubicon costs R 350, and the Schalk Burger costs R 700.   A Pol Roger bubbly was followed by the Rust en Vrede Shiraz, and was decanted by Neil.  So professional is the wine team that when a second bottle of the same Rust en Vrede Shiraz was opened, a new round of Riedel glasses was brought to the table.  

The spacing of the serving of the four courses was just right – not too slow nor too fast, and one lost track of time, not necessarily a good thing on a weekday evening!   Service is unobtrusive, polite, reserved, and no proactive conversation is made – all communication relates purely to the meal and the drinks.   An interesting but professional looking touch is the pouring of the bottled water with a cloth, to prevent the bubbles from wetting the guest or the tablecloth.   This has not been seen anywhere else ever.

Unusual too is the multi-gender bathrooms – one does not expect to see a gentlemen coming through the door!  Molton Brown bathroom products are available, being of a very good quality.

What was missed relative to a visit a year ago was David Higg’s regular visits to the table, after each course, to check on the guests’ satisfaction with and feedback about each course.   David appeared more hands-on in the open-plan kitchen than a year ago, and would not have had the time to do so.   He did come to chat after the meal, and  impresses with his modesty, charm and gentleness.   Even more commendable is the pride and dedication to his restaurant – if he should be ill, or is travelling, he closes the restaurant, he said.  He will not allow it to operate without him being present.  This places a huge burden on him in the five nights a week that the restaurant is open, but ensures consistent service – David Higgs probably is the only chef in the country to take his craft and reputation so seriously.

A small irritation, which Rust en Vrede shares with almost every restaurant in the country, is a bad habit of staff stretching past one from the left to place a knife or spoon on one’s right.   This was the only aspect of the service that can be faulted.   The music is nondescript and irritating, and sounds too canned – it is not well-matched to the decor, and quality of the food and wine, and does not add to the ambiance.   Smoking is strictly forbidden on the estate, but an exception is made for cigar smoking when one is outside with no one else present, the cigars are for sale on the menu!

The 4-course meal for 6, a bottle of Pol Roger champagne, 2 bottles of Rust en Vrede Shiraz, some pre-dinner drinks, cigars as well as the mandatory 10 % service charge for a table of 6 came to R 4 700.     The birthday boy received a tiny chocolate cake to take home, and each guest receives a roll wrapped up as a “gift”, an oddity, as rolls are not served with the meal, when one leaves.

POSTSCRIPT 9/4: Sommelier Neil Grant tonight telephonically denied the rumour on Twitter that David Higgs is leaving Rust & Vrede and moving to Johannesburg in June.

POSTSCRIPT 15/4: It has been announced that David Higgs has resigned, and is leaving Rust en Vrede mid-June.  John Shuttleworth will step into David’s chef’s shoes.

Rust en Vrede is open from Tuesday to Saturday evenings.  During the day one can enjoy only one dish – steak and chips – for lunch.  Bookings are not taken for lunch.  Tel 021 881 3881, www.rustenvrede.com.  On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

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