Tag Archives: Raka Biography

Restaurant Review: Rivendell Restaurant a new start for Chef Thomas Sinn, whale of a good value!

Rivendell Exterior Whale CottageJardine at Jordan Manager and former Sinn employee Riaan Moll told me recently that Chef Thomas Sinn, once an Eat Out Top Restaurant Chef, has closed down all his restaurant interests in Cape Town, and has opened Rivendell Restaurant on the road to Hermanus, near the turn-off to Kleinmond and Arabella.  On our way back from a trip to Hermanus my colleague and I found an oasis of Rivendell Chef Thomas Sinn Whale Cottagefood, in the middle of nowhere, offering a whale of a good value.

Rivendell is referred to in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, ‘Lord of the Rings’ amongst others, and means ‘deeply cloven valley‘, referring to the Bot River valley lying between two mountains.  The wine estate Rivendell is owned by Austrian couple Heimo and Maria Talhammer, and they invited Chef Thomas to open the restaurant on their farm three months ago.  The restaurant building is set back on the estate, and is not visible from the road to Hermanus.  It was previously the tasting and functions venue, but the Continue reading →

Restaurant Review: Dinner at Queen Victoria Hotel’s Dash is dashing!

I was invited to try out the 34-seater Dash restaurant in the Queen Victoria Hotel, which only opened in the Waterfront on Saturday, last night.   Chef Steven Tempelton is the leader of a creative team at Dash, whose food not only was visually appealing, but excellent too, and was responsible for a most dashing dinner.  Dash is one of the best fine-dining restaurants in Cape Town, and an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant coontender for 2012.

The 35-bedroom Queen Victoria Hotel, previously the V&A Waterfront company head office, cost R53 million to transform into 5-star luxury, and the interior decor was done by master ‘craftsman’ Francois du Plessis, who has also just done Dear Me restaurant.  Cleverly, Newmark Hotels MD Neil Markovitz has arranged for the nearby Everard Read gallery to hang some if its artists’ works in the hotel, benefiting both parties. Dash has been honoured by a dominant work by Beezy Bailey.  The work is called “The Storm has passed”, and reflects the style of food created at Dash.  The back of the painting has a poem by Bailey:  “As the storm cleared/The dove escaped the cat’s claws/While the blueberry elephants passed by./As God’s tears hit the sky,/they turned into flowers”.

I was welcomed on arrival in the lobby, in which the 30-year old bonsai imported from China holds centre court, by Food & Beverage Manager Alton van Biljon, whom I had already seen in action last week, when I popped in for a tour around the hotel, led by Markovitz and the hotel’s PR consultant Ian Manley.  Alton has always been a most charming host when he worked at Balducci in the past four years, and has impressed with his knowledge of and passion for wine.  He started his career in retail. He moved into hospitality, and worked at Belthazar and Poplars before managing Balducci.

Chef Stephen Templeton grew up in Somerset West, and has been the Executive Chef at Sun City and the Mount Nelson Hotel.  He also was head of a team of 47 chefs at Harrods, the largest Food & Beverage operation in Europe, he said.  After a four year period in running Four Oaks guest house and restaurant in Montagu, he had an opportunity to sell it, and move back to Cape Town. It was in this time that he was approached by Newmark Hotels to become Group Chef, mainly responsible for their restaurants at the V&A Hotel, Dock House and Queen Victoria Hotel, all in the V&A.  Chef Stephen says that he was hands-on in the development of Dash, in sourcing its crockery, cutlery and glassware, in developing a fine winelist, and creating the unique menu.   The name for the restaurant was the result of a five hour brainstorm with the hotel’s executive team, and it was Ronan Jackson from the design agency that suggested the name, after Queen Victoria’s spaniel.  Chef Stephen and Francois du Plessis worked together to create a ‘New York sexy’ interior and menu that complement each other, and Du Plessis has said that it is the first time that his decor has been so well matched by a menu.  Chef Stephen is aiming at presenting ‘sophisticated, stylish, contemporary yet simple food’ at Dash, which he more than achieves.  He wants the food’s personality to shine through, not that of the chef.  Chef Stephen has an interesting team of nine chefs in the kitchen, with an average age of 24 years.   We laughed when we discovered that there is a Chef Jamie and a Chef Oliver in the kitchen.  I met Chef Oliver Cattermole, who created the ‘Alice in Wonderland garden’ of vegetables that is served with the beef fillet.  He worked at one-Michelin-star Novelli, and at The Ivy in London.  All staff have been taught to make coffee, and have tested the menu, to allow everyone to assist guests, as if one were in a guest house and not in a hotel, Chef Stephen said.  The waitress looking after me was Coral, and was honest in saying that she has just finished studying, and that Dash is her first job.  She was sweet, willing to execute every request, but still lacked some knowledge on how the magic is created in the kitchen.  She went to ask the kitchen all my questions. The staff wear a white shirt with the Queen Victoria Hotel logo on it, black pants and a white Dash-branded apron.

The welcome was warm, with Alton taking me through to the lounge, where I was invited to have a drink.  I chose a coffee.  Chef Stephen was happy to hear that I had starved during the day, in anticipation of the dinner.  Vegetable crisps were brought to the table as a snack.  I asked Chef Stephen what would happen if the 34-seater would run out of space in the 35-room hotel, and he assured me that they would pass the business on to the other Newmark Hotel restaurants in the Waterfront. Chef Stephen sees Dash operating in the league of The Roundhouse, The Test Kitchen and Aubergine

The restaurant has a black tile floor, an impressive black marble surround fireplace dividing the lounge/bar area from the restaurant, beautiful silver curtains, and a wonderful view onto Table Mountain.   The Beezy Bailey is the only colour splash in the room.  The tables are black metal, made by ‘in’ designer Gregor Jenkin I was told by Francois du Plessis, with white leather chairs.  There are no table cloths, but a good quality serviette, with very heavy and solid Sambonet cutlery imported from Germany, the first time I have seen this locally.  The glassware is excellent.  There is a little candle, and rather ordinary tiny white salt and pepper cellars, probably superfluous anyway, given the excellent food, not requiring seasoning.  The only criticism I shared with Alton was the music selection, being heavy jazz initially, and sounding hotel-like generally.  I reminded him of the great music one hears at Belthazar and Balducci.  The bar is lit with purple lighting at night, and bounces off the bar chairs, creating an interesting visual affect as one enters the bar area.  The colour of the lighting changes throughout the day.

I chose a starter of confit of crayfish on a cucumber sockle with a coriander and paw paw salad (R145).  The impressive part of its presentation was the paw paw crisp, creating a centerpiece to the starter, and tasting sweet and crispy.  Chef Stephen explained that paw paw is liquidised, then glycerine is added, it is baked for nine hours, and then thin slices are cut to create the crisp.  The cucumber was as fresh as could be, as was the salad, the paw paw in it echoing the crisp.  Sorrel foam completed the presentation.  No sauces got in the way of the natural fresh taste of the elements of the dish. No fish knife was served with this starter.  Other starter choices, ranging in price from R55 – R145, include beetroot cured salmon, oysters served on seaweed, wild mushroom ragoût, Ceasar salad, seared foie gras, and caviar (SQ).  The surprise was the most amazing sorbets that were served, and I was allowed three: I chose the Tomato Granite, to which Coral added vodka; a most refreshing Lime & Lemon; and the most amazing Rose, complete with its own rose petals dipped in egg white and crystallised.  The sorbets cost R25 for a choice of three.

The main course choice of Grilled fillet of beef with herb mash and spinach purée with vegetables and port jus (R140) has created a stir.  This menu description does not do justice to the amazing creation that arrived – three slices of fillet on mash, but it was the presentation of the vegetables that created the ‘wow’ response, dubbed by the staff as the ‘Alice in Wonderland garden’, an amazing symphony of carrot, tomato, mushrooms, orange-coloured mini corn-cob, baby radish, baby aubergine, baby turnip, sheets of cauliflower stalk, and tomadillo (tasting of tomato with the texture of aubergine, looking like a green gooseberry), so beautifully presented.  Chef Oliver called it ‘psychedelic vegetables’, and told me that he sources them from the Magic Man in the Karoo.  Main courses are reasonably priced, some being cheaper than the starters, and range from R95 to R145 for roasted sea bass, lobster tortellini, venison, tomato and beetroot tart, scallops, lamb noisette, and duck confit risotto.  The dessert list consists of four options, ranging from R50 – R70, in addition to a Cape cheeseboard (R115), and I chose the Pimms jelly, mint bavois and strawberry sauce, beautifully presented with a long elegant spoon, and well paired with a glass of Silverthorn The Green Man sparkling wine (made by Steenberg GM John Loubser in his private capacity). Other dessert options are chocolate fondant, coconut panacotta, and liquorice macaroons.  Coral brought a cappuccino made with Origin coffee to have with the dessert, and a sweet touch was a jug of extra froth, showing that Alton must have read a Tweet of mine a few days ago about the extra froth a waiter had brought me at Salt Deli, also a Newmark Hotel property.

Alton indulged my love for Shiraz, and poured a glass of Quoin Rock 2006 (R208 per bottle), with violet notes.  Coral brought tap water with an ice bucket and slices of lemon.  The winelist is impressive, bound in grey leather, with the hotel logo on it.  Champagnes and MCC sparkling wines are at the back of the winelist, normally found at the front.   Each wine variety is described, and the origin and vintage of each wine is presented, as are the tasting notes for each wine, generated from a tasting panel’s evaluation of each of the about 100 wines listed.  This is a future Diner’s Club Diamond Award winelist candidate.  The champagnes start at R 940 for Guy Charbaut Select Brut NV, going up to R3500 for Dom Perignon Vintage. Veuve Cliquot Rosé, Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve, and Pol Roger Brut Reserve are also available.  MCC’s start at R200 for Moreson Solitaire, with High Constantia Clos Andre costing R445.  Shiraz choices start at R 205 for Raka Biography, up to R 1390 for Saxenburg SSS Shiraz 2005. The wine-by-the glass policy is interesting – there are no prices for these, but one can order any wine on the list by the glass, within reason, and then Alton and his staff will try to sell the rest of the bottle to other guests.

If there is one taste at Dash that I will never forget it is that of the Rose sorbet – a taste I have never experienced before.  Dash is excellent, and perfect, and I know that the music selection will be addressed, as will the waiters’ food knowledge evolve.  They are so many items on the menu to return to, to try out.  From photographs of the other menu items it is evident that each dish is a work of art in presentation alone. The kitchen closes at about 22h30, but one can pop in at the 24-hour Dash bar for a drink, a coffee or even a dessert, ordered from the room service menu, after the kitchen has closed.  After being a loyal V&A Waterfront shopper for twenty years, it is refreshing to have such an excellent quality restaurant so close by, yet away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial Waterfront area.  I salute Newmark Hotels’ MD Neil Markovitz and his team in creating such an exceptional restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 14/4: I went back to Dash for a quick coffee and more sorbet, and to show my colleague the Queen Victoria Hotel and Dash restaurant.  Restaurant Manager Darren looked after us, and organised the extra cappuccino foam on the side, from reading this review.  The hotel is almost booked out with delegates from Brazil attending a Tupperware conference.

POSTSCRIPT 8/5: Staying over at the invitation of the Queen Victoria Hotel presented an opportunity for me to introduce my son to Dash, which he was very impressed by.  Food & Beverage Manager Alton van Biljon was most generous in offering us a bottle of Hartenberg The Stork Shiraz 2005, knowing my love for an old-style shiraz.  The chef sent out two complimentary dishes to those we had ordered: the appetizer was a tomato, basil, and mushroom dust, served on a heavy slate plate, reminding me of the work of Eric Bulpitt, previously of Jardineand now at The Round House.  We both ordered a filling starter of wonderful wild mushroom ragout in puff pastry, served with green beans and bearnaise (R65).  Alex had the beef fillet with the ‘Alice in Wonderland vegetable garden’, while I ordered Springbok loin, carrot purée and turnip gratin (R135).   We shared a trio of Rose, Lemon and lime, and Orange and citrus sorbets (R25).   The chef sent out a complimentary pannacotta and lemon sorbet for usto share.   A wonderful evening, once again with an excellent meal, and charming and highly-impressive service by Alton.

POSTSCRIPT 15/5: I returned to Dash with Carole, my colleague in Hermanus, and we were well looked after by Restaurant Manager Darren and Chef Oliver Cattermole.  I tried the Duck Confit Risotto with citrus and herb potpourri, the potpourri containing tea, dried duck (tasting like biltong) and herbs, and served in a separate bowl, which I sprinkled over the risotto.  Carole had the Beef fillet and the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ vegetable garden.  For dessert we had the Chocolate Fondant, which oozed Valrhona chocolate sauce when we opened it, with orange ice cream, a beautiful presentation.  I had my cappuccino with a jug of extra foam, always a nice touch! It was great to meet One&Only Cape Town Hotel Executive Chef Jason Millar, who was celebrating his anniversary at Dash, and to hear a chef’s reaction to the food of another chef – he was most complimentary.  Chef Oliver Cattermole is the driving force in the Dash kitchen, in my opinion, and has created a vegetable and herb garden on the roof of Newmark Hotels’ V&A Hotel, from which he will harvest for his kitchen in future.  

POSTSCRIPT 25/5: Another lovely lunch with excellent service at Dash today, spoiling my friend Jenny to a birthday lunch.  She was surprised to receive a birthday card from the hotel, and a surprise chocolate fondant dessert with her cappuccino.  Jenny’s Beetroot cured salmon with horseradish apple slaw was beautifully presented.

POSTSCRIPT 1/7: Today I took Trevor Jordaan for a birthday lunch at Dash.  I ordered a Cape Malay butternut velouté, while Trevor had a chicory and pickled pear salad, both beautifully presented.  Happy to hear how well the restaurant is doing, and has appointed an Assistant Manager Andrea.

POSTSCRIPT 3/8: Sadly, Restaurant Manager Darren Morgan left the hotel on Monday.  F&B Manager Alton van Biljon has taken a leave of absence, and his return date is uncertain, if he returns at all.  Andrea confirmed this evening that lunch will not be served at Dash for the time being.

POSTSCRIPT 12/8: I had the Mushroom Ragout again this evening, and the pastry casing was tough, and the size of the dish has definitely shrunk.  No Andreas Shiraz was available, which I had tried at Dash for the first time a month ago, when Michael McKenzie and I popped in. The waiter asked how I enjoyed the dish.  I said I didn’t, due to the shrunk size and tough pastry, to which he confidently retorted that the perfect pastry casing is tough! Chef Jamie was in the kitchen this evening. I shared the problem with Hostess Connie, and she apologised.  The waiter told me that the kitchen was sending out a second Ragout, but Connie arrived with the bill, having taken the Ragout off it, saying that the waiter had told her I didn’t want the replacement Ragout.  I got up and left in disbelief at this comedy of errors, the first evening of serious dissatisfaction at Dash.

POSTSCRIPT 25/9: We had a ‘last supper’ at Dash this evening, one of the last nights that Chef Oliver Cattermole will be in the Queen Victoria Hotel kitchen, before he starts at What’s On Eatery on Saturday.  I chose the Foie gras with apple, excellent, but pricey as a starter at R140.  My son enjoyed his Duck risotto (R125).  The Rose sorbet no longer is dark pink, as photographed above, and doesn’t taste as amazing as I remember it. Service efficient but functional, and the personal touch has gone. Excellent Andreas Shiraz 2008 now my favourite Shiraz.  Sad to see us being only one of two tables.  Despite being told in early days that all wines on the winelist are available by the glass, the limit is that only bottles under R300 may be opened for wines by the glass.

Dash Restaurant, Queen Victoria Hotel, Portswood Close, Portswood Ridge, V&A Waterfront.   Tel (021) 418-1466.   www.queenvictoriahotel.co.za (The Dash menu and winelist are now listed on the website, but the Image Gallery does not contain enough photographs to reflect the amazing creativity of the Dash chefs).

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

Restaurant Review: Hermanos not yet a whale of a restaurant

Hermanos opened as a new restaurant in a revered restaurant space previously called Joubert, in Hermanus, about three months ago.   Rave reviews from Whale Cottage Hermanus guests about the restaurant attracted Whale Cottage Hermanus Manager Carole and I to try it 10 days ago.   Our expectations were high.

The co-owner and chef Wayne Spencer came to our table when we arrived early at 18h30, and gave us a friendly greeting.    He told us his background, and then went off to the kitchen , where he cooks almost on his own, with the help of only two staff.  

“Hermanos” is the Spanish word for brother, and symbolises the relationship between Wayne and his brother, who is a financial partner in the business but does not live in Hermanus.   Wayne trained at the Silwood School of Cooking, and has worked at the Phinda Game Reserve, Birkenhead House in Hermanus and La Residence in Franschhoek, and ‘The Mandarin’ at the Port Palace Hotel, a one star Michelin restaurant in Monaco.   The menu is relatively small, and Wayne closes bookings at 50 persons, even if the space could accommodate more clients.   He believes in “local is lekker” in supporting local wine estates and suppliers, and recognises that his two house wines do not meet this stated belief.

While the interior of the restaurant has not changed much, it is whiter and cleaner than Joubert was just before closing down.  We could not sit outside in the fairylit courtyard, due to the rain, which is the best spot, it is said.   Our table for two was small, and at one stage we had to put the bread basket on the floor, as we ran out of space.  

We were disappointed with our waiter, whom we lost early on when we talked wines – the La Couronne Menage a Trois and Brandvlei house wines were not to our liking, and we were disappointed that there was no other choice.  Also, for a winelist that prides itself on Walker Bay wines for wines, the non-Hermanus wines-by-the-glass were an oddity.   We then had to order a full bottle, and this is where the waiter showed that he was not trained on the wine side – everything we asked for he had to communicate to a colleague who was running the bar, just three steps behind our table.  He would then communicate back to us, all via the third person, who never came to our table for a direct conversation.   The waiter did not know what the word “vintage” meant.   We settled on the Raka Biography, and declined it when we were brought a 2008.  Miraculously a 2007 vintage was found, and we could be served the wine, after a long delay on this alone.  By this time we had lost confidence in our waiter, even though he seemed to exude self-confidence, and so we asked the waitress to take over.

The restaurant filled up quickly, and Carole recognised many of the diners as locals, which will ensure that Hermanos survives the winter months.

The menu has 5 starters, including the flagship tiger prawn and avo stack (R52), asparagus and parmesan risotto (R45), Halloumi salad and fish koftas (both R42) and Carpaccio (R 48).   The prawn and avo stack looked attractive, and was served with melba toast slices in-between.  It was a little hard to eat, as the melba toast does not cut well, and the stack soon collapses.   The avo was sliced too thinly for my liking, and Carole did not like the knife shape digging into her palm while using it to eat.   The 8 main course choices are beef fillet hot rock (R 120), signature rib-eye steak (R 112), Karoo lamb rump (R 98), pork loin (R 94), Chicken Ballantine (R 82), linefish (R 90), Norwegian Salmon (R 125), and Crespella di Verdura, a tasty sounding dish of slices of crepe filled with butternut and spinach.     The rib-eye steak and pork loin could not be faulted, except that the steak was a touch too rare for the “medium rare” ordered.

The dessert choice is creme brulee (R 38), vanilla bean ice cream (R 32), chocolate tart (R 42) and a cheese board at R 62.  Carole enjoyed the creme brulee, and I my cappuccino.   While the service from the waitress was better than that of her colleague, she made no effort to really connect, and just asked the standard “is everything ok?” question, without making one feel that she was really listening or interested.

Hermanos stocks a wide selection of wine varietals, with about three brands per variety, and offers a good spread of Hermanus and Hemel-en-Aarde Valley wines.  So, for example, the Shirazes are Wildekrans (R 135), Raka Biography (R 165) and Sumaridge (R 225). The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Benguela Cove (R 185), and from Jakob’s Vineyard and Raka, both costing R 175.  Chardonnay comes from Bouchard Finlayson (R 160), Domaine des Dieux (R 160) and Ataraxia (R 267).   The Sauvignon Blancs come from Jackson (R90), Hermanuspietersfontein (R 120) and Southern Right (R 137).   Methode Cap Classique bubbly is stocked, from Wildekrans (R 160) and Domaine Des Dieux (R 215).

There was no music to create atmosphere.  There was no relationship formed between diner and staff, to make one look forward to coming back, except for the short interaction we had with Wayne on our arrival.  When I first wrote about Hermanos, without having visited, Wayne said that he wanted to come out of the kitchen and connect with his clients, but he is so thinly-staffed in the kitchen that he is unable to do so.  The waitress does not seem senior enough to guide and manage the seemingly untrained colleagues, which could be the downfall of Hermanos.

Hermanos has great potential if it gets its wine-by-the-glass choice and staff quality right, appoints a manager, and opens over lunch.  The food is of a high standard, in a town that is not blessed with any outstanding restaurants.   

Hermanos, 3 High Street, Hermanus.  Tel (028) 313-1916, www.hermanos.co.za  (menu not up to date)   Tuesday – Saturday evenings.

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