For the first time Chef Seelan Sundoo has opened his own restaurant, after having been used by investors and operators in the past to be their front man, but not getting the recognition from them for the following he has, which I observed when I was invited to enjoy lunch at Seelan Restaurant & Bar at Quay 5 in the V&A Waterfront yesterday. Seelan Restaurant & Bar reflects the past connections of Seelan as chef at the Grand Café and La Perla, but his Shimmy Beach Club and Reserve Brasserie past are not visible.
Seelan worked as Head Chef at La Perla in Sea Point for many years, and he has employed eight staff from La Perla. One cannot help but feel that one is in La Perla, with the smart white tuxedo jackets which the male-only waiters wear. Seelan was attracted to The Grand Camps Bay, which he headed up, with Justin Paul Jansen at his side. Justin displayed his knack of attracting patrons to the restaurants, remembering their names and faces, and offering excellent service. The woven cane chairs in the outside section of Seelan remind one of The Grand. Justin was offered the opportunity to open The Reserve on St George’s Mall, and Seelan moved to The Grand on the Beach. Justin later called in Seelan to open the Reserve Brasserie, and to be its Chef. When The Reserve closed down, Justin went to New York, and Seelan started up the Shimmy Beach Club as co-owner, being its front person. It being time to move on, Seelan made the long overdue decision to open his own Mediterranean style restaurant. Justin said that Seelan is a ‘man of taste and class’, and that Shimmy Beach Club did not suit his style.
Seelan opened four days ago, in a space which was previously Fisherman’s Choice, below Balducci’s and not far from Sevruga. I was invited to try the restaurant prior to the opening parties next week, PR consultant Marina Nestel thinking it would be quiet at the restaurant until the opening launch functions. What a surprise it was to see how busy it became over lunch, restaurant host Justin clearly a magnet in drawing in old Seelan friends and customers into the restaurant, and with the help of the Polish hostess Goshia the outside area was quickly filled up. Marina and her family was having lunch there too, and Saul Berman and his son, as well as stepson-in-law Chris Barnard (whom I had met at the Cape Town Art Fair two weeks ago) and his wife sat at the next table. The tables all have table cloths, material serviettes, Fortris cutlery, unbranded olive oil and balsamic vinegar dispensers, and Natural rock salt and black pepper grinders. A glass container with sea sand, shells, and a candle is to come for each table, Justin informed. All crockery is white and Seelan branded in grey. Inside the chairs are white moulded plastic, with a bar counter at the far back wall, and the glass enclosed kitchen is decorated with boxes of tomatoes and lemons. Chef Seelan is visible in the kitchen, and very much hands-on. The inside ceiling is painted dark grey, making the interior even darker, and at night it must look like a starlit sky with its tiny downlighters.
The outside tables have a permanent umbrella-like canopy protecting patrons against the weather. There is an excellent view onto Table Mountain from the terrace, and one hears the hooting of the tourist trip boats moored at the Quay. Chef Seelan and Justin have been to St Tropez, and Justin waxed lyrical about the French Mediterranean feel of Seelan, with its European holiday feel, and being ‘fresh, clean, and alive’, allowing one to see the celebrities sitting on its terrace.
It is clear that it is early days for Seelan, the menu I was offered having a number of dishes which were not yet available, and will be a reason to return. The printers were blamed for errors in the pricing of the cocktails, all incorrectly priced at R71 on the menu, and for the wrong paper having been used. The winelist is not yet printed, and is offered as an A4 typed list, with prices omitted for the wines they have not yet received.
The menu has an old world feel with an illustrated front cover and illustrations throughout. The menu starts with a listing of Seelan’s Signature Dishes, and my eye caught an unusual Scallops dish, served with perlemoen sauce gratin and a side salad, and with rice and mushrooms (R175). It tasted good, but I didn’t taste the perlemoen in the sauce, and the strong cheese gratin topping dominated anyway. Seelan’s other signature dishes are a Seafood platter (R450 for one, and R850 for two persons, with crayfish, line fish, mussels, calamari, prawns, and langoustines); prawn curry (R135); lamb curry (R145); veal carnival (R140); and Zwelet’s duck rice (R105). A Seafood salad costs R115; a mixed green Italian salad for two R85; kingklip and sirloin tagliata (R160); line fish (R140); and crayfish thermidor (R600).
I started with grilled ‘Patagonica’ (sic) calamari (R75), plainly presented with a slice of lemon (R75). Other starter choices are oysters (SQ), East Coast shrimp (R80), carpaccio of beef and tuna (R78 each), and seafood bouillabaisse (R95). I liked the sound of a warm white asparagus salad (R80), but this was not available. Other salads range in price from R65 – R85. Pasta options range from R70 for ‘Arrabiata‘ (sic) with basil and tomato, to R240 for ‘Al Farouk’ with prawns, crayfish, linefish and a mild curry sauce. Grills and Rotisseries include lamb (R130), duck (R165), and chicken, of which only chicken was available in various forms (R110 – R135). Steak ranges in price from R145 for 300g sirloin to R185 for prime rib, and 250g fillet costs R170. All steak is Black Angus beef, free range and air dried for 14 days, the menu informs. Crayfish costs R485, LM langoustines and grilled linefish are SQ, eight tiger prawns cost R275, and East Coast sole is charged at R155. Sauces and sides cost extra.
For dessert I couldn’t resist the old-world dessert trolley, but it never came, probably not yet ready. I settled on my favourite Tiramisu, rich and creamy, and Seelan sent a flourless and sugarless chocolate torte with cream, as well as an all-year-round Italian Christmas cake with custard and a chocolate creme to the table. The dessert list seems incomplete, and not very Mediterranean, with only ice cream and chocolate sauce, fruit and berries, and fruit shakes, ranging from R30 – R45. A cheese board costs R70.
The winelist has G.H. Mumm (R1159) and Perrier-Jouët ‘Beile’ (sic) Epoque (R4449) champagnes, and five MCCs ranging from R39/R180 for Môreson Miss Molly to R59/R294 for Boschendal Brut and ‘Rose’ (sic) available. No vintage or region origin information is provided. Four Shiraz/Syrah wines are available, in a price range of R37/R134 for ‘Lulu’ (sic) Syrah from France, to R234 for Ridgeback Shiraz from Paarl. Craft beers are from &Union and Citizen, all costing R49, and CBC Amber Weiss (R34 for 300 ml) and Jack Black (R21 for 300 ml) are available on tap.
Seelan Restaurant & Bar has a good location if one knows where it is, but it would appear that Seelan’s fans will find his new restaurant anyway. The restaurant needs time to settle in, and for the staff to react proactively. Justin and Goshia are professionals, and will patch over the problems with their charm and professionalism. It was very noisy with some temperamental children, but luckily they sat at the opposite end of the terrace, and at times the boats hoot loudly. The restaurant music is good and hides some of the noise. As things settle Chef Seelan will no doubt come out of the kitchen and interact with his patrons. The menu and winelist will be reprinted, and this will give them a chance to correct the errors. More inspired plating of the dishes would be welcome.
POSTSCRIPT 18/3: The first of two launch parties was held this evening, and we met Leonard Feinstein, the financial backer and very loyal Seelan Fan. Another loyal customer spoke about Seelan, praising him for the loyal following he has.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage