It was a shock to the hospitality industry to hear last year that the Alphen Hotel had closed down in Constantia, one of Cape Town’s oldest hotels, and even more so that restaurateur Paul Kovensky had taken over the property and had created a magical transformation of a historical building, re-opening the hotel in December with two new restaurants. La Belle Café and Bakery serves a beautiful selection of pastries, and has become a popular meeting place for breakfast, lunch, and drinks in the Southern Suburbs.
One can see the popularity of the rejuvenated Alphen Hotel from the mass of cars on the grounds, something one never saw before. The original entrance has been closed, to create more parking. I asked a staff member where La Belle was, as there is no branding visible for the restaurants, and he pointed me to ‘La Bella’, not knowing its correct name. The staff are all new, and have no knowledge of the history of the building, and what the La Belle room was used for before. It is a large room seating 60 inside, with an open thatched roof giving it the look and feel of a barn, dominated by a display counter almost the length of the room, containing the most beautiful selection of pastries, the breads being less easy to see in the shelving behind the counter. There are individual tables inside, and one long shared table, which appeared to become the waiting table, with everyone wanting to sit outside on the beautiful day yesterday. There are few decor touches inside, with two large mirrors on one wall, and a beautifully written blackboard, with the bread range (R15 – R25), milkshakes (R30), and hot chocolates (R20 – R30). There are delectable looking cheese cakes, chocolate tortes, coconut layer cakes, orange vanilla sponge cakes, carrot cakes, and smaller summer fruit tarts, passion fruit meringue tarts, blueberry pies, macaroons, chocolate cupcakes, berry frangipane, red velvet cupcakes, and nut tarts, displayed with potted herbs. The small tarts are larger than one normally sees, and cost about R30. One cannot buy a cake without pre-ordering. Pastry Chef Inge le Roux studied at the SA Chef’s Academy, and has worked at the Table Bay Hotel, Singita, 15 on Orange, and The Round House. Charl Coetzee is the La Belle chef. Cappuccino is by LavAzza.
Despite the many staff, wearing a white T-shirt and La Belle branded apron, service was slow in bringing the menu when I arrived, and bringing out the main course I had ordered. Different persons came to check about ordering, so there is no ownership of a table or customer. I moved to an outside table, and the tables and chairs look more old-fashioned outside, with a blue-white striped fabric for the chair cushions, possibly more suited in colour to one of Kovensky’s seaside restaurants in Camps Bay, given the dominant green and white of the hotel. Seating is provided for 80 outside. The tables have Himalayan Rock Salt and Mixed Pepepr grinders on the table, and a glass vase with a pin cushion protea in it. There are no table cloths, but a material serviette and cutlery by Eetrite.
The menu looks like that of The Grand, an A5 tabloid size printed on newsprint, in green, with its positioning of ‘Light, Fresh & Tasty’ on the opening page. The menu is clearly divided into sections, with a small selection of items for each. Breakfast is served until 11h45, but the menu does not state this. The Breakfast section offers the largest variety, ranging from a simple croissant with cheese and preserves (R35) to the ‘Five Star Breakfast with a Glass of Champagne’, consisting of poached eggs, Scottish salmon, buckwheat blinis, a tomato coriander salsa, and a glass of Veuve Clicquot, at a whopping R250, easily Cape Town’s most expensive Breakfast! I was told by the PR and Marketing Manager Heidi Prinsloo that the Eggs Benedict are really good, served with ham or salmon, and a toasted English muffin (R70). One can also order Churros, flapjacks, ‘Ricotta hotcakes’, French Toast, a fruit platter, and ‘The Alphen Breakfast’ (R130), consisting of pastries, blueberry pancakes, fruit, yoghurt, and a cooked breakfast.
Salads range from R70 – R90, and the more unusual ones are Spring Pea & Plum, and Chermoula Tuna. On a choice of ‘artisan breads’ (baguette, ciabatta, sourdough, rye), sandwiches are served, including pastrami and mustard, chicken & Brie, ‘Smokey Sirloin’, and roast chicken with mustard and mayonnaise, costing R 60 – R90. The Light Meals section offers a charcuterie platter for two at R130, a cheese board with preserves for R80; six oysters served with an apple, beetroot and ‘Champagne Salsa’ for R80; braised lamb pie; fish cakes; and grilled asparagus with poached egg (R85). Main courses include the La Belle Beef Burger, with avocado, and a Porcini Sauce, at R80; a chickpea burger; a very tasty mustard and herb roast chicken (R85) served with olive oil mash and a green bean salad – the salad was misleadingly named, being mainly rocket decorating the edge of the plate and about 4 green beans, but the chicken was a generous portion, the mustard adding an interesting taste to it; tuna steak (R110); beer battered kingklip (R120), fillet steak (R140); Sirloin Forester (R115), and Meatballs & Tagliatelle (R85). Extra sides can be ordered at R20. No desserts are listed on the menu, but one is probably encouraged to order a pastry. The names of the large range of pastry items are not listed. Interesting sounding Raw Juices (about R30) and Smoothies (R40) are offered. Nine teas cost R20. A selection of cocktails is served. Veuve Clicquot costs R170 per glass and R850 per bottle, while Graham Beck Brut is offered at R220 and their Rosé at R490, not being available by the glass. Pongrácz Brut costs R40/R200 and its Rosé R50/R240. A small selection of Constantia wines is offered, as is a Red and a White wine section, without vintages mentioned. Kevin Arnold Shiraz costs R85/R320, and Haute Cabrière Chardonnay/Pinot Noir R45/R170.
Heidi showed me the new sister evening dining restaurant, rather oddly named but literally 5 Rooms Restaurant, connected with a bar room, seating 100 guests inside, and a further 80 outside. It is beautifully decorated with red and blue velvet chairs, and all the original paintings of the hotel. I was assured by Heidi that despite its beautiful decor, that it is not a fine dining restaurant. Fernando Roman is the chef.
The Alphen Hotel has been beautifully transformed by Antoni Associates design interiors, and each space has a unique design, giving it modernity within an historic framework. La Belle has clearly made its mark in Constantia already, judging by how full it was yesterday. Prices are reasonable, with a good variety of items and prices to choose from. La Belle is Simone Kovensky’s project, and she has done a great job in getting the restaurant running smoothly since its opening two months ago. A kitchen staff shortage appears to be a problem, however, given the slow arrival of the food. The waiters were very friendly, as was Amber, the hostess.
La Belle Café and Bakery, Alphen Hotel, Alphen Drive, Constantia. Tel (021) 795-6336. www.alphen.co.za Monday – Sunday 7h00 – 18h30. Opening until 22h00 from 12 March onwards, with a dinner menu.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage