When one experiences a new restaurant, one likes to have a handle on it, to define the restaurant, to place it in a box.  Camil’s Restaurant defies definition and categorization, its menu being unique, and is likely to evolve over time.

Camil and Ingrid Haas started Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek, after owning Klein Oliphantshoek guest house for a number of years and cooking for their guests.  They sold the guest house, concentrated on Bouillabaisse, and at the beginning of this year bravely opened Bouillabaisse in the Rockwell Centre in De Waterkant in Cape Town, as well as the creperie Crepe Suzette.  They were major tenants in a centre that was designated to become the Epicurean Gourmet Emporium, under the guidance of Conrad Gallagher, a great concept in that various small shops would surround the restaurants, all selling organic products.  Nothing materialised when Gallagher left the country under a cloud of debt shortly after the restaurants opened.    After nine months the Haas’ closed shop and announced that they would re-open at a new location.   Quickly word spread that the new location would be the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel on Main Road in Green Point, diagonally opposite the Cape Town Stadium.    

The restaurant opened last week, and a surprise was that the Haas couple have decided to start from scratch, bravely throwing away their two Rockwell brands, and renaming it Camil’s Restaurant.   Bouillabaisse Franschhoek remains as it is.   New too is that Camil and Ingrid have entered into a partnership with Jochen Buechel, who used to own the Place on the Bay in Camps Bay.  The Haas’ will run the operational side of the restaurant, while the Buechels will look after the marketing.

The first impression on arrival was not a positive one, in that parking is difficult to find on Main Road.   Outside the hotel most of the parking was blocked off with traffic cones, and an attempt to park in the garage underneath the hotel was rudely and abruptly denied, despite a previous dinner at 1800 giving one access to this parking garage.   It was a wet and rainy evening, and the person at the parking entrance waved his arms and pointed to the opposite side of the road for parking.  On summer days parking availability, or lack off, could be a major problem for the restaurant.   

Each of the two restaurants in the Cape Royale (1800, Camil’s) has its own entrance off the street, and it was hard to see how to get into Camil’s.  Three glass doors give access to the restaurant, but the main entrance door is the middle one, at the bar.  It could leave the clients stranded outside if one does not have a staff member at the door, as the bar counter blocks the staff’s ability to see someone arriving.  

The interior was a surprise, if one is expecting a Bouillabaisse.   The restaurant space has been divided into two sections, the smaller section recognisably containing the lovely Crepe Suzette furniture, giving it a relaxed and welcoming feel.   The larger area only has one recognisable feature – the ‘fishy’ light fittings from Bouillabaisse.   The space is open and uncluttered, as opposed to its neighbours 1800, and has a light peppermint colour on the walls.  All tables have brown tablecloths, and square tables have a white sheet of paper on the tablecloths, over which a red or a brown cloth is placed.   All benches against one wall are covered in a brown fabric, and an attractive green and brown striped fabric covers the wall, to dampen the echo in the space.  The same colours are replicated in the cushions on the benches.   Two strong red columns are visible in the middle of the restaurant.   The kitchen is open and visible, but one cannot sit at the food preparation area as one can/could at Bouillabaisse.   One can hear chef Camil instruct and guide his staff, some new, some old.

One receives two menus – one lists all the cocktails and 13 wines-by-the-glass : the Graham Beck Brut costs R 35, the Ordine Merlot R 45, Brampton Shiraz R 27, and R 45 for the Neil Ellis Elgin Sauvignon Blanc and the Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir.     Overgaauw is the house wine, costing R 25 for a 200 ml caraffe of white and R 29 for the red wine.

The creperie section is called ‘Crepes and Things’, and the menu lists sweet crepes ranging in price from R 35 for a cinnamon to R 65 for a Swiss dark chocolate and apricot crepe.   The Crepe Suzette is still on the menu, at R 62.   Only three savoury crepes are served, ranging in price from R 48 – R 68.   Pancakes are also offered, and a crispy duck salad will be tried on a next visit.

The second menu welcomes one to Camil’s Kitchen, and one senses branding confusion – is the name Camil’s (on the bill), Camil’s Restaurant (on the website) or Camil’s Kitchen (on the menu)?   The menu states that “good food and wine should not cost the world”, and therefore they have introduced “prix d’ami”, the menu says, defined as a “mix of flavours from around the globe, priced for friends”.   The opening hours are stated as being from 12h00 – 16h00 for lunch, and from 18h30 – 22h00 for dinner.   The creperie is open from 11h00 – 23h00.   Interestingly, the exchange rate is listed for the Rand against the Dollar and the Euro, but surprisingly not for the Pound.   A service charge of 10 % is added automatically, the menu says, for tables of 10 or more, and corkage of R50 per bottle is charged.  Children under 10 are not welcome, unless they are restaurant-trained!  These house rules precede the menu, and should prevent any problems.                

The second menu has a full wine list, but is restricted to about two or three wines per variety.   The Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc costs R 160, Brampton Shiraz R 97, and the Mont Rochelle Shiraz R 158.   The food follows the wine listing, and refers to a chef’s menu, a type of surprise menu, subject to one’s dietary restrictions, at R 295 for 3 courses, R 350 for 4 courses and R 395 for 5 courses.   Twelve unique oyster starters are offered, each with a catchy name, e.g. Beauty and the Beast (citrus and basil), China Town Fireworks, etc.   Five starters include Zucchinni carpaccio at R 42 and a prawn burger at R 59.   Seven unique salads are served, ranging in price from R 48 (tatsoi salad) - R 89 (wonton layers and scallops).  Two soups are offered: Mulligatawny (R 28) and Red paprika and goat’s cheese crumbs (R 35).

Main courses are divided into eight “Medium Mains”, costing R 52 for quail’s legs to R 97 for seared scallops, and “Serious Mains”, ranging from R 65 for a lamb skewer to R 125 for a halibut with foie gras.   An oven-roasted rib of veal can be shared between two persons, at R 250.

An amouse bouche was brought to the table, together with tasty crispy rolls, cleverly presented in a basket with Southern Right olive oil, Camil’s branded balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.   The crayfish tail sandwich was meant to be served with sourdough bread, which was not in stock yet, so Camil asked permission to substitute the bread with rice, which was lightly curried and included chopped nuts, served with a garlic mayonnaise and a small salad of green leaves and grapefruit – an unusual combination that worked wonderfully, and it defines Camil’s – it is Camil’s choice, with a touch of something different and unique.   Camil says he purposely cut himself off from the previous Bouillabaisse by not putting any of its dishes on the Camil’s menu.

Camil’s needs to focus on its brand name and stick with one name, it needs to address its parking problem (a meeting with the new Cape Royale GM is imminent), and it needs to build brand awareness for Camil Haas, an introverted chef well-known in Franschhoek but not in Cape Town, and for Camil’s.   The website is thin on information, only providing the address and contact details.

The cost of the glass of Graham Beck Brut, the crayfish tail sandwich and a capuccino was R 175.   Camil’s is located at the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, 47 Main Road, Green Point. Tel 021 433 1227. www.camils.co.za

POSTSCRIPT 31/5: Camil Haas, chef and co-owner of Camil’s, left the restaurant three weeks ago.  Read the story here.

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