I have been watching a space in Sea Point in Cape Town for some time, seeing its very distinctive blue, white and red French flag colours painted on the door, with some cartoon characters, and its restaurant name. An “Open” sign had been seen, when in fact the restaurant was closed. The menu had been laminated and pasted on the door, and indicated that, not surprisingly, French food is served at La Table de France.
Driving past on a Saturday afternoon a week ago, over lunchtime, the restaurant had its doors open, and it warranted a stop. My heart sank immediately when I stepped into the restaurant, as it looked unattractive – orange walls, odd black tables and chairs (more Swiss chalet-looking), old-style French ads which appeared to be torn out of a magazine decorated the walls, an handwritten apology about not yet having a credit card machine on green board was stuck on the wall, and glasses with green-and-white check paper serviettes were on the tables. At the back of the smallish restaurant was a counter, hiding the food preparation area, with a glass display cabinet next to it, with an odd collection of filled croissants and baguettes.
As I asked a staff member behind the counter if the restaurant was open, the Manager ran into the restaurant, followed by the owner Veronique Phan Van, who were in the car outside, about to leave. Madame welcomed me, and immediately shared her woes of having her Liquor Licence lawyer defraud her of the payment for the licence, and how she has had to pay another lawyer for the licence application again, by way of apology for not selling alcohol (I had not asked for it). She showed me the menu, and said that I could order any French food not on the menu I like to eat, but they need two days notice to prepare it.
I wanted to order a waffle, but they were out of ingredients for the waffle. I settled for a savoury crepe, with a filling of cheese, ham and egg, which was terribly dry. No attempt was made to decorate the plate when the crepe was served. The cappuccino was drinkable, but not strong enough for my taste. While the staff was preparing the crepe, I heard lots of clanging behind me, due to the open-plan food preparation area.
For breakfast one can order a half baguette for R20, fried baby potatoes for R37, scrambled egg for R33, an “omelette saumon” for R 38 and “the big breakfast” for R40, for 2 scrambled eggs and bacon. Crepes cost R35, and filled baguettes range from R38 – R45, with salmon, chicken, vegetarian and cheese and ham fillings. A second breakfast menu offers fried eggs and bacon at R24,50, “omelette fill with mushroom bacon” at R27,50, Croque Madame at R22,50 and Croque Monsieur at R20. Poached eggs cost R29,50.
The dinner menu has extremely low prices for the main courses – beef bourguignon or pepper steak at R60, chicken fricasee at R58, salmon and vegetables or fish of the day for R65, and “supreme a l’estragon” for R55. Dessert choices are profiteroles or waffles at R35, crepes for R25 and Creme Brulee at R28.
As quickly as the owner and the manager had entered the restaurant, they had left. My waiter said he is from the Congo, but his understanding of my English was poor, as he thought I wanted more water when I asked for the bill.
La Table de France cannot seriously be considering operating this restaurant. It is an amateurish attempt, and needs a strong hand to sort out its decor, its ambiance, staff, and food, otherwise it is doomed to failure, despite its very low prices. I cannot see myself ever going back again, a disappointment as I have a soft spot for all things French, after studying the language at the Alliance Francais all of last year.
La Table de France, 154 Main Road, Sea Point. Tel 021 439-9026. Mondays – Saturdays. www.latabledefrance.com (The website opens onto a landscape of snow-covered mountains, with a country code and telephone number in Chile, possibly for the owners’ previous restaurant with the same name. It has no information on the Cape Town restaurant).
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com