In December I visited Boschendal Farm, to try their new Deli, and had been fortunate to be shown around the revitalised wine estate by Events Manager Aldo du Plessis and Chef Christiaan Campbell. The highlight of what was to come was the new The Werf Restaurant, to be established in the transformed building in which the Buffet used to be served. My expectations of the restaurant were therefore high, and the disappointment great after my lunch there ten days ago.
As it was the Franschhoek Literary Festival weekend, and I expected guests to check-in, I called ahead to make a reservation for an early 12h00 lunch. I was surprised that on a Wednesday morning the phone to the restaurant was not answered, and that one had to leave a message, the answering machine informing one that the restaurant is open from Wednesdays – Sundays. I called back the following day, not having received a call back, and the Assistant Manager Nicki Green (previously working at Seabourn Cruises) answered, insisting that she had returned my call that morning (no apology for the 24 hour delay), and had only called back to ask for how many persons the booking was for, hardly an issue as only four tables in total were occupied for the lunch on Friday.
The new boom service close to the picnic area was a surprise, which was not in place in December. The guard did not ask if I had a booking, and merely waved me through after greeting me. As I walked towards the restaurant, I was amazed to see the enormous (3 ha Chef Christiaan informed) vegetable garden in the making, with a large water feature overlooking the garden. A leiwater water system is being created. Wooden structures have already been erected onto which plants can be trellised, and gave me a Babylonstoren feel. Landscaper Megan McCarthy has been appointed to plan and create the vegetable garden. Chef Christiaan has become known for his focus on sustainability, and he had told me how he looked forward to his new vegetable and herb garden when we met in December. He has a close hand in guiding what is to be planted, and his kitchen scraps go back into making compost, and in preventing the spraying of any insecticides on the farm.
I was seated by Restaurant Manager Danie Botha, who said he remembered me from Dash in the Queen Victoria Hotel in the V&A Waterfront (I did not). When I discussed the lack of reaction to my booking call, he told me with a ‘wip’ that the matter had been discussed, and arrangements have now been made to prevent this in future (with no apology), and blamed it on the technology of their telephone system. He showed me the cold kitchen section which is in the passage as one walks to the main seating area, and quickly one can see the blue-and-white Delft-style theme running throughout the restaurant, in that section in plates and tiled wall murals, with added touches of copper pots, bowls and kettles, as well as woven baskets. In this section the bread baskets are prepared, as are the salads and cold starters. I wanted to photograph the end section of the restaurant, seeing a wall with a collage of blue-and-white plates, and here I met Chef Christiaan with a team of suppliers doing a shoot of the restaurant. It meant that Chef Christiaan was barely available, but he did have some time to chat just before I left.
The restaurant design was done by Lazaro Rosa Violan, a Barcelona-based design agency. The restaurant is in two sections, the original Buffet section, and a brand new section which faces the new vegetable garden, previously not visible to the Buffet users. Now the wall has been opened up to the new section, making the old Buffet section much lighter and brighter, and even more so the new section added on, its ‘wall’ to the garden being almost exclusively made up of glass doors. Alongside that section is a terrace, with a glass safety barrier, facing the vegetable garden
too. The new section has a massive fireplace, but one would have to book a table close to it to benefit from it, as the rectangular-shaped room would be too large to be completely heated. The tables do not have tablecloths, but linen serviettes are offered. No cutlery is on the table. Ground salt is available in a container. Chairs are upholstered, each with a different variation of blue and white stripes. Surprisingly, lamps are modern, in contrast to the more old-fashioned feel created by the Delft plate theme. At regular intervals air plants hang on poles near the glass doors. Matching floor tiles run from inside the restaurant to the outside terrace. The entrance to the bathroom is interesting, with a large copper bowl and taps, but no water came out of them. The cloakroom design is very modern, in black and white. A total of 120 patrons can be seated in the restaurant. My table was wobbly, and I asked the waiter to stabilise it for me.
I was brought a jug of water, as requested, and the basic paper menu, which is attached to a wooden base. The menu is concluded with the following incomplete sentence: ‘Much of the fresh produce you’ll find on your plate is naturally grown right here on Boschendal farm, and where possible we source other ingredients from...(sic)’ I was shocked at the cost, 2 courses costing R345 and 3 courses at R395 for lunch is steep, in my book, and no a la carte option is available. I felt slightly better when the bread arrived in a linen bag, with a variety including ciabatta, seed loaves, delightful savoury donuts, a baguette, as well as three butters, one plain, and one each containing beef and lamb. But even better was three bowls of salads, as a type of amuse bouche, and only in telling someone else about the restaurant did I realise that the salads were colour-coded in white, red and orange/yellow, very Babylonstorenish! My waiter Christo (previously with the De Volkskombuis aan de Wagenweg in Stellenbosch) explained what the salads consisted of, as they are not described on the menu. He clearly was not sure of all the ingredients when I heard an intern explaining the ingredients to another table, so I asked for her to tell me correctly. Christo had got many of the salad ingredients wrong. The waitress told me that they source ingredients which they do not have on the farm within a 30 km radius.
I could not eat anything, as the waiter had not brought any cutlery. This is a quirk of this restaurant, something I have never experienced before, the cutlery only being placed on the table once one has ordered, and is specific to what one has ordered! I wondered if they thought that patrons would walk away with the cutlery. The danger of the staff forgetting to bring it to the table is of course great, and reflects poor service, as happened in my case. Cutlery is by Pisti from Italy. For my main course the waiter brought a new set of cutlery, better prepared this time, but it was a starter size set, another error, as I was not having a starter, and had to be replaced with a main course set. Plates have been specially made by ceramicist Mervyn Gers.
The red salad consisted of roasted beetroot, rhubarb, pickled raspberries (giving this salad a very sour taste), diced spring onion, and pomegranate kernels and syrup. The yellow/orange salad had butternut, baby carrots, and cumin, with an orange and coriander dressing. The white salad consisted of smoked angelfish, cabbage, cos lettuce, and Parmesan. The three salads with the lovely breads were a hearty start to the lunch, so it was a surprise to receive an additional, albeit tiny, amuse bouche, being lamb bitterballen placed on smoked aubergine with a tomato dressing. Unfortunately the aubergine was bitter and not edible.
The starter choices were cultivated mushroom, grilled potato and mozzarella, and wild mushroom tea; smoked chicken, gnocchi, Jerusalem artichoke and kale pesto; and pressed octopus, citrus, brown butter emulsion, and salted hake roe crumble.
My duck dish was brought to the table, and once again Christo did not get all the elements of the dish correct. Danie had made a rare appearance at the table, so I asked him to repeat the description, being duck breast as well as pulled leg of duck, minute hard-to-eat caramelised cauliflower flakes, a brown onion emulsion, and a very salty duck jus. Both had not identified the potato gratin. The other main courses were offered as flavours of Angus beef and wild carrot; and poached farmed cob, mellisa, pickled mussels, and potato risotto.
I could not decide which dessert to order, two of them containing chocolate. Pastry Chef Corinne Hattingh, previously from Pierneef à La Motte, came to my table, and described the ingredients and method of preparation of the two desserts. I was intrigued by the kefir poached pear, roast chocolate, and walnut dish, but from the Chef’s description of it containing fermented milk, and the chocolate roasted at 130ºC to create a crumble, I decided to order the chocolate fudge cake, mint, chocolate sorbet, and chocolate branches instead. The elements seemed disparate, reflecting a forest Chef Corinne explained, but there were too many dry crumbed elements on the plate, not exciting me at all (and I do love chocolate!). The third dessert option was Crème Brûlée with citrus and vanilla. My dry cappuccino was perfectly made.
Manager Danie rarely came to my table, and neither he nor the waiter checked feedback about any dishes. When I left I told Danie what had gone wrong. Nicky walked me out and finally apologised for the lack of the return call. When I spoke to Chef Christiaan he told me that waiter Christo had been there for three months already, and is one of their better waiters, but when he gets nervous he makes mistakes! A Dutch couple, sitting close to the fireplace, far enough away for any of us to hear each other speak, left via my table to give me an earful about the one call I had to make for my business during the lunch, as if they owned the restaurant, a nasty end to my lunch!
Chef Christiaan seems in his element, saying he cooks a bit and oversees the food preparation for their events venue The Olive Press, the Deli, the Buffet restaurant now at the other end of the Farm, and The Werf Restaurant. He now lives on the Boschendal Farm with his family, and is loving it. He cannot wait for the winter rains to fall, to forage their own farm mushrooms.
Most staff appear to have worked at the restaurant for only six weeks, almost as the doors of the restaurant had opened for the Easter weekend. Many service issues abound, made worse in that the waiters do not appear to be supervised on the floor by Managers Danie and Nicki, both waiting at the door to the restaurant for new arrivals. I did not get to meet Chefs Paul Nash (ex The Roundhouse) and Kim Cox (formerly with the pop-up bacon bar in Franschhoek). For the millions invested in the new The Werf Restaurant building, and for the price of the menu, one would expect far more in terms of the food as well as the service!
The Werf Restaurant, Boschendal Farm, Pniel Road, Groot Drakenstein, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 870-4206. www.boschendal.com Twitter: @BoschendalFarm Wednesday – Sunday Lunch, Friday and Saturday Dinner.