A spontaneous decision to have dinner at Delaire Graff in the Helshoogte Pass at 20h55, after a meeting in Stellenbosch on Thursday last week, the third visit to this previously excellent restaurant, was a disappointment. Three things have changed from two previous visits – the staff, the menu and the prices.
The first problem was on arrival at the security gate. Three security guards were on duty, and not one of them reacted when the car stopped at the gate. The guards say that a spotlight onto their security house blinds them in that they cannot see arriving cars, a major security risk for all guests and staff at the estate. The security guard seemed rattled when he was told that the guest wanted to come for dinner, and looked at his list to no avail, as no booking had been made. The guard struggled to open the second gate, by which time a car arrived from inside the property. The space is too narrow to allow two cars to drive past each other at this point. A lady got out, and proclaimed the restaurant to be closed, and that one is not allowed to arrive without a booking. She was identified as the receptionist by the security guard. No communication took place between the security gate and the restaurant, and the lovely touch of being greeted when one gets out of the car on arrival, as experienced on two previous occasions, fell away. The guest walked into the restaurant, and was initially ignored. Willem van der Merwe, the friendly Maitre’d , has left the restaurant for the Grande Roche, the customer was told. Michael Theart, the Junior Maitre’d on duty that evening, was called from the kitchen, and asked the chef’s permission to accommodate the arriving guest.
It was immediately evident that things have changed at Delaire Graff, Willem’s absence being the most significant. He came to the table regularly, made conversation and seemed to care about his customers. This warmth has left with Willem, which is a great shame. Not one of the staff on duty had been seen in the restaurant on previous visits.
The menu had been reduced in range of dishes, and the crayfish lasagne, which the customer had intended to eat, was no longer on the menu. It has been renamed Crayfish Raviolo, and is still charged at R 195, the most expensive dish on the menu. The price range of the starters, between R 88 – R 115 on a first visit, now ranges between R 90 – R 115, with three soups offered and 3 salads, ranging from R 55 for the mesculin salad to R 90 for a tomato and feta salad. The main courses previously cost around R 155, with the exception of the crayfish lasagne, and now range from R 125 for a prawn linguine and a lamb burger, to R 175 for the springbok loin. Desserts still cost between R 65 – R 85 for a small selection of three, as well as a choice of ice cream.
No winelist was brought to the table by the waitress, and had to be requested. The wine steward admitted that he was new. This showed when he poured the wine by the glass at the table without allowing the guests to taste it first.
The crayfish raviolo was served lukewarm, but the braised carrots ordered as an extra were piping hot. This feedback was passed on to the waitress, but no reaction or apology was offered. The Junior Maitre’d was later asked whether he had received the feedback, and he confirmed that he had, and that he had passed it on to the chef. However, he made no attempt at an apology either. At no stage did he communicate with the customer, something Willem would have done regularly during the evening.
A disconcerting note on the menu, not included in the previous menu, was: “12,5 % discretionary service charge will be added to final bill”. This message seems a contradiction in terms, but luckily this was not added to this customer’s bill.
Staff carried a waste bin from the bar area to the kitchen area in full view of the dining guests, something that could have waited until the customers had all gone home.
Delaire Graff deserves to receive credit for the cleanest and best smelling restaurant cloakrooms ever experienced.
The bill was brought to the table with a small container of mini Smarties, especially made by Von Gesau chocolates in Greyton. A glass of wine, the crayfish raviolo and the braised carrots cost R 268.
Delaire Graff now has staff that lack warmth and care. It is exceptionally expensive, at R 38 for a 750 ml bottle of its own estate mineral water, and R 30 for a cup of coffee. No staff member bade farewell to the diner, nor accompanied her to the car, as the staff had done on two previous occasions.
Delaire Graff has the potential to become one of South Africa’s top restaurants, but disinterested staff, a reduced menu, increased prices, and reduced service levels within 4 months of opening do not bode well for the restaurant. It was previously managed by the Mantis Collection, which will still manage the hotel when it opens on the estate, but now is run by the estate itself. On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com