Entries tagged with “5-star”.


I was invited to try out the 34-seater Dash restaurant in the Queen Victoria Hotel, which only opened in the Waterfront on Saturday, last night.   Chef Steven Tempelton is the leader of a creative team at Dash, whose food not only was visually appealing, but excellent too, and was responsible for a most dashing dinner.  Dash is one of the best fine-dining restaurants in Cape Town, and an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant coontender for 2012.

The 35-bedroom Queen Victoria Hotel, previously the V&A Waterfront company head office, cost R53 million to transform into 5-star luxury, and the interior decor was done by master ‘craftsman’ Francois du Plessis, who has also just done Dear Me restaurant.  Cleverly, Newmark Hotels MD Neil Markovitz has arranged for the nearby Everard Read gallery to hang some if its artists’ works in the hotel, benefiting both parties. Dash has been honoured by a dominant work by Beezy Bailey.  The work is called “The Storm has passed”, and reflects the style of food created at Dash.  The back of the painting has a poem by Bailey:  “As the storm cleared/The dove escaped the cat’s claws/While the blueberry elephants passed by./As God’s tears hit the sky,/they turned into flowers”.

I was welcomed on arrival in the lobby, in which the 30-year old bonsai imported from China holds centre court, by Food & Beverage Manager Alton van Biljon, whom I had already seen in action last week, when I popped in for a tour around the hotel, led by Markovitz and the hotel’s PR consultant Ian Manley.  Alton has always been a most charming host when he worked at Balducci in the past four years, and has impressed with his knowledge of and passion for wine.  He started his career in retail. He moved into hospitality, and worked at Belthazar and Poplars before managing Balducci.

Chef Stephen Templeton grew up in Somerset West, and has been the Executive Chef at Sun City and the Mount Nelson Hotel.  He also was head of a team of 47 chefs at Harrods, the largest Food & Beverage operation in Europe, he said.  After a four year period in running Four Oaks guest house and restaurant in Montagu, he had an opportunity to sell it, and move back to Cape Town. It was in this time that he was approached by Newmark Hotels to become Group Chef, mainly responsible for their restaurants at the V&A Hotel, Dock House and Queen Victoria Hotel, all in the V&A.  Chef Stephen says that he was hands-on in the development of Dash, in sourcing its crockery, cutlery and glassware, in developing a fine winelist, and creating the unique menu.   The name for the restaurant was the result of a five hour brainstorm with the hotel’s executive team, and it was Ronan Jackson from the design agency that suggested the name, after Queen Victoria’s spaniel.  Chef Stephen and Francois du Plessis worked together to create a ‘New York sexy’ interior and menu that complement each other, and Du Plessis has said that it is the first time that his decor has been so well matched by a menu.  Chef Stephen is aiming at presenting ‘sophisticated, stylish, contemporary yet simple food’ at Dash, which he more than achieves.  He wants the food’s personality to shine through, not that of the chef.  Chef Stephen has an interesting team of nine chefs in the kitchen, with an average age of 24 years.   We laughed when we discovered that there is a Chef Jamie and a Chef Oliver in the kitchen.  I met Chef Oliver Cattermole, who created the ‘Alice in Wonderland garden’ of vegetables that is served with the beef fillet.  He worked at one-Michelin-star Novelli, and at The Ivy in London.  All staff have been taught to make coffee, and have tested the menu, to allow everyone to assist guests, as if one were in a guest house and not in a hotel, Chef Stephen said.  The waitress looking after me was Coral, and was honest in saying that she has just finished studying, and that Dash is her first job.  She was sweet, willing to execute every request, but still lacked some knowledge on how the magic is created in the kitchen.  She went to ask the kitchen all my questions. The staff wear a white shirt with the Queen Victoria Hotel logo on it, black pants and a white Dash-branded apron.

The welcome was warm, with Alton taking me through to the lounge, where I was invited to have a drink.  I chose a coffee.  Chef Stephen was happy to hear that I had starved during the day, in anticipation of the dinner.  Vegetable crisps were brought to the table as a snack.  I asked Chef Stephen what would happen if the 34-seater would run out of space in the 35-room hotel, and he assured me that they would pass the business on to the other Newmark Hotel restaurants in the Waterfront. Chef Stephen sees Dash operating in the league of The Roundhouse, The Test Kitchen and Aubergine

The restaurant has a black tile floor, an impressive black marble surround fireplace dividing the lounge/bar area from the restaurant, beautiful silver curtains, and a wonderful view onto Table Mountain.   The Beezy Bailey is the only colour splash in the room.  The tables are black metal, made by ‘in’ designer Gregor Jenkin I was told by Francois du Plessis, with white leather chairs.  There are no table cloths, but a good quality serviette, with very heavy and solid Sambonet cutlery imported from Germany, the first time I have seen this locally.  The glassware is excellent.  There is a little candle, and rather ordinary tiny white salt and pepper cellars, probably superfluous anyway, given the excellent food, not requiring seasoning.  The only criticism I shared with Alton was the music selection, being heavy jazz initially, and sounding hotel-like generally.  I reminded him of the great music one hears at Belthazar and Balducci.  The bar is lit with purple lighting at night, and bounces off the bar chairs, creating an interesting visual affect as one enters the bar area.  The colour of the lighting changes throughout the day.

I chose a starter of confit of crayfish on a cucumber sockle with a coriander and paw paw salad (R145).  The impressive part of its presentation was the paw paw crisp, creating a centerpiece to the starter, and tasting sweet and crispy.  Chef Stephen explained that paw paw is liquidised, then glycerine is added, it is baked for nine hours, and then thin slices are cut to create the crisp.  The cucumber was as fresh as could be, as was the salad, the paw paw in it echoing the crisp.  Sorrel foam completed the presentation.  No sauces got in the way of the natural fresh taste of the elements of the dish. No fish knife was served with this starter.  Other starter choices, ranging in price from R55 – R145, include beetroot cured salmon, oysters served on seaweed, wild mushroom ragoût, Ceasar salad, seared foie gras, and caviar (SQ).  The surprise was the most amazing sorbets that were served, and I was allowed three: I chose the Tomato Granite, to which Coral added vodka; a most refreshing Lime & Lemon; and the most amazing Rose, complete with its own rose petals dipped in egg white and crystallised.  The sorbets cost R25 for a choice of three.

The main course choice of Grilled fillet of beef with herb mash and spinach purée with vegetables and port jus (R140) has created a stir.  This menu description does not do justice to the amazing creation that arrived – three slices of fillet on mash, but it was the presentation of the vegetables that created the ‘wow’ response, dubbed by the staff as the ‘Alice in Wonderland garden’, an amazing symphony of carrot, tomato, mushrooms, orange-coloured mini corn-cob, baby radish, baby aubergine, baby turnip, sheets of cauliflower stalk, and tomadillo (tasting of tomato with the texture of aubergine, looking like a green gooseberry), so beautifully presented.  Chef Oliver called it ‘psychedelic vegetables’, and told me that he sources them from the Magic Man in the Karoo.  Main courses are reasonably priced, some being cheaper than the starters, and range from R95 to R145 for roasted sea bass, lobster tortellini, venison, tomato and beetroot tart, scallops, lamb noisette, and duck confit risotto.  The dessert list consists of four options, ranging from R50 – R70, in addition to a Cape cheeseboard (R115), and I chose the Pimms jelly, mint bavois and strawberry sauce, beautifully presented with a long elegant spoon, and well paired with a glass of Silverthorn The Green Man sparkling wine (made by Steenberg GM John Loubser in his private capacity). Other dessert options are chocolate fondant, coconut panacotta, and liquorice macaroons.  Coral brought a cappuccino made with Origin coffee to have with the dessert, and a sweet touch was a jug of extra froth, showing that Alton must have read a Tweet of mine a few days ago about the extra froth a waiter had brought me at Salt Deli, also a Newmark Hotel property.

Alton indulged my love for Shiraz, and poured a glass of Quoin Rock 2006 (R208 per bottle), with violet notes.  Coral brought tap water with an ice bucket and slices of lemon.  The winelist is impressive, bound in grey leather, with the hotel logo on it.  Champagnes and MCC sparkling wines are at the back of the winelist, normally found at the front.   Each wine variety is described, and the origin and vintage of each wine is presented, as are the tasting notes for each wine, generated from a tasting panel’s evaluation of each of the about 100 wines listed.  This is a future Diner’s Club Diamond Award winelist candidate.  The champagnes start at R 940 for Guy Charbaut Select Brut NV, going up to R3500 for Dom Perignon Vintage. Veuve Cliquot Rosé, Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve, and Pol Roger Brut Reserve are also available.  MCC’s start at R200 for Moreson Solitaire, with High Constantia Clos Andre costing R445.  Shiraz choices start at R 205 for Raka Biography, up to R 1390 for Saxenburg SSS Shiraz 2005. The wine-by-the glass policy is interesting – there are no prices for these, but one can order any wine on the list by the glass, within reason, and then Alton and his staff will try to sell the rest of the bottle to other guests.

If there is one taste at Dash that I will never forget it is that of the Rose sorbet – a taste I have never experienced before.  Dash is excellent, and perfect, and I know that the music selection will be addressed, as will the waiters’ food knowledge evolve.  They are so many items on the menu to return to, to try out.  From photographs of the other menu items it is evident that each dish is a work of art in presentation alone. The kitchen closes at about 22h30, but one can pop in at the 24-hour Dash bar for a drink, a coffee or even a dessert, ordered from the room service menu, after the kitchen has closed.  After being a loyal V&A Waterfront shopper for twenty years, it is refreshing to have such an excellent quality restaurant so close by, yet away from the hustle and bustle of the commercial Waterfront area.  I salute Newmark Hotels’ MD Neil Markovitz and his team in creating such an exceptional restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 14/4: I went back to Dash for a quick coffee and more sorbet, and to show my colleague the Queen Victoria Hotel and Dash restaurant.  Restaurant Manager Darren looked after us, and organised the extra cappuccino foam on the side, from reading this review.  The hotel is almost booked out with delegates from Brazil attending a Tupperware conference.

POSTSCRIPT 8/5: Staying over at the invitation of the Queen Victoria Hotel presented an opportunity for me to introduce my son to Dash, which he was very impressed by.  Food & Beverage Manager Alton van Biljon was most generous in offering us a bottle of Hartenberg The Stork Shiraz 2005, knowing my love for an old-style shiraz.  The chef sent out two complimentary dishes to those we had ordered: the appetizer was a tomato, basil, and mushroom dust, served on a heavy slate plate, reminding me of the work of Eric Bulpitt, previously of Jardineand now at The Round House.  We both ordered a filling starter of wonderful wild mushroom ragout in puff pastry, served with green beans and bearnaise (R65).  Alex had the beef fillet with the ‘Alice in Wonderland vegetable garden’, while I ordered Springbok loin, carrot purée and turnip gratin (R135).   We shared a trio of Rose, Lemon and lime, and Orange and citrus sorbets (R25).   The chef sent out a complimentary pannacotta and lemon sorbet for usto share.   A wonderful evening, once again with an excellent meal, and charming and highly-impressive service by Alton.

POSTSCRIPT 15/5: I returned to Dash with Carole, my colleague in Hermanus, and we were well looked after by Restaurant Manager Darren and Chef Oliver Cattermole.  I tried the Duck Confit Risotto with citrus and herb potpourri, the potpourri containing tea, dried duck (tasting like biltong) and herbs, and served in a separate bowl, which I sprinkled over the risotto.  Carole had the Beef fillet and the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ vegetable garden.  For dessert we had the Chocolate Fondant, which oozed Valrhona chocolate sauce when we opened it, with orange ice cream, a beautiful presentation.  I had my cappuccino with a jug of extra foam, always a nice touch! It was great to meet One&Only Cape Town Hotel Executive Chef Jason Millar, who was celebrating his anniversary at Dash, and to hear a chef’s reaction to the food of another chef – he was most complimentary.  Chef Oliver Cattermole is the driving force in the Dash kitchen, in my opinion, and has created a vegetable and herb garden on the roof of Newmark Hotels’ V&A Hotel, from which he will harvest for his kitchen in future.  

POSTSCRIPT 25/5: Another lovely lunch with excellent service at Dash today, spoiling my friend Jenny to a birthday lunch.  She was surprised to receive a birthday card from the hotel, and a surprise chocolate fondant dessert with her cappuccino.  Jenny’s Beetroot cured salmon with horseradish apple slaw was beautifully presented.

POSTSCRIPT 1/7: Today I took Trevor Jordaan for a birthday lunch at Dash.  I ordered a Cape Malay butternut velouté, while Trevor had a chicory and pickled pear salad, both beautifully presented.  Happy to hear how well the restaurant is doing, and has appointed an Assistant Manager Andrea.

POSTSCRIPT 3/8: Sadly, Restaurant Manager Darren Morgan left the hotel on Monday.  F&B Manager Alton van Biljon has taken a leave of absence, and his return date is uncertain, if he returns at all.  Andrea confirmed this evening that lunch will not be served at Dash for the time being.

POSTSCRIPT 12/8: I had the Mushroom Ragout again this evening, and the pastry casing was tough, and the size of the dish has definitely shrunk.  No Andreas Shiraz was available, which I had tried at Dash for the first time a month ago, when Michael McKenzie and I popped in. The waiter asked how I enjoyed the dish.  I said I didn’t, due to the shrunk size and tough pastry, to which he confidently retorted that the perfect pastry casing is tough! Chef Jamie was in the kitchen this evening. I shared the problem with Hostess Connie, and she apologised.  The waiter told me that the kitchen was sending out a second Ragout, but Connie arrived with the bill, having taken the Ragout off it, saying that the waiter had told her I didn’t want the replacement Ragout.  I got up and left in disbelief at this comedy of errors, the first evening of serious dissatisfaction at Dash.

POSTSCRIPT 25/9: We had a ‘last supper’ at Dash this evening, one of the last nights that Chef Oliver Cattermole will be in the Queen Victoria Hotel kitchen, before he starts at What’s On Eatery on Saturday.  I chose the Foie gras with apple, excellent, but pricey as a starter at R140.  My son enjoyed his Duck risotto (R125).  The Rose sorbet no longer is dark pink, as photographed above, and doesn’t taste as amazing as I remember it. Service efficient but functional, and the personal touch has gone. Excellent Andreas Shiraz 2008 now my favourite Shiraz.  Sad to see us being only one of two tables.  Despite being told in early days that all wines on the winelist are available by the glass, the limit is that only bottles under R300 may be opened for wines by the glass.

Dash Restaurant, Queen Victoria Hotel, Portswood Close, Portswood Ridge, V&A Waterfront.   Tel (021) 418-1466.   www.queenvictoriahotel.co.za (The Dash menu and winelist are now listed on the website, but the Image Gallery does not contain enough photographs to reflect the amazing creativity of the Dash chefs).

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

I am very fond of Rijk’s Shiraz, having drunk it for the first time just after maze at the One&Only Cape Town  opened two years ago.  When I saw the name of Rijk’s Country House as the only five-star accommodation option for a wedding weekend in Tulbagh, I booked, given my positive association with the wine.  But I should have known that a five-star “Boutique Hotel”, charging R 3000 per room per night in Tulbagh, was too good to be true, even though I was offered a hospitality industry rate reduction of 50%.   The Hotel is not five star, in my evaluation, and tries too hard to please, and thereby fails.  It has a very kitsch taste in some aspects.

The reservation ran relatively smoothly with Rijk’s directly, but I did not receive a confirmation of my booking after transferring the 50 % deposit, and no response to my e-mail request for the confirmation.  I therefore called Rijk’s, but only saw the number of a central reservations line, being that of African Pride Hotels, the luxury arm of Protea Hotels, who do the marketing of and bookings for Rijk’s.  The African Pride Hotels link to Rijk’s gave me confidence in its calibre.  I was put through to the sales department, and spoke to an unfriendly ‘machine’, who was speaking too fast, and he must have got annoyed when I told him that I could not understand him, and requested that he slow down.  He responded by putting down the phone. I then found the Tulbagh number of Rijk’s lower down on the website, and called them directly.  Here too the telephonic communication was a struggle, until I was put through to Andretti, who did confirm telephonically that all was in order, and he did so by e-mail as well.

Louisa Colquhoun, the General Manager of the 15-bedroom Rijk’s Country House, called a few days before our arrival, and apologised for the problems with the interaction with African Pride Hotels, and requested more details about the person I had spoken to there.  She told me that she had been sent a link to this blog by her boss, and that her boss is a regular reader. 

Our journey was beset with delays, and we only arrived at 8.30 pm on Friday.  We had to call en route, to find the best way to drive to Tulbagh from Franschhoek, not having been sent any directions.  Here too we had communication problems, in getting clear guidelines as to how to drive to Tulbagh from Wellington.  There is no signage in Tulbagh to direct one to the town centre, or to Rijk’s  from there, so we had to call again.  When we arrived, Louisa came out to the car, to greet us, and walked us inside. Two staff members almost ‘sang’ a welcome to ‘Chris and Alex’, even before we were introduced to them, and we were ‘Chris and Alexed’ by all staff throughout our stay, a little too familiar, I felt, quite a contrast to the ‘Ms von Ulmenstein’ treatment experienced at the 5-star Taj Hotel recently.  One of the staff had a tray of welcome Rijk’s Shiraz 2004 for us, very generous in its pouring.  The other tray had towel cloths for us to use, but we did not have enough hands to take the glass and the cloth plus what we were holding already, so we could not partake of this service.  Louisa showed us the lounge, the Polo Wine Bar, where they do winetastings too, and the Que Sera dining room, where they serve breakfasts and dinner, and we stayed to have dinner immediately, without first seeing the room.  Louisa gave me the Guest Registration Form to complete, and most of its clauses would not pass the new Consumer Protection Act  with its ‘legalese’, and the waivers and indemnities.

Dinner at the 32-seater Que Sera was a hit and miss affair, mainly because we were left with a junior waitress Chantel, who was generally unknowledgeable.  We were the only guests dining.  I asked Chantel who the chef was, and she said her name is Joan.  She knew nothing more about her, other than that she had worked at Rijk’s for 21 years.  I did not realise that it had been open for so long.  She said the owners of the Rijk’s Country House are Stuart and Mason Cranswick, who lease the buildings from Neville Dorrington, the owner of the Rijk’s wine farm and Private Cellar. The staff wear a turquoise shirt and black pants and black apron. Chantel said that she has been at Rijk’s for three years already, and worked at Paddagang restaurant previously.  The lighting was very low, until we asked for it to be turned up a little.  The room walls are bare, except for two pictures over the fireplace, but did not seem to be original works of art.  The white table cloth had a runner over it, and the beige chairs were comfortable.  A vase with a carnation and a candle were on the table.  Eetrite cutlery was modern in design and functional.  A wooden board arrived with a tasty seed-topped mini-bread, olive tapenade, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  When my son asked if the tapenade contains anchovies, the waitress confirmed this, so she found us some anchovy-less tapenade.  The menu is in a brown plastic cover, and refers to “Rijk’s Boutique Hotel”, showing some confusion as to its identity and positioning.  Each page of the menu is dominated by the blown-up Rijk’s  Country House logo, over which the menu items are printed, making it hard to read them all, especially in the low light.  My heart sank when I saw that three of the starters were served with sweet chilli sauce. 

We were warned that the Beef Wellington (served with a choice of starches, my mash topped with fresh coriander) would take 20 minutes to make, which we said was fine, given that I had ordered a nicely presented Avocado Ritz starter.  I enjoyed both dishes, except that the Beef Wellington (R120) only contained mushrooms and no chicken liver paté.  The fillet was perfectly cooked medium rare, as requested. My son was not happy with the Wild Mushroom and Thyme Risotto (R80), being completely overcooked, too salty, not containing any identifiable thyme, and tasting of a spice which made it inedible.  We sent it back, but were still charged for it, until I asked Chantel to take it off the bill, which she did.  Starter options range from R37 for calamari steak strips. Tempura prawns, peri peri chicken livers, gazpacho and a soup of the day are some other starter options. Main course prices start at R80 for the risotto, and Pan-fried Citrus Salmon Trout costs R155, expensive for Tulbagh, I felt.  Steak is served three ways, and costs R100 – R140, and one can order a 150g or 200g portion.    The menu states that one can order a salad or seasonal vegetables as part of the main course, but this option was not presented to us, and I did not see it on the menu when we were ordering.  We did not order any desserts, costing about R30, but could have had desserts from a trolley, a cheese platter (R66), fruit salad or sorbet. When I ordered a cappuccino, it took a good half an hour to get one.   The very noisy industrial-looking coffee machine is in the dining room, so we could observe the process.  It took three attempts to get a cappuccino served in a cup, and not a latte in a glass, despite our clear request to Chantel.   We were told that the coffee comes from ‘Beans for Africa’ and was called ‘Peru Organic’.  Just after the starter was served, Louisa came to check on us, and we did not see her again during the dinner, and she did not ask us later for feedback about the dinner.

The wine list also has a brown plastic cover, and no vintages are indicated.  House wines by the glass cost R28 for an unspecified white and R31 for a red wine.   Organic white and Rosé wine by the glass can be ordered at R22, but the origin of it is not identified.  Moet et Chandon costs R750, Billecart Brut R690, and Billecart Salmon Rosé R1088. Cap “Classic” sparkling wines include Krone Borealis Brut, at R120, and the Nicolas Charles Krone Marque 1 is the most expensive at R420. The winelist offers a Rijk’s wine in each variety, and is not always the cheapest one offered – in fact it was the most expensive option in most cases.  There is a heavy 50 % mark-up on the Rijk’s’ wines relative to the next-door cellar prices, the Shiraz costing R205.  A page in the winelist provided prices of wines one could buy from the Rijk’s Gift Shop, at R128 for the Rijk’s Shiraz, and even the three champagnes on the winelist can be bought at about 50 % less!

The welcome letter from Louisa introduced Tulbagh, described Rijk’s Country House as “country living at its best”, and stated that “the hotel makes use of the farms water supply and is being treated”, which I did not read on arrival, and the bottled water drinking recommendation was not explained to us verbally.  I was impressed that the letter was personalised, in referring to the wedding we were attending.  Surprising too was the invitation to enjoy a winetasting in the Rijk’s Polo Wine Bar in the Rijk’s Country House, rather than in the Rijk’s Private Cellar  tasting room.

The rooms are actually cottages away from the core reception building, so we had to drive to the cottage that we were allocated.  It is an open plan lounge and bedroom, with a large bathroom, and a separate loo.   My heart sank as soon as I saw the rug, a cheap floor decoration, and not a Persian carpet, which would have been befitting of a five star room.  Also, the windows have cheap plastic blinds with a net curtain, shouting ‘cheap and nasty’.  The end result of such ’curtaining’ is that it let in the light at 6h00, not exactly what one wants on a precious weekend away.  The beds were requested to be twin, but the beds had been separated, so each of us had to sleep on a  precarious single bed, something I have not done in more than 30 years (in our guest houses we keep the beds together, but use single bed linen to make up the beds).  There was a nice selection of magazines, but I was surprised to find a ‘Franschhoek Style’ amongst them, marketing Franschhoek, competition to Tulbagh, especially when it comes to weddings!  Worst of all about the cottage was a sickly sweet smell in the room, probably coming from a heavy dose of Charlotte Rhys room spray that had been sprayed at turn-down, prior to our arrival!  I had to open all the windows to get the smell out of the room, and almost froze to death, not being able to sleep as a result. Spread out on the bed was a dressing gown, which may be the highlight of other visitors’ stay, but certainly is not a requirement, in my book.  On top of this was presented the turn-down ‘treat’, the most bizarre and kitschy I have ever experienced – a pink wrapped mini ‘Christmas cracker’, with silver ribbon, containing … a pink and a white marshmallow!  There is a Belgian chocolatier (Moniki) in Tulbagh, and it would have been more fitting to use their products.  I got up to write when I could not sleep for most of the night, and heard the loud staff arrival just after 6h00.   The crowning glory was that there was no water coming out of the taps the next morning, something Louisa had mentioned the night before could be a possibility.  Whilst we had bottled water for brushing our teeth, we could not have a shower or bath in the musty smelling bathroom – to open its window one has to step into the bath to get to the latch!  Water clearly is a problem at Rijk’s, as a letter from Louisa, which must have been in the room, but which I only read on our return, explained about “water shortages and other difficulties”, urging us to use the bottled water supplied for drinking and in the kettle.

When we came for breakfast, Louisa came to apologise for the water situation.  She also said that she felt that Rijk’s could not meet our requirements, and offered to refund our deposit payment. I told her that we had already booked alternative accommodation for the second night.  Whilst the water situation was inconvenient, but out of her control, I suggested to Louisa that she waive the restaurant bill of the night before as a make-good, which she accepted.  However, she wrote the following day: I spoke with my Shareholders on your departure and relayed the details of your stay.  I explained that you had declined a full refund but requested the dinner be complimentary.  They requested I get in touch with you and request your bank details as they would like to ensure the return of your deposit.  I would be grateful if you would allow us to facilitate this.  Once again we apologise that your stay did not meet your expectations and look forward to hearing from you.” 

The Breakfast was served outside on the vine-covered Iceberg Terrace, with a lovely view onto iceberg roses, the vineyards, and the Wintershoek mountains.  The colour scheme for the table runners and outdoor chair cushions is grass green and turquoise, quite ‘loud’.  The vase of fresh roses on each table was a nice touch. No breakfast buffet was laid out, but a collection of breakfast items was brought on a tray and put onto a stand next to our table, consisting of two yoghurt flavours, two cereals, a cold meat and cheese platter, fresh fruit served on a chipped plate, and a basket of muffins, scones and croissants.  I was served a perfectly made cappuccino, but was initially told that it was not possible to make one due to the water problem.  I suggested to Chantel that she use some bottled water.  As we were the only guests having breakfast, it was surprising that the service was so slow.  Chantel waited until we had finished our cereals before she asked for the egg order, and this took a good 20 minutes to be brought to the table, the eggs arriving quite some time before the toast, which I had to remind Chantel about.  The orange juice was not freshly squeezed, and came out of a bottle.   The estate handyman came to our table to also apologise for the burst water pipe, and explained that they were working on it.  The music at Rijk’s made one very nostalgic, and included ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and a ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’.   As happened  at dinner, Louisa was barely present at breakfast, and did not check on how we enjoyed it, and if there were any problems.  Understandably, she was stressed about the water situation. Her deputy did not come to our table during our breakfast.

So what can I praise: the free easy wireless (but slow) internet connection, even reaching to the cottage.  The lovely roses.  The generosity of the welcome drink.  Louisa’s apologies for things going wrong.  The good breakfast scones.  The setting and the view.  However, so many other aspects appeared amateurish and the staff poorly managed, that they spoilt the enjoyment of our stay.

Rijk’s Country House, Tulbagh.  Tel (023) 230-1006. www.rijkscountryhouse.co.za (The website refers to ‘Fine Dining’, but there is no menu nor winelist.  The Image Gallery does not contain a single food photograph.  The breakfast description includes reference to a daily newspaper, but we did not see one).

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

The Franschhoek Wine Valley (the new tourism body name, the “Tourism Association” part of the name recently having been dropped) Food & Wine Route has been launched to the media, and soon will be presented in a new map, that will reflect the wealth of 42 restaurants, 48 wine estates and 3 delis and shops that sell foodstuffs in and around Franschhoek. The new Food & Wine Route is a good marketing reaction to the increasing dominance of Stellenbosch as the new gourmet center of South Africa, and its large number of wine estates, even though the tourism association’s website still refers to Franschhoek as the “Gourmet Capital of South Africa”!

Last year we wrote about the Food & Wine Route when it was first announced, and from the initial information it appeared to have a broader focus initially.  Now the Route is more focused, and will incorporate mainly the restaurants and wine estates that are members of Franschhoek Wine Valley.   Interestingly, the geographic delineation of Franschhoek has been broadened to incorporate the wine estates and restaurants on the R45 between Klapmuts and Simondium, including Noble Hill, Backsberg, and Babel at Babylonstoren, on the basis that they have become members of the Franschhoek Wine Valley association, even if they fall under the Paarl wine district.   Strangely, Glen Carlou has not chosen to be part of the Franschhoek Food & Wine Route, it being one of the first properties one passes when driving to Franschhoek on the R45.

Tania Steyn, the Marketing Manager of Franschhoek Wine Valley, explained that this new project consists of two parts.  The first is the Food & Wine Route map, in A3 size, which will list all the restaurants and wine estates, the one side featuring those in the village, and the other side those that are outside Franschhoek.   The Food & Wine Route map will replace the most handy Franschhoek Wine map, which guest houses and their guests have found to be useful in highlighting all the Vigneron members in Franschhoek.  The second part of the project is an e-commerce platform for specific Food and Wine Route Experiences, that one cannot visit spontaneously without a booking.  The bookings will be made on the website, and it is hoped that visitors to Franschhoek will book a number of such experiences, and will therefore stay in the area for longer.

The wine estates on the new Franschhoek Wine Valley Food & Wine Route are Akkerdal, Allèe Bleue, Anthonij Rupert Wines (L’Ormarins and Protea brands, and home of the outstanding Motor Museum), Backsberg, Boekenhoutskloof, Boschendal Wines, Chamonix, Colmant Cap Classique & Champagne, Dieu Donnè Vineyards, Franschhoek Cellar, Glenwood, Graham Beck Franschhoek, Grande Provence Estate, Haute Cabriere (with Pierre Jourdan sparkling wines), Holden Manz (previously Klein Genot), La Bri, La Chataigne, La Motte (with Pierneef art gallery), La Petite Dauphine, La Petite Ferme, La Manoir de Brendel, Leopard’s Leap, Lynx Wines, Maison, Mont Rochelle, Moreson, My Wyn, Noble Hill, Plaisir de Merle, Rickety Bridge, Solms-Delta (with interesting slave museum), Stony Brook, Topiary Wines (newest Platter 5-star sparkling wine in Franschhoek), Val de Vie, and Vrede & Lust.   These wine estates can be visited without appointment.

Those estates for which one must book a winetasting are Eikehof, Franschhoek Pass Winery (Morena sparkling wine), Haut Espoir, La Bourgogne, La Roche estate, La Vigne, Landau du Val, Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons and Von Ortloff.  Bellingham Wines, Klein Dauphine, La Chaumière and Veraison Vineyards are not open to the public at all, but their wines can be bought at the highly regarded Franschhoek wine shop La Cotte Inn on the main road in the village.

The Franschhoek restaurants and food outlets on the Food & Wine Route are Allora, Babel at Babylonstoren, Backsberg, Boschendal Restaurant, Boschendal Le Café and Boschendal Le Pique-Nique, Bread & Wine, Café Allèe Bleue, Cafè BonBon, Col’Cacchio Pizzeria, Cosecha Restaurant at Noble Hill, Dalewood Fromage (but not open to the public), Dieu Donnè Restaurant, Dutch East, Elephant & Barrel, Essence, Fizz Affair Champagne Lounge, Franschhoek Kitchen at Holden Manz, Freedom Hill Restaurant, Fyndraai Restaurant at Solms-Delta, The Restaurant at Grande Provence, Haute Cabrière, Huguenot Fine Chocolates, Kalfi’s, Fromages de France (La Cotte Inn),  Le Bon Vivant, Dish @ Le Franschhoek, Le Verger The Orchard Restaurant (Le Franschhoek Hotel), The Common Room, The Tasting Room,  L’Ermitage Restaurant, Mon Plaisir at Chamonix, Mange Tout, Monneaux, Reuben’s, Rickety Bridge, Ryan’s Kitchen, Salmon Bar, The Country Kitchen, The French Connection, The Grill Room, The Jam Jar, The Olive Shack, and The Polo Club Restaurant (at La Vie). Oddly, Pierneef à La Motte is not listed, and one hopes this is just an oversight.   Other missing restaurants are Café Benedict, BICCCS, Chez D’Or, Cotage Fromage at Vrede & Lust, Crepe & Cidre, Café Le Chocolatier, Café des Arts, and the Franschhoek Food Emporium.

The Franschhoek Food & Wine Route Experiences which one can book include the following:

*   Solms-Delta Cape Music Tour, teaching participants about “Cape rural and vernacular music”. R 50 (minimum of 6 persons).  Monday – Sunday.

*   Plaisir de Merle “Award-winning wines wine tasting”. R 20, and R40 if cellar tour added. Monday – Saturday

Plaisir de Merle Flavour Sensation Tasting, food and wine pairing. R 50.  Monday – Saturday

*   Plaisir de Merle Wine & Chocolate Tasting. R 50. Monday – Saturday

*   Charcuterie Tasting with Neil Jewell. R 25 – R105. Daily before 11h00 and after 15h30

*   Franschhoek Cellar Cheese and Wine pairing. R 35.  Daily

*   Huguenot Fine Chocolates Chocolate Tour and Tasting. R 25.  Daily 11h00 and 15h00

*   Chamonix Grappa & Schnapps Tasting. R15.  Daily

*   Dieu Donné Micro-brewery and beer tasting. R15 beer tasting and R 35 for full bewery talk and tasters.  Daily

*   Babylonstoren Guided Garden Visit. R 20, Wednesday – Sunday 10h00 and 15h00.

*   Le Bon Vivant Surprise Menu. R 485 for 5-course meal and wine, R360 without wine. Daily except Wednesdays.

*   Food and wine pairing at Pierneef à La Motte. R 195 for 5 pairings, extra R 50 for glass of La Motte MCC. Tuesday – Sunday 12h00 – 14h00.

*   Cape Gourmet Delights Tour, with stops at Grande Provence, Moreson and Vrede & Lust. R1995 per day includes “light lunch”. 10 persons maximum.  Monday – Friday.

A walking tour as well as a talk on ceramics are part of this programme, but seem out of place in not having anything to do with Wine or Food.

One hopes that the Franschhoek Wine Valley Food & Wine Route map will indicate which wine estates, food shops and restaurants sell foods, such as the vegetables, breads and chocolates at the Farm Shop at Pierneef à La Motte; salmon products and breads at the Salmon Bar; the Mediterranean delicacies at The Olive Shack; wonderful freshly baked wholewheat bread at Grande Provence; breads and sweet treats at Café BonBon and Café Benedict; olive oils and balsamic vinegar at Allèe Bleue; heavenly chocolates as well as breads at Café Le Chocolatier; Truckles cheeses at Franschhoek Cellar; and a selection of home-made pies, preserves, dips, cold meats and breads at the new Franschhoek Food Emporium.   It would be good if the fortnightly Farmers’ Market at Holden Manz also be listed.

We salute the Franschhoek Wine Valley for putting together this initiative, and trust that the Food & Wine Route map will be finalised and printed as soon as possible, given that the summer season ends in two months’ time.   We encourage Franschhoek Wine Valley to add the names of the omitted Franschhoek restaurants, by encouraging them to sign up as members, so that the map can be as representative of the food and wine delights in Franschhoek as possible.

POSTSCRIPT 22/4: The new Franschhoek Wine Valley Food & Wine Route maps have been made available, and can be collected from the Franschhoek Tourism Bureau, or from Whale Cottage Franschhoek.  Oddly, it lists the two Pick ‘n Pays too, under the ‘Franschhoek Restaurants & Food section”.  Following our recommendation above, the Franschhoek Food Emporium was added, but Café Le Chocolatier, Café Benedict, BICCCS, Chez d’Or, Cotage Fromage, Crepe et Cidre, Café des Arts, and the new Le Coq are not on the map.  Other sources of food to buy, as listed two paragraphs above, are not indicated on the map.

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

I had not been to Mange Tout Restaurant at Mont Rochelle Hotel in Franschhoek for a number of years, and with the appointment of the new chef Leigh Trout seven months ago, I felt that it was time to pay the restaurant a visit again.   There is no mange tout on the menu, but Chef Leigh Trout serves a good trout!   Service remains a weakness in this restaurant of the five-star Mont Rochelle Hotel.

Security is an issue when one arrives at Mont Rochelle, yet it isn’t when one uses the magic password “Restaurant”, despite not having pre-booked, and the boom was lifted without question nor details taken.  I was welcomed by a very confident security guard when I parked my car, and he offered his services to make my booking, as he felt that there would be a table available for me.  This meant going to the receptionist, who nodded her head, and did not bother to show me the way to the restaurant (had I been a first-time guest).   When asked, she said just go left and then right, and did not walk me to the restaurant.  The entrance to the restaurant is not clear, and what is intended as the main entrance door is rarely used, judging by what I observed.  Most guests go to the terrace, and use that door to enter.

The previous restaurant, called La Couronne (also the name of the hotel at that time), was reinvented after a renovation following a fire, when the hotel changed its name to Mont Rochelle, and the restaurant had its own stand-alone name Mange Tout for the first time.  

I arrived at 19h30, and it was still light enough to see the lovely view the restaurant has on the Franschhoek mountains and the valley below.   The restaurant has two sections, the view one being filled first.  It was noticeable that the hotel guests (four tables) are seated at the window with the view, and the non-hotel guests were seated away from the windows.   This section has a lovely fireplace, which makes the restaurant very cosy in winter.   The second section of the restaurant has no view at all.   The space is airy, and the thatched roof ceiling, the large tables with white table cloths and a mixture of light green and beige chairs create a light and attractive interior.  Most interesting is the ‘handbag’ tables next to each table, which allows the ladies to store their bags on a place other than the floor, something only a lady could have thought of!  Big candle holders are on the non-view tables, while the view tables have American-style table lamps.   A large daisy is presented in a square glass container, filled with glass balls.  There are candelabras and candles on the fireplace mantelpiece, creating a romantic atmosphere as the sun sets.   

A massive chandelier dominates the room, as does the white piano, played by Mont Rochelle legend Alfio, for whom guests return year after year.  I found the 90 minutes of continuous piano playing beyond irritating, and would not return if I knew it was still going.  But I was in the minority, the mainly British guests loving it,  and even starting to sing along!   Alfio is such an institution that he has a sign with his name on the piano, and a dessert named after him (Alfio’s Duet).  Before he started playing, Kfm-like music was ‘broadcast’, and when Alfio finished playing, there was deathly silence, relative to the piano ‘noise’, until somebody remembered to put on more of the ‘Kfm’ music.  I do love listening to Kfm’s music in my car, but not at a 5-star hotel restaurant.

Despite it being over 30°C in Franschhoek, all the windows of the restaurant were closed and the airconditioner had not been switched on.  It became increasingly hot, and I had to ask for a window to be opened.  I was really pushing the limits when I asked for another window to be opened, and the permission of other guests had to be requested.   The tables have good quality napery, contemporary cutlery – with a butter knife on the side plate - and good glassware.   There are no condiments on the table, clearly signifying that the chef feels he can prepare a meal without the need for anything to be added.   The menu is printed on good quality green A4 paper, with the Mange Tout name very low key on it.   It contains an introduction by chef Leigh, a new trend that I have picked up: “Welcome to Mange Tout!  Our Menu is an ever evolving work in progress, wherever possible focusing on the finest seasonal ingredients available.   We whole heartedly (sic) endorse environmentally friendly farming practices as well as humane free range animal rearing and much of our produce used reflects this”.  The last sentence seems quite a mouthful, sounding correct, but somehow artificial, in my opinion.   The  five course degustation menu is on the front page, while the a la carte menu is on the reverse side.  The chef is flexible, and one may chop and change the items between the two menus.  The tasting menu costs R430 for 5 courses, but in reality these were 7 courses, with an amuse bouche and a palate cleanser as well.   The a la carte menu costs R240 for 2 courses (although not specified on the menu), R 280 for 3 courses, R360 for 4 courses and R430 for 5 courses.  

The waitress brought the bread basket to the table, and rattled off the contents as being focaccia, “stick bread” and “rye bread”, the latter being ciabatta in fact.  Commendably the breads were served warm, but I had a bite of each, and could not eat more, finding them so below average per se, and even more so for a fine dining restaurant.  The focaccia ingredients included mushroom, olives and goat’s cheese, but I only learnt this from the manager Roelof later on, while the ciabatta was hard and tasteless.  I found the quality of the waitresses far below par for a 5-star restaurant, and they come across as ‘robotised’, in rattling off a menu they had to learn but do not really understand, the Manager Roelof being the only person offering quality service, and explaining the dishes.   One particularly gruff waitress, who looks intimidatingly bossy and made no attempt to make eye contact or even smile, has been at Mont Rochelle for 10 years.   Another waitress I asked has been there for two years, yet was unable to explain the dishes when brought to the table, just saying “trout”, for example.  I had asked for a jug of ice water, but received a glassful, and had to request it to be topped up every time.  It became warm over the course of the evening, and I had to request ice to cool it down again.   There is no proactive service.

I had no intention to, but landed up having the Tasting Menu, mainly because it was too hard to choose what to leave out.  Chef Leigh cleverly has chosen favourite dishes for his menus, including foie gras, asparagus, kingklip, tiramisu, souffle (which I was told is a signature dish of the hotel, preceding Chef Leigh) and of course ……. trout!   The amuse bouche was a rather unattractive looking dark green asparagus velouté and oyster escalope, the waitress rattled off.  When I asked her what was hiding under the daisy, she had to find out from the kitchen, and said that ‘the black things’ were caviar!   I am often disappointed by amuse bouches, as many chefs get them wrong, as being an opening shot at what they are capable of in the kitchen.  The batter-covered fried oyster was very unusual, but the velouté was bland.  The foie gras starter was beautifully presented, and Chef Leigh likes his greens and oranges in food colour presentation.   He used peach for colour, served au natural and as a mousse, with two tiny triangles of ‘dark chocolate brioche’, not enough to have the foie gras on, so Roelof brought a few more to the table – the bread basket offering would not have been suitable to have with the foie gras at all.  A chocolate bean on each foie gras slice was unusual.   The steamed garden asparagus was a crispy composition in green, with fashionable micro herbs, and contrasted with two dots of yellow created with quail eggs.  Other starter options are springbok carpaccio, cauliflower soup and “Walvisbaai Red Crab Tortellini”.

I couldn’t miss out on the seared Franschhoek Trout, and Chef Leigh did his namesake proud.  My dish was served with ’cucumber noodles’ (lovely thin strips of cucumber) and pea mousse.   The palate cleanser was apple sorbet, four balls being too much for what is intended.    I was looking forward to the kingklip for the main course, but was disappointed with it, having a hard crust, and the chef’s sprinkling of coarse salt on top of the fish, something one cannot see until one takes a bite, making the mouthful taste too salty.   It was served with braised fennel, an unfortunate combination, I believe, as the vegetable has a very dominant taste, and it was not well washed, still having sand in it.   Miniature sweet potato gnocchi was tasty, but very salty, and looked like little dog food pellets in colour and shape.    Orange and miso completed the composition.   Other main course options on the a la carte menu were lamb puttanesca, lemon chicken ballottine, and beef tenderloin.

I loved the principle of the ‘deconstructed’ Tiramisu, which consisted of marsala sabayon (tasted warm and uninteresting), the mascarpone mousse piped on the plate, a wonderfully delicious coffee and savoiardi biscuit ice cream, and the cutest mini meringues, over which was presented a work of sugar art, which was ‘overkill’, as far as I was concerned.  A peppermint parfait, the soufflé, Alfio’s Duet and a Vineyard Cheese Platter are other dessert alternatives.

Somehow the colour co-ordination went terribly wrong with the winelist, given the gentle white, beige and green tones of the restaurant interior and menu, with its blood red cover.     The winelist is a collection of mainly Mont Rochelle wines, and also describes the Winery, and the sister restaurant Country Kitchen.   The first page lists all the Mont Rochelle wines, and these are the only ones that one can order by the glass.   The Rosé costs R26/R100, and white wines include a Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (R49/R194), an Unwooded Chardonnay (R44/R173) and Barrel Fermented Chardonnay (R54/205).   The Miko Chardonnay sur Iie costs R509.   The red wines include a 2004 Merlot (R58/R231), Miko Cabernet Sauvignon (R546), Artemis (R56/R200) and the Syrah at R75/R289, which had the following description “smokey nose with black pepper, plumbs (sic) and black berries”.  I commented on the coldness of the Syrah, and I was told that it was chilled at 14°C.  I prefer a warmer red wine.   An impressive list of champagnes contains sixteen options, starting at R385 for Tribaut Tradition, and peaking at R2450 for Krug Grand Cuvée.  Eight MCC sparkling wines are listed, starting with Villiera (R194), while a Graham Beck Brut Rosé is charged at R310.   Two to three wines from other wine estates are featured per variety, each variety broadly described.  Wines from Austria, Germany and France are also available.  The Shiraz section includes two Franschhoek brands: Stony Brook 2006 (R176) and Boekenhoutskloof 2008 (R546).

Roelof was receptive to my feedback about the disappointing quality of the bread (surprisingly the pastry chef comes from the One&Only Cape Town) and the waitresses, and he is aware of the problem with the latter.  He is working on a programme with Chef Leigh to improve their knowledge and service.  The bill arrived as duplicate slips, and I asked Roelof why that was, and he said one copy is for them.  It was hard to read in the low light.  The bill was ‘served’ with chocolate friandes, not very exciting.  

Even though Chef Leigh tried very hard to make his food look amazingly good, it fell short on the delivery, especially the bread, kingklip, and friandises.  Maybe he is trying too hard.  The service deficiency relative to the quality of the food and the hotel star grading is a serious deterrent to going back, as is the piano!   The restaurant has such amazing potential, but it seems as if an ‘old’ La Couronne is fighting a new Mange Tout, with old habits resisting and disturbing the good work Chef Leigh and Manager Roelof are trying to do.  It was disppointing that Chef Leigh did not come out of the kitchen and greet his guests.

Mange Tout Restaurant, Mont Rochelle Hotel, Franschhoek.  Tel (021) 876-2770.   www.montrochelle.co.za (the website seems to be down – the restaurant has one page only, and contains the menu - which is the same one as for the evening when I dined there last Thursday - and has a few shots of the interior, but only one food shot).   Wednesday – Sunday dinner, and Saturday and Sunday lunch.

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

The 5-star and recently accredited Relais & Chateaux Asara Hotel outside Stellenbosch has a beautiful location, with a dam at the edge of the restaurant, and the Stellenbosch mountains as a backdrop.  I had visited Asara Hotel in its early days, but had not been back in over a year.   When I was sent information about a recent refurbishment of Raphael’s Restaurant by the Hotel’s PR agency, it was a good opportunity to invite my friend Geraldine for lunch, as she lives close by.   The restaurant’s recent make-over is not only decor-wise, but also in terms of management.   The pay-off line “Ordinary is everywhere but here”, printed on the menu and which is visible on every page of the website, currently is an overpromise, in terms of what we experienced yesterday.

The Asara Hotel has belonged to Markus Rahmann, an Austrian whose Germanic hand seemed stronger in the past, for close to ten years.  The Hotel has seen a number of senior staff changes this month, with GM Horst Frehse, who was at the hotel for about a year and implemented the Relais & Chateaux accreditation, leaving ahead of his departure date of January, and he will start at the Twelve Apostles Hotel as GM in February.  No one wanted to elaborate on the early departure.  Frehse was particularly well-known as the cigar-smoking GM of the Grande Roche in Paarl, and then went to Singita, before joining Asara Hotel.   We were told that the Restaurant Manager as well as the F&B Manager had joined the hotel in the last two weeks, as has the new GM, Pete Gottgens, who has spent the last 19 years in the UK.  Gottgens comes from a hotelier family, he says, and he proudly told us that his dad was the first FEDHASA member while he was at the Edward Hotel in Durban.   Gottgens cut his teeth in South Africa, amongst others at Mike’s Kitchen in Tyger Valley and at the Heerengracht Hotel, and then left the country to open Fish Hook and Springbok Café in London.  He also was responsible for all catering for then-President Nelson Mandela when he was on state visits in the UK and Europe.   He also established a hotel in Scotland seven years ago.   A yearning to return to South Africa led him to accept Asara’s offer.  Gottgens was honest about all not being perfect at Asara, and has made some immediate marketing changes – all focus will be on the domestic market, and the R3 million international marketing budget will be redirected to domestic marketing.  He has also decided that the premium top of the range market is not what they are aiming for anymore, and he even hinted that they may drop the Relais & Chateaux accreditation when I asked him, due to the cost perception that it is associated with.   I admired Gottgens for his honesty, as he did not know who we were.  He wants to move the association with Asara from “not great value for money” to “exceptional value”.    His mantra will be to under-offer and over-deliver, the smartest approach to customer relationship development.  He understands the value of Word of Mouth, and that the local visitors will recommend Asara to international visitors if they have had a good experience.   He wants to offer Asara wines below R100 a bottle in his restaurants on the estate.   He understands the value of Social Media, and Asara is on Twitter, and Gottgens will start a blog in the new year.   Gottgens also says that too many staff were appointed (mainly from Spier and Lanzerac, when the hotel first opened), and that he will be changing this to fewer but higher quality staff.  A lovely concept he plans is the appointment of the farmworkers’ wives to start a fruit and vegetable co-operative on the estate, so that the hotel can buy all their fresh ingredients from their own workers, thereby enhancing their incomes.   Gottgens gave me a feeling of complete professionalism, and of comfort that a number of the rough edges that we observed and experienced will be taken care of and fixed.  Gottgen’s goal is to ‘improve the game by 40%’, he said.  

Raphael’s is a large space, and one can sit outsideto be close to the dam.  We had not booked, so accepted an inside table, but it was probably for the best, as the South Easter was pumping.  Crystal chandeliers dominate, and some chairs are in a deep violet upholstery.  Glass screens give some privacy to the entrance.  I saw a piano, and wondered about its use, having recently applauded the Mount Nelson Hotel for having got rid of its piano in the new Planet Restaurant.   The tables have excellent quality napery on them, and cutlery is by WMF, which is also sold in the Asara shop on the estate.   Our champagne glasses did not ‘ping’ when we toasted our getting together, and sounded like plastic, even though they were not.   The jug for my water was a very ordinary one, not in keeping with the rest of the glassware in the restaurant or in the shop.   The salt and pepper holders were tiny and ordinary.   The architect for the Asara Hotel building and its restaurants was Ray Killian, and Arctic Circle was the interior design company for Raphael’s, a name I know as the design company for Tourism Grading Council plaques.

One of our biggest problems was with waitress Martha, and even though she tried very hard, and grew on us in the three hours that we spent at Raphael’s, she reflected the lack of management in the restaurant.  She had a shirt on that was too tight, and one of the buttons had popped open.  She had a spot of dirt on the white shirt and her black apron had a big dirty mark on it.   She had been outside in the wind, we think, judging by her hair.  She told us that she had worked at Grande Roche previously, and at the end of our meal she had the confidence to tell us what every employer would fear – that Raphael’s is not five-star standard as far as the staffing goes, that there are too many inexperienced staff members working in the restaurant, who are unable to do justice to the good quality food served.  The irony was that Martha herself was an example of what she was referring to.   She also stated that ‘her’ 5-star restaurant should not be serving guests coming in with shorts, casual shirts and slip-slops, examples of which we saw, and with crying babies, which we heard too.  

As Martha handed us the leather menu holder, she matter-of-factly told us that they were out of oysters, Chateaubriand, and haloumi cheese for the Baby Leaf salad starter.  This gave us a bad feeling about the restaurant and the hotel, and its professionalism.  We were later told that the kitchen had done 120 covers for lunch (we only arrived at 13h30), had a wedding later that day, a private dinner for 60 persons, and the normal dinner service.   Geraldine and I skipped the starters, as we wanted to try the Asara ice cream sold in the shop on our departure.  Geraldine ordered the Beef Fillet (R180) and I had the Kingklip (R135). The Beef Fillet was ordered Medium and was very tender, and was topped with herb-crusted oxtail ragout, rich in taste, she said, and was served with cauliflower mash, dauphinoise potatoes and port wine jus.   My oven roasted kingklip was meant to be served with a horseradish and vanilla sauce, but was replaced with a white wine foam, with Martha’s help, and tasted slightly salty.  I enjoyed the kingklip served with baby asparagus and parsley mash.   Other main courses are Duck breast, Duo of pork, Impala, and Quail, all at R165, as well as Rack of lamb (R175).  The Chateaubriand costs R340, a 400 gram serving for two.   Wild mushroom risotto and home-made ravioli filled with ratatouille both cost R70.  A delicious sounding butternut and coconut soup costs R55.   Starters start at R45 for Chicken bobotie in rooti, up to R95 for grilled tiger prawns and scallops.  A trio of oysters costs R85, and an interesting sounding “foie gras crème brûlée and ice cream”, as well as a smoked salmon trout terrine cost R85 and R65, respectively.   Due to having the ice cream in the shop, we skipped the desserts, which cost between R45 for three scoops of ice cream to R65 for a Kaiserschmarrn Austrian soufflé.

Head Chef Carsten Härtel came to say hello, and invited us to visit his kitchen, only the third such invite I have received (Tokara and Societi Bistro), and is a special honour. The Asara kitchen is massive, and incredibly hot, so much so that we felt sorry for the 40 or so kitchen staff, of whom 23 are chefs.  Chef Carsten came to Asara directly from Germany, and has been at the hotel for two years, enjoying the good weather, even though he stays in touch with Germany via his DEUKOM German TV channel subscription.  We were impressed by the different sections in the kitchen, including the bread and roll baking, as well as the ice-cream and chocolate-making sections.  A hotel kitchen is not a romantic place at all, looks very industrial, and we saw the photographs of the chef’s plating directives per dish.    

I do not know the Asara wines, and do not recall ever drinking any.  My Platter’s 2011 does not rate them too highly, mainly around the 3-star mark, with only the Spirit of Chenin achieving a 4-star Platter rating.  The winelist is extensive, and every page has the Relais & Chateaux logo prominently displayed.  It is much more discreet on the menu.  The winelist has a leather cover too, and is an extensive document, tracing the history of Cape Vintages from 1990 until 2010;  a brief history of South African wines is sketched; a map of winegrowing areas is provided; and food and wine pairing suggestions are presented by type of food.   The Asara wine range features extensively on the winelist, especially for the wines-by-the-glass.  Five Asara white wines range in price from R28 per 175ml glass for the Ivory, up to R63 for their Chardonnay Reserve.  Seven Asara red wines are offered, starting at R33 per glass for the Cape Fusion, peaking at R110 per glass for their Bell Tower. Their Rosé costs R28, and the Noble Late Harvest R30.   We had a glass of Villiera Tradition Brut each, at R45, and Peter van Staden, the Restaurant Manager, refilled one of our glasses when it was knocked over in error, without charging extra for the refill.   Poor Peter seemed uncomfortable and very hot in his black jacket and tie.   I have never seen champagnes referred to as “Champenoise” on a winelist before, and 375 ml Laurent-Perrier costs R440 and Moet & Chandon R575.  Pommery Pop Blue costs R385 for 200ml.   A section focuses on the “Sommelier’s Rare Selection”, which starts at R135 for the Vondeling Babiana Nortiflora, up to R 655 for the Deetlefs Family Semillon; and at R185 for the Lammershoek Red Blend (R185) – R1100 for the Ernie Els Red Blend.   The Asara Sauvignon Blanc costs R140 per bottle, and Iona costs R240.  The Asara Shiraz costs R190, while that by Saronsberg costs R300.  A vertical collection of Vin de Constance is also offered, something I had seen recently on the Planet Restaurant winelist at the Mount Nelson Hotel.   A change from my last visit is that the room underneath Raphael’s is now called the “Vinoteque”, and is the area in which one can taste wines, and buy branded Asara promotional clothing, as well as order tapas dishes.

Geraldine and I ended off our long and relaxed lunch with a strong cappuccino served in an attractive cup and saucer, and was made with Genovese, a brand of coffee I have not heard of before.   We had kept the best for last, by walking through the shop, which sells WMF cutlery sets and kitchenware, Le Creuset pots in many shapes, sizes and colours, lovely hand-made chocolates, at R45 per 100 gram, and ice-cream scoops at R10 each.  One can choose between Vanilla, Stracciatella, Chocolate and Hazelnut flavours.   We sat in the courtyard, enjoying our ice cream, and watched a bridal couple being photographed.

Our food was excellent, but GM Gottgens has a huge task to almost start from scratch to train up his staff and managers to the level that is befitting the standard of the hotel, and to meet his admirable goals.   It will be interesting to see how things have improved at Asara and Raphael’s in a few months from now.

Raphael’s Restaurant, Asara Wine Estate and Hotel, Stellenbosch.  Tel (021) 888-8000.     www.asara.co.za   (The website covers all aspects of the Asara wine estate and hotel.   For Raphael’s the menu is available, but there are not many food photographs on the page.  There is no restaurant winelist on the website).  Open Monday – Sunday for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

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

The fifth Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival started last night, and continues until tomorrow, celebrating the “The Magic of Bubbles”.  Leading local Cap Classiques and imported champagnes will be paired with some of the best restaurants Franschhoek has to offer.

Bubbly brands that will be on show, representing some of South Africa’s 100 or so sparkling wine brands, include Franschhoek’s first and recently-crowned Platter 5-star Blanc de Blancs Brut from Topiary Wines, and Franschhoek ‘colleagues’ Graham Beck, Colmant, Morena from Franschhoek Pass Winery, Allée Bleue, Dieu Donné, Boschendal, La Motte, My Wyn, and Pierre Jourdan.  Other bubbly brands on show are Simonsig,  Steenberg, Villiera, Krone, Avondale, Backsberg, Bon Courage, Bramon, Laborie, L’Avenir, Nitida, Pongracz, Genevieve MCC, Groote Post, Silverthorn, Sterhuis, Van Loveren, Waverley Hills and Weltevrede.  Imported champagne brands include Billecart Salmon, Laurent Perrier, Gosset, Verve Cliquot and Tribaut.

Food can be bought from the following Franschhoek restaurants at the Festival: The Restaurant at Grande Provence, Mange Tout at Mont Rochelle Hotel, La Petite Ferme, The Restaurant at L’ermitage Hotel, Monneaux, Salmon Bar, Dieu Donné, Allée Bleue and the Le Franschhoek Hotel.   The Wild Peacock is selling oysters.

Entertainment will be provided by CODA.  The dress code is “black and white”, with a prize for the best-dressed couple today and tomorrow.

Cap Classique & Champagne Festival, 3 – 5 December, 12h00 – 18h00.  Huguenot Monument, Franschhoek.  Tickets cost R180 and can be bought at www.webtickets.co.za or at the gate.

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

The Sweet Service Award goes to the Franschhoek Wine Valley Tourism Association, for organising the Franschhoek Uncorked Festival last weekend, for organising the best weather ever in the history of the festival, and for bringing winelovers to the wine estates, the only organised event doing so once a year.   The majority of the participating wine estates gave it their best shot, being super generous and friendly.  Whilst a golden marketing opportunity was lost by each estate in not being more proactive in handing out information about their wines and restaurant, the event as a whole created goodwill for Franschhoek, and created awareness for the Franschhoek wine brands via Twitter and Blogging.

The Sour Service Award goes to the Planet Bar at the Mount Nelson Hotel.  I popped in for their wonderful mushroom empanadas and a glass of bubbly after a concert close by a week ago, a rare indulgence.   The barman did not know what “empanadas” are, asking me if they were a food item (they are on the bar menu), the waitress poured my glass of Simonsig Vonkel with the glass standing upright, and an empanada had an hair in it (luckily the chef came to explain that it was an hair from the pastry brush!).   When I asked the Planet Bar manager Patrick why the service had been so poor, he repeated after me “poor?”, as if all had been perfect.  One wonders why 5-star hotel staff, who do not deliver 5-star service, get to be so arrogant!

The WhaleTales Sweet & Sour Service Awards are presented every Friday on the WhaleTales blog.  Nominations for the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be sent to Chris von Ulmenstein at info@whalecottage.com. Past winners of the Sweet and Sour Service Awards can be read on the Friday posts of this blog, and in the WhaleTales newsletters on the www.whalecottage.com website.

Hidden in the suburb of Paradyskloof (meaning “valley of paradise”) outside Stellenbosch, opposite the Stellenbosch Golf Course and on the road to the Vriesenhof wine estate, is Majeka House, a 5-star Boutique Hotel, with a top class French-style restaurant, a cuisine paradise, blessed with a creative young chef Anri Diener.

Co-owner Karine Dequeker is French, having studied at the Lausanne Hotel School, and worked at the Grand Roche Hotel, Lanzerac Hotel and Table Bay Hotel as Banqueting Manager, and it is her heritage that comes to the fore in the French-style menu of the Restaurant at Majeka House.  Her husband Lloyd van der Merwe comes from the corporate hotel route, having worked at Protea Hotels and Holiday Inn, and at SETA, the hotel industry training body, before he became a training consultant.  Majeka House previously was the private home of Karine’s father, and she and her husband set about a redesign of the property, spread over three erfs, to make it an 18-bedroom Hotel, opening 18 months ago.   The property is spacious, and the bedrooms, swimming pool, parking area and restaurant all are generously sized. One would not know about the restaurant if one drove past the Hotel, as it is not separately branded nor visible.   The Majeka name comes from the first two letters of the names of three of the owners of the property.

The invitation to review the Restaurant at Majeka House came from the Van der Merwes, who read this blog regularly, and from my son, who is one of the managers of the Hotel.  I accepted the invitation, with their understanding that the review would be written objectively and critically, as always.

An interesting introduction to the Majeka House restaurant is the arrival of an amuse bouche in one’s bedroom at 18h00, whether one eats at the restaurant that night or not.  I received a salmon roll and a butter pan-fried prawn on greens, a lovely way to make one look forward to dinner.

The Majeka House restaurant can seat about 30 diners, and leads to the bar and library.  It has a large fireplace, with two interesting paintings by Vicky Sander on each side of it.   The dominant wall has trendy wallpaper in gold and black, the curtains are silk-style in a golden/cream colour, the chairs are suede-style, with Persian carpets scattered on the wooden floor.  Chandeliers add the French touch.  The staff uniforms are Africa-inspired, in blue and cream, perhaps a contradiction to the French feel.  The dark wood tables have a cloth over the centre, set with fine glasses and cutlery.  What was unusual was the homely touch of a massive serviette in a serviette ring, lying at an angle across the diner’s eating area, as opposed to the left, or on the side plate, as is the norm.  The fresh rose from the garden and a flower-inspired candle holder rounded off the table decor.  Most of the crockery used is from Wonkiware, which adds a design touch to the dishes presented, the chef being minimalist as far as garnishing goes. 

Music-wise a piano can be seen, but luckily there is no pianist tickling the keys (the Mount Nelson Cape Colony’s pianist does not stop playing, and it became irritating eventually).  I found the French-style rock music too loud and too heavy, and was delighted when Hotel Costes was eventually played.

The Tasting Menu’s four courses are listed from 1 – 4 in French, reinforcing the French style of the restaurant.  One has a choice of two dishes per course, and it costs R250, or R400 with a wine paired with each course.   The lovely waitress Phelisa brought an unusual glass plate with what looked like a tablet – a small round white ‘something’ with the word WOW on it.  She poured warm water over it, and it rose and expanded immediately, to become a cloth with which one can wipe one’s hands before starting to eat.  I had never seen this before, and it was a nice unusual touch.  Warm bread was served with butter.

The menu is not branded, and the items are printed on a patterned sheet of cream paper presented on a brown leather menu holder (as are the winelist and the a la carte menu), in quite small type, making it difficult to read, especially the wine that is paired with each dish, as it is in an even smaller type size.

I started with Chicken liver parfait, very creamy and soft, served with melba toast on a port jelly, its sweetness an interesting contrast to the parfait.   The alternative was a Potato veloute, with fennel and smoked salmon fritters.   I chose to drink a glass of Tamboerskloof Syrah 2006 with the first three courses, although I could have had a different wine with each course.  The second course was a beautifully presented Mushroom risotto served on butternut puree, with a crisp parmesan wheel.   The mushrooms were minute and delicate, the risotto perfect, and the food colours on the plate necessitated minimal garnishing.   The alternative option was Pan-fried quail with a crayfish and saffron sauce with fresh gooseberries, a most interesting sounding combination.

The Beef fillet was a touch too close to the rare side, rather than the medium rare that I had ordered for the third course, served on celeriac puree, with oven roasted shallots and port jus.  This made it difficult to cut the steak slices with the non-serrated knife provided.  The alternative choice was a Buttered Kabeljou, served with a mussel and oyster mushroom ragout and Parisienne gnocchi.  The highlight of the menu was the Millefeuille of chocolate mousse, served with a rectangular-shaped flat coffee meringue and citrus fruit, absolutely yummy and a chocoholic’s dream.   The alternative Pear crumble with vanilla creme never stood a chance as a dessert choice.   As if the four courses and the amuse bouche were not enough of a delight already, a plate with a homemade marshmallow, coffee meringue and truffle was presented with the perfectly made cappuccino.

The a la carte menu offers five options per course.  Starters start at R50 (Tomato tarte tatin), and include Pan-fried scallops (R65), Tempura prawn salad (R65) and De-boned quail (R90).  Main course prices peak at R180 for Seared Springbok loin, but Beef fillet (R140), Lamb cutlets (R150), Spinach ravioli (R95), and Poached linefish served with a lobster broth (R100) are also offered.  For dessert Creme Brulee, Hibiscus granite and a trio of sorbets cost around R50, and a soft-centered mini chocolate cake and a cheese selection cost R80.

Chef Anri is a protege of Etienne Bonthuys of ex-Tokara, having worked for him for more than five years.  She helped open the Delaire restaurant in chef Christian Campbell’s kitchen, and felt that Majeka House offered her an exciting challenge, in making the switch.  She has the most exciting prospect of working at the Michelin 3-star restaurant L’Esperance in Saint-Pere-sous-Vezelay in Burgundy for two months.  The Van der Merwes have developed an exchange programme with the restaurant, having welcomed its Senior Sous Chef at Majeka House earlier this year.

The winelist presents a good selection of wines predominantly from the Stellenbosch region, and one imported champagne (Pol Roger Brut at R760).   Each wine is described briefly and commendably vintages are provided.  Wines-by-the-glass are between 2 – 5 years old, and very reasonably priced (R26 for Dalla Cia Chardonnay, R20 for Villiera Chenin Blanc, R24 for Dalla Cia Sauvignon Blanc, R18 for Land’s End Rose, R30 for Villiera Tradition sparkling wine, R28 for Marklew Merlot, R39 for Dalla Cia Cabernet Sauvignon, R43 for Rainbow’s End Cabernet Franc, R31 for Bilton Pinotage, R34 for Tamboerskloof Shiraz, and R38 for Warwick 3 Cape Ladies blend).

The Restaurant at Majeka House is a treat, especially if one decides to spend a night of paradise in Paradyskloof at Majeka House too, and not drive back to Cape Town.   The chocolate mousse is an absolute must!  Not being very well-known yet, Majeka House could do well to embrace Social Media Marketing, in starting a Blog, tweeting more regularly, building the profile of Chef Anri, and perhaps consider an independent name for its restaurant.

The Restaurant at Majeka House, 26 – 32 Houtkapper Street, Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 880- 1512.  www.majekahouse.co.za  (Both the a la carte and the Tasting menu are listed. The Image Gallery does not have a page dedicated to the restaurant, and has few food photographs) Twitter @Majeka_House.  Monday – Sunday.   On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.

POSTSCRIPT 22/11:  Following the advice in our review, Majeka House has announced that its restaurant will be called Makaron Restaurant from now onward.

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

Cape Town has a surplus of hotel beds, mainly at the 5-star level, and it is expected that there will be a major shake-out in this sector after the completion of the World Cup, and “only the fittest will survive”, reports Travel News Now.

Ten new hotels have opened their doors in Cape Town since last year, and include the newest, the Strand Towers, The Pepper Club, Taj Hotel Cape Town (the international monies have been well-spent on this building) , 15 on Orange (which has had money thrown at it by Protea Hotel’s African Pride Hotels), Crystal Towers Hotel, Coral International Cape Town (the first ‘dry’ hotel in the city), One&Only Cape Town (Sol Kerzner is the owner), Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, Harbour Bridge Hotel and Suites, and the Upper East Side Hotel.  Four further hotels are in the pipeline for the city.

If the new hotels were the only ones in town, other accommodation establishments would not feel the current accommodation demand decline and room oversupply so badly.  But a recent statistic shows that Cape Town currently has 84 hotels with 11 584 rooms in total, compared to the national totals of 596 hotels and 65 872 rooms. 

The oversupply of accommodation has led to price-cutting, as the hotels compete to attract declining numbers of visitors to the city.   On average, it is said that most accommodation establishments in Cape Town are 50 % full for the World Cup.

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

South Africa’s most used wine guide has celebrated its 30th anniversary with the launch of its 2010 edition.  To date 1,4 million copies of the wine guide have been sold, reports wine.co.za.

 The Platter’s South African Wines 2010 edition evaluated 6 000 wines, and 41 of these were rated as 5-star, the highest number of top rated wines ever selected. This year the 5-star wines were selected for the first time by means of a blind tasting from a short-list of 105  top wines.

At the launch last week, the Winery of the Year Award went to Sadie Family Wines.   The winery’s Palladius 2008 won the Platter’s White Wine of the Year accolade.   Sadie Family Wines was one of the first estates to explore winemaking in the Swartland, and “continues to set the benchmark and to retain its status as a true Cape icon”, said editor Philip van Zyl.   Villiera Wines’ 2009 Chenin Blanc won the Superquaffer of the Year award.

The 2010 Platter’s lists 6 000 wines, and 800 wineries and brands, of which 50 are new ones, together with information on what to do, where to sleep and where to eat in the Winelands.   The focus is on 2010, and the events to be hosted by the wineries during the 2010 World Cup are listed in the wine directory.

As sustainability is the central challenge for the wine industry, Platter’s has launched an electronic version of its directory via Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, in conjunction with Wine-Oh!  Also, the company is up-grading its web presence, and will run courses for wine farmers on online wine marketing with e-business company Britefire and the University of Stellenbosch Business School.

The 2011 edition of Platter’s will focus on wine estates’ sustainability, it was announed at the launch.

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