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Thursday 10th February 2011 - Posted by Chris von Ulmenstein
For a mid-season break, I chose to spend a weekend at Grand Dédale Country House, on the Doolhof wine estate on the Bovlei Road in Wellington, about ten days ago. I could not have chosen a more relaxing and grander place than this 5-star hotel and its excellent restaurant, which is on the Wellington Wine Route.
Doolhof is part of a farm that was awarded to the first owner in 1709, and means ‘labyrinth’ in Afrikaans. It probably was given this name because it was at the end of a cul de sac. The current owners Dorothy and Dennis Kerrison bought the farm from the neighbouring Retief family. The homestead was renovated by Mrs Kerrison, who is an interior designer in the United Kingdom, and her initial R7 million budget had doubled at the end of the project. Money does not appear to be an object in the tasteful design of the very spacious rooms, and almost every detail has been thought of. Angelo and Tina Casu rent the 6-bedroom homestead and cottage from the owners, having signed an eight year lease, and have called their establishment Grand Dédale, which means ‘large labyrinth’ in French. The Casus have managed Grand Dédale for the past 17 months, and previously were with the Winchester Mansions in Sea Point and Palmiet Valley in Paarl.
The house is an old Cape Dutch house, with new additions cleverly married into the Cape Dutch origin of the house. Some aspects, notably the staircase to the upstairs loft rooms, are extremely modern. The high gloss marble tiles in the public rooms on the ground level have been criticised by some as not being suitable for a Cape Dutch house, but I felt that they looked perfectly clean and chic. The star attraction for me was the 15 meter salt water pool. Parking is away from the homestead, at the winery, a benefit in not seeing any cars, but a disadvantage in not being able to keep an eye on one’s vehicle. The bedroom I stayed in had three sections, a very spacious bedroom, although a slanting ceiling does create space limitations too, with a more than king size bed, and excellent quality linen. A second section has a basin, the safe and the hanging space. The bathroom is in the third section, has a bath with shower over it, and a collection of Charlotte Rhys products. The high gloss tiles are a bit scary to walk on with wet feet, but a very generously sized bathmat is made available. Airconditioning is a great advantage to cool things down in the renowned Wellington heat. There are more than enough towels provided, hung on two heated towel rails. Towels are refreshed continuously. A fruit platter is in the room, and there is a turn-down treat every night (tasted like fudge). An iPod player is next to the bed, and one can request iPods to listen to.
From the terrace and pool area one looks onto the side of Groenberg, and below is the most lucious looking field, on which cows graze. Angelo laughed when he told me that they are the eco-friendly “lawnmowers” at Doolhof. A paddock with ex-racehorses is adjacent to the field.
The Room Directory is one of the most comprehensive and best presented that I have seen, bound in a neat brown leather cover, and detailing information about the wine estate (380 ha, Kromme River runs through it, located between Groenberg, Limietberg and Sneeukop), suggestions for day trips, a description of the public areas in the house, the location of the TV lounge in the upstairs loft (there is no TV in the bedrooms, strange for 5-star), and the location of the Spa Room (which I had read about, but was not proactively informed about), the Breakfast serving time, that light lunch and snacks are available, that a complimentary high tea is served in the afternoons (a combination of cake, fresh fruit and a savoury item), and the invitation to enjoy canapes and a glass of Pierre Jourdan sparkling wine before dinner with the other guests (quite colonial in its nature, but a good way to meet the other guests, as one is separated when dining). Three bar fridges stock beverages in various sections of the guest house, and are complimentary to guests. The bar fridges are a great idea, as mini bar fridges in rooms are noisy. The Doolhof winetasting is complimentary to the guests of Grand Dédale.
Breakfast is served on the terrace, and is a generous buffet of different cereals (I loved the Chef’s mix of crunchy and healthy muesli ingredients), fresh fruit as well as a fruit salad (one morning I was intrigued to see a bowl with an unknown white fruit, which was made by the Chef from the inside peel of a watermelon) and different yoghurt flavours. Cold breakfast treats are offered, and on one of the mornings it was salmon and créme fraîche served on rosti. Cold meats and cheeses are available, as are home-made jams and breads. A treat was that John organised frothy cappucinos for me each morning, and kept the ice water supply coming. A beautiful vase with a rose and a bougainvillea was on each table. At breakfast one is shown the dinner menu for that day, and one can say if one does not eat a particular ingredient. I saw the menu changed for one dinner due to my couscous feedback, which reflects great flexibility. There are no choices on the menu, and therefore the kitchen checks proactively on its guests’ tastes.
Dinner is served on the terrace, with the most wonderful view onto the greenery below. John and Angelo are in attendance. Canapés are served with the glass of bubbly. Heila Basson is the Chef, and Angelo calls her a ‘boeremeisie’. She previously worked at Grootbos and at Seasons at Diemersfontein. She has been at the Taj, to train in their kitchen, and will soon join Luke Dale-Roberts at The Test Kitchen for a short session, before he comes to Grand Dédale to cater for a wedding with Chef Heila on the wine estate. The table is beautifully set, with a silver underplate, professional folding of the serviette, and three sets of Italian Pinti cutlery, to prevent any stretching across clients. The butterdish and salt and pepper containers are all in silver, making the woven bread basket out of place. However, its content was wonderful, being bread rolls with different toppings. I love poppy seed rolls, and was amazed to find these in Wellington, of all places! An amuse bouche is served, prior to the three course meal. On the first night it was a spicy bobotie, served with mango chutney. The bobotie was unusual, made from diced rather than minced meat, and with an unusual taste, colourfully presented. The starter was a beef sirloin carpaccio served with feta crumble and a sesame dressing, adding a sweet taste. The main course was Norwegian salmon served with sweet and sour balsamic beetroot, mash, a vodka créme fraîche sauce, and roasted pumpkin seeds, creating a good colour contrast on the plate. I found the pumpkin seeds too hard relative to the soft textures of all the other ingredients. Dessert was a nougat terrine with berries, moreish, and chewy in texture. On the second day the amuse bouche was a courgette and brie cappuccino, served in a little coffee cup, an unusual combination and very tasty. The oregano potato gnocchi starter served with a wild mushroom and gruyere sauce was absolutely delicious, but did not have any contrast in colour. We were spoilt with a second starter when we discussed mozzarella, and Angelo proudly allowed all the dinner guests a taste of Wellington’s Buffalo Ridge mozzarella, in the form of a small Caprese salad. The main course was lamb rump, served a little too rare and with too much fat. The dessert was a pineapple tarte tatin served with homemade milktart ice cream, an unusual combination, but was delicious. Dinner costs R335, for a three course meal, but includes an amuse bouche and a cheese platter as well, actually making it a generous 5-course meal. One must book to eat dinner at Grand Dédale if one is not staying over.
The winelist offers Pierre Jourdan for R170 as a Cap Classique, and Champagnes offered are Dom Grossard and Brugnon Brut. Wine by the glass is from Doolhof and costs R40, but is not mentioned on the winelist. It is poured at the table from a bottle (I ordered a glass of Doolhof Shiraz 2007) in a silver basket. The Doolhof wines are good value: Unoaked Chardonnay R 90; Oaked Chardonnay R 154; Cape Robin Rosé R 63; Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon R116. In the Legends of Labyrinth range, Dark Lady pinotage and Lady in Red each cost R117 and The Minotaur R250. Wellington wines offered are Nabygelegen’s Lady Anna (R120), its Chenin Blanc (R130) and Snow Mountain Pinot Noir (R235). Diemersfontein Carpe Diem Viognier and Chenin Blanc cost R190. Each wine is described, and the vintage specified.
There is little to suggest to improve at Grand Dédale: a desk lamp on the desk/make-up area; training staff to not move one’s belongings from a chair or a bed (this is a common problem in accommodation establishments and is an irritation); allowing one to park outside the house; any means of improving cellphone reception would be very welcome, and the limited reception should be mentioned in correspondence (I am on 24/7 duty for my business, even when away for a weekend, and I had not made arrangements to divert the company phone line to a colleague’s cellphone, until I arrived and realised the impact of the reception problem on my business); addressing the blocking of outgoing e-mails by the server (incoming e-mails arrived safely), which problem was solved by downloading e-mails at The Stone Kitchen/Dunstone winery, which has a free wireless service which works easily and perfectly, but is only open until 16h00; a TV in each room; instructions on how to switch off the lights in the various sections of the bedroom; a blind for the bathroom window, so that one is not woken up by the light coming through in the morning; a warning to guests that there is 4 km of dirt road, the first part being very bumpy, and therefore not suitable to drive for all motor vehicles. What I did request while I was there was attended to immediately by Angelo.
It is not inexpensive to stay at Grand Dédale Country House, but I was lucky to benefit from a hospitality discount. The accommodation cost includes a full breakfast, all drinks from the guest bars, a small high tea, canapés before dinner and a glass of Pierre Jourdan. If one stays for two nights, dinner is free of charge on one of the two nights, as is a bottle of Doolhof wine. One has little choice to eat out in Wellington, so one is almost ‘forced’ to eat there, but it is an absolute pleasure to do so, to not have to drive on the gravel road, or to drive all the way to Diemersfontein, or even to Paarl, to find a relatively acceptable restaurant. If I can manage to leave the laptop and cellphone at home, I would be back for a next visit, to have a proper break!
Grand Dédale Country House, Doolhof Wine Estate, Bovlei Road, Wellington. Tel (021) 873-4089. www.granddedale.com
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleCottage: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Thursday 14th October 2010 - Posted by Chris von Ulmenstein
We have been critical of Crush!1 and Crush2!, the new food and wine digital magazine under the editorship of Michael Olivier, respected food and wine guru, as he calls himself on Twitter. Our opinion has not changed after seeing Crush!3 We are heartened to see that our feedback is being acknowledged and implemented up to a point. The overwhelming feeling is that the designers are trying too hard to add design ‘bells and whistles’ which distract rather than add to the magazine. This was reflected in the following Tweet on Twitter earlier this week: “luv your magazine idea but the technology you using is not user friendly. Why don’t you do trad website?”
We are sad that Michael, a friend for many years, has taken our feedback about the magazines so personally that he has chosen to not comment on our blogposts at all, no longer acknowledges my presence at functions, and has blocked us on Twitter, a rather unprofessional reaction from what we have always believed to be a mature gentleman.
Our review of Crush3! is as follows:
1. The cover page has appetite appeal, but a new design feature is to show the cover shot change into a dirty used plate, not looking appetising at all. The photography of this plate of food, from a feature on rosemary, does not come near the beautiful shot which was used for the cover of Crush2! The type relating to the content runs over the photograph, making most of it unreadable.
2. We are delighted that the video button has been taken off Micheal’s face on the Introduction page, our complaint of the previous two issues. Michael also talks on the video without any clanging kitchen noises, as was the case in Crush2! The Content listing is an improvement.
3. Advertisers Old Mutual, The Kovensky Quartet of restaurants, Pick ‘n Pay, Pongracz, Arumdale and Welmoed remain faithful, with new advertiser Avontuur. Arabella wines is no longer advertising.
4. When reading the Chenin Blanc sub-page on the “Michael says” page, the page rolls down too quickly when one clicks onto the arrow, for one to be able to read the page.
5. On the ‘Essentials’ page there are no distracting flashes, and the brand names are typed at each product, but brand and pack recognition for Dalla Cia, Imhoff Jams, Fairview Chevin and MadÃ©casse Chocolates is poor.
6. The Morgenhof advertorial is visually intriguing but totally spoilt by the Uwe Koetter ring competition block, spoiling the appeal of this page. The promotional box stays open when one clicks onto one of the four editorial boxes, making it impossible to read the windows about the restaurant, the coffee shop, the cellar and the owner, defeating the object of the exercise.
7. The double page spread on snoek pate has five beverage bottles on it too, and one can only recognise the brand name of Steph Weiss beer. Even when “rolling” over the pics of the bottles of Danie de Wet Cape Muscadel, Klein Constantia Rhine Riesling, Douglas Green Fino No 1, and Mullineaux one cannot read their labels.
8. Andy Fenner’s “Jamie Who?’” page looks as it did in the previous issue, but the flashes are no longer petal-shaped, now being balloons. The content of these is boring. One bubble opens onto ‘After Work Drinks’, and three are meant to be featured, but only Harvey’s Bar is visible. The balloon bubbles flash even when one opens the balloon, giving it a tacky feel.
8. The “High Five” page is blocked by a promotion “Share the High Five with your friends”. The Table Bay MCC Brut brand name is barely legible, being light blue.
9. JP Rossouw has been overseas, so there is no review by him in this issue. Michael has taken over the role, and has done a feature on La Motte, but once again a competition block blocks the photograph of the grounds and buildings of the “new” La Motte. One cannot see how to close this block, which incorrectly spells the wine estate as ‘Lamotte’. The competition does not call the reader to action – it leaves one feeling confused as to how to enter the competition. Whilst the La Motte pages have three La Motte wines on the page, with unreadable brand names, the placement of the Pongracz ad on the same page seems to be an error of judgement, especially given that La Motte recently launched its own sparkling wine!
10. The ‘Quick & Delicious’ page is also blocked with a “make sure you are subscribed” block over the week’s recipe cards. A tiny packshot of Bisquit Cognac is barely readable and when one clicks onto it, it is yet another attempt to get one to subscribe.
11. The “Cellar for later” page is fine and all wine brand names are clearly readable below the packs. However, on the “Quaff for now” page, the brand names of the white wines are typed in green, making them barely legible.
12. A dreadful old-fashioned burlesque-type typeface is used for the main food feature, being “4 Ways with Rosemary”. As it is an ingredient, it is not visible in the food shots, other than in its subtle use in the styling. The information about each of the four recipes in respect of baking time and the number of persons that the recipe serves is barely readable. This food feature is nowhere as yummy as the Lindt chocolate one was in the previous issue.
13. David Cope’s “The Foodie” page looks much better than in Crush2!, and has some brand carry-over from his blog with the red tablecloth. The “Midlands roadtripping” story has little interest to the mainly Cape Town readers. There are tiny links at the bottom of the page that are barely visible, being so small.
14. On the “Fresh Summer Food” one dish for Thai prawn cakes can be seen, yet a flash highlights ‘five delicious recipes’. When one clicks onto that flash, it just enlarges it, and does not reveal the other four recipes.
15. The feature on The Kitchen restaurant has a collection of photographs to the left, but one cannot see that they are linked to the restaurant story.
16. The endlessly long “We love Real Beer” feature is blocked by yet another subscription sign-up block!
The design team clearly still tries too hard, making Crush! off-putting to read. It is also too hard-sell, in pushing its free subscription (most readers would not be reading the magazine if they had not subscribed to it)! Pushing its competitions at the expense of its own features or of advertisers’ brands is off-putting too, and reduces the value of their brands. Our invitation to Michael to comment, issued in each of our reviews, still stands. To read Crush!3, click here. (page 1 of the magazine has not been loading for a week now).
POSTSCRIPT 17/10: We are shocked that Michael Olivier, as editor of Crush!, can endorse a malicious campaign against us on Twitter as of last night, born out of a dinner of the Crush! editorial team, which included Michael Olivier, Sophia Lindop, Andy Fenner (Jamie Who?) and David Cope, in reaction to our three reviews of Crush!. The driver of the campaign appears to be David Cope (the so-called ‘The Foodie’). This is a most childish and unprofessional reaction, that one would not have expected from the once highly regarded Michael Olivier.
POSTSCRIPT 18/10: David Cope has taken great exception to having been outed, and is now hurling abuse at this writer via e-mail. Surprisingly Michael Olivier has done nothing to protect his honour and that of his publication. His broken page 1 has also not been fixed.
POSTSCRIPT 4/11: Andy Fenner (JamieWho?) has announced his exit from Crush! He bases the decision on a collaboration with Woolworths, which has just been signed. He may be smart in using this as a way out of Crush! to save his reputation, as he was part of the Crush! editorial team that launched the Twitter smear campaign, and is David Cope’s best friend.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
Thursday 2nd September 2010 - Posted by Chris von Ulmenstein
Yesterday was a day of reckoning for the bloggers of South Africa, who had been judged by a committee of three, and voted for by their fans, in making the short-list of ten finalists in 25 categories of the S A Blog Awards. We are delighted to have been selected as a Finalist in the Most Controversial Blog category, and thank our loyal blog readers, friends, commenters, and Twitter followers for their votes in making the Finalist selection possible.
Now we are like Idols contestants, in that we please request your vote for our Blog, to win in the category (there is no prize, other than a badge that goes onto the blog). The Most Controversial Blog category is quite far down the list, and you need to please click on our blog name to vote, and then to scroll down to the bottom of the list, to enter your e-mail address. You are allowed to vote for us every 24 hours, per e-mail address, until the competition closes on 17 September.
The Whale Cottage Blog had been nominated in a number of categories, including Best Food & Wine Blog, Best Blog Post, Most Controversial Blog and Best Travel Blog. Being a unique blog that does not fit fully into any specific category (e.g. Food, Travel), we were delighted to have made the finals (somehow we never got to enter last year). The Most Controversial Blog category is a new one introduced this year, and it seemed to suit us ideally! If we have created a unique identity for our blog, it has been to be ”independent * incisive * informative”, and it is described as being controversial, due to our lack of fear to write the truth, no matter the consequences.
We are in excellent company in this category, with 2Oceansvibe being a fellow finalist – last year its editor ‘Seth Rotherham’ won almost every category in the Blog Awards, and his blog became the benchmark for many of us (this year a blog can only be nominated in two categories). The rest of the Finalists’ list is a little more dubious, sex and swearing broadly summarising the content of the other blogs in the Most Controversial Blog category.
The WhaleTales newsletter has been distributed for the past nine years, and has been the foundation of our writing about controversial issues. It has not always been easy to be outspoken, in that we have experienced the following:
* being told to not come back to the Opal Lounge, due to an unfavourable review that we wrote (in fact the instruction to not return was issued telephonically by the co-owner before the review was written and published)
* being escorted out of Beluga by the police during a invited lunch for members of an association of guest house owners in Camps Bay, of which I am the chairman, because sister restaurant Sevruga received a Sour Service Award on this blog for a Cape Times book launch lunch, which the restaurant handled poorly, both food and service-wise
* being threatened with legal action when we tackled Carne about falsely claiming that all its beef, lamb and game served comes from its Karoo farm and is organic, our most controversial blog post in the two year history of blog-writing. This blog post was nominated for Best Blog Post. The Carne blog post, and its follow up, took investigative journalism of the bravest kind, in obtaining documentation from the suppliers of the meat, and in obtaining (by luck) a telephonic admission by a supplier of meat to Carne, resulting in Carne withdrawing its legal threat, declaring the matter closed, and taking the dishonest claim off their website.
* being on the receiving end of FEDHASA Cape’s attempt to cancel our membership, which resulted in my resignation as a Director of the hotel old-boys’ club, when I wrote about the dangers of small accommodation establishments signing with FIFA’s MATCH for the World Cup, over the past five years. My views about MATCH were not in line with the hotel interests which dominated the FEDHASA Cape Board, and Nils Heckscher, GM of the Winchester Mansions, tried his best to get me off the Board. Ultimately, we were vindicated in our advice when MATCH cancelled the bulk of its booked small and hotel accommodation throughout South Africa, the Winchester Mansions being one of the hotels badly hit by the cancellation of booked rooms by MATCH.
* being threatened with legal action by the Cape Whale Coast DMO, after our blog post of 28 December 2009 raised questions about the conflict of interest created by Clinton Lerm being the Chairman of the Hermanus Tourism Bureau and of the DMO. Nothing has come of this threat to date. Yesterday we published a follow-up story on the DMO’s lack of transparency.
* writing critical restaurant reviews, without “white-washing” them
* awarding Sweet and Sour Service Awards on the blog every Friday.
We would also like to recommend the following blogging friends and colleagues, for your vote:
* Food & Wine Blog category: Cooksister (Jeanne Horak-Druiff), My-Easy-Cooking (Nina Timm), JamieWho? (Andy Fenner) and The Foodie (David Cope) (all of last year’s finalists have dropped out of this category, other than Cooksister and My-Easy-Cooking)
* Best Travel Blog category: SA Venues and Cape Town Travel (Cape Town Tourism)
* Best Twitter Microblogger category: Relax-with-Dax, Gus Silber, and Spit or Swallow
We thank you for your support and your votes.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
Friday 30th July 2010 - Posted by Chris von Ulmenstein
Oskar’s Delikatessen (their spelling, and comes from the name the co-owner wants to call her son one day, and is a play on words with “Os-kar”, or “ossewa”, as ox wagons were used as there never was a railway line in Hermanus, but it had a railway station) opened in Hermanus about a year ago, on a site that was previously the public library, in the new Quarters Hotel building. It is a cosy and homely eatery, but has a most unwelcoming co-owner and incompetent service, which will not stand it in good stead to develop a loyal custom.
I arrived whilst the young co-owner was on the phone, chewing gum (an absolute no-no in my book). She ignored me completely, as did the waitress. While I waited I took some interior shots, and that made the waitress bring a menu. I ordered a cappuccino, water and a scrambled egg and bacon, requesting a pumpkin seed roll to be replaced with a rye bread toast, and the exclusion of creme fraiche (R38). The water was brought in an unusual Oskar’s-branded water bottle, with a straw, a nice touch, except that the bottle’s head is too narrow to take ice, so it was not served cold, as requested. The cappuccino was very milky and weak.
The preparation area is open to the seating section, which is not very large, with a central wooden table seating about eight, and wooden tables against the window to the street, and the back wall. My table was against the back wall, with a mirror above it, which had not been cleaned for a while. Sweet treats are displayed in bell jars on counters separating the seating and food preparation areas, and the cupcakes, rusks, feta and apple tarts, and the other treats, were beautifully presented. I noticed that each of the seven ceiling lamps was different, a design quirk. Orchid stems in little glass containers are on the tables.
While waiting for the egg, I asked the co-owner for some take-aways for my staff, specifying what I wanted and the quantity. She could not remember any of what I asked her, partly due to the loud music in the Deli. I must have shown my irritation with the poor service, because Illana, the co-owner, came to sit with me, giving me the third degree, as to who I am, why I was there, who I write for and why I was taking photographs – “I am not looking for a headmaster’s report and to be critiqued” she told me. She felt that I should have asked her permission to write a review and to take photographs. I know her mother Sanmarie, a fellow guest house owner in Hermanus, and I have been to Oskar’s before. She then asked me where she would be able to read my “horrible” review.
My first egg dish arrived with the pumpkin seed roll, the second came with the rye bread toast but was served cold, probably not re-made when the bread was changed (I was asked by the co-owner “So how warm did you want the egg to be?!”), and the third attempt was fine in that the bread was correct and the egg was warm, but it was a very disappointing runny egg. I liked the sprinkling of poppy seed over the scrambled egg, but could not taste it.
One can order nine shakes, with some creative creations available – Lindt Chocolate, Chocolate Chip Cookie – ranging in price from R 25 – R 30. What I loved about the Oskar’s Deli menu is the ability for one to tailor-make one’s meal, in terms of choices offered, and also saving on costs if one does not like a particular item or ingredient. For example, one can order a muffin for R15, and pay R5 for butter, R3 for strawberry jam, R5 for cream and R7 for cheese. Pies (spinach and Danish feta, and Chicken, cost R 15, and Lamb and rosemary R20) can be ordered as is, or with a side salad at R15, gravy (R8) and/or roasted vegetables (R15). Salads cost R 40 for a basic fruit, feta, pecan nuts, onion, tomato, rocket, baby spinach, seeds and sprouts, and to this can be added extras such as avocado (R6) or black forest ham, salmon or roasted vegetables, each costing R15. The base pasta is tagliatelle, basil pesto, lemon, Danish feta and pumpkin seeds, to which salmon, black forest ham and/or roasted vegetables can be added, at R15 each.
But it is the sandwich list that looks most interesting, the base being baguettes, seed rolls, bagels, rye bread etc, on which wonderful fillings are served – e.g. Danish feta, Italian salami, sundried tomato and basil pesto; Haloumi cheese and rocket; smoked salmon, cream cheese, lemon juice and rocket; bacon, Brie and rocket; Emmental cheese, Gypsy ham, basil pesto, mayonnaise, seeds and sprouts - each costing around R35.
I won’t be back at Oskar’s Delikatessen in a great hurry – at least not for a cooked meal. Perhaps they are best at sandwiches and sweet treats. The young co-owner needs to learn how to deal with customers, and to bite her tongue.
Oskar’s Delikatessen, 5 Harbour Road, Hermanus. Tel (028) 313-0629. No website, Monday – Saturday
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
Monday 10th May 2010 - Posted by Chris von Ulmenstein
“Overture” is a musical term, meaning introduction to a musical piece. As a restaurant, Overture has been operating on the Hidden Valley wine estate outside Stellenbosch for 2,5 years, and no longer needs to be introduced. With its owner and chef Bertus Basson, it has established itself as a most professional and passionate restaurant, which has made it on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list for the last two years.
To receive an invitation to a lunch at Overture is a treat – to spend 2,5 hours hours with Bertus Basson enjoying his restaurant’s lunch with him was an absolute privilege. It was my fourth visit to Overture, having enjoyed each of our lunches in the past.
As I drove to the Hidden Valley Estate, well hidden at the end of a road that takes one past Ernie Els wines outside Stellenbosch, not far from another Eat Out Top 10 restaurant, Rust en Vrede, I had to think back how negative Rossouw’s Restaurants was about the road to Overture when JP Rossouw first reviewed it. It is no problem to drive at all, unless JP has a fear of heights. All is forgiven, Rossouw has been back, and now he has included Overture as one of his select top-rated 3-star restaurants.
Bertus and I started talking about the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, which placed Overture and Le Quartier Francais’ Tasting Room at joint 10th position, an unprecedented occurrence in the history of the Eat Out awards, and which attracted a huge degree of criticism. Basson admits that he was extremely angry, using an unrepeatable word. He consoled himself by saying that at least he was in good company with Le Quartier Francais’ chef Margot Janse. Whilst he said he did not need to rethink his restaurant as a result of this ranking, he did make one immediate change – that was to start buying imported products, e.g. scallops, salmon, truffles, and foie gras, because the imported products offered a better range, and the service delivery from the importers suited his needs better, says Basson. Prior to this Basson had been ‘proudly South African’ in terms of sourcing his ingredients. Recently Basson has thrown out the clipboard menu holder, and changed to a beautiful brown leather holder for each of the winelist, and the daily menu, the latter which changes daily.
Bertus Basson is a character – for years he sported a Mohican, but he has grown his hair, and now hides it underneath a grey ‘Andy Capp’ cap. He had stopped smoking earlier in the week, and was really chuffed about this victory. The restaurant has added new round tables, for tables for two, and added beautiful white table cloths and serviettes. Bertus talks and talks, and he reflects confidence in his product and his staff, without ever sounding like he is bragging. He has found his niche, yet he never takes his restaurant’s success for granted. He often arrives at work, he says, and radically changes something about it – the winelist, a dish is added or removed, constantly reinventing the restaurant, believing that evolution is necessary for all restaurants.
We discuss the plethora of food blogs and restaurant websites, and he is critical of some, and complimentary of most. He says he reads Eat Out, Food24, JamieWho, Kim Maxwell, Tony Jackman, Michael Olivier and WhaleTales regularly, to stay up to date about what is being written about restaurants. While he wants to make sure that any mentions of Overture are positive, and he wants to learn more about his restaurant colleagues through these websites, he says that he does not care about reviews, because the success of his restaurant is purely measured by his bookings book. The summer season has been very good, mostly sold out, and so far the ‘green season’ has been better than last year.
One of his favourite restaurants is Restaurant Christophe (its foie gras in particular – read our review), and he raves about George Jardine’s new restaurant at Jordan, both in Stellenbosch.
At Overture a three course meal costs R 265, 4 courses R 315, 5 courses R 375, and 8 courses R 470. Pairing the courses to recommended wines costs extra. Each portion is roughly the same size, so that there is no differentiation between the size of a starter or a main course. In total, ten menu options are offered. The wine list has a choice of reasonably priced Hidden Valley and Lands End wines, which come from the wine estate, but Overture also offers a small collection of four Cap Classiques/champagnes, white and red wines, and dessert wines each. A special 4-course winter lunch menu is available at R 200, Tuesdays – Fridays.
We were spoilt by being served by the Maitre’d Kris van Zyl and the sommelier Kris Snyman. An amuse bouche was brought to the table on a wooden board, with a selection of coppa ham, sweet cream and onion, parmesan cheese straws, garlic aioli, and caviar salt. An olive roll was served with this, as was a refreshing glass of Graham Beck Brut Rose. A glass of Jordan Unwooded Chardonnay accompanied the first course, which was my favourite dish of the meal: cured salmon and kingklip terrine, a beautiful pink/white wheel, oyster beignet, and seared scallop in a sweetcorn and vanilla sauce. Tagliatelle, basil pesto, buffalo ridge mozarella and smoked aubergine puree, a symphony in green, was served with Aeternitas Blanc, a garagiste wine made by the Kanu winemaker after hours in his garage in the Strand. A matured entrecote with turnips and pomme fondant was paired with the Hidden Valley Gems, a Bordeaux style blend. When the dessert of chocolate torte, banana and banana sorbet was served, the sommelier brought two massive bottles of Bottega Chocolate Grappa, offering us a choice in white chocolate or dark chocolate. The glass bottles look less like alcoholic containers, and more like those for shampoo, and become a talking point at the table close by, being so unusual.
Our coffees were served with a collection of jugs, containing a most unusual vanilla syrup, grappa, and cardomon syrup, which one can add to one’s coffee, a nice touch. The ‘real’ Bertus came to the fore over coffee, and he talks almost emotionally about the new ‘addition to his family’, Patat his dog. One can hear the love for his pet when he speaks. He emphasises that Overture is family friendly, and he and his team will gladly prepare meals suitable for young guests.
I left Overture impressed with the slick operation which Bertus and his team runs. His staff appear happy, despite his reputation of being a tough boss, but he needs the best staff, to stay at the top. He sources the best products, and he has his hand firmly on his restaurant’s pulse, and is mostly in the kitchen himself. If there was anything to recommend, then it is to the Manager Kris to look a little less serious, and to smile more. I also found it hard to understand him explaining the elements of each dish, but was allowed to take the menu with me, to save me from having to write it all down. I know I will return to Overture regularly, and that Bertus and his team deserve better than joint 10th in this year’s Eat Out Top 10 restaurant awards list!
Overture Restaurant, Hidden Valley Wine Estate, Annandale Road, off R 44, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 880-2721. www.dineatoverture.co.za (the website is not very helpful, with barely any information, and an outdated menu of 12 March). Open for lunch Tuesdays – Sundays, and for dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings. On the Stellenbosch Restaurant Route.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com