Entries tagged with “SARS”.


Stellenbosch Municipality logoThe Sweet Service Award goes to the Stellenbosch Municipality, and its new Free Wifi service in Franschhoek.  While it is not sure how far its reach is, it was a pleasant surprise in getting something back from the municipality.  One suspects that the core router is in the municipal offices next to the Town Hall.

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Department of Home Affairs ID bookThe Sweet Service Award goes to the Department of Home Affairs in Barrack Street, which I had to deal with to replace my ID book after my handbag was stolen at the Nap coffee shop in the Cape Quarter in January.   I had not been in the building for many years, and was impressed that they supply SARS-style metal seating, which I did not recall, one having to stand in the past.  I was fortunate to have decided to go in the afternoon, so that I only had to wait for 90 minutes to have my queue number called. Luckily one has an ID book for a lifetime, and therefore one seldom has to enter the Department’s building a second time!  I was impressed with the efficiency of the staff behind the counters, and then noticed how much faster they worked, the closer it got to closing time at 16h00, hearing them mutter that the queue number issuer was still letting in people close to their closing time.  I was told that the ID book would take about 8 weeks to arrive, and was more than delighted when I received the sms to collect it after only 3 weeks. I only arrived at 15h00 on a Friday afternoon, and it took only 20 minutes waiting time to collect the ID book!  Perhaps this efficiency had to do with the registration for the upcoming General Elections! (more…)

My CiTi Bus imagesA hard-hitting Open Letter to Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and Councillor Brett Herron was published in the Letters page of the Cape Times last week, and echoes many of our observations about the failure of the MyCiTi Bus service on the city centre and Camps Bay routes.  The newspaper also published a defensive response from Councillor Brett Herron, Mayoral Committee member for Transport and ultimately responsible for the city’s public transport service.

Emiritus Professor of Forensics at UCT Deon Knobel, a respected pathologist and lecturer, has observed, as have we (we have Tweeted this regularly) that the MyCiTi Buses travelling in Camps Bay and along Kloof Street are still close to empty three months after the inception of the routes.  Our blogpost after a trial trip from Camps Bay to the Silo section (previously called the Clocktower) of the V&A Waterfront highlighted that the trip took too long (90 minutes one way), and that commuters who wanted to get onto the bus did not have a MyCiTi Bus card with which to pay for their trip.  Extensive queues are still seen in Camps Bay, waiting for taxis, despite the MyCiTi Bus charging next to nothing!

Professor Knobel’s letter documented his observations over the last month in Gardens, Kloof Street, Kloofnek Road, and Camps Bay that not one of the MyCiTi Buses had ‘more than five or six passengers in the bus, and not infrequently no more than three or four. One bus even carried the amazing figure of one passenger’.  In addition, he had observe eight ‘virtually empty‘ buses on the N2 highway, returning to the city from the airport.  Given the poor occupancy of the MyCiTi Buses, Professor Knobel asked De Lille and Herron the following questions: (more…)

Episode 2 of MasterChef SA was boring, long and drawn out, a continuation of Tuesday’s Hot Auditions held in Johannesburg. The episode was characterised by tears, two references to parents passing away, and lots of happy hugging of the judges by the lucky winners of the white aprons, entitling them to attend Bootcamp.  The contestants were less characterful and impressive than those of Tuesday evening.

The episode was inconsistent, showing some contestants winning the apron, without their names being revealed. and almost no motivation provided as to why the judges chose them.  It is a shame too that some of the contestants’ friends and colleagues (e.g. of Shannon Smuts) Tweeted about her performance all day, making the outcome pretty certain, this taking away some of the surprise.  Generally it was a long drawn out episode, with the repetition of food preparation in 45 minutes, plating in 5 minutes, and then seeing the judges stuffing themselves, almost having a bun fight over a custard!  The mention of a parent having passed away by two contestants, one mentioning it twice to the camera, was seen by Tweeters to be overdone, and begging for a sympathy vote!

Based on the same principle of highlighting those contestants which received the most screen time last night, we predict that the following will go through to Nederburg, if they survive Bootcamp next week:

1.   Tiron Eloff works at a video store, which may be sold due to the tough times, which will allow him to become a professional chef. He said that he had paid so much attention to other people in his life, and that it was time to focus on himself now. He prepared a rare grilled hanger steak, which Chef Pete was sceptical about, it being a difficult cut of meat to do well, and which Tiron admitted to only having prepared once before, and having overcooked it then!  His jus was made with sugar, port, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  He looked extremely nervous whilst the judges sampled his food.  Chef Pete reiterated that it was a challenging piece of meat, and that it may not have been a good idea to try to make it on such an important occasion, but that it had turned out perfectly.  He was supported by Chef Andrew, who praised the steak and its perfect seasoning. Twitter: @TironEloff

2. Mary was a Latin American dancer and now is a stay-at-home mom, so the judges were playing with words when they provided the feedback, saying she needed to put her best foot forward and learn the steps of cooking, Chef Pete saying he wanted to see her dance some more. Chef Benny loved her dish of gnocchi, prawns, chorizo, and cherry tomatoes, while Chef Pete said that the individual pieces were too large.

3.   Bubbly twenty year old Linda (called Monkey). with a hint of pink in her hair, went ape when she was selected, making a three course meal, including a Thai Trio, which Chef Andrew rejected on the basis of its overpowering sauce and dry noodles.  However, Chef Pete liked the dish, but warned her that she should have focused on one dish only.  Chef Benny also gave her a ‘Yes’, and she hugged the judges, jumping for joy.

4. Tumi works for SARS, and said that he has a passion for cooking, which he does at home, spoiling his wife.  He prepared a Seafood Fettucini, praised by all three judges for being perfect home-made pasta. Chef Pete was disappointed that it wasn’t lunchtime yet, as he could have finished the whole dish!

5. Gershwin expressed his love for cooking and prepared a medium rare beef fillet with watercress. Chef Benny rejected his dish, for having no salt and pepper, fundamental seasoning he said, but he did praise the ’4 star restaurant plating’ of his dish.  But Chefs Pete and Andrew allowed him to go through, as he had executed a safe and classic dish well.

6.  Karen Els is a stay at home mom from KwaZulu-Natal, and she was ecstatic when she received her apron, loving her cooking more than her husband and children, she admitted in her joy.  She said it is her time to shine, and described the making and presentation of food as an ‘art form’. She prepared a waterblommetjie-stuffed ostrich dish, served with cous cous.  Chefs Benny and Andrew gave her dish the go-ahead, which resulted in a flood of tears.  Twitter: @kelsfoodie

7.   Alistair works at Nedbank (as does Season 1 winner Deena Naidoo) and is a third year student in Musicology he said. He mentioned twice that his mother had just passed away, and cried as he entered the judging arena, being very emotional.  His mother had always urged him to do the best, and to win.  He did say that he was happy to be at the Hot Audition.  He prepared an Asian-style Seared Tuna, Chef Pete praising its flavours having been drawn out well, and Chef Benny gave him a thumbs-up too.

8. Khumo Twala made a Sticky Toffee pudding, with a custard which the three judges were fighting over to finish.  No further information was provided about her, but she received her apron for Bootcamp.  Twitter: @Simply_khumski

9.   Pashi from Durban is a marketer, and also lost his father recently, and now supports his family.  He wants to change career direction and cook full-time, realising that he can earn money from it. His Crayfish and Mussels dish, made with a Thai massaman curry sauce, was well received for its delicate touch and lovely flavours, earning him an apron.  Twitter: @Pashi187

10.   Rowan from Durban said he has been cooking since the age of 12, and made a Moroccan chicken fillet. Chef Pete did not like it at all, saying it was as dry as the desert in Morocco. Chefs Benny and Andrew said the chicken was a little dry, but that the sauce picked up the dish, giving him an apron.

11.  Shannon Smuts is a graphic designer at Good Housekeeping magazine in Cape Town, and when asked what she wants from the programme, she confidently answered that she wants her own cooking TV show and a cook book!  She has a huge Twitter fan club already!  She has lived in Thailand, and made Thai curry parcels with a self-made curry paste. Chef Pete did not like the dish for having too much pastry, but the other two judges liked the crispness of the pastry and the taste of the paste. She jumped for joy too, and hugged all three the judges!  Twitter: @Shananigems

There seemed to be far more non-sponsor advertisements last night compared to Tuesday evening, and they dominated the sponsor presence: Ariel (a surprise), Spur, FNB, Scooters, Stanlib, Cell C, Spar, ESKOM, and Samsung.

For an overview of what is lying ahead for Season 2 read here. For behind the scenes information on the filming of Season 2 in January read here.   We want to clarify that M-Net has a strict procedure for interviewing contestants, all writers having to obtain permission from their PR Manager Ingrid Engelbrecht upfront.  The condition is that all writers have to submit their story to Ms Engelbrecht for approval and sometimes minimal editing before being allowed to publish it. We have agreed to follow this rule, so that we can have the opportunity to write stories about the contestants during the course of season 2.  This appears to be an unusual procedure relative to other food reality TV shows, especially as we signed a confidentiality agreement before attending the Media Day.  This rule only applies to contestant interviews, and in no way affects writing a summary of each episode such as this one.

Next week’s episodes will focus on the Bootcamp, and are likely to be far more exciting that the first two episodes.  They will also be an opportunity to get to know some of the Finalists better, and to see how they cope under pressure.  If this week is anything to go by, we are in for a lot more tears (especially from the men it would appear!) in the next 12 weeks to come!

MasterChef SA Season 2. Tuesdays and Wednesdays 19h30 – 20h30. www.masterchefsa.dstv.com Twitter: @MasterChef_SA

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

A long overdue visit to Bistrot Bizerca in its new location  in Heritage Square was a surprise, both as it clearly is popular even on a rainy weekday evening, and because it does not live up to the expectations of a Bistro, despite having been recognised as Cape Town’s and South Africa’s Best Bistro on a number of occasions by Eat Out.

Eat Out itself appears uncertain as to whether Bizerca is a Bistro or a restaurant, having included the restaurant on its Top 20 Restaurant Finalist list in past years, as well as awarded it the Best Bistro Award as a stand-alone award on at least two occasions.  Wikipedia offers the following definition:  “A bistro (/ˈbiːstrəʊ/), sometimes spelled bistrot, is, in its original Parisian incarnation, a small restaurant serving moderately priced simple meals in a modest setting. Bistros are defined mostly by the foods they serve. French home-style cooking with robust earthy dishes, and slow-cooked foods like cassoulet, a bean stew, are typical”.  This is echoed in Larousse Gastronomique, simply describing it as ‘a bar or small restaurant’.   On the basis of these definitions, it is clear that Bizerca is not a Bistro, not being small, not having or being a bar, not serving much ‘French home-style cooking’ nor ‘moderately priced‘ dishes.

Bizerca (as it called itself when it first opened) opened in a most unattractive difficult-to-find motor car showroom-type building near SARS six years ago, and moved to its new attractively renovated home in the space previously occupied by Gourmet Burger on Shortmarket Street, which was closed down with sister restaurant Caveau by the bank in October.   We went to the old location twice, the first time charmed by the fantastic service from co-owner Cyrillia, with her husband Chef Laurent Deslandes in the kitchen.  Both were absent on a next visit, and the rude manager switched us off from returning.  We were delighted to hear that he was not part of the move across to the new venue.

The restaurant can seat 60 inside and 60 in the courtyard.  Tables are placed very close together, but on the cold evening it gave a very cosy atmosphere, but also made the room almost unbearably hot.  The colour scheme appears to be black and white, judging by the mix of chairs, the light box on the centre passage ceiling, the winelist cover, contrasted with grey painted walls, raw brick work on some walls, white lampshades, white napery, and then a surprise orange pepper on each table.  A surprise is the coloured design of the menu cover, and the strong green tops the waitresses wear and the strong pink of the waiters’ tops, not matching the black and white theme.  Tables have white table cloths with a sheet of paper over them in Mediterranean style, and white material serviettes have an embroidered butterfly, which again does not match the almost pop-art decor theme. Cutlery is by Arthur Krupp, but is too small for some of the plates, sliding onto the base of the plate.  Coarse salt and ground black pepper are in little jars with lids. Unimpressive bread rolls are brought to the table in a wire basket.

One is handed a scruffy looking menu with the winelist to follow, each with a plastic cover, and well-worn loose typed pages inside.  The menu contains a welcome from Laurent and Cyrilla and an explanation of the name of their restaurant, followed by a selection of their signature dishes, including oysters with a Cape gooseberry dressing (four for R72, 6 for R105);  I had the ‘duo of patés and rillettes‘, odd using the paté plural as it was one piece, with cornichon (gherkin) and pickled pear with an abundance of rocket, the pear probably being the best part of this starter, the rillettes being very salty (R65); raw Norwegian salmon salad with goat’s cheese, and a soy ginger and echalote (shallot) dressing, available in three portion sizes (R75, R125, R150), and a Chalmar beef tartare served with pommes gaufrette (crispy fried potato wafers). The signature main courses are Karoo lamb stew with sauteed vegetables and gremolata (chopped parsley, grated lemon rind, and garlic mix), costing R135; the braised veal shoulder served with carrots and asparagus, prune chutney, and a very generous broth of rosemary jus (R145) was my main course, the chutney being the most tasty part of the dish, the veal being very bland.  Desserts (R50 – R60) offered were the apple tart and fine caramel ice cream (on the menu since the beginning), which requires a 45 minute preparation time, best ordered with one’s other dishes; a granny smith apple sorbet with Calvados; and a delicious and striking Valrhona soft centre chocolate pudding, a white chocolate crème brûlée (usually a caramelised custard and tasted as such, but described on the menu as containing white chocolate), and a raspberry sorbet; and a cheese platter.  The Deluxe cappuccino was excellent.

A blackboard contains a greater selection of dishes and probably is designed to give more of a Bistro feel. The starters cost around R75, and were an organic tomato salad with fiore de latte and gazpacho sorbet; caramelised sweetbreads with porcini, parmesan, and a fennel sauce; a duo of yellowtail, avocado, wasabi, ginger and a papaya salad; braised oxtail stuffed brioche, pickled cucumber, green salsa, and bordelaise sauce; and a good lentil and duck minestrone a la Bizerca with confit duck alumet (described by the waiter as a puff pastry, but not found via Google or in Larousse Gastronomique), but was sans rice or pasta.  My son’s main course of grilled beef fillet with fresh porcini, brussel sprout croquettes, broccollini, and bercy sauce (a shallot wine sauce) was the best choice of our table of three, but pricey at R175.  Other main course options were a port pepper beef cheek, served with spätzle (the waiter forgot to bring it to the table), rhubarb chutney, and mixed organic carrots (R145); duo of springbok shank and impala loin served with sweet potato puree, spinach, roast plum, and a cognac sauce (R185); and a panfried fillet of kabeljou, potato gnocchi, green beans, broad beans, cherry tomatoes, and a tarragon sauce (R145).  The only dessert on the board was a praline cheese cake with confit figs.

The wine list contains a number of options of local as well as some French wines. BYO costs R50 for wines and R80 for sparkling wine, and is restricted to one bottle per table.  Tacky is the hand changed vintages on the winelist.  Champagnes offered are Taittinger Brut (R100 per glass and R595 per bottle) and the Rosé (R129/R775), Billecart Salmon Rose (R1420), Taittinger Comptes de Champagne Blanc 2000 (R1996) and its 2004 Rosé (R3753).  Villiera Brut (R45/R180), and its Rosé (R47/R190), as well as Silverthorn Cap Classique Jewel Box (R72/R365) are also offered.  Shiraz options include a 2010 Andreas (R235), 2008 Tamboerskloof (R230), 2009 Zevensorg (R150), and 2010 Vins D’Orrance Cuvee Ameena (R300). French white wines range from R210 for Tavel Le Viognier to R622 for De Ladoucette Pouilly Fume; French red wines are available from R325 for Guigal Cote du Rhone to R 710 for Andre Perret St Joseph.

I am sure that it would have been a different experience had Cyrilla been at the restaurant (she seems to be there in the day and very early evening in the main).  The front of house lady just ticked us off her list on arrival and showed us the table, and came at the end to check that we had enjoyed our meal, organising the bill.  There was no one to check on our well-being at any stage of the evening, the waiters not even requesting feedback.  Another waiter (not assigned to our table) wanted to remove a plate but did not ask, just gesticulating with a hand movement, and then left the plates on the table anyway. A lucky touch was having Thepo as our waiter, who remembered me from Cafe Extrablatt when I had done their review, having left them to return to Bizerca.  If the customers of Bizerca are a reflection of the restaurant’s popularity and standing, then the presence of Chef Rudi Liebenberg from Planet Restaurant and winemaker Bruwer Raats on the same evening endorse this. Wine whiner Neil Pendock likes it too, as does Mariette du Toit-Helmbold, who appears to like splashing her seemingly generous Cape Town Tourism CEO entertainment allowance on lunches with friends!

Overall, it is hard to see how Bistrot Bizerca can have been awarded the Best Bistro Award, given that it is not a Bistro, nor how it has made the Eat Out Top 20 Restaurant Finalist list, not offering anything extraordinary in terms of its cuisine nor service!  It is a cosy comfortable expensive comfort food restaurant, that uses some French terms to give it a French feel.  As its PR consultant Ian Manley wrote: The Bistrot Bizerca space is quintessentially Cape Town with the added advantage of Chef Laurent’s French cuisine!’

POSTSCRIPT 19/3: Bistrot Bizerca appears to be in liquidation.

Bistrot Bizerca, Heritage Square, 98 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 423-8888.  www.bizerca.com Twitter: @BizercaBistro  Monday – Friday lunch and dinner, Monday – Saturday dinner. Bookings only.

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

On the day that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan presented South Africa’s mid-term budget in Parliament, and announced that SARS revenue collected is R5 billion less, and is unlikely to grow next year, Minister Alan Winde closed the Wesgro AGM with refreshing honesty, and said that the Finance Minister’s speech meant that provinces would receive the same allocation as the current financial year, meaning a lower buying power next year due to cost increases.  He also said that currently South Africa is lacking leadership, and is not projecting the right image to the outside world, given the strike of the SA Transport and Allied Worker’s Union, the Marikana massacre, and the capsizing of the Miroshga off Hout Bay.

Minister Winde’s sombre closure of the AGM reflecting the tough trading conditions which the Western Cape businesses can expect for the next two years, and which have already affected Wesgro’s performance in not meeting its top targets of Investment.  The Trade, Investment and (new) Tourism promotion body celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, and probably presented negative figures for the first time in many years.  It has an interesting method of setting targets, at a high and a low band.  In most measurements presented, Wesgro exceeded the ‘low road’, but did not meet the ‘high road’ budgets in its Investment and Trade Promotion divisions.  Wesgro Chairman Benjamin Kodisang started off the proceedings by also adding his negative view of the world, expressing that he is ‘a concerned man, who has never found the world in the situation it is in now, economically, socially, and politically’.  He challenged business persons in the Cape to ‘stand up, and be counted’, and to show leadership, as contained in Wesgro’s Vision of leading ‘the creation and promotion of a compelling global destination for investment, trade and destination marketing for the benefit of all people in the Western Cape’. Good news is that the Western Cape economic growth has outshone that of the national economy for the eleventh year running, with a growth rate of 3,1 % currently, driven largely by a 7% growth in exports, mainly of fruit.  Over a third of exports go to Asia, and one-quarter to Europe (of which one-fifth is wine).  R1,24 billion in Investment was attracted to the province in the past year, it was reported.  More than 1000 jobs were created in the same period.  The dominant export markets for the Western Cape remain the UK, France and Germany, but the West Africa Trade Corridor is gaining importance, in particular Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, and Côte d’Ivoire.  Angola has taken over from Mozambique as the province’s largest trade partner in Africa, said Nils Flaatten, Wesgro CEO.  Brazil, India and China, all BRICS countries, are important for partnerships to promote the economy of the Western Cape.  The United Nations Procurement Programme, incorporating our province as one of only three developing areas, is a bonus for the Western Cape.

In April Wesgro incorporated Cape Town Routes Unlimited, which no longer operates by that name, but which still has a Board in place until the Western Cape Tourism Act of 2004 has been repealed, likely to be in April 2013. The Wesgro Act is being amended too, to allow the organisation to adopt the role of tourism promotion too.  Deon Cloete, Chairman of the Cape Town Routes Unlimited Board, also painted a picture of a tough economy and the effect of the incorporation of the organisation into Wesgro, the contribution of conferences to the Western Cape economy having been R254 million instead of the projected R360 million, even though the number of conferences grew.  The 1,4 million tourist arrivals means an 8% decline, while spend by foreign tourists had declined by 16% to R18 billion, he said.  The province sold 26% of the national bednights, and the average spend per day on a trip was R1420.   Cloete warned of a ‘tough year’ ahead, despite the country’s most popular tourism destination, the V&A Waterfront, being in the Cape and having achieved 22 million visitors.  Minister Winde highlighted that 600 conferences and events had been held in the Western Cape in the past year.

Flaatten said that the vision going forward is to cross-sell the Western Cape in a three-prong Trade, Investment and Destination Marketing approach.

Embarrassing is the glowing write up in the Wesgro 2011-2012 Annual Report of Cape Town Tourism CEO and Wesgro Board member Mariette du Toit-Helmbold: ‘Under her  leadership Cape Town Tourism has won critical acclaim as a Visitor Services and Destination Marketing Organisation doing sterling work at the coal face of one of the country’s fastest growing industries’. The City of Cape Town clearly does not agree, having taken the responsibility of Destination Marketing away from Cape Town Tourism, announced at the Cape Town Tourism AGM just a week ago!

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

The national Department of Tourism has embarked on a welcome Tourism Service Excellence drive, and has released a draft document for comment from the industry until the end of February in developing a tourism service excellence standard and code, to enhance the tourist experience in South Africa.

The development of a ‘National Standard’ for Tourism Service Excellence by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) results from a 2008 National Tourism Skills Audit Report recommendation that customer care training in the tourism sector should be improved, when South Africa ranked 61st of 133 countries in The World Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of 2009, coupled with inconsistent service delivery in tourism, ranging from very poor to very good.  The reason for this was stated as being the lack of ‘integrated standards and norms that can be used as a guiding tool in terms of customer service’. To improve customer service, it was deemed necessary to develop a set of policies, guidelines and programmes, to ‘ensure a holistic approach and collective ownership’ for customer service, thereby improving service excellence throughout the tourism ‘value chain’.  Such a standard would be developed for all businesses which come into contact with tourists, including the Immigration officials (criticised in the past for their unfriendliness), transport services, accommodation establishments, financial institutions, shops, and any other businesses and authorities which deal with tourists when they make bookings for their trip, when they arrive, and interact with them during their stay.

‘South Africa should be seen as the country that offers the best service, diverse experience and value for money.  The overall purpose of this document is to emphasize the importance of the spirit of “Ubuntu” in ultimately achieving the vision of tourism growth and development in South Africa’, states the draft Service Standard document.

According to the Service Standard draft, tourism businesses would be required to support the principles of accessibility, accountability, accuracy, capacity building, commitment, consistency, continual improvement, courtesy, responsiveness, safety and security, value for money, and visible marketing in displaying the logo for the new Service Standard, in running their tourism businesses and operations.  It is not only written for South Africa, but incorporates neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, as if they are service extensions of our country’s tourism product.

The Service Standard document identifies government departments, as well as associations and groupings of tourism businesses which should adopt the service standard, and encourages its usage amongst its staff and members, including the Department of Home Affairs serving tourists on arrival and departure at airports; SA Tourism and the International Marketing Council in marketing the country; provincial tourism authorities; municipalities in providing visitor information services, signage, and infrastructure; telecommunication companies providing cellphone services; SARS for customs clearance; airports; the Banking Association; the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, the industry quality assessment body, not mentioning FEDHASA, the industry hotel association, and the guest house association; the Banking Association; the Restaurant Association of South Africa (although not all restaurants belong to it); the Tourism Business Council of South Africa; and shopping centres.

Tourism businesses are expected to introduce a quality policy, to make service their focal point, to train new staff in service, to offer friendly and professional service, and to review their quality and services regularly.  In running their tourism businesses, they are encouraged to focus on the following:

*   Product: it should offer quality, choices and alternatives, ensure that there is enough staff to assist the tourists (this is the biggest challenge to the tourism industry, and would require a complete work ethic culture change amongst staff), offer value for money (a very relative term), universal accessibility for the disabled, ensure the safety and security of their clients, ensure guest information confidentiality, be environmentally friendly in its operation, and not discriminate against any types of clients.

*   Service: should be friendly, professional, guest focused and driven, and offer an effective service recovery.

*   Marketing: should have a consistent message, be accurate, be updated regularly to create realistic expectations for tourists, be truthful and honest, and not be offensive.

Although written in an academic form, the draft National Service Excellence standard is an excellent step forward for tourism service excellence.  One is surprised that it has taken the Department of Tourism so long to work on the standard, and that it was not prepared in time for the 2010 World Cup.  Most (commercial) tourism businesses would argue that they already apply the principles of service excellence in running their businesses, our country receiving praise for its friendliness and for walking the extra mile, and that it should be the government departments and bigger corporates who have a secondary tourism involvement that should be adopting the new service standard.  The document contains a Tourism Service Excellence code for companies to use as a framework to design their own service excellence codes.  As with most such documents, it has not been widely exposed to the tourism industry in terms of the input and feedback the SABS is seeking.

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

Last week, taxing tips of waiters and other employees, who receive gratuities from customers for good service, was a hot topic on Twitter and other social media platforms, following the publishing of a clarification of the payment of tax on tips by SARS.  Legal views confirm that employers cannot deduct PAYE, the Skills Development Levy (SDL), and UIF from employee income generated from tips, but it also means that the tip income of employees cannot be used as a basis for pension and medical aid benefits.

Business Report wrote that “Waitrons can keep their hard earned tips for themselves and don’t have to worry about the tax man…  According to the last week’s ruling, the transfer of tips handed over to an employer by an employee for ‘safekeeping’ did not constitute a payment of remuneration”.  This view is based on the Group Tips Policy, by which staff pass on their tips to their employers for safe-keeping whilst they are working.  Legal firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr is quoted as saying that the Group Tips Policy sees tips “…as gratuitous payments to which the employees have no entitlement or an expectation of receipt as part of the performance of their duties”, and therefore should not be taxed.

Far more complex is an article by lawyer Stephan Spamer at ENS and candidate attorney Jonathan Sacks, writing on Moneyweb.co.za.    They write that the increased usage of credit cards by customers for safety reasons has led to a large percentage of tips being added to credit card payments, going to the employer instead of the employee.  The employer then has to transfer the tips to the employees.  According to the Fourth Schedule to the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962, ‘gross income’ includes ‘any amount received or accrued in respect of services rendered or to be rendered, including a voluntary award, as well as any amount received or accrued in respect of or by virtue of any employment’.  The lawyers argue that a ‘causal relationship’between payment received and the service provided must exist for that income to be defined as ‘gross income’.  On the basis of this relationship, the writers argue that the tip payment is part of gross income, and is therefore taxable, especially if the expectation at the time of appointment of the employee was to receive tips.  The article becomes confusing when the writers argue that the definition of ‘remuneration’, including ‘all payments and amounts payable, in cash or otherwise, whether or not for services rendered and includes salary and wages, leave pay, bonuses, gratuities, commissions, over time pay and other amounts paid for services rendered as well as allowances and advances’, is similar to that of ‘gross income, but that it does not mean that the employer must deduct the valid taxes and deductions.  They argue that it is not the employer paying the tip – in essence it is the customer paying it via the employer, who just holds the tip on the employees’ behalf, and therefore as this cannot be viewed as remuneration, no taxes and fees have to be deducted from the monies paid to employees.  Employees can, however, request in writing that the employer deduct PAYE to reduced their tax liability.  Given their conclusion that no tax is payable on tips by employees, the writers argue that no SDL and UIF is deductible either. 

Given the complexity and legality of this SARS Tip Tax ruling, we quote an extract of an article on Moneyweb, written by Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Employment Law Director Gillian Lumb and associate Pranisha Maharaj: :“The Binding Class Ruling: BCR 027 recently issued by Sars, declared that the transfer of tips (that were handed over to the employer by the employees for safekeeping in terms of the employer’s proposed Group Tips Policy) from the employer’s bank accounts into the employees’ bank accounts does not constitute a payment of remuneration by the employer as contemplated in paragraph 2(1) of the Fourth Schedule of the Income Tax Act. Essentially, this paragraph of the Act provides that an employer who pays or becomes liable to pay any remuneration to any employee must deduct or withhold employee’s tax from such payment. Binding Class Rulings are intended to promote clarity on the interpretation and application of the tax laws to a class of persons who apply for a ruling in respect of a proposed transaction to which it is a party. Accordingly, tips will not form part of the calculation of any benefit calculations for the employees’ remuneration packages, for example pension or medical aid.  The ruling is in line with the Sectoral Determination 14: Hospitality Sector, South Africa  which defines “remuneration” as ‘any payment in money or in kind, or both in money and in kind excluding any gratuity or gift received from a customer for service rendered”.

The new Tip Tax directive by SARS has been back-dated to August 2010, and covers the five year period from that date.  This raises the following questions:

*   Can employees that had PAYE, SDL and UIF deducted between August 2010 and July 2011 receive their tax and other deductions back, from the employer and/or SARS?

*   Can employers deduct the tip income that went through their credit card machines, and was therefore deposited into the business bank account, from their taxable income for the calculation of VAT and income tax?

Interestingly, yet not surprising, the hotel association FEDHASA has not officially published a guideline about this Tip Tax amendment for their hotel and restaurant members!   On Twitter, the FEDHASA Cape Director for the Restaurant sector, Rey Franco, wrote that tips received via credit card are taxable, and that only cash tips received by waiters directly are not taxable.  We believe that, in the light of the above, he is incorrect.

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

The Sweet Service Award  goes to the Western Cape provincial Minister of Tourism Alan Winde, for his responsiveness and willingness to be contacted.  On Twitter two days ago a tour operator requested the name of our provincial tourism minister.  I Tweeted his name and Twitter handle.  Minister Winde immediately wrote back, asking how he could be of assistance, and provided his e-mail address and cellphone number!  There are not many politicians that are so ‘customer friendly’. Minister Winde and our Western Cape Premier Helen Zille have both embraced Twitter.

The Sour Service Award  goes to SARS in Paarl, which is so understaffed that a queue of 50 had to stand and sit for 90 minutes outside on the pavement to get a number to wait inside the building to speak to one of only three staff on duty two weeks ago!   When I got to see one of the staff, I had two bank account changes and two VAT payments to make. Initially the lady told me that she may only handle three queries, and that I would have to go back to get another number for the fourth query, even if I had waited for 90 minutes to get to speak to her!  When I asked to see her manager, she agreed to deal with the fourth query.  Whilst two hours is an unproductive waste of time for working persons, it would have probably taken four hours at the Cape Town city centre branch.  SARS does not allow one’s accountants to do bank account changes anymore (one has to come in personally), and does not allow VAT to be paid via the printed form anymore, sent to companies for years, causing the queues. 

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.

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