Entries tagged with “vintages”.


I had read about What’s On Eatery on Watson Street in the city centre on Twitter, with Hennie Coetzee (@Batonage) and Maggie Mostert (@BlackDelilah) recommending the new restaurant highly.  I was welcomed warmly by co-owner Trever Jordaan from the minute I stepped into the restaurant, and I felt completely at home in the elegant interior that has been created in the double story building that once was Platinum restaurant.  What’s On’s promise is “Food l People l Passion”, with a ‘fusion of family & friends’, and this is what I experienced last Friday evening.  It offers very good value food (the starters and desserts in particular) and wines.

Watson Street connects Bree and Loop Street, one block from Buitensingel Street.  I found parking easily, and a canopy identifies the eatery, and what it stands for.  One enters the attractive light grey Deli and Breakfast space, which doubles up as the bar, with wines stored on shelves, and a glass counter containing salads, pies and sandwiches during the day, with croissants, cakes, pastries, and other sweet bakery treats available too.    Trevor led the way to the restaurant upstairs, and showed me the private dining room, which can be used for functions with up to 10 persons.  The restaurant has ten tables, and the walls are a stronger grey colour.  There are lovely wooden floors, interesting paintings by Joseph Lucaks, beautifully upholstered chairs, and wallpaper on some walls, all creating a warm, homely and elegant space.  One wall has quirky-shaped mirrors on it.   Trevor and his partner clearly have a good decor hand.  The highback chairs are attractive, and reminded me of those at La Mouette – in fact the hearty welcome was reminiscent of La Mouette when it first opened.  The light was soft, created with a mix of candles, lamps and modern downlighters.  The tables have a white table cloth, and the white serviette had a silver pattern running through it.  Glassware is good, the cutlery is by Maxwell Williams, and the food is served on white plates and bowls, some of them not holding the cutlery, in that they slide into the plate, a common restaurant problem.  A Woolworths salt and pepper grinder are on the table, as was a vase with real roses.   What made an impression in being so unusual yet clever was a card with “Thank You” lying on the serviette, continuing as follows: “…for sharing our dream…please spread the news to family & friends and join our facebook group on our website…”.

Trevor is a most amazingly warm person, who clearly loves people and his new restaurant.   He was hands-on throughout the evening, asking for feedback continuously.  He was receptive to hearing my opinion and suggestions, and I was impressed by his positive reception thereof, and his immediate implementation of changes.  He joined Twitter immediately and is planning to start a blog too.   Trevor was previously a guest house owner, and that is probably why we connected so well.   His goal is to make his guests feel at home, as if they are visiting his home, and he wants to get to know his guests better, as he does not want any ‘strangers’ in his home, he said.   Trevor’s partner and co-owner is Chris Mears, but is not involved in the running of the restaurant.   I was served by Nina, previously with Col’Cacchio in town, and she was friendly and looked attractively dressed in a white shirt and black slacks, with a branded apron from Vrede & Lust.  Uri from Jardine, which closed down at the end of February, now works at What’s On.   The chef is Kerin D’Offize, previously with the Foodlovers’ Market in Claremont and Harbour Rock in Hermanus. 

The menu, winelist and bill holders have the same blue-green cover, with branding in white.   The pages are neatly affixed to the cover, but can be easily removed when any pages have to be updated.   Nina brought  a plate of delicious freshly-baked olive bread to the table, which was more-ish.  I ordered the duck liver parfait, served with morello cherry sauce and garlic crostini (R40).  I felt that the garlic and parfait were fighting each other, the garlic being overpowering.   The cherry compote was an unusual but good marriage with the parfait.  Other starter options ranged in price from R35 – R 45, and included braised leek and gorgonzola tartlet, springbok bobotie spring rolls, smoorsnoek and feta crepes, black mussels, and baked camembert fondant.  Unusual is that all salads can be ordered in half-portions too, at R 40 – R60 per half portion, and R60 – R80 for a full portion, probably meant to be shared.   Interesting sounding salads are the rooibos-smoked chicken salad; steamed prawn and baby calamari salad; and biltong, mango and feta garden salad.    I was surprised when a complimentary wild mango, mint, melon and vanilla pod sorbet palate cleanser was served.  I loved the taste combination, and never eat mango usually.

The Beef Wellington main course I ordered had porcini mushrooms, garlic and bacon in the pastry casing, but no chicken liver paté (R135).    It was served in two halves, the fillet perfectly prepared medium rare as ordered, with roasted beetroot ‘chips’, mash and butternut.  It was served with a green peppercorn Bordelaise sauce, which I found too sharp and salty.  Other main course options are oxtail, line fish and calamari, confit of lamb rib, roulade of chicken and spinach, venison fillet, sole, rib eye steak, tiger prawns, ostrich burger, and a grilled wild mushroom risotto, ranging from R 85 – R145.   Side dishes are available at R15 each.  I didn’t have a dessert, but the options are a chocolate and hazelnut fondant, a trio of sorbet, crème brûlee, chocolate truffle and espresso tart, and honey and almond cheesecake served with basil and chilli ice cream, ranging in cost from R40 – R50.  I had a foamy cappucino (R17), made with Tribeca coffee, and I liked Trevor’s description of the foam looking like a meringue!

The winelist is introduced as follows: “This list has been prepared to showcase the very best wines to complement our culinary concept.  We constantly search and hand-pick the perfect selection of wines so that you, as our guest, experience ultimate wine and dining at What’s On”.   The list specifies the regions from which the wines come, but there are no vintages for most of the wines listed.   The wine-by-the-glass choice is restricted to one white and one red, and my recommendation to Trevor was to expand the selection.  I had a generous glass of Vrede & Lust’s Boet Erasmus Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot blend, at R45 a glass/R265 per bottle, and I was allowed to taste the wine first.   I am not one for blends usually, but this was an excellent wine.      The white wine-by-the-glass is Neil Ellis Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc (R35/R140).   Sparkling wines include Graham Beck Brut MCC (R185) and Boschendal Brut Rosé (R195).  Shiraz options are Brampton (R100), Graham Beck (R135) and Bernard Series Basket Press (R215).  A number of ‘cellar selection’ wines are also available, such as Kanonkop Pinotage 2008 (R440), Rustenberg Peter Barlow 2006 (R565) and Hamilton Russell Chardonnay (R475).  Corkage costs R30.    

Breakfast choices include French Toast; omelets; flapjacks; oats; muesli, fruit and yoghurt; and a cooked breakfast, none of these choices costing more than R32.   Lunch options include a variety of fillings on ciabatta (R39 – R55), salads (R45), beef fillet (R65); prawn, chorizo and saffron risotto (R65); chicken breast (R48); and chicken roulade (R55).

The bill says “Thank you for visiting us at What’s On.  We look forward to have you back ‘home’ soon”.  It is so refreshing to see a restaurant thanking its clients on arrival and on their departure.  I felt at home, and Trevor has found an opportunity to ‘chat’ by e-mail almost every day since I went to What’s On, and he is a strong relationship builder, something many restaurants fail at, taking one’s custom for granted.  As I did for La Mouette when they first opened last May, I spent time with Trevor to run through Social Media Marketing with him subsequent to my dinner.

POSTSCRIPT 19/5: Food bloggers and clients of What’s On Eatery were invited to try out the new winter menu this evening – two courses cost R125, 3 courses R150.  One can also order off the menu, at R 39 for a choice of nine starters (including grilled brown mushrooms – left, stuffed calamari tubes, tempura snoek and prawn); R98 for one of eleven main courses (including Duck la orange – right, Coq au vin, Beef Wellington, Beef fillet, Karoo lamb shank); and R40 for one of five desserts.  The winter menu is good value for money, and the portion sizes are very generous.

POSTSCRIPT 16/9: Exciting news is that Chef Oliver Cattermole from Dash Restaurant at the Queen Victoria Hotel will start as Chef at What’s On Eatery from 1 October.

What’s On Eatery, 6 Watson Street, between Loop and Bree Street, Cape Town.   Tel (021) 422-5652.   www.whatsoneatery.co.za (The homepage on the website has attractive food photographs, which will make one want to come to What’s On Eatery, but these are not carried over to the Image Gallery, which has more photographs of guests than of the food.  The menu is on the website). Twitter @WhatsOnEatery.  Deli open Monday – Friday 7h30 – 16h00.  Restaurant open Tuesday – Saturday evenings.

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

After having been announced as a Top 10 restaurant a month ago, a sojourn in Franschhoek gave me the opportunity to try Bosman’s for lunch on Monday, and to celebrate a special birthday at dinner last night.   I was amazed at the radical change in the “personality” of Bosman’s at the Grande Roche Hotel in Paarl, from a restaurant that was stiff and unwelcoming on my last visit, to one that bends over backwards, oozes friendliness, and has made some important changes which clearly are paying off, in that Bosman’s is back on the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant list, after a long absence, and it was the joint winner (with Zachary’s at Pezula) of the Diner’s Club of the Year Winelist Awards.   Whilst is offers excellent value for lunch, it probably is the most expensive Cape restaurant for dinner.

The person who is probably most responsible for the changes is the Food & Beverage Manager Alan Bailes, and is now also acting-GM.  He impressed when he contacted me after my last visit to Bosman’s, and was non-defensive in his reaction.   Bailes is so hands-on that he walks the floor and makes time to chat to the restaurant patrons, something I have never seen of a hotel GM before.   He laughed when I said that to him, and he said that he still is the F&B Manager, but even then these are rarely seen inside a restaurant in general.   The restaurant’s flexibility is commendable, in that I overheard Bailes telling other guests that the kitchen can prepare anything for them, with 24 hours notice.

Bailes is one of a number of new GM’s at Grande Roche, after Horst Frehse left, and told me that the most important change that they have made was to cancel their Relais & Chateaux accreditation, without dropping their standards, he emphasized.    They have chosen to use the marketing power of the Mantis Collection to attract business.   The Relais & Chateaux decision came from the unsatisfactory return received for the high cost of the accreditation.  Ironically, Horst Frehse was known as “Mr Relais & Chateaux” when he was the (cigar-smoking) GM of the Grande Roche.   I wrote about Asara Hotel’s recent Relais & Chateaux accreditation, and that it may be dropping the accreditation, having just obtained it with the help of Frehse, who has left and is heading for the Twelve Apostles Hotel as GM next month.   The only local Relais & Chateaux properties are Asara Hotel, Le Quartier Français, Cellars Hohenhort, The Marine and The Plettenberg.  The focus has also been on making the lunch far more casual, and the prices far more affordable.   Whilst the dinner menu is far different to that for lunch, and offers two Tasting menu and a la carte options, the formality has been removed, especially when the restaurant was literally moved outdoors on a lovely 30+C evening.     

The service experienced at both lunch and dinner was outstanding and attentive, Glenroy du Plessis, the Wine Steward who recently was crowned as best in the country by Diner’s Club, and who must be one of the nicest hospitality staff around, spoiling us.  Nothing is too much trouble, and he crosses the line between waiter and wine steward.   The sommelier Josephine Gutentoft recently moved across to Bosman’s, and while we clashed badly at Reuben’s, she was charm herself last night.   Raymond is another manager I know from Reuben’s.    Two German staff gave an extra dimension to service quality.   Charming Restaurant Manager Alessandro de Laco talks with a heavy Italian accent, but can speak French and German, coming from Switzerland.  He and waiter Stefan had come to the Grande Roche earlier this year due to the World Cup.   Waitress Loreen had come to the Grande Roche with her boyfriend, who works in the kitchen, and will stay until April.  Staff look smart in a white shirt and black tie, and black apron. 

There were some rough edges, like Ra-ida getting my booking wrong for the dinner, mixing up the date and the number of persons booked.   I also noticed two broken umbrellas on the lunch terrace, probably due to the wind.   A Manager should have picked this up, given that the Grande Roche is a 5-star hotel.   My pet hate is security and a boom, and while it was perfect for my arrival for lunch, the chap who was on duty in the evening mumbled something about whether we wanted a table for two, but we had made a reservation.  Yet he did not ask for the name.   They are an outsourced service.  

Lunch 3 January

My lunch was extremely relaxed, and was probably made so because of the friendly service by Glenroy and Raymond, who were both on duty, and looked after me, together with German waiter Stefan.  

The outside tables have granite tops, and underplates that have a similar look, but these plates are removed before the food is served, so are purely decorative.   Good quality serviettes are on the table, but while mine was clean, it had a stain on it.  An unusually large collection of glasses is on the table, for a lunchtime.   The cutlery shows its age, in being heavily used.  A waitress brought a lovely cool facecloth to the table, a nice way to cool down on the 30 C Paarl day.  Tokara olive oil was brought to the table with a nicely presented plate of three undescribed bread types – baguette, rye and wholewheat – wrapped in a serviette.   The menu is a narrow page, set in a red and black menu holder.   I did not see initially that the winelist was on the reverse.   As a starter I chose a delicious chilled cucumber soup, with two crispy crumbed prawns (R50).  The prawns were brought to the table first, and then a waitress came with a jug of the soup and poured it with far greater style than the asparagus soup I had at the Planet Restaurant at the Mount Nelson recently.    Other starter choices are Caesar salad with chicken leg and quail egg;  Beef Carpaccio; Salmon Trout; Braised Roma tomatoes and mozzarella, all costing R75.   Mixed baby salad with avocado, goat’s cheese and biltong costs R65; and Asian marinated yellowtail tartare costs R70.

Main courses clearly have been kept as close to R100 as possible, and makes the portions a little smaller, not a bad thing for a lunch, especially when one has more than one course.   I ordered the Pan-fried kingklip with pea risotto, beurre noisette foam, and biltong (R95), the biltong not adding anything to the fish dish, and adding a saltiness I would have preferred to do without.  The kingklipwas  firm and well prepared, and the peas in the risotto gave the dish a colourful touch.   A fish knife was served with the dish.  Other main courses choices include Seafood Bowl (R115), Pan-fried prawns with seafood ravioli and Bouillabaisse broth (R115); Linguine (R80), Asian stir fried beef fillet (R140); and Free-range chicken breast (R95).   Dessert options are “Mohr im Hemd” (rum and raisin ice cream), nougat potato ravioli and Amarula Creme Brûlée, costing around R45, and an Exotic Trio at R50, consisting of Creme Brûlée, fruit salsa, and passion fruit sorbet. 

The lunch winelist is short and sweet!  Ten wines-by-the-glass are offered, starting at R40 for Newton Johnson ‘Felicite’ Dry, and peaking at R280 for 87ml of NV Laurent Perrier Brut Rosé.   The Migliarina Shiraz seems expensive at R75 a glass.   Six white wines can be ordered by the bottle, Maison Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc costing R150, while A.A. Badenhorst’s Family White Blend costs R580.   Eight red wines start at R280 for a bottle of Rainbow’s End 2005, up to R650 for a Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2005.

Dinner 5 January

We went to celebrate my son’s birthday today with dinner last night.   The table outside was perfect, was laid with a good quality tablecloth, and three sets of knives and forks as well as a spoon.  A staff member put the serviettes on our laps, an old-fashioned touch.  There were fewer glasses on the table than at lunch.   Glenroy brought an ice bucket, and kept it filled up throughout the evening.    There are no salt and pepper containers on the table, as Chef Roland feels the kitchen should spice the food correctly.  One may request salt and pepper however.

The winelist dominates one’s impressions at Bosman’s, and obviously is the definitive one, judging by its Diner’s Club accolade.  It is a weighty document bound in a grey leather cover, and runs to 62 pages and the hotel’s wine collection exceeds 600 labels, Glenroy told us.  Unfortunately it uses pages that are hooked in, to give flexibility in terms of availability, but a number of these pages had slipped out, making the winelist look just a little unprofessional, despite its impressive collection.   Sommelier Josephine wants to increase this number, by adding smaller producers.   Similarly to the Asara winelist (Frehse probably used that of Bosman’s as the benchmark when preparing the Asara one), the Bosman’s winelist provides a history of the winemaking in this country, describes the winegrowing areas, dedicates a section to South African wine awards, and provides a map of the wine regions.   I joked and said that it would take me the whole evening to go through the winelist alone, and therefore it was recommended that the wine steward advises one about the wines, which is probably what usually happens.   Something I have never seen on a winelist is the name of the winemaker(s).   Obviously regions, vintages and descriptions are provided per wine.

The wines-by-the-glass section spans two pages, and four are MCC sparkling wines: Silverthorn Blanc de Blanes Brut (R85), Silverthorn Genie Rosé (R95), Colmant Reserve Brut (R65) and Graham Beck Bliss Demi Sec (R65).   Laurent Perrier can be ordered in a dinky at R280, and Billecart Salmon Rosé Brut costs R290.  Eight white wines are available by the glass, starting at R 48 for AA Badenhorst Family Secateurs as well as Crios Bride Sauvignon Blanc, and peaking at R70 for Scali Blanc.   The Rosé is by Newton Johnson, at R40.    Six red wines are available: starting at R70 is the Ataraxia “Serenity” and going up to R185 for a Kanonkop.    By the bottle, 25 MCC sparkling wines are offered, starting at R175 for Seidelberg’s Blanc de Blancs Brut at R175, up to R540 for La Motte’s Brut.  There are 42 Shiraz wines listed, Veenwouden “Thornhill” the best priced at R260, and Mont Destin’s Destiny the most expensive at R1150.  

A cold facecloth was brought to the table, to cool one down and to wipe one’s hands, also an old-fashioned touch, but welcome in the heat.   A young waiter came with the bread basket, and offered us a choice of seven breads, the largest choice I have ever seen, and one looked more attractive than the other.  Choices include parma ham and garlic, pumpkin seed loaf, tomato rolls, pretzel rolls and a lovely seedloaf.   Bosman’s is generous with its bread offering, and the waiter came by at least three times.   The bread is served with a collection of three trademark Bosman’s spreads – unsalted butter, lard with garlic and bacon, and cottage cheese with chives.    A gazpacho with white tomato jelly and agar was brought as an amuse bouche, the spicy soup poured out of a jug at the table.  It did not impress me, if one takes an amuse bouche to be a small taste of the chef’s skills.

The menu has a welcome by Executive Head Chef Roland Gorgosilich: “We trust you will have a relaxing and enjoyable evening with us”, the new Planet Restaurant also having such a ‘personalised’ signed touch in its menu.  Gorgosilich is Austrian, and has a low profile.  It is a shame that he does not come out of the kitchen, to chat to the guests.   One can enjoy a 9-course European-style tasting menu at R 660 per person, as well as a reduced “Harmony of the South” menu, 4-courses costing R 520, and 5-courses R580.  This menu is meant to be a representation of South African cuisine. 

For his starter my son had a hot butternut soup (R55) off the a la carte menu, despite the hot evening, which was also poured at the table over three little pieces of braised duck breast.   It was not an exceptional soup, in my opinion.   My foie gras order, billed to be served with Baumkuchentorte, and costing an extravagant R175, was a let down, as the layered cake was barely visible and could not be tasted around the slice of foie gras.   The foie gras itself was wonderful, served with a cherry, and red cabbage puree,  which did not add to the foie grasenjoyment.  Other starter choices include quail (R95); wild mushroom risotto with parma ham, which looked delicious served at neighbouring tables (R75);  poached salmon trout (R105); and poached veal fillet with pan-fried scallops (R155).  

The highlight of the dinner without a doubt was the Fillet Mignon flambee (R200).  It is usually prepared at the table inside, but due to the outsideseating, and the fire danger, we went inside to see Alessandro prepare it for us in the dining room, a most dramatic preparation, especially when the Martellbrandy was added.  The steak was butter soft.   It was served with tagliatelle and mushroom ragout, the most delicious I have had in a long time, simple and focused on providing enjoyment.   An excellent serrated steak knife was served for this dish, barely necessary due to the soft steak.   Other main course choices include Beef fillet Rossini (R285); springbok loin (R210); vanilla milk poached kingklip (R175); pan-fried hake and crayfish (R225); sole and stuffed calamari (R195) and oddly a tomato consommé at R145.  What adds class to the dinner at Bosman’s is another old-fashioned touch – presenting the main course dishes with domes, which the waiters all lift simultaneously at the table.  The waitress then reminds each diner what he/she has ordered, a nice touch.

For dessert, one is presented with a separate menu, to which is added a number of further beverage options.  Strawberry rhubarb, and an interesting sounding peach lavender soup served with chocolate ganache and peanut croquant cost R65; chocolate fondant costs R75; crepe suzetteR80; and a cheese trolley R150, presumably which can be shared.   I had arranged with Alessandro for a surprise birthday chocolate cake, which was decorated with strawberries on the side, came with a candle, and looked beautiful on a glass plate.   We were not charged for this birthday treat.   I had a good cappuccino.    

The bathroom entrance is attractive and luxurious with a beautiful orchid display.  But when one steps inside, the wooden doors are still there, not in keeping with the quality standards of the hotel.   

Bosman’s is not an everyday dinner venue, but one for a special celebration, given how expensive it is.  Yet for lunchtime visits to Paarl it is perfect, as it is affordable and and the food light.   I enjoyed both my visits to Bosman’s this week.

POSTSCRIPT 22/7: Being in Paarl, I popped in at Bosman’s for lunch today.  Once again, I had a problem with the poor quality of outsourced security staff manning the boom.  I was refused entry for lunch at the boom initially, and asked for the phone number, so that I could call.  Instead, the security person decided to call the Restaurant Manager himself, and this caused a traffic jam at the boom!  I was eventually allowed in and welcomed on arrival, and wondered why this had been necessary in the first place.  Thereafter the service was excellent.  I was happy to meet the new GM Anja Bosken,  She told me that they are working hard at increasing the awareness of the Grande Roche, and went onto Twitter last week.   They are also working on being less stiff and more friendly.  Seven members of staff were retrenched before her arrival, she said, and some staff members did not renew their fixed-term contracts.  Bosman’s is very professional, and I enjoyed a main course of kingklip and prawns, with Mediterranean vegetables and seafood ravioli (R95), followed by Apfelstrudel (R45), prices which are very reasonable for a Top 10 restaurant at a 5-star hotel. Alan Bailes and Alessandro de Laco have left the Grande Roche.

Bosman’s Restaurant, Grande Roche Hotel, Plantasie Street, Paarl.  Tel (021) 863-5100. www.granderoche.com   (The website has an Image Gallery, with few food photographs, and all the menus are listed).  Twitter: @Grande_Roche

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

Café Paradiso re-opened three weeks ago under the new hand of Richard Griffin, the fourth restaurant in his Cape Town collection, which now also incorporates the Bombay Bicycle Club, The Sidewalk Café, and Café Mozart.   We wrote recently about Griffin’s talent in turning around existing restaurants, and giving them his restaurant magic.

Café Paradiso has no apparent Griffin decor quirks to make it appear different or improved – it has the most beautiful landscape of all in its dramatic view onto Table Mountain from the outside terrace area, fully occupied last night with more patrons queuing for tables.   We were extremely grateful to Peta, the manager of Café Mozart, who happened to arrive at the same time as we did, and who helped to wave her magic wand to organise a table for us with Myra, the Spanish hostess.   And what a table it was outside.   The infamous Cape Town Southeaster was an angel, and stayed away, making it a magical evening.  Griffin has turned the previous smoking-area of the restaurant into the new kitchen, while the old kitchen at the back is a Madame Zingara test kitchen, bakery, an home-made pasta section, of which Angus is in charge, as well as a section in which butter is made.  Whilst I was wandering through inside the restaurant, the Executive Chef Heinrich came up to me to say hello (this is how friendly the staff are), and told me that he was the chef at the original Café Paradiso ten years ago.  He looked very happy to be back “home”.   So what has changed?  Not much, other than the kitchen changes – there seem to be more tables outside than I can recall.   The pin oaks in the courtyard have grown, offering excellent shade.  The lighting inside was far darker than I recall it.   Surprisingly, there was no music, a missing finishing touch, in my opinion.   I was bowled over when the hostess Myra welcomed me by name, remembering me from the Madame Zingara restaurant in Loop Street more than five years ago!

Our waiter John brought the jug of water, which looked extra refreshing with orange and lemon slices and ice, as well as the creamish A4 paper menu and winelist printed on reverse sides of the sheet.  The table cloth is a material one, and therefore the paper serviettes were a disappointment.  Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are from Olyfberg.  The restricted menu and winelist choice makes it easier to choose what to order.   The menu starts with “Beautiful Day” and ends with “Beautiful Night”, and states that “This store lovingly created by The Royal Countess Madame Zingara”, clearly a ’promotion’ for the Madame!   John brought two beautiful slices of home-baked wholewheat seed-topped bread, and I was lucky enough to get the end crust.   The menu starts with the breakfast collection (served until a respectable midday), and as at Café Mozart, there are some quirky sounding items on the breakfast list, including scrambled egg with rosti, feta, avocado and tomato;  and French toast with grilled haloumi, basil pesto and tomato, both R45.   I’ll be back for the poached eggs with spinach, hollandaise sauce and smokehouse salmon (R55).  There is a choice of four sandwiches, and the young ones are not neglected, with chicken nuggets and lasagne, and “fish fingers royale”.  

Antipasti can be ordered, at R60 for one, or shared at R90 for two, either a meat/cheese one (proscuitto, coppa, salami felino, pecorino, bocconcini, with olives, caperberries and rocket) or a vegetarian one.  Starters include mussels, squid, haloumi, and black risotto with chorizo, none costing more than R50.  Salads (R45 – R60) sound unusual and interesting, the Greek salad being the only standard.   Eight pasta dishes are offered, in a range of R 50 – R65, even with a ‘Ravioli del giorno’, which was filled with wild mushrooms last night, sprinkled with olives, pinenuts, rocket, and parmesan shavings, and served with a tasty white wine sauce. There are only five main course choices: rack of veal stuffed with four cheeses at R145; an ‘organic sirloin’ at R135; “feathered steak” (as I understood it, parma ham is beaten onto the surface of the steak to make it as flat as a feather and then flash fried) at R90; linefish at R89; and a most generous charred lemon and rosemary chicken-half, served with a colourful collection of root vegetables, including sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and turnips (R85).   A range of familiar sweet treats, cakes, scones, muffins, ice creams, and desserts are offered, costing R25 – 45.  I couldn’t get John to get a frothy cappuccino from the kitchen, but it did come with a biscuit on the side, and the word ‘smile’ on the foam. The cappuccino seemed somewhat more expensive than the going rate, but this is a small price to pay for the excellent value for money of the rest of the meal.  

We were bad news for the sommelier Eron, in not ordering any wines, both being on medication.  He was not switched off, and treated us as long-term customers, and gave us some of his background.   I asked him to consider stating vintages of the wines on offer and the region from which they originate, as well as offering more wines-by-the-glass (there are only two white and two red, and one bubbly by the glass).  The housewine is called Paradise on the menu, costing R22/R85 for the red and the white, but when Eron brought a bottle to the table, it was a label-less bottle, with a neck label stating the name “Unbelievable”, the wines made especially for Café Paradiso by Mount Vernon in Klapmuts.   Fifteen red and white wines each are on offer, a mix of varieties, peaking in price at R175 for Jordan Chardonnay and R210 for Hartenberg “Cabernet”.   Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel costs R30/R155, Graham Beck Brut R185, and Moét & Chandon R650. 

Café Paradiso is a new affordable friendly ‘home from home’ at any time of the day and evening when one is in town, especially on a gorgeous wind-free Cape Town day.   I’ll be back.

Café Paradiso, 110 Kloof Street, Cape Town.   Tel (021) 423-8653.  www.cafeparadiso.co.za  (website goes to www.madamezingara.comsite, listing all the Griffin ventures, each with their own page – not containing much information, and with few photographs, but the menu and winelist are featured).   Monday – Saturday 8h00 – 22h00, Sunday 8h00 – 14h30.

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

I had heard about Bella Lucia Ristorante Italiano, which had opened in chic Chelsea in Wynberg in April, from my friend Mark, who raved about the new Mediterranean restaurant.    It serves excellent food and wines at very reasonable prices, and is an asset for the Southern Suburbs, which is not blessed with many good restaurants.

The restaurant belongs to Nicola Gross, who bought the restaurant when it was called Lippo’s.  She named the restaurant after her beautiful daughter Lucia.  She added the space of a neighbouring hairdresser, doubling the size of the restaurant, and added a deck section upstairs which will become home to a cocktail bar in the next two weeks.  The restaurant looked as if it had only two tables when I first peeked through the door, in-between its lunch and dinner opening times.  The second section is much larger, and a total of 60 patrons can be seated.  Decor is minimalist, and I loved the large decorative silver knife, fork and spoon on the wall, embodying in a focused manner what the restaurant is all about.  The words COOK and EAT on the wall are part of the decor, and there is nothing else on the walls.

The restaurant has a clean, smart yet friendly look to it, all in white furniture with red seating, and white tablecloth-covered tables.   Elegant olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles are on the tables.  The cutlery and glassware is of good quality, but the paper serviette was a disappointment.  The waiter Keith was most friendly, and very proactive – he noticed a slight wobble of the table, due to the grooves between the floor tiles, and brought a remedy to stabilise it.

The menu is a mix of Mediterranean dishes, and others.   The starters are mostly Italian, including parma ham wrapped quail (R70), mozzarella and artichoke salad (R65), potato gnocchi with pear, blue cheese and leeks (R60), and duck risotto (R65).   Mains range in cost from R70 – R105, commendable in keeping so close to the R100 mark, and include confit duck leg, sirloin streak, braised lamb shank, fish and chips, a Bella Lucia Pie, and more.  I ordered the wonderful Wild Mushroom sauce and homemade  Pappardelle pasta, drizzled with truffle oil, and presented with rocket and large shavings of Parmesan cheese (R65).  I was in-between appointments, and had been badly held up by road works on the M3, and therefore time did not allow me to have anything additional than a perfect frothy cappuccino, at a total cost of R 81.  Desserts include Amarula pannacotta, tiramisu, chocolate pot with mascarpone, caramelised lemon tart and more, none costing more than R50.  A new lighter summer menu will be launched next week.

David Winton is the chef, and was previously at Salt Restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel.  David told me that the neighbourhood is very supportive of the restaurant, and that an increasing number of regulars come back to host special celebrations at the restaurant.   David and his team are offering good food and a relaxed atmosphere.

The winelist is on the reverse of the laminated menu, and simply classifies the wines as “Bubbles”, Whites, Reds, and Dessert wines.  Vintages are specified but the region of origin is not.  Bubblies range from Pierre Jourdan Brut Sauvage (R205) to Guy Charbaut Premier Cru (R650).  Seven wines-by-the-glass range from a reasonable R35 (R90-95 per bottle) for Petit Chenin Ken Forrester, Waterford Pecan Stream, Groote Post Old Mans Blend and Slow Wine Rosé, to R60/R150 for the Constantia Uitsig Unwooded Chardonnay.  A good and very reasonably priced red wine selection is available, with six wines-by-the-glass (Waterford Pebble Hill, KC Cabernet Merlot, Landskroon Paul de Villiers Shiraz, Beyerskloof Pinotage, Sterhuis Merlot and Terre del Capo San Giovese) ranging in price from R40/R95 - R50/R140.  It clearly is better value to order a bottle than a glass of wine at Bella Lucia. 

I cannot wait to go back in two weeks’ time, when I return to the Southern Suburbs, to try the new summer menu.  

Bella Lucia Ristorante Italiano, 19 Wolfe Street, Chelsea, Wynberg, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 762-3855.   www.bellalucia.co.za (The website is as minimalist as the restaurant decor, but has lots of lovely photographs in its Gallery, and contains the menu as well as winelist.  It is the perfect benchmark for a restaurant website).  Tuesdays – Saturdays.  11h30 – 14h30 and 16h30 – 21h30.

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

Saffron is a sacred spice, used for seasoning and colouring dishes, and is the most expensive spice of all, so its choice as a name for the restaurant of the new 5-star Abalone House in Paternoster is a misnomer, in that its food does not contain any of this special spice.

I ate at Saffron restaurant for four nights in a row, not having many other options in Paternoster, during a winter break.   The dining room decor is busy, with about seven tables squeezed around a central serving table, on which the breakfast and the afternoon tea are laid out.   At night this table plays no role, and therefore makes things feel a little squashed, especially as the chairs are large high-back ones.   Beautiful big bulbous red wine glasses, good quality cutlery and napery are on the tables.   The music sounds a little canned, coming from an i-Pod, and is piped through the whole guest house.

One cannot miss the work of Tretchikoff at Abalone House, as it is in most rooms. Tretchikoff prints of the Chinese Girl and Balinese Girl are in every bedroom and bathroom, and in the public areas as well.  Natasha, Tretchikoff’s granddaughter and founder of The Tretchikoff Trust (www.vladimirtretchikoff.com), stayed at the guest house one evening, and was charming when I met her and her husband at afternoon tea.   The dining room decor colours are yellow/orange, with splashes of purple.   Beautiful glass lanterns with a candle are lit at every table every night, even though I was the only guest at the guest house on most nights, giving the restaurant a romantic and festive atmosphere.  White orchids are everywhere.  It was cold in the dining room in the evenings, as the fireplace is in the lounge, and its heat does not spread to the dining room.

The menu and winelists have a gold colour, with the branding and logo of the guest house embossed in it.   Nowhere could I see the Saffron restaurant name inside the restaurant, except on a tiny silver plaque as one enters the restaurant.  The menu changes every three days.    Three choices are offered for each course, and on the first night I chose a celery and potato soup, which tasted more of leek, and was very thin.  I could not taste the potato.  The freshly baked bread brought to the table had a crispy crust, and was more-ish. Other starter choices offered were almond rolled goats’ cheese, as well as smoked salmon and potato salad, all starters costing R 45.

I skipped the main course on the first night, and had a lovely portion of the mixed vegetable side dish, at R25, with carrots, broccoli, and beans, all crispy and not over-cooked.  The fillet of beef on another evening, served with champagne mash and a red wine jus, was perfectly prepared medium-rare, as ordered, and a little expensive at R125 for a less than 200 gram portion of fillet.   Other mains offered were a duo of salmon and and hake (R 80), and roast vegetable and garden herb risotto (R70), the latter being an extremely delicious and generous serving of risotto with green pepper, courgettes, mushrooms and beans, and quite different to what I had expected from the ‘roast’ description.   I had the apple crumble dessert served with ice cream, at R 40, but the crumble part was very crumbly and burnt when grilled in the oven.   The cheese platter is very good value at R 45, with five cheese types, biscuits and fig preserve offered.

Red wines-by-the-glass are reasonably-priced, and on offer are Chamonix Cabernet Sauvignon (R45), Hermit on the Hill (R35), and Cloof Inkspot (R 25).  White wines offered by the glass are Withington (R 25), Journey’s End ‘The Haystack’ (R30) and COAV (R30).  R50 corkage is charged.  Unusually the winelist contained the following note: “All wines are subject to availability and vintages may change due to demand”.  Commendably the vintages are mentioned.   Each wine is briefly described on the winelist.   Champagnes stocked range from R605 for a Drappier Carte d’Or to R1 430 for Gosset Grand Milliesime.   Cap Classique wines range in price from R185 for Krone Borealis to R390 for High Constantia. Three Shirazes are offered: Migliarina 2007 at R 200, Tamboerskloof 2006 at R 190, and Catherine Marshall at R 125.

My biggest problem with the restaurant was with Rudi the waiter, who doubles up as the hotel’s guest relations person.  On the day that I arrived, he wore a pair of shorts and the guest house staff’s African style shirt – in Paternoster one does not feel to be in Africa.   He must have sensed me looking at his shorts (or legs), and he quickly put on a long apron, which made him look far more professional.  He was very vague in his knowledge of the menu (i.e. which vegetables are in the mixed vegetable side-dish), and had to keep going to Nickie Lawson, the chef, to ask her.   Nickie is a fun Irish lass whose mom lives next door, and this had led her to Paternoster.  I was a little weary about eating at the restaurant, as I had been warned that it had some problems, and after a poor start on the first night, the food got better and better on each subsequent night.  Rudi is extremely willing to please and made me the best cappuccinos for breakfast and afternoon tea (yes, this is part of the guest house package, not at the Mount Nelson level, but sandwiches, chocolate cake slices and the most delicious light scones are served with strawberry or berry jam and fresh cream every day).  His past as mechanic, self-confessed, may explain some of the rough edges, but he is kind, laughs a lot, and nothing was too much trouble.

On the second day, I was told by Ann, the Manager, that the owners Johan Jansen van Vuuren and Stef Venter had wanted me to have a bottle of wine on the house.  Rudi brought me a condensed current winelist, with only a few items on it, as well as the brand new well-presented winelist.  I liked the greater selection on the new list, and requested a Tamboerskloof Shiraz from it.  Rudi looked and looked in his bar, and very few of the wines on the new list were in the tiny bar, and he had to tell me that the bar stock had been stored elsewhere in Paternoster, but that he would have the bottle for me for the following day’s dinner.  He was true to his word, and the smoky Shiraz character of the wine went well with the (unintended) smokiness of the fireplace in the lounge.

Saffron Restaurant is expensive, but its pricing no doubt is based on supply and demand, and its five-star grading - there is no other reasonable equivalent in Paternoster, except for Gaaitjie and Ah! guest house, where I also ate during my holiday.  I will be back to try the restaurant under the new management of Darren and Lindsay Stewart, the new Executive Chef and GM, respectively.

Saffron Restaurant, Abalone House,  Kriedoring Street, Paternoster.  Tel (022) 752-2044.  www.abalonehouse.co.za(the Image Gallery is very slow to download.  There is no menu nor winelist.  The name of the new chef has not been updated on the site, which probably means that the dishes in the Image Gallery are those of ex-Chef Nickie).

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

From reviews I had read about A Tavola (‘at the table’ in Italian), it seemed that I had missed a gem by not having eaten at this Italian eaterie in the Southern Suburbs.  After having eaten there earlier this week, I cannot see what they were raving about – the food was average and expensive, and the service was shocking!

I arrived after a tasting of Old Vines’ wines (the Baron von Holdt exceptional) at the home of mother-and-daughter winemakers Irina von Holdt and Fran Botha/Potgieter, at 9.30 pm.  I was not sure whether I would be welcome at that time, especially as the two persons sitting eating at a table nearest the door (turned out to be the manager and a staff member) made no attempt to acknowledge my arrival.  I carried on walking, and was greeted by a waitress, pointing at all the empty tables, to make my choice.

Mike came to present his services as the waiter, and handed me a laminated standard menu, another photocopied menu of “Specialities” (these were defined by him as being on a menu that changes regularly!), as well as a paper winelist (No Diner’s Club Winelist Award for this one).  The menu highlights the ‘rules and regulations’ of this establishment – one may not be there between 4 – 6 pm, nor after 11 pm.  Heaven help you if you are having a good time, and you loose track of time.  No menu ‘changes or variations to any dishes please’, the menu stipulates – all reflecting the Italian ‘flexibilty’ of this restaurant!  All food items on the menu are in Italian, with English descriptions.  Corkage costs R30.

The restaurant is quite large, and I am sure that they can accommodate about 100 guests per sitting, especially as they have outside tables too.   The kitchen is open-plan to the restaurant, with a counter that runs along most of the length of the restaurant.   The walls are a deep-red, with lots of glass doors, which must be ideal for summer dining.  The red colour scheme is carried across to the staff dress, who look smart in uniform red shirts and black pants.  The chairs are unattractive, and make a terrible noise when diners get up and move them on the dark floor tiles.   The tables looked like they were covered with good white table cloths, until I heard the staff scrubbing the plastic (I kid you not!) tablecloths right next to where I was still eating.  There is a tiny deli section as one enters, with Italian products.   Italian music was playing softly.   A holder with Olitalio olive oil and balsamic vinegar is a standard on each table.

I ordered Vitello ai Funghi e Vino Bianco from the Specialities menu, and was disappointed when the “marianted” veal scallops arrived at the table – my plate had more pasta than veal on it, the wine sauce making it look as if there was more meat.  The ‘wild mushrooms’ tasted as if they were out of a tin. The overriding taste was one of extreme saltiness, dominating the promised wine in the sauce.  The dish, with four small veal scallops, cost R115.  I did not think this to be good value.

I asked Mike if I could keep the paper copies of the menu, and he said he had to get permission for this.  I did not get a response to the request.  The same reply came to the request for a copy of the laminated menu.  No reply was received but the Manager Kurt Henderson brought it to the table, being proactive in giving me the new menu effective 2 September.  This was the only interaction I had with him, even though he could see me – no one was interested in how I enjoyed my meal, despite Mike seeing me making notes.  I felt that the manager had little control over his staff – the waiters were huddled in a group, chatting, and I had to request a menu for the dessert, and a bill – nothing came proactively.

I noticed that the prices between the menu of 1 September, and that of the new menu, had decreased for almost all the dishes at A Tavola, with the exception of those for the desserts.  I called the restaurant the following day, and owner GianCarlo Pironi’s ‘buon giorno’ was welcoming and friendly, very different to what I had experienced the evening before in his restaurant.  He confirmed that the price reductions will hold for the time to come, as their supplier of Italian foods has managed to negotiate good deals with their suppliers, and therefore they could reduce their food prices – compliments to the chef for passing this price benefit on to the A Tavola customers!

With the introduction of the new menu, it would appear that the Speciality menu will fall away, as some of the dishes on it have been added to the new menu.  Antipasti dishes have come down in price by around R10 a starter, and start at R42 for Zucchini Fritti, up to R76 for a platter of parma ham, salame, mortadella, coppa, grilled vegetables, olives, brushetta and tomato.  In the Insalata section prices have come down by up to R14 for the calamari salad.  Most salads cost R58.   In the Primi section the pasta dishes have not come down much, and sound expensive in starting from R64 for Penne Arrabiata, Penne Napoli and Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino, up to R92 for seafood pasta Linguine Marinara.   In the Secondi section prices have been reduced by R10, and now cost R 115 for almost all the dishes (mainly veal).  In the Dolci section desserts cost between R38 – R48, and the Tiramisu (an absolute weakness of mine) I ordered was most disappointing – I barely tasted the liqueur, and it seemed terribly dry, with little mascarpone cream.  I did like the chunky chocolate chips at the top of the dessert.  It tasted pre-prepared, without love.   A cheese platter for two costs R78 and gelato costs R38 (number of scoops not indicated).  The cappuccino came as a flat white instead of with froth, and when I questioned Mike about this, he said that this is the way it is made, take it or leave it!

The winelist offers Prosecco at R190, or local Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel at R165.  Food & Wine Guru Michael Olivier recommends Tierhoek Chenin Blanc on the winelist, at R140 a bottle and R46 per glass.  Other white wines include Haute Cabriere, Flagstone Viognier; De Grendel, Iona, and Paul Cluver Sauvignon Blanc; and Jordan Unoaked and Doolhoof Chardonnay, none more expensive that R165.   Red wines on the list range from Cederberg’s Cape Atlantic Merlot, at R115, to Morgenster Tosca blend at R245.  Five whites and five reds are offered by-the-glass.   Two Italian white and three red wines are offered, at under R 200 each. Certain wines have been crossed off the winelist – as it is a photocopy, it is unforgivable that the list was not revised and issued without corrections.  No vintages are specified nor are the wines described.  The winelist promises that the red wines are ‘cooled’ at 15 C, something I have never seen on a winelist before, but is commendable, says Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira.

When I paid for the meal in cash, R 30 more than the bill, I expected my change to be brought to the table.  I had to ask Mike to bring it to me, lest he thought that I was giving him an ueber-generous tip.   He came to the table sulking, and I asked him why he had not brought the change.  He then let rip at me, saying he had not expected a tip, as I had been ‘impossible’, ‘shutting him out’.  I explained to him that I had found his service to be absolutely reactive, and that he could not make an assumption about a tip, unless told to keep the change.   This was a bad note on which to leave the restaurant – Manager Kurt made no attempt to reprimand the waiter for his rudeness.

I won’t be back at A Tavola, given its rude staff (even though owner GianCarlo sounded really nice over the phone), its prices (even though they have reduced many of their menu items, off a high base), and average food.

POSTSCRIPT 11/4/13:  We received this e-mail today, clarifying that Giancarlo Pironi is not involved in the restaurant, and has not been for a long time: ‘I would like you to cancel the blog associating me with A Tavola restaurant in Claremont.  Yes is true that I started A Tavola Restaurant in december 2009 together with Kurt and David, but I left the partnership few months after the opening.  My Name is still used up to today by A Tavola, but now that I am about to begin a new venture in food I don’t want to confuse my future clients.  Thanking you in advance for your kind understanding I wish you all the best in the future.  Warm regards. Giancarlo Pironi’.

A Tavola, Shop 1, Library Square, Wilderness Road, Claremont (opposite Kingsbury Hospital, off Main Road).  Tel (021) 671-1763.  www.atavola.co.za.  Lunches Monday – Friday 12h00 – 15h00, Dinners Monday – Saturday 18h00 – 22h00.  Closed on Sundays and public holidays.   On Mondays the pasta dishes in the Primi section of the menu cost half price.

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

For the third year running, twenty of Franschhoek’s wine farmers are inviting wine and food lovers to visit their wine estates this coming Saturday and Sunday (4 and 5 September), to taste their new vintages, to eat specialities from the Gourmet capital of South Africa, and to enjoy French-style activities over a weekend of food, fun and wine.

Tickets for Franschhoek Uncorked cost R80 each, and can be bought at Computicket, or at any participating wine estate.  The full programme offered by the 20 wine estates is as follows:

*   Vrede & Lust will have a cigar lounge, Aston Martins will be on display, chocolate can be tasted and diamonds will sparkle

*   Plaisir de Merle will serve more of their lovely pancakes, offer live music, and for the first time offer bread made from flour ground in a historic water mill on the wine estate.

*   Allee Bleue will offer live jazz, and a tasting of their new Brut Rose’.  Smoked salmon croissants, Flammkuchen, Chicken Tandoori wraps, and Shrimp Guacamole wraps will be available for sale.

*   Solms-Delta will offer “Kaapse” music, food, and wine.

*   L’Ormarins has the Franschhoek Motor Museum on its property, will make its Antonij Rupert Protea and Terra del Capo wines available for tasting, boules can be played, and gourmet sandwiches can be bought

*   Graham Beck will offer its Methode Cap Classique bubblies as well as wines to taste, and oysters, cheese and charcuterie platters will be available to eat.  Winemakers Pieter Ferreira and Erika Obermeyer will host masterclasses at R 75 a head, on Saturday and Sunday, at 10h00 and 14h00

*   Lynx Wines will have a Spanish Fiesta theme again, and live Spanish music will be played.  Tapas served include serrano ham and calamari

*   Topiary Wines will release their Rose 2009 and their Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. Visitors can blend their own wines. Live music is offered.

*   La Chataigne offers boules and live entertainment

*   Moreson offers live music, and a food market

*   Maison is the newest Franschhoek wine estate, and belongs to Chris Weylandt of Weylandt’s, and is now also a winemaker.   Food, jazz and wines will be offered.

*   La Motte’s new and Franschhoek’s latest restaurant Pierneef a La Motte offers Cape Winelands cuisine, a Farm Shop sells wines, gifts and farm-baked bread.   The new La Motte Art Gallery, one of the rooms dedicated to the priceless paintings by Pierneef, has opened, and a classical guitar recital will be hosted on Saturday evening.

*   Glenwood will host a Boules Trophy, and is pairing its wines with gourmet food prepared by Camil and Ingrid Haas, previously of Bouillabaisse and Camil’s, serving Bouillabaisse, Chicken Curry and Crepe Suzette.

*   Rickety Bridge offers tapas too, and its Top 10 Shirazes.  Live music, boules, as well as farm rides in their Dodge truck are also available.

*   Grande Provence offers live music, five vintages will be paired with five dishes, a Chef’s Table is offered, and the Grande Provence Pinot Noir will be launched.  Cheese and charcuterie boards will be available.

*   Franschhoek Cellars offer cheese and wine tastings, as well as cheese lunches

*   Dieu Donne offers live music, Vineyard platters, “wine-infused casual food”, and micro-beer on tap

*   Cabriere offers a wine tour and tasting, with a Sabrage, at 11h00 on Saturday and Sunday

*  La Petite Ferme offers wine tours, and salmon and wine pairing at R120.

*   Boekenhoutskloof will launch The Chocolate Block 2009, a band will provide the “gees” and Reuben Riffel will offer his famous Reuben’s Barbeque Experience.

Further details can be obtained from the Franschhoek Tourism Bureau, Tel (021) 876-3603.

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

A Tudor-style restaurant building, built in the 1930′s, has become the home of one of Cape Town’s best “finer dining” restaurants, offering excellent value for money.   La Mouette (The Gull) has opened on Regent Road in Sea Point (there is no branding on the outside yet, so one must look for the number 78, near Checkers), and is named in honour of the noisy landmark of this suburb, even though there were no seagulls to be seen nor heard while I was there.  The building was previously the home of Europa and The Carvery.   Coats of paint, chic decor inside, and a bubbling fountain filled with Koi in the entrance courtyard and surrounded by French-style bistro tables and chairs, have given the building a new lease on life. 

But it is the owner trio of General Manager Mari Vermaak, Chef Henry Vigar, and Marketer/Righthand Gerrit Bruwer that has “rejuvenated” the building and its interior, with a refreshing approach to running a restaurant of excellence, based on Henry and Mari’s experience in the restaurant industry in London.    Vigar is a passionate chef whose cooking style is modern French-style cuisine with a Mediterranean influence.  He has worked at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants (The Square, La Noisette and The Greenhouse in London, Rascasse in Leeds, and Hotel des Pyrenees in France) as well as at The Quayside in Sydney.  He was the Head Chef at Kensington Place, where Eric Bulpitt, chef at Jardine on Bree Street, worked for him for a while.

Mari is a bubbly yet serious restaurateur, who has a firm hand on the operation of the restaurant.   She has done all the staff training, and impressed me with her description of how they employed the best of more than 400 applicants for the waitron and kitchen positions, including making applicants write food and wine knowledge tests.   All the staff have sampled all the dishes on the menu, and whenever a new dish is introduced, Chef Henry explains it to the waiters.  Wine estates like Villiera and L’avenir have come to the restaurant, to train the staff about their wines.   The service from my waiter Peter was perfect, a reflection of Mari’s thorough training. 

Mari grew up in George, and was a graphic designer before moving to London, where she was a Restaurant Manager at Gilmours on Park Walk, at Kensington Place, and at Launceston Place.   It was at Kensington Place that Chef Henry showed her his interest by sending specially made chocolate macaroons to her desk. The rest is history, as they say in the classics!  Mari’s London background shows, in her neat black shirt, skirt and stockings, the ultimate classic front-of-house dress.  Mari is a warm, friendly, down-to-earth and generous hostess, giving up three hours of her time, sitting and chatting to me about their background, and receiving a quick overview about the importance of social media marketing from me.   Whilst they have just started a blog, they agreed that it is time to embrace Twitter, especially given their gull theme, and did so immediately!   Gerrit and Mari both studied graphic design at the University of Potchefstroom, and Gerrit has designed a beautiful corporate identity for the stationery, menu and winelist, with flying seagulls and flowers.  Mari and Henry are partners, and both Leos!

Mari felt it important to not alienate locals, and hence all menu items were named in English instead of their French equivalent.   The menu has a small selection of dishes, making it relatively easy to choose.   The lunch and dinner menus are almost identical in terms of dishes offered, but the prices differ somewhat.  For lunch, for example, one can order extra sides, at R 25 each, whilst they do not appear on the dinner menu.  For lunch all Starters and Desserts cost R 35, and Mains cost R 80, a total of R 150 for a 3-course lunch, whilst the dinner cost is R 210 for 3-courses, or R 50 for the Starters and Desserts, and R 110 for all Mains. The dinner menu offers one or two more options for each course.

I had the Chicken liver parfait, chicken reillette, pear chutney and toasted brioche as a starter, a lovely combination, the pear chutney being a surprise but well-matched.   I overheard a neighbouring table proclaim that the French onion soup was the best they had ever eaten.  Other lunch starters are a tomato salad served with tapenade and smoked mozarella; mushrooms on toast served with walnut salad and roasted fig; and prawn and ginger ravioli.   I ordered the sweetcorn risotto served with the cutest tempura pea shoots, almost a work of art, and decorated with lime and coriander gremoulata.   Alternatives are “house-made” linguini (by an Italian in the kitchen), hake, chicken, confit duck, and minute steak.  The dessert options are really interesting, and gives one a feel for Chef Henry’s creativity (he still seems somewhat more classic, but with a twist, on the starters and mains), and I will come back for these:  peanut butter parfait and chocolate ganache; a “gin and tonic” with a difference; and passion fruit curd, doughnuts, Greek yoghurt and honey foam.   The cappuccino was excellent, the coffee being supplied by Deluxe, a small specialist coffee roastery in Cape Town.

An alternative to the menu is a choice of tapas style dishes to share, at R 35 each: marinated vegetables and olives; truffle and cheese croquettes; tempura style vegetables and roasted pepper dip; sweet onion tart, olive, thyme and marinated anchovy; and crispy calamari, smoked paprika and saffron aioli.

The winelist is neatly presented, and offers an impressive list of 15 wines-by-the glass, and about 75 wines.  One senses that many of the wines stocked are because of a special relationship that developed between the wine estate and Henry and Mari when they were compiling their winelist, and Avondale, Villiera, Springfield and L’avenir feature strongly on the list, as does Tokara Zondernaam.   Champagnes are stocked (Moet & Chandon, Billecart Salmon Rose, Champagne Barons de Rothschild and Bollinger Special Cuvee), while the very recently launched La Motte Methode Cap Classique (R500), as well as Villiera, Pierre Jourdan and L’avenir sparkling wines are also stocked.   A number of Shiraz options are available, ranging from R 150 for Villiera Shiraz, to R 280 for the Thelema.   No vintages are offered on the winelist, one of few points of criticism.

Mari refused to allow me to pay for the two course lunch, glass of bubbly and two cappuccinos I enjoyed with her.   I therefore returned for a paid-for dinner with a friend three days later, and we were impressed with the Butternut squash soup served with toasted pine nuts and blue cheese, and the sweetcorn risotto and the pan-fried Duck breast as main courses.  We were spoilt with a taste of the Bouillabaisse, with a plump prawn, tiny mussel, tender tube of calamari and crayfish.  For dessert we had the signature “Gin and Tonic”, consisting of tonic jelly, gin syrup, and lime ice cream, the most unusual dessert I have ever experienced, refreshing and revitalising. 

La Mouette is planning themed evenings, and will open a chic wine bar upstairs in December.   One can sense the energy and innovation in what is still a very early start for the restaurant, my visit having been a week after opening.   La Mouette is a restaurant to watch, and will soon be flying high on the Cape Town restaurant scene.  

POSTSCRIPT: I was privileged to have been invited to the Chef’s Table at La Mouette on 20 May, in the company of Clare Mack of Spill Blog, JamieWho of JamieWho Blog, Kim Maxwell, Rey Franco, and Sam from L’Avenir.   The amuse bouche was a butternut soup served with a to-die-for cheese and truffle croquet, followed by a prawn and ginger ravioli, mushrooms on toast served with walnut salad and vanilla roasted fig, a highly praised Bouillabaisse, Rib of Beef, the famous “gin and tonic” dessert of Chef Henry, passion fruit curd served with mini-doughnuts, and the “crunchie” dessert, served as a chocolate fondant, honeycomb espuma and ice cream. Every course was perfectly paired with a L’Avenir wine.  Such a good time was had that the last guests left long after midnight.    The La Mouette branding has now been erected at the entrance to the restaurant, and should make it easier to find the restaurant.

POSTSCRIPT 4 JULY: I have returned to La Mouette a number of times, and always had attentive service from Mari.   My last visit was a disappointing one, probably due to Mari not being on duty that evening.   The manager on duty was not on the floor except for showing us our table and apologising about the winelist error.  A winelist “typing error” for an incorrect Villiera wine-by-the-glass vintage, which had been identified ten days prior as an error, was still on the winelist.   The waiter stretched in front of us to put down the cutlery.  The wrong amount was taken off my credit card for payment.  There was no one to greet us when we left the restaurant.  I wrote to Mari after the dinner, and received a very defensive “Dear customer” letter.

POSTSCRIPT 2/9:  I returned for the first time in 2 months today, sitting in the fountain courtyard, dominated by a massive motorbike parked there.  Mari was professional, yet very changed in attitude, due to our feedback about the 4 July dinner.   The restaurant has changed to a Spring Special menu at R175 for 6 courses (or R350 for wines paired to 5 of the courses), with a typing error.  An Express 2-course lunch at R99 has been introduced, which was not good value - my colleague had the marinated tomato salad and chicken.  We shared a bowl of Chef Henry’s new cheese and ham croquettes, and I ordered my favourite, the chicken liver parfait.   The Beef Sirloin was average, four small slices expensive at R105 – one pays a R25 supplement for it.   The Tapas selection has been taken off the menu. The service from Hazel was sweet, and she was very willing to please, but stretched across us in replacing the cutlery.  Mari did not want us to pay for the meal today, due to the problems with our 4 July meal, but we refused her generous offer.  

La Mouette, 78 Regent Road, Sea Point.  tel 021 433-0856. www.lamouette.co.za (the website is one of the best I have ever seen for a restaurant, informative, with menu and winelist, and link to the blog).    Twitter @teamlamouette.    Open Tuesdays – Sundays for lunch, and Mondays – Saturday evenings for dinner.

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