Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

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Le Verger by day.

A visit to Le Franschhoek Hotel feels like being let in on a most exquisite secret.   The Cape Dutch style buildings are nestled in-between vineyards and an orchard; giving it a French chateau feeling.  The menu at the fine dining restaurant, Relais Gourmand, has been created by executive chef Darren Roberts and it’s a fusion of African dishes with Pacific Rim style cuisine. Le Verger is an outdoors restaurant that consists of individual glass conservatories scattered across the property. The sun streams in from all angles and it is spectacular to behold. Unfortunately Le Verger is closed for winter until end August. However, on my visit it is one of those crisp, sunny and wind still winter afternoons, and the staff made way for me to order from their fine dining menu at Le Verger restaurant.  

Executive chef, Darren Roberts

The chef has a taste for complex fusions and a blend of exotic tastes.  The starter portion of bishop stilton with roasted baby beetroot and Serrano ham salad with a decadent Champagne and walnut dressing is rich and simply melts into mouth.  For mains I had the grilled lobster tails with an oxtail tortellini, roasted bubble and squeak, baby onions and crustacean oil. This is an indulgent and decadent winter dish.  The portions are not large, but because of the complex ingredients, it is very filling and I had to decline dessert.  It is a special treat is to sip on a wine that has been harvested from the adjoining wine farm; there aren’t too many restaurants in the world that can boast this service.  Le Verger is the perfect venue for a long, lazy al fresco lunch during the sun drenched summer months.

Directed: Janice Honeyman
Cast: Thembi Mtshali-Jones
Review: Astrid Stark

First published in the Sunday Independent Sunday 4 October ‘09

A young Valedictorian and fervent human rights advocate is driving her friends home after a long day’s work. It is 1993 and she has been helping residents in the volatile township of Gugulethu register for the country’s first democratic elections. Tomorrow she will leave South Africa and return to her parents in America. Suddenly her car is surrounded by a mob of angry youths chanting ‘One settler one bullet’. The windscreen is smashed. She is pulled out of the car, beaten, and finally stabbed to death in front of her horrified friends.

Thembi Mtshali-Jones photo by Eric Miller

Thembi Mtshali-Jones photo by Eric Miller

This was the murder of Amy Biehl which shook the shook the world because of its brutality and injustice. When author, poet and playwright, Sindiwe Magona heard about this tragic event, she realised that it took place close to her house in Gugulethu and that one of the perpetrators was her neighbour’s son. Magona thought about how easily it could have been her own son caught up in the violence of the time. So it came that Magona wrote her first novel, Mother to Mother, which has been now been adapted for stage by herself and Janice Honeyman.

The subject matter of murder, political turmoil, hatred and racial divide may not exactly appeal to the masses, which is unfortunate, because Magona and Honeyman’s approach to the one-woman play focuses on an angle that perhaps not too many people have considered; the viewpoint of the distraught mother of one of the culprits. Do you love your child less after he has killed someone? Mother to Mother is an exploration of what happens when two mothers’ worlds brutally collides through the actions of their children and how this leads them on a journey of understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. What makes this an exceptional story is that not only did the murdered Amy Biehl’s parents forgive the murder accused, after they were pardoned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; they also started the Amy Biehl foundation which develops and empowers youth in the townships. What is even more remarkable is that two of the convicted murderers are now working with Amy’s mother at the foundation; proving that the Truth and Reconciliation Committee –despite some of its flaws – in principle, works. Two men who would have spent most of their lives in jail now have the opportunity to reform themselves and others around them.

Award-winning Thembi Mtshali-Jones, brings this one-woman drama to life as the mother of one of the murderers. Her character is instantly recognisable as the domestic worker, the silent woman that lives next door, raising her children alone and in a violent society. We have all seen her, but our guilt sometimes makes us blind to her plight. Mtshali-Jones is known for, among others, her roles in SOS, Scoop Schoombie and Madam and Eve. She has been nominated for an International Emmy in 2004 for her role in the sitcom, Stokvel. Her performance is very powerful and touching as she takes us through the journey of discovering that her dear, but very troubled son, has killed a foreign girl. She weeps as she says that Amy Biehl’s mother can at least live with the knowledge that her daughter was a good person, whereas she herself has to live with the guilt and sorrow of producing a child that became a murderer.

Mtshali-Jones convincingly delivers Magona’s beautiful, almost poetic, writing. Magona who has been published internationally, again proves herself as the accomplished storyteller, and the audience remains spellbound for the full 80 minutes of the production. Magona’s intelligent writing introduces us to the private thoughts and feelings of a domestic worker; rare opportunity.

Janice Honeyman’s direction is deliberate and the pace steady. Honeyman whose work has won multiple awards, recently produced of I Am My Own Wife, which is returning to the Baxter for a third run.

Mother to Mother is a production which all South African should see. Witnessing people transcend tragedy and pain through understanding is a life lesson that we all could benefit from. Without understanding there can be no forgiveness or reconciliation. Most of us can learn how to forgive, but to actually immerse yourself in ongoing reconciliation must take superhuman effort, and this is what makes Mother to Mother such a remarkable story.

Woman to Woman runs at the Baxter Theatre until 10 October.

The End.

First Published in Sunday Independent 5 July ‘09

 Roaring winter fires, a smorgasbord of award-winning restaurants, some of the finest wines, old world service, and plenty antiques, art- and bookshops make the quaint village of Franschhoek a perfect winter getaway.

Franschhoek roads are lined with vineyards and Cape Dutch homes. Photo: Astrid Stark

Franschhoek roads are lined with vineyards and Cape Dutch homes. Photo: Astrid Stark

Franschhoek is nestled in the heart of the Cape Winelands and under the protective gaze of the Groot Drakenstein mountains. Residents in the village refer to Franschhoek as the gourmet capital of the world. When the resident chefs are the legendary Margot Jansen, Neil Jewell , Reuben Riffel, Matthew Gordon, and the international and recently appointed executive chef of Le Franschhoek, Darren Roberts; it is easy to believe that you are in good hands. The main road is a collection of top restaurants and coffee shops such as Reuben’s, Bouillabaisse, and the understated Kalfies, where you can grab anything from a piping hot croissant and coffee, to a 6-course gastronomic feast.

Corrugated iron roofs, enormous flowerpots dripping with lavender, and fashionable Victorian ironwork known as ‘broekie lace’ decorates shop fronts and restaurants. Best of all; there is not a single fast food joint in sight. There are no less than 42 wineries in Franschhoek and the village boasts many innovative and progressive producers in SA among its wine farms. You can visit these farms either as part of a guided tour group, or by car, by bicycle, or by bumping along on a tractor. If you have tired a little of all things French you can catch a quick bite and pint at the comfy Elephant and Barrel English pub which serves up tasty pub fare at affordable prices. It boasts a selection of up to 30 English beers and it screens major sporting events. On weekend nights they feature local musicians. If you are lucky enough to visit on a busy night, the staff moves the furniture about, and you can boogie away on the makeshift dancefloor.

 This brings us to the nightlife in Franschhoek, of which – apart from dining out – there’s not an awful lot. Most restaurants offer winter specials and throw in creative food and wine pairings. Le Quartier Français’ 40 seat movie house shows nightly films, and they will toss in a glass of wine and some cheese balls at a ridiculously cheap price. It is during the big annual events, such as the Bastille Day Festival from 11-12 July, that the locals really come out to play. This year there will be a masked ball at Le Franschhoek Hotel, and Darren Roberts – who has cooked for the likes of Madiba, Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer- has prepared a mouth-watering menu for the occasion. There will be boules challenges, fresh farmers’ markets, and a barrel rolling competition. The colourful minstrels will be performing in the streets, French movies screened, and of course all the gorgeous food you can eat.

Photo 2, Franschhoek is known for its 'broekie lace' Victorian style decoration and corrugated iron roofs.  Photo: Astrid Stark

Photo 2, Franschhoek is known for its 'broekie lace' Victorian style decoration and corrugated iron roofs. Photo: Astrid Stark

At the chocolaterie in the main road you can indulge your inner chocoholic, and stock up on home-made preserves and souvenirs.

The Huguenot Memorial Museum is worth a visit for insights into the history of the area. The museum chronicles the history of the outlawed Protestants’ escape from France and their harrowing journey to the Cape of Good Hope. They were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Oliphantshoek; so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. Soon after they settled the area was baptised as Franschhoek.

Astrid Stark 70 Huguenot Road Franschhoek, 7690. Tel: +27(0)21 876 3603 Fax: +27(0)21 876 2964

Published in About Town

In 2005 I was asked by the Editor of About Town to interview three night club owners for the summer edition of that publication.  I had 24hrs to set up,write and send the reviews.

Opium:  Interview with Martin Tucker – General Manager

In January 2004, Opium rocked into the Cape Town club scene through the imagination of Shaun Westcott and Garren Reck. Martin Tucker joined in March of that same year. “I was born to do this,” Martin grins.  They have since opened Pulse, a student/sports bar, Club O-two that has hosted Eric Morillo, Sonnique the Black-Eyed Peas and Freshly Ground, as well as Cruz – a gay groove bar for the discerning male.  Cafe Dharma’s and the HQ Cafe also fall under their ownership.

Martin studied advertising and worked in the industry for four years before becoming part of the Opium group. 

“We run our clubs like a professional business and I think that is what sets us apart,” Martin explains.  That, and of course the fact that the EK Green building which hosts all the venues is a 160 year old National heritage building. “We are preserving the building in its natural state and our award winning designer, Philip Tyers works with the existing structure towards a holistic approach.”

 “We’ve turned it into a complex that caters for everything,” Martin says. Opium is an upmarket venue hosting top DJ’s and Live music. On Thursdays you can groove to old school funk and cheese.  Club O-two’s exclusive VIP room, the Alligator, has vibed the likes of Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage and bad boy Collin Farrel.   

It seems as if Martin’s success has not gone to his head.  “At times I tend to blow up”, he admits.  “But I always try to look for the good in the chaos.”

Opium, 6 Dixon Street, De Waterkant, Cape Town, 021 425 4010,  

@mosphere – Interview with Rashaad Abrahams – Owner, (King of Clubs)

 ‘This is going to be a landmark!’, Rashaad hollers. ‘Every international artist will pass through my venue’.

Rashaad Abrahams and two partners started plans for club @mosphere in September 2004.  ‘It is going to be the biggest dance club in Cape Town’, he beams. What makes his club unique is the variety of entertainment on offer. A 300sqm dance floor will host international and local bands.  There are three exclusive VVIP rooms for private functions and a dedicated Karaoke venue. The Jewel of India Restaurant will serve traditional Indian fare as well as Sushi throughout the evening.

@mosphere’s decor is galvanized by Clementine Design and Rashaad’s own extensive travels. ‘The mood is a fusion of New York, London and Hong Kong’, he explains. 

Rashaad started his career as a DJ, perfecting his trade at school discos in Rondebosch.  ‘One day I got really tired of carting all my equipment around.  I decided to open a club.  Then everyone can party at my place,’ he laughs. 

That was in 1992 and Jaquelines in Claremont opened. ‘It was rocking man,’ he remembers. After three years he sold the club and opened his first solo club, Images, in Athlone. Images was a jazz club that hosted an array of performers including Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan and the Temptations.  At the end of 1999 he sold the business, ‘because of a lucrative offer, I could not refuse’, he smiles secretively.  His rave club, Adrenaline opened in Paardeneiland and bounced house, commercial, rave and uplifting trance for three years.  

Rashaad’s eyes radiate passion. ‘I don’t wait on anybody to motivate me. If I start a project, I finish it.  I have been in the entertainment business for a long time’.   Opening night is 1 December 2005. 

@mosphere, cnr Castor and Pollocks Road, Kenilworth, Cape Town.

 Rashaad Abrahams – 082 553 3683


Saints: Interview with Marc Delaporte – Owner

Saints Bar in Bree Street, Cape Town is the latest brainchild of 29-year-old Marc Delaporte. ‘I wanted to create a small, intimate space where people can socialize and drink in a comfortable environment’, he says.  True to that philosophy, the bar hosts around 120 people.

Bizarrely enough, the 140-year old National Heritage building itself is attached to that of the church of St Stevens and was promptly baptized as Saints. Funky lounge music plays on most nights and on a Thursday; you can relax to live Jazz.   Marc designed the simplistic but warm interior to which graphic artwork adds bold swashes of colour.   

Marc studied Hotel Management and later worked as Operating Manager for Eclipse in London.  He designed the exclusive beach bar, Eclipse in Camps bay, Cape Town in 2002. He also has his own consultancy business and was involved in creating Nando’s bar in Camps bay.  ‘Hotels don’t always have the personal touch that they claim to have.  With a bar you get to build relationships.  And that is the kind of business I enjoy,’ he smiles.  ‘What drives me is the industry itself and the interesting characters that you meet when they are out of their box.  And generally people are out of their box when they’re in the bar.  It is an inspiration to see people in a relaxed environment.’ 

Saints, 110 Bree Street, Cape Town, 021 424 1007 

Marc Delaporte – 072 198 2833







 In 2006 and 2007 I was a judge and review writer for the V&A

Waterfront’s Annual Restaurant Review Guide and Awards


Here are some of the reviews that were published in the guide…

Little Mermaid

The stage is set with tables and chairs casually scattered across a wooden deck,  plump seals romping in the water and Table Mountain majestically reclining as backdrop.  The chefs répertoire is somewhat less ostentatious.  Simple salads and light sandwiches are served with your selection from a sufficient bar. Enjoy good coffee and tender pastries but keep a look out for the sirens at play in the waves.


Love, Revenge and Cappuccino

Plotting vengeance is best construed over a violently foaming mug of cappuccino whilst nibling at bits of chocolate from the heart of a freshly prepared muffin.  The verve of the shoppers whirling by transforms the inside of this little coffee shop into a slow motion, snug haven where the aroma of freshly ground beans and grilled mozarella will soon soothe the most bruised ego.


Nino’s Panini’s

Between a morning of celebrity style shopping and a leisurly afternoon at the spa, take time out for a tramezzini, generously stuffed with the filling of your choice. A bottle of quaffable, local wine completes the pasta on offer. In summer, linger a while on the porch and listen to the home-spun buskers strumming and singing to the crowds’ delight.


Mitchell’s Ale House

If you are after the best range of house brewed local and international draft beers, a big screen (showing non-stop sporting events) and baskets of deep-fried, instantly gratifying  snacks – Mitchells is your place. Enormous and juicy pizzas are served at night and an authentic jukebox is the focal point where locals and visitors hang out, dance and stay up until late.


Alba Lounge

Alba lounge has all the Savoir faire of any respectable waterfront cocktail lounge:  sublime harbour views filled to the brim with twinkling stars and starlit yachts, elegant decor and piquant canapés that drip, drizzle and ooze exotic flavours.  The cocktail list is extensive and trendy live bands play easy listening tunes on most evenings.


Flambo’s – Mexican flame grilled chicken.

(If only the chickens ran faster and the tomato sauce and service was not so sour)

Enjoy Mexican, flame-grilled chicken on the run, or outside at one of the many wooden benches.  The Burritos and Schwarmas are filled with tender chicken that is fully Halaal.  Side orders of chips, salad or onion rings and a small selection of sodas, juices and waters are available on request. 


St. Elmo’s sliceaway.

St. Elmo’s sliceaway adds new meaning to the phrase Fast Food.  Juicy pizza slices and subs, generously stuffed with mozarella, olives, bacon, mushroom, more cheese and every other possible decadent filling are served in under four minutes.  Just enough time for you to pick dessert from the vast selection of ice-creams on display.


Decadent donuts

The sugary sweetness of donuts drenched in chocolate, toffee, caramel and nuts is best tempered by a freshly brewed cup of filter coffee.  For those not at the mercy of a sweet tooth, Decadent Dounuts offer a respectable variety of sandwiches, subs and toasties


Marcels Frozen Yoghurt

Stay healthy with a fresh mango, lime or peach frozen yoghurt from Marcel’s.  The more adventurous (and children love this) can mix a swirl of  English Toffee, Caramel Crunch or Hazelnut and then add two big spoons of crunchy fudge, Smarties, sticky toffee or chocolate chips.  Sweet, playful and the perfect after dinner delight.



Basilico, also known as the Health Food Store, offers a fresh range of salads, light meals, breakfasts and deli style sandwiches.  Jovial owner and head chef, Jovenka, daily stirs up a delightfully chunky and very filling soup and serves it with crispy rolls. Chilled fruit juices, sodas and mineral waters are also available.


Fascination Cafe

If Nina Simone was still around , she would be giving soul-stirring performances at the  BMW Pavillion Theatre.   Reservations may be made for either a dinner at Fascination Café or live expressions at the Theatre.  Combined, they are a sensory liberation for lovers of the extravagant. The buffet dinner has both variety and texture and is served by a friendly staff.  One part of the fascination of this experience is the captivating view of the Waterfront through considerable glass walls.  The other is studying the gleaming underbellies of the latest range of BMW’s as they are suspended from the roof and hover above cosy tables, dressed in crispy white linnen. The Restaurant only opens when a performance is staged.  Booking is essential.


 Java Jive

In a more sedate corner of a the considerable CD Wherehouse, you can relax with a selection of 26 coffees and enormous, delectable cakes and pastries on display.  Listen the lastest offerings of Jazz, Rock, African and World music, and browse through trendy local and international music magazines.  A full bar and substantial menu is also available.