This hotel has seen it’s fair share of changes in the last few years, none of which have raised it back to the culinary heights it achieved under Bruce Robertson (now at The Showroom). Under new chef Christophe Chabanel there is certainly the drive to change this. They’ve also called on the experience of Liam Tomlin, ex of Australia’s famous Bank restaurant.
The menu for lunch today was interesting on two fronts: the plates were largely bistro in personality, and the prices are international. So, as we all know, price only becomes a point of discussion once the value balance tips to the wrong side.
A Caesar salad (R80) arrived with all in place (barring a few alien cocktail tomatoes), the sauce was fine but not profound. A steak tartare (R90) was plated in a playful manner, a long plate with the steak to one pole, the chopped bits and bobs in the middle, and a mini-Tabasco bottle on the end – along with a jar of catering-grade tomato sauce… do these guys want to ruin the tomato’s reputation?
Mains: a R120 pork cassoulet that was decent but not thrilling enough to travel for, and I did not get the impression that the sausage had more complexity than Escort’s finest. Side order of risotto was good (included). The R160 fillet bearnaise, we were told, came with a side of veg but this did not arrive, instead with a form of daupinoise potato and a salad of watercress, some leaves disconcertingly yellow. The steak was very good, however, the sauce also.
The highlight of the meal – cost versus character – came with the dessert: a great “confit” of grapefruit with a home-made icecream. As they reach their heights, however, the lows set in – awful coffee (arriving before my dessert (?)); the errant side of steamed veg suddenly arriving after our mains are finished and without our having any cutlery? Friandise that were of a straight-out-of-the-fridge variety, and tasting like they had come from a supermarket shelf not long before that.
So aside from generally competent, over-priced food, the chief problem was the service. It was very friendly and willing, but extraordinarily poor, by the “five star” standards of the place, and by the expectations set by the prices on the menu. Plates not cleared, dishes not understood: “Arniston bouillabaisse is a French word for soup, sir”. Really?
If you want fish and chips you can indulge at R150, platter for two R950. You can also drink a glass of First Growth at R3000. Clearly they don’t really aim to satisfy local walk-ins like me, but the deep wallet of the already-installed room guest. He or she is likely to enjoy the new comfort food direction – but I fear he or she will also think these service levels are somewhat off the international norm, and that’s a shame.