What is it about firsts?
I never came first in a race, never got a first in an exam, never won first place in a competition.
But there I was on Wednesday, and it seemed to me that all my firsts had arrived at once.
I was eating in Reuben Riffel’s first restaurant in Cape Town. It was his first service, on his first day, and I was going to do the first review.
My firsts with Reuben go back a bit (first to announce that he would be opening at the One and Only on August 1st http://www.spill.co.za/chefs-chat/reuben-riffel-for-the-one-and-only-cape-town/2520/ In fact the One and Only and me have a history of firsts, as I was the first to announce that Gordon Ramsay was to close at the One and Only. http://www.spill.co.za/south-african-restaurant-reviews/gordon-ramsays-maze-at-the-oneonly-has-closed/2381/
But enough fluffing up of my own feathers, on to the review.
The space is still the same. The only difference is that the name “Reuben’s” is hanging over the main door, and there’s a metal plate in the lift to tell you which floor to get off at.
The tables have a kind of latex/plastic impression of his name on it, and there are bottles of very posh Willow Creek Director’s Reserve on every table. Nice touch.
The biggest change though, is in the staff. Always professional and sharp, they now have an extra dimension to their demeanour. Having thought about it for a couple of days, I concluded that they are genuinely and deeply happy. Happy to have a pro behind the kitchen operations, a pro who knows about good ingredients, preparing them and getting them out of the kitchen onto tables.
Reuben seems to have, at this early stage, communicated his way of doing things to each and every one of them. And it shows. The team now have a captain.
The menu is basically the same as his Franschhoek restaurant. Same number of starters, mains and desserts. The old favourites are there; Slow Braised Onion Soup, Chilli Salted Baby Squid, Double Baked Goats Cheese Souffle and Tart of Blue Rock. Similar mains include Crisp Pork Belly, Lamb Rack, Steak Tartar, and Beef Sirloin.
Our lunch of chili salt squid, Malmesbury green asparagus, French onion soup and chilli and sage spiced butternut ravioli was delicious.
It was kind of weird being there, as I associate Reuben, indelibly in my mind, with Franschhoek. After the Gordon Ramsay shennanigans it was slightly surreal to be sitting there in the O&O with a Reuben menu in front of me.
Everything slotted into place when Reuben joined us at our table for a chat. He really is all genuine smiles, charisma and encompassing a total and deeply held set of beliefs about food, and people. Reuben understands what has to be done in this restaurant to make it a success. As he outlined his future plans I got the sense that he has a profound understanding of what the issues have been in this ungainly space, and how to fix them.
But for now, he has taken his food heritage from Franschhoek and plonked it fairly and squarely into this garish Sol Kerzner edifice in the Waterfront.
Will it work? Yes.
It will work because, for the first time, you now have a trained expert team, with leadership, on on both sides of the pass. Most importantly, there is now a sense of confidence and and belief within the team.
And you also have family. Sister Carmen will oversee front of house, as will Reuben’s wife Maryke.
Reuben laughed as he told me his mother will not be baking the bread as she does for Franschhoek.
Ah well, you can’t have everything.
Reuben’s at the One and Only.
021 431 5222
POSTSCRIPT. Along with Reuben moving in there have been a few other changes at the One and Only Cape Town. A “Resort Manager” with the magical name of Wendy Potter takes over the helm. On asking, tongue in cheek, if she was related to Harry the person at the One and Only asked me to hold the line while she checked.
Out goes Tony Romer Lee, General Manager, who will pop up again at The Cellars Hohenort on October 1st. We wish him well.
PR and Communications Manager, Etienne de Villiers, has also departed.