Chris Von Ulmenstein, South-Africa`s best known restaurant critic, is a funny and delightful woman. We first met her when she interviewed Mari-Louis for a story on Koekedoor and wanted to get to know her better. We turned the tables and asked her a few questions over High Tea at the One&Only, scoffing down some of Chef Kyle`s fantastic bites.
We have seen Chris get a lot of flak over the years for her approach and we too thought her reviews too scathing at times, but we have come to realize what value she brings to the restaurant scene in South-Africa. Unlike the claims of some politicians, she really does her job without fear or favour, but with absolute passion and honesty.
Lately it seems that restaurants and chefs have cottoned on to her value. If you really are striving for excellence you need a critic like Chris to aid you in getting every little detail right.
Here are some more delightful images of Chris that formed part of our Flower Ladies shoot of people that inspires us. See the full spread in the latest VISI Holiday Issue.
- What attributes should a restaurant reviewer/critic have?
Honesty above all. Readers must trust that the review was balanced, with both positive and negative attributes. The restaurant evaluation should include the taste and texture of each dish, its price relative to the portion, the plating/presentation, the service, the wine list, and its spelling accuracy (with vintage information and region of origin), the accuracy of the menu spelling, the décor, the cutlery and ceramic brands. One should not get too close to a restaurant and its chefs before writing the review. A free/invited meal must be disclosed, and not called a review if it is free. Reviews should be consistent so that regular readers can clearly discern whether one is recommending a visit to the restaurant. One should not pre-announce one’s visit, nor beg for freebies. And a thick skin, for the attacks one can receive in reaction to one’s review.
2. How did you get into it?
I began a WhaleTales newsletter about 15 years ago, and wrote about restaurants (openings and closing, chef changes), tourism, and wines. I changed to blogging eight years ago, blogging daily. My first restaurant story on the WhaleTales Blog was about Portofino, and the profile of its owner Cormack Keane attracted huge attention when Keane landed up in a controversial cross-fire with 2Oceansvibe. This was followed by an investigative story on Carne, and the dishonesty of Chef Giorgio Nava in his claims as to the origin of his meat, and that it is organic. Both stories went viral, with huge benefit of readership. Critical restaurant reviews still attract high readership on the Blog.
- What drives your appetite ( perhaps the wrong word) for visiting fine dining establishments daily?
I don’t visit fine dining establishments daily. I usually don’t have favourites I return to, as when I spend the money on a meal, it should be a new restaurant preferably, as I only review a restaurant once, unless it has a new menu or new chef. Top class restaurants are high on the list to try, trying to be the first after opening. Blogging is very competitive and being one of the first reviewers gives good Google rankings. We are spoilt for choice in Cape Town, with a constant flow of new restaurants opening.
1. Top 5 ever food-experiences in South-Africa:
a).Eating at the private home of Chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen in Cape Town last month, a ten course meal prepared hands-on by Chef Jan, with wine handled by his fiance Grant Bacon. A once in a lifetime experience offered by our country’s first Michelin star chef.
- b) Eating at Hartford House with exciting Chef Constantijn Hahndiek, a new menu produced every dinner , and no dishes repeated
- c) Mosaic at The Orient, Chef Chantel Dartnall, being an amazing chef in presentation and theming.
- d) The Forest Tasting Menu at La Colombe, a memorable dinner shared with the bubbly Mari-Louis Guy
- e) Flying to Nice from Munich, to eat at JAN restaurant and meeting Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen in June 2015.
- 5 websites/blogs that you read:
I find it hard to subscribe to some blogs. Google when I need specific info. Do see:
- a) Hospitality Hedonist, when I see a link
- b) Huiskok by Errieda du Toit
- c) Hein van Tonder’s blog
- d) Jan-Hendrik’s Blog
- e) Facebook very useful for restaurant info
- 5 trends that you never want to see again in restaurants
- a) Chefs opening more and more restaurants
- b) Staff stretching across patrons
- c) Staff asking for a tip
- d) Attitude from waiting staff
- e) Banning reviewers who write the truth!
- 5 restaurants that you revisit often
- a) Villa 47 – addicted (rarely happens to me)
- b) Giulio’s Café
- c) Benguela on Main
- d) The Kitchen at Maison
- e) Delaire Graff
- 5 food destinations outside the Western Cape
Unfortunately not five! Johannesburg is waking up, with Chef David Higgs opening Marble (excellent), and Chef Angelo Scirocco cooking at Urbanologi (disappointing). KZN has few good restaurants, Hartford House outshining all other restaurants in the province. New York, New York internationally.