A QUESTION that is sometimes asked is, “Can you forgive bad service if the food and location is superb?” That’s more likely to be possible than the other way around; no matter how amazing your server is, if the food is awful, well that’s it pretty much ruined.
Thing is, service should not be shoddy in the first place, which eliminates the need for this debate. Look, I know things go wrong sometimes but a restaurant is a business to which you are paying your hard-earned money, and as a customer, you have reasonable expectations, which rise proportionately accordingly the calibre of the establishment. In my experience, staff training is critical, at every level, and it shows when the server arrives at your table. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Percy at Kleine Zalze.
Percy knew every dish on the menu intimately, and described them in detail; I later learned the menu was only one day old, so even more impressive. Percy enjoys wine and is knowledgeable; his recommended pairings were perfect. It was pure joy to be attended to by him.
I’d begun earlier with a Cap Classique tasting in the tasting room, where I encountered another experienced, enthusiastic and friendly staff member, Maylene. The tasting comprises three wines: Non Vintage Brut, Vintage Brut (an award-winning 2015), and NV Brut Rosé. There are four more tasting options across the Kleine Zalze ranges, from the entry level Cellar Selection to the Family Reserve, with the Vineyard Selection in the middle. The Summer Tasting includes five wines – your choice of one NV MCC, two Vineyard Selections and two Cellar Selections.
Thus fortified, I moved to my table for lunch, the heat kept at bay by those fine mist spray hoses. They’re marvellous; you don’t get wet but it certainly cools things down. Percy was at my elbow to explain the menu and offer his recommendations. As it happened, I didn’t choose any of them, but I placed myself in his accomplished hands for the wines.
The menu begins with tapas, followed by a choice of plats du jour. If there’s sweetbread on a menu, I will always order it because you don’t see it that often. Sweetbread is the culinary name for the thymus or pancreas, typically from calf and lamb, in another word, offal. The “heart” sweetbreads are more spherical in shape (pancreas), while the “throat” sweetbreads are more cylindrical in shape (thymus, so these were clearly hearts. The dish is served with vibrant carrot purée and a sweet and sour vinaigrette. Percy paired it with the Vineyard Selection Chenin Blanc.
My second tapas was lamb staanrib with apricot and sherry dressing and pickled red onion, with a glass of Vineyard Selection SMV (Shiraz, Mourvedré, Viognier). Both dishes were rich but skilfully balanced by their dressings. For my plat du jour, I’d chose the pan fried prawns, chicken breast, Asian chopped salad with sesame seeds, and coriander root vinaigrette. That’s how it is described on the menu and I didn’t question it.
So I was mildly surprised when it turned out to be an actual Asian salad with tender chicken and succulent prawns. Surprised but delighted. it too was delicious, and the ideal foil to the rich tapas which had preceded, and just right for a late summer lunch. Percy spoiled me with a glass of Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc which is not actually available by the glass at the restaurant. Oh, and a note on the wine prices; there is only the tiniest markup on the wines at the restaurant compared to the cellar door. Negligible really.
At the beginning of the meal I’d checked out the desserts, which one must always do first so as to plan ahead. The first item is simply, peaches and cream. It sang to me (“Ooh, you come on like a dream, peaches and cream, lips like strawberry wine…” join in if you know the song) so I asked Percy what it was. “It is,” he said, putting down his tray to free both his hands to demonstrate (this is going to be good, I thought), “peaches roasted in the oven, with cream.” Well then. I absolutely had to have them. They were as Percy promised, out of my dreams and into my mouth.
Naturally I had to go back to the tasting room to buy some wine before heading home. What a delightful afternoon it was. Even the toddler at the next table was well behaved. Nic, your team did you proud. For more information, click here.
PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©