Thursday, January 18, 2018

To Russell's on the Port in Port Owen for lunch

This is a small 15 room boutique hotel in Port Owen, owned by Russell Foster, a British restaurateur from Durham in Sutherland in England where he and his son-in-law own and run 12 restaurants. He told us he had come here to retire, found this place on auction, saw the potential, bought it and opened just 16 months ago. It has been a success. We had recommendations from people we know in Cape Town long before we decided to come up to this area for a holiday, so when Carmen Lerm of West Coast Way asked if we would like to visit it and write a review, we were very keen to oblige
The entrance. Finding Russell's is not difficult, there are signs pointing the way from the centre of Velddrif, which is on the mouth of the Berg River. You cross over the causeway past the salt pans and Cerebos sea salt plant and then as you enter Velddrif, turn left and follow the signs If you get lost just head for the Marina, the hotel is alongside it
The enclosed terrace restaurant
And the outer terrace restaurant where they seated us. The views are lovely. The umbrellas are very necessary as it was a gloriously hot day. One very clever adaptation that we have not seen before and we are surprised it hasn't caught on: all the umbrellas were on wheels, so they could be trundled about by the staff with ease as the sun moved across its arc
Lots of yachts moored nearby. There are plans to make an hotel jetty right in front of these steps so they will have direct access
The 4 star hotel is probably the same age as our 3 bed house in Sea Point which was (solidly) built in 1924. We have the same pillars, balustrades and arches but in a very much smaller scale. Lynne calls the style Early Cape Tuscan! They have recently acquired the second house down on the right and it is now a nine suite Guest lodge
The starter menu has lots of temptations and a good vegan option. The Head chef is Charl Coetzee who was previously at Spier wine farm and the Alphen hotel in Constantia. He is very into local and sustainable food where possible, and does forage for samphire on the local beaches and estuary. The restaurant can seat 90 people
The main course menu also presented us with difficult choices! We both chose the same course then realised we do need to write about different courses so we happily changed our order
They serve pizzas and, at the moment, are serving Sangria at the weekends
And the final temptations
We have heard that the breakfasts/brunch are also worth going for so we asked to photograph the menu, in case you are tempted
"Mine Host" Russell Foster joined us for a chat and told us about how he bought the hotel and some of his plans for the future. His son-in-law will be opening a craft brewery (they have one in the UK) and they will have a riverboat where they can take guests on trips up the river while enjoying a gourmet meal. He sings and while we were having lunch they played a tape of his music, a customer having requested it. They do have regular musical evenings at the hotel with different artists
Lynne's starter of Seared Norwegian Salmon was perfectly cooked. Crisp caramelisation on one side and yet still pink and moist and flaky inside. seasoned simply with Japanese Ponzu sauce - soy flavoured with a crisp Japanese lime like citrus and sesame. Salmon this fresh and good does not need gilding. On sliced avocado and green leaves with coriander sprouts and sesame seeds, it was dotted with paprika mayonnaise. The small fried cube in front was very clever. It is plain sushi rice, cubed and deep fried. A novel and really good addition of a small amount of carbohydrate
John ordered the Salt and Pepper squid, which Lynne did covet a bit. Beautifully cooked and well flavoured tempura coated baby squid tentacles and polpetti, crisp on the outside and tender within, it was dressed with black ink aioli, paprika mayonnaise, lemon, tomatoes and pea shoots
Lynne's salmon with its dressing and the inside opened to show how pink and moist it was
We had a bottle of one of our favourite West Coast wines from Groote Post, their Chenin Blanc 2017 Fresh, zesty, full of classic Chenin flavours with a tropical hint of guava and pineapple. It seems that the Pentz family (who own Groote Post) also like Russell's on the Port. It paired so well with the food
Lynne's main course was a large piece of well glazed Pork Belly, served on good creamy mashed potato, with seared onions, pak choy and an onion broth. The cracking was world class - the best for a long time, the pork tender and falling apart, if a tad too fatty for her. It needed a bit more seasoning and the vegetables were a little superannuated and undercooked
John chose the Moroccan Spiced Yellowtail, one of his preferred fishes, served with Israeli cous cous, an aubergine cream, olives, tomato, basil and some homemade labneh (fresh cheese) flavoured with herbs. It was also perfectly cooked - they know how to treat fish - moist and not at all dry as it is sometimes served in restaurants, which is why Lynne doesn't order it
A lazy afternoon on the terrace
We had a friendly visitor to our table, this small wagtail looking for scraps, he seems to be a regular
"Who is that handsome bird I can see?"
Oh, they tempted us into having desserts. Joneve was our friendly waitress.
Lynne risked the dairy allergy and went for Affogato (drowned in Italian) . It is an ice cream drowned in espresso coffee. It had grated chocolate on top of the ice cream, and in the base caramel chocolate and nuts. Wicked beyond belief and worth the suffering
It was accompanied by two banana beignet's. Crisp on the outside, but rather raw on the inside
John's Chocolate Brownie Sundae with pecan ice cream, a cherry, nuts and crumbs. He managed to wolf it down without blinking, so much did he enjoy it
The hotel under manager, Enver, then asked us if we would like to see some of the rooms in the Guest lodge so, always curious, off we went
This is a lovely suite with its own terrace facing the marina. Prices per night for two people are in the region of R1,650 to R1899.
Another front suite ...
... which has its own balcony and direct pool access
The private pool
We had a really good lunch and will definitely return when next in the area. It is nice to see restaurants of this quality opening in this area, which has long been rather lacking in quality dining. Now someone just has to open something good in Britannia Bay. Thank you Russell, Chef and all the staff who were so helpful

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