French Toast, not quite “palate of trinchado sauce … and Frelimo underpants”

Out of stock is a retailer’s biggest nightmare as it often results in a lost sale.  While this refreshing wine and tapas bar doesn’t lose a sale to us tonight as we are here to drink some of their extraordinary wines anyway, it most likely resulted in another kind of lost business opportunity.  My intention is to introduce friends to a minerally Burgundy Chablis, William Fevre 2008, which goes for R69 a glass, the only affordable French chardonnay on the menu.

French Toast
Wine & Tapas Bar
+27 (0)21 422 3839
199 Bree St
Cape Town

It is a loss because presumably the profit is higher on this premium – for us Africans – wine.  The mostly cheaper Cape wines we drink instead mean less money in the bank for the owners, John Harrison, the former managing directory of the cable car, and Karin Visser. 

It is the same situation with a light pinot grigio from Italy.  As luck would have it they are also out of a third wine we order – that’s a score of three out of four of the wines out of stock today.  Minor out of stock situations are to be expected in a restaurant. You sell more than you expect, a supplier lets you down or the delivered product is not up to scratch.  Owners tread a fine line between being overstocked and under stocked – carry too many bottles and your working capital is tied up in a bottle, leading to cash flow problems.  But French Toast is a wine bar, not a backpackers’ pub that only carries the odd bottle of quaffable wine.  What is worse is the fact that offering French and Italian wines by the glass is their biggest selling point. 

The rand may have strengthened but buying a bottle of one of the big top end French brands is out of reach for most of us.  (There are cheaper French wines, such as the Le Fevre, but many of us, including me, don’t know much about them and are reluctant to risk our cash.)  More than that they have the knowledge here to pick out these brands.  That’s what we pay them for. 

What is in stock is an unwooded Sicilian chardonnay, Cent’Are Inzolia 2009 (made by Pellegrino as far as I recall), which is light and feathery.  Much more than that I can’t tell you.  For while I think I have an okay palate for food, I am useless with wine.  Usually I will only pick up Cape Gooseberry if I am told it’s there.  Or as Emile Joubert of wine goggle once described a 1975 vintage two litre bottle of Taverna gathering dust in a Mozambican spaza shop, cellared at 40 degrees Celsius, humidity 100 percent: 

“Pipe tobacco and Oryx sweat on the nose, palate oozes trinchado sauce, gunpowder and Frelimo underpants.” 


French Toast don’t carry this first growth Katembe ingredient so unfortunately we can’t confirm Joubert’s tasting notes.

My inability to pick up the raspberries and rubber unless prompted  may well make me a mild sufferer of wine ageusia, or complete loss of taste, but thankfully not dysgeusia, which is persistent abnormal taste.  (Dysgeusia is what top chef Luke Dale-Roberts is trying to achieve at The Test Kitchen with his innovative food combinations.)

The Trizanne blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon 2009 is crisp yet fruity.  Delish.  Tastes like a Suffolk virgin (Barbara Cartland’s tasting notes).  Winemaker Trizanne Barnard is a pioneer in the cool Cape Agulhas region.

All the while we snack on tapas: a platter of charcuterie and caper berries; pickled white anchovies with fennel; and the novelty of ricotta cakes topped with tomato salad.  Tonight Spain beats Italy two nil when it comes to the pig, the highlight being a salty jamón serrano. Across the Med the Parma Ham is dull but the coppa lovely. 

The anchovies are a fantastic discovery considering the relative subtleness of this fishiest of fish.  With apologies to 70’s Swedish* porn stars – I have been unable to get my tongue around their pickled cuzzies, the rollmops.  Until now they have overwhelmed me but I will keep trying.  Despite the refined anchovies here, they kill your wine tasting buds.  Rather order a beer. 

My first visit to French Toast was a revelation.  On that occasion the funky punky waitress, who must be one of the most professional in town, was brimming with wine knowledge and tips.  Moreover she was honest enough to reveal that staff were still going through a wine education programme, learning about a certain number of wines a week.  She explained that Chablis has a steely taste on account of the chalky soil in Burgundy.  This causes many foreign winos to scoff at our weightier chardonnays.  I struggle to drink most Cape chardonnays, particularly the wooded ones, if I am not eating a meal.  The William Fevre is a light summer drink that glides down the throat at any time of the day.  Definitely not a first growth but the restaurant is unable to confirm appellation as they don’t have any bottles left.  Lets hope they are able to get hold of more.  The crowd then was populated by the local version of the Chelsea Tractor Driver but even that didn’t ruin the evening. 

The interior upstairs is dominated by vast windows, creating a light and airy atmosphere with the texture of stripped brick to ensure the space isn’t too cold.  Smart tables and others that are more informal. 

Tastings of wines by the glass offered before pouring as do Twankey champagne bar with bubbly.  Interestingly at least some of the wines are supplied by retailer Caroline’s Wines, and not by the big distributors.  Some are also available there. 

Cent’Are Inzolia R38.  Trizanne R44.  No main course but roast potatoes if you need to line your stomach.

They do serve French Toast – it is a pudding. 

2/5 stars on the night for dismally failing to meet their lofty ambitions 

* A vegetarian Lapland friend, who has those snow eyes that bore into you even when she is smiling, and unlike native Swedes definitely isn’t blond a blonde, cooks the traditional Swedish Christmas Eve smörgåsbord every year, her best offering being the nuttiest meatballs I have ever eaten.  Now that is the kind of vegetarian I like. 

This vibey Bree Street gastrohood that included Jardine Bakery and still includes Rotisserie 360, will be greatly diminished by the relocation of the boulangerie and closure of its restaurant upstairs.  Who will take Jardine’s space? 

Tom Robbins
Posted January 20, 2011

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2 Responses to “French Toast, not quite “palate of trinchado sauce … and Frelimo underpants””

  1. Koek! says:

    Ha – I once tasted a wine that boasted ‘aromas of grapefruit, box wood, pea-pods, tobacco and tomato leaf with an intriguing gooseberry yoghurt like complexity.’ All true.
    We’ll have to go back for that Chablis some time…

  2. Tom Robbins says:

    Glad to report French Toast had the William le Frevre chablis last night. All in order again.

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