Hemelhuijs on the Fan Mile, if you want the restaurant review skip the intro

While the innocent and the sweet lunch here, the target of a dramatic hostile takeover is playing itself out in the Freeworld Coatings offices upstairs, where the executives have ended up with egg on their faces.  This after apparently failing in the fight of their lives to fend off the bid from Japanese hunter, paint maker Kansai (probably in order to hold on to their fat jobs).

+27 (0)21 418 2042
71 Waterkant St
Cape Town

Freeworld shareholders eligible to vote supported the offer yet the board continued (and continues) to oppose the bid despite, wait for this, it being a whopping 15 percent higher than an earlier private equity offer that management supported, as Stuart Theobald has brilliantly reported in Business Day.  Bizarre, like “we don’t want more money for our shareholders”.  The first offer would have seen management increase their stake in the company buy borrowing against the value of the company.  So you can understand, if not support, their devious thinking.

Since management opposed the second offer, Kansai has quietly been gathering shareholder support, and this week, in a bolt from the blue to some, announced it had the required majority support to proceed with the buyout.  This time it wasn’t only the Pimm-suckers downstairs that were oblivious, they surprised many in the financial media too.  The Freeworld executives are trying to get the competition authorities to stop the deal on spurious grounds but I reckon it will go through and most will be fired.  Hence the oeuf cocotte on their faces.  Sometimes the slimy get their come uppance.

Okay this is a bit of a stretch but why let the facts get in the way of a good story – the boardroom isn’t literally upstairs but Freeworld have just launched their new design centre in the same new building that houses tenant Hemelhuijs.  What will become of the design centre, which only opened in January, when the takeover is completed is anyone’s guess.  If it closes it could be the first design centre to shut before the Freeworld paint is dry.  In an economy where construction and renovation is limited to that which is only absolutely necessary, the hard-nosed men of Japan may see it as indulgence.  But then again design, décor and architecture go hand in glove with paint and brush.

Tyler “Crème” Brûlé (yes that really is his name), the editor of Monocle and a lover of all things Japanese when it comes to design, would probably argue that Kansai should keep the soft marketing strategy.

And in other news the Hemelhuijs review starts here

The interior is dominated by walls that are close to midnight black, a glass street-facing wall, shag carpet style lampshade and a reindeer with broken faux Greek busts decorating its horns.  A chandelier made of stag horn plants and a retail shelf with crockery steps up to the plate.

Best of all however, is a giant white poster on the ceiling that lists a chefs rough kitchen instructions and a daisy chewing cow, with the different cuts of meat depicted. 

Tables are wooden and chairs are elegant but the unpadded ones poke you in the back when you recline This could make the restaurant good for a lunch date – he or she will have no choice but to slowly lean forward and gaze lovingly into your eyes. 

The menu is predominantly summery and light lunchy with loads of generous salads, many with animals, and served with a generous bread basket that suit the ladies who lunch but don’t munch.  If you aren’t on a post festive season diet there are also full-blown mains with potato wedges (you pay extra) with, here we go again, ‘truffle’ mayonnaise.  There are sandwiches too.

I order two starters simultaneously that will both suffice a weekday lunch.  The first dish I eat is a plate of poached eggs with prosciutto (dry cured ham), pickled artichoke hearts and hollandaise sauce.  The lemony Hollandaise is one of the best I have ever tasted but be warned it is not the opulent species of this emulsion of egg yolk and butter but a cleverly constructed silky-light version, if Hollandaise can ever be light.  Quality prosciutto and the tang of artichoke pared back by the sauce completes the taste sensation.

The other starter, a salad of balsamic roasted duck, with beetroot and cherries is less successful.  Here the duck, an indulgence, which is too dry for my liking and rather bland, is humbled by the simple beet.  The earthy flavor of the root enlivens the bird, which on its own is a waste of time.

The place is packed with the well-heeled pearls and bone bangles 40-plus crowd with a smattering of couples, the only edgy character, who I assume to be a chef, walks out of the kitchen in a see-through white T-shirt.  Clearly he has a following.

“He’s so avant garde,” you can almost hear them thinking under their expensive hairdos.

Interestingly there is only house wine on the menu with a selection of around five red and white varietals.  Some will complain, for this is one of those few restaurants where customers still drink over lunch but I say if you can get away without carrying all that stock: “strength to you”.

Other mains include a marzipan and apricot roast chicken with cherry glaze, a tricky dish to get the flavour combinations right; and baked salmon trout.  Does this mean the fish’s mommy was a salmon and the daddy a trout?

Service good and when I am nearly done I mention to the manager that I will be departing soon and that he shouldn’t turn away a party waiting for a table.

“Please don’t rush,” he says.

The party decide to wait.  This is a joint where none of the diners are in a rush a rush.  I know.  I am one of them. 

So what is the secret of Hemelhuijs’ success?  The food is pretty good but not outstanding.  The interior is pleasing to the eye.  Many of Manna’s loyal ‘white décor loving’ customers followed the chef down the road when that restaurant changed hands.  That is a happy combination of things going right for them but I reckon they have something else – that indefinable X-factor that every restaurant needs to thrive.

Poached eggs with Hollandaise and prosciutto R55; duck and beetroot salad R85; and a glass of sauvignon blanc R30.

Closed at night but open for breakfast.

Comfortably 3/5 stars

Across the road from the Peruvian restaurant Keenwa

Tom Robbins
Posted February 4, 2011

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3 Responses to “Hemelhuijs on the Fan Mile, if you want the restaurant review skip the intro”

  1. queen says:

    this is odd.
    but i like it

  2. I only came across this article today. Interesting thing is this – what happened to the FreeWorld and Japanese bidder action? That interests me from a business point of view, particularly being in the Interiors field. But, this would have been the last place in the world I would have expected the arbitrary article about a paint business. Maybe I am missing something here, pray tell – how do the two issues connect, other than the location of the Restaurant?

  3. Tom Robbins says:

    Sense prevailed and the Japanese paint company (Kansai) took over Freeworld Coatings. Everyone was a winner (apart from the selfish Freeworld management). You are right there is no connection between the restaurant and the businesses apart from the location. Thankfully the design centre seems to have survived.

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