Food24 eats at... Vovo Telo
Bob Dylan’s first electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival is definitive proof that accusations of selling-out have not always been career-limiting.
Vovo Telo started in 2007, in a converted house in a PE suburb with prospects but not much else. A second outlet in the same city’s Newton Park followed, and then the great leap forward – a branch at 44 Stanley, Johannesburg. I first went there shortly after it opened. One of the owners was on hand to give us a spiel about having spent some time in Europe, and wanting to recreate his vision of the village boulangerie – the neighborhood baker, turning out preservative-free, classic products for the locals using age-old techniques. That struck a chord – at last, an artisanal baker in Jo’burg.
We frequented the place (and still do) fairly regularly, both for sit-down meals and bread and pastries to go. On subsequent visits to Port Elizabeth, I have had more than satisfactory breakfasts and lunches in Richmond Hill, where it all started. Then the news that Famous Brands (purveyors of Wimpy, Steers, Juicy Lucy and the like) had acquired 51% of the business, raising the prospect of franchised outlets. The founders of Vovo Telo have sold out, in a literal sense. But are they sell outs? Is it possible, after one has joined the geldmag, to remain an integral part of the production process and maintain respect for the traditional ways?
The new Parkhurst outfit
To find out, we decided to do lunch on opening day at the new Parkhurst outfit. The décor replicates that in other branches – stacked bags of Eureka stone-ground flour, bilious-green walls, pressed ceilings, glass chandeliers, worn rugs, rustic tables and plastic chairs. On display were a variety of breads and a selection of pastries – pain au raisins, pasteis de nata, croissants and the like. Judging by the crowd, the take-out trade was brisk.
We ordered the fillet steak sandwich, a pissalardière (a range of toppings are on offer) and the lamb burger. The steak sandwich came as requested, medium rare, served on a ciabbantini roll. The roll, baked on the premises, was as anemic as the latest job growth numbers, as was the roll that encased the lamb burger. The latter was advertised as accompanied by melted gorgonzola, caramelised pears and sweet potato chips. There were chips in abundance, but the topping of gorgonzola and pears was as meagre as this year’s economic growth. The lamb patty was overcooked and with no sauce to speak of, it rendered the whole affair rather dry. The pissalardière was good – a thin, crisp crust, topped with goat’s cheese and olives with hints of parsley, chili and thyme.
The flourless chocolate cake and the pear tart were first-rate. The coffee at Vovo Telo has always been superb. Today’s order lived up to expectations, even if it took an age to arrive.
The level of service disclosed what might be termed a training need of significant proportions. We had two waiters at our table, one of them wearing a badge happily introducing him as “Half-baked: Trainee”. He was clearly there to look and learn, and to his credit, he looked. If there was anything to learn, it was how not to do it – this was the half-baked leading the half-baked. The delays in getting orders to the table and processing the payment of the bill were simply unacceptable but to be fair, they were remedied by an apology as we left.
The bill for three, including a fresh fruit juice and a coffee each but excluding a tip, was R288.00.
Has Vovo Telo sold out? Has the quintessential artisanal bakery become the thinking person’s Wimpy? It’s too early to tell. Much of what went wrong could be ascribed to opening day niggles, so Vovo Telo Parkhurst, for now, gets the benefit of the doubt. I’ll go back, with an open mind. Unless, in the meantime, they open a branch at Cresta.
Vovo Telo Parkhurst was reviewed by Like Father Like Son.