PEOPLE AND PLACES: Gorgeous George hotel. Where heritage meets urban cool

gorgeousgeorge2bedroom69.jpg Cape Town inner city heritage hotel Gorgeous George combines focused, fabulous local interior design talent with inner city cool in its bedrooms and social spaces. The formula is casual food, a bar and deck leading to a pool up high. A few months after opening, it is already a Capetonian drinks hangout favourite.

If you’re suffering from creative block after staying in too many hotel rooms that are boring in their nondescript, impersonal uniformity, make your next business or leisure reservation at Gorgeous George. Old window frames in this new hotel open to overlook Cape Town’s St Georges Mall pedestrian walkway and bring in the hum of a city. It’s where heritage cleverly meets urban.

From the friendly reception on street level where Lucie De Moyencourt’s handpainted tiles form a mural map of Cape Town, to buzzing rooftop Gigi Rooftop restaurant/bar that introduces a tropical jungle feel against a backdrop of urban low-rises, Gorgeous George celebrates everything that is inner city, individualistic and slick. Two heritage buildings were cleverly combined to produce the 32 rooms and suites.

The hotel is Cape Town’s first Design Hotels? member; an association with 300 privately owned/operated international boutique hotels rooted in design, architecture and hospitality.

gorgeousgeorgeexterior03.jpg GERMAN-OWNED
Gorgeous George hotel’s German owner Tobias Alter is the head (and primary shareholder) of real estate development company Formhaus in Munich. He believes more travellers are looking for an authentic experience “outside of what the cookie cutter large scale brands” offer.

The common denominator is inner city and innovative locally designed,” says Alter. “With the consolidation of larger hotel chains, there’s a gap for a personalised experience that only smaller, independent boutique hotels can fill.”

Tristan du Plessis of Plessis Studios was brought in to add colour, flair and local artisanal design flash in the interior spaces. “We came up with a concept that was a reaction to other Cape Town hotels,” says Du Plessis. “We didn’t want beachside or seaside. We wanted an unashamedly downtown and urban focus.”

gorgeousgeorge2bedroom65.jpg SOUTH AFRICAN DESIGN SHOWCASE
“From an aesthetic perspective we wanted a showcase for South African design,” says Du Plessis. They’ve achieved it. My one-bedroom linked to a lounge with Gregor Jenkin’s Quaker chair propped at his narrow black steel workdesk, near a mural handpainted by David Britz.

A distinctive drinks trolley by Douglas & Co had an outsized pink wheel against a black metal frame. A velour couch ended at a brass pill mirror “inspired by the Cape Dutch arches of a neighbouring building”. Du Plessis’s oak and steel storage unit doubled as a refreshment station, with seventies ribbed glass panels and De Moyencourt’s tiles as splashbacks.

I loved Jenkin’s bathroom vanities too: marble topping a black base on narrow legs, creating a luxurious touch against the wet room’s white and black penny tiles and black accessories.

Du Plessis’s Eurocentric library/bar at Gigi Rooftop uses only locally sourced furniture including leather Chesterfields to his own design. A barman made us cocktails on a leather counter, on stained walnut wood with brass trim. David Krynauw’s large oak table and chairs infused an Afrikaans farm-style element.

Smaller dining tables with more handpainted tiles weren’t terribly practical for balancing wine glasses alongside executive chef Guy Bennett’s accessible food. Small Plates (oysters to tasty BBQ sticky lamb ribs) suit afternoon poolside drinks or dinner starters. A creative mushroom risotto is an alternative to fish and steaks.

Continuing the casual theme, Du Plessis designed the rooftop to be an urban garden oasis, with loads of hanging baskets of plants linking the indoors with the decked pool area. “We turned the old machine room into the indoor section of the rooftop pool.”

gigi_restaurant_interior_11.jpg LIVING ROOM FOR THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Alter was adamant about introducing European hotel culture as a community social hub in his design brief to Du Plessis. A space not only for sleeping; a haunt for locals to meet. It’s why Alter refers to Gigi Rooftop’s restaurant as the “living room for the neighbourhood”.

It makes the sixth floor rooftop space unusual. On a weekday winter evening a mix of ages were chatting, ordering glasses of wine plus snacks to eat. There were quieter dining areas too. “That was a core component of what we wanted to create: a social space not just for hotel guests,” says Du Plessis. “It adds to the experience for the guest too. It’s nice to be part of that community and not just check into a room.”

GORGEOUS GEORGE 118 St Georges Mall, Cape Town City Centre.
Tel 087-898-6000, Gorgeous George

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in June 2019

PEOPLE AND PLACES: Interview with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli

p1010049.jpg Our reservation for six was confirmed nine months in advance. What started as a fantastic idea between four friends became a foodies’ mission. The destination: El Bulli restaurant in Spain. Two days before the 2007 season closed, six South Africans arrived for dinner by taxi along a winding coastal road.

Billed as the “best” restaurant experience in the world, El Bulli opened for only six months of the year in an out-of-the-way location, so the waiting list was long. Our table included two Cape Town chefs, two journalists, a winemaker and a skilled hostess/cook. Our common ground: a commitment to adventurous eating and fun.

El Bulli’s 32 courses of nibbles, liquids and textures were unlike any recognisable set menu. They arrived as warm foam in martini glasses, as liquid bursting from edible clam enclosures, as pineapple and beetroot snacks on metal stands or as candyfloss-like Parmesan air inside Styrofoam boxes. Waiters’ prompts encouraged sniffing, touching and tasting in a specific number of bites. Visual attention was imperative. The meal was intellectually challenging and witty, yet tasty and light to digest. The Tasting Menu cost €185; the wine prices were incredibly good value for a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Q&A: Probing the remarkable mind of chef Ferran Adrià the next day – via a Spanish translator, but he understood most English questions – was inspiring. As with the food prepared, this wasn’t a chef who could easily be pigeon-holed.

Kim Maxwell: What is your opinion of the label molecular cuisine, as some describe your food?
Ferran: Molecular cuisine does not exist. It’s a lie! I’m asked this question in every interview. Whatever you ate yesterday, the concept was started in 1994 or 1995. So it’s not new or even recent. This label is harmful for me, because people who are anti my cuisine use this term to fight me. Nobody eating at El Bulli doesn’t know exactly how the food is cooked. What is important instead is the result. It doesn’t matter if the food is machine-made or hand-made; what matters is that it is there. People always think this type of food is very complicated, but sometimes it’s very simple. Take the oyster leaf I served with the hare jus and red jelly in your meal. People don’t know the leaf so they think it’s from a machine, but it’s only a new European plant tasting like an oyster.

Kim Maxwell: Your food is very labour-intensive. Are you saying it isn’t complicated?
Ferran: But it is complicated. People see this oyster leaf on their plate and think: what is it? For a chef to eat it, is very complicated, because he will think the chef preparing the dish has gone mad! A normal person could also complicate his life by just thinking about it. Cooking is a language in a way. I’m trying to send a message. Sometimes it’s a message people don’t understand. Then there are those who see more than the food is. It means whatever is in life. I want each diner to have their own experience.

Kim Maxwell: London’s Restaurant Magazine panel repeatedly voted El Bulli first of 50 global restaurants. Is it important to be ‘the best’?
Ferran: It’s not my objective to be the best. The best does not exist. What is measurable are the influences some chefs have over other chefs. Restaurant Magazine’s list shows these chefs are among those that influence cuisines around the world. It’s very difficult to be the best so I don’t pretend to be the best restaurant or most influential chef. I’ve never worried about being number one; it’s more a consequence of what I’m trying to do. The best recognition comes from people in the same profession, when you’re not included in a list.

p1010065.jpg Kim Maxwell: Doesn’t El Bulli have an unusual format for a restaurant?
Ferran: Yes. We are open for only six months, only for dinner. We have 50 cooks in the kitchen, way above the average. So nothing at El Bulli is the norm. We create 140 completely new dishes each year, and use 180 ingredients on our menu. Spanish journalists use me as model, as a temperature gauge.

They’ve asked other Spanish chefs the same questions, and realised that other restaurants can’t do it … all our new dishes, our format. Your menu for six was created for your table. They ask how we can structure a restaurant business model this way. The answer? El Bulli is not a restaurant in the usual sense because it’s not structured as a business. It is a place where a creative team looks for the limits in cuisine. We use a known format that fits into usual restaurant traditions, so there is connection and feedback to the world and to the team. But we would like to be more radical in future. This El Bulli format could be transformed into a restaurant table open only every 15 days. Why shouldn’t it be? You need to understand this or you don’t understand El Bulli.

Kim Maxwell: How does the menu creation process happen?
Ferran: Talent is not something you can structure. I have the best creative team in the world. I couldn’t do it alone. From 1994 to 1997 I was alone here. But now the El Bulli standard is so high. We close the restaurant at the end of September. On the following Monday my creative team and I pack our bags for London, Paris and perhaps Chicago, to search for creative ideas. The team of five includes my brother and me. We visit museums, markets, Chinatown, or spend time in bars, talking and brainstorming. We are looking for the meaning of happiness in our food.

Kim Maxwell: I noted Asian ingredients in my 2007 menu: imitation caviar made of miso, teriyaki mackerel belly, miso sesame sponge cake and shimeji mushrooms. Was the Asian focus intentional?
Ferran: I used 180 ingredients in your menu, of which only eight were Asian. Your razor clam dish with seaweeds had 10 ingredients alone. Maybe Asian ingredients are more noticeable because they are less usual. We use a lot of Spanish dishes and ingredients from the Roses area too — we used pistachios from Tarragona nearby.

Do you know what was missing on your menu? Bread! For a European diner, to have no bread during the meal is unimaginable. So I included black sesame bread crumbs in the mackerel dish.

Kim Maxwell: What inspires you to travel?
Ferran: I visit places for cooking promotions if I think I can learn something there. But if I travel with my wife, it’s very different to travelling with my team. What impressed me after visiting Japan is the greater respect Asians, and the Japanese in particular, have for a dish. Also, the way dining rooms are set out. El Bulli’s dining room isn’t very suitable as it’s too sociable for eating as an individual experience.

Kim Maxwell: What constitutes an ideal eating experience?
Ferran: I was involved with Dokumenta, a contemporary art festival, during 2007, where two mystery guests were sent for dinner at El Bulli over 100 days. These weren’t foodies, but art people.

One of them sent me the most wonderful sentence about her experience. “I went out of El Bulli with a sensation of not having eaten anything dead,” she said. Eating is a very individual experience, so this situation confirmed to me that two diners are the ideal number. In special cases, a group of four or six can work if people are concentrating as professionals. But an experience for two is preferred so as not to loose concentration, as people eat at different speeds at larger tables.

Concentration on a dish is based around the senses – it’s very important. People don’t use their senses enough when in a restaurant with friends. My ideal at El Bulli would be 20 minutes per dish, but with 32 courses it is not possible. The speed of dishes arriving is fast so the information is concentrated. If El Bulli’s creative team of five travels, we eat and study with concentration, and analyse. But this is not normal behaviour!

Kim Maxwell: It’s hard to fathom your intention with some dishes, the Parmesan air in Styrofoam, for instance. Is cooking a language everyone can speak?
Ferran: There could be 1000 different meanings, depending on the person opening that Styrofoam box. You could think about 15g of Parmesan air which is very light, but eating it provides the sensation of being heavy. It could be pop art if you were an artist, or similar to a box found in a supermarket. To speak my language of cooking, you have to go through all the steps to understand it. But others who know less can still enjoy it. You don’t always understand a poem, but you can enjoy it. It’s the same with eating.

Kim Maxwell: Could you create the El Bulli experience outside Roses, Spain?
Ferran: I could and I couldn’t. Whatever I can change, I change. What I can’t, I don’t. What’s more important is the format. If I take that format of operating a restaurant every 15 days, I could do this in Roses or in Barcelona. But doing it somewhere else, the food would be different.

EL BULLI, Cala Montjoi, Roses, Spain. The restaurant closed permanently in 2011.

FOODSTUFF: Restaurant Seven opens in numeric style

samanthaclifton-sevenrestaurant-georgejardine.jpg Somerset West dining has just got more exciting. New Restaurant Seven with George Jardine is upping the ante for quality smart casual dining, just off the main street.

“This is a restaurant for young professionals from Somerset West, who don’t mind spending R20 more if they know they’re getting a superior product,” says Scottish chef-owner George Jardine.

Open for lunch and dinner in shop seven of a small upmarket shopping centre, it has a wine bar and a florist as tenant neighbours.

Previously, Somerset West locals made up about 50% of the clientele at Jardine’s two other Stellenbosch restaurants. Now they don’t need to travel to eat well.

samanthaclifton-sevenrestaurant-00007.jpg INTERIORS
Jardine and Le Riche sourced most of the restaurant décor elements themselves. The open kitchen and the entrance area show off eyecatching wallpaper customised to the numeric theme, using favoured film, advertising and book icons. These include a 7 Up soft drink, agent 007’s From Russia with Love, to Enid Blyton’s book Secret Seven and Yul Brynner starring in sixties Western The Magnificent Seven.

Unstained tables and chairs in ash wood were crafted by Somerset West furniture designer Louw Roets. Dirty olive or tan leather is used for the seats. The lighter wood contrasts the restaurant’s walls in dirty green, and yellow with a teabag stain. The long dining space is framed by a charcoal ceiling. Charcoal banquette seating, upholstered in textured green fabric, cleverly double as storage units.

Spare a moment to admire the floor. The former tenant was a laundry with unsightly square vinyl tiles, but now an epoxy coating has transformed worn vinyl indents into an arresting contemporary surface.

oysters Bloody Mary
Seven head chef Brendan Thorncroft previously worked at Jordan restaurant with George Jardine, and at Restaurant Jardine in central Stellenbosch. He is not keen to label the Somerset West restaurant’s style. “The food is just honest food cooked well: three, four, five ingredients,” says Thorncroft. “We bring the best out of the ingredient with no funny things added.”

Jardine agrees. “If you call it bistro, people will say that it’s not really a bistro. So we said, let’s just call it shop seven.”

Brendan Thorncroft
The single-page menu seems deceptively uncomplicated, hiding the skill and input that goes into making proper stocks and sauces. Take the artisanal brioche toast partnering bone marrow richness with earthy mushroom duxelles in stocky jus. Or the steak, partnered with unctuous béarnaise and shallots currently, but perhaps a bourguignon or pepper sauce in future renditions.

As starter options there are signature Saldanha oysters, served with a Bloody Mary and celery splash. Or perhaps, an outstanding prawn boudin blanc starter using pressed, crumbed prawn and hake, resting on an intense prawn bisque pool of salty intensity, with crushed broad beans and pea puree.

sirloin béarnaise with charred shallots
“Going into summer we’ll see more things such as the green gazpacho,” says Thorncroft. This delicious chilled soup is a vibrant mix of steamed leek and zucchini with a broad bean, diced avo and cucumber base. Served with Buffalo milk labneh, it’s finished with toasted almond nibs.

Even non vegetarians will enjoy the roasted celeriac dish with silky celeriac velouté, perky hazelnut crust and prune butter. Salad or handcut chips are side orders.

For dessert, most times you’ll find a decadent dessert for dark chocolate lovers, or the cheese trolley can be wheeled out for those with savoury tastes. Don’t miss the signature warm, sweet soufflé — mine was Grand Marnier, flambéed, with a dollop of ice cream dropped in.

samanthaclifton-sevenrestaurant-00138.jpg Seven’s food is classics with a twist: visually appealing plates served in a welcoming environment. The long space is noisy when full of diners. It feels like a neighbourhood restaurant yet the crafted plates are pitching quite a bit higher at people who enjoy food and as Jardine puts it “want to eat everything”.

RESTAURANT SEVEN WITH GEORGE JARDINE Shop 7, Drama Street, Somerset West. Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sat.
Tel 021-851-3146, Restaurant Seven with George Jardine

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in October 2018

FOODSTUFF: Urban dining defined at Janse & Co

20180404_122931.jpg A long space draped in sleek darkness. Black, charcoal, greys. Near a window, an elegant, circular Houtlander chair seats four or five people. Dining chairs are James Mudge; bar seats in leather are by Dark Horse.

Wines, homemade charcuterie and cheese are on display as you walk through the maze of dining spaces and past the open kitchen – nearly everything is encased in black or charcoal with thin, vertical stripes defining the detail. Charcoal ceramic plates. Darker pendant lights. A colourful wall mural of flowers breaks the monochrome.

4h1a0416.jpg Arno Janse van Rensburg and pastry chef Liezl Odendaal established Janse & Co restaurant in December 2017. Its urban, fast-paced inner city location is quite a change from his last cheffing post at The Kitchen at Maison in Franschhoek’s countryside. The narrow venue used to be an Ocean Basket fish eatery. Source Design has transformed it with dramatic flair and created visual sophistication.

The street entrance is almost hidden. Janse van Rensburg enjoys being part of this urban pavement blur of restaurants, burger cafes and bars. “Cape Town is not a massive city. Evenings are nice and busy,” he says. “I think I got a bit lazy in Franschhoek where I worked lunch only.” Janse & Co serves lunch and dinner.

So is a “casual fine dining experience” and an ingredient-led menu a good fit in this buzzy, younger part of town? Bree Street’s Chefs Warehouse probably started the casual-vibe-meets-finely-crafted-food trend in Cape Town restaurants, their kitchen serving the chefs’ choices of eight mini dishes to two diners, the skill in their finely crafted cuisine.

4h1a0364.jpg Janse & Co’s crafted food style includes contemporary innovations alongside some classics. As a diner you’re invited to eat two or even five courses per person at lunchtime. The defining difference being that Janse & Co diners select their preferences from a small printed menu. So two of you could sample three or four courses each (duplicates or each one different) and throw in only one dessert in that savoury mix.

At a shady courtyard table, four taster courses (including one shared dessert) at R445 per person, felt about right. We paired it with interesting wines by the glass including food-friendly Fledge Vagabond white blend and a lighter Swartland Independent red, The Blacksmith Cinsault.

20180404_122944.jpg A selection of Odendaal’s homemade breads and unusual crackers with Janse van Rensburg’s four cured salamis and sausages made for a compelling start. Smoked geelbek in a creamy lemon aioli under fresh persimon shavings was fresh. Then a fairly adventurous option: sweet, homemade granola mixed through diced, tart quince and green beans under grated shavings of frozen duck liver parfait. I liked it; some may not.

What the restaurant calls courses are small dishes, so hearty eaters might leave a little hungry with the two-course menu (R245 per person) if they’re settling in for a while. The flat white is good and the service informed without being demanding. Dessert fans will be happy with the flavour fit of Odendaal’s passionfruit sorbet with honeycomb and milk chocolate “Aero” chunks.

4h1a0391.jpg My husband loved the classic notes of beef brisket best, slow-cooked to tender with roasted shallots, capers and spinach swimming in a delicious jus, onions dehydrated into a sticky-sweet sheet on top. My favourite was simplicity itself: vegetarian potato ribbons softened in vegetable stock and warmed through with butter, on diced avo. What took it up a notch was a salty seaweed dusting of “klipkombers”. It’s a seaweed that clings to rocks.

We’ll happily return for a special evening out. Our lunch view was of a vertical herb and vegetable garden, where I spotted Swiss chard, marigolds and spring onions. Citrus trees were planted too. Janse van Rensburg says it’s his attempt at pushing seasonal and fresh. “I want to try to bring a bit of the farm life here because we don’t have a garden.”

JANSE & CO 75 Kloof Street, Gardens. Open for lunch Wed to Sat, dinner Tues to Sat. Lunch offers two courses (R245), 3 courses (R345) or 4 courses (R445). Minimum three courses at dinner. Tel 021-422-0384 Janse & Co

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in April 2018

FOODSTUFF: Lazy lunch under trees at The Table

20180204_135151.jpg I’ve heard beautiful things about The Table and wanted to eat there for ages. “Yes, let’s book and all go sometime.” How often have you said that to friends? Yet somehow other commitments and schedules get in the way.

Nearly a year ago my husband and I sat next to the lovely Jessica and Luke Grant at a Cape Town pop up restaurant by chance, sharing an evening of communal admiration of some visiting chefs’ tasty plates in the way that food lovers so easily can. So I was especially delighted (and excited) to be invited to bring the family and join a small group gathered for a special birthday party at this rural Stellenbosch farm restaurant. I do love a lazy Sunday lunch.

20180204_130546.jpg. The average Stellenbosch wine farm is slick and polished. De Meye, in contrast, is a small family owned winery. It is rustic and scattered with things that appear a little wonky or run-down. It’s at this charming venue where the small restaurant operates.

20180204_134945.jpg The simple dining concept is all about provenance. Beautiful lunches are created by Jessica, using produce grown and gathered in their kitchen garden, in addition to quality ingredients sourced from neighbouring regions. Luke gives the table guests a rundown of where and what at every course, with olives from here and heirloom tomatoes from there, as well as pasture-reared meat to farm eggs.

This mystery menu meal is always three courses and the style is comfort country fare, a help-yourself deal served on mismatched platters. As their website states quite charmingly, in summer tables are spread out on the lawn, a tree apiece to give guests a sense of dining privately in some vast garden.

20180204_142342.jpg I don’t remember all the specifics. But we started with farm butter and artisanal sourdough from De Oude Bank Bakkerij, Chrisna’s assorted garlicky olives, dipped into soft ricotta mixed through with goat’s cheese, and fat, juicy red and green heirloom tomato slices. Glasses were topped with chilled Rosé.

Our children were kept amused by lots of grass and space to run, visits to nearby vines to sample ripening grapes, and a dog called Lulu that had an obsession with digging.

Main courses brought Ryan Boon’s beef shin cooked to velvet softness, a great partner with a slice of onion tarte tatin. Heirloom beet salad was fun, alongside a coleslaw with apple, cabbage and I think, tahini dressing. Fresh and unusual, a lightly pickled cucumber salad with nasturtium capers was something novel.

20180204_152226.jpg Dessert was sugar cones for kids, with adults tucking into bowls of passion fruit tangy-creamy frozen yoghurt, and cream whipped stiff with lovely edible things on chewy meringue.

I like coffee strong and not overly milky: what a delight to have a flat white served exactly as requested. Staff are well trained here.

20180204_151557.jpg Go to The Table to enjoy a delicious country experience under a shady tree. This is honest, no-frills food created with positive energy and good intent. And if you have children along, they will leave grubby and happy.

THE TABLE, De Meye wine farm, Muldersvlei Road, Stellenbosch. Open for lunch Fri to Sun (lunch served on Thurs also during Nov to March). A three-course set lunch costs R395 per adult. Children under 12 are half price. Tel 072-696-0530 The Table

FOODSTUFF: La Petite Colombe stirs all the senses

la_petite_colombe_by_claire_gunn_27.jpg Franschhoek is often called South Africa’s culinary capital and it’s not hard to figure out why. Per square metre, the central village offers a number of quality simple and upmarket restaurants, wine and activities. In between the formulaic cafes and curio shops tripping up tourists in the main street, there are quality dining destinations and delis, plus charming suites and cottages offering luxurious beds.

So it’s logical to draw a link with one of the country’s acclaimed restaurants opening in Le Quartier Français boutique hotel in August. La Colombe restaurant put Constantia on the global culinary map. Its chef partners Scot Kirton and James Gaag had similar objectives for La Petite Colombe restaurant in Franschhoek’s main road — for diners to enjoy a special, leisurely wine and dining experience in a country setting.

20171101_133531.jpg My lunch began with a simple Luderitz oyster poached in creamy Champagne velouté, with verjuice gel and dill oil. Simple and comforting, it was served in a beautiful bowl shaped like an oyster shell. There were hits of citrus freshness, sago for texture, then micro-diced apple in yuzu dressing adding tartness. As a wine pairing the Morena MCC, from Franschhoek, was spot on.

“I like to think we serve food that is a little lighter than La Colombe,” says Head chef John Norris-Rogers. He may be only 26, but he’s been schooled in La Colombe style since 2013, during his third year of Silwood School of Cookery. “The styles are very similar as we use classical grounding, but with playfulness that allows us to be creative. So we have the basics for a good sauce but the creativity to play around and make the sauce unique.”

Asian-style tuna was an artwork demanding to be admired. What appeared as a translucent disc of yellowfin tuna was shavings of blast-frozen fish. It rested on a creamy, umami base of miso and orange zest mousse. Scattered on top: avocado, assorted blobs, creams, gels, and pickled seeds including miso-glazed aubergine, tart citrus calamansi gel, spicy kimchi, delicate shaved fennel. Flavours and textures balanced one another beautifully.

la_petite_colombe_by_claire_gunn_24.jpg Seafood is something this restaurant does particularly well. “We have more fish dishes because they’re light enough to allow you to enjoy more courses,” says Norris-Rogers. “It brings clean flavours and freshness to a menu.”

He balances those with “comforting” meat dishes. A standout example was the seared, grass-fed beef tataki slices, contrasted with herby marinated beef tartar. Dominant flavours included soya sauce, smoky chipotle, pickled Jerusalem artichoke, red onion, coriander. There was fun in a puffed sago crisp; subtlety in creamy avocado. A surprise too: grated, frozen foie gras melted in the mouth. Rainbow’s End Cabernet Franc 2014 offered delicious sweet fruit.

Probably the most memorable part was being invited to leave our chairs and “meet the chefs” while eating a course, standing, at a counter. Chef Kieran Gatenby took us through an interactive dining experience while facing the open kitchen. “Today you’re having traditional Japanese ramen,” he instructed. In a sphere-like bowl of an earthy, soy-based reduction with dainty noodles, soft-boiled quail’s egg, and edible extras, Gatenby poured over a warm broth of juiced celeriac and aromatic oils. Fresh, then woodier notes came to the fore.

img_2375.jpg In summary, La Petite Colombe offers a food and wine journey. Complex, attractive dishes incorporate a layering of tastes, in a setting that opens to a garden.

“I think, when you’re coming up with something of this nature, you just want to address all the senses,” says Norris-Rogers of his menu approach. “But above all it has to be flavoursome.”

LA PETITE COLOMBE, Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Open for lunch and dinner daily. At night, many splurge on nine courses for R1,100 (R1,850 including wine). A reduced menu (five courses at R795) is popular at lunchtime (R1,250 including wine).
Tel 021-202-3395, La Petite Colombe

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in December 2017

FOODSTUFF: No-frills food and decor at La Tête

Photo Claire Gunn
At Cape Town’s newest brasserie, minimalist décor is in keeping with a prudent approach to food and a no-frills style of presentation.

La Tête restaurant opened at the foreshore end of Bree Street in November 2016. The name is French for the head. “I called it La Tête because it symbolises what we do. I use the entire animal,” says chef and co-owner Giles Edwards, butchering a carcass into meaty parts as he chats.

Edwards is not one for half measures. He decided to become a chef after a game-changing dinner with brother James at Fergus Henderson’s St John nose-to-tail restaurant in London (their British father loved offal). Edwards dropped out of the University of Cape Town and enrolled at Capsicum Culinary Studio.

Newly qualified, he headed back to London to find work at St John — but was turned down. They refused him two more times. After cheffing experience at a one-Michelin-star and then a seafood restaurant, Edwards was finally hired as sous chef at St John. “But the head chef disappeared, so myself and the other sous chef ended up running the St John kitchen. It was five years of heaven,” he says.

Photo Claire Gunn
In late 2015, Edwards decided to try South Africa, testing the market with a pop-up restaurant called Salt Cellar, in Salt River. “It was a chance to see how Cape Town would react to pig tails, no foams and gels [on plates].” By the time he launched La Tête a year later with brother James as a business partner, the concept was fine-tuned and crispy pig tails were on the menu.

“It’s not so much about nose to tail as about sustainability. It’s using up all the rest of the animal. Everyone’s only using the prime cuts. I can get hold of liver, brains, hearts, tongue, kidneys … It’s also about getting hake,” says Edwards. Plainer fish species will always be on the La Tête menu. Meats are grassfed or free range, as are the chickens that supply eggs.

At lunchtime, the fish sandwich is a must: it is either hake or angelfish, deepfried in batter, served on sourdough, plus homemade tartare and red pickled onion. I plan to return again when Scotch eggs are on the menu.

Photo Claire Gunn
At dinner, starters are the more interesting part of the menu. It is advisable to select a few. On the lighter side, chilled, sliced octopus tentacles are lightly pickled and served with cucumber lengths, capers and mint. The crispy pig cheek is richness itself, using pork fat to create a confit centre, which is slow-roasted to crunchy crackling and served with crisp, raw radish, creamy mustard and herby greens. Edwards rightfully calls it the “Rolls Royce of pork belly”.

Mussels out of their shells, with buttered leek strands and salty bacon lardons, is comforting in a brothy stock. Salt hake with bread and green sauce tastes clean and fresh, a solid combo of poached, flaked fish, assorted herbs, red onion and cubes of good bread.

But it is devilled chicken hearts that draws a line in the sand. Fried fingers of a dense, layered potato bake, elegantly mopping up the intense umami jus of the hearts. Says Edwards: “It’s a new dish. I’m in love with it. I think it’s amazing.”

On the mains, the duck is aged for a week to develop flavour. Edwards also rates the ox heart: thinly sliced, marinated and grilled. “My favourite way is to serve it like steak and chips, because it tastes very much like steak.” Despite the obvious offal focus, La Tête offers a vegetarian lunch and dinner too. Porcini on toast is worth having in season.

Photo Claire Gunn
“Our aim is to cook amazing food and to provide an experience around that. The experience must start with what’s on the plate and what’s in your glass,” says Edwards. La Tête’s plates embrace simple elegance and a “Parisian bistro twist” in a cow head emblem or a single blue line.

His pop-up restaurant was in a Cape Town wine shop. Unsurprisingly then, the La Tête wine list — a collaboration by the Edwards brothers — offers many niche producers’ interesting labels, from Alheit to Storm and Crystallum’s whites, reds and rosés. Wines are sold by bottle or glass, in short-stemmed Parisian brasserie type stemware.

Classic desserts include poached fruit, chocolate pots or a single meringue “floating island” on homemade custard. Simplicity is the overriding philosophy. Says Giles: “I like to say no to the idea of a signature dish. I use a lot of herbs, a lot of vegetables, a lot of meat. Although my fish bill is almost as big as my meat bill. It’s a pleasure changing the menu twice a day.”

Madeleines. Photo Claire Gunn
In keeping with the food, the narrow interior of La Tête is minimalist, with stark white walls and white pinboards, a concrete floor and wooden ceiling fans. Custom-made light fittings are by Arora Lights. Stained wooden tables are reclaimed school desks from Swaziland. There are no tablecloths.

The interior is functional rather than flash. A long kitchen runs parallel to diners, open part of the way. Exterior walls are grey and black; interior ones are painted white with light grey and black accents. A zinc bar from Antonie Grobler of Individua Design is opposite a wall with a station clock. Says Edwards: “Being an inner city restaurant, we wanted a clean space. The food is quite simple and the space is quite simple. So you’re not distracted.”

LATE, 17 Bree Street, Cape Town. Open for lunch Tues to Fri and dinner Tues to Sat. Tel 021-418-1299, La Tête

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in April 2017

FOODSTUFF: Shared Indian tapas at Thali

thali_6-001.jpg Consisting of a series of linked interior spaces and a back courtyard of a double-storey historical house, Thali is crammed between narrow shops and a popular bar on an inner city Cape Town street. It’s a busy street, well worth a taxi ride to experience the Indian tapas and interior décor inside.

The restaurant and bar’s patterned walls and a blue-and-white tiled staircase lead up to Sally Chapman’s wallpaper of hand-sketched birds on the landing, near a hanging group of cages.

In time, a first-floor dining space in vivid pinks named The Birdcage will host small groups for Indian feasts.

Thali’s interiors are rich and varied but refreshingly there is no “placed” décor from interior professionals. Treasured Indian postcards and other auction finds co-exist with old marble fireplaces and modern mosaic dining tables. Thali’s restaurateur business partners collaborated on the décor as much as on the food.

The black-tiled kitchen opens to the dining room with decorative wooden rolling pins and spoons, and a long blue velvet banquette. Beyond it, the dining space extends to an Indian courtyard garden — also designed by Chapman — brightened by lanterns, an ornate chest and bamboo on walls. It is an appealing spot to enjoy fresh oysters with a carrot juice-infused Cape Malay dressing on a summer evening.

thali_5.jpg Although you may think of tapas as ordering a series of plates of your choice, at Thali the kitchen determines most of your menu. Oxford Dictionary defines a thali as a metal plate on which Indian food is served, or a type of set meal at an Indian restaurant. Both descriptions fit the Cape Town version: two diners each eat four tapas dishes, with a few alternatives here and there.

The restaurant’s modern style delivers skill, texture and crunch in beautiful food with “Indianised” flavours. The kitchen sends it on earthenware plates, wooden bowls on metallic trays, and a smoking copper tandoor vessel.

Dublin-born chef Liam Tomlin is the culinary kingpin behind Thali. Before Cape Town, he and British wife Jan operated Australia’s Banc, awarded restaurant of the year in 2001 in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. When they opened Chefs Warehouse & Canteen in Bree Street in 2014, the couple merged the sociability of tapas with fine dining precision and casual benches.

Opening Thali in November 2016, the Tomlins partnered with friends Dimo and Candice Papachristodoulou of The Fat Cactus and Long Street Café. Former Chefs Warehouse recruit John van Zyl heads Thali’s kitchen. Van Zyl worked with Tomlin for four years previously, and recently assisted chef Angelo Scirocco in opening Urbanologi in Johannesburg.

thali_2.jpg “A point about tapas that I like is that it’s plates of food to share,” says Van Zyl. “It’s eight small meals, basically a tasting menu of sorts, but not very formal. It’s a great way of eating and socialising.”

Adds Tomlin: “The whole thing with Indian food usually, is you order a few dishes and they arrive at once. So you’re full fairly quickly and they all seem to all taste similar. We serve them in different courses so you can enjoy the different flavours, starting with lighter and working up to the heavier ones.”

Meat and vegetarian options both start with a cleverly crunchy potato and chickpea chaat snack with pomegranates. Three more courses follow the chaat in stages. Also staggered: chilli jam, yoghurt raita, fragrant rice, naan bread and flaky paratha.

So you could have lighter grilled meats such as minced lamb kebabs, steamed fish with tangy dressing or tamarind-spiced pork belly next. Heavier chicken or lamb curries follow. White wines here are on the more aromatic side.

thali_1.jpg The vegetarian menu includes black dahl, or tandoori and pureed cauliflower variations served with coconut and cashew. Homemade paneer cheese in spiced spinach, curry emulsions or vegetable curries complete the repertoire. “The concept is that it’s light and bright flavours,” says Van Zyl.

A lemon posset dessert signature is tough to beat. Thali’s variation infuses cardamom in double cream, plus rose syrup, pomegranates and crushed pistachio.

THALI, 3 Park Road, Gardens. Thali for one (R180) lunch Mon to Fri. Tapas for two (R650) dinner Mon to Sat. No reservations. Tel 021-286-2110.

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in February 2017

FOODSTUFF: French flair at a Stellenbosch winery’s new bistro


Our family has been investing in wine property since 1783. My great-grandfather then returned from World War One at a young age. He and his brother bought a few Bordeaux properties in France, including a part of Second Growth Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Third Growth Château Palmer and Cru Borgeois Château Siran.

a_glenelly449.jpg My grandmother, May-Eliane de Lencquesaing, inherited a majority share in Pichon in 1978 at the age of 53. It was tough. The farm was struggling to pay wages. Then we had a fantastic Bordeaux 1982 wine vintage. American critic Robert Parker rated the wine 100 points. The international wine market opened.

In 2003, my grandmother founded Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch. In 2007, Château Pichon was sold to Roederer Champagne and she devoted her time to the development of Glenelly.

She is now 91, living in a house in Bordeaux and still very involved.

23_tuna_tartare_and_glenelly_estate_reserve_chardonnay.jpg My grandmother liked Glenelly because it was a blank canvas. Previously it was a fruit farm, so she could create quality wine from scratch. She briefed winemaker Luke O’Cuinneagain to create wines made to age, showing power, elegance and balance.

She built a very modern gravity-flow cellar, which she could not have done in Bordeaux, with all its wine traditions and restrictions. When we built the wine tasting room upstairs we created the bar counter from the farm’s Cape granite stones.

Creating The Vine Bistro was a big project. We started in summer 2015 and opened in November 2016. We spoke about the importance of food and wine pairing; we wanted a place to taste the wines properly and also to bring in a bit of France in the food – chef Christophe Dehosse was the ideal choice.

17_the_vine_bistro_at_glenelly_interior_2.jpg We wanted guests to look at the view from outside but have shade from pergolas. In the bistro you will find the Drucker chairs. They are made in a small village near Paris at Maison Drucker. They are traditional Parisian bistro chairs and the only ones worth having.


It opens outdoors to vineyard views, with water features and a pétanque court. Some walls have white metro tiles above leather banquettes; one is painted ruby red. There are filament lamps, bare wooden tables and brass details.

The Glass Collection wine range includes approachable, delicious Syrah, and promising Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay and respective red blend are a worthy step up, while the Lady May red blend is a beautiful wine to set aside for a few years.

Chef Dehosse offers a flexible single-page menu. “There’s a strong sense of a traditional French family,” he says. “I cook what I’m comfortable with and what I like to eat.”

Bistro starters include tuna tartare with crisp vegetable salad or chilled red pepper soup livened by chorizo and octopus. Mains are classic and fairly uncomplicated: fillet, béarnaise and pommes frites, to a hearty West Coast mussels and fish bouillabaisse reduction with haricot beans. Pork cheeks braised in herbs and red wine tastes comforting.

25_caneles_pineapple.jpg Dehosse gives the traditional chewy Bordeaux canelé bake a twist, serving it with rooibos ice-cream and caramelised pineapple.

THE VINE BISTRO, Glenelly Estate, Stellenbosch. Open lunch and dinner Mon to Sun. Tel 021-809-6444, Glenelly

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in January 2017

FOODSTUFF: A revamped Grand Africa Cafe & Beach still has it

grand_africa_cafe_beach_hr_exterior_3.jpg It is about the first glimpse of azure sea and a suggestion of a beach holiday — even if only for an afternoon. The Grand at Cape Town’s Granger Bay has always been a venue less about what you’re eating and more about the drinks and friends with whom you are sharing it. A place where piles of sand hold up the outdoor dining tables and slip-slops on feet seem overdressed.

But step on to a shaded tropical-style walkway at the new, improved Grand Africa Café & Beach and you’ll see that massive mirrors reflect back and subtle décor tweaks now add to the experience.

In July 2016, the Harbour House Group bought a 70% stake in Grand Africa Café & Beach, closed its doors and set about refurbishing one of Cape Town’s sought-after venues. Three months and a multi-million budget later, the style revamp is complete.

grand_africa_cafe_beach_hr_seafood_platter.jpg Inside the original warehouse restaurant interior space, the sway of Café del Mar and newer loungey musical counterparts is familiar. But a Tanqueray gin bar is new and the long, industrial Grand dining hall next door now overlooks an Absolut Elyx bar. Two white, floating, old-fashioned pressed ceilings are a hanging focal point above the bar counter’s long stack of spirit bottles.

A good portion of the renovation budget went towards bringing in more natural light by installing large stack-away windows in the original warehouse walls for those sea views.

A new raised, ocean-facing indoor deck (called the VIP deck) brings the feeling of the beach inside, with white, wooden floor panels. Just the place for those who prefer to observe the beach buzz while enjoying a little more privacy and shelter from the elements.

grand_africa_cafe_beach_hr_exterior_8.jpg Other new outdoor sections include the Ibiza-style area on the beach, with luxurious daybeds, private bars and a deejay booth for a comfortably exclusive area, discreetly set apart. Two container bars have been repurposed and reclad as a beach beer and sparkling wine bar respectively.

On the food side, the Grand is not changing what works. Head chef Dominic Faict cooked at Kloof Street House and Asoka previously. His kitchen now serves 1,050 guests a day. The menu includes signature favourites such as sugar-cured salmon, Chalmar beef fillet with bearnaise and Cajun linefish tagliata. Sushi platters are a new addition.

grand_africa_cafe_beach-grand_salmon_salad_3_hr.jpg The concept is “simple food that tastes great” for guests leaning towards food with their drinks, according to Grand GM Radley Dijkers.

“We’ll do 1.5kg spatchcock chickens. Or a seafood platter that shares four: crayfish, prawns, linefish and mussels on it. There’s also our long rectangular seafood pizza. We do sharing but we do Grand sharing.”

GRAND AFRICA CAFE & BEACH, Haul Rd, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Open for lunch and dinner. Tel 021-425-0551, Grand Africa.

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in December 2016

FOODSTUFF: Forkfuls of FABER improve Paarl’s eating options

faber_-_cream_cheese_and_honey_sorbet.jpg FABER restaurant’s philosophy of crafting edible bounty is off to a promising start.

Built in a style similar to the farm’s original 1700 Cape Dutch homestead, FABER is inside the building that holds Avondale’s cellar and wine-tasting area. The restaurant’s high-volume ceilings, terracotta tiles and cement floors contrast with a modern open kitchen that is finished with Moroccan mosaic tiles.


We wanted a short and catchy name that explained what we were and connected us to Avondale Estate. FABER is not just about being craftsmen: it’s our love for the land and our connection to it … to the chickens that run in the field.

My grandpa had a self-sustaining farm in Rustenburg, so we’d go into the garden if we wanted a salad. Johnathan Grieve, Avondale’s owner, also toils in the vineyards here, so the connection fits. There is nothing more exciting than eating food that has a story.

faber_exterior_hr_1.jpg I’ve always thought of Paarl as that little town just past Stellenbosch. Yet we are just off the N1, closer to Cape Town than to Stellenbosch. FABER is opposite Boschenmeer Golf Estate and Val de Vie. There are people with money to spend. We drove around and thought maybe we could do something special.

Not simple food, but simplicity. Avondale wines are farmed biodynamically so our meat and vegetables won’t come from here primarily. But the idea is to get a lot of our produce from the farm in the next few years, from eggs to broiler chickens and pasture-reared organic beef. Our menu includes what is available in the field, what is on the farm, what is good right now. We serve Avondale’s biodynamic red and white wines, and will offer other labels once we are licensed.

faber_-_avondales_happy_chickens.jpg Most of us have lost touch with what farming used to be. We want to showcase Avondale’s chickens and duck and hen eggs from the farm “egg-mobile”. We had a cow that lived its life eating grass from the Avondale field. I had a taste — it’s phenomenal how different it was from feedlot animals.

The chickens running here can’t be poached quickly; they have to be slow-cooked. Chicken isn’t usually an exciting option but this is not your average chicken. It is skinny, so the meat is wilder, almost like guinea fowl. That makes it a special chicken in my eyes. We call the dish the Avondale happy chicken because it was happy until it met its end.

We’re not here to reinvent our cooking. The style is technical but not overcomplicated: a few key ingredients on the plate. The roasted Karoo lamb shoulder is one of the most rustic things we do — it’s so perfect and tender in what it is. It’s served with pumpkin seed pesto, wilted greens and herbs. The menu will always be one page, focused on what is available.

faber_interior_hr_2.jpg I don’t think we will ever serve a crème brûlée. You might find a soufflé on our menu but with a creative component to it: fermented banana and chocolate, or maybe peaches and beer. Our popular cream cheese and blueberries dessert (cream cheese and honey sorbet, with coconut crumble and blueberry macaron) was inspired by blueberry cheesecake.

FABER Avondale Wines, Paarl. Open Wed to Sun lunch; Wed to Sat dinner.
Tel 021-863-1976 FABER

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in November 2016

FOODSTUFF: Coffee and patisserie with class at Cape Town’s Coco Safar

coco_safar_gluten_free_alfajores.jpg Cape Town is home to the first global Coco Safar in Cavendish Square. Its owners say it is not just another shopping centre coffee shop.

At Coco Safar every aspect is crafted. Croissant Benedict breakfasts can ease into lazy brioche pizzetta light lunches. The café may have a shopping centre din surrounding it, but there is a reprieve, thanks to ceiling fans, jazzy tunes and moody ambience that could be in cosmopolitan Vienna or Brussels.

Safajores chocolate-coated buckwheat biscuits. Every coffee served with a glass of water on a beautiful tray. A waitress’s descriptions of exotic fillings: colourful operas, star domes and pastries as exquisite to admire as they are to savour.

High tea for two, served in a trio of sweet and savoury waves (the Third Wave is a purist approach to sourcing, roasting and brewing coffee). A crumbly Canadian apricot streusel pecan scone; a keylime and kumquat éclair’s with perfect citrus tang. A chilled, slow-brewed coffee spiked with orange peel.


During their research, owners Caroline Sirois and Wilhelm Liebenberg sampled at Pierre Hermé’s Paris patisserie to Dominique Ansel’s cronuts in New York’s SoHo. Liebenberg becomes animated when describing Coco Safar creations concocted after many product development hours in his Willie Wonka-like Woodstock facility.

Nearly everything is created locally, from leather-stitched armchairs and crockery to eye-catching uniforms. Banquette seating below mirror panels framed by cast metal with weathered bronze effects. Dangling glass ball lights — they reminded of creamy chocolate truffles — blown by Red Hot Glass in Paarl.

At the adjacent retail capsule emporium, collections of coffee and rooibos capsules enticed behind a counter. Their packaging forming a colourful wall backdrop.

The espresso bar outside suits a quick, quality coffee stop. It is also a shrine to the iconic Idrocompresso coffee machine, a shiny steel and glass one-off with leather detailing on surfaces and handles. Says the barista: “It’s like playing with a Ferrari every day of your life.”


Why Cavendish Square as your international flagship store? We were looking for one spectacular retail space to allow us to best showcase our unique brand and business model. That is what we found at Cavendish, ideally situated in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, where no coffee capsule retail offering existed. The roll out of other Coco Safar stores in SA and key global markets is in the works.

What makes Coco Safar not just another coffee shop? The experience is about daily escapism: it is the first authentic luxury espresso bar and café that incorporates a capsule emporium of its kind, pairing Third Wave specialty coffee and rooibos with couture patisserie and cafe food. We bring the best of Paris and New York in a luxurious cafe bistro-style environment where quality reigns at every level. Our patisserie offering is like no other in SA; our breakfast and casual dining offering very different to what’s on offer in Cape Town cafés. And it’s the first time you can have a plated dessert experience in a cafe environment.

Which elements and local design input will be replicated in other stores? Our original store design is reminiscent of the French industrial era and the golden age of travel with Jules Vernes-inspired design elements. A timeless understated luxury setting that should transport anyone who steps into the store to another place and time.

We intend to almost exclusively use custom-made local furniture, fixtures, decor elements and store cabinets for the brand’s global roll out as part of a proudly South African export story.

This timeless interior design will form the basis of all future stores, but allow for some elements to be incorporated in each new location, to give each store a slightly different identity.

Why supply a global coffee and patisserie brand from Woodstock? More than a year ago we opened our central kitchen, patisserie/coffee lab and production facility there. We found the neighbourhood to have incredible creative energy with a true entrepreneurial spirit, just like it used to be in the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn, New York.

This environment is highly conducive to hosting and managing a production facility where we can train all our culinary talent, under the supervision of corporate chefs from New York, focused on producing quality sweet and savoury products daily. As part of our hub and spoke business model, where the production facility supplies several stores, Woodstock is centrally situated with easy access to Cape Town neighbourhoods.

Explain your “couture quality” concept for French patisserie. When speaking of couture quality, we specifically refer to the haute couture nature of our patisserie, which is conceptualized, designed, styled and handcrafted by teams of artisans, as designers crafting haute-couture fashion collections would do.

If capsules are the concept, why the adjacent Espresso Bar grind coffee and beans? The Coco Safar business model is truly innovative: offering specialty coffee drinks at our Espresso Bar and Cafe, made with signature beans that can be taken home. And our specialty coffee and rooibos capsules showcasing a range of single-origin, award-winning auction-lot coffees, in capsules for the first time and sold at the first retail capsule emporium besides Nespresso.

How did the custom-designed Idrocompresso machine come about? Kees van der Westen is the undisputed industry leader from a commercial espresso machine design, technology and manufacturing perspective. Considered a true visionary, he created some of the world’s most iconic machines ever to be used commercially. Kees gave us exclusivity to a completely new Spirit espresso machine, marrying lever technology from the past that he brought into the future, confirming his appreciation of our brand as an emerging coffee industry market leader.

COCO SAFAR, Ground floor, Cavendish Square, Claremont. Open daily. Tel 021-671-1607, Coco Safar

A version of this appeared in Business Day HomeFront in October 2016

REVIEW: Groote Post lunch and spring flowers

img_20160904_135918.jpg Spring … It’s one of those seasons that seems to wake up a month or so too late. Or surprises you by literally popping the blossoms out. Most years it is a combination of the two.

Well, spring 2016 scored top marks for last Sunday’s weather. A fabulous sunny day with only a light breeze here and there, lured invitingly at the West Coast National Park gate at 9am. We were there to see the Postberg indigenous flower carpets during the rare August/September period when these private areas of the nature reserve are open to the public.

When to go We’d anticipated the queues and a reliable Landy loaded with seven of us left Cape Town just after 7.30am. What a pleasure to leave the park at midday when a 1.5km queue was barely moving outside the gate.

img_20160904_135740.jpg Our morning in the nature reserve was fabulous. We drove into the Postberg, parked and climbed a hilly section above the lovely Plankiesbaai beach, surrounded by boulders on one side. There were a few brave swimmers, but mostly people setting up their picnics, simple braais and camp chairs with brandy bottles.

Our kids scampered up an easy hilly section that had plenty of yellow, orange and (yay!) occasional pink daisies. The type that you had to bend over close to photograph. And against the rugged West Coast setting with snatches of blue sea or sky above, quite vivid and lovely. As a bonus, we discovered an ostrich nest. No parent birds to be seen.

We’d decided to skip the picnic and do lunch out on the West Coast. But on that coastline there aren’t a lot of options. And Langebaan’s pub-like restaurants are tourist hell, about two decades too late.

20160904_102041.jpg We settled on Hilda’s Kitchen at Groote Post wine farm, accessed via a dirt road off the R27. I looked for a recent commentary and found a 2014 Eat Out review by my writing colleague Greg Landman, describing “always delicious” cooking and chef Debbie McLaughlin’s eleventh year at the restaurant. Two years on, during a Sunday visit on September 2016, I’d say the venue and culinary highlights have not changed much. Why would they?

20160904_135956.jpg What to eat Off the current menu of about three starters, mains and desserts, we ordered a main Greg had described as “pork belly, slow roasted and served with tangy plum sauce”. Tender and slightly Asian in feel, it was declared delicious. One of our boys requested the signature “old man’s fillet steak roll” (a crumbed chicken burger was the solitary offering for any children in our group, and the crumbed patty seemed to be out of a box). As an adult main, a tasty individual chicken pie containing shredded meat and porcini was served with handcut potato wedges (replacing the menu’s mash) and salad. The lamb main course possibly looked more exciting than it tasted, but our complaint was probably more with the waiter’s description of “medium” than with the fact that it arrived slow-roasted and tender.

For starters we tried a salad with beetroot, goat’s cheese and pumpkin seeds. A tasty tomato tart surrounded by a delicate pastry (the other starter sold out) worked a treat with the fresh, guava zing of Groote Post Sauvignon Blanc 2016. Tasty country fare, made to a trusted recipe in the way that country fare usually is.

Back to Greg’s “dessert you have to have” white chocolate cheesecake. I can vouch that it was country-size, yet a hungry junior eater polished it off. The lemon tarts had a suitably sour tang, encrusted in delicate homemade pastry base. Decent if not the best I’ve ever eaten – but I’m a tough customer when it comes to lemon tarts.

In short, pretty decent food. And definitely the best lunch option for kilometres. Just avoid the plunger coffee – it is sluggish and grey.

Who to take? Hilda’s Kitchen is in the old thatched manor house on the property. We reserved an outside table under the trees at the back, so the adults could sip wine while the kids ran around and got dirty. And that they did (a slide down an embankment ruined a couple of pairs of shorts, but kept mischievous faces grinning from ear to ear).

20160904_150445.jpg What to drink Darling beer to quench your thirst, and bottled water too (the farm water is an acquired taste). At R110 the standard Sauvignon Blanc is marked up R30 on the cellar door price. It’s delicious, full of guavas and fun, so a fitting lunchtime partner. In red we tasted the fruity-style Shiraz but ordered a more serious cherry-tinged Pinot Noir 2014 (R235). It may not have made the most sense from a value point of view, but we were enjoying a lovely day in the country and felt like a bit of a splash.

How much? You’ll pay about R75 for starters, R50 - R70 for kids’ main courses, R135 - R145 for adult main courses, and about R50 for desserts.

Groote Post Vineyards, Darling. Open Wed to Sun for lunch.
Tel 022-492-2825, Groote Post

RECIPES: swimming pool birthday cake

dsc_0005.jpg For Daniel’s 6th birthday we decided to move the party elsewhere. He was as keen as a bee to have it at home – the nostalgia of old-fashioned birthday parties of previous years? – but boys in particular, need activities. Especially in winter …

dsc_0037.jpg Plan A
We decided to host a swimming pool party at our local CT indoor public pool, Long Street Baths.
I swim and Daniel takes lessons there regularly, so we know the venue and its lovely staff. A friend with three kids had plenty of pool party gear to lend us. I’d called around and none of the private swim schools could compete in terms of the pool’s generous size.

dsc_0050.jpg Considering a plan B?
The RSVPs were in, and I’d negotiated a flat rate with the manager to allow all our older kids, parents and even a few younger siblings in. Then five days before the party, a major problem: our Long Street pool was broken and drained of water. No swimming!

Plan B Taryn’s Swimming Academy
What a marvelous find this was. Although further out of town for most kids and parents, with an indoor heated 12.5m pool, boy was it a great venue! They offer private swimming parties, and charged a reasonable fee for a set number of older kids and a few might/might-not-swim siblings. They threw in a lifesaver and we were still able to have our coach Allen running the pool activities. Older kids, siblings and even a few game dads and a grandpa wallowed in the water. We added to the fun with a few blow-up dolphins, colourful beach balls and prizes. Bring on the Olympics swimming heats – we finished on a high with the shower cap race, for enthusiastic girls and boys!

dsc_0033.jpg On to the eating
So much for the nourishing ‘healthier’ cheese on grated wholewheat sandwiches and popcorn – when they broke for refreshments and got out of the pool, it was the Flings, my butter-icing cupcakes and granny’s painstakingly decorated biscuits that were gobbled up first.

For the swimming pool cake I went back to the beer box recipe from previous parties, baked as a rectangular vanilla cake. It was iced with white butter icing (well, cream, thanks to the butter’s natural colour). Swimming pool tiles and three swimming starting blocks were created from vanilla wafer biscuits iced in brick-like fashion.

dsc_0067.jpg The swimming pool ‘water’
I mixed a homemade icing gel recipe I found on the internet, made of lemon juice, caster sugar, cornflour, water and blue food colouring. But after a few attempts at boiling it/adding extra cornflour, I gave up on the pool gloop. The lemon juice had turned it a murky green-blue and it wobbled but never really set. I had visions of gloop sliding all over the cake on the drive to the swimming pool venue, so when Daniel declared its tart flavour yucky once too many times, it was binned.

Instead, butter icing (I think slightly curdled) with a dash of imported blue gel colouring created a weird frosted effect. Perfect for smearing over the set white icing. Voila, swimming pool ripples. Tasty and pleasing to the eye.

dsc_0093.jpg Decoration
The pool swimming lane floats went on the cake at the venue. Surprisingly hard to find at supermarkets and cake suppliers, I eventually bought these inexpensive sweetie necklaces at King Cake. A few jelly ring ‘inflation devices’, and a scattering of jelly beans around the pool cake within reach of little foraging fingers.

Find the original beer box recipe at Daniel’s 2nd birthday red bus cake

Also see Daniel’s 5th birthday Superman cake and his other party cakes.

FOODSTUFF: my go-to Hong Kong dim sum spot

dsc_0037.jpg Every now and then you have an eating experience that is a life shaper, something that stands out in your mind not only for being novel but perhaps also awkward, unusual or challenging to your perceptions of what food can be. Most of mine have been uncomplicated things. Sometimes the experience is also amazing. Eight years ago I had one that was all of those in Hong Kong.

I had asked an overseas food contact for recommendations. When enquiring specifically about Hong Kong’s speciality dim sum, also known as yum cha, I was warned about a couple of places that should only ever be visited with locals.

The first spot turned out to be a dead end, a member’s only dining destination on the third floor of a building. The second was easy enough to find in the humid streets selling traditional wet produce and Chinese paraphernalia, snaking off from a mass of business-district skyscrapers in Central.

dsc_0040.jpg A flight up past tanks stocked with plump fish, we were greeted by a blast of air conditioning at Lin Heung but no welcome. We stood around and waited for probably five minutes for somebody to notice us. Men in white coats rushed past to top up Chinese tea from giant tea kettles; framed Chinese scenes didn’t liven basic white walls where fluorescent light tubes cast an eerie light in a large windowless room. Ceiling fans whirred.

Mostly male diners were seated at plastic stools around multiple round tables. There was a noisy din as people ate, talked and read newspapers. Traditional dim sum trollies were wheeled past, topped with steaming baskets. We so wanted to be a part of it. But we felt silly and, assuming there was some sort of missing cultural code, left.

Another foreign couple walked inside as we were regrouping on the street. ‘Come on,’ I said, irritated. ‘We’re going in too.’

dsc_0041.jpg That time we started observing the system. The idea was to hover near a couple of tables until a seat was vacated. Once we sat down a menu strip – all in red Chinese characters – was stuck under the glass table top. Old men at our table carried on reading newspapers; two friendly Asian girls eventually helped us order. They were visiting from Canada. As soon as we accepted any dim sum, items were ticked off and the paper strip was replaced under the glass.

One trolley lady stopped and allowed us to point to some items we wanted. Another fled whenever she saw us indicate that we wanted something, her lack of English the reason. We feasted on the best dim sum ever, washed down with tea. We took our slip to the cashier afterwards to be totalled. The meal was ridiculously good value.

dsc_0031.jpg Fast forward to my July 2016 visit: I asked a Hong Kong friend to join me at Lin Heung as she’d never been. The email with details had been lost, but my previous photos provided some clues. When I googled, I was a little sad to find Lin Heung mentioned on food blogs and TripAdvisor. I learned it had an opening date of 1928.

The tea house stools had been replaced by chairs, but it was still packed with the same characters: a mix of mostly very old alongside younger Chinese men. There was a familiar noisy din. But stepping inside had been totally different: we were welcomed, shown to seats and presented with a laminated menu outlining the serving times for dim sum, in English.

It doesn’t really matter what we ate: it arrived at the table in stages and tasted as wonderful as the last time. Most of it was pork dumplings, or delicate siu mai containing pork and shrimp filling combos. Or the loose folds of rice noodle rolls wrapped around delicate pork, doused in soy sauce.

dsc_0033.jpg The great part about places that use traditional trollies is that you can figure it out as you go because the ladies lift the lids, allowing a visual check it out before you accept. The round, spongey char siew bao buns filled with barbeque pork weren’t as light as they could be, but that’s a small detail. Chicken with mushroom wrapped in bean curd skin was so much tastier than it sounds.

In 2016 we had help from two Asian girls were at our table again – this time two work colleagues were visiting from Taiwan, where Lin Heung is apparently famous. They offered to take photos.

We had a delightful time. Including tea, lunch for two cost the equivalent of about R300. The experience made my heart happy, and rated – again – as one of my best meal experiences around.

How interesting: when I looked back at previous photos I saw the same trolley lady had served us in 2008.

LIN HEUNG TEA HOUSE, 160-164 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town welcomes The Shortmarket Club

shortmarket_club_-_chef_wesley_randles__manager_simon_widdison_hr_3.jpg Chef Wesley Randles and manager Simon Widdison are the hands-on component of a four-way partnership that includes Luke and Sandalene Dale-Roberts (it’s her furniture and interior design here) of The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club, Cape Town restaurants where Randles and Widdison previously worked.

First impressions? The dinner vibe is buzzy and service is slick, with no give-away waiters stumbling over unfamiliar menu items or having limited knowledge of a dish, as is so often the case in a new restaurant.
Prices are on the high side, but then Randles points out that they go to a lot of effort to source artisan ingredients. So a warm baguette is presented with distinctive butter that has never spent time on a supermarket shelf. Near impossible to resist.

Or take the grass-fed rib-eye on the bone is from Oak Valley in Elgin. Tender, full of flavour and charred as expertly as it would be at any top steakhouse. The extra touches in the cafe au lait sauce, and sides including duck fat potatoes or fennel fondant.

The menu doesn’t have the wow factor of The Test Kitchen. The style is simpler. More familiar. The surprise is in the sorts of ingredients combined on a plate, the expert sauces or a flavour you can’t quite place.

shortmarket_club_-_interior_hr_1.jpg A CONVERSATION WITH CHEF WESLEY RANDLES

I’ll take you through the menu. Lunch or dinner is contemporary but classic. Organic grass-fed beef carpaccio on goat’s ricotta, with a dressing of miso-cured egg yolk and barrel-aged cherry vinegar dashi. Served with frozen Parmesan and burnt onion powder.
Or you could order Saldanha Bay oysters. There are dressing options so you could have a spicy Tiger’s milk dressing. Or just oysters clean. You could finish work in the afternoon, sit in the bar area and have the perfect martini with fresh oysters.
There is lamb rump, roasted over the wood fire, served with lamb rosemary jus and a Consol jar of mint jelly on the side. On the plate is fennel fondant, instead of classic potato fondant, roasted down until caramelised. It comes with leeks sous vide and fennel seeds, pine nuts and pine needles.

The dining process is a little bit of theatre and fun. So we have bread trollies and cheese trollies running up and down the aisles. The waiter will bring a tray with four plates on it. We created the menu and style for this space. We can bring back that old-world dining where every table is looked after really well, but with that bit of theatre at the table so the dining is fun.

shortmarket_club_-_chardonnay_steamed_west_coast_mussels_with_celeriac_and_ham_hock_veloute_poac.jpg The point of the menu is to challenge your focus and taste buds. The restaurant doesn’t feel pretentious to sit in and it’s a market between upmarket casual dining (The Pot Luck Club) and extreme fine dining (The Test Kitchen). We’ve never touched on breakfast in any of our restaurants so that’s a whole new thing. Our style of breakfast is recognisable but extremely different.

We know Cape Town has quite a breakfast culture. It’s going to take something different and creative to separate us. We’ve tried to be original. It won’t be eggs and a croissant. So we have a Scotch egg. It’s a boiled egg in a layer of pork farce and caramelised onion, on a bed of wild mushrooms, kale, crème fraiche and grated truffle.
Another dish is organic trout, hot-smoked inhouse, then glazed with sweet miso butter. It’s served with organic poached eggs and three-month fermented cream. Nobody touches fish for breakfast in Cape Town usually. That’s the idea: we can draw people in because our breakfast is different.

I’ve always wanted to do an amazing roasted chicken at the table. So we have a petit pousson. It’s a two-day cooking process where the chickens are cured and stuffed with chestnuts, lemon and fynbos. Slow-cooked sous vide individually, then roasted in the oven, glazed in olive oil. At the table we present it in chestnut husks set on fire, so we are smoking the chicken on arrival. The garnishes are classic. We’re serving roasted parsnip and bread sauce, with organic roasted baby beet and tarragon gravy.

The food style is a complete mix and match. You can’t say any of the dishes are Asian or something else. We’ve taken amazing South African produce and used them with techniques we know. I’ve worked with Luke for nine years so I’ve learnt to manipulate the flavour using Asian ingredients in such a way that we can bring out the best possible product. We use certain Asian ingredients to make the dish — not Asian — but the best it can possibly be.

shortmarket_club_bar_hr_1.jpg I wanted to do a lemon tart that is so much more. When it arrives at the table it looks like lemon tart. But lemon geranium is blended into the crust, and the custard filling has a touch of saltiness from preserved lemon. It’s caramelised and served with strawberry and amasi ice-cream, and finished off with lemon charcoal and strawberry dust. I don’t like to screw around and add a million purees to the plate. But then it has to be the perfect lemon tart.

I’ve always aimed at being an all-rounder: very capable in pastry, but also on the sauce section or grill. Luke always said to be a really good head chef you need to be able to jump on every section at any time and be better than everyone else. It’s important that you can do that, especially if you have your own restaurant.

Simon and I have worked together for years. He is an all-rounder but he knows his wine pretty damn well. I started at La Colombe with Luke just before I turned 21, then at The Test Kitchen (Simon was the GM opening it). Simon and I opened The Pot Luck Club together in 2013.

I try to make sure that I am not just following trends. You start off with a base: something completely original. Then you can add techniques you’ve seen somewhere and create something completely different. That is just progression; it’s not copying. The first and foremost focus here is flavour. Everything needs to be delicious first.

THE SHORTMARKET CLUB, 88 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town. Open Mon to Sat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tel 021-447-2874, The Shortmarket Club

A version of this appeared in Business Day Homefront magazine in July 2016.

FOODSTUFF: Mulberry & Prince makes its debut

mp_pork_brodo_cucumber.jpg The name was inspired by two major streets in Manhattan. But the charcoal-painted Mulberry & Prince Kitchen and Bar exterior is part of a Cape Town inner city strip of buildings on Pepper Street, between buzzy Bree and Loop.

Its co-owners and co-chefs Cornel Mostert and Cynthia Rivera formed a connection while both studying in America. He is Capetonian; she grew up in Brooklyn. They share a keen eye for design and the desire to put a flavour stamp on their plates.

Two will eat well at Mulberry & Prince but the small menu lends itself to three enjoying a shared selection far more. It is food that sometimes hides complex techniques. Bacalao fritters are balls of umami fun. There are fresh elements to sliced kohlrabi with walnuts, shaved Parmesan and mint, balanced by persimmon or apple sweetness.

mp8952.jpg Labour-intensive ricotta dumplings have a lightness of touch, served with dainty shimeji mushrooms in a pool of leek and scallion green sauce. Steak tartare or aromatic lamb ribs both have their culinary merits.

The pork brodo, a sous vide pork shoulder steak in broth, is all about comfort, but has an element of surprise in unusual cucumber lengths with their skins charred black.

You will remember the sweets. The perfection of buttermilk panna cotta lifted by cherries in hibiscus vinegar. A wickedly moist chocolate cake cloaked in French chocolate ganache, whipped cream and sea salt. Much like the restaurant, the eating experience is about pared down elements with beautiful accents that linger.

Where and how did you meet? Mostert: At The Culinary Institute of America in New York, in the same class.

Why Cape Town and why now? Riviera: We’ve been friends for some time and we always talked about doing something together. It was about not wanting to work for other people and do their menus any more. We had so many ideas so we thought: why not try it out?

Your concept for a local restaurant? Mostert: Something different, while introducing diners to modern American cuisine aside from burgers and fries. Some of our ingredients wouldn’t be on most Cape Town menus. Endive, kohlrabi, stracciatella cheese … We like to order oysters or beef tartare when we eat out, so that’s why we serve it. The menu is designed with small to mid-sized plates for sharing. It’s how we like to eat, where everybody shares around the table. It creates a spontaneous vibe.

mpbacalao_fritters.jpg Any overlaps with the New York and Cape Town dining scene? Riviera: Bree Street, around the corner, has a lot of similarities with Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Brooklyn is kindof what Bree street is turning into: restaurants, boutiques and street artists. But the food is still quite different.

How do you divide the roles? Mostert: It’s only Cynthia and I in the kitchen. For dinner service I work the hot line. Cynthia usually does the cold salads and desserts, but we mix it up and help each other too.

mp406.jpg You are both young to own a restaurant. How do you rate your chances? Riviera: Sometimes we’ve felt that because we are young people don’t always take us seriously. It’s annoying because if we weren’t sure that this was what we wanted, we wouldn’t have taken this chance. We aren’t prepared to accept mediocre standards, whether it comes to the products from purveyors or anything else.

Many of the dishes seem quite minimalist and fresh. Mostert: We’ve tried to keep it clean and simple. But if you look further, it is often quite complex. For example, the ricotta gnudi dumplings take three days to make by hand.

18 Pepper Street, Cape Town. Open Tues to Sat for dinner. Tel 021-422-3301, Mulberry & Prince

A version of this appeared in Business Day Homefront magazine in June 2016.

FOODSTUFF: Franschhoek’s lovely Le Lude

ll_tartare.jpg From its elegant French-influenced gardens and interiors to its flutes of fizz, a Franschhoek family’s recently completed farm is luring visitors with its Gallic charm.

It has the feel of an established property that has been there forever. Yet Le Lude’s split-level cellar was built only in 2012 so the Barrow family’s first Franschhoek methode cap classique (MCC) could be made — they’re mad about Champagne and set on producing a worthy local equivalent.

The cellar’s upper section is now linked to the Parisian-green tasting room and white Orangerie restaurant — additions that opened to the public in November 2015.

Ferda Barrow says there was nothing to see when she and attorney husband Nic started building. ‘Four years ago we had to do the MCC so we built the cellar. We gave our architect some instructions but it was really about formalising our design ideas,’ she says. They built their adjacent home two years ago.

le_lude_orangerie-4.jpg Winemaker Paul Gerber produces an excellent leaner, dryer style of MCC Brut and Rosé non-vintage under Le Lude’s label. Initially the plan was to offer only bubbly tastings with canapés for visitors, including those hopping off the Franschhoek wine tram.

But when the Barrow’s chef daughter Nicolene Barrow became involved, they added a small restaurant. The MCC and canapé concept is well worth doing — flutes are paired with a choice of three of Nicolene’s canapé plates.

When Le Lude winery was purchased in 2009, it was an overgrown plum orchard. The property is just more than 6ha and 3.2ha is under vine: half planted to Chardonnay, plus Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier cultivars.
The farm buys in 95% of their grapes.

le_lude_orangerie-4.jpg Some of the MCC special bottlings use cork instead of crown caps for their secondary bottle fermentation — Le Lude were pioneers of this French agrafe method used in South Africa.

Le Lude refers to the Loire valley with its beautiful little châteaus and lovely gardens,’ says Ferda, an accomplished gardener. The family started the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees in Outdshoorn. They also run a few country houses and hotels there.

Ferda’s other daughter Olga Barrow designed the interiors for Le Lude’s tasting room and restaurant. Orangerie’s lunchtime diners look out past white benches to Ferda’s pergolas and rose gardens enclosed by hedges.

llsouffle1.jpg Chef Nicolene credits her time at Michelin-two-star Le Gavroche in London for shaping her classic style. Orangerie lunch menus start with home-baked rolls and beautifully plated steak tartare, and finish with exquisite clafoutis desserts — there is a Gallic elegance to many of the dishes and sauces.

You may marvel at the creamy duck liver parfait on homemade brioche or get lost in the bisque-like richness of bouillabaisse, but Orangerie is probably best known for its warm Gruyère soufflé. The à la minute technique was perfected under the strict gaze of Le Gavroche’s French chefs. Says Nicolene: ‘I’m doing my version and the locals just love it.’

ORANGERIE AT LE LUDE, Le Lude, Bowling Green Avenue, Franschhoek.
Open Tues to Sun for lunch and/or bubbly with canapés. Reservations only for High tea. Tel 087-754-9925/6, Le Lude

A version of this appeared in Business Day Homefront magazine in May 2016

FOODSTUFF: Smoking hot Hoghouse microbrewery and Texan BBQ


What made a mining exploration company repurpose a nondescript space in industrial Ndabeni into a smokehouse barbecue restaurant and microbrewery? To fill a gap for nearby Pinelands residents to enjoy drinks and dinner.

It’s a place to pop in after work to meet friends. The dinner-only customers are diverse, a mix of boys out with mates, hip couples, middle-aged women and families.

The menu is designed so diners order a few tasty dishes to share.
It’s casual and meant for fingers, and you can finish sweetly with a pastry or a sorbet cone. Most people start with ‘Snacks and move on to ‘Barbeque’ and ‘Sides’.

An unused garage in this unsexy, industrial part of Cape Town might sound like an unlikely location, but director/chef PJ Vadas says he never doubted that the concept would work.

hoghouse_006.jpg 8 questions to Chef Vadas

1. Why a Texan smokehouse? South Africans love meat and beer, so it’s a simple thing. We cook everything on fire (even our veggies) so it takes you back to braaiing. Hoghouse obviously offers pulled pork and pork ribs too, but it’s our beef brisket that few other restaurants do well.

hoghouse_200.jpg 2. It sounds easy. Is it? I came back from Texas and designed our mobile smoker, which we park out front. It took us a few months, trying different woods (we’re using rooikrans) to settle in. How it works is we put the meat in and wait. The technique is difficult because the meat has to be hung properly and can be sinewy, so there’s nowhere to hide. Ours is grassfed free-range meat from Spier.

3. Does an industrial space work? Yes, it’s a working brewery and we can smoke meat for 18 hours at a time without upsetting the neighbours. The cheaper rent allows us to have more space and more affordable food. People can eat well for R200 a head. The idea was always to have a restaurant for locals. We knew if it was affordable, offered quality food and had enough safe parking (customers park inside a security boom) people would come.


4. The secret? It’s all about the smoker. There’s no gas, just rooikrans wood and hot smoking. It’s low and slow. There’s only salt and pepper on the meat. Our pulled pork smokes for 18 hours, while free-range beef brisket is tender after 14 hours.

5. What about beer? Five ales are all brewed on site. We can brew a 1000 litre batch at a time. Joachim Blackadder is a sommelier who manages the brewery and does our wine list – some wines are blended for us.

6. What’s popular? Our homemade hot sauce, beef brisket, and pig’s tails dipped in honey mustard.
We’re offering a Scotch egg coated in black pudding.
Every Friday we also smoke a pig’s head and then roast it to crispy – people are loving it.

hoghouse_263.jpg 7. What’s on the side? We have a lot of vegetarian regulars, which sounds like a contradiction, but the cauliflower with goat’s cheese, caper and sultana butter is probably our most popular dish. Pineapple Kimchi is a hit too. We do a braai broodjie of Spier’s potato bread, Huguenot cheese, onion and tomato, cooked on the grill.

8. Describe a Hoghouse regular. They range from 25-year-old students after a beer and brisket bun, to pensioners from Pinelands coming for a hearty supper. Some Stormers and Springbok rugby players recently discovered us. They tend to order smoked brisket by the kilo. Pinelands didn’t really have a bar and meeting place. Now it does.

*HOGHOUSE BREWING COMPANY, 42 Morningside Road, Ndabeni. Open Mon to Sat for dinner. Tel 021-531-0721, Hoghouse Barbecue

A version of this appeared in Business Day Homefront magazine in April 2016

FOODSTUFF: A taste of Burrata’s winter 2016 menu

20160322_152032_lls.jpg Some of South Africa’s top restaurants are located at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. The Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club of course.
And, offering an altogether different eating and drinking experience, Burrata. One of my go-to dining spots for modern Italian dining: comforting yet skilled; offering a twist when it comes to flavour combinations.

20160322_144118_lls.jpg The new winter menu has plenty to see you through from autumn’s nippiness to spring.

To start, a few items from the antipasti section are best shared between two or three. Worth having is the fried cauliflower pops which you dab with pesto, spicy lamb meatballs on a bed of quinoa, and Sicilian caponata, aubergine and tomato given a crunchy lift with bites of fried capers. Flavours are simple: a pesto of artichoke and spinach works a treat on a slice of pizza flatbread.

Main courses include a few creative fish and steak items, but our group stuck to pasta and risotto options. No regrets. A Burrata signature is back for good reason: a Parmesan risotto has pliable bite melding with umami creaminess, dotted with plump marrow bone insides. Preserved lemon for added delicious.

Exec chef Annemarie Robertson says the secret to all Burrata risottos is starting with a ‘stock’ of caramelised Parmesan rinds, onion and garlic. I love the idea of using up the end of this cheese and imparting lovely saltiness.

Some new winter recommendations
- Rigatoni pasta with slow-braised springbok shank. Brown onions and a meaty jus gives this dish classic flavour depth, and serving it with kale brings it very much into 2016.
- Ravioli (large ones) filled with some sort of squash, finished with sweetcorn sliced off the cob, and a gentle smoked paprika and lighter-weight red pepper sauce, offering fresh vibrancy and plenty to interest if you’re in a vegetarian mood.
- Spaghetti, unusually served with velvet strands of pulled pork, in an intense tomato and wine sugo. Parmesan crisps add an extra element.

On the wine list
Sommelier-owner Neil Grant’s list favours South African brands plus a few French and Italian labels, should they be of interest. Just ask to try something different …

Grant has brought out a joint label at his three restaurants, aptly named In Cahoots with a tandem bicycle on the label. His wine partner is Chardonnay specialist winemaker Richard Kershaw. It’s everything you’d want in a fuller-style Chardonnay, and well worth it for R280 a bottle.

20160322_152013_lls.jpg Desserts to try
Sweet selections are small yet focused. They move with the season into heavier territory.
- A hazelnut panna cotta tastes almost cocoa-like (it’s also the colour of pale chocolate) but works well as a pudding eaten all together, with a sprinkle of hazelnuts, fresh fig and fig gelato.
- My favourite, creamy lime zabaglione, served with a zesty winter citrus salad of assorted grapefruit and orange, and raspberry sorbet. After good wine and the heavier weight of winter food, it’s the ideal finish on a note of lightness.

BURRATA, The Old Biscuit Mill, Albert Road, Woodstock.
Open Tues to Sat for lunch and dinner. Tel 021-447-6505, Burrata

FOODSTUFF: La Colombe is searing hot

lacolombetuna.jpg Tackling the winding roads of Silvermist Mountain Lodge to reach La Colombe restaurant in its new Constantia Nek location, the gradual elevation and snatched glimpses of Constantia vineyards focus your mind on your appetite. On breezy days, a mass of trees whistle.

Inside the restaurant an intimate private room offers views of the white gum forest on one side, while a bar at the opposite end leads to casual courtyard tables. The open kitchen offers drama for indoor diners, but the plum seats are on an enclosed terrace at the gable end, where windows open to show off mountains, gums and produce-filled vegetable boxes below.

Source Design wanted the new La Colombe to feel like an elevated timber tree house up high on an organic wine farm at the top of Constantia Nek. The design brief used a ‘fresher environment’ to draw attention to La Colombe’s intricately composed dishes. The crisp white interiors tie in with white table linen, while walls mix an array of charcoal and dove greys. Aged oak floors and black cast-iron metal straps hint at the wine barrels hidden in the cellar below.

lacolombe053.jpg Silvermist Estate is the only certified organic wine producer in the Constantia Valley. Andrew and Troy Constandakis own La Colombe in partnership with chef Scot Kirton. Front-of-house manageress Jennifer Hugé takes care of the rest, from staff training to precise food-and-wine pairings delivered in quality stemware. This is a restaurant where you’ll recognise the same serving staff year after year. They effortlessly describe dishes despite multiple elements and seem to know how to make diners feel special but not harassed.

La Colombe ranked second in SA in the recent Eat Out awards and Scot Kirton was named Chef of the Year 2015. Depending on how many courses you are having, lunch or dinner could start with home-made breads and innovative butters. It could partner raw and cooked together in a beef tartare mixed with seared beef tataki and assorted Asian flavours under a crunchy noodle nest. Perhaps a vibrant, unusual cucumber and strawberry dessert, coffee arriving with extra sweet nibbles. This is skilled food that is as beautiful to look at as it is to eat. It requires a higher spend for that privilege.

lcchef.jpg 8 questions to Eat Out Chef of the Year 2015 Scot Kirton

1.’It’s not just a dish, it’s an experience.’ Why? At La Colombe we don’t just serve food; we try to create memories that last a lifetime. We try to be slightly playful with our food so that it will be remembered, whether it is serving our tuna in a sealed can with key ingredients printed on the label, or just a funky way of plating something.

2. What does it cost? We offer an à la carte lunch menu. For dinner we have four courses for R535, or an eight-course tasting menu for R790 (R1 190 including wine).

3. Who thinks up the optional wine pairings with your dishes? Jennifer Hugé is the main force behind the wine pairings. She works closely with me, has an incredible palate and her knowledge of wines wows our guests every day.

4. One of your signatures is scallop and subtle Korean kim chi cabbage with sweetcorn. Other menu favourites? Yes, the scallop and kim chi, and the tuna with ponzu, wasabi and ginger in a can, are our two signature dishes. Other menu favourites are bone marrow and pickled fish on toast, with capers, herbs and truffle. Some favourites remain even when seasons change but others are replaced more regularly. Some dishes may take 15 attempts before they make the menu.

5. When did you plant the veggie garden? During the building phase of La Colombe, the chefs wanted a project to fill time in between menu planning, so they decided to plant a garden filled with all the herbs and seasonal vegetables used in the restaurant. It has been a great success and guests love it.

lcview-001.jpg 6. Is it about awards or repeat customers? It is definitely about regular customers that support us throughout the year, but the awards make it worthwhile for chefs to gain recognition for their hard work. Awards also bring first-time customers to see what all the fuss is about. We seem to be getting more dietary requirements from guests – some come in with cards printed with 20 things they can’t eat – so it becomes quite perplexing at times, but we challenge ourselves to meet them.

7. Is there a typical La Colombe diner? Lunch is a lot more casual – guests are welcome in shorts and slops. Dinner tends to be a lot more formal. La Colombe is not only a destination restaurant for tourists; we have very loyal locals throughout the year and offer great winter specials in the off-season.

8. You said a hypercritical audience judges every plate. Solution? The pressure is huge to deliver on every plate. So the food can’t be over complicated: every item on a dish needs a purpose. It is often very tempting to just keep adding components, but dishes are often better through removing components, keeping it simpler and focusing on flavour.

LA COLOMBE RESTAURANT, Silvermist Mountain Lodge, Constantia. Open Mon to Sun for lunch and dinner. Tel 021-795-0125, La Colombe

A version of this appeared in Homefront magazine in December 2015

REVIEW: Open Door’s outdoor breakfast deck

odjuice.jpg Six of us tried out Open Door’s new breakfast deck on Sunday and had a tastily lazy morning. There are plenty of good breakfast spots in Cape Town but most are indoors. The appeal of Open Door is that you can sit outside and enjoy rural views of a BMX track with lovely mountains behind.

Executive chef Annemarie Steenkamp and pastry chef Christine de Villiers put their heads together to make the cereal and hot options more creative than the usual breakfast fry-up. They’ve both worked at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek at some point, where even the buffet selections pitch way above the average hotel breakfast, and nothing is out of a box. So a similar attention to detail shows at Open Door.

brioche, citrus hollandaise, marrow, eggs
We had two children under seven that hopefully didn’t annoy too many adults with their running about outside. A plus is a great BMX track within walking distance – they charge R50 a day for kids of all ages. It’s just a little far away to watch your kids from an Open Door breakfast table – now that would be styling. But could become a handy combo with breakfast all the same. We vowed to return with mini bikes to spend some time getting dusty.

odopen_door.jpg What to eat The beetroot yoghurt with homemade nut, seed and coconut granola sounds unusual, but we stuck to hot items. A thick slice of toasted brioche with two poached eggs, tangy citrus hollandaise, chorizo and sweetcorn is the flat-out winner here. Bits of fatty bone marrow are hidden under a velvet coating of sauce. If you’re lusting after comfort food, a baked sausage, poached eggs and spiced tomato sauce dish with melted gruyere cheese is a good alternative. Only a little lacking in chili heat.

Two food-inclined boys were happy with a homemade croissant and scrambled egg (an alternative was boiled eggs with sourdough toast soldiers). The only disappointment was the waffle topped with maple syrup, crispy bacon and two fried eggs. Nothing intrinsically wrong, although a waffle’s ability to soak up syrup and seem dry never helps. It arrived in an old black frying pan and seemed to be more about presentation than a well-matched combination.

When to go Breakfast is only served from 9am to 11am.

baked eggs, sausage, spicy tomato and gruyere
Who to take Well-behaved families, couples and groups of friends will all enjoy this.

What to drink The juices are made properly. The apple zing (apple, carrot and lots of fresh ginger) gets my vote.

How much? Gourmet granola R68, freshly made juices R38/R45, flat whites/cappuccinos R24, homemade croissants with scrambled egg R42, creative savoury dishes (benedicts, waffles) R72 to R82.

OPEN DOOR, Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia. Monday to Saturday for breakfast. 021-794-3010, Open Door

Also see Open Doors at Constantia’s original Spaanschemat restaurant

FOODSTUFF: Abundant greens at Allée Bleue’s picnic

abpic1.jpg I’m often asked to recommend Winelands picnics. I tend to make the effort to drive out to a restaurant. But having a husband who isn’t flexible enough to sit hunched and cross-legged for longer than five minutes, means spreading a blanket isn’t a popular choice in our house.

Fortunately he didn’t have to do that when we were invited to experience a Sunday family chicnic for four at Allée Bleue. Their idea of a picnic is a table and chairs, and waiters bringing drinks to your checked tablecloth under a shady tree. Younger kids are kept busy with a trampoline and jumping castle, and there are lovely lawns to run around on. Live music makes Sunday picnics a particularly good choice.

Although much of the farm is filled with practical packaging warehouses and hydroponic tunnels, the picnic area makes the most of its proximity to charming Cape Dutch buildings. The wine tasting centre recently moved there, so it’s handy to collect a few bottles en route to your car.

abpic3.jpg Allée Bleue grows, and supplies retailers, with incredible leaves, herbs, (including less usual tarragon and tatsoi) and fruit, aside from delicious wines. Their Chenin Blanc and Isabeau (Semillon Chard Viognier blend) have long been favourites of mine because they are so food-friendly.

So unsurprisingly the Allée Bleue picnic is a tasty showcase of the farm’s fresh produce. It goes down well in hot weather, especially if you’re big on salad – we had five of them, plus two artisanal cheeses. A lot of thought goes into providing quality homebaked breads, incredibly creative salads, a vibrant salsa verde, and some savoury preserves. It is beautifully presented in a basket where the sides open out, and all the food is served in jars with lids.

So a lovely country experience all round. On the salad note: the wild rice with smoked feta and baby carrots was delicious. There was mixed baby leaf salad with grated Parmesan, plus a crunchy baby fennel, red onion, preserved citrus with hazelnut dressing scored points. A beef stir-fry with egg noodles; and an unusual salted chicken salad with coconut shavings, dried mango and coconut dressing.

ab1.jpg Little jars aside, a few solid separate bits of protein would not have gone amiss – a few cocktail sausages perhaps? Melktert miniatures and farm nectarines finish it off. (The vegetarian picnic version is fairly similar, but the salads only have cheese, and a Med grilled vegetables replaces the beef noodle stir-fry).

The kiddies’ option was the source of envy at our table of four. A box of homemade chicken nuggets and fries were still warm. We felt lucky when our son graciously shared bits of his chocolate brownie.

ALLÉE BLEUE, Intersection R45 and R310, Franschhoek. Allée Bleue, 021-874-1021.
Picnics: R185 per person for standard or vegetarian picnic. Includes two glasses of Allée Bleue Starlette Blanc per adult.
Kiddies’ picnics: R65 per child including a juice box.
Herb tours (40 min) 10.30am on Fridays. R185 per person including a welcome drink and three-course meal at Allée Bleue Bistro.

PLACES: Escape to Tree Tops in Citrusdal

dsc_0041.jpg We wanted a different getaway, a place warm enough to ignore the spring chill, with a drive of sufficient distance to remind us that we had escaped urban life for three days and two nights. Tree Tops near Citrusdal ticked the boxes.

It wasn’t easy finding September weekend accommodation. Only two hours from Cape Town, this is citrus country popular for mountain bike races and company retreats. Spring probably increased the demand, as the wild flowers were out in force.

dsc_0022.jpg The Baths is an outdoor resort with hot springs that date to Victorian times. Their numerous affordable self-catering options were full – we were advised to book their weekend accommodation two months in advance.

Luckily we heard about treehouses overlooking the river at a farm, 9km along a gravel road from The Baths, and grabbed the last one. The location was tranquil and beautiful. Tree Tops is a decent glamping option – somewhere in between self-catering and luxury camping. It’s privately owned and well equipped, but you won’t know in advance to what extent. The owners’ email provided a map, firewood at R20 a bag, and vague instructions to bring towels and food.

In fact each treehouse has a double bed, basic linen, a bar fridge, kettle, plus glasses and mugs for two. A table and two chairs on the balcony, a small basin, and tiny electric fan were standard. One bigger treehouse had basic cooking facilities and a fireplace inside, so if you’re looking for solitude, it’s the one to request (we never saw the couple staying for one night).

Communal toilets had separate shower rooms. They were clean and linked to the treehouses via wooden bridges. Showers were hot, but came without soap or two-ply.

dsc_0011.jpg A stone kitchen on the lawns was equipped with a communal fridge, a couple of two-plate stoves, and cupboard for each treehouse – containing two sets of plates and cutlery, pots, wine glasses and a waiter’s friend. A drawback if all treehouses are occupied, you need to request extra bits and pieces for any extra children in advance. We’d called on arrival after finding only a bare mattress in our room as extra bedding for a five year old.

The communal braai area facing the river has a grid and a few seats, and makes a lovely sunset or breakfast spot. Two smaller braais are available if you don’t fancy being sociable.

Which is a consideration. We had the place to ourselves on Friday. On the second night we shared a fire and a chat with a young apple farmer and his girlfriend, before taking our bottle of wine to our treehouse balcony once our son needed to go to sleep.

dsc_0037.jpg If I returned I’d probably book out Tree Tops with two other families, and take over a few treehouses. Your kids need to be old enough to share a double bed with a sibling or friend in a separate treehouse. The treehouses are close enough for adjacent occupants to call to each other, but they’re suspended on stilts some distance from the kitchen and braai area – something to keep in mind, as some young urbanites struggle to sleep with noisy night crickets and chatty morning birds.

That is also part of the appeal. It’s quiet, you’re in nature, views are lovely, and two-man canoes are tied to the riverbank for use. We had fun tackling the beer-coloured Olifants River with paddles. We also spent a day at The Baths as day visitors, alternating between bathtub temperatures in the hot springs and the icy swimming pool.

TREE TOPS, Citrusdal. Adults R650 for two a night; children R120 per night.
Tel 022-921-2474 or 071-681-3871, Tree Tops

RECIPE: Superman birthday cake

dsc_0036.jpg Daniel’s 5th birthday party fell on a public holiday again. Five seems to be an age where kids love to show off their strength, lightning speed and superhuman powers. So naturally we had a superhero and pajama party (a few adults dressed up too, but swapped the spiderman mini-juices for wine).

We usually get a bit carried away and invite too many people, but it was a little more hectic than normal this year. I’m working fulltime as an acting magazine editor for six weeks, so it meant I only had weekends to run around and source cake decorations and ingredients. Then Craig’s flight was delayed for hours the day before while the house/cake/cupcakes/garden were meant to happen. No pressure. It’s why I wore a Wonder Woman T-shirt on the day and felt the part.

dsc_0004.jpg I deviated from the usual beer box cake recipe because I was given a new Kitchen Aid cake tin with smaller dimensions (23 x 33 x 5cm) and wanted to put it to the test. It made just the right size of cake to accommodate Clark Kent’s buffer alter ego. My cake rose too much in the centre, but I just piped butter icing in the cracks and kept spreading. Fortunately Superman needed a puffy chest.

The party was a blast, with granny baking cheesecake and gingerbreadmen, Hannah beautifully icing the cupcakes, and I sorted out the cake decoration late at night. In attendance: four spidermen, a superman-batman, dinosaur and a maiden or two. A few days later when I asked Daniel if he’d expected a superman cake (it’s a surprise until we bring it out), he said sort of, but he was hoping he’d have a cake with Superman’s kryptonite. Right …

Versatile and flop-proof, butter cake is the foundation for many recipes. The cake batter is easily modified to include other ingredients and flavours.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Baking time: 25 minutes
Skill level: easy
Makes: 1 two-layer cake

Ingredients: Double the recipe for the large tray bake variation below
125 g butter, softened
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
3 extra-large eggs
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla essence
560 ml (2¼ cups) cake flour
12 ml (2¼ tsp) baking powder
1 ml (pinch) salt
150 ml milk

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease 2 round 20 cm cake pans. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until light and creamy. Add essence.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add dry ingredients, alternately with milk, to egg mixture.
  3. Spoon mixture into the prepared pans and bake for about 25 minutes. Leave in pans for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

-Oil cake: Substitute butter with cooking oil.
-Large tray bake cake: Double the recipe. Bake mixture in an oven pan of about 24 x 34 cm for 35 – 40 minutes.
-Chocolate cake: Mix 60 ml (¼ cup) cocoa powder with 60 ml (¼ cup) warm water and add to the cake batter.

dsc_0048.jpg BUTTER ICING
(Multiply the recipe according to the quantity required)
100g soft butter, cubed
300g sieved icing sugar
2.5 Tablespoons milk
lemon juice to taste

  1. Beat together butter and icing sugar until soft.
  2. Beat in the milk and lemon juice. Add colouring.
    Tip: buy cake decorations and ingredients, including bottled red, yellow and blue gel food colouring, Spiderman cupcake icing faces, and catering packs of smarties (sort them into red, yellow and blue colours) at CAB Foods.

dsc_0063.jpg Superman S design
I photocopied the S emblem from a T-shirt, enlarged it to size, and cut out inside the letters to create an icing template. I was surprised I managed to pipe in the yellow and red design using a fine icing nozzle. The blue surrounding icing was easily spread with a knife. Extra smarties stuck on the board with piped white icing blobs. We don’t do plastic icing, so it’s never on the cake itself. But Superman needs a red cape …

Also see Daniel’s 4th birthday Peter Pan cake

Find the original beer box recipe here at Daniel’s 2nd birthday red bus cake