REVIEW: Jardine’s Bullpitt has what it takes

jardine9005.jpg Winter specials are controversial amongst foodies. At upmarket restaurants I’ve noticed a few things tend to happen: a) the special is designed to lure new customers, yet attracts a budget-breaker who isn’t really comfortable with a menu beginning with an amuse bouche, b) it attracts a genuine foodie who feels anxious about targeting value, nervous that the chef may skimp on ingredients and creative flair, or c) the experience is ruined by a waiter doing their best to bypass the special and up-sell to pricier a la carte items.

With recent restaurant closures in Cape Town and Stellenbosch increasingly grabbing the Cape’s fine dining kudos, special-occasion CBD eating venues are hard to find. I’d heard favourable reports about Eric Bullpitt’s cooking at Jardine Restaurant from food-loving colleagues. Chef George Jardine (who Bullpitt trained under before Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine was established in Stellenbosch) also rates his skills highly. We made a last-minute decision to book in July, before Bullpitt’s departure for Denmark (he’s off to do a six week stage at Noma, rated first in Restaurant Magazine’s 2010 list).

A three-course winter special for R150 sounded too good to believe, but the description from our waiter was so enticing that three of our table of five ordered it. How refreshing that we weren’t made to feel that doing so was an injustice to the chef. Wines at Jardine are on the pricy side and we’d ordered drinks beforehand at the bar. Hence the Jardine House White, a Vriesenhof Unwooded Chardonnay (R100), seemed a sensible choice. It was a versatile match for the starters and vegetarian main course. We ordered additional Shiraz by the glass.

The restaurant was worryingly empty for a Saturday night, but it meant our table of four adults and a teenager was given extra attention from the kitchen, and in terms of service. The first culinary delight was a little something from the chef: a cauliflower spoom (I had to think creatively to explain that to the thirteen-year-old). Creamy-tangy, totally delicious mouthfuls on a spicy sauce base received universal approval.

A celeriac tortellini starter was a delight of pasta parcels, nuts, a creamy celeriac smear with smoked Granny Smith acidity in diced cubes, and blobs of apple or prune puree. Confit duck terrine is a starter on the a la carte menu, and formed a fine winter special starter too. A spinach-wrapped duck confit round was “accessorised” with cooked baby turnip segments in orange juice, orange pudding, snowpeas and pistachio crumbs. jardine8938.jpg

Main course highlights included seared springbok loin with coffee, persimmons, parsnips and port – it had thumbs up from someone who shoots these buck himself – and the winter special of sirloin steak, a small serving creatively served with smoked potato puree plus tasty dabs of sauces and creamy vegetables.

I learnt early on that vegetable purees perking up a savoury dish are a speciality of George Jardine, and I’m happy to report that he’s transferred this particular skill to Bullpitt. I felt very satisfied after my vegetarian starter and main course. I do find it hard to get excited about waterblommetjies though, and their addition to my main course hasn’t changed that. Roasted Jerusalem artichokes segments filled with a tasty centre, mushroom vinaigrette, smoked potato puree and a sweet element were a more successful aspect of my plate.
On the sweet side, the winter special ginger cake was light, tasty and just right. The espresso soufflé – flavours change regularly - with flambéed chocolate and cardamom ice-cream was declared a little too rich in its combinations. The citrus crème Catalan with a dark chocolate almond torte with crème fraiche anglaise? A successful study in complementary bittersweet and citrus flavours.

In short, the meal at Jardine was well worth it. Bullpitt’s team will continue in his absence. But I recommend experiencing this chef’s personal stamp on plates - patience is required until his return.

Spend: R150 for a three-course set menu (valid until end of September 2010). Two courses at R240. Three courses at R290. Chef’s tasting menu available if the entire table orders.
Value: Very good, taking winter special into consideration
Flavour rating: Excellent

JARDINE RESTAURANT, Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel 021 424 5640, Jardine on Bree Open for lunch Wed to Fri, dinner Tues to Sat.