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.