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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
LA TêTE, 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