Firstly I must apologise for the length of this particular post – I do feel the need to qualify my ramblings slightly, but I promise subsequent posts will be more about the food and less about me 🙂
A very famous man once said that “Opinions are just like arseholes – everyone’s got one” (Well – maybe he wasn’t famous but he is certainly a super star in my world 😉 Anyway – if the saying fits the bill then I might have a particularly large one…. And you may ask what on earth qualifies me to think my opinions in their largess are worth listening to? I am not a Michelin starred chef – in fact I have never had any professional training at all….neither have I ever run a restaurant. However…. I am probably more obsessed with food then anyone I know…. I always have planned a weeks meals ahead and one of my favourites pastimes is snuggling up with my rather embarrassingly large collection of cook books, perving over the content and then penning down my own ideas on new creations and flavours. Feeding my family and close friends these creations is my second favourite pastime and most will vouch for the fact that I am much more than your average feeder. I just love everything about food – from the way it brings us together to the way the sensations and tastes feel rolling around in my mouth and dancing on my tongue… So now I think you may have the gist 😉
I am also uber privileged to dine in and around our fair city of Cape Town more frequently than most – in fact it’s safe to say that I eat my way around this city and get giddy with excitement when a new restaurant opens and I get to sample its offerings. My friends have been hassling me to write about these experiences for long enough and after my LUSH dinner last night I have decided to unleash my opinions and thoughts out into cyber space…. God save me from the haters and trollers.
I am a pretty big fan of Liam Tomlin. Chef’s warehouse in town is probably one of the best value gourmet experiences in the city bowl and Thali has been blowing my mind and taste buds with all the authentically prepared fragrant dishes of Indian food. I also love the fact you can’t book at either of these two venues as spontaneity seems to be a distant memory here in the city bowl with reservations now involving rather large deposits and very complicated scenarios with fairly lubricated friends at the end of the night. However Liam’s third and newest venture does require a booking, or a rather cheeky moi calling last minute and persuading the maître’ d that she needed to find us a small table somewhere…. Pretty please with sprinkles on top (gluten free of course).
For us city slickers to meander out towards the burbs we have to have rather good reason, and the new Chef’s Warehouse at Beau Constantia is exactly that. Having never been to this Wine estate I was rather surprised by the spectacular views down the valley and the very pretty rows of vines growing on the terraced slopes which reminded me of the wine estates on the hills in Mallorca which I am so very fond of. You certainly don’t feel like you are minutes away from the city and you rather have the feeling that you have stepped in a transportation cabin and been zapped across miles and miles into the winelands.
The restaurant itself is modern and slick, simple and functional but with a luxe glow that Liam has also mastered at Thali. Plush enough to make it feel special – but not SO special that you couldn’t eat there every day. The first thing that impressed me were the waiters; there are plenty of them and they all seemed bright, sparky, passionate about the food and most importantly, happy to be there. All this creates a great vibe and you get a sense of the teamwork between them and the kitchen as you see the hustle and bustle play out before you. The kitchen is open into the restaurant which is marvellous as you get to see the magic happening and makes for a little theatre while dining too.
For those of you who haven’t been to one of Liam’s restaurant the way it works is like this… there is a menu, you get what you get…. and you don’t get upset 😉 There are generally 3 small courses with tapas style plates to share between two. You can opt for a Vegetarian option and also choose to abstain from one or two of the dishes you think you might not like. Fortunately for me I love everything (okay not pigs feet, tripe or kidney’s), and this style of eating opens up my mouth to all kinds of different types of dishes I would maybe never choose, which I LOVE. Pushing the boundaries of flavours and textures is marvellous and trusting the Chef to guide you through this can be a very enriching experience. It’s a different way of eating, and very healthy in my opinion with smaller portions packed with flavour, lots of lean proteins and nothing overly rich or heavy. What I also really love is that Liam celebrates vegetables and gives them a deserved centre stage with his middle course. Most places only consider vegetables as an accompaniment so hurrah for challenging us here! When I tell you that the cauliflower dish was for me, the best of the lot…and that in fact it’s probably my most favourite dish in Cape Town right now you may think me bonkers. Try it first and the get back to me… even thinking about it right now is making me drool.
So here are my thoughts on the individual dishes. We didn’t manage to squeeze in dessert and stuck to sparkling water so I can’t make much comment on the wine – although they seem to serve mostly wine from the Estate itself, which I also am not well acquainted with.
The trio of starters were: a raw linefish escabeche, which is the name for a dish (traditionally) that is marinated and cooked in an acidic mixture (vinegar) and usually coloured with Spanish Paprika or Saffron. A Tuna Sashimi style dish and a Beef tataki, which is an Asian style take on a seared carpaccio. The escabeche had the most insane earthy flavours and despite being marinated in a vinegar was mellow yet bright. It made me think of dining by the sea in Essaouria (Morocco) – redolent of the lingering smells of the souk. The Sashimi had these insane cubes of apple marinated in a parsley jus that gave a sweet burst in your mouth to compliment the salty, punchy anchovy mayo. The crispy Kale chips on top were clearly popular as I saw some extra being hauled on on their own on plates no doubt at the request of greedy customers. The beef Tataki had a velvety aubergine puree and these curious these little pickled mushrooms that tingled my tongue !
Risotto is such a hit and miss dish and because of this havnt ordered it in ages, and no I am not scared of carbs at all! I just think it’s so rare to get right that al dente bite combined with a silky, creamy texture. The Carrot & Burnt Butter risotto didn’t disappoint and I had to stop my better half from running his finger along the bottom of the copper pan and then licking it afterwards… You just can’t take some people anywhere… *sigh*.
Carrot & Burnt Butter Risotto
Whilst its really quite naff to relate food to music the symphony of flavours in the Cauliflower were really sublime. Who would have imagined capers, raisins and an onion sauce would love each other the way they did on that plate. Certainly not me…. But they did indeed. The Cauliflower was roasted, stuffed and layered on the plate with the sauce and then finished off with a spray of kataifi (yes the shredded phyllo pastry used in Greek desserts) which wasn’t just fun to look at but delicious to eat. I am still confused about the capers and raisins and how they worked so well….. A second visit is needed here to sort this out.
Roasted Cauliflower with Capers & Raisins
The final course was a trio of meat dishes that were elegant, simple and clever. The glazed apricots complimented the Pork lion well and the almond puree gave it a gentle finish that made me wish for more. It just goes to show you don’t need to make things fussy for the sake of it. Some flavours just work, (like tangy fruits and pork) and there is no need to overcomplicate them. The dish was very honest and bold and I loved it. My favourite of the three was the Blesbok in a spiced herbed yogurt with some Smokey roast sweet potatoes. It was my turn to run my fingers along the bottom of the bowl here and lick this fragrant spicy green yogurt from my fingers (you are appalled now aren’t you?). The lamb was well flavoured and cooked beautifully – although a lamb rib is not my favourite piece of meat and I wasn’t too sure about the nutty, breadcrumb like accompaniment.
Main courses coming out
By the time we had finished the sun had set and the lights down in the valley were twinkling vigorously at us, beckoning us back to the City. The night was hot and balmy and as I looked out over the magnificent view I felt that all too familiar feeling of being blessed to live (and eat) in one of the best cities on the planet.
Finally – the menu will be changing here all the time – so get there soon if you want to challenge me on the cauliflower 😉 I will certainly be a regular visitor here……
P.S Excuse the Photos…. The restaurant was busy and we were sat in the middle so light was a challenge!