Winter special

With winter officially here it is time to hit the pause button, to batten down the hatches and hope for more rain in the Cape. Time too to take advantage of all the winter restaurant specials. My book of the month is therefore the JHP Gourmet Guide™, now at a reduced price, available online directly from Map Studio. It will give you great inspiration for eating out.

Before the rain sets in I managed to slip a few memorable meals into my memory bank. Let me share some with you.

ASH

A Friday night kicked off with friends at Mothers’ Ruin with gorgeous gin cocktails. We then proceeded on to Ash for the early sitting. I must confess that we are not very good at being told when to leave, as two hours seems to fly by when you are having fun. Receiving a text message, in error, cancelling our table as we were in our Uber was all put right with a warm welcome. Free sparkling and still water for the table is always well received. I love a bird’s eye view of the cooking, and when over flames, even better. The look of love and concentration on a chef’s face warms my heart. We started our meal with the chix pops and chix snacks – the delicious bites of crispy pigs ’cheeks was a win. I chose the game hen, real comfort food, my friend the burger, and the boys shared the rib eye steak as there was no prime rib, their first choice. The side dish of charred cabbage was a fabulous nod to the value of vegetables on open flame cooking. Our desserts of doughnuts to share, topped with a scrumptious cheesecake mixture, was worth fighting over. We were now over our time and the next sitting was breathing down our necks, so off we went, back into the beat of Bree Street.

SHORTMARKET CLUB

One son in town calls for a celebration. I got to choose the restaurant, wanting somewhere really special but not too formal. Saturday night at the Shortmarket Club? Cannot think of where else I would like to be! There is something very inviting about alighting stairs, seeing my favourite painting of a protea and then turning the corner at the top to witness the talented kitchen team under the beady eye of chef Wesley Randles hard at work. Silver service, waiters in white coats wheeling trolleys to expectant guests gives the ambience of a special occasion.  Still grumbling about having to get out of their grubby jeans and off the couch, the clubby feel made my men instantly relax and feel at home. It takes detailed and carefully thought out décor to get the ambience right and Sandalene Dale-Roberts has yet again showcased her flair. The antique Argentinian doors kept on catching my eye, as did the framed butterflies, competing with the beautifully plated food that subliminally reminds one of Luke Dale-Robert’s culinary talent. My husband’s request for the main course of beetroot to be served as a starter was seamlessly arranged and he declared it delicious. The prodigal son loved the pigs’ cheeks and my tuna starter cancelled out all childhood nightmares about okra. Linefish with a light curry sauce for me, and my men shared the prime rib. When they reluctantly allowed me a taste of the café au lait sauce I knew why they were waxing lyrical about that and the potatoes fried in duck fat – real testosterone fare. Sharing the chocolate fondant dessert and the cheese platter brought a cozy, happy family evening to a close.

The Shortmarket Club celebrated their first year of success last week – well done, happy birthday and keep on raising the bar!

Sundowners on a spectacular evening at the rooftop bar of Cloud 9 Boutique Hotel in Kloof Nek Rd was a civilized place for catching up with former teammates Megan and Hayley, and this photograph reminds me of how blessed I am to call myself a Capetonian.

OPEN DOOR

Sitting outdoors surrounded by the Contantiaberg mountains is not a shabby way to spend a working Wednesday. Lunch at the Open Door on the Uitsig estate in Constantia was a good experience. A favourite with locals and visitors alike, this is the youngest sibling in the trio made up by Burrata and Bocca.  Natalie and I had decided that a few hours out of the office would be good for us to plan our next few months together, but the arrival of Neil …. put pay to that and instead we took advantage of his extensive wine knowledge and good company. Of the starters the Feta Bake and the Grilled Calamari were favourites, but we were then blown away by the Cauliflower Cheese – a delightful play of flavour and textures. I had the line fish and Natalie the Springbok Loin, and then we gently fought over the desserts of the Lime Bombolonis and the Coffee and Chocolate dessert. Wine by the glass is perfect for a working lunch and the sommelier ensured that we were well looked after. Having builders present was a reminder that there are some exciting plans under way and by next season this will be a must-do destination. Make a mental note to visit Constantia Uitsig’s very own winery and tasting facility and greenhouse in the near future.

FOXCROFT 

Meeting Glen Foxcroft Williams before lunch at Foxcroft in Constantia was a delightful appetizer – the man who adds finesse from his years as La Colombe’s pastry chef.  This local lad has music in his genes, and has, with Scot Kirton, created a unique symphony of flavour. Why here? “There is a gap in the market between fine dining and family fare. We wanted to offer casual fine dining, cooking with the same ethos as at La Colombe, but in a more casual setting, without pretenses. Waiters are in jeans and there are no tablecloths. Here there is a more open canvas where we can present a beautifully composed dish alongside good old chicken wings. Here I have the freedom to make a sandwich!” Glen wants diners to walk away and say “that was better than I expected. We under-promise and over-deliver.”

His food is simple yet careful. Mussels are not presented in a large bowl but instead four carefully considered mouthfuls are plated. Their charcuterie room, which I’m told after the winter break will be filled with entirely their own products, are top quality, and a board of it made a great start to a memorable meal. The winter lunch special – two tapas, a main and dessert for R295. Light, delicate and crispy calamari and the tuna led the way before the lamb ribs and tomato salad impressed us. Who else could think of a small boerkaas toasted sandwich as part of this dish? Fish goujons and the meat dish of chalmar beef were followed by the lightest panna cotta I have ever tasted, and their cheese board.

Tattooed on Glen’s arm is the word ‘soi.gné’ which means ‘prepared with great attention to detail. Showing sophisticated elegance, carefully or elegantly done.’  He is living up to and exceeding expectations.

Scrutinizing a large selection of craft gins, and sipping just a few, was a good way of ending a working week at the Good Food and Wine Show.  It was a year ago that we fearlessly launched the inaugural JHP Gourmet Guide™ to rave reviews. The chefs have been responsive and grateful for the platform on which to shine. We are hard at work verifying reports from our inspectors, and the writing of the 2018 guide is about to begin. Top celebrity chefs Marco Pierre White and Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen were this year’s drawcards. The Joburg show at the end of July is sure to be bigger and better and worth a visit, so diarise now 28 to 30 July.

CHEF’S TABLE

The way to start the spectacular Chef’s Table experience at the Belmond Mount Nelson is perching on one of the beautiful barstools in the Planet Bar, sipping a cocktail or glass of champagne. Chef Rudi Liebenberg will personally collect you and take you through the warren of passages into the kitchen where it all happens. Intimately in a tucked away corner with a bird’s eye view of culinary expertise at work, you then meander your way through the innovative menu. My eye kept on catching the large quotes on the wall ‘you can play with my wife but do not touch my knife’, and a ‘carrot is not just a carrot!’ I had the pleasure of lunching with their uber-efficient PR Manager Gaby Palmer, who brought me up to speed on all Belmond activities, and oohed and aahed her way through the meal with me. The basket of breads was accompanied by a small beef tasting and aioli. The beef tendons were a clever play on a part of the animal that could be met with scorn if not so well executed. The perfectly prepared kingklip with a delicate curry dressing on a bed of the last of autumn’s heirloom tomato was as good as the prawn surprise, a fresh take on the head of the prawn that too, is usually discarded. Duck breast with tortelloni and Jerusalem artichokes was served, and I hit satiety stage. Thank goodness I was abstaining from the perfect pairings of wine! Rudi then joined our table for the sago pudding (that featured butternut) that re-iterated the gentle thread of Cape flavours, proof that local bounty dictates the innovation in this kitchen.

The Chef’s Table is available for a minimum of one and maximum of 12 guests, lunch at R495 and dinner at R745. Booking is essential.

PRODUCT OF THE MONTH – Freixenet

There is sparkle in my step. Cava has been what I have enjoyed before during and after my Morocco cookery classes, and surely is a good way of training for my June travels. I’m off to experience the finest hospitality at the Hostellerie de Levernois Relias & Châteaux property in Beaune, Burgundy, to taste mustards in Dijon and to spend a few days in Champagne with my friends from Taittinger for what is surely going to be an unforgettable, effervescent experience. Corsica then beckons for some R&R – research and (w)riting, oh and some relishing of the sun whilst more rain comes to the Cape.

 

 

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