You know when you are greeted by the warm, inviting aroma of an earthy mushroom-based stock bubbling in the background, that the food is going to be authentic.
After an hour of wandering the main street of Franschhoek I entered Foliage to have a quick chat to chef Chris Erasmus, who has recently completed a 13-episode TV series in mixed languages. His objective is to create a consciousness of local suppliers and ethical foraging, believing that the word to use is not sustainability, but instead re-birth. We need restaurants to change, and consumers need to change the way they buy – better awareness will create less wastage. An animated interchange pursued, and before I knew it I was settling into a life-changing lunch.
At Foliage they use local game, no prime cuts and many of the dishes are vegetarian or vegan. Chris is supporting those solving the squirrel problem at Babylonstoren by using the meat for his delicious squirrel Pâté rolled in acorn and nettle powder, served in a broth that smelt as good as the one that lured me in. He reminded me that squirrel are vermin, not cute, and not indigenous. It is this mindset that has started a movement. He is also starting to work with schools, and at home his eight-year-old son tends their garden. Chris is re-igniting the eating tradition of simply going into the garden, picking and eating. I got some good garden tips too – the young leaves of stinging nettles do not sting, and make great pesto – and should be thought of as vegetables, not edible weeds. Put into boiling water, then into ice, squeeze dry. Blend with pumpkin seeds, salt and sweet roasted garlic. Yum.
At Foliage there is no front-of-house and kitchen, they are one team that eat together before service, taking turns to cook and ensuring that it is mostly vegan (meat once a week) and discuss all bookings. Service, as a result, is seamless and impressive.
Ingredients are key. Instead of using rennet (animal origin) in the making of cheese, milk thistle is used to make hard cheese, and fig leaves to make soft cheese. Chris believes that Franschhoek could as a community become self-sustainable. It needs an organic market, and locals should be empowered to grow, make and sell. He describes his cuisine as local terroir, “eating and drinking Franschhoek.” Salads are fresh from the vineyards, and he supports local, often bartering a few meals for the freshest produce. He is making a statement with more than his broad smile, bushy beard and interesting tattoos.
Here there is a generosity of taste, talent, service – and portions – we left having had more than our fill of flavour-filled food, beautifully presented. A quick foray into his wife’s art gallery next door, and I was more than inspired.
This is where those who have travelled to Japan return for the real deal. Quiet, serene, My evening in this small, cosy restaurant in Kloof Nek Road started with a chat to chef Koshi Koyama who was born in Tokyo, trained as a sushi chef in Japan, and came to Cape Town 20 years ago. Next up was Daniel, who has been a waiter there since shortly after the restaurant opened in 2007, who told me how owner Scott is passionate about the restaurant and its food. Scott travels every year in his ‘triangle’ – New York, Los Angeles and Japan, always returning to up his game – and top up his connoisseur’s collection of Japanese whiskies.
Green tea destiny was the zesty cocktail chosen to start, followed by ceviche. Then the sushi array arrived – some diners come just for the sushi, knowing that it is authentic – no salmon roses or fashion sandwiches – it is traditional. Hard-core sushi lovers can go wild and choose a salmon roll with raw quail egg, or sea urchin. As we were biting into the lightest tempura ever tasted, Scott arrived, and regaled the tale of how the restaurant came into being. His love affair with Japanese food started in 1994 in LA, and when he came to Cape Town to buy a house a decade ago, ended up building and designing this restaurant. Three Japanese chefs ‘found’ him, and the rest, as they say, is history. They first perfected sushi, then five years later tempura (it’s all about the flour and oil, and always add lemon and salt). Scott proceeded to bring a fresh wasabi root out of the fridge for me to taste, carefully grating it on shark skin at our table. It is moments like these that I remember why I love my job – access to informed, interesting people who are as passionate about food and ingredients as I am.
The steamed fish, recommended by Koshi, was as he described – simple and delicious. In summer the seaweed salad and oysters are popular, and in winter diners love the soup. Tempura, he claims, is a favourite all-year round. We ended our meal with the black sesame seed ice cream, chosen over the cherry blossom ice cream with chocolate and the green tea crepe with green tea ice cream. Next time. There will be a next time.
Here all is unpretentious, with genuinely good food – Scott is fanatical about quality and consistency. As stated on the menu – quiet refinement, elegant simplicity – as if you are in Japan.
CAPE LEGENDS INTER-HOTEL CHALLENGE
This is the fifth year of this competition organised by Showcook, a showcase for young talent to prove themselves. A black-tie dinner at the Cape Sun was the backdrop for the winners to be announced, and for me a great opportunity to see that the food of tomorrow is in such capable hands. Visit http://www.showcook.com to ‘meet’ the winners.