Coming in from the cold to where Arno Janse van Rensburg and his wife Liezl are wowing discerning diners and their fans from Franschhoek, was a treat. Lauded as a chef of the future, I was excited about re-acquainting myself with this talent. In chaotic Kloof Street, Cape Town, here the dark tones of the restaurant are lifted by the floral mural on the wall, cheering you up as you enter. Arno cooked in Cape Town at Dish Food and Social for a few years before venturing out to Franschhoek where he spent four years at Maison. He admits that here they are still finding their feet, changing as they progress, finding new suppliers. It’s different to where he was surrounded by produce growing on his doorstep and suppliers arriving with produce constantly. “Here we need to dig these trenches and have foundation to stand on. Here we look for what we want to cook. Here we cater for a different demographic – out of farm life.”
Arno loves cooking with seafood (his calamari is sublime), and is delighted that they now have an abalone licence. Fruit, vegetables and nuts are also a favourite. As winter has arrived you will see a shift from lighter foods, and his love of ingredients like citrus and sorrel. He believes that eventually he will have a vegan restaurant, and designs his dishes starting with vegetables, then adding protein. “It’s all about origin – I know what has gone into the ingredient. The care we take, not just in cooking, makes a more intimate dish. People are more in the know, a chef needs to know the answers.” Staff seem equally passionate about origin.
They offer a two, three, four or five-course lunch before desserts, and a few more courses for dinner. Wife Liezl runs the operations and back office – “A good pairing,” he says. When not at Janse & Co, you may find them at their favourite restaurant for relaxed eating. “Maria’s – it’s reassuring.” After a year under their belts and a trip to Spain during their winter break (23 June – 12 July), expect a shift when they return. Watch this space…and don’t wait for summer.
As someone who struggles to keep out of the kitchen, there is nothing better for me than being able to eat in someone else’s kitchen. Chef Rudi Liebenberg came to collect us at reception, and led us into the bustle where we settled in a cosy corner with a bird’s eye view of the kitchen. Tinashe, junior sommelier, served the celebratory pink MCC cocktail (did you know that the Nellie is celebrating 100 years of pink this year?). Rudi proceeded to tell us about their ‘waste’ menu served for lunch on Saturdays, as he served the medley of clever morsels that make the most of what in most kitchens is waste. Think nasturtium oil made from blemished leaves, hummus made from carrot peels and offcuts, beef tendons that are transformed into a culinary delight, discarded vegetable leaves that are elevated by being fried in a tempura batter. Mushroom stalks and trimmings become powder, fish off-cuts are re-invented. Sous chef Dion Vengatass enthralled us with his enthusiasm for Cape cuisine, and how he taps into his heritage to produce ‘seafood braai’, a course that includes snoek fritters, pickled fish, calamari with chorizo and chilli, loin of sea bass and an Argentinian prawn curry. He waxed lyrical about seaweed, and Cape spices. Craig Hibbert, head of pastry and his assistant Kirsten brought our meal to a close with pear presented in three ways. Let me not share their secrets – winter is the perfect time to warm up in this hot-and-happening kitchen. Chef Rudi and Kirsten will return from an inspirational trip to New York next week, and there is sure to be renewed enthusiasm in this passionate, talented team. When I return from meeting their colleagues in Sicily at the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo and Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, there will be lots to talk about.
This new collaboration of La Mouette’s chefs Henry Vigar and Andre Hill draws inspiration from Andre’s childhood in colourful Bo-Kaap in a street named Upper Bloem. Shades of salt, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper in geometric tiles and upholstery form a backdrop for a journey of small plates. “The colour palette reminds me of Bo-Kaap and the barber shop I was taken to for haircuts when a small boy,” says Andre. The open kitchen allows diners to see the smooth operation, and positioning on the Main Road of Green Point the team to be energised by sunshine and the bustle of the busy street.
Andre’s history of growing up with spices is evident on each plate, without overpowering. Delicate dishes like cured kabeljou with a sago crisp, pickled radish, curry and raisin and the Saldanha Bay mussels with spekboom, parsley oil and sea essence make way for bolder plates. Two vegetable dishes, the Cape Malay-style onions with pickled aubergine and caramelized onions and the Tandoori carrots with whipped goat’s milk yoghurt and candied black rice are stand-outs. Moving into the ‘main’ plates, expect something typical of Cape cuisine like the lamb neck biryani and beef short rib with Jerusalem artichoke, sweetbreads, tongue and apple. The thread of happy memories is brought to a close with the dessert board selection (R195 for 2 pax), which includes yummy milk tart doughnuts.
Happy and attentive waiters make for an enjoyable experience. The set menu of three courses at R395 per person, with wines at R695, has been priced to suit local pockets. Lunch is six plates instead of nine, with the bread course being optional. You may not want to miss that though…
Happy weekend. The key to a good weekend for me will be celebrating World Gin Day on Saturday with a bottle of No.3 London Dry Gin, a timeless classic.