From hot-and-happening on the fire, to the farm

My last few trips to Jozi have been gastronomically captivating. From hot-and-happening on the fire, to the farm. Here are some of the highlights…

MARBLE

What a treat to start the week at Marble, having a quick chat to Chef David Higgs who is obviously a talented man, but more importantly, one who can successfully multi-task. Busy with the TV series MKR, about to open his restaurant Saint in Sandton, launching a book in October – I am impressed, especially as the standards at Marble remain at an all-time high.

Here there is great attention to detail, starting with the sourcing of quality ingredients that respond well to open-fire cooking. It is this method that has made David feel like he has ‘come home’, after years of winning awards for his fine-dining prowess. Another impressive element of this business is how it has offered skills development opportunities and social upliftment. David and his team know that when you offer an opportunity to one bright individual, you are helping to feed a family.

Since opening David and partner Gary Kyriacou have understood their market, which is largely business professionals who want to escape from the corporate and conference environment to relax and eat food they can identify and appreciate. They want an experience, and they need to know that they matter – staff is finely tuned and trained to sense your every need. “The food has to be good here, it is simple, there are no foams or frills to hide behind,” says David.

I devoured a few small bites – calamari, then fried mussel, followed by a delicious duo of tuna and red pepper, thinly sliced. For my main course I had quail with bok choi and mushrooms, that was excellent. My partner had the exceptional rib eye with…quote unquote…insane chips!

We continued to debate the definition of fine dining, and the fact that many diners want the quality of fine dining, but to be relaxed.  It’s good to know that this chef still wants simple food at home, but for a special occasion you could see him heading back to the Saxon…

GREI AT THE SAXON HOTEL

After working with David Higgs at 500 and then Luke Dale Roberts at LDR at the Saxon, chef Candice Philip has truly found her place. Her philosophy is based on sensual understanding and use of herbaceous ingredients. The décor is predominantly gentle tones of grey, underlining the name (which means ‘nation’ or ‘gathering of people’ in Portuguese). One of the guests at the table was a vegetarian. You know a chef can pull out all the stops when the vegetarian pairing menu is that good!

Every nuance of the experience was superlative, from first mouthful of bread to the last chocolate, from the personal service to the knowledge of the sommelier. After tearing ourselves away from an unforgettable culinary journey, we were given a little box containing a bag of herbs that had been used in the preparation of our meal – the last of many special touches.

DW ELEVEN-13

You cannot imagine my frustration when, after dreaming of my return to dw eleven-13 for days in advance, I arrived early in the morning at Cape Town International for my flight to Joberg, and saw the heavy fog. Noticing that no planes were landing or taking off, I still did not give up hope. Let’s cut a long and boring story short by saying I was devastated that after hanging around for many hours waiting for my flight, I missed my lunch and meeting with chef Marthinus Ferreira. I managed to make it to the restaurant the following day, when sadly he was not there – my fault, not his!

The acid test for a restaurant is to rate it when the chef is absent. I watched, sitting solo at my cosy table in the corner, the level of dedication and concentration on the faces of the chefs hard at work in the kitchen. Poetry in motion indeed. Service staff and sommelier Mario took good care of me as I slowly savoured my lunch. The polenta with cauliflower spuma, kale, sultanas, pine nuts and capers, was a wonderful combination of tastes and textures that transported me back to Sicily, from where I had just returned. My main course, interestingly paired with The Dome pinot noir, was linefish with a rosemary brioche crump and shrimp, courgette, mussel, dune spinach, lemon and tomato – a simple dish perfectly executed with restraint. I love the classy, convivial setting which is perfect for clandestine and business meetings, and special occasions too.

Every bite is a delight, from exquisitely crafted bread and butter to the last spoonful – a sticky date and carrot dessert, with sugared slithers of carrot deep-fried, with caramel sauce and cream cheese with a discreet tang of lemon – small yet supreme.

When I walked into dw eleven-13 I had a feeling of déjà vu, remembering the taste of Marthinus’s savoury dessert in which Gorgonzola was the hero – this time a similar dish with Camembert taking pride of place. Sadly, I had no space and could not attempt it, but left with another good reason to return, other than to catch up with Marthinus personally.

FERMIER

Arriving in a nursey, one does wonder if your direction app has taken you on a wild good chase…but when a restaurant is called Fermier, meaning farmer in French, it should not be a surprise. It is here in a simple, rustic shed with concrete flooring and wooden tables that chef Adriaan Maree is impressing guests as he did when at Roots. Here he and his team have complete freedom. They serve a maximum of 28 covers for dinner, with passion. “I cook things I like, that I am passionate about,” he says. “It’s all about the ingredients.” Starting this restaurant was a leap of faith, and after completing the charming building, they decided to buy tennis racquets, as they thought they could play tennis as the restaurant took time to become established and grow a clientéle. It happened overnight, so sadly no tennis for them! For discerning diners there is a nine-course food and wine pairing that is sure to delight the most sophisticated palate. The series of small dishes, perfectly seasoned, was memorable, as was the entire experience.

MANDELA DAY

Back in Cape Town it was a privilege to commemorate Mandela Day by spending 67 minutes of our time for Natalie and I to distribute 67 copies of the award-winning 2018 JHP Gourmet Guide™ to second-year students at CPUT’s hotel school in Granger Bay. This was inspired by one of my favourite Madiba quotes: “Young people must take it upon themselves to ensure that they receive the highest education possible so that they can represent us well in future as future leaders.”

It gave me a special moment of déjà vu to walk into one of the cookery labs, where I reminisced with Nina Septoe, culinary lecturer, about student days and practical sessions. When I was an eager and ambitious student Peter Veldsman, then food editor of Sarie magazine, asked me what I wanted to ultimately do. I thought about it, and said – to know enough to write about food. It has been a wonderful journey, and what a treat to do what I love. My message to the students is that it only took a mere 30 years…!

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