Whilst winter was making herself obvious I came out from the cold to experience the cream of the crop of epicurean adventures, amidst many a meeting whilst we gear up for launching the JHP Gourmet Guide™ 2019. Let me pinch myself, this is not a shabby job, and I remain in awe at the opportunity and privilege of experiencing the very best of South Africa’s culinary landscape.
A luncheon meeting with a client (who many moons ago did a year’s internship at my company and is now the marketing manager of a global company in SA), took place at The Stack in Gardens. Apart from being legendary for hosting the launch of the 2018 JHP Gourmet Guide™ in October last year in their member’s club, believe me when I say it is perfect for a business or leisure lunch, romantic or fun dinner, guaranteed to create a good impression. The outside terrace is calming, no-one would guess that you are in the heart of the city. We sat in the shade of the trees and re-connected over delicious, authentic brasserie fare that included a memorable risotto and flavoursome linefish, cooked to perfection. After lunch I chatted to head chef Delia Harbottle, who honed her craft in The Liz McGrath Collection. Her love of the Capes’ crop is obvious, and she is committed to supporting local suppliers. Expect her favourite ingredients, game, to appear on the menu, and when available, Jerusalem artichokes. Look out for more delicious fish dishes, sustainably sourced, and take advantage of the plat du jour, “It’s with this that my team use their knowledge and have fun,” says Delia.
If it is spectacular Japanese cuisine that your heart cries out for, and you feel like splashing out, then make a booking for Nobu at the One&Only Cape Town in the V&A Waterfront. From the cheery, traditional Japanese chant that welcomes you into the triple volume space, to the last sip of sake, you will be overwhelmed. We took our seats and when we said cheers with a glass of bubbles, a lone gent at the table next to us whispered that it was his favourite way of starting a meal. A lively interchange between courses followed, as after our first two, he leant across and exclaimed that he had never seen anyone enjoy food to the same degree that my husband and I do! I did not have the heart to tell him that I eat for a living. He, with us, relished the explanations of the drinks and dishes that were so expertly shared by the service staff. Our meal was amazing, from tangy tacos to tonno with dried shimeji mushrooms, caviar on wasabi mash to the Caesar salad with lobster, Woodford truffles, Parmesan, truffle aioli and rice crouton to the Chilean sea bass, cooked and served inventively. We both savoured each morsel before devouring the Alaskan king crab with delectable Nobu sauces. We seared our Wagyu beef on hot rocks and then ended off with a whisky dessert with a creamy topping and chef Harald’s special Malva pud with a subtle hint of lemongrass.
Chef Harold Hurtada, who hails from the Philippines, lives the ethos of global icon Nobuyuki Matsuhisa. In his 18 months in the Mother City he has learnt to love her produce, and is committed to trying to source ingredients locally before looking further afield, always buying the best and insisting on top quality.
Allow me to share snippets of my superlative fine dining experience at Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenhort Hotel, a proud member of the Relais & Châteaux stable that always celebrates local terrior. I managed a quick and inspiring chat to Grande chef Peter Tempelhoff before dinner. It covered his recent trip to France, the country that has had the biggest influence on his career, as he was classically trained. There is no doubt that Japan has had its impact too, obvious in his respect for ingredients, illustrated with his anecdote of how when the fish and seafood arrives at the restaurant in a box, it has a piece of paper on which is written where, when and by whom it was caught. We then got onto SA, which his menu pays homage to, tells stories of and showcases his passion for where we are. His menu is ever-evolving in sync with the seasons, and there are inventive new executions and combinations, like sour fig gel served with the squid.
If my man (the hunter) and I (the Pisces) order main courses we always order something different so that I can ‘see’ more of a menu, and without saying he goes carnivore and I go piscatorial. I was delighted and transformed by the Springbok, which may make me change my ways. A simple rub with coffee, braaied with coffee butter and rolled in a special braai spice, I labelled it quite the best Springbok I have ever devoured. I even wandered into the kitchen to see how it was cooked! Peter’s right hand man, Ashley Moss, is equally dedicated to sourcing locally whilst being globally inspired. The final act was chocolate tapas – three renditions of chocolate each flavoured with a different tea – then their version of an Irish coffee, local to its core with a popcorn-infused cream, local whisky, Ethiopian coffee and popcorn dust. Nothing short of heavenly. The service is superior with the perfect touch of theatre, without being overplayed. Writing this, remembering the experience, my heart beats just a little faster.
I still get excited about each and every review that I conduct, and a much-anticipated visit to TTK is no exception. Here the aim is to experiment, not to be pigeon-holed, so there is always new excitement, nothing ever feels the same. After being seated in the dark room I sipped a TTK gin and tonic cocktail before starting the culinary journey around the world. Highlights were the billionaires’ shortbread – a dish which remains on the menu as Luke Dale Robert’s signature dish – something he swore he would never have, but as it is quirky and exceptional, there it stays. The coconut langoustine reminded me of my last TTK dinner, at the Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa in Mauritius at their successful pop-up earlier this year.
We were escorted into the light room after a memorable array of canapés, to enjoy the more formal part of the experience. I was delighted to perch at the counter with prime view of the kitchen team at work in front of me, giving me the chance to chat to the fortunate few who are working with the maestro. There is a relaxing, fun ambience, and when I swivelled around to look at the restaurant, was thrilled to see people who have flown halfway across the world for their reservation, savouring the unforgettable voyage of discovery. By the time the beef, horseradish and Yorkshire pud arrived I was friends with a young British girl next to us, so could not resist teasing her about how this traditional favourite would never be the same again. Every enticing element of the evening hits a high note, the food, the iconic or gourmand wine pairing, and even the fragrant tea pairing which I chose. The staff ensure that everyone relaxes into the groove, and animated conversation is peppered with laughter. They know that this is a night to remember, and in-between serving dishes (to appreciative oohs and aahs), they take the odd photograph and really make you feel at home. I felt privileged to try a new dish that is not yet on the menu, a savoury take on tiramisu that is conjured up from…no, let me not ruin the surprise. Make your booking, make your own investment in precious, indelible memories, don’t be tempted to simply feast off mine. And if you have to book a flight, so be it – this is, after all – destination dining.