Review: Mulberry & Prince

The Proposition

I’ve been hearing about Mulberry & Prince off and on, but was getting no real view on the type of food they cooked. Their Facebook page identifies the menu style as “New American” and I’ll save you the trouble of Googling what that means – it’s essentially anything you want it to mean. The term encompasses plates that combine ideas and/or cookery from the USA with any other global cuisine, and clearly it’s most used in the USA itself to indicate a combination of food styles, like spring rolls fused with a uniquely American ingredient, such as crab from the east coast.

It’s curious to find this category used here, as most South Africans don’t even know what “American” food is, beyond the staples in every fast food joint. (Spoiler alert, they don’t do fusion burgers at this restaurant.) Anyway, it’s a rabbit-hole of food taxonomy and New American is a term that some writers even find objectionable in its broad blandness – as it could mean any American restaurant menu that is not obviously Italian or Chinese, for example. But in calling their cuisine such, Mulberry & Prince clearly flag their desire for difference – which is always a welcome point of departure.

The Experience

The space is minimalist in a relaxed and welcoming manner. It’s small and intimate, but too close to be private. The care with the interior and the designer chairs, tables, artworks and so on was strikingly deflated by the arrival of the menu and wine list, both on plain paper in small type. The low lighting (you will find no food pictures with this post for that reason) made reading these pamphlets pretty trying. Their very elegant but also bare-bones website (simply a poster for opening times and contact details) declares: “We are fully licensed.  We are proud of our selection and therefore BYO is not permitted.” However, I found the wine list overly-skewed to “light and fresh” modern wines and bleeding-edge innovators – there was, notably, a clear lack of richer styles that might be exactly what’s needed for dishes like lardo on toast, or lamb ribs with spices and raw honey (both on this sample menu).

The menu on the night (it changes frequently) states that plates are meant to be shared and with a selection of 9 before one dessert, we ordered most of them. I’ll leave the debate about whether it was, indeed, New American aside. That doesn’t really matter in the end; after all, as it’s all in the eating.

Saldanha Bay oysters were cleverly paired with kohlrabi “kraut” and sesame, but then over-powered with chilli sauce. Salmon tartare with desiccated cucumber, fermented turnips and aioli offered a good burst of pure flavour and rewarding textures. Beef tartare “Caesar” came with “pink butter lettuce” on the side and was cut in a rough chop, but tasted dry and wasn’t particularly arresting or novel. Stracciatella (Move over burrata, stracciatella is the big cheese of 2017) with sweet garlic, pepper crumb and fried bread was overly firm. The shiitake and king oyster dumplings in aromatic broth was the low point of the evening, over-fried and dry, unbound in texture. Rice-fried sea trout with hazelnut brown butter came with pieces of mandarin, a lovely citrus counter-point, while the plate was “just so” – two pieces of fried fish. The twice-cooked pork belly, plum, “long pepper” and herbs was merely satisfactory. One stand-out dish did come at the end – slow-cooked mulberries with crystallised ginger cream and a white chocolate crunch. It was innovative*, tasty and fun.

The Verdict

The experience was very mixed and verging towards ordinary, and in the end it’s always a matter of expectation, which I had more of for this restaurant. Some hitches were also of the variety that you’d expect a higher-end establishment would never suffer from, like overly-warm red wine served, and an inability to make a half-decent espresso. However, on the food front, with its ever-changing menu and “adventurous” chefs, it’s non-ideal (even more than usual) to peg a final verdict on only one visit.

*I’ve subsequently been alerted to this menu’s striking (and uncredited) similarity to dishes from the new cookbook of San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions. Perhaps this is the ur-text for understanding New American.

Mulberry & Prince

12 Pepper Street, Cape Town.

021 422 3301