Story of a Plate: Octopus Casserole at Saint

(Images courtesy of David Higgs)

On the menu: Octopus casserole, chorizo, bean, kale, garlic

We chat to chef David Higgs at Saint, the new “twisted” Italian restaurant he opened a few months ago with business partner Gary Kyriacou in Sandton, where Jean-Pierre recently enjoyed the bean casserole with wood-fired octopus.

David Higgs: I think the Italian inspiration behind the dish is mostly the bean casserole, which is such a typical Mediterranean dish, almost Spanish and Portuguese as well. So that’s why we call ourselves crazy or “twisted” Italian rather than just Italian, because these are basically flavours that I’ve been inspired by on my travels. Octopus on the fire has always been one of my favourites. And  bean stews are so flavoursome, with lots of cumin, and coriander – almost Moroccan, so it really represents that whole Mediterranean region, whether on the European or African continent. Sometimes you just get something in your head, and you want to go with it….

So it is something that you’re likely to find in a little restaurant in a Mediterranean village – not so much of a “twist”, then, except that it’s perhaps an unusual item on a South African menu?

David: Indeed. But the octopus is definitely local, from off the coast of Cape Town.

Some of the other chefs we’ve featured, like Kayla-Ann Osborn at The Chefs’ Table in KZN, indicated that sustainably-caught octopus is not always that easy to come by, but this is something that you reliably have on the menu? 

David: Yes, we’ve found a very reliable source, and our volumes are quite big, so they feel safe to hold stock for us as a reliable client. One of the biggest issues with the industry at the moment is that a lot of restaurants are having a hard time, so people aren’t really willing to hold onto stock. But we were lucky to find a good supplier, and the product is extraordinary.

Walk us through how the dish comes together?

David: We sous-vide the octopus in a red wine, olive oil and herb marinade. It’s cooked for 7 hours and then chilled, and then we put it onto the fire. We then use that liquid and a vegetable stock to cook the bean stew as a completely separate process, with coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, sliced kale, onion (obviously!), and the chorizo is sliced on fresh at the end just before serving.

So you’re a fan of the big trend for using kale these days?

David: Kale’s lovely. It’s so versatile, as long as it’s cooked properly (kale baked in the oven is also very nice, and for any longer cooking processes, it’s definitely preferable to spinach, which breaks up too much). I don’t like it raw, and you also have to be quite careful with the kale you buy, but here again we have a good, local supplier who delivers a consistently reliable product.

How long can diners expect to find this on the menu?

David: We’ve only just been open for two months, and we’ve changed the menu three times already, but this a dish that’s doing pretty well, so it’ll stay on for a while, at least a couple of weeks…

Well congratulations on a phenomenal-looking space! The first Eat Out review stated that “Calling Saint a pizzeria would be the equivalent of calling the Rio Carnivale a get-together, or the Tour de France a cycle around town”. That certainly captures some of the drama of it!

David: Yes, it’s fantastic, and people are loving it. I was asked the other day to summarise in three words why people should come to Saint, and I just said, “it’s a jol”, because that’s what it is; a party. And that’s what Jo’burg wants. Jo’burg is not looking for something fancy on the plate with some ingredient that’s been fermented for six years or whatever. Jo’burg wants to come out, they want to have a f**king good time, and they want to have an experience!

Where to get it: Saint, Upper Retail Shop, The MARC (corner Rivonia and Maude Street), Sandton. 010 594 5888.

*If you can’t make it to Saint, here’s a handy DIY for any readers brave enough to take on preparing octopus at home!