La Colombe has been in its “new” venue, Silvermist, for about five years already – longer than some restaurants actually manage to stay open. So calling this restaurant an evergreen is truly most apt. Consider also the heralded chefs that have been at the helm: Franck Dangereux; Luke Dale-Roberts; Scot Kirton. James Gaag heads the team now (more on this below) but nowadays its notable when an establishment brings with it a reputation larger and more durable than the chef’s.
On the website, chef Gaag is quoted: “When it comes to food, I believe that flavour comes first! Food needs to be immediately delicious and inviting, not overthought, overworked or overcomplicated. Flavour is paramount and key in making great food and also running a great kitchen. Making it look pretty is where we get to have a bit of fun as a chef, and yes we eat with our eyes first, but ultimately flavour is what makes the guests come back.”
La Colombe was well-rated in the very first Rossouw’s Restaurants guide, released in late 2003, the review noting how the blackboard menu was written only in French… remember those days? And the average cost per head? Two hundred and ten South African rand… 15 years later, at a recent meal, the per-head price was R1,495 before wine. The most useful comment to make regarding this may be that South African dining, at its finest, has reached price-parity with many international peers – as this is an increase that has comfortably out-paced inflation.
The La Colombe of old, and more recent, has been based on contemporary cuisine, with a bias towards classic European cooking. Service levels have always been high, indeed consistently among the very best in the country. Over the last while my concern was that, while the kitchen’s technical prowess was never in question, they seemed always to be chasing international trends instead of finding their own beat. Sometimes this adherence to trend even led them astray, such as asking guests to get up from the table to visit the “Alice in Wonderland” garden a few menus ago.
A dinner here in July reassured me that service is still a very strong suit – if more dramatic than ever before with an animated manager on duty. Wine service, led by sommelier Joseph Dafana, is very good. The wines paired to the menu were also on point – featuring a really entertaining “blind tasting” pairing with their signature tuna course (the one in a tin). For this course, a wine is poured into a black glass and guests are invited to guess the wine. This is a great example of playful creativity that also encourages relevant discovery – whimsy matched to interest. Adding to the interactive theme, courses are brought out by the kitchen brigade, with many of the team, including chef Gaag, coming out to introduce the plates.
This dinner was consistently excellent – and the culinary direction has now shaken itself loose of relying (heavily) on obvious “trends du jour“. Now there’s a focus on fresh and lively spice-driven cuisine – including Cape Malay, Indian, West Indian and Thai. It’s colourful, vibrant and full of clean flavours, making good on chef Gaag’s promise. Happily, La Colombe remains one of the country’s leading premium restaurants.
Silvermist Estate, Constantia Nek
+27 21 794 2390