Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia

The Proposition

Chef Ivor Jones, previously head chef at the much-lauded The Test Kitchen, captains this luxury winelands offshoot of Liam Tomlin’s Chefs Warehouse in Cape Town.

When it opened, Chefs Warehouse in Cape Town quickly became a food-hound’s favourite for the sheer quality of the cuisine and the fact that one could enjoy various flavours in miniature through the “tapas for two” option where two diners submit to the pleasures of the kitchen and enjoy a series of dishes. It’s a less fussy version of a tasting menu – albeit pretty far from “tapas” in a true sense of the word as they’re smaller portions of pretty cheffy food. The distinct advantage of this approach is that the kitchen can react to new or seasonal or a whim pretty quickly, and offer an ever-changing menu for those who return often.

While the original Chefs embodies a “no-fuss” environment – the tiny dining space alongside and indeed within a retail space with ingredients and cooking utensils all around – the Beau Constantia edition is considerably more upmarket in feel and very far from being a warehouse in any sense of the word, and more of a showroom. The new Chefs Warehouse does, however, also anchor its menu on the “tapas for two”.

The Experience

High up in Constantia with splendid views, CWBC is set upon the Beau Constantia wine estate. There’s a contemporary open kitchen as you come in, while the dining spaces are modern and elegant in an essentialist fashion, box shapes with stone, steel and wood textures and plenty of large windows to make the most of the views over the valley. There are a couple of levels outside with delightful decks for those fair weather hours (fair weather days are a great deal to ask for).

Service this lunch-time was energetic and positive, if a little over-enthusiastic, for instance telling us all about the Cape Town original and strongly vouching for it – but then admitting that he had never been there.

The wine list is led by the wines from the farm and the menu is led, once more, by the “tapas” for two at R650. On this day, only some oysters were offered as a starter option, or “local bread”, butter and olives. I did not get around to asking what made the bread local, but one assumes it is made in house or by a specialist baker.

The tapas arrived per the images below. Plates are, as you see, consistently beautiful and the flavours are uniformly satisfying in that intense and rich style that modern international-leaning chefs trade in. The meal passed in a pleasant umami-enriched cloud with hits of spice and acidity here and there, but I did miss a sense of build-up from simple, clear or light flavours and textures towards the fuller and heavier ones. Notwithstanding the ever-richer protein option on the successive plates, flavours and textures began bold and unctuous and stayed in that gear, the only real exception being the the hake plate (but this came quite late in the procession).

Linefish sashimi, lemon atchar, buttermilk dressing, toasted garlic and smoked paprika oil
Seared tuna, saffron and tomato dashi dressing, garlic emulsion, herbs from the garden
Coal seared beef tataki, fermented black bean salsa, slow-dried tomato and onion pickle with sour cream
Cauliflower and parmesan risotto, tempura cauliflower, balsamic raisins, burnt butter dressing
Beetroot “tart” with home-made cottage cheese
Pan-fried hake, Madagascan black pepper dressing, steamed pak choi and tenderstem broccoli
Roast pork belly, spiced sour cabbage and a coconut sambal
Moroccan lamb rib, home-made ricotta with a Hawaii spice

 

The Verdict

A wonderful venue and accomplished cooking makes this a special outing for lovers of bold flavour and modern/global combinations.

 

Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia

Beau Constantia, off M41 at Constantia Nek

021 794 8632

www.beauconstantia.com/eat

Story of a Plate: Pork Belly at Black Sheep Restaurant

On the menu: Chinese 5 spice-hoisin Pork Belly w/sweet potato purée, Chinese cabbage & crackling

From chef Jonathan Japha:

“When we came about doing this thing I remember I was somewhere eating char sui bao – this is that hoisin and pork belly dumpling – and that’s the hoisin sauce and the pork belly, which for me is a real thing. I think that’s a really good combination, that sweet sticky thing, and it wasn’t anywhere near enough to that, but the idea is that when you glaze the belly with the hoisin sauce, you get that sticky caramelised thing; slightly blackened, like a lacquer, and that is really good, and sweet, and sticky, and Chinese, and all of that.

We have in the past served that pork belly dish with a much more Western spin, with braised cabbage, and apple compote, and Cumberland sauce, and the dish works perfectly well. But I think that this is the best of them: I think this dish hits every single one of those easy eating childhood fantasy pork dishes that you could possibly want. It’s not overly challenging; the belly is really soft; the flavours of the dish are the sweet and savoury that you find in the Asian world, and the whole combination really does work very well.

A final thing about the pork belly is the importance of the sprouts, and the weird musky, earth-like flavour that works off the sweet and the salty. The dish is not nearly as interesting or cool without the sprouts – [Like the rug in The Big Lebowski] they really tie the dish together”.

Where to get it: Black Sheep Restaurant, 104 Kloof Str., Cape Town. 021 426 2661

Have you voted for your favourite steakhouse?

The Wolftrap Steakhouse Championships is on again, asking for nominations for South Africa’s favourite steakhouses – followed by a judging round in June where these restaurants will be assessed by the experts to crown the Steakhouse Champion for 2017.

Go over to the Steakhunter Facebook page app to cast your vote for your favourite now!

Coobs, Parkhurst

The Proposition

“Coobs sources their (sic) produce from local suppliers and organic farms to create unique modern bistro-style food. Close to 75% of ingredients come from our organic farm ‘Brightside’ in the Magaliesburg.”

South African restaurants are not big on provenance in an authentic, through-the-line way. Here and there, menus make reference to a few farms but they as often slip in the name of a supplier or a feedlot (e.g. Karan beef) in the qualifier place, as if that’s proof of provenance. Well it is, but it’s a bit like saying they buy their lettuce from Woolies to make you feel like you’re getting the close to origin. It’s not the same as going all the way back to the farmer.

As is argued in the essential book by Dan Barber, The Third Plate, being vigorously authentic about origin is both the future of interesting food as well as being the only way it was in the past. By “interesting” he means thought-provoking – but he also makes the case that this is food with more original and true flavour, since great ingredients are the result of a network of decisions and interactions that start with care for the soil or the water, and then move up to pervade the whole ecosystem. “From the ground up” authenticity then ultimately creates a way of cooking as much as a style of assembling dishes and menus. It creates a food culture.

So Coobs sets out its stall as a restaurant that is quantifiably (75% plus) about provenance. That’s a whole lot more than most, and in itself a great reason to support Coobs. For a farm to supply the (now three) restaurants in chef-owner James Diack’s “family” is a great synergistic relationship that keeps the farm energised and with a direct route to market, while the restaurants have first claim on fresh ingredients with a back-story.

Of course, the proof is always in the eating. Any nascent or long-held belief that provenance is ultimately good for the earth is really fired up when the results taste better than usual.

The Experience

I’ve eaten here a number of times and have always enjoyed the energy of the place, as well as the great wine list with its selection of less obvious producers and modern wines. It’s definitely got the “organic” feeling going in the wood textures, plant walls and large images of vegetables and a snouty pig. Waiters are upbeat and attentive (even if the manager was a little too eager to give a repeated thumbs-up when asking how everything was) plus the space has that fun inside/outside flow that’s a hallmark of the 4th Avenue Parkhurst places. By no means fancy, it’s definitely in the “comfy casual” category.

Keen to try dishes that would showcase the “farm to table” ingredients, the starter was the “Coobs Caprese” which was billed as “confit cherry tomatoes, roast tomatillo, fresh mozzarella, crispy basil, parmesan chips and pine nuts drizzled with olive oil and aged balsamic” (R80).

Any particularly complex flavours, inherent sweetness or remarkable freshness that the tomatoes may have had was suffocated by the oil, the plate not so much drizzled as drenched. Nor did the oil strike me as high quality, or very fresh. Add to this some rather acrid parmesan crisps and the whole became a tart but far from lively beginning. Pity, as a Caprese is all about the primacy of fresh ingredients and this time the ingredients were sadly moved backstage.

Brightside Roast Chicken

For mains, the Brightside free-range roast chicken was served with edamame purée, steamed organic vegetables, tempura zucchini flower and sherry jus (R160). The image tells you all you need to know about the zucchini flower. The chicken itself was well cooked and tasty enough, the sherry jus exceedingly sweet, the purée unremarkable. But the “veg” on this plate really made the statement. They were barely cooked. I like my veg as much as the next person, but some more time wrestling with heat would have helped – they took what is a comfort dish for any restaurant deep into the realms of being overly rustic, more homemade than befitting a restaurant price tag.

Coobs Milk Tart with dulce ice cream (R70) was ok, if jelly-like in consistency, instead of custard-like. The ice cream was great, and the espresso good.

Coobs Milk Tart

 

The Verdict

A likeably honest eatery with a good pantry to draw from, but there’s plenty more room to make the ingredients sing.

 

Coobs. 

4th Ave, Parkhurst, Johannesburg. 011 447 0710