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…. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Octopus Casserole at Saint”

Story of a Plate: Driftwood Canapés at The Chefs’ Table

(Photographs courtesy of Sebastian Nico)

On the menu: Served as an amuse bouche, this is not listed on any current menus, but Executive Head Chef Kayla-Ann Osborn agreed that Jean-Pierre’s description of “Driftwood Canapés” has a nice ring to it.

Even if you didn’t have an official name for it, clearly a lot of thought went into both the ingredients and presentation of this elegant plate. 

Kayla: Yes! The story behind it is that although we live on the coast, we’ve ironically always battled with getting fresh seafood (especially shellfish), both in KwaZulu Natal and in the country as a whole. But after working with (and pushing) local suppliers, we started getting a little bit of fresh seafood here and there, and suddenly we had this major influx of local seafood (which even the Cape doesn’t have), all sustainably caught, and from within a 20km radius of our waters.

Then I started thinking about how to put that together as a course, but I didn’t want to have five or six seafood elements on a plate and call it a dish, because that would just look messy, with too much going on. So we decided to use it as an amuse, and when I started thinking about what to serve it on, driftwood came up as a fun option. I contacted a couple of guys who do woodwork, and they said they would love to work on driftwood because they don’t often get to do it, and about a week later we had about 6 or 7 of these driftwood platters. So the thought process was really about finding a way to showcase all this great local seafood.  Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Driftwood Canapés at The Chefs’ Table”

Story of a Plate: Petit Fours at La Colombe

(Photograph courtesy of Andrea van der Spuy for La Colombe.)

On the menu: Flavours from our garden

We visited La Colombe after their recent refurbishments, and particularly enjoyed this spectacular finale to a very fine lunch. We asked Executive Chef James Gaag to tell us the story behind this unique sweet ending.

Chef James Gaag: The way we do the menu at La Colombe is more of an evolution than changing everything in one go. So this idea actually started a few seasons ago, when we had stumbled across a cork log, which we filled with chocolate soil and plated our petit fours on.

Oh, yes, we remember that (including one of our dining companions also eating most of the chocolate soil!).  Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Petit Fours at La Colombe”

Story of a Plate: Saldanha Bay Mussels at Upper Bloem Restaurant

On the menu: Saldanha Bay mussels – spekboom / samphire / parsley oil / sea essence

We asked chef Andre Hill to talk us through his favourite dish on the menu at the newly opened Upper Bloem Restaurant.

Chef Andre Hill: The dish that I enjoy the most – because it reminds me very much of growing up – is the mussels. The dish itself is fairly simple; nothing very complicated in terms of either ingredients or techniques – we make a broth from smoked snoek, which we cook the mussels in, and use again to make the emulsion that goes with them. We then take some leeks, cook them for about seven minutes in a bit of oil, and then char them. So the plate consists of a mussel emulsion, the actual mussels, charred leeks, a bit of parsley oil, and then we finish it off with spekboom. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Saldanha Bay Mussels at Upper Bloem Restaurant”

Story of a Dish: Maryland Crab Cake

In a slight departure from our usual Story of a Plate series, where we feature interesting and unusual dishes encountered at SA restaurants, we thought it would be fun to introduce you to a dish from Jean-Pierre’s recent travels to Maryland, D.C., where crab cakes are as ubiquitous on local menus as fish cakes are here at home.

While there are of course numerous variations on fish cakes (apparently the most ordered item on South African menus), like which fish is used, and which combination of spices and/or herbs, mashed potato is fairly standard across the board as a filler. In the US, the closest a potato will (or should) come to a crab cake is in the heap of French fries or crisps they are typically served with.

Continue reading “Story of a Dish: Maryland Crab Cake”

Story of a Plate: Sunflower Seed “Risotto” at Camphors

On the menu: Green sunflower, sunchoke, butternut, quince

One of the highlights of a recent visit was an intriguing play on risotto that used sunflower seeds instead of rice. How did you come up with that, and were you intending for it to be “risotto-like”?  

Chef Michael Cooke: Yes, we were, and it took roughly nine months of development to create this dish. To give a bit of background, we keep a diary of everything that’s available on the Vergelegen property; we document the season, the exact time of the year each ingredient is available, and the timeline that it’s available for. We do this to keep ahead of the seasons, and to be on track for when something becomes available, so when it is, we’re ready to use it immediately when it’s at its peak, and not waste any valuable time as the timeline of that ingredient slowly withers away. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Sunflower Seed “Risotto” at Camphors”

Story of a Plate: Citrus Cured Seabass at The Pool Room

On the menu: Citrus cured seabass with duck liver parfait, fine herbs, pickled cucumber, red pepper essence

We recently enjoyed the suprising combination of duck liver parfait with cured fish in this very pretty dish. How did you conceive of putting those two together?  

Chef Gordon Manuel: This dish is from our Discovery menu, and while The Pool Room and Oak Valley have always been well-known for their pork and beef, those can get a little bit heavy, so part of my thinking since we took over the operation of the restaurant was to add a bit more finesse, but finesse without being overly finicky – no tweezers and that type of thing. It’s also about balance; adding something to the menu that’s not so meat-heavy, and that works really well. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Citrus Cured Seabass at The Pool Room”

Story of a Plate: Salt Crust Baked Celeriac at Waterkloof

 

On the menu: Salt crust baked celeriac, curry brittle, parmesan and passion fruit

Such a beautiful plate, and surprisingly complex for a meat-less dish. How did you come up with such an unusual combination?

Chef Gregory Czarnecki: I wanted to do something with this dish that you can’t do in Europe, where if you follow the seasons, and you respect the origin of the product, celeriac is a winter or spring root vegetable, whereas in South Africa winter almost takes up half of spring (especially now!). So I wanted to showcase something that wouldn’t be possible in Europe, and that also represents this country. People often think of South Africa in terms of landscape, and culture, but it’s also about the weather: so while in the western Cape we’ll have root vegetables now, in Durban, you’ll have passion fruit in the same season, growing at exactly the same time. This just wouldn’t be possible in Europe, so I wanted to come up with something that would promote the two different regions and climates you can have here at the same time, and that would also bring together a really “old school” vegetable and an exotic fruit. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Salt Crust Baked Celeriac at Waterkloof”

Story of a Plate: Smoked tomato risotto with mussels at Source

On the menu: Smoked tomato risotto, bacon, leek and baby marrow, steamed mussels

We loved the innovative presentation of this dish, the great tomato flavour, it’s contrasting textures, as well as perfectly cooked risotto. Tell us a bit about it?

Chef Warwick Taylor: I like runny risotto… so many people throw in cream and mascarpone cheese, which it’s not meant to have. It’s meant to be an emulsion of the fat you use, like butter, which keeps it light. It’s really more about the sauce around the rice than anything else. Then we throw in some smoked bacon, leeks, baby marrow, and baby spinach. We slow-smoke tomatoes over Rooikrans wood and then make a little tomato sauce out of that. So we have a nice smoked tomato sauce as a base, which we fold into the risotto, and off we go. For the mussels, a bit of white wine, soft herbs, a little bit of lemon in there, so they’re basically just steamed open, and then we pop them into the risotto.

It’s such an attractive plate! Is it of your own devising, or were you inspired elsewhere?

Warwick: I used to do a smoked tomato soup, and then one day I decided let’s try a risotto, and mussels always go nicely with a smoky flavour… Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Smoked tomato risotto with mussels at Source”

Story of a Plate: Tempura Linefish at Tokara

On the menu: Tempura linefish with sushi rice, avocado, sesame, wasabi mayonnaise & spiced lemon dressing

On a recent visit, we found this dish to be a real standout, both on the plate and in its precision of flavour. What was the inspiration behind it?

Chef Richard Carstens: In 1993 I was working for my mentor, Ralph van Pletzen, at a restaurant called Ralph’s in Stellenbosch, and he was the one who introduced me to a lot of aspects of Asian cuisine, like Indonesian, Chinese and Thai.

In those days not everything was readily available on the Internet, but there were these amazing magazines like Vogue Entertaining, and I was always drawn to Japanese cuisine, which was really coming to the fore in Australia. So I went to Australia around ’97-’98, and lived in Melbourne for that period, working for a chef who was into French-Japanese fusion, or Franco-Japanese cuisine. When I came back in ’98 I was working at Le Provençal restaurant in Franschhoek (now Grande Provence), and that’s where I started Franco-Japanese cuisine. There’s one dish from that era, the “Franco-Japanese interpretation” of oyster, prawn, calamari, and linefish, which I still do an evolution of every year (sometimes with up to three different versions, like when I was working in at Lynton Hall,* where we changed our degustation menu every night). Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Tempura Linefish at Tokara”