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.
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”
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”
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”
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?
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”
On the menu: Wayfarer smoked trout with guava (part of a tasting menu which changes every night)
We were intrigued by the combination of fish and guava – how did that come about?
Chef Constantijn Hahndiek: Yes, it is an unusual dish, and the reason we went for the guava is because that trout is so unique; it’s got both a strong smokey flavour, and also quite a bit of saltiness from the smoking process.
On the menu: Beef cheeks – ragù served on mashed potato*
*As last year’s winner, The Local Grill recently hosted the awards ceremony for the 2017 Steakhunter Championships (which saw Cape Town restaurant Rare Grill take the honours for both overall winner and Newcomer of the Year.) On that occasion we enjoyed a special version of their beef cheeks dish, not as currently described on the menu, but with the extra touches that owner Steve Maresch lets us in on below.
Both the starter, and the story that you told about it, were excellent at the awards ceremony. How did it come about?
Steve: We’ve been operating The Local Grill since 2002, and the whole idea of nose-to-tail – which in the restaurant world really translates into a no-waste philosophy – has always been very important to us. But back in the early days, suppliers found it difficult deliver cuts like beef cheeks, since it was more economically viable for them to sell the whole cow’s head. When we eventually found smaller suppliers who were able to source cheeks for us, we started experimenting with just putting them in the pressure cooker with a bit of star anise, and eventually some vine-ripened baby tomatoes, and just letting those ingredients speak for themselves. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Beef Cheeks at The Local Grill”
The octopus was phenomenal. Would you mind telling us how the dish came together, with the fennel and sea spinach?
Chef Giles Edwards: As with most of the dishes, it’s really about the supplier. Our chicken hearts come from Angus at Spier – they’re amazing, so I think about how I can make them appealing to everyone else. I put a deep-fried potato bake on the plate, and it just works perfectly with the dish, and it becomes an attraction – it’s the same with the octopus. I always cook it the same way; it just comes down to what I pair it with and how I use it. The octopus comes from South Coast Fisheries, who source it from False Bay. It’s Atlantic octopus, and there are not many restaurateurs buying it. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Octopus at La Tête”
On the menu: Part of “Strandveld snacks” at the beginning of lunch
We were intrigued by all your dishes, but especially the bread with bokkom butter, which was like a bagna cauda, but West Coast style. Can you tell us about how that came about?
Kobus van der Merwe: At Oep ve Koep (our previous space which is still run by my family), we used to serve a fried bokkom* fillet in different versions – there was a breakfast-y one with egg, and we did a seared watermelon with bokkom and seaweed. And then everyone in the kitchen always grabbed and dipped their bread in the pan that we fried the bokkom in, because the juices were just ridiculous. We fried them in a little oil, and then we added butter while the bokkoms were heating up, and then, almost as a joke, because it’s the nicest feeling to clean a pan with bread in the kitchen, we started thinking of sending that to the table, and then just refining it a little bit.