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.
“Can I have the Caesar Salad without anchovies, please?”
“Sure, while I’m at it why don’t I just remove the nasty smelling lactose-infected Parmesan and those awful gluten-laden croutons and bring you a bowl of f@#%ing lettuce!”
It doesn’t matter how many Stars, Chef’s Hats, Blazons, Grammys, Oscars or Eat Out awards your establishment has garnered; there will always be someone who walks in, sits down and decides they know better. Someone who feels that their years of experience of shopping at Woolworths, watching Food Network and “travelling darling, travelling” give them carte blanche to come in and literally ignore the entire kitchen’s reason for living.
I’m never sure if these people are just picky eaters, attention-seekers or on some egomaniacal power trip, but they always feel they have some God-given right to use the menu as a shopping list rather than a bill of fare: they want a starter portion of the squid with the trout garnish but without the potatoes (they “don’t do” protein and starch), and they also want the sauce from the mussels off the set menu but can it be made without butter and olives instead of capers?
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”
The Shortmarket Club (SC) has settled in and is now a happily reliable option for those who like more sophisticated dining experiences in the city. You can immediately see by the waistcoated staff and the service trolleys and the menu that’s laid out like an exemplar from a classic French bistro that SC aims to offer a more “adult” dining experience while most restaurants in the city take the casual contemporary road. One’s previous dining experiences (and certainly one’s age) play a part in how you’ll react to the “belle époque” ambience. I find it perfectly relaxing and I’d think that anyone who likes attractive spaces and pretty things will enjoy it – any hints of artifice are successfully trumped by the evident commitment to quality. Continue reading “Review: The Shortmarket Club”
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”
Ironically, but quite happily so, it transpires, I managed to get to La Boqueria for lunch on the day we were planning to have dinner there, but then didn’t, because my dinner party had concerns over: a) the potential noise levels at La Boqueria (we wanted to catch up over an old-fashioned conversation); and b) reports from a few diners that the food still needed to find its footing.
Well, on both counts, we would have been better off at La Boqueria than at our second option, Café del Sol Tre. At Tre, the jammed-up tables and pumping scene were as noisy as it gets, and the food was uniformly drab and lacking in almost any flavour – the pastas were a world apart from the very good ones I’d recently tasted at Gemelli. Continue reading “Review: La Boqueria”
If you stop and think about it, it’s interesting that we visit a top-end restaurant, hand over a couple of thousand Rand per head for the pleasure, and then profusely thank the waiter, the manager and the chef for the privilege when we leave.
This gratitude is only elevated the more rare the opportunity, like when we land a table at a place that really is difficult to get into. What this brings into focus is that we are the guests of the restaurant and they are the hosts, and we thank them as we would thank the hosts at a domestic dinner party. We only stop short of bringing them flowers.