Review: Camphors at Vergelegen

The Proposition

Blue-chip Cape estate, spectacular setting, wondrous gardens, superb wines, textbooks of history. Now that is either the most fantastic foundation for a restaurant, or a list of nerve-wracking expectations.*

The Experience

Possibly the only quibble at a recent lunch was the service which lacked the high level of attention to the floor which I’ve experienced in the past, but then again, it was a busy lunch, with many tourists in the house. As for the rest, this account could begin and end with a simple exhortation for you to visit, or revisit, soonest.

A “Summer Harvest” menu offered four courses (with three to four options to choose from for each course), and a “Tour” (degustation) menu with ten courses. Optional wine pairings are available for each. For a while now, Camphors has presented the menus with the innovation of dishes being “graded” according to their flavour and texture “weight”.  Those listed closest to the left margin are “light and delicate”, and each indent to the right describes a move towards the “full and rich”. Here’s what it looked like on a recent visit:

Continue reading “Review: Camphors at Vergelegen”

Review: The Shortmarket Club

The Proposition

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”

Review: Mulberry & Prince

The Proposition

I’ve been hearing about Mulberry & Prince off and on, but was getting no real view on the type of food they cooked. Their Facebook page identifies the menu style as “New American” and I’ll save you the trouble of Googling what that means – it’s essentially anything you want it to mean. The term encompasses plates that combine ideas and/or cookery from the USA with any other global cuisine, and clearly it’s most used in the USA itself to indicate a combination of food styles, like spring rolls fused with a uniquely American ingredient, such as crab from the east coast. Continue reading “Review: Mulberry & Prince”

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”

Review: Marigold

A relative newcomer in Franschhoek, Marigold is part of the Leeu Collection which acquired Le Quartier Français and has replaced its erstwhile icon restaurant, The Tasting Room, with an offshoot of another Cape icon, La Colombe, in the form of La Petite Colombe.

Marigold, billing itself as “authentic Indian” is not part of the same building as Le Quartier, however, but across the main road and occupying a stand-alone building, the interior of which is rather lightly clad in Indian decor touches. On this lunch, I enjoyed the light-filled and less cluttered space, but the feeling I had was that it may not feel as cosy or plush as one would like over dinner. The lunch service was busy (considering how quiet Franschhoek can be in winter), and there were quite a few tables of international visitors, and even a large Indian family who wandered in to get take-aways… making it feel very authentic indeed. Continue reading “Review: Marigold”

Review: Restaurant Ile Maurice

Established in 1976, this icon has moved a few times but has been at its current Umhlanga Rocks location since 1999. I can only imagine it stood out more proudly at that time – now the vertical growth of the neighbourhood lends the restaurant a kind of “hidden corner” feeling, while the strip spawns more and more of the usual cheerfully rowdy drinks-and-basic-grub outlets that South Africa is rapidly filled with.

I’ve eaten here a number of times over the last decade-plus, and it’s always wonderful to be able to return to a restaurant over and over and find it mostly unchanged, since in so doing they curate our memories and are polite about our mortality – for if these stay, and stay the same, so, it seems, do we… at least a part of us. Continue reading “Review: Restaurant Ile Maurice”

Review: La Boqueria

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”

Review: Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine

“Your soufflé will be ready in five minutes”, I am informed. My main course plate is half-eaten, and I am in the middle of conversation. The waiter is not having a good day. Earlier, my suggested wine pairing with the starter, the Newton Johnson Albarino, was not available by the glass (which makes no sense) but the waiter assured me that I could try a glass of Jordan Riesling as “they are one and the same thing”.

Waiters and the training of wait staff are some of the most difficult components of operating restaurants. Staff turn-over and a modern lack of interest in the job severely test managers – but at the same time what is often lacking is managerial presence to control, smooth things over and create an overall sense of consistency, and hospitality. “Eyes on the floor” is the mantra too many places do not live by. Continue reading “Review: Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine”

Review: Gemelli, Bryanston

Confusion reigned on the floor and by the end of the evening the bathroom looked like an Indonesian airport’s. Gemelli was spinning on a Monday night, barely holding on while trying to cope with the hungry, boisterous patrons, some guests bearing helium balloons and descending on large party tables, other guests looking rather lost amongst the melee at their tables for two.

We were approached by a succession of waiters with no-one managing to take firm hold after a swarming start… on one occasion a replacement bottle of wine arrived and was placed, unopened, on the table, where it stood for ten minutes, waiters rushing by, before I managed to get the cork pulled. How I missed a Swiss army knife then. On another occasion, there was an auction of starters at our table – an unordered antipasti platter that arrived with our calamari. The waiter was convinced we had ordered it. After tasting the calamari, it was so good, we should probably have kept the antipasti plate. Continue reading “Review: Gemelli, Bryanston”