This certainly is more of a night-time restaurant. The old-world (chintzy Mediterranean) country style of the place translates better with a fire in the hearth and lower lights. But. The poor music and scatty service (from a telephone reservation that was disconcertingly vague to constantly auctioned dishes at the table and nervous responses to non-orders of aperitifs) is not what you’d expect from the top end of Pretoria dining, or any dining. I also don’t expect basic wine glasses and plenty of typos on the wine list, but this could be put down to character.
A more alarming moment was the remarkable alacrity of the kitchen. The fact that Daniel, the chef-proprietor, gives you the menu verbally is remarkable and promising (of freshness and craft) until you compare notes with your dining companions and realise that quite a few of the dishes are often repeated. Then, when the starters emerge within ten minutes of the order, you become concerned. At least I do. The mains were as swift.
However, on the plate, the quality is good. French with Asian elements is the tone of the day, and the execution is sound and confident. Interestingly, for all the personal attention to the delivery of the menu, by the patron himself, no-one bothers to check if the result is palatable. It was, on this occasion, but I am not left with a sense of security.
La Madeleine is, through sheer experience of the chef, still worlds’ removed from other “sophisticated” pretenders. But its persona has overtaken its delivery, and expectation has trammelled excitement. It’s like hearing your father’s war stories for the first time since you were ten – the words are the same but the thrill is gone.