La Mouette, “the seagull”, is a very popular restaurant that occupies a delightful colonial building, an incongruous slice of elegance on the main street of Sea Point, a suburb which otherwise specialises in hurly-burly and the rough and ready. It’s also a suburb that does not have much in the way of “finer” dining, giving La Mouette a distinct advantage for those “where to go for a special occasion” moments.
A Mediterranean-feeling courtyard complete with a fountain and lovely tables for balmy evenings greets one. Inside, plush modern fittings, dressed stone and patterned wallpapers blend with a distinct patina of history in the old wood and coloured glass windows. A lovely staircase takes one from the various ground level rooms with their old fireplaces to the upper level with its lavish bar and lounge. The revamp is sensitive and tactile (e.g. the “egg” pillows on single seater banquettes are delightful arm rests). There’s a warm and inviting clubby feel to the space, the sense that one can relax into a fine evening.
On a recent visit, the service immediately conspired to dampen that mood, however. There was an interminable wait to place a wine order, which we finally managed to squeeze in just before the food order – and here ordering the wine is not verbal but of the “point to the name on the menu” variety. Following in this vein, the wrong dishes initially arrived at our table and dishes are cleared with a clatter in your ear.
Much has been made of the fantastic prices at this restaurant, and they remain very fair, especially for the chef’s menu, even though they aren’t the complete bargain they used to be. Starters are pegged around R50-65 and mains R135-150. On the night, the food was, all-in-all, fair to good. Starters included a not very memorable “spring salad” with crispy ricotta, tomato truffle dressing and onion purée; a duck parfait with honeycomb, spiced yoghurt, plum, pistachio crumble and toasted brioche – this was good except that the bicarb flavour from the brioche overpowered the rest. The best was the salt and pepper prawns with shaved radish, chorizo popcorn and a sweet corn purée.
Our mains led with the powerful flavours of the Moroccan style lamb – confit shoulder, crispy shredded lamb pastilla, tabbouleh, smoked aubergine purée and tomato harissa – all very pleasing, though the confit shoulder was dry. A Chalmar beef sirloin came with a bone marrow crust, smoked onion purée, gnocchi, red wine ‘caviar’ and crispy mushrooms – this was fair enough. Lastly the grilled tuna Niçoise with green beans, tapenade, sauce vierge, tomatoes and confit potatoes – good flavours, though the plate was swimming in oil and rather messy. A lemon meringue pie for dessert was of the “deconstructed” variety, and good.
For: A knock-out setting and food that’s easy to like.
Against: Scatty and under-trained service.