Yesterday Ben Goble, Llewellyn Lambert, and I tried the new Christmas Tasting Menu at Benguela on Main in Somerset West, at the invitation of Chef Jean Delport. I was impressed with the creativity which Chef Jean has become renowned for, and how he put Christmas on the plate with his Chef’s Christmas Tasting Menu. The seven course Tasting Menu had two added courses and costs R720 per person, and R1050 with the wine pairings. It runs until 24 December.
We were served Le Lude Brut Rosé as a welcome drink. Ben became the designated wine pairing evaluator, as both Llewellyn and I were driving to Cape Town, and had to attend another function.
We went upstairs to show Ben the tasting room for the Benguela Cove wines, which are produced in Hermanus, and offered to taste and buy at the Benguela on Main tasting room. A video brings one inside the Benguela Cove tasting room. The cellar at Benguela Cove is nearing completion, we were told. A third property is owned outside Sedgefield, with the Benguela Brasserie offering meals. Half of the Mannings Heath Club 36 hole golf course in the UK will be turned into a vineyard, with grapes being used to produce a quality sparkling wine. Former KWV winemaker Johann Fourie is the new winemaker at Benguela Cove, and is handling the new UK bubbly project too.
I discovered Benguela on Main soon after its opening just over a year ago, and I have been impressed with Chef Jean’s creativity. I was even more impressed that Chef Jean reinvents the dishes continuously, and shows no sign in his dishes of his previous employment at Equus restaurant at Cavalli estate, between Stellenbosch and Somerset West.
We note an increasing use of wooden boxes by chefs to send food elements to the table. The rectangular wooden box was neat, filled with seeds, separated by a central piece of slate, onto which three snack elements were placed:
# Lightly curried peanut candy popcorn, placed inside a container which looked like a hand-folded paper boat
# Chorizo and cheese croquettes
# Potato mousse on crispy potato chips, topped with lumpfish caviar.
The first course was beautifully presented, in a plate made by Revol from France. It was a salad of pickled baby beetroot, served with fossilized strawberry , and variations on goat’s milk, including curd, foam, and labneh. It was paired with the Almenkerk Lace Rosé 2015, a bottle with a beautiful label, and the wine was proclaimed to be an excellent pairing by Ben.
The bread course no longer is slices of different styles of bread, but is a cheese and onion bread with smoked tomato butter. It was pre-sliced, and served on a slate.
The fennel-cured Cape Salmon was also beautifully plated in a Revol dish from France, with a Fromage Blanc foundation, radish, ashed cucumber, minute baby carrots, and a black garlic emulsion. The dish was paired with the Benguela Cove Matilda’s Secret Sauvignon Blanc 2015. We were told that Matilda is the youngest daughter of Penny and Nick Rea, and Matilda’s Secret is a second brand.
The most unusual dish was one which arrived in two parts. The first dish was the salt cod croquette, which was presented on top of a squid ink Hollandaise sauce, and topped with sea asparagus and bacon crumbs. It was the umami (salty) part of the dish.
A wooden board arrived, with further taste elements. Three test-tubes contained what was described as a bitter stinging nettle, but it was mild in taste. One was encouraged to pour the liquid into the dish. We were fascinated by the white ‘coral’, as the menu informed, which had been topped with seaweed. This was described as the sweet element of the dish, and its texture was a stronger version of meringue. The board contained a hammer, and I was given the task by Ben and Llewellyn to take it and smash the ‘coral’ so that we could add it to our dish too, to get the full spectrum of taste. Ben sent me his video of the smashing, great fun to watch. The dish was paired with Cape Point Vineyards Isliedh 2014.
The next course was orange-smoked duck breast, prepared confit, with shiitake mushrooms, and bitter Mizuna, served in a Diana Ferreira plate. It was paired with Beaumont Family Wines Pinotage 2015.
The Christmas feast was followed by honey-glazed pork Jowell, with Christmas spices of cinnamon and nutmeg, to which was added a medley of onions, chestnuts, and Pumpernickel. The pairing was with the Benguela Cove Shiraz 2014.
Top chefs love liquid nitrogen, and therefore it was no surprise that one of our courses had smoke when it was presented at the table. It was a bowl within a bowl, beautifully presented with pine needles, on which rested three ‘Christmas baubles‘, all edible except for the string, made from orange chocolate, with Campari and tequila inside. When one bit into it, it exploded in one’s mouth. This was one of the highlights of the meal, given the fun element as well as the creativity in crafting it. It was the most Christmassy of all the dishes.
The final course of the Christmas Tasting Menu, or so we thought, was described as a Bitter Chocolate Cremeux, served with Amaretto ice cream (adding a marzipan taste), chocolate-coated cherry, ginger, a brownie, bitter cherry jelly, creamed ganache, and topped with a biscuit tuile. The piece de resistance was that ‘snow’ was added to the dish at the table, with a pine branch dipped into castor sugar, and sprinkled over the plate! This was a feast in itself, with so many elements to savour. The final pairing was with a gentle Constantia Uitsig Red Muscat d’Alexandrie 2014, and was not too sweet nor alcoholic. It has a beautiful label with a humming bird.
I have been to Benguela on Main often enough that my dry cappuccino order no longer is unknown to them. I loved the old-fashioned sugar lumps as well as Canderel sweetener, which were served in beautiful modern glass containers.
As we were preparing to end the relaxed festive and fun afternoon, a Christmas tree arrived at the table, made from wire, on which was presented four different friandise, an additional course. The base of the tree was decorated with spekboom, which Chef Jean has had planted in the parking area. It contained treats of orange curd and meringue, coffee and millionaire’s shortbread, plum and olive oil cake, and a Tiramisù cream.
I was impressed with how Chef Jean has grown and developed since my last visit to Benguela on Main. We experienced creativity far beyond what I have seen in our country, alongside only two other restaurants, being Hartford House and La Colombe. It is such a shame that Benguela on Main was not recognised in the Eat Out Top 20 shortlist this year. Ben was impressed with the wine pairings, and that the Benguela Cove wines were paired alongside other top wines.
Benguela on Main, Main Road, Somerset West. Tel 087 357 0637. www.bengueladining.com Twitter: @benguelaonmain Instagram: @benguelaonmain @ delportjean
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog. Cell 0825511323. www.chrisvonulmenstein.com Twitter: @ulmenstein Instagram: @chris_ulmenstein