Super-talented Executive Chef Darren Roberts of Grande Provence in Franschhoek recently returned from a week-long visit to Hong Kong, at the invitation of the exclusive Hong Kong Country Club, where he presented the best of South African cuisine as well as Grande Provence wines to the top echelon of Hong Kong society in the Country Club’s Grill Room.
The Hong Kong Country Club is so exclusive that it has a 30-year waiting list for membership, and it costs $3 million to join. The Country Club has a number of restaurants on its estate. It regularly hosts unique culinary events for the enjoyment of its members.
Chef Darren is a hidden secret of Franschhoek, and the Grande Provence marketing department does not do justice to his talent in his creative menu items, bringing a unique combination of ingredients together, and even more importantly, he has the most amazing ability to make his food look absolutely beautiful and mouth-watering.
He is an Australian, who worked in Sydney and Melbourne before he went to work as Pastry Chef at L’Heiner Konditorei in Vienna. In London he met his South African wife Amanda, and this brought him to Johannesburg, where he ran his own restaurants. He returned to Melbourne, working at The Half Moon restaurant, and then ran the kitchen at an exclusive private lodge on Denis Island in the Seychelles. Seven years ago he returned to South Africa, as Chef at Fancourt Hotel in George. Early this year he joined Grande Provence, taking over from Chef Jacques de Jager, who had placed the restaurant on the 2009 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards list. Chef Darren says: “I am truly passionate in my commitment to learning about new food cultures, then blending the various techniques and ingredients in my own way, to create a unique and distinctive fusion. This pays homage to and often references the great culinary classics, while hopefully, taking diners on a wonderful and exciting culinary journey”.
Chef Darren presented an 8-course Tasting Menu at the Gala dinner in conclusion to the week-long dinners he cooked at the Hong Kong Country Club. I was lucky enough to taste some of the dishes on his Hong Kong menus. The Tasting Menu for the Gala dinner at the Hong Kong Country Club Grill Room was as follows:
* An amuse bouche of scallop ceviche, served with sweet and sour vegetable spaghetti
* A Honey Roasted Quail salad was served with Belgium Endive, rainbow of baby beets, candied walnuts and a Fynbos honey vinaigrette.
* Essence of Karoo lamb served with poached barley, butternut, rosemary souskleijte and pea shoots followed (Poured at the table, lovely combination of elements).
* Fresh line fish, truffle du puy lentils, chorizo, black pudding, baby calamari tubes stuffed with sticky beef cheeks was served.
* Thrice cooked Kroon duckling and Natal lobster tagine, dates, and green estate olives served with walnut and preserved fig arancini.
* Chocolate and Amarula calzone with orange sorbet and a white chocolate vodka shot.
* Prince Albert Regal cheese served with sugared olives.
I also tasted the pork belly served with an apple and mint cottage pie, pea puree and braised cabbage, my favourite course of those that I tasted, which was on the a la carte menu which Chef Darren served on the evenings running up to the Gala Dinner.
Darren was in awe of the special XO Sauce, a highly regarded sauce in the Orient, which he learnt to make in Hong Kong. It is made of scallops, dried shrimps, and chilli. This he served with Namibian red crab, scallops, oysters, red roman and Natal lobster, a heavenly but very filling dish.
Chef Darren has built a number of his Hong Kong menu highlights into his current menu at Grande Provence, allowing visitors to taste his Springbok Tartar and Carpaccio, Essence of Karoo Lamb, Duckling and Natal Lobster, Pork Belly, and Chocolate and Amarula calzone, in addition to a number of fine dishes on the Grande Provence menu.
The Restaurant at Grande Provence, Grande Provence, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-8600. www.grandeprovence.com
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com