Last night was the second time that I ate at JAN restaurant in Nice, and the first time since it received the Michelin one-star restaurant rating last year. In the twenty months between the two visits, I can see an enhanced South African focus at JAN.

The first change which I noticed was the outside seating, which is used for dinners in the summer months, sommelier Michael Schmitt explained. What makes the seating special for a South African is the Jan van Riebeek cushions on the outside chairs. The entrance to the restaurant is beautifully styled, with lanterns, candles, and a lovely chair outside the elegant logo of the restaurant outside its front door. It is here that we managed to get a photograph with Chef Jan-Hendrik, and my son Alex.

Inside the restaurant is a new brown oversize vase with pussy willow branches. Seeing a flower arrangement with strelitzias dominating was an immediate link to back home. We popped into the kitchen to greet Chefs Kevin Grobler, Rutger Eysvogel, and Scott Armstrong, all three from the Cape. I met Chef Kevin when I ate at JAN the first time, having just started in the kitchen at the time. 

It was the first time that my son ate at a restaurant of this caliber, flying in from the U.K. to meet and dine with me, and to meet Chef Jan-Hendrik. Alex is the Restaurant Manager of top hotel Chewton Glen in the New Forest in the south of England. He previously worked at Delaire Graff, as did the JAN chefs. Alex noticed that some of the Chefs have expressed their pride, in having the Michelin star tattooed near their ear.

Each table had a candle, a white tulip in a beautiful glass vase, a small candleholder, a bottle of branded JAN water, and an unusual oval-shaped sideplate with a butter knife. A nest of straw contained a bowl with a glass dome, in which a Mosbolletjiebrood dough was rising, and then taken to the kitchen to be baked, and presented for a further course. A warm cloth was brought to the table, to wipe one’s hands. 

We received a glass each of Henriot champagne, a Blanc de Blancs, as a welcome drink, poured by sommelier Michael. We only learnt later in the evening that Alex and I were the only guests who received a menu, which was professionally closed with a gold wax seal, with the JAN logo. Unlike my experience at Dallmayr restaurant the night before, the seal opened neatly and did not break. I declined the wine pairing, needing to write after the dinner. I drank JAN mineral water, poured from an elegant bottle. The napkin is very large, a plus. 

The menu contained eleven courses, and Restaurant Manager Philippe Foucault asked us to peruse it, and to highlight any ingredients we could not eat. My son does not eat fish, so his oysters, mussels and sea bass were replaced. Similarly, I do not eat mussels, and these were excluded from my sea bass dish. I had got to bed late the night before, so I requested a cappuccino upfront. The menu informed that photographs of each dish were available, but I preferred (very much out of habit, despite how perfect they were) to photograph my own.

The first dish was a macaron, brought to the table in an essence of strawberry smoking dish, unusual in being savory, with a slice of salmon inside, with Cucumber, and lettuce, a one-bite introduction to what was to come. 

The second dish was in two oyster shells, one containing the oyster with a warm champagne sabayon sauce,  and topped with Osetra caviar and oyster leaves, and the other shell with  Vodka, apple, Rooibos and pomegranate granita. Alex was served a vegetarian courgette cannelloni with Yuzu and Buddha hands, a citrus variety. 

The first wine pairing was a 2014 Domaine de Bablut Chenin Blanc, originating from Anjou in the Loire valley, between Paris and Nantes. 

Dish number three was a stack of three homegrown Cape seed loaf slices bound together with string, the top slice toasted, with a green coloured seaweed butter and a white dashi fish (Japanese soup and cooking stock)  butter, topped with fresh seaweed and seaweed chips, poppy seed, and sesame seeds.

A fourth dish was in winter colours, containing a French vegetable salsify turned into chips, and served with sunflower seeds, black truffle, cauliflower purée, and a centre of mielie pap, unrecognizable in its preparation as a round solid centre to the dish. 

The fifth dish was lamb neck and mozzarella prepared as a croquette, with mint, caramelised onions, mustard seeds, marinaded balsamic vinegar, zucchini, Melba toast, and Buchu and Pinotage gels, served in a beautiful charcoal Diana Ferreira plate. This course was paired with a buttery Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2015. 

Dish six was sea bass served with fennel, giving the Cape Malay curry sauce it was served with a sweet taste. Other ingredients were herring eggs, carrot, and beetroot. We enquired about the unusual green plate with a distinctive marine pattern, and we were surprised that it was from Continental China, which has a new creative designer, taking the dinnerware manufacturer into a new creative league. Alex received a tuna dish as a replacement to the sea bass. It was nice to be offered a rarely seen fish knife for this dish. 

Dish seven was accompanied by a beautiful steak knife with a wood handle, branded as Laguiole on one side, and JAN on the other side, a first such restaurant branding I have seen. Most unusual was to receive a dish with the now baked Mosbolletjiebrood (topped with squid ink); a lit edible ‘candle’ of kaaiings (pork fat) and biltong, which is meant to burn down, and for one to dip the Mosbolletjiebrood into the melted fat; and butter with banana, smoked salt, and popcorn, presumably for those not able to eat the kaaiings. The wine pairing was with Vacqueyras, a wine from the Rhone region, a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Shiraz. 

The eighth course was rosemary guineafowl, soft and tender, and having been smoked in rosemary, served with an unusual combination of scallop, carrot and celery purées, a jus made with tonka, a goat’s milk cheese foam, celeriac, mushroom soil, and carrot stuffed with crispy skin and guinea fowl meat. It was accompanied by rosemary branches.

For winter an English cup of Glühwein was a clever touch, which had been made using JAN Reserve wine made in Provence, from near St Tropez, and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Grenache, only 500 bottles being especially made for the restaurant. With the mulled wine was served a gentle Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese originating from Auvergne, quince sorbet, caramel and pear mousse, popcorn, poached pear marinaded with Rooibos tea, and finished off with a dried pear chip. A glass of cold sweet wine Manry, made with Grenache and originating from Perpignan, was served with the desserts. 

For a second dessert Chef Jan-Hendrik remembered my love for Tiramisu, and I was touched that one with crispy chocolate and mascarpone cheese had been prepared for me. Alex ate the meringue dessert, which had a filling of sago pudding, chocolate, ice cream, berries, and Normandy cream, topped with a beautiful hibiscus powder. 

Last but not least was the eleventh course of a board of friandise, including ‘kerkbasaar pannekoek’ with cinnamon and sugar, as well as mint leaves in Valrhona chocolate, crystallized mint, Ouma se fudge, as well as a sandwich made of shortbread with a braaied marshmallow filling! This was served with a large dry cappuccino, ending off an exceptional, spoiling, and special dinner. 

I recognized all the floor staff, having met them on my last visit. Michael was exceptional in his professionalism in presenting each Wine in the pairings in perfect English, my untrained ear struggling somewhat with the French-English pronunciations when the ingredients to the dishes were explained by the other servers. Our presence and my many questions, as I am known to do, did appear to place some pressure on the staff, and it was only at the end of our dinner that Chef Jan-Hendrik was able to come to our table, requesting feedback. He filled in some information gaps re ingredients in the dishes, and I was able to provide some feedback to him as to our dinner experience. He has always impressed with his humbleness and kindness, and this was evident last night too, wanting to comp our meal due to our South African connection, but I declined his kind offer. A JAN restaurant would be amazing in Cape Town, as its fusion of South African ingredients and dishes with French classics would make JAN jump to the top of the restaurant rankings. South African chefs could take a leaf out of JAN’s book in its pride in presenting South African classics and transforming them into modern exceptional dishes, making the guests feel proudly South African, and reflecting his South African roots and his pride in being South African. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik does travel between Nice and Cape Town regularly, and does host small dinners at his home, which I have been extremely fortunate to experience. JAN restaurant is unique, in its classy interior, creative fusion cuisine, and the charm of its owner. The Michelin star accolade is an excellent reward for all the hard work and dedication that has gone into Chef Jan-Hendrik’s restaurant, and has made South African restaurant history, in being the first South African chef-owned Michelin star restaurant.

With our bill we received a packet of rusks for our breakfast coffee dipping the following day, a special final South African touch.

Jan Restaurant, 22 Rue Lascaris, Nice. Tel +33 04 97 19 32 23 www.restaurantjan.com Twitter : @JanHendrikvdWes Instagram :@janhendrik Tuesday – Saturday Dinner, Friday and Saturday Lunch.

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein