I ate at KONG Bar & Grill in De Waterkant last Thursday for the first time, at the invitation of its PR Consultant Marina Nestel, and then watched the World Cup Rugby Semi-Final there on Sunday. Not expecting much from the ‘Grill’ part of the name, I was surprised to meet Chef Coenraad Spauner, who heads up the kitchen and who worked at a Michelin Plate restaurant in France last year.
In stepping into the building, which has a big yellow gorilla on its roof, in a street on which Il Leone is on the corner, I was surprised to be greeted by Dave Mitchell, a former Manager of Tiger’s Milk Camps Bay, who always offered excellent service and to whom I could entrust having the perfect dry cappuccino made when I still used to drink it. I was disappointed to learn that he had left the restaurant on the return of my overseas trip. I met fellow Manager Grant Grobbellar, who is a builder too, and was charming as a host.
I took some photographs of the exotic interior, created by co-owner Egon Klein, the owner of Tau and Crew Bar in the building behind KONG. Wall paper with Table Mountain and African warriors decorate one wall, while another shows young and funky persons. The uncovered walls are in a dark blue/grey, the ceilings are wood, with touches of steel, and the lamps over the Bar counter look Indian in design. I was told that Klein had sourced ceiling panels from Argentina, which he used decoratively behind the glass shelves. The other partners in the business are Marnitz and Michelle Jansen van Rensburg (Photograph left), Marnitz being a builder who did the bulk of the renovation of KONG. They found the bar counter top locally,and Marnitz built its support base. Upstairs is a seating area too, with a Bar, and a DJ Booth, for dancing on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. I loved the chairs, in black leather seats and with a variety of upholstery fabrics for the chair backs. Tables are stained wood. Beautiful zebra stripe fabric couches acorn a wall towards the back. There is a pool room upstairs, as well as a lovely outside seating area filled with luscious greenery.
Grant offered me a glass of Pongracz Rosé sparkling wine, there being an unlimited offering for ladies between 21h00 and 22h00 on Thursday evenings. I ordered a glass of Lourensford DOME Pinot Noir 2018, a delicious wine which I had never heard of, not knowing that Lourensford produces Pinot Noir. Disappointingly the wine list does not show the vintages of their wines.
The sideplate,in grey, already was on the table and is by Cascals, a brand I do not know, and cutlery is by Fortis Hotelware. The little paper serviette is disappointing, given the quality of the interior and the crockery and cutlery. The table had a little cactus plant, and unbranded rose gold salt and pepper grinders.
I had a communication wobbly with my waitress, so I asked Dave for a replacement. The waiter brought a menu, very basic in being a number of pages on a clipboard. As I was wanting to book for the Rugby broadcast, I was shown the Breakfast menu too. The first page of the dining menu is headed with ‘Chef’s Specials’, and I thought that was it, there being a good variety of dishes on it, but on paging further, I found a very extensive list of dishes. I kept to the first page of the menu and ordered from it.
Before I could place the order, Chef Coenraad brought a plate of canapés, and started chatting. He worked in the kitchen of Michelin Plate Restaurant Chez Hugo in Seillans in Provence in France for the summer season last year, and it shows in his dishes, despite KONG not positioning itself as a fine dining restaurant. Chef Coenraad’s wife Aneesah Shaikjee is the Pastry Chef, very creative too, and she shared how she and Coenraad met on a film shoot in Johannesburg, both having been contracted as freelancers by Chef Arnold Tanzer, who used to run the behind-the-scenes operation for the MasterChef South Africa series shoots. She had attended the Culinary and Pastry School in Johannesburg, and started baking at ten, with her mother. They married early this year, a decided to look for a job in Cape Town, whilst in holiday here. They were delighted to be able to work together in the restaurant. Chef Aneesah is short, energetic, enthusiastic, feisty, friendly, and very creative, whilst her other half is calmer and quieter, but also very friendly. I loved that he came to ask my feedback after each course.
One of the canapés that really astounded me in its creativity was called ‘Fish and Chip’, a single chip with white bait on top, so simple but so clever. Other canapés were two aranci balls, one with beetroot, a Vegetable Maki roll, and a Pork spring roll with hoisin dipping sauce, all delicious.
As the starter I ordered a pan-fried squid salad, served in the pan with slices of chorizo Napoli with a bite, sourced from Wild Peacock, with pickled fennel, sun dried tomatoes, and samphire, a sea asparagus ((R112). It was a tasty and colourful way to start the dinner. Other Starter choices on the Chefs Specials Menu are Endamame Beans, Pok Choi tempura, and beetroot tempura, in a price band of R55 – R112.
My main course choice was Pork Belly, which was accompanied by a most unusual charred corn purée, wokked greens, a Guinness jus, and topped very decoratively with cracklings strips. It was a lovely combination of ingredients, and a perfect main course for what was a cold evening ahead of very unseasonal rain falling later that evening and all of the next day. At R120, this dish is excellent value for money. Other main course options on the Chefs Special Menu are Khowse (a Burmese style white fish curry and coconut), an interesting sounding coffee-cured ostrich fillet, and fresh local mussels, in a price range of R85 – R135, all extremely reasonably priced.
But it was the dessert that took me by surprise. There were two choices in the Chefs Special Menu, and I chose ‘Tea Party’, intrigued by its creative composition of four different types of teas making up this novel dessert. In not being able to sleep due to my heavy consumption of dry cappuccinos, I switched to tea about a year ago, and had tried different tea varieties on my journey as a new tea drinker, settling on Earl Grey as my favourite tea. The dessert created by Chef Aneesah consisted of an Earl Grey slice of cake, honeybush and Tonka bean ice cream, matcha mousse, Rooibos jelly, and a hibiscus syrup (R80). Not only was it a colourful presentation, but it was a good reflection of each of the different tea types. As if I hadn’t eaten enough already, Chef Coenraad brought a ball of Valrhona chocolate and beetroot ice cream for me to try. It was a fantastic combination. The other Chef’s Special dessert is Peach Melba (R90).
From being relatively quiet in the dining area on Thursday evenings it was bursting at the seams on Sunday morning for the rugby. I chose the KONG breakfast of poached eggs, bacon, tomatoes, and olive toast, having the rocket excluded (R95), while my friend chose a healthier croissant with scrambled egg and pan-fried mushrooms (R110). Other Breakfast options, served between 9h30 and 11h00, are Breakfast in a glass (with liquered strawberries, granola, pawpaw, coconut yoghurt, toasted coconut, and chia seeds, at R75), and Smoked Trout Royale, at R110.
The Breakfast was a good lining for drinking wine to calm the rugby nerves, with the magnificent performance by our rugby team, and the staff were admirable in keeping us fed and liquid. I drank endless cups of Dilmah Earl Grey tea. In a tense moment in the second half of the game, a switch must have tripped, affecting the TV, and leaving us rugbyless for a few minutes.The management came to apologise to all the tables, offered a round of tequila, and comped our entire bill as a further apology, a very generous make-good. I ordered the beetroot Valrhona chocolate ice cream I had sampled on Thursday evening, it served with honeycomb and a dried orange slice. The waitress that looked after our breakfast was the same one who dealt with me initially on Thursday evening, and she seemed transformed, providing excellent service, and checking on our table regularly.
i will be watching KONG and what its talented chef team of seven, operating in what was described as a small kitchen space, will be coming up with, given the creativity which I experienced at KONG on Thursday evening.
KONG Grill & Bar, 10 – 12 Cobern Street, De Waterkant, Cape Town. Tel 021 461-4920/ 082 429 9123. www.kongcapetown.co.za Instagram: @kongcapetown
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein