Last week I ate lunch at Mondiall twice. The first was a family lunch, and the second was an invitation to try the new Winter Menu at Mondiall and to meet new Chef Riaan Burger, who has been at the restaurant for six weeks. The experiences were chalk and cheese. Mondiall has been repositioned as a French Brasserie, serving ‘refined comfort food’, rather than as an around-the-world restaurant when it opened.
The family lunch followed the scattering of the ashes of our late mother, which we had done in Table Bay on the yacht IQ, which moors outside Mondiall. I was very disappointed with the lunch, which was a special group menu, a reduced version of former Chef Peter Tempelhoff’s menu. Chef Riaan was not working on the Freedom Day public holiday, owner Patrick Symington was not there, and Reservation Manager Mandy Smith whom I had dealt with in making the booking and discussing the menu, was not there either. The let-down was the waitress, and poor communication between Mandy and the Manager Franco. The food quality was not as expected either. I admire Patrick for proactively sending a sms to ask how the lunch went, and I told him about my disappointment. What was amazing was the glazed pork belly, offered as a Tapas dish, served with crackling, and a honey soy glaze. This dish remains on the new menu.
Patrick had previously suggested that I meet new Chef Riaan just after he was appointed, when I questioned whether Mondiall could cope losing both Chef Peter Tempelhoff, as well as Chef Lauren Case, who has moved on to Bocca. We decided on Friday, Workers’ Day, and I was encouraged to invite a friend, my school friend Jenny Stephens. Our lunch was superb, a completely different experience compared to the one four days earlier. Manager Franco was on duty again, but we had a far more snazzy waiter Lee, Chef Riaan was on duty, and Patrick arrived a little later. We were shown Chef Riaan’s brand new Winter Menu, the first he has composed since his arrival at the restaurant. Lee indicated which of the dishes on the menu were new. Then Chef Riaan came to introduce himself, and sat down at our table, giving us a run-through of his restaurant history and philosophy.
Chef Riaan trained in Johannesburg, his original home town, having done his apprenticeship at the Protea Hotel Wanderers and the African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel, and thereafter at the Westcliff Hotel. He then joined Crystal Cruises, and on his return to our country he started his first job in the Cape, at Arabella outside Kleinmond. He moved to the Twelve Apostle Hotel & Spa, working with Chef Henrico Grobbelaar at that time, and then moved to Beijing where he was appointed as Executive Chef at Raffles, with three restaurants. He used the word ‘challenging’ a number of time, to describe his time spent there. For one, he lived in the hotel, which meant that he had to be on call when required. The city itself is known for its dreadful pollution. He said cultural differences are vast, as are language gaps, as few Chinese guests and staff speak English, contrary to what he had been led to believe. Once he returned to Cape Town, he heard about the job that was available at Mondiall, and contacted Patrick. The rest is history, as they say in the classics. Our evaluation is that Chef Riaan is a wonderful person, kind, soft, and caring, coming to obtain feedback about the dishes we tried. There was no hint of chef ego or arrogance, as one sees so often. Patrick and Chef Riaan seem to have a good relationship, and it must be a relief to Patrick that the departure of Chef Peter from the business partnership has been low-key and a non-event for their patrons.
Chef Riaan evaluated the previous menu, as well as the suppliers of the ingredients, focusing on ‘reducing food miles‘, a concept I had not heard of before, but not new in term of its meaning. He wants to source ingredients from as close to Mondiall as possible, and wants to source organic, artisanal, and free-range produce. The meats now come from Son-of-a-Butcher, being free-range chicken and grass fed beef, offering much better quality. I met owner Salvin Hirschfield from Son-of-a-Butcher on Saturday, at the Oranjezicht City Farm Market, where he now has a stall. Some of the dishes now have an Asian flavour touch, to add umami, in their seafood risotto, for example. Chef Riaan said he is passionate about beef. He removed the beef rib and lamb rump dishes from the old menu, not having been happy with the quality of the meat used. His new beef short rib is braised in beer, and basted in molasses, the only meat dish which is basted, compared to the previous menu, on which all beef dishes basted.
New Tapas dishes on the Winter Menu are smoked snoek paté and olive Tapanade (both R38), crudités of crisp fresh vegetables (R58), ostrich parfait (R50), and smoked ham hock rillettes (R60). A French onion soup (R72) has been added to the menu, as has been a roast beetroot and cauliflower salad (R68), and a Greek salad with calamari (R75).
Chef Riaan returned to the kitchen, and his first dish was a tasting portion of steak tartare, which I had a taste of at the family lunch, then on the menu as a Tapas dish. It had a vinegary taste and was very chunky at the family lunch. Chef Riaan’s dish was finely minced, and he told us that he uses fillet for it now, and that he uses a dressing of mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and egg yolk, presented in a leaf of Belgian endive with matchstick chips, giving it a posh presentation, and allowing one to eat it with the endive leaf acting as a type of Chinese spoon (R88). There was no vinegary taste, and the steak tartare was a delicious start to our feast. The presentation on ceramicist Diana Ferreira’s crockery complemented the dish. We discussed chips, which were dreadful at the family lunch, Mondiall having had a good reputation for its fries in the past. Chef Riaan said that he has changed from using the Mondial potato to the Avalanche one, giving a much better chip quality, and the chips were chalk and cheese, compared to those at the family lunch. Chef Riaan said he is working on better consistency in making the hand-cut fries.
Jenny did not want a starter, but Chef Riaan thought otherwise, so he divided my starter of a Terrine of Cape Rock Lobster (R155) into two portions. It was an unfussy presentation, just the slice of terrine (comprising of cheese, avocado, and the crayfish) and a ‘petite salad’. Other new Appetisers are Saldanha Mussels Marinière (R82), and a Ploughman’s Board with a quail Scotch egg (R80). The pork belly, seared tuna, game fish tacos, steak tartare, and chicken wings remain on the menu, but some of the dishes have been tweaked by Chef Riaan.
For our main course Jenny ordered a 230 gram flame-grilled 21 day matured beef fillet, served with baby potatoes, a cep purée, topped with maître d’ hotel butter (R215). The menu specifies that the beef cuts are ‘100% natural fed free-range beef with no GMO grain or cereal feed, no antibiotics and no growth hormones’. Jenny ordered a Side of a medley of steamed season vegetables (R25). It looked delicious and Jenny was very happy with it, having been prepared to her specification. I had a small bite of it, and again it was chalk and cheese compared to the steak I had eaten at the family lunch. Impressive is the steak board with the steak knife, which I have not seen at any other steak restaurants before.
I ordered the new free-range roasted lamb loin, prepared ‘medium to well on the rib bone’, the menu informs, with a gremolata coating and ratatouille, which I exchanged for roast mushrooms and shallots from the Sides list (R210). I tried the standard chips with the dish, which did come with matchstick fries. The meat was tender and pink inside, and excellent. Other new main courses are beer braised beef short rib (R185), pasture-raised farm coq au vin (R190), and pappardella pasta (R155). The peri-peri Mozambique prawns, Cape seafood risotto, Cape linefish (now with a fine herb crust), Mondiall Wagyu Cheeseburger, and Fish & Chips remain on the menu.
We finished off our meal with the new Sweets & Treats dessert platter, described as the ‘chef’s selection of mini desserts’. I had somehow expected it to be a mini version of all the desserts on the menu, but this was incorrect, being raspberry macaroons, chocolate brownies, Turkish delight, and cheesecake with Macadamia nut brittle and salted caramel sauce (R85), shareable between two patrons. Other desserts are the new seasonal fruits dessert, chocolate and Guinness pudding, lime panna cotta, and cheesecake, all at R65. A baked camembert for two is available at R138, and an artisan cheese board for two costs R148. The dry cappuccino was perfectly made.
The lunch was perfect, it was a delight to meet Chef Riaan, and we were impressed with the vast improvement in the meal within the same week. The Winter Menu offers a good variety of refined comfort food dishes, being Proudly Cape. It may soon offer a Riaan burger too! Franco told us that the new winelist will be launched today.
Mondiall, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-3003. www. mondiall.co.za Twitter: @Mondiall_SA Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Monday – Sunday. Brunch Saturdays and Sundays.