Yesterday I had the goosebump experience of being introduced to the new-in-the-making Gåte at Quoin Rock restaurant at the Quoin Rock winery outside Stellenbosch, which is destined to become a superlative Fine Dining dinner experience, probably the best this country has ever seen!
I do not know Chef Warwick King very well, but have interacted with him in his past engagements at The Bay Hotel, The Stack, Delaire Graff, and The Ritz revolving restaurant. A connection by Ross Baker of Wild Peacock led to Chef Warwick meeting Executive Chef Rikku O’Donnchü. The rest is history, and Chefs Rikku and Warwick gave us some of their precious time to brief us on the new Gåte restaurant, due to open on 13 November.
It was a late-night Facebook Page Like request by Chef Warwick that connected us again last week. We messaged initially, and then spoke on the phone, and I could feel the excitement already. He arranged the meeting for yesterday, and I brought my Parisian friend Aurélie Jullien with me, who is passionate about our country’s restaurants.
Arriving at a boom with strict security procedures at Quoin Rock, with very vague directions as to where to find the chefs, and clearly a construction site, we could not have known what an amazing experience awaited us, being shown around the Tasting Room and restaurant areas, the design done by Julia, the wife of Ukrainian Quoin Rock owner Denis Gaiduk. We were shown the Wine Museum too, where the top 100 wines in the world will be stored. There is a Zen Garden, in which Chef Rikku will meditate and contemplate, in all likelihood. The outdoor terrace is where the wine tasting will take place, and it has a most interesting covering, in a leaf shape reflecting on the terrace. A lot of glass is used as safety edging, to allow wine lovers to see the most of the wine estate and the Simonsberg mountain behind it. Wood dominates the decor too, as does vine art created out of metal.
Chef Rikku introduced his new restaurant as being sustainability focused, 90% of their produce requirements coming from the farm, with greenhouses being constructed to plant fruit and vegetables, already having hens and eggs, bringing in livestock, and creating a Mushroom Hut. A hydroponic system has been set up in the kitchen for their micro herb requirements. They will make as much use of every food item they work with, working on a top-to-tail policy. They have the latest equipment, including Pacojets, sous vide baths, and centrifugal machines and other ‘molecular technology’, Chef Rikku told us.
Chef Rikku is a molecular gastronomy devotee, and highly rates Chef Adrian Adriá, now at Tickets but previously Creative Director of El Bulli, featured in Chef’s Table Season Five on Netflix.
Chef Rikku worked at The Fat Duck in the UK for three and a half years, working his way up to Senior Pastry Chef. The restaurant belongs to Chef Heston Blumenthal, is in Bray in the UK, has Michelin stars, and has been the best World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Chef Rikku explained that it is good to have both pastry and savoury experience, as the disciplines are very different, and it helps him in his role as Executive Chef. Pastry is very disciplined in its craft and focused on its exterior appearance, whereas savoury cooking is ‘explosive’, with a flavour focus. Chef Rikku has also worked at Merchants in Nottingham, also Michelin-starred.
Chef Rikku has a Swedish and Irish origin, who studied a unique mix of Chemistry, English Literature, and Psychology, his dream being to be an actor or a musician. Whilst studying he needed to earn money, and became a dishwasher, and vegetable cleaner, at a local restaurant. A chef not arriving at work one day gave him the opportunity to run his section, and he grew from there, being ready to be a Chef once he had finished his studies. He started his Chef career at Harts restaurant, and its ‘sister’ property Hambleton Hall, with one Michelin star. His Chef career took him to New Zealand, Australia, and to Napa Valley, where he worked at French Laundry, another World’s 50 Best Restaurant, with Michelin stars, owned by Chef Thomas Keller. It is here that he was exposed to classic French cooking, but prepared in a modern context. He worked for Chef Marco Pierre White in London, who was less excited by French cuisine.
Chef Rikku visited Cape Town regularly, having a surfer friend here. It was a chance meeting three years ago of a lady at Van Hunks in Kloof Street that changed his life, they now being married, and bringing Chef Rikku to our country to live. He and his wife Michelle live in Tamboerskloof, and he and Chef Warwick, with another staff member, have a joint lift club to and from Stellenbosch. He has been a consultant to various local restaurants, including Sevruga, which has just been bought by Michael Townsend.
I had to laugh at Chef Rikku’s take on Michelin stars, in that a tyre company is guiding the standard of cuisine in restaurants around the world! I liked his view on controversial opinions about restaurants, feeling that diners do not have to like every dish to enjoy the eating experience. They must remember the dining experience, ultimately. He would love Diners to train their palates, repeating tasting after tasting and testing their taste buds. This was his experience when he first ate an olive. Gåte restaurant will have guests hating or loving it, Chef Rikku promises!
The fare at Gåte will be Nordic, with a standard as well as Vegetarian option. The website says of the Tasting Menu: ‘By marrying his taste for the avante-garde with the freshest produce the land has to offer, Chef Rikku has created a dining experience that’s self-sustained and theatrical’. We were shown visuals of the following dishes out of the 16-course Tasting Menu, to be priced at R1250:
# Sevruga caviar, vodka, smoked potato Macaron, consisting of cold potatoes, salt, lemon, caviar, and vodka, as an introductory snack.
# Wild peacock, pickled Chardonnay grapes, home-made feta, Asian black rice, peacock sauce, and a mint kombucha dressing.
# Caulicheese, consisting of three ages of Parmesan, and cauliflower three ways (florettes, cous cous, and confit).
# Scallops, disc of white chocolate, blue cheese, puffed tapioca, and Sevruga caviar. I love the black and white plate.
# Thai red curry ice cream, charred lemon meringue, lemon candy floss, and chili infused chocolate.
Chef Rikku spoke about the name of the restaurant, Gåte meaning the entrance gate to a labyrinth or maze. He met the Quoin Rock Winery owner Denis last year, and they were on the same page, each passionate about their respective disciplines of wine and food.
The restaurant team includes Chefs Rikku and Warwick, Josh Crewdson of La Colombe, Nicole Loubser of JAN in Nice and Le Petit Manoir in Franschhoek, Pastry Chef Izelle de Villiers of Rust & Vrede and The Frog in London, and Head Baker Rikki. Troy Truter is the Restaurant Manager, and they are still recruiting the Sommelier. The Head Waiter is Rufus Scholtz, previously with The Test Kitchen and La Colombe. Very encouraging is to hear that waitron staff with be paid double the going rate in restaurants, and will be employed as permanent staff and share tips too. Crockery has been sourced from Two Potters & a Painter, outside Stellenbosch. The wine list will include not only Quoin Rock wines, but other local ones too, as well as the world’s Top 100 wines. We were shown the leather aprons for the kitchen staff.
I had to laugh when Chef Rikku said that he had heard me described as ‘a terrorist with a pen’. I don’t think that I am quite that tough any more! He is friends with Chefs Liam Tomlin, Ivor Jones, and Wesley Randles. Chef Rikku shared that his food philosophy is aligned to music, his love being two extremes: baroque and heavy metal! His ‘schizo’ music loves reflect his food as well, harsh yet romantic, he said. He does not swear in the kitchen, nor throw his pots out of the cot!
The food journey that we can expect at Gåte is all thought through, a sequence of dishes, expanding on the one served before it, or calming down the palate from the previous one, or preparing one for the next one to come. Only 40 Diners will be accommodated per evening, at dinner only. A service charge of 12,5% will be added to the bill automatically. Dietary requirements should be identified when booking. A 50% deposit is required when booking, but is refunded if cancelled more than 48 hours in advance. Diners are warned when booking that dishes may contain or come into contact with wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and soy.
I will most certainly return to try the restaurant, and get to know the winery with its Gravitation Cellar on this 110 ha estate. We left the wine estate, so excited about what is to come, and very grateful for this advance detailed insight into the restaurant.
POSTSCRIPT: This Blogpost has received phenomenal reaction, with high expectations of what Chef Rikku and his team will offer. I love this comment to it on Facebook from Stewart Stoffel Kramm, a person I do not know:
’Oh my F…I cannot wait. 1 December, booked…..Chris what an awesome write up. Thanks.. this is like the ultimate frikking foodie foreplay and trust me, am salivating, simply at the thought…. it’s like 50 shades of cuisine is going down on my starved, tongue, and to make the dinner even more exiting, we will be joined by 2 young aspiring Top chefs, recently graduated and full of excellent exciting and exhilarating ideas and themes…who will bring a sense of understanding to Chef Rikku’s menu. Counting the days…..
POSTSCRIPT 20/11: Gåte opened on 13 November, and I was lucky to be invited to try the restaurant four days later. It is superb!
Gåte at Quoin Rock, Quoin Rock Winery, Knorhoek Road, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 888-4740. www.quoinrock.com Instagram: @gaterestaurantsa @chef_rikku
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein