I had read about Bistro Sixteen82 at Steenberg wine estate in Constantia on Twitter, and about its Beef Tataki in particular, one of Chef Brad Ball’s signature dishes. My first visit last week was one of wow – amazement at the wonderful setting, the amazing decor, the friendliness of the staff, the wonderful food, as well as the value for money, a perfect recipe for success. I felt that the “Bistro” name, which Wikipedia defines as “a small bar serving moderately priced simple meals in an unpretentious setting” is completely inappropriate for this wonderful restaurant, the restaurant underselling itself, and thereby overdelivering.
Bistro Sixteen82 opened just less than a year ago, in a new building built on the historic Graham Beck Foundation-owned wine estate, which was given to Catharina, “the widow Ras” as she was known, by Simon van der Stel in exchange for (undefined) “favours”, I was told by the charming Lida van Heerden, the Cellar Door Manager. Catharina must have been quite a lady, having had five husbands, and was the inspiration for the name of Catharina’s, the other Steenberg restaurant. With the historical heritage of Steenberg, the modern building housing the tasting room as well as the Bistro is a surprise, but fits into the environment well, probably because the building is quite a distance away from the historic Steenberg Hotel buildings. There is ample parking, and the building opens onto a well-kept lawn, which seems to melt into the vineyards on the mountain slope above. There is a lovely water feature, making it very tranquil to sit outside.
When one steps into the tasting room, which one has to walk through to get to the restaurant, one notices the dominant chandelier, made from 2700 green and red resin oval shapes, depicting grapes, with pips and all! The light was made by Carole Carr-Harris from Divali Lighting in Hermanus, and weighs a ton, needing a reinforced ceiling to hold the weight. The tasting section is a round island in a generously sized room, from which leads a lounge, at which one can taste wines too, or just enjoy sitting at the fireplace on a wintry day. The architect and interior decorator is Richard Perfect, and he certainly did a perfect job in creating an architecturally unique building inside and out.
The restaurant is a large space, with tables seating 70 patrons close together, especially against the two end walls, which have a fixed seat against the wall. The close proximity of the tables, and the fully booked restaurant, gave it a wonderful buzz and energy. It was nice to see Jenna, the hostess, who has attended one of Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meetings. Chef Brad was off-duty, but kept an eye on things with his staff as soon as he had read via Twitter that I was at the restaurant, and also provided the exact details of the sauce served with the asparagus starter on Twitter, even though he had the day off! A large structure made from branches is a decorative feature on the ceiling, and bunches of pin-cushion proteas presented in large glass vases give a flash of orange in an otherwise white-dominant restaurant interior, the same protea-filled vases being seen at the entrance to the building, from which can also see the steel vats of the winery. The comfortable chairs have a natural wood look, with what looks like a modern-day ‘riempie’ for the seat, matching the ceiling wood structure. The vats are also visible behind the Raw Bar, and the estate’s white and red wines are cleverly displayed on two of the walls, creating a design feature. A Raw Bar refrigerated display counter contains salamis and hams, capers as well as cheeses, with an Oyster Tank next to it. Staff look smart and professional, with white shirts, a smart slim silver tie, with a tie clip, and black slacks and black aprons.
The tables have white table cloths and impressive serviettes with the name of the restaurant embroidered on them. Cutlery and glassware is of good quality. The menu and winelist is made from black leather, and is a simple insert. The number of choices of dishes and wines is reasonable, yet very varied, making it easy to choose. The reasonable cost of the dishes impressed, Front of House Manager Jürgen Welp telling me that from the outset Chef Brad Ball wanted the Bistro to stand for value for money, both in terms of its food as well as the wines (the mark-up is no more than 25 % for the Steenberg wines, unlike some of its Constantia neighbours charging threefold for their estate wines, even if the tasting room is only a few steps away). With a corkage fee of R40, it would be more expensive for a customer to do a BYO with corkage added, compared to ordering from the winelist.
Chef Brad Ball was previously at River Cafe, Olympia Café and Pastis, while Jürgen had worked at Buitenverwachting for seven years. Both set up Bistro Sixteen82 a year ago.
Our waitress Natalie brought the bread basket to the table, consisting of a bread stick, slices of focaccia and ciabatta, with a small platter of olives and sundried tomatoes, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar served in tiny milk jugs. The Summer menu is divided into four sections, labeled as “Stimulate” for the starters, including smoked pork paté, pea and pancetta risotto and snails, costing R46 each, and mussels, slightly more expensive; “Rejuvenate” contains two dishes : Beetroot tarte tine served with smoked trout mousse (R68) and the house salad (R45/R64). “Inspire” contains the main courses, ranging from R78 for Broccoli feuillette (gorgonzola fondue) to R 120 for Franschhoek Trout and Steak au Poivre. Other mains include a pork belly ragout, line fish, a charcuterie selection and sticky pork belly. The “Indulge” selection contained five desserts, costing between R44 – R50, all interesting sounding, and a cheese platter at R48.
I ordered the Asparagus starter (R50), served with a truffle mousseline with parmesan, and decorated with tiny snippets of tomato, a lovely melody in green, yellow and red. The sauce was delicious, and overshadowed the steamed crispy asparagus, it was so special. My son had the Beef Tataki, which is seared beef fillet and then thinly sliced in carpaccio style, served with soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds, chilli, sesame oil, radish, spring onions, and lime juice. It is a unique combination of ingredients causing a taste explosion, costing R49 as a starter and R 105 as a main. My (student) son could not finish the main course portion, it was so filling. I ordered the entrecote steak, simply served as two thick slices, with mash (a bit stodgy, I felt, but it was my choice – normally the steak is served with potatoes and peppercorn sauce) and steamed carrots and beans. An excellent small but effective steak knife was provided.
The Raw Bar board shows prices to be R18 for an oyster, and Gravadlax at R44. Other options are Pink Tartar, being Norwegian salmon with chilli and lime, costing R60/R105 as starter/main course, and the Red Tartar, being a tartar of Chalmar beef served with capers and a quail egg (R56/R98). The cappuccino was served with two pieces of home-made Turkish Delight.
We were offered a complimentary glass of the Steenberg Brut, made from 100 % Chardonnay, the first tasting of this bubbly, crisp and dry, and a good marriage with the asparagus. The Steenberg wine range consists of 1682 Chardonnay MCC, Sauvignon Blanc, HMS Rattlesnake Sauvignon Blanc, HMS Sphynx Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, 1682 Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon, Nebbiolo, Catharina, Magna Carta, and Klein Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé and Bordeaux Blend. The Steenberg wines understandably dominate the winelist, with almost all their wines being available by the glass. The Klein Steenberg Bordeaux Red costs R24 for a 250 ml carafe and R70 for a bottle, and the most expensive is Steenberg Catharina 2007 at R77/R230. It also lists a few other Constantia wine brands, keeping it proudly-Constantia. Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve costs R 585 and the Rosé R750.
I don’t always make a point of visiting the cloakroom, and here I saw the only aspect of the decor that came across as kitsch – the cloakroom and the toilets are covered with a wall paper that is a close-up of a vineyard, making one claustrophobic. It is such a contrast to the good taste of the decor in the rest of the building.
I loved my first visit at Bistro Sixteen82, and will be back again to try some of the other dishes on the Summer menu. I felt it to be excellent value for money, and a happy and relaxed space, with very friendly staff and happy customers who did not seem to want to go home. I am very surprised that Bistro Sixteen82 did not make the Top 20 Eat Out Restaurants shortlist, but should be sure to do so in 2011. The Breakfasts, and the Eggs Benedict in particular, are legendary at Bistro Sixteen82 too.
POSTSCRIPT 22/2: A visit to my accountant in Constantia was a good opportunity to make a return visit to Bistro Sixteen82. I had an early lunch, and was served by Manager Jürgen, and was offered a glass of Steenberg Brut – I accepted a half glass. I tried two new starters on Chef Brad Ball’s menu, and absolutely loved the presentation as well as the taste of the Duck liver parfait and duck prosciutto, creating a beautiful dark/light effect underneath the mousse, and served with a small wine-poached pear. Then I had the Capellini and truffle créme, topped with chopped tomato and a poached egg, a more simple but filling and tasty dish, beautifully paired with the Steenberg Semillon.
Bistro Sixteen82, Steenberg wine estate, Constantia. Tel (021) 713-2211. www.steenberg-vineyards.co.za Twitter :@Bistro1682. Mondays – Sundays, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, 9h00 – 20h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage