In three years I had never made it to Myoga, a restaurant in the Vineyard Hotel, but operated independently by Mike Bassett, who also owns Ginja, which had previously featured on the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list.  Reports I had heard about the “bizarre” food served at the time that Richard Carsten was working at Myoga did not inspire a visit.  An invitation from new Marketing Manager Marc Coppin to try out the Winter Special was an incentive to visit this restaurant, which offers the most exceptional value in its 6-course winter special at R 150 (an 8-course degustation menu is also available, and costs R 350).   Bassett is a lover of ginger, as his two restaurant names attest, but there is little ginger evident in the dishes on the Winter Special – only two of the menu items contain ginger (gnocchi with steamed shrimp, and in the roast pork belly dish).

The buildings surrounding Myoga lend a modern air to that part of the hotel, and therefore it is a surprise when one sees the old-fashioned look of the Myoga restaurant space.  Marc explained that it once was the Ball Room of Lady Anne Barnard’s residence, and the round kitchen design is exactly in this space, intended to display the “theatre of the kitchen”, Marc explains. If pots fall and bang, as they did that evening, then it is part of this theatre.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  As one steps in through the door, one looks straight ahead into a collection of colourful water-wings, and one sees a lady’s costume and shorts.  It is meant to be a wacky “decor” touch, in that the costume and bathing shorts are meant to denote the Gents and Ladies loos – too wacky, in my opinion, for a serious player in the restaurant industry.  Whilst we are on the topic – when one is in the loo, one is entertained by a live feed coming from the kitchen, on a flatscreen TV at the back of each bathroom door.   A pity therefore that one of the screens did not work that night, nor the latch on one of the doors.  In the entrance area a massive Aga stove, more suitable for a museum, displays the restaurant’s awards, alongside two brass washing basins on top of the stove (only a man can see these as being decorative assets to the restaurant)!

The decor of the restaurant space is a surprise, and quite frankly, leaves a lot to be desired.  As I wrote about Jardine, the decor needs a serious “woman’s touch”.   It has different design elements thrown at the interior, and there is little consistency.  Marc told me that a revered decor fundi advised Bassett on the decor, and that this is a touchy subject.  On entering the main restaurant space, one sees the bar on the right, with a multitude of thin steel strands.   To the left is a seating area at which no one sits, like a lounge, the black lacquer edging of the white leather couches badly scratched and a brownish couch being very much out of place in terms of colour and design.  My advice to Marc was to remove the seating area, and add restaurant tables.  The woodwork on all chairs in the restaurant has an orange-ish stain, with two different black and white fabrics used.  The tables are black with a silver edging.  Massive orange “thrones” are dotted around the restaurant, adding colour, but dating the restaurant.   An Eastern lighting touch around the columns seems to relate back to a previous restaurant tenant.  In general, the lighting is a busy and clashing mixture of lamps, chandeliers and downlighters.

All traces of Carstens have been removed from the menu, the feedback having been that he was too wacky with his deconstruction approach to food.  The menu has been simplified, and is updated every six months, says Marc.  Myoga offers “global fusion cuisine”, and the most favourite menu items stay, Myoga regulars enjoying this and others welcome the opportunity to try something new.   The mantra of the restaurant is “Relax Eat Revive”, says the menu.   The winter specials menu is a generous six-course one, each course offering three choices, and five of these are paired to a wine selected by the sommelier, at an exceptionally reasonable R 150 for the food and an extra R 135 for the wine pairing.  The dishes on the specials menu are different to those on the standard menu.  The sommelier/”mixologist” Carl is the nicest I have had the pleasure to deal with (lofty sommeliers are not my favourite).  Having worked at Myoga from the beginning, he is knowledgeable in being able to answer all my questions, and even about sister restaurant Ginja.  He does not flinch when I tell him that I would prefer reds with all my courses, and he found suitable ones for me. For a start, we were offered a cocktail, not something I indulge in, a strawberry sparkling wine martini mix, which had quite a bite to it, so I quickly put it aside.   Beaumont is the house wine. 

Rob Earleigh is the chef, working with Bassett at Myoga.  I started with an amuse bouche of coriander spuma with sweet chilli (not too hot at all), served in a shot glass, with a toasted crispy ‘salt and pepper prawn’, one of the Myoga signature dishes, which Carl serves with an Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008.  Iced oyster and roasted garlic flaky pastry tart were two ‘mouth tickler’ alternatives.  This was followed by a garden pea soup, pancetta and truffle cappuccino, with a refreshing taste of mint, with salted crackling, served with a Hermanuspietersfontein nr. 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2009.  We were served tasty ciabatta and wholewheat bread with this.  Other soup alternatives were a Cape seafood bouillabaisse, and slow cooked leek and potato soup.  A lamb and lemon canneloni (almost pancake-like), with a feta cream centre, and tandoori spice, was an unusual combination, and the least successful of the items on the menu in my opinion, being too bland relative to the other exciting pasta dishes (Semolina potato gnocchi, and baked ricotta and spinach dumplings) my companions had.  The pasta dish was served with Raka Sangiovese 2008.  We had a lime sorbet as a ‘refresher’, but even for this course one has the choice of apple and passion fruit sorbet too. 

The kingklip looked attractive with a green herb and mustard crust, and was served with Mediterranean steamed poatato, charred leeks, asparagus and sauce nantaise.  However, it had an overpowering taste of Dijon mustard, which is a shame, as kingklip is a lovely tasting fish and does not need mustard to spice it up.  Hermanuspietersfontein’s Die Bartho 2009 was paired with the fish.   The roasted pork belly, an alternative main course dish, was outstanding, served with sweet potato and cream spinach. Beef fillet was a third alternative.  I ended off with a hot apple and pear brulee tart, which I had served with fresh cream instead of creme fraiche, and Carl served Delheim Edelspatz 2009 with it.  The milk chocolate pot de creme was an alternative dessert, being a cooked chocolate pudding with a wonderful caramel foam, served in a coffee cup. Another alternative dessert was wobbly vanilla panna cotta with pineapple soup.

The service we received from manager Mike, who had to jump in at the last minute as the restaurant was so busy, was impeccable. I particularly liked him explaining the ingredient of each dish, as the menus had been removed after we had ordered.  Also, he laid the cutlery on the left and right of each diner, rather than stretching across, which I experience in restaurants with great regularity.  Marc is the new Marketing Manager of the restaurant, having been a waiter at the restaurant prior to this.  He is excited about the challenge that lies ahead, and he received a mini-lecture from me about the value of social media marketing.

We loved being spoilt by the Myoga team, and generally the food and service was of an outstanding quality, at most commendable value-for-money (hence the fully booked restaurant on a weekday night).  We will come back.  I wish I could get my hands on the Myoga decor though!

Myoga, Vineyard Hotel, 60 Colinton Road, Newlands. Tel  (021) 657-4545. www.myoga.co.za. Open Tuesdays – Saturdays for lunch and dinner.  6-course dinner R150.    2-course lunch R125, 3 courses cost R175.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com