My Parisian friend Aurélie Jullien is nearing the end of her holiday in Cape Town, and being a restaurant lover too, she is anxious to fit in her last eating experiences in our city. Just as I was about to head off for a morning walk, she messaged me, suggesting lunch at the newly opened Chef Luke Dale-Roberts restaurant Salsify at the Roundhouse in Camps Bay. It was an amazing experience, a marriage between classical heritage, crazy wall art, and classic cuisine with modern twists.
Aurélie had seen on the restaurant reservations system that a table was available for a lunch time slot. I called them, booked the table, and was impressed that the booking person Pauline waived the R500 deposit fee, as it was 90 minutes prior to our arrival. Generally however, she was difficult to understand, sounded unconfident, and did not seem to match the stature of this latest Luke Dale-Roberts restaurant. I was told afterwards that she was not feeling well, when I passed in the feedback.
The Roundhouse has a long established history, and its National Monument plaque is testimony to the heritage.
I was welcomed with great friendliness by new Salsify GM Markus Fiedler, whom I had met at The Test Kitchen in the past. He has German genes too. He showed me the lounge, with graffiti-like crazy art work on the walls by Louis de Villiers, also known as Skullboy. The wall art is ‘loud’, and an initial shock, not what one would expect in a building that is a national monument, and which offers fine dining.
I photographed in each of the areas, including the central sculpture Lady Salsify, by Otto du Plessis. The sculpture was commissioned for the restaurant, to ‘humanise’ the vegetable after which the restaurant is named. I was told that the Test Kitchen team had experienced the vegetable when they did a pop-up in Mauritius. They are looking for suppliers to grow Salsify locally, to use in the restaurant. It is however a slow growing plant, so this will take some time. I also learnt that the pronunciation of the restaurant name is incorrect by most of us, the last two letters pronounced as ‘fee’. In the central area off the arrival reception room, where Lady Salsify stands, is a splash of black paint on the ceiling, not recognizable as a specific shape, just part of the funkiness. The base of the Lady Salsify sculpture is a mix of cutlery items. I love the four mirrors in this area, with a blueish hue to the glass, in which Lady Salsify reflects. Head Chef Ryan Cole and I were photographed at Lady Salsify after we had finished our meal. Off the Lounge is a smallish triangular space which they did not know what to do with initially, so they hung a massive mirror in it, with lights on the side, and called it the Selfie Room!
Some Diners may be worried about the look and feel of the dining area, after this crazy introduction to the restaurant! I moved through the Leather Lounge, with brown hues from beautiful brown leather chairs in this room, viewless, and no colour to offset the darkness of its decor. No Diners were accommodated in this section.
I moved through to our Sea Room dining room (it faces Camps Bay and the sea), photographed there, and I heard a ‘hello Chris’. It was Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, sitting at the table closest to ours, waiting for his lunch guest, who turned out to be Skullboy! Aurélie joined our chat when she arrived, and she immediately told Chef Luke that she had struggled to book for Salsify online, and for The Test Kitchen as a single, before she returns to Paris shortly. Most kindly Chef Luke promised to try to get her a booking for the Test Kitchen in the next few days. I have never seen Chef Luke sit and eat at one of his restaurants, and was told that it was their first day of opening to the public. I had last seen and spoken to Chef Luke at OR Tambo airport about two years ago when he and his family returned from a holiday in the Seychelles.
The decor is completely different in the Sea Room, with the glass door/windows letting in light, perhaps too much for photography, and becoming chilly when one of them was opened for fresh air, in conjunction with the overhead colonial-style fans. The view is over the lawns of the Roundhouse, and the ocean and Twelve Apostles. Tables have white table cloths, and chairs are an interesting mix of material upholstery backs and leather seats. Light cream curtains with a green geometric design add some softness to the harsh green window/door frames. On the tables the look is totally classic, with silver salt and pepper cellars, and a crystal vase with flowers. Cutlery obviously is brand new, being German WMF.
We received the menu, a cream page, with the a la carte menu on one side, and the five course Tasting Menu on the other. We chose to eat the a la carte lunch instead of the five course Tasting Menu (R825 without wine, an extra R290 with wine). Luckily a number of the Tasting Menu dishes come from the a la carte menu. The menu states that a service charge of 12% will be added to the bill, The menu warns against traces of allergens in the food, including nuts, shellfish, soy, eggs, dairy, and wheat, ‘despite the best efforts and care by our kitchen staff’. Luckily Aurélie Jullien and I each chose different dishes for each of the courses, so that we could taste and photograph each other’s dishes. Markus immediately offered us a choice of waters, including Tap! The material napkin was placed on our laps. Our slightly wobbly table was quickly stabilised.
Seth Dreyer was our waiter, very tall, and he looked most uncomfortable in his dark grey jacket, reminding me of the ‘lab coats’ of The Shortmarket Club, but shorter. It is Salsify-branded. The music was too loud initially, and did not suit the stature of the restaurant. Seth’s colleagues also brought dishes to our table, so we got to chat to a number of the staff. Darren van der Merwe is one of them, the Food & Beverage Manager. Another charming Manager is Will Strydom-Pretorius, who was looking after the pass yesterday, but came to introduce himself. No former The Roundhouse staff have been appointed. I met Chef Ryan at Pierneef à La Motte, when he worked n the kitchen there, and have been impressed with his rise in The Test Kitchen kitchen, having been Chef Luke’s right hand for the past four years. It is a huge compliment to him that he has been promoted to head up the Salsify kitchen. Nash Kanyangarara is the Sommelier, who worked at Primi Piatti and Sevruga locally, and most recently in Dubai and the Maldives, before returning, and did a short stint at the Leeu Collection in Franschhoek, before starting at Salsify. He had been mentored by a French guest Jean Daniel, who sponsored him to do the WSET wine course up to Level 3.
Our first Amuse Bouche arrived, a celeriac roll topped with Parmesan Catalan, and chiffonated summer truffle, with sage oil. We were encouraged to eat them by hand, a tiny touch of what was in store for us. Both the Amuse Bouches were beautifully presented, and eminently photographable. The second Amuse Bouche was ash-roasted sliced and rolled beetroot, with a sweet mustard emulsion, and mustard seeds, served with beetroot powder, as well as beetroot purée. Our bread course arrived, a cider bun and a hempseed loaf, served with fig leaf butter and an oil, of which the waitress was not sure, and promised to find out from the kitchen, but forgot to do so. In the past few months I have been fascinated with hemp, and its application in food, hearing about its international popularity, and this is the first local application that I have seen and experienced.
My starter choice was assiette of suckling pig (R170), with a terrine of trotters and shoulder, a loin rillette, and a delicious pork belly, a favourite, served with fresh apple, num num, berries, mustard seeds, sourdough crudités, and herb oil. I discovered that the menu dish descriptions are very brief, and that the waiters provided far more detail verbally when presenting our dishes. Aurélie chose the Spring Minestrone (R150), with slow-cooked octopus, a veloute of oysters, fresh oysters, dill, dill oil, and the addition of a tomato broth at the table. Its presentation was beautiful, the touch of edible borage flowers, not seen in any other dishes, adding to the beauty of the dish. Other starter options were roast quail breast with Scotch egg (R170), Lamb leg tartare (R150), and Fire-roasted asparagus (R120).
Aurélie’s main course was Celeriac Tart (R160), served with baked mushrooms, and a goat cheese cream which was poured onto her dish at the table. I had a taste of it, and it was very good. I love duck, so chose the Peking Duck (R260), a piece of the Breast, as well as leg spring roll, beautifully prepared in a spiral effect, with poached and smoked plum, confit of beetroot, walnut salsa, and a delicious duck jus, poured at the table too. I had to ask for a spoon to eat every last taste of the jus, which I was told by another waiter contained port and star anise as well. The other main courses one can consider are Beef sirloin (R270), Ethically caught linefish, being Cape Bream yesterday (R210), and pan-seared Springbok (R250).
Seth recommended the roast pineapple dessert, but I was more partial to the strawberry scone, which Seth said was really a scone. Aurélie was also interested in the Strawberry Scone, so we decided to order the two desserts, and share them. The Strawberry Scone looked nothing like a scone, being a deconstructed dish, with apple and mint frozen yoghurt, raspberry and MCC jelly (the menu calls it ‘Champagne jelly’), vanilla milk shards, strawberry glass, compressed strawberries, and a strawberry juice. I was most impressed that Seth had placed our dessert cutlery to my left and that of Aurélie to her right, meaning that he did not have to stretch over us. The roast pineapple in itself was delicious, and was accompanied by coriander gel, cardamom and coconut sponge, goat kefir ice (a hard piece of frozen milk ice), mango lassie, with meringue shards completing the dish, topped with coriander dust. My only complaint is that the shards hid the beautiful golden pineapple, the photographs not revealing much more than the shards. Both desserts cost R120. Other dessert options were a dark chocolate soufflé (R140), and goat cheese with Calamansi fruit and soda bread (R150).
I ordered a dry cappuccino, and it arrived perfectly made in a mug and saucer, the only crockery disappointment. Sugar lumps were a classic old-fashioned touch.
The Wine List was compiled by Nash, with a wide spread of cultivars, and two to five options per cultivar. Each wine offered reflects the vintage and region. Most cultivar offerings on the list have one wine by the glass, in a price range of R40 – R80, two sparkling wines by the glass cost R95, and red wines by the glass range from R66 to R120. Aurélie and I chose to not have wine with our lunch.
Our dishes reflected the contradictory interior decor by Sandalene Dale-Roberts, very modern within a colonial national monument building. Chef Ryan Cole is a talented young chef who has been the right hand at The Test Kitchen, until the Salsify opportunity was offered to him. The dishes are well presented, and the waiters were knowledgeable about the ingredients. Once one eats in the dining rooms, the ‘loud’ art is quickly forgotten, and one sits in a peaceful classic environment, other than the loud music. Prices are on the higher side, but well worth the experience a blessing for Camps Bay, a suburb not having offered any good dining at all after the decline of the former Roundhouse restaurant in the same upstairs location. No service charge was added to our bill, despite the menu informing one that this will happen automatically. The topping up of our water glasses became slacker during the course of our meal.
Later in the afternoon I stopped in Camps Bay, to catch the last of the sunset, and do a quick walk. As I parked, a Dutch resident of Camps Bay started chatting to me, saying that he had seen me at The Roundhouse at lunchtime, and wondered what I had done there, as he and his family were unable to eat outside on The Lawns, as there was a film shoot. I explained about the new Salsify restaurant. I had seen masses of Roundhouse staff when I had arrived, so the two unrelated businesses on the same property may cause confusion.
Salsify at The Roundhouse, Lower Kloof Road, Camps Bay. Tel (021) 010-6444 www.salsify.co.za Instagram: @salsify_at_the_roundhouse. Tuesday to Saturday Lunch and Dinner. R500 deposit to be paid when making the reservation.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein