In summer I had a wonderful crayfish special lunch at Salt on a hot summer’s day, and wrote a glowing review about it. A visit to try the winter special lunch of 2 courses for R 140 and 3 courses for R 170 was disappointing, in that it lacked the evidence that Top 10 Chef Jacques de Jager, who was previously at Grande Provence, was in the kitchen or had compiled the winter special menu.
The hostess Taahira, with a very low cut dress, wanted to seat us in the furthest corner and not necessarily at the window, but our lunch was purely business, and therefore we did not need to be “hidden”. Being the only patrons initially, about a week prior to the start of the World Cup, we were then allowed to choose any table we liked. My guest Darren said that the table we chose was the one Daniel Craig sat at in the movie “Flashback of a Fool”, large parts of which were shot in Cape Town.
Darren and I both had the three-course special, and chose a different course each – one has a restrictive choice of two options per course. A quick page-through the new a la carte menu designed by Jacques was also disappointing, as I expected the creativity that he has become known for, and was recognised by Eat Out as a Top 10 chef in November, would be reflected in the menu. It was my first visit to the restaurant since De Jager introduced his new menu after taking over the Salt kitchen. I had expected a heavy French emphasis in the menu, especially as the waiter Michael had told me on my previous visit that the staff were learning all the French terms in the menu – I could only find the French terms “moules mariniere”, “souffle”, “mussel veloute”, “ballottine”, “ratatouille”, “bouillabaisse” and “parfait” on the menu.
We did not order wine, but one can pay an extra R 25 in total to have the courses paired with a wine per course (Paradyskloof Chenin Blanc 2009, Paradyskloof Pinot Noir 2008, and Vriesenhof ‘enthopio’ 2005), making the meal far better value.
We were served a choice of two breads: ciabatta and a light wholewheat bread. An amuse bouche was brought to the table, consisting of pork rillette, truffled pea puree (nice touch of colour on the plate, but too salty) and the cutest looking poached quail egg.
My cream of butternut soup was served exactly how I like it – thick and creamy, and the Gruyere-crusted toast was a lovely match – this was my best dish of the three, yet I missed Jacques’ creative touch. Darren was happy with his lentil salad with bacon, feta and croutons, which looked very healthy to me, but he felt that it could have done with a dressing to liven it up.
I was disappointed with my braised lamb, probably due to the rich sauce it was served with, which dominated the dish. The sauce is not mentioned in the menu. The sweet potato mash it was served with had a pronounced green colour – a bit worrying, as I have never seen it served this green before. It lacked the taste of sweet potato. Darren’s cob served on cannellini beans and sauce mittone was another healthy choice (after his lentils), but was too salty, and the carrots and celery were undercooked, he felt.
My chocolate parfait looked pretty, decorated with two strawberries, the plate decorated with four orange segments. The menu says that they were marinated, but what it was marinated in was not mentioned. Darren’s pear frangipani tart was served with cinnamon ice cream, but the pears were not ripe enough and the pastry hard.
Michael was efficient in looking after all our needs, and impressed us when he rolled down an outside blind when he saw that Darren was affected by the glare of the sun. He only got it wrong when he brought the bill in response to a request for more water, and he asked my how I wanted to pay as soon as he put down the bill, without allowing me to look at the bill first. Taahira sent a copy of the menu to the table, which I had requested to prevent me from having to write down the menu, in a roll held together with a brown ribbon – a professional touch.
I would find it hard to recommend this Winter Special, due to it lacking excitement, it not reflecting any of the dishes on the standard menu, and it offering far less value for money as a winter special, compared to the 6-course Myoga or the 5-course (plus amuse bouche) Cape Colony specials, for example. The Salt view and decor is far superior to those of Myoga and the Mount Nelson though.
The August winter special will offer the following choices: vol au vent or cured beef carpaccio; baby chicken or linefish; pavlova or citrus pudding.
Salt restaurant, Ambassador Hotel, 34 Victoria Road, Bantry Bay. Tel 021 439-7258. www.saltrestaurant.co.za Open Mondays – Sundays, lunch and dinner. The winter special is not available on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com