How brave yet exciting it must have been to remove every decor item (including the ceramic bunnies), all the crockery and cutlery, the glassware, the menu covers, the placemats, the waiter uniforms, the tables and chairs, the lamps and lighting, and anything else that had gone before, to symbolize a fresh new beginning at the Greenhouse. Working with decor company HotCocoa Interiors & Design, tables have been added to the entrance room, an 18-seater private dining room has been created, the Fern Bar has had a complete make-over including a seating/lounge area, and the restaurant area transformed. Even the corporate identity has been recreated by Piers Buckle of Fresh Identity, sandblasted into the glass door as one enters the restaurant.
My guest Katie Friedman had to Skype a client, and did so from the Fern Bar, with variable Internet connection. The bar area has potted olive trees, a new White Ash bar counter, a white-painted wooden ceiling, stained floors, new lamps, a dove grey wall color, and new counter lamps. We were well looked after by Lester, who prepares the cocktails, a new addition to the beverage menu, created as a team effort by Chef Peter Tempelhoff, Joshua and the rest of the team, with the assistance of mixologist Don Sheehin. Bar snacks were offered. Restaurant Manager Joshua Crowe remembered me from a dinner two years ago (it was actually four years ago), commendable, as I did not give any details other than my first name when making the booking.
In the restaurant new dark ash wood tables, white and black leather chairs, new lampshades on the standing lamps, a new chandelier, a new blue/grey wall colour, and new wall decor of photographs by Mark Stanes, two paintings by Judy Bumstead, and a painting by Basil Friedlander have been added. Beautiful purple flowers driven in from Oak Valley and placed in a square glass vase, as well as a candle, are the only elements on the table (no salt or pepper) with a small dark-colored placemat and the most beautiful still-shiny Sola cutlery. All crockery has been hand-crafted by top Cape Town ceramicists Mervyn Gers and Diana Ferreira. Waiters wear black pants and a black button down shirt with a white/grey edging, with Dom Perignon branding at the back, reflecting a future pairing menu to come, we were told.
The menu is contained in a brown/silver menu cover, simply with the Greenhouse logo. A beige menu contains two menu options, entitled ‘Spring‘ (4 courses with an Amuse Bouche as well as palate cleanser R590, and R870 paired with wines), and ‘African Origins’ (R820 for 8 courses plus a R50 supplement for an African Single Origin Coffee Tasting, and R1200 paired with wines). Other than the coffee tasting, a cheese course, and a ‘Snacks’ course, the African Origins menu contains every dish on the Spring menu, from which the patrons must choose between one of two options per course for the latter. Katie and I chose a different course each, so that we could experience all the dishes on the Spring Menu.
We sat in a corner, with a window ledge next to the table and a small lamp, which turned out to be useful to give me better light to photograph the dishes, the lighting in the restaurant generally being low. We were served the dishes by Lester the barman, Joshua, as well UCT engineering student Lesley the waiter. A nest with breads, including lavash, ciabatta, a corn and Parmesan muffin, and bacon and caramelised onion brioche, was accompanied by a wooden platter with plain salted butter, peppadew butter sprinkled with biltong powder, and sweet radish on home-made aioli. This was followed by two Amuse Bouche dishes, a ‘sack of spuds‘, literally in a bag of soil, with two baby potatoes with pomme purée, onion jam, ham hock, mayonnaise, and topped with chives; and wild mushroom cheesecake, sherry jelly, crispy shiitake mushroom, Tempura dune spinach, daikon radish, and a soy dipping sauce.
My first course was ‘Release the Kraken’, referring to a legendary sea monster, I was informed on Wikipedia. It was an attractively plated dish, with octopus, ginger ink, balls of green apple giving a fresh bite to the dish, yellowfish, smoking crumbs when served, a ginger and squid ink purée, radish, purple spring onion, Japanese mayonnaise, rice crackers, chicory, and a ponzu slaw dressing. Katie’s dish was called ‘The Duck, the Ostrich, and the Big Num-Num’, with shiitake miso purée, fynbos and honey smoked duck, fresh strawberries, ostrich mousse, num-num and fruit beer jelly, tuiles, chickweed, and a fynbos and honey vinaigrette. The origin of the name of the dish was not explained.
My second course was the rarely seen Perlemoen (abalone), which was presented in the form of a sosatie on a stick, which has been sous-vided and flash fried, presented on a sautéed bok choy leaf, with samphire, steamed sticky sushi rice, onion marmalade, cucumber, crispy seaweed, and a sesame dashi sauce. Katie was served a brand new dish, which was featured on the menu for the first time last Thursday, being a pork sandwich, made with pork belly confit sandwiched between two slices of ciabatta, with pan-fried Mozambique langoustine, pea gel, onion and star anise purée, blanched asparagus, fresh peas, borage flowers, pea shoots, celery, and XO sauce.
My main course was Laingsburg lamb from the Karoo, being seared loin and braised shank, a chakalaka sauce served with truffled proudly South African mealie pap, cumin roasted carrot, sautéed Brussels sprouts, dehydrated tomatoes, roast garlic purée, pan-fried sweetbreads, and lamb jus. Katie was served the pan-fried Kabeljou, Romesco sauce, cauliflower cous cous, brocolli, cauliflower Bitterballen, served with a herb emulsion, pan-fried cauliflower ‘scallop‘, capers, sultanas, and deep-fried broccoli.
A surprise was that Katie and I each had a different palate cleanser. Katie was served a naartjie and fynbos granita, fresh naartjies, fynbos foam, and citrus powder. My pre-dessert was a crisp custard, served with Devil’s Peak First Light Golden Ale gelato, topped with pretzel powder.
The portion sizes of the palate cleansers were not small, so it was a treat to have a dessert served too. I ate a crispy Nutella crepe with a cider mousse, lime gel, hazelnut meringues, caramelised banana, pliable Madagascar chocolate, and a liquid chocolate sphere, which oozed the chocolate onto the plate when I stabbed it with my spoon. Katie’s final dish was a samp and honey panna cotta, made from reduced milk and served with jasmine ice cream, Matcha Green Tea meringue, sake-poached pears, crispy milk skin, and quinoa praline.
I ordered a dry cappuccino, but was served a mini one with almost no foam, so Lesley organized for one of a more regular size to be made, which he brought to the table with friandise presented on a glass block. The coffee was exceptionally strong.
We experienced exceptional service from Joshua and his team, and the use of white gloves to add new cutlery per course made a professional impression. Only one waiter stretched in front of Katie once, rather than going around her to put the cutlery item on her right hand side. I had just photographed his gloved hand with the cutlery, which may have rattled him. Another waiter had got the ingredients of the friandise mixed up, but these were two minor issues in an evening of excellence. For the number of dishes we ate between the two of us, 12 in total, I was impressed with the detail of the ingredients we were told as the plates were served, the descriptions going far beyond the short descriptions on the menu. Chef Peter came out of the kitchen to say hello, which Katie and I appreciated.
There is no doubt that the Greenhouse will make the 2015 Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards on 15 November, having turned over a new leaf in almost all respects, raising the bar for cuisine in our country!
Greenhouse, The Cellars-Hohenhort, Constantia. Tel (021) 794-2137. www.greenhouserestaurant.co.za Twitter@GreenhouseCT @PeterTempelhoff Tuesday – Saturday Dinner
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@WhaleCottage Facebook: click here