The bottom end of Chiappini Street has housed two of my favourite restaurants in their time – Bruce Robertson’s The Showroom and Cormac Keane’s Portofino, both the talking point of Cape Town in their time. After a surprisingly long tenancy by low class Leaf, a smart ‘5 star 100% Halaal Fine Dining Bistro‘ has opened, called TRUFFLE. The restaurant was opened to offer top-end Halaal cuisine, which has not been available in Cape Town before. The name was chosen for its association with indulgence, which is echoed throughout the restaurant.
I had seen the exterior branding whilst driving down Buitengracht Street a week ago, but could not find any website via Google. Yesterday I stopped by, and was astounded how the restaurant interior has changed since Leaf occupied the space until about a year ago. Mohammed Adam was kind enough to spend time with me, to share information about the restaurant. He and Nisreen Ebrahim are joint owners, Nisreen and her husband Rafiq being previous owners of four fast food outlets they would not reveal the names of (LinkedIn revealed that they were Nando’s outlets), and took over the space in January. Mohammed did all the interior design, after some building work was done, half of the upstairs being closed off by means of a wall now, to give the kitchen double volume space. Almost everything has been changed, other than the wooden floor in the outside section, with a new wooden floor upstairs; new wooden steps for the staircase to match the tops of the tables and the counter top of the sushi and coffee bar; new lighting in copper with an industrial feel, including some lamps resembling cookie jars; exposed ducting in grey matches the decor colour; new tiles on the downstairs floor; a new perspex roof over the deck area; almost all kitchen equipment thrown out and the kitchen layout changed; the bathrooms redone; wallpaper with trees, broken with a mirror panel; new tables (with odd vintage-look black legs); and attractive chairs mostly in grey upholstery, and some in a gold honeycomb design, of which the bottom of the legs were ‘milk dipped‘, to tie in with the copper and gold design effects. The restaurant can seat 110, and can double up as a conference centre.
A banquette has been fitted upstairs, in a blue/silver design, and will get cushions with a protea design, Mohammed said. The protea is a central theme of the design, the tables having a silver vases with a pin cushion in it, and a protea will be engraved in the window behind the sushi/coffee bar. Proteas have been incorporated into the logo design, which is honoured in an attractive ode to Cape Town, both old and new, with a collage of individual photographs of Table Mountain, the old cable car, Cape Town Stadium, Bo Kaap, the coloured cubicles on Muizenberg beach, proteas, and more. Each picture was individually hung to create a very attractive and ‘proudly Cape Town’ focal point. More artwork is to come. Real proteas have been planted in two planters at the entrance door, and vases with proteas are on the bar counter too.
The tables have grey leather place mats, giving a quality feel relative to the many woven ones one sees so often. A central small leather mat looking like cork holds the vase, ordinary looking white salt and pepper cellars, with TRUFFLE branding on it and the words ‘Seafood Steaks Grill’, in case one didn’t know what the restaurant offers. There are grey material serviettes on a white side plate. The cutlery is brand new unbranded stainless steel, but was laid incorrectly, the fork on the right and the knife on the left! Staff look smart in white shirts, TRUFFLE branded on the sleeve and front pocket.
I was greeted by Restaurant Manager Mark Scheidel, who tried to get me to order a mocktail immediately! He seemed hesitant to offer too much information, being particularly cagey about divulging information about the owners prior to Mohammed arriving at the restaurant. He did tell me that he started two weeks ago, coming from Willoughby’s. He described the restaurant as ‘5 star without the frills and fuss’. I was most impressed when he spontaneously told me that they did not have fresh fish, given the storms of this past week, not stocking any frozen fish. Before leaving, I briefly met Chef Nick Blazic, who was too busy to come to the table, and it was difficult to photograph him at the pass, being under pressure with orders coming through. All I managed to get from him is that he previously worked at Tortilla Modern Mexican in town and at Salero Tapas & Vino Bar in the V&A Waterfront. The Sushi Bar opened yesterday, with Chef Nagashima Mutsuo, originally from Pretoria, and a friend of the Ebrahims for many years. The menu does not yet reflect the sushi offering. I was told that a new menu will be prepared and laminated, as the brown paper menu is showing fatty finger marks already.
I was brought two seeded rolls, with salted butter (I did not taste the salt) as well as a sundried tomato and toasted almond pesto, which arrived at the table messy at the edges. I was told by Mohammed that the rolls come from Bavaria Bakery, and they could have been a day old, not as soft as one would have expected. It felt as if they had been warmed up for one second. The bread basket did not match the decor style. Making a choice from the menu was hard, and I was intrigued how the menu, designed by Mohammed and Nisreen with Chef Nick, incorporates truffles in a number of courses, as oil, in a vinaigrette, drizzled over dishes, and as chocolates for dessert. The menu introduction states that ‘Truffle is the culmination of our many years of culinary creativity and of our belief that a sophisticated cosmopolitan dining experience can complement – rather than shun – fun, friendliness and authentic gastronomic pleasures. Welcome to fine dining. Redefined‘. Odd was the promise of ‘fresh artisanal bread, generously sliced…’ in the introduction too, which was not an accurate description of the rolls served!
I chose a prawn cocktail starter, and was intrigued to see the description of it having a ‘twist of Tabasco and crème fraîche’ (R69), but I could not taste the seasoning, nor did the consistency of the Marie Rose sauce for the plating reflect the use of the cream specified. Odd was the addition of chopped tomatoes. Five prawns, (too much) chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado, topped with chives and salmon roe, made up the attractive looking dish. Other starters are in a price range of R45 for onion blossom (a deep-fried onion designed to resemble a Protea) to R79 for Kataifi prawn (in phyllo pastry). Four grilled Patagonica calamari options are available, some with fillings, and each prepared in a different style, as well as grilled haloumi, a mezze platter, and Jalopeno poppers. Salads range between R60 – R70, and are standard Caprese, Greek, and ‘Ceaser’ (sic) salads.
Main courses include steaks, a choice of meat from Chalmar (from Gauteng) and Sparta (from the Free State) Chalmar costing more (R180 for beef fillet and R140 for sirloin for 250g), and lamb cutlets (R145), for which sauces (R23) and vegetables (R25) can be ordered. Two stuffed fillet options are available, at R180 and R220. A half free-range chicken costs R95, chicken breasts R83, fish ranges from R90 for linefish to Norwegian salmon at R175. Crayfish costs R280, and prawns are available at R185 and at R260, and a prawn curry costs R150. I ordered the creamy wild mushroom pasta (expensive at R105), and was disappointed with its ordinary presentation, there not being any rocket nor Parmesan shavings as the menu promised. The ‘drop of white truffle oil’ was more than the menu suggested, dominating the dish. Seafood pasta costs R130, and two ravioli options cost R80 and R120. Pasta Focoso costs R70. Six dessert options cost R50 – R60, for chocolate fondant, hand-made chocolate truffles, pecan tart, pannacotta, and a sundae. I was offered a dry cappuccino made from Premium LavAzza, to taste, but I generally find the coffee of the brand very weak relative to good strong artisanal coffees, as was the one at TRUFFLE. Almost as an afterthought, after the Dessert section, 12 ‘Light Meals’ are offered, costing R60 – R140, including burgers made with beef, chicken, lamb, crayfish, vegetables, and falafel. Fish and chips, sliders, and sticky chicken wings are also offered.
Mohammed emphasised that the restaurant is not just for Muslim residents of Cape Town, but for locals and tourists too. Bringing in alcohol is an absolute no-no, Mohammed said, but believes the smart interior, friendly service, and secure parking offered will make up for it. They are purposely holding back on the marketing of the restaurant, to settle in. The restaurant had a fair number of patrons at 15h00 yesterday afternoon, who would have heard about the restaurant on the Facebook page, on Instagram, and by word of mouth.
The pricing of the steaks is expensive, but the menu contains more and less expensive dishes. The interior is classy, the staff friendly but not yet 100% efficient, my waitress wanting to remove the side plate before I had finished the roll. Mohammed was very generous with his time and information about the restaurant, given how guarded Mark was in providing details. The menu and dishes served are not yet at a ‘5 star‘ level, nor is the service. I will go back to try some more dishes, and to try to get to speak to Chef Nick.
POSTSCRIPT 4/9: Chef Nick Blazic has resigned from Truffle and left immediately. He has been replaced by Chef Ryan Brown. The ‘wrong-way-round’ cutlery has been laid for the benefit of Truffle’s Muslim’ patrons, I was told today.
TRUFFLE, corner Chiappini and Hospital Streets, Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-3777. Website www.truffleco.co.za under construction. On Instagram and Facebook currently, Twitter to come. Monday – Sunday lunch and dinner, open from 11h00.