Sad day for SA restaurant industry as talented Chef Jean Delport moves to the UK and Benguela on Main transforms itself!

It is a sad day for our local restaurant industry that super talented but Award under-recognised Chef Jean Delport is cooking for the last time at Benguela on Main in Somerset West this evening, before he moves to the Leonardslee House & Gardens in the UK at the end of this month, also part of the Benguela Collection belonging to Penny Streeter Rea, which opens in April. 

I invited Heidi Bruggemans to join me at the last lunch at Benguela on Main last Friday, not having met her previously. Her late husband Cees was a fellow class member when my ex-husband and I studied B.Comm at the University of Stellenbosch, and he also was the best man at our wedding. 

We were welcomed with a glass of sparkling wine, the first (2014) vintage of the Benguela Cove Joie de Vivre MCC, and made by its super talented newish winemaker Johann Fourie, formerly of the KWV. Before Johann moved over to Benguela Cove, the KWV had been making the Benguela Cove wines from the grapes planted on the wine and housing estate outside Hermanus. He was enticed to join Benguela Cove, and it is very likely that the idea of creating a sparkling wine in the UK was an exciting attraction for Johann in joining the dynamic Benguela Collection. A tasting of French champagnes and English sparkling wines had shown that the UK sparkling wines were superior to the French counterparts, and an increasing number of British wine estates are producing sparkling wines. Penny bought the two 18-hole golf course property Manning’s Heath Golf Club in Horsham in the UK, and one half of one of the golf courses has been turned into a vineyard, planted by Johann and his team. The first harvest is planned for 2020. The cellar will be built on the recently acquired Leonardslee property, a massive 200 acre property, with seven man-made ponds, and which has approved plans for a number of restaurants, the Manor House to be a turned into a tea room to serve High Tea and operating from April, and another restaurant to be built and is set to open in July, both to be run by Chef Jean. My son and I visited both UK properties in September, and coincidentally Chef Jean joined us on the day, having just flown into the UK on the day that we visited. I look forward to eating at the Leonardslee Tea Room and Restaurant when I visit my son in the UK later this year. 

Leonardslee is a country house and landscaped woodland garden near Horsham in West Sussex, particularly known for its flowering rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, magnolias, and bluebells in summer, according to Wikipedia. Leonardslee is listed as a Grade 1 property in the UK Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, being of special historic interest. When it was last open to the public in 2010, 50000 visitors visited annually. The property houses an extensive Doll’s House, which we were lucky enough to see, as well as sculptures displayed in the gardens. 

Our spoiling lunch commenced with two snacks, being gourgettes (savoury profiteroles) as well as deep-fried pork skin scratchings, offered with a beer-based drunken onion ketchup. 

Our lunch was a slow-paced one, as Heidi and I had so much catching up to do. A team of nine chefs prepared the most outstanding lunch for us, the dishes arriving one by one. Anya Vorster was our hostess, the fiancée of Chef Jean and the lucky lady to marry the chef on Saturday, and will be taking over front of house at Leonardslee. 

The Amuse Bouche was a triple one: 

#   New York style pretzel sticks, served with a biltong aioli. 

#   Stuffed nuts, served in a container of nuts, with peanut Tuiles filled with sherry cream and topped with sherry caviar.

#   The highlight for me was the fish pâté pebble, its green colour created with kale dust. It was served with three different moreish crisps: oats and nutty seeds; black rice; and potato. 

While we were eating, we discussed the fact that Eat Out did not recognize Chef Jean and Benguela on Main in its Top Thirty finalist list last year, a shocking omission. Anya told me that Chef Jean’s dream is to run a Michelin-star restaurant, and that he is far closer to reaching this dream in the UK, given that our country does not have the restaurant evaluation system. 

A first starter was juniper-smoked oysters from Saldanha Bay, prepared with cool cucumber, amasi (sour milk) and Benguela Cove MCC foam, amasi spheres, lumpfish caviar, and black garlic. It was beautifully presented in a bowl within a bowl, surrounded with shells. 

The bread course was a double one:

#   Amasi and pumpkin seed soda bread, presented with goat’s milk butter, on a bed of straw.

#   Fennel-enriched buns topped with linseed, and offered with truffle butter. 

Chef Jean said that he will offer some South African dishes, and he will use South African cooking methods, smoking dishes, and cooking over an open fire.

Heidi had been offered the wine pairings offered per dish on the menu, but she curtailed her wine choice to Benguela Cove Shiraz 2014. I was impressed that the wine pairings on the menu were not exclusively Benguela Cove wines, but also included Thelema, Longridge, Clive Torr, The Garajeest, and Eenzaamheid wines. I did not drink any alcohol other than a few sips of the sparkling wine, having to drive back to Cape Town after the lunch. 

The most exquisite dish of all those that we were lucky to eat was called ‘Super Fresh’, a mix of heirloom tomatoes offered with Buffalo Ridge Bocconcini, and decorated with flowers, served with smoked Crème Fraîche, to which Anya poured a forage tea, made from tomatoes, at the table. 

The next course (we had lost track of which number it was) was a miso-glazed salmon trout, offered with red cabbage, matcha tea and avocado purée, and topped with preserved egg yolk grated over the dish. It was accompanied by a herb and red cabbage dressing, which Anya poured onto our plate at the table. I am not keen on red cabbage, and did not eat mine, and Heidi also was not very partial to it, the only dish of the whole menu that disappointed. 

Guinea fowl is a rare meat type to be offered on a restaurant menu. The presentation of this dish was beautiful too, in its freshness of white and green. The guinea fowl breast and leg were served with asparagus, pea custard, buckwheat and pea granola, as well as fermented rhubarb. It was topped with an asparagus and truffle foam. On a separate plate were two pieces of fried guinea fowl skin with dots of pea custard. 

The next main course was a braaied impala loin, supplied by butcher Ryan Boon, with which parsnip purée, parsnip crisps, brussel sprouts, pancetta lardons, roasted potatoes, and pickled mustard seeds were served. Impressive was an additional dish brought to the table to accompany this dish, looking like Braai skewers made with twigs over a grill, which was balanced on twigs and pebbles, a very clever presentation. The skewers had sweetbreads on them, and Heidi and I were both a bit sensitive to the description of them being lamb thyroids. They had been honey-glazed, and were sprinkled with sorghum powder. 

The palate cleanser was a honey-soaked frangipani sponge cake, plated with ice-cold elderflower jelly,  home-made ginger beer, and yoghurt espuma. Meringue shards topped with bee pollen added to the pretty presentation of the dish. It had been placed on a bowl of dry ice underneath the dessert plate, and created endless smoke, a talking point of our lunch. 

The dessert was a wasabi and white chocolate mousse, covered in pistachio, and which had a liquid strawberry mousse centre, a sugarwork ring, strawberry gel, a strawberry truffle, as well as wasabi and chocolate mousse ice cream. We ordered cappuccinos, thinking this was the end of the meal, but then a tree of friandise was brought to the table, containing 

#   Chocolate and coffee, banana, and peanut butter profiteroles 

#   White chocolate fudge, a Pistachio veneer fudge with cherry bits, as well as a whisky caramel Bon Bon decorated with gold leaf, presented in a little red treasure chest. 

Chef Jean had invited me to arrive hungry, and threatened to fatten me up, a huge compliment in terms of my weight loss. He was true to his word, and the 14 dishes (listed as nine on the menu) we ate were a great and special spoil for both Heidi and I. I was delighted that the scale was kind to me the following morning. 

Benguela on Main closes tomorrow, 12 January, for two weeks, for a decor change, turning itself into an all-day eatery and bakery to be called Nom Nom, and is to be headed up by Chef Sebastian Smith, who has worked alongside Chef Jean in the two and a half years since they both moved across from Cavalli Estate. It reopens on 29 January, and its modern menu dishes will range in price from R20 to R200, and will offer breakfast, brunch, in-between meals, tea and coffee, and lunches. No reservations will be necessary. Chef Sebastian is a talented pastry chef, who studied Culinary Arts at the Granger Bay Hotel School, and moved to the USA, working at country clubs in the main, before moving back to our country, and starting at Cavalli.  

Disclosure: When I asked for the bill, the waitress told us that it had been taken care of, a very generous farewell gesture by Chef Jean. The Tasting menu costs R760, and R1160 with the wine pairing. 

Benguela on Main, Main Road, Somerset West. Tel 087 357 0637. Twitter: @benguelaonmain @benguelacollection Instagram: @benguelaonmain  @benguelacollection @delportjean @seb_smith88

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein


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