A three-week writing focus at Apricale in Italy saw me complete the writing of a book within the time period I had allocated to this first-ever writing challenge. As the catalyst for The Book was Chef Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen, in that I met a special man at his book launch in March last year, and that The Book tells the story of the transformational effect of the meeting, there was no better restaurant to eat at on Saturday, to celebrate the completion of The Book, than at JAN Restaurant in Nice! It felt like Christmas, it being exciting to experience JAN Restaurant again, my third visit in two years! 

I am increasingly learning that nothing is coincidental. In my three weeks allocated to writing The Book, I had decided to not be side tracked by any restaurant visits. But when Apricus Locanda B&B owner Jeanette van Manen told me that she had never eaten at JAN Restaurant despite knowing Chef Jan-Hendrik well, her Apricus Locanda being a special space for him, I invited her to join me for lunch, and I was in her as well as in Chef Jan-Hendrik’s hands as to a suitable date. It turned out to be Saturday 2 September, my second last day in Europe, and it worked out perfectly, in that I stayed over in Nice, to catch my flight to London yesterday. As I had finished The Book the day before, our lunch turned into a celebratory one! It was Chef Jan-Hendrik who introduced me to Apricus Locanda, the B&B at which I wrote The Book over the past three weeks, in one of the most beautiful Italian villages Apricale, not far from the French border, two years ago. 

Why I chose Apricale village in Liguria Italy in which to write The Book!

Jeanette was held up in the city traffic on Saturday,having dropped me off on the street corner close to the restaurant. I took some photographs in the restaurant, and was completely surprised to bump into Pascal Szafranski, the co-owner of JAN Restaurant, who is a Facebook Friend but we had never met. He told me that they are working on MARIA, opposite JAN, planned as an events venue. On one of the long walls is a collection of portraits of women, and one of Chef Jan’s ouma Maria is still to be added. His mother is also
a Maria, so both women are honoured by the new restaurant venue. I loved the connection between Jan van Riebeek, the founder of our country in 1652, and his wife Maria, having noted Jan van Riebeek cushions on chairs outside the restaurant when my son and I ate there in February, the first time since JAN Restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star. JAN is the first South African owned Michelin star restaurant in the world! 

JAN Restaurant enhances its South Africaness since obtaining Michelin 1-star accolade!

We went back to MARIA after the lunch, and Chef Jan-Hendrik told me that they are waiting for the solid oak table to arrive, which will seat 14 diners. Both Chef Jan-Hendrik’s mother and grandmother are Marias, and his gran will travel to Nice at the end of September, for the opening! It will be her first flight ever, being over the age of 90 years! A painting of his gran has been commissioned and will take the central pride of joy on the wall. A collection of portraits of women already adorns the wall, and is meant as a homage to women, a lovely touch! A chandelier originating from the Metro in Paris takes centre stage over the dining table. A kitchen section is open-plan to the dining area, which is pained in stark white, and an open-plan mezzanine level is a sitting
area, in which a model of the Drommedaris, the ship on which Jan van Riebeek’s arrived in 1652, will be displayed. The seating area will also have a South African Gin Bar! Chef Jan-Hendrik has thought of everything! In the window to the street there are two displays, with a white chair each, a blue Delft-like cloth, and a bowl with a peach! Classy! Inemarie Grobler was doing preparation for a dinner Chef Jan-Hendrik is hosting for a South African food tour this week, which will include some days in Apricale too. 

Jeanette arrived, and Pascale vacated her chair, having kept me company while she was on her way. Hot cloths had arrived at the table for us to wipe our hands,  and elegant-design bottles of JAN-branded sparkling water arrived at the table, and our glasses were topped up continuously. Our hostess Diane arrived with a tray with two extra large white linen napkins, handing each to us with a pair of Tweezers. A first!  

JAN Maitre’D and Sommelier Michael Pedia brought us the menu, a large A3 size, with Jan van Riebeck on the front (or is it the back?), and three menu options on the other side: Menu Jan has 12 courses, at €118; Menu Maria with five courses costs €98; and a three course menu with dishes selected from the other two menu options is charged at €55. The prices quoted are without the wine pairings, which we declined. Michael poured us a glass each of Henriot Blanc de Blancs, a Non-Vintage 100% Chardonnay-based champagne, as a welcome drink. Michael brought me a copy of the menu in the end, but I am happy that I made notes as we went along, for the detail of the ingredients in each dish. I had messaged our dietary requirements to Chef Jan-Hendrik when I made the cooking, a complicated mix of Jeanette being vegetarian, and I not eating mussels, onion, garlic, chili, and balsamic. It was all handled perfectly. I ordered the full Menu Jan, and Jeanette the Menu Maria. 

The dress code of JAN Restaurant has been upped, and the two lady servers, Diane and Sophie,
looked very elegant in slick and chic black dresses, Sophie wearing her dress with black stockings and a golden belt around her slim waist. Each wore a JAN logo badge, a new touch, and Sophie had two pins, one each of the French and the South African flag. Diane has only been at the restaurant for five days, and is still waiting for her flag pins. Michael is dressed in black pants and shirt, having the same JAN badge and flag pins, and a Sommelier one too.  

Michael walked past us with Chef Jan-Hendrik’s second book ‘JAN: a Breath of French Air’, at which launch on 23 March last year at the One&Only Cape Town I met a very special man, who guided me in a massive transformation internally and externally! This transformation has led to the writing of The Book over the past three weeks. 

Future of SA’s first Michelin star restaurant JAN may include Cape Town!

I loved seeing the box of fresh herbs on the right, at the entrance to the restaurant, making a statement about how important fresh ingredients are at JAN Restaurant. Above our table was a beautiful orchid in white. 

Chefs Jan-Hendrik, Kevin Grobler, Rutger Eysvogel, and Scott Armstrong came out of the kitchen on occasion too, to bring dishes to the table. 

Dish one: Amuse Bouche on shell cluster

To begin our eating adventure, Chef Jan-Hendrik brought an exquisite shell cluster, onto which three delicacies were presented: A Buchu and cucumber macaron with salmon and topped with Beluga caviar; a biltong crisp; and a delicate phyllo pastry stick with three bean types, representing Earth, Sea, and Forest! It is the detail of each of these elements that made them so special! With the course a dish with truffle sabayon was brought to the table, a delicious combination when we dipped the crisp into the sabayon! There was gold leaf on the macaron, giving it a touch of class! 

Our sideplate was unusual, an oval-shape with class and simplicity. I loved the French Christofle cutlery, and it looked brand new and shiny! 

Dish two: Bread and Butter

The first of two bread courses was served on a wooden board. Three slices of Cape seedloaf, speckled with poppy seed, were tied together with string. Three rounds of butter were on the board too, Sophie telling us that the butter comes from Beillevaire in Brittany. The first butter was served plain; the second was a red pepper butter; and the third was an exquisite looking seaweed and coriander butter, topped with rock chives! 

Dish three: Scallop and Amasi

Sophie described this course as an Amuse Bouche too, which consisted of seared scallop (such a rarity in our country), served with white chocolate and scallop parfait, melon, corn, amasi (a traditional South African fermented milk), Madagascan vanilla and lime jelly, onto which was poured a corn and melon velouté. 

Dish four: Crusted Tuna and burnt onion 

The crusted Tuna was beautifully red and fresh, served on top of a mieliepap pannacotta, with burnt onions on the side, with a dashi and soya sauce, and was decorated with a beautiful selection of edible flowers. Chef Jan-Hendrik ladled a Chakalaka sauce over the ingredients, made with fresh and sun-dried Mediterranean tomatoes from Menton, olives, peppercorn, and bell pepper. For this course a set of  Christofle Fish fork and knife was offered, such a rarity in local restaurants. I went to buy a Christofle fish set for myself too, at Galleries Lafayette later on Saturday. 

I was chuffed when Chef Jan-Hendrik spontaneously complimented me on the quality of my photography, and its improvement! It was amazing coming from such a creative and design guru. Even more special was his compliment regarding the external transformation, and how good I am looking. 

Dish five: Potato salad

Chef Jan-Hendrik brought a bowl to the table, telling us that the bowl was one he had bought in Nice over five years ago, and he still has it, it not being breakable!  

My course was a potato salad, prepared with home-made pancetta, foie gras, and was Rooibos-infused. Chef Jan-Hendrik told us that this is one of his favourites, usually served by him for a braai. They use Ratte potatoes, which he described as the ‘king of French potatoes’ to me, and they were prepared crispy. It also contained the thinnest slices of raw mushrooms, and radish. The foie gras was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. 

Dish six: Mosbolletjiebrood, kaaiings, and banana cream

One of the trademarks of JAN Restaurant has been the mosbolletjiebrood, made with aniseed to give it its distinctive taste. 

In February my son and I had eaten this course with the Mosbolletjiebrood, accompanied by a candle made of pork lard (Kaaiings), with a vegan wick! For a dinner it gives a creative and romantic touch. Chef Jan-Hendrik told us to let the lard melt, and then spread it on the bread. This time the dish had an added banana, the slow roasted banana inside having been scooped out, and turned into a banana butter, to which had been added Normandy cream and poppy seeds. It was topped with petals of a South African flower called Afrikaners! 

It was at this point that I asked Chef Jan-Hendrik about he and his husband bumping into a tour group which included actress Whoopi Goldberg, which was touring Antiparos in Greece, when they were recently holidaying on the island. 

Dish seven: Ravioli of crab and langoustine

This was an interesting dish, with a sauce of Passion fruit, to which was added a seafood bisque, a mix of sweet and savoury.  

The ravioli contained crab and langoustine, and was black on the outside, through the use of squid ink. It was placed on Zucchini brunoise (finely chopped), and had a crust of fresh herbs, and was topped with yuzu pearls, pea shoot, and cucumber flowers. The ravioli was placed on the bed of passion fruit. Chef Jan-Hendrik poured a bisque of lobster and langoustine over the ravioli. 

Dish eight: Lamb duo

My meat dish consisted of two elements of lamb: Bobotie, a lightly-curried lamb mince covered with a milk and egg topping and baked in the oven; and a rack of lamb, juicy and delicious. It was accompanied by a heart of a salad (Sucrine, Michael explained, being similar to endive), a beetroot slice stuffed with cherry, and a leek stuffed with coconut mousse! Wow! I was offered a steak knife for this course, a refined wood-handle one. 

Dish eight: Sea Bass

As Jeanette is vegetarian, she was served a fish dish instead of the lamb, being Sea Bass with a mussel Velouté, a slice of beetroot stuffed with cherry, and the leek slice filled with coconut mousse. 

It was while we were eating this course that I asked Michael if he had been to South Africa, and he told us enthusiastically about his visit to Hermanus, and to the Hemel en Aarde Valley and wine region outside Hermanus,  including Creation, Bouchard Finlayson, and Hamilton Russell. And he saw the whales! 

Dish nine: Granny Smith and cheese

I have never seen a whole apple filled with anything, and the grass-green Granny Smith Apple was deceiving, in not declaring what it had inside. The top of the apple had been cut, its inside scooped out, and replaced with Eppoisse cheese, together with atchar! It was topped with a very thin wafer of phyllo pastry, and topped with the apple lid! Cheese and apple is a favorite combination of mine, so I really enjoyed this course. 

Dish ten: Sorbet at Citron

The main dessert dish looked beautifully refreshing, being a lemon sorbet, plated onto a shortbread base, covered with a cauliflower and white chocolate espuma, a most unusual combination of ingredients! It was topped with pieces of citrus rind, and fennel. 

Dish eleven: Cappuccino and Friandise

My dry cappuccino was served with a very frothy mousse (we liked this word as an alternative to foam), and with it came a wooden board with five Friandise spoils:

#   Two rolls of pancake, coated in cinnamon sugar and with a slice of lemon. When I saw this in February, I exclaimed that it was a ‘Bazaar Pannekoek’, and this is its name now! 

#   Malva Tert: a moist cake, over which is poured sugar and milk syrup

#   Melk Tert: a very typical and loved Milk tart, topped with gold foil.

#   Sweetie Pies,  with a pineapple marshmallow centre and Chocolate coating, topped with a leaf of mint, and plated on a bronze pineapple-shaped dish! 

#. Chocolate cup with Amarula cream liqueur. 

Dish twelve: Breakfast Beskuit

Brought to the table in a straw nest was a packet of Beskuit, intended for Breakfast the following day! It was a lovely South African touch to end off this Proudly South African Lunch. It is described as ‘The Big Dipper’, and a card describes how one should eat it, dipping it into one’s morning coffee, and then eating the now soft rusk. 

Our lunch was superb, and the service vastly improved. On Facebook I have called on the Michelin inspectors to award JAN Restaurant two stars in 2018, seeing such a dramatic improvement in the restaurant, even since February. The opening of MARIA is exciting, and I cannot wait to see the completed interior when I next visit. 

Chef Jan-Hendrik: I salute you for being so Proudly South African, and for continuously adding more South African dishes and touches to your restaurant. You are an inspiration in showcasing our country’s cuisine heritage, no other restaurant in South Africa doing so! Wel gedaan! 

JAN Restaurant, 22 Rue Lascaris, Nice. Tel +33 04 97 19 32 23 www.restaurantjan.com Twitter : @JanHendrikvdWes Instagram :@janhendrik Tuesday – Saturday Dinner; Friday and Saturday Lunch.

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein