Since my return from a three month trip to escape our winter, my number one newly-opened restaurant on my list to visit in the Cape was SŸN, the pop-up having opened whilst I was away, and headed by Chefs Rikku Ó’Donnchü and Warwick King, formerly of Gåte restaurant at Quoin Rock. The one-day special Heritage Day Menu (at R690) was the perfect opportunity to taste and see what these two creative chefs and their team have come up with since setting up on their own, initially as a Pop-up before they open their new restaurant on 1 November.
Located on the third floor at 47 Bree Street, in the Villa 47 building, the elegant and spacious restaurant space and open plan kitchen is a perfect location for the stature of the chef team and the creative food it offers. The pop-up resulted from the chefs looking for the perfect location for their fine-dining restaurant when it opens in November with a new name, and to test their menu offering amongst Cape Town diners, having previously been based in Stellenbosch. The interior of the restaurant is as I remember it from Villa 47 predecessors in the space, but a glass cupboard presents memorabilia from the chefs work since last year, including the unique 16-sided menu designed by the chef team.
Chefs Rikku and Warwick need little introduction, Chef Rikku having worked at Michelin-star Restaurants The French Laundry and The Fat Duck, while Chef Warwick worked at Delaire Graff and The Stack. What the chefs and their team presented at Gåte was world class (see my review of the chefs’ work when they opened at Gåte last year, below), and got restaurant diners talking about this creative team’s molecular gastronomy dishes not done locally since Chef Richard Carstens stopped offering them whilst working at Tokara. Earlier this year they left Gåte, to open their own restaurant, initially as a Pop-up, called SŸN.
While I have not eaten at the regular SŸN pop-up other than at yesterday’s Heritage Day lunch, because I was away for three months, I expect that the 12 course Tasting Menu which the chefs will be offering from November, at R1650, will be next level, even surpassing what they created at Gåte previously.
Neville was the waitron, and he offered me a choice of water on sitting down. I liked the simplicity of the table decor, with only a Riedel wine glass and a water glass, and a large napkin beautifully presented in the shape of a rose. With it was a branch on a stand, with the first introductory course already hanging on it, bringing nature into the room. I was shown the extensive wine list, a work in progress I had to remind myself, given that it is a Pop-up restaurant until it ends its run on Saturday, to allow for a month of renovations before opening the real McCoy. Neville also explained that the simple menu on the table was the standard Pop-up lunch menu, that mine was a Heritage Day one which I had seen on Instagram, and that I was to keep it on the table as I would eat it at the end of the meal… okay, I thought, this is something I have never done at any restaurant around the world previously!
- Potato Parsley Fossil
I was invited to eat the three snack potato crisps, made from super thin slices of potato, with a parsley leaf in between two slices and then fried, by hand. I asked Neville about the vinegar-like taste of these, and he shared that they had been sprinkled with Citric acid salt. It was a beautiful start to the lunch, something I have not seen before on my restaurant travels.
2. Holy Smoke
The new interpretation of the edible cigar dish was presented by Pastry Chef Chris Morrison, who created a cigar from steamed dough and ale, he explained. In a separate container was an onion emulsion and onion ash, to represent the ashtray. One was to use the cigar and scoop the onion emulsion and ash onto it, taking bites of the cigar in this manner. Not liking onion, I was happy that it did not taste of onion at all. The cigar was easier to eat than I remembered it from Gåte, having been chewy there, made from rye bread. Chef Chris told me that he previously worked at Ellerman House, and at Ile de Pain in Knysna.
At this stage I had selected my white wine, a glass of Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2018 (at R100 per glass), as the menu was seafood dominant. Neville also kindly brought a glass of Le Lude Brut Reserve NV, my favorite sparkling wine brand, from Franschhoek, a gift from the chefs.
Attractively presented on a bed of spekboom related twigs, the Saldanha oysters were dressed with Tabasco, lemon juice, onion, a chili and soy sauce vinaigrette, and a pickled cucumber gel. The dish was accompanied by an interesting roundish holder, looking like a rock, in which a very large Tweezer was placed, if one wanted to use it to eat the oysters. I preferred eating it the traditional way, straight out of the shell. I do not like strong flavours, so found the chili to be very hot in my mouth, but a few sips of water and wine removed this sensation.
4. Seared sea scallop
The scallop dish was a simple beautiful presentation, on a bed of dry ice, a liquid poured into its centre and creating smoke. Once again the Tweezer and holder was offered, and I used it to eat the three slices of scallop, served with a black garlic emulsion, pickled red wild strawberries, and black pepper ice cream. A strawberry and mint syrup was poured by Neville at the table, plus a fresh mint granita added. It did not have any strong flavours, and this was one of the favourite dishes of my lunch, ticking the boxes on presentation and taste.
5. Smoked snoek vetkoek
On looking at the menu, before booking, I saw some ingredients I would not normally order or eat. Smoked snoek is one of them. However, I decided to be truly Heritage Day friendly, and to eat everything that I was served. I need not have worried, it being delicious. Chef Rikku told me that he does not particularly like it either, and hence transformed this dish into something so tasty that it did not taste of snoek at all. Firstly, its presentation was simple yet stunning, the butter poached snoek, lemon zest, and smoked bechamel sauce having gone into the making of the vetkoek. The vetkoek was deep fried and then apricot glazed, it was topped with snoek skin crackling, really crunchy, and topped with caviar, and presented on a bed of seaweed. It was to be eaten by hand, and I demolished it in two bites, absolutely delicious.
6. The Pork and Mielie Braai
Neville brought the elements of this dish to the table, starting with a black hot rock, which I could have sworn was in the shape of a heart (I have a thing for hearts). Then he brought a plate with corn Espuma, cumin popcorn, dried curry leaves, puffed pork crackling, and a mieliepap and Parmesan Cake, over which he wanted to pour a reduction of pork, but I stopped him, leaving the jug on the side. On a third plate was a very thin slice of pork belly which had been basted with Japanese Char Sui, with two mini Mielies, all of which I was to grill on the Hot Rock. And then I had to plate it with the main plate, a challenge of presentation, as I had to photograph the completed dish…..
7. Sticky Toffee Malva pudding
The dessert was delicious, even though Malva pudding would never be a dessert choice for me. On the base was an apricot puree, THE most delicious Amarula ice cream, a creme anglaise Espuma, and topped with a fudge crumble.
8. Petit Fours
# pineapple with lavender and pea flowers, which I was to place on the menu which was on the table when I arrived, after peeling off the plastic film, and eat it like a taco.
# a banana macaron with a caramelised chocolate filling
# a raspberry brioche with crème patisserie, and raspberry gel
# Mother’s burnt Apple pie, a bit of fun Chef Rikku had at the expense of his mother’s poor cooking skills….
After the Lunch Chefs Rikku and Warwick sat with me, and allowed me to offer my feedback, which was mainly about the music, which was very much the chefs’ choice. It was loud and sometimes soft, and too heavy for a restaurant, in my opinion. We chatted about what lies ahead for the two chefs, in terms of the location as well as the name of the new restaurant, October being a busy month for the team in preparing for the 1 November 2018 opening. My son and his partner are visiting Cape Town in November, and I cannot wait to take them to the new full-scale restaurant. I loved the Proudly South African Tasting Menu, and was proud that some ingredients I thought I could not eat or would not like were made to taste so good that I loved them all. It is a shame that no local restaurant offers a proudly local menu, JAN restaurant in Nice being the only one to do so, with a French twist. The SŸN Pop-up Heritage Day Tasting Menu proved how well our local dishes can be transformed into fine dining stars, being the recipe of success for the highest performing restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list I ate at in Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, and in Rio de Janeiro on my recent trip. When I asked for the bill, I was told that I was a guest of the chefs.
SŸN Pop-up, 3rd floor, 47 Bree Street, Cape Town. Cell 066 268 4643 www.synpopup.co.za Instagram: @thesyngroup @chef_rikku Lunch and Dinner until 28 September. New restaurant opening in 1 November.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein