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! Continue reading →
Episode 5 of Season 2 of Koekedoor on Thursday evening focused on the theme of Market Day, and focused on home-made pies, citrus and lemon tarts, and gourmet doughnuts. Continue reading →
How does Chef Jenny Morris do it? In one week she has launched her new series of ‘Jenny and Reza’s Fabulous Food Academy on Food Network, launched her new ‘World Atlas of Food: 100 countries, a world of flavours’, and has launched her new Jenny Morris Giggling Gourmet range of wines made Continue reading →
* The Eat Out Gala Dinner, at which the country’s Top 10 Restaurants will be announced, will be held at Thunder City on 16 November. Mercedes-Benz is the new title sponsor of the Awards.
* The charity ‘Chefs who Share’ dinner, to be held in the City Hall on 11 September, will have seven pairs of top local chefs cooking for guests, each team paired with a local sommelier as well as an international Michelin star chef. The international chefs are Gerd Kastenmeier from Kastenmeier Dresden, Alfred Miller from Wirtshaus Schöneck Innsbruck, Andreas Meyer from Schloss Prielau, Christoph Geschwendtner from Schlosshotel Fiss, Anton Schmaus from Restaurant Storstad, Bernard Reiser from Restaurant Würzburg, and Christian Grainer from Christian’s Restaurant. (received via media release from Amplicon PR)
* Table Bay Boulevard is to be named after former President FW de Klerk, it has been recommended by the City of Cape Town’s Naming Committee, subject to a public participation process. The recommendation has been supported by Premier Helen Zille and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
* Huffington Post’s Travel Blog interviewed Chef Luke Dale-Roberts of Eat Out top restaurant Continue reading →
Yesterday I attended a section of the Kfm Breakfast Show broadcast, as a member of the studio-audience, to welcome MasterChef Australia judge Matt Preston, who is visiting Cape Town. Preston praised Cape Town for being ‘an amazing city‘, having eaten at eight restaurants alone on Tuesday.
Even though I had hardly seen any MasterChef Australia episodes, I applied to Kfm to attend the visit to the studio by the almost 2 meter tall Preston, after Blogger Anel Potgieter raved about meeting him at the Good Food & Wine Show in Johannesburg over the weekend. We were part of a studio audience of at least 30 at the Primedia Broadcasting studios in Green Point, the majority of the attendees being serious MasterChef Australia fans. We were offered coffee and breakfast snacks such as fruit salad and cream, as well as salmon sandwiches, not quite MasterChef quality!
Presenter Ryan O’Connor invited us to sit down, coming into the live studio with Preston as well as Chef and MasterChef SA judge Pete Goffe-Wood, as well as the rest of the Breakfast Show team consisting of sport presenter Sibongile Mafu, traffic presenter Liezel van der Westhuizen, and surf reporter Deon Bing. Deon had made a toasted cheese Continue reading →
It is ironic that Australian 2011 MasterChef Finalist (and not even a winner) has become a celebrity, to such an extent that he has become the host of a 13 series SABC3 programme about sustainable eating in our country, also combining the travel highlights of the regions Hayden will visit. Beautifully filmed, with some product placement overkill, the first episode last night made one proud to be a Capetonian, and to see our beautiful city through the eyes of the guest chef! Hayden described Cape Town as the ‘tip of the iceberg‘, whilst raving about loving South Africa.
The episode begins with Hayden doing some surfing, sharing his passion for the ocean, saying it is the place at which he feels most at home. The link to the ocean is made, to share that he is a WWF SASSI ambassador, our local organisation that educates consumers about only ordering and buying orange-listed fish. It explains Woolworth’s dominance in the programme, with a number of TV commercials, although none match the beautiful ads which it created for MasterChef SA in Seasons 1 and 2. Hayden is ‘crazy about adventure’ and good food, he shared.
The start to Hayden’s food adventure was the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill, where he sampled sandwiches from The Kitchen, and samoosas from Cumin Catering. He described it as a ‘buzzing inner-city market‘, reflecting the flavours and fresh foods of Cape Town. Continue reading →
The dishes prepared in last night’s episode 18 of MasterChef SA were extreme opposites, from international fine dining cuisine to a hearty local family dish. No Immunity Pin was won, and likable Joani Mitchell was sent home.
The show started with the cooking duel between Tiron Eloff and Chef Jackie Cameron from Hartford House in the Natal Midlands, which Tiron had won in making the best Coconut dish in Tuesday’s episode 17. The restaurant is an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant regular, and Chef Jackie is beautiful, warm, and friendly, and it was a pleasure to meet her at the Eat Out gala dinner in November, sitting at the table with her and her Hartford House colleagues. Chef Jackie was filmed at the hotel, and she showed off her vegetable garden, supporting locally sourced produce, and her policy is to not overcomplicate dishes. For the cook-off she had made a Guineafowl dish with coq au vin gnocchi, roasted garlic, garden pea purée, seared mushrooms, oven-crisped Parma ham, and pecerino shavings. For the honour of participating in the cook-off, Tiron was allowed to wear a MasterChef SA jacket with his name on it, and he said that he could get used to wearing it. He looked very Continue reading →
Franschhoek is upping its gourmet game, with two local chefs having spent some weeks at Noma in Copenhagen, the number one restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and bearing a 2-Michelin star rating since 2008, in the past three months. Both Chef Shaun Schoeman from Fyndraai Restaurant at Solms-Delta and Chef Chris Erasmus from Pierneef à La Motte returned inspired and have fine-tuned their menus and cooking to incorporate Nordic cuisine into their local gourmet offering.
The restaurant’s philosophy is on the homepage of its website:
“In an effort to shape our way of cooking, we look to our landscape and delve into our ingredients and culture,
hoping to rediscover our history and shape our future.”
Chef Chris Erasmus, Pierneef à La Motte
Yesterday I met with Chef Chris Erasmus, a week after his return from Noma, at which he had spent close to a month. I asked him why he had taken the time to leave his post as Executive Chef, and start from scratch at Noma. Chef Chris said he wanted to study how Chef René Redzepi had taken a restaurant which had been laughed at initially for focusing on Nordic cooking, initially not very exciting and then synonymous with ‘whale blubber and fish eyes’ (like Bobotie would be for South African cuisine, he said), and taking it to the number one restaurant in the world, and having kept it there for three years running. What Chef Chris does at Pierneef à La Motte, in foraging from nature, and in cooking what one has, is reflected at Noma too. Chef Chris has Daniel Kruger growing a range of unusual herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers for him at La Motte, with only one of 13 items in the salad farm grown, and the balance foraged, while Noma is supplied by specialist producers.
Chef Chris was impressed by the systems of the restaurants, each person working for the restaurant knowing what is going on. A meeting is called by the Restaurant Manager prior to service, in which they discuss any specific dietary requirements of guests, so that the chefs are prepared for this upfront, and not told about them when the guests arrive. The Restaurant Manager, from Australia, is in the running for a Restaurant Manager of the Year Award in Denmark. Chris said that his knowledge is amazing, having spent so much time with the chefs to get to know the dishes that he can cook them himself. There are 45 kitchen chefs, with another 25 volunteers unpaid and just there to learn more from this leading restaurant. Only two of the chefs are Danish, the others coming from the USA, Australia, Germany, and Mexico in the main. The rules are strict, and one is expected to follow them 100%. A mistake made a second time will lead one to be told to leave. Staff are treated politely, even though Chef René can lose his cool on occasion. No dishes are allowed to be photographed or distributed via Social Media by staff or volunteers.
There are three kitchen sections that the volunteers go through, starting with the Preparation Kitchen, foraging produce, and getting them ready. Chef Chris spent less than a week here. The second level was the Hot Kitchen, dealing with the restaurant service, and here Chef Chris gave more than expected, already coming to work at 5h00 in the morning (instead of 9h00), and usually getting home to the hostel he was staying at at 2h00 instead of the usual 23h00. This allowed him to work with the other chefs and learn from them, and to show them how eager he was to learn, so that he could move through the three kitchens. The third kitchen is the experimental Test Kitchen, which has two scientists and a chef, creating new dishes. Lactic acid fermentation is the foundation of many of the new dishes, a natural process bringing out the Umami in food, eradicating the need to add salt or sugar to food. There is no salt on the restaurant tables, nor is it added to food. The maximum sugar content of any dish is 12%. They make their own Miso paste too, taking a few months, ant purée, fermented crickets, and more. Chef Chris shared that he tasted bee larva, having a very rich creamy wax taste.
Chef René greets each guest as they arrive at his restaurant. He works seven days a week, even though the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Chef Chris came to work on Mondays, again to learn as much as possible. Noma has an excellent Head Chef and Sous Chefs, on whom Chef René can rely while he is busy with the guests, and spends time in the Test Kitchen. The chefs serve the guests. Waiters cannot work at Noma if they have not studied to be a waiter for three years at a local college. The role of the waiters is to explain the dishes to the guests. Guests are served 16 ‘snacks’ as a start to the Tasting Menu in rapid succession over 12 minutes, literally a mouthful each. This is followed by four courses, the size of our starters, being a vegetable dish, a meat dish, a fish dish, and a dessert, at a cost of about R2250. The restaurant is flexible in what they serve, to allow for dietary requirements. The Test Kitchen’s role is to add new dishes to the menu, and Chef Chris saw five new dishes being developed in the time that he was there. One of the dishes developed while Chef Chris was in the Test Kitchen was ‘Lacto Plum and Forever Beets’, served with lemon verbena and fennel soup, the beetroot being roasted for three hours, and its leathery skin then peeled off, the inside tasting like liquorice.
To learn from each other, especially the visiting chefs, they have Saturday night ‘Projects’ after service, in the early Sunday morning hours, presenting their own dishes, which are evaluated by the fellow chefs and the scientists. Chef Chris missed the opportunity to present a dish.
Chef Chris has been inspired by his experience at Noma, and changes are already being made to his current menu. He has added Lacto-fermented Porcini broth to his menu, inspired by Noma, made by adding salt to the mushrooms and vacuum-packing them, until they ferment at ambient room temperature. This creates enzymes which break down the bad bacteria, bringing out the natural savoury flavour. The summer menu will be much lighter, with far more foraged herbs and flowers, and some unique vegetables grown for him by Daniel. Artichokes, peas, and broadbeans are at their best right now, and Chef Chris showed me the some of his vegetables and herbs, which had been picked for him at 10h00 yesterday morning. They are only using Raspberry Vinegar now, instead of vinaigrettes. He will focus on only using vegetables and herbs from the La Motte garden.
Chef Chris has invited Chef René to visit (he was in Cape Town for what seemed literally a flying visit in February when he addressed the ‘Design Indaba’). He was inspired by his experience, and it is visible in his big smile, and new passion for his craft. While others may not have had such a good time, he said that ‘you get out what you put in’. He lost 15 kg in the time, just working and sleeping for a short while. He can’t wait to go back in a winter time, to see how they use all the preserved foods they prepare in the summer months, such as pickled rosebuds, and fermented plums. Having had to start at the bottom at Noma, he has a better understanding of his staff, yet expects ‘150%’ of them, Chef Chris said. One of his American co-volunteers at Noma started at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town this week.
Chef Chris’ Noma experience, coupled with the fantastic vegetable and herb garden on the farm, are sure to earn Pierneef à La Motte an Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Award in November!
Chef Shaun Schoeman, Fyndraai, Solms-Delta
In June, Chef Shaun Schoeman of Solms-Delta’s Fyndraai Restaurant spent two weeks working in one of the kitchens at Noma. Chef Shaun’s feedback was that the simplicity of Noma’s menu, which lists items like ‘pike perch and cabbage’, ‘cooked fava beans and beach herbs’ and ‘the hen and the egg,’ belies its sophisticated appeal, as evidenced by the backlog of keen diners waiting for bookings. Noma is known for its contemporary reinterpretation of Nordic cuisine. This includes a return to the traditional methods of pickling, curing, smoking, and fermenting as well as the integration of many indigenous herbs and plants. Redzepi himself has worked with the world’s best, having spent time at both El Bulli in Spain (when it was the world’s number one restaurant), and the French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley.
“There are many similarities between the kinds of indigenous elements we use here at Fyndraai and what chef Redzepi has become known for in his cuisine,” said Shaun, who felt that he could only benefit from doing a stint at the world-famous Noma. After his acceptance as a stagier, he packed his bags and flew to Copenhagen, where he joined a production kitchen staffed by over 50 chefs from around the world, all there to learn the philosophy and techniques of this influential chef. “Everyone who works at Noma, no matter what their experience, starts in the production kitchen,” explained Shaun, where the standards for preparation and hygiene are exacting and the hours extremely long, with shifts of up to 14 hours. Only after three months will Chef Redzepi consider moving a stagier into the main service kitchen. Every morning, a group of the production kitchen chefs go out to the nearby seaside to forage for fresh wild herbs and leaves, like nettles, wild rocket, sea coral, and wild garlic. Upon their return, they set to work on their pickings, cutting leaves into uniform sizes, all done on a tray kept over ice. “Temperature is extremely important as the herbs must be kept cold, but never below the temperature of the fridge.”
For a Franschhoek-born and bred native, it was an amazing experience for Shaun. He was overwhelmed by the incredible fresh fish and seafood that came through the production kitchen daily, including live crabs and luscious sea scallops still in their shells. All vegetables were organic and specially grown for the restaurant. A great example of Noma’s high standards was the daily sorting of fresh green peas into varying sizes! But aside from the differences in product and handling, when it came to the indigenous plants themselves, Shaun found that they were not dramatically different from the plants he relies on at Fyndraai, which are grown in the estate’s Dik Delta Garden. “We have many versions of the same plants, the major difference being that the Scandinavian herbs have more subtlety. South African indigenous herbs are sharper, which means that you really need the knowledge and training to harness their flavour without overpowering dishes.” Shaun returned from Copenhagen infused with energy and appreciation for the wide variety of herbs he has at his discretion, which collectively he refers to as “my baby.” He uses only indigenous herbs grown on site, so management of ingredients is crucial. That said, he feels he has a great deal of flexibility – one of the perks of a kitchen garden – and is always able to find a pleasing substitute if one herb is temporarily depleted. The ingredient he’s most crazy about is citrus buchu, which he says is the most fantastic herb he’s ever worked with. “It’s got a sexy, citrus flavour that really lifts everything it touches. It works equally well with savoury dishes or desserts, and can be used in anything from infusions to a flavouring in bread rolls.”
He’s also extremely partial to spekboom, a small-leaved succulent also known as ‘elephant bush’, which is very versatile. At Fyndraai, it receives various treatments, from a quick stir-fry to lightly-dressed salad greens, and from pickling to its use as an ingredient in a cold cucumber soup. In its pickled form, it’s one in a range of signature Dik Delta products Shaun has recently started producing and selling on the farm. Some of the others are lemon and wild rosemary chutney, lemon and gemoedsrus (fortified Shiraz) marmalade, and wild herb rubs. Customers love taking these products, which they cannot find elsewhere, home to their own kitchens to experiment with. “The indigenous herbs play sometimes starring, and more often supporting roles in the food we create at Fyndraai, depending on the nature and flavour of the plants themselves,” Shaun said. The key is quantity, and knowing how much to add to a dish, and when to add it. Sometimes they are added directly to dishes, at other times infused into sauces, used to create syrups which provide complementary flavours to a dish and even as flavourings in ice cream! The plants are propagated at Dik Delta, the large ‘kitchen garden’ on the wine estate. The two-hectare veld garden is overseen by a team of trained Solms-Delta residents. It yields crops of dynamic herbs, many of which were on the verge of extinction before the birth of this valuable culinary-bio project.
Today, the garden is the restaurant’s source for everything from wild asparagus to spekboom to makatan, an indigenous melon which Shaun cooks into one of the Dik Delta preserves. The garden is in full spring flower, with sunny yellow patches of honeybush, which flowers will be picked and dried for honeybush tea, and the dark mauve flowers of the Bobbejaantjies (little baboons) or Babiana. While this striking flower is most often used as an ornamental plant, it has a highly nutritious bulb or corm that can be eaten raw or cooked; it tastes a little like a potato and can be used as a vegetable in stews or in salads. Since Fyndraai opened four years ago, cooking with these plants has been an ongoing learning process for Shaun as well as his staff, all of whom were initially kitchen novices. This had many advantages, because they had no preconceived notions or bad habits to break. He is extremely proud of his kitchen crew, who handle the complex menu and its preparations with confidence and expertise.
Pierneef à La Motte, La Motte, R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-8000. www.la-motte.com Twitter: @Pierneeflamotte
Fyndraai, Solms-Delta, Delta Road, off R45, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 874-3937. www.solms-delta.co.za Twitter: @Solms_Delta
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
The V&A Waterfront is running a spicy winter restaurant promotion to encourage locals and tourists to try out 27 of its restaurants, and to vote for the restaurant with the best ‘fusion, winter-style dish’ that is affordable too. The promotion runs until 22 August, and reflects the Cape’s culinary roots over the past 360 years, including Indian, Malay, Chinese, French, British, Dutch, Portuguese, and French, the port of Cape Town being the melting pot of the flavours of the Cape.
The promotion was designed by the V&A Waterfront’s advertising agency Jupiter Drawing Room, and its communication quality reflects the V&A’s leadership as the best shopping mall in the Cape. The Culinary Challenge is communicated via a Sunday Times insert, the electronic boards and posters in the V&A, and a ‘Master of the Trade Routes’ display emblem resembling a plate at participating restaurants. Dash at the Queen Victoria hotel, Signal at the Cape Grace, The Atlantic at the Table Bay hotel, Nobu and Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, Willoughby’s, Wang Thai, Harbour House, San Marco, La Playa, Quay 4, Balducci’s, Meloncino, OYO at the V&A Hotel, The Quarterdeck (Portswood Hotel), Primi Wharf, Clipper at the Commodore Hotel, Den Anker, City Grill Steakhouse, Krugmann’s Grill, Karibu, Jewel of India, Greek Fisherman, Hildebrand Ristorante, Sevruga, Tasca De Belem, and, interestingly, The Grand on the Beach, are the participating restaurants. In addition, but not participating in the Culinary Challenge as such, are Emporio Leone, offering a trio of South African dessert classics (malva pudding, a milk tart macaroon, and peppermint crisp tart truffle) at R35, and Gelato Mania, offering a gelato flavoured with vanilla pods from Mauritius.
Each restaurant will offer a ‘signature dish‘, and other dishes may form part of a winter special for the Culinary Challenge. Nobu’s Winter Bento Box costs R275, with a cold and a hot section of three dishes each and a dessert; Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town is offering a Steak & Guinness Pie at R125; Willoughby’s signature dish is ‘The Bomb’, a tempura prawn roll with spicy seared Tuna and Avocado wrapping, at R129; Harbour House is offering a free-range short rib at R120; The Atlantic has a 2 course offer, being Lamb Parpardelle, preceded by a cauliflower puree with smoked Franschhoek trout and poached quail egg for a good value price of R120; Hildebrand Ristorante charges R90 for its signature Chocolate and Ginger Venison; Quay 4 has Malay Kreef Curry as its signature dish for R90; and Dash is serving pan-seared magret duck breast on spiced pear purée with sage and quinoa, at R95.
Not having been to Signal restaurant since it changed from Bruce Robertson’s One.Waterfront, I chose the Cape Grace restaurant, which has painted wall murals reflecting the Cape’s historic origins, done when the restaurant changed its name, and these make Signal a forerunner for the V&A Culinary Challenge on its decor and interior design alone! There is no shortage of staff at Signal, and each one of them greets one as if one is there on daily basis. The tables have tablecloths, with a mix of traditional wooden chairs, ghost chairs, and leather upholstered chairs. Each table has a vase with a protea, and throughout the hotel the national flower is used, suiting the ‘Proudly Cape’ promotion theme too. Cutlery is posh Hepp Exclusiv. Three chandeliers have small copper pots with the crystals. Seating sections in the restaurant are divided by what look like sash window frames, giving the room a Cape Dutch feel. Its A la Carte menu states that it offers ‘Cape Cosmopolitan Cuisine’, being ‘global contemporary dishes with a unique Cape twist’. The menu introduction echoes the theme, stating that sailing boats braved the high seas to introduce the ‘world to the wonders of fragrant herbs and spices’. Using marine-inspired terminology, it continues about its approach to food: ‘Signal encourages the global traveller to plot a course over the Cape’s ancestral landscape. With ingredients encompassing responsible and sustainable food practices and dishes crossing worldwide borders, we welcome you and hope you enjoy your journey’. The black leather covered winelist contains an extensive collection of 40 wines by the glass, and 150 wines by the bottle, complementing the cuisine served. The wines are not inexpensive, but there is a wide price range offered. For example, in the Shiraz category, the thirteen wines offered range from R72/R195 (Glenwood 2008) to R925 for Haskell Pillars 2008.
As the V&A had booked the table on my behalf, the staff handed me the beautifully designed Culinary Challenge menu automatically, but I did ask to see the A la Carte menu too. The restaurant offers as its Culinary Challenge signature dish a ‘De-constructed Bobotie‘, being a very rare prepared bobotie-spiced Springbok loin, roasted parsnip, pickled mango purée, almond crumble, and a curried lentil jus, costing a mere R95. One can also order 3 courses, at R195, very good value. As I am allergic to mussels, the Assistant Restaurant Manager Sean O’Brien kindly allowed me to substitute a starter from the A la Carte menu for the Aromatic coconut and ginger broth with steamed mussels and coriander foam. The dessert was a typically South African Peppermint Crisp Tart, served with fresh peppermint ice cream, and Pastry Chef Lorraine Meaney had made gold-dusted Valrhona chocolate discs to place on top of each individual tart. With the cappuccino friandises, being an apricot jelly slice, a beetroot chocolate blondie, and a caramel macaroon, were served.
Voting for the ‘Master of the Trade Routes’ is done by food bloggers, writers, and critics, as well as by the public, for the People’s Choice Award, in selecting the winning restaurant(s). Food writers were spoilt with a most beautiful spice box, to encourage them to review a restaurant of their choice. A beautifully designed locked box collects the evaluation sheets diners have to complete for the voting. Various aspects have to be rated, including presentation, taste, interpretation of the fusion theme, service, ambience, and value for money. Clients eating at a participating restaurant stand a chance to win meal vouchers and attendance at the gala event aboard the SA Agulhas II, at which the winners out of the Top 8 restaurants will be announced.
The quality and value for money offer experienced at Signal restaurant for the ‘Master of the Trade Routes Culinary Challenge’ will make me try other restaurants that I have not been to in the V&A Waterfront in the next two months, not only for their good value, but also for the creative and spicy interpretation of the winter promotion theme.
POSTSCRIPT 3/8: The Top 8 restaurants in the V&A Waterfront’s Master of the Trade Routes Culinary Challenge have been announced in the Cape Times today: Signal at the Cape Grace hotel, Dash at the Queen Victoria hotel, Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, Den Anker, The Grand on the Beach, Sevruga, Harbour House, and Willoughby’s.
POSTSCRIPT 31/8: Signal restaurant at Cape Grace won the Master of the Trade Routes Culinary Challenge, with Dash at the Queen Victoria Hotel coming second. Sevruga won the People’s Choice Award, with its Miso-marinated kingklip dish.
V&A Waterfront ‘Master of the Trade Routes Culinary Challenge‘, see www.waterfront.co.za for the list and menus, and operating hours and days of the 27 participating restaurants. 1 June – 22 August.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
I have driven past Proviant Kaapse Tafel & Spens on Paarl’s Main Road many times, but never noticed the restaurant. I went to try out the restaurant this week for two reasons: I had read somewhere that Chef Reuben Riffel had been to eat there, and it was suggested to me when I made a comment about most Paarl restaurants, other than Bosman’s, being closed on Sunday afternoons. It is a flashback to the past, and was described by the co-owner as “Boere Nostalgia”.
My first reaction on arriving at the Victorian style house was one of scepticism – maybe it was the beige paintwork, which did not make the exterior look fresh or inviting to me. I walked into the building, and there was no staff to welcome me. On the left one enters two sections, with names at the entrance to each: “Tant Hetta se Spens” and “Negosiewinkel”. The first section has Wilson’s sweets, apricot balls and other sweets dating back to one’s childhood. This deli section has a display cabinet for home-made pies and their lovely farm breads (it is a surprise that one is not served a slice when eating there), which one can take home to buy. The menu invites one to buy from the deli, but it was very bare, as the pies and breads had not been put out in the 39°C Paarl heat. The second part of the shop had soaps and gift items to sell. Tucked away around the corner was a shelf with preserves, ginger beer, rusks, stoneground flour, and general deli items. Across the passage is Uncle Tiny’s pub, set up in honour of Tiny Neethling, who was a Springbok rugby player in the Sixties and Seventies – his rugby jersey and other memorabilia are displayed in the tiny pub. One can sit outside at the back, with a lovely view onto Paarl Mountain and vineyards adjacent to the Proviant property. It has a canvas roof, and it seemed exceptionally hot there, the heat being trapped underneath the canvas. A fine spray mist is to be introduced, to address this problem. It is a space often used for stork parties, kitchen teas, small weddings and other events. I was offered a table inside with airconditioning, but only saw a lone table from the passage, not seeing the rest of the dining room with a massive fireplace and an ox wagon wheel light, which I saw later when I was shown around by Chef Rob Hahn. The music inside reminds one of Nico Carstens, and was from a CD called ‘Trekklavier Hits’!
I chose to sit outside on the stoep (there are benches lower down too), at a ‘plaas’ wooden table and chairs, very old-fashioned, setting the scene for what was to come. There are no placemats or tablecloth, and a beige material serviette had a set of pedestrian cutlery folded in it. A little plant in a Lucky Star pilchards tin dating back many years, with a little red heart, reminded one of Valentine’s Day the previous day, as did a Boland Cellar Valentine’s Day promotion, offering their wines ranging from R 55 for their Five Climates Chenin Blanc to R78 for their mouthful of a Cappupinoccinotage! I was ignored for a long time, after having been given the menu, a typical staff scenario of one staff member thinking another was taking care of me, it emerged.
The menu holder is a cheap black plastic one, and the inside front cover states that it is sponsored by Haute Cabriere. Yet the page opposite had a full page advertisement for Boland Cellars, to encourage one to order their wines for Valentine’s Day, and I did not see any Haute Cabriere wines on the winelist. The KWV head office is close by, and its logo is visible on a number of the menu pages. The menu introduction refers to the ‘old friends’ bobotie, vetkoek, malva pudding, rusks and ‘boeretroos’ (coffee) one would have enjoyed in “Grandma’s kitchen’, the menu says, which one can expect on the menu at Proviant. Breakfast is served all day, and creative names have been chosen to describe the menu offerings, e.g. the Boland Breakfast consists of bacon, ‘skilpadjies’ (liver in ‘net vet’), sausage, minute steak, farm bread and jam, at R69; a Farmer’s Breakfast is a reduced version of this at R55. Bacon and eggs, and poached eggs cost R38, while scrambled eggs cost R45. A number of light meals are on offer, including various burgers (R45 – R55), vetkoek and curry mince (R42), fishcakes (R45), generous home-made pies (R45), and toasted ‘samies’ (R36). Starters include ‘Farmer’s Caviar”, being marrow bones (R35); bobotie springrolls (R38); a trio of patés (R49); and chicken liver peri peri, crumbed calamari and lamb kidneys, all three costing around R42.
Salads range in price from R35 – R48, and include ‘Kiep-Kiep’, with roast chicken, bacon and egg; ‘Boland Bliss’, with smoked trout, avocado and feta; and ‘B&B’ with biltong, blue cheese and brandied dried fruit. The prices of main courses hover around R100, and are mainly below this price. The list is extensive, and includes oxtail, Chakalaka rump, biltong cheddar rump, spicy lamb bunny chow, vegetarian bobotie, lamb shank, chicken schnitzel, fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, kudu loin, and a popular tourist “South African Plate” of bobotie, lamb curry and oxtail. On the table a menu notice promoted a Friday evening Seafood buffet, costing R120, which includes paella, snoek paté, curry fish, prawns peri peri, calamari, Greek salad, and mussels, and is good value for this special offer, and Proviant generally has excellent prices. In winter the Friday evening special of curries is very popular. On Sundays a 3-course Carvery buffet is served, at R105.
I ordered the crumbed pork chops (R85), and it was the home-made apple sauce that attracted me to this dish, sweetish but delicious. The plate was brought to the table by Chef Rob, and it had two chops, mash, butternut, and broccoli with a cheese sauce, all wonderful. With it was served a really serious steak knife. I had no intention of having a dessert, but when I saw the deep-fried ice cream (R25) on the menu, I had to try it. It was a tasty vanilla ice cream encased in phyllo pastry and fried. The pastry had a chewy texture to it, and was served in a caramel sauce. Other “Scale Busters”, as the menu called them, are peppermint fridge tart, Malva pudding, and Van der Hum créme brulee, also costing an unbelievably low R25. For ‘4 o’clock tea’ muffins, scones or cake are available, at R25.
I was making notes when Nicky Hahn came to me, and asked if I needed help or information, which I declined. She seemed a bit disturbed that I was copying her menu, and I explained to her that I was writing a review. All of a sudden she recognised me, from the time she and her husband Rob ran Rickety Bridge’s restaurant and guest house in Franschhoek. Rob told me that he opened Pearl Valley’s kitchen 21 years ago, and then he was part of the team opening the Park Hyatt in Johannesburg. He was one of six selected chefs leading the team of 80 chefs cooking for Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration, and he proudly showed me the certificate of appreciation which he received. Had I not been recognised, my review would have been very different, as the poor service by the waitresses had been most off-putting. It proved to me once again how important hands-on service by the owners/managers is. Needless to say the service was perfect from this point onwards. Rob and Nicky Hahn are joint owners of Proviant with Marian (Neethling) and Mark Maingard, who now live in Namibia, but are returning to Paarl shortly. Marian was the original owner of Proviant. The very Afrikaans nature of Proviant (e.g. the Afrikaans menu section is before the English one, Afrikaans names for the room sections inside, Afrikaans-only Seafood buffet offer, the waitresses address one in Afrikaans, and Afrikaans bill) is in contrast to the English sounding Rob, but it probably means that he will ensure that they do not alienate their English-speaking customers too much.
The winelist is almost proudly-Paarl. Wines by the glass include a dangerous sounding Masons “Klipkapper” Chenin Blanc at R18/R60, Masons Shiraz (R20), Nederburg Rosé (R20/R73), Protea Chardonnay from Antonij Rupert wines in Franschhoek (R25/R89), and KWV Cuveé Brut (R30/R86). A nostalgia moment was to see a full-page promotion encouraging one to drink KWV’s Roodeberg, which was a treasure many many years ago, only exported or available via farmers who were members of the co-operative. It is sold for R89. Laborie’s Brut (R125) and Shiraz (R85) are also sold.
Proviant will not be to everyone’s taste, South African English-speakers possibly finding it too Afrikaans, and younger restaurant goers finding it too old-fashioned. But it is excellent value for money, and a good plateful of food is served. Chef Rob described Proviant as serving ‘honest food’, and said that it is ‘the modern day Oom Samie se Winkel’ from Dorp Street in Stellenbosch. The bill was brought to the table in a ‘blikbeker’, demonstrating the absolute focus on the theme. The nostalgia got to me when I saw an ad for Sunrise toffees in the menu, taking me right back to my childhood. Rob sent me on my way with a massive potbrood, which he described as their “small one”, given that they sell an even larger size too, and it was a demonstration of the generosity of the ‘olden days’, when visitors were sent on their way with a gift. Proviant is now participating in the Laborie Lazy Days market on Saturdays, and sells its farm bread there.
Proviant Kaapse Tafel & Spens, 54 – 56 Main Road, Paarl. Tel (021) 863-0949. www.proviant.co.za (Website down). Tuesdays until 17h00, Wednesdays – Fridays until ‘late’, Sundays until 17h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage