The January 2016 edition of Qantas’ Spirit of Australia in-flight magazine has named a dish by Tokara Chef Richard Carstens as one of the top 10 dishes in the world in 2015, rubbing shoulders with two dishes from Michelin-star restaurants! The photograph of the dish is the main Continue reading →
Yesterday the second Standard Bank Chenin Blanc Top 10 Challenge was held at the Cape Grace, with the Top 10 Chenin Blancs selected out of a total of 145 wines entered. The banner in the pre-lunch venue summarized the stature of Chenin Blanc, with the pay-off line ‘A South African National Treasure‘!
Canapés of pastry cases with salmon and hollandaise sauce were served with Sparklehorse Chenin Blanc MCC made by Ken Forrester Wines. Ken Forrester is the Chairman of the Continue reading →
The viewers’ blood is boiling, in that Finalist Kamini Pather was given a second chance two nights running in episodes 25 and 26, to hang in at MasterChef SA, given that she clearly was the weakest performer in both the episodes. The episode was an exciting one, however, showing the diversity of the Finalists in being able to recreate something as difficult as Chef Richard Carstens’ Chocolate Handkerchief dish, consisting of eleven elements.
The Final Four were given black aprons on arriving at the MasterChef SA kitchen, being in a Pressure Test, without deserving it as such. They noticed technical equipment they had never seen before on their workstations, including gloves, goggles, palette knives, and nitrogen guns. They also noticed an unnamed white jacket hanging in the kitchen. They were told that the judges were turning up the heat, and that they would face the toughest challenge. The winner would go directly into Wednesday’s Finale, while the person preparing the weakest dish would be eliminated.
Seline van der Watt reacted by saying that she would ‘put all on the line today and go for it’. Ozzy Osman said cleverly that he would rather have the jacket than have to fight over it later in the series. Leandri van der Wat said practically ‘Let’s cook’, looking forward to the challenge! Kamini said that she felt calmer, after losing her nerves in episode 25, when her Lemon Meringue Gâteau was less than perfect, and she cried Continue reading →
Yesterday I attended the first birthday celebration of Tokara Restaurant with its new management team and chef Richard Carstens, and its tenth anniversary overall. It co-incided with the news that Tokara Restaurant had been named the best Winelands restaurant in South Africa by the Great Wine Capitals Global Network the evening before.
The first birthday celebration was an opportunity for Chef Richard to present four items off his new summer menu, and for the main restaurant players to look back on the first year, in which 22000 guests had been served, with such dignitaries as the Dutch royal family amongst them. Owner Wilhelm Kühn told us that Stellenbosch locals support the restaurant in the main, appreciating its views, at sunset in particular, and the quality of the food, wines and service.
The amuse bouche was a small colourful collection representing Chef Richard’s creativity, consisting of a cob sashimi, compressed watermelon, with crisped seaweed and ginger ponzu, each item creating work to make up this opening taster. As Chef Richard is so hands-on in the kitchen, it is a shame that he is not able to explain to his guests how he creates each of his masterpieces. This was followed by what was the highlight of the meal for me, being a Baked Alaska of rainbow trout, with a soft meringue, on which was served smoked salmon ice cream, with citrus salsa, and a ginger, soya and mirin sauce. Sommelier Jaap-Henk Koelewijn told us that he worked with Chef Richard at Lynton Hall in 2003, a Top 10 restaurant in Richard’s reign, and that he had said that he would love to work at Tokara one day. Jaap-Henk has been with Jardine and Tokara for five years now, and expressed his gratitude to Tokara owner GT Ferreira for allowing him to add other wines to the winelist, as he felt that the Tokara wines are strong enough to stand up to these. He has sought balance in the list, across different price points, and chosen winemakers with passion. He has a number of wines by the glass, and ‘chops and changes’ his winelist as Chef Richard changes his menu, which is frequent, he said.
The second starter was an attractive salad of turnips, a trio of mushroom styles (marinated, seared, and soil), goat’s milk cheese, pear, pea sponge, and hazelnut streussel, served with a Tokara Chardonnay dressing. Manager Johan Terblanche spoke about his good service staff, and how he whittled down 800 Gumtree applications he had received before they opened the restaurant. He has a mix of permanent and student waiters, and they meet with Chef Richard before every service, so that he can explain the menu to them. All staff try Chef Richard’s new creations. He described Chef Richard as a ‘giving and sharing chef, with an amazing brain’.
A tiny intermezzo of rose geranium sorbet served with a wasabi and lemon emulsion was a fresh palate cleanser. The main course was slices of beef fillet served with wasabi potatoes, finished off with a blow torch! It appeared the most ‘simple’ dish of the day, served with asparagus, blanched tomato, carrot puree, wasabi yoghurt, and teriyake jus. Chef Richard said that he is working with a brand new team, not having brought any previous kitchen staff along, and they are passionate. There is perfect synergy between the front of house and the kitchen, and he calls his kitchen his ‘training school’. His sous chef Zané Pelser has just returned from Australia, having worked with Australia’s Chef of the Year Dan Hunter at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, who grows his own herbs and vegetables. She praised Chef Richard for the repertoire that he has built up over twenty years, and that he is not side-tracked by whims. She said he makes ‘magic out of everyday ingredients’.
I am convinced that Tokara Restaurant will not only feature in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards list on 20 November, but that Richard Carstens will be named our country’s Top Chef and the restaurant crowned as number one. Chef Richard has been criticised for his lack of staying power at restaurants, having lost out on a number of Top 10 awards for not staying at a restaurant for a year, but he seems to have found his ‘home’ and happiness at Tokara.
POSTSCRIPT 4/11: I popped in at Tokara, after a concert at the Endler Hall this evening, and Chef Richard offered me a dessert off his new summer menu, introduced today, and well received by their guests. I chose a chocolate pavé, crémeux, with chocolate ice cream, meringue, and aerated chocolate, served with an amazing basil ice cream, a surprisingly good marriage with the chocolate.
Tokara Restaurant, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 885-2550. www.tokararestaurant.co.za Twitter:@Tokara_
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
I was lucky to have been able to book one of the sold-out tables for the Tokara Tribute to El Bulli, the number one restaurant in the world for many years, in honour of its alchemist chef/owner Ferran Adria, who served dinner for the last time at El Bulli last night. Tokara Chef Richard Carstens’ advertised eight-course dinner became a 13-course feast, and was a fitting tribute to a chef who created Modernist Cuisine, and who is best known for deconstruction and molecular gastronomy. Continue reading →
El Bulli was the world’s top S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants for a number of years, and its chef/owner Ferran Adria has been saluted as one of the world’s most creative chefs, who closed his restaurant near Roses in Spain for a number of months every year, to try out new recipes in Barcelona. Whilst he will close down his restaurant for an undefined period later this year, he remains a cuisine guru. For Tokara chef Richard Carstens Adria has been an icon chef, and Chef Richard has been following and has been inspired by Adria since 1999, buying Adria’s recipe books that he publishes annually, yet he has never eaten at El Bulli. After an invitation to try out Tokara’s new winter menu on Tuesday, I could not help but associate Tokara with El Bulli, and Chef Richard with Ferran Adria, always searching for a higher level of cuisine creativity.
Chef Richard showed me the five volume ‘Modernist Cuisine’, which he bought recently, and is edited by Nathan Myhrvold from America. This chef was an academic wizard, worked for Stephen Hawking and Microsoft, and moved into cuisine, one of his passions. The books document the newest ideas and techniques in cuisine, being modern interpretations of classical cuisine. Chef Richard described the movements in cuisine, from Auguste Escoffier, to Nouvelle Cuisine, to Deconstruction (now renamed Techno-Emotional, Chef Richard told me!) led by Adria, to Modernist Cuisine. Adria was the first chef to blur the definition between savoury and sweet, by creating savoury ice creams, for example.
Chef Richard has received six Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant awards in his career, whilst he was at Le Provencal (previous name of Grande Provence), Bijoux and Lynton Hall, and may have had more, had he stayed at past restaurants for longer than a year. He seems really happy and at home at Tokara, having been given the freedom to experiment and create, whilst serving food that the Tokara guests appreciate. Tokara Restaurant owner Wilhelm Kuhn wrote about Chef Richard: “Richard is a supremely talented chef and a real inspiration to the chefs in the kitchen. I haven’t met such a nurturing, creative and intelligent chef before. A lot of things that some chefs have cottoned on to recently, he was doing more than 10 years ago. He has an encyclopediac knowledge of food, techniques and the industry, local and international. It was overdue that someone gave him a chance to really show his mettle. I am sure he’ll be as much part of Tokara’s legacy as Etienne Bonthuys before him and winemaker Miles Mossop.”
I visited Tokara just after Kuhn and Carstens took over Tokara in October last year, and it was good to see that there were familiar waiters from then, and from Jardine, which Kuhn closed down in February. It being a cold wintry day, I was happy to sit at the table close to the massive fireplace. In the past few months the restaurant has had a make-over in terms of a new carpet, softening the sound in the room and the interior, and the chairs have been upholstered in an attractive blue fabric. Each of the chairs has the name of a wine cultivar on it, bringing the wine estate into the restaurant. New lights have been added too. Wooden tables and chairs fill the restaurant, and I liked the design of the half-round tables placed against the glass doors, seating couples. There is no table cloth, but material serviettes, Eetrite cutlery and good stemware. The Tokara tasting room is in the same building, a large room with a massive fireplace, that was buzzing with tasters. The cloakrooms are shared with the tasting room, and are a modern combination of stainless steel basins set in wood.
In the tasting room a specially designed William Kentridge drawing for his “The Magic Flute” opera and Tokara wine series hangs over a display of Tokara wines. In the restaurant a Kentridge tapestry called ‘The Porter and the Bicycle’, inspired by the Second World War and hence the map of Europe forming the background to the tapestry, Manager Johan Terblanche explained, dominates the interior, the only artwork in the main restaurant. It was specially made for Tokara owner GT Ferreira. A Jacqueline Crewe-Brown painting is in the second room, and a second is to come. Art is an important part of Tokara Winery, and they regularly exhibit art made from wine. An extensive collection of art is displayed in the passages leading to the restaurant and tasting room, and even in the cloakrooms. At the entrance to the building, a fascinating tree-shaped ‘sculpture’ attracts attention, a modern statement of what is lying inside the building.
Chef Richard came to welcome me at the table, and had prepared a special 10-course menu of small dishes to try, consisting of some of the starters, main courses and desserts on his new winter menu. He told me that he and his team try to take the menus one step higher. He invited me to come to the kitchen at any time, to see him and his team prepare the dishes, which offer I took up, and immediately another little dish of smoked salmon ice cream topped with caviar and served with a colourful citrus salsa was made for me to try. After the restaurant re-opens after a week’s break from 2 – 9 May, a Chef’s Menu will be introduced, consisting of three courses plus an amuse bouche and a palate cleanser, at an excellent price of R 225 (their 8-course degustation menu cost R400 in summer).
Staff look neat in white shirts and black pants. They exude efficiency and all are knowledgeable about Chef Richard’s dishes, one needing a good memory to remember all the ingredients that make up his masterpieces. Even Jaap-Henk Koelewijn, the sommelier, was perfectly at ease in explaining what was in the dishes that he brought to the table, helping the waiter Ivan on occasion. I made Jaap-Henk’s job difficult, in limiting my wine drinking over lunch, and stating my preference for Shiraz. He started me off with a Tokara Zondernaam Shiraz 2009, and told me that the ‘Zondernaam’ will be phased out in future vintages, due to the improved quality of the winemaking, and all wines will be marketed under the Tokara name in future. The wine was chilled to 16°C, quite cold for a red wine I felt, but Jaap-Henk explained that a colder temperature helps to temper the tannins in a red wine. This was followed up with a Sequillo Shiraz and Grenache blend, made by Eben Sadie.
I started with a beautifully presented and colourful hot butternut soup, thick and creamy, and served in a glass bowl, to which Chef Richard had added a smoked snoek croquette, which gave the soup an unusual distinctive taste. To this he had added shaved almonds and salted apricots, and drizzled it with coriander oil. On the winter menu this starter costs R60. This was followed by a calamari risotto, and its lemon velouté came through distinctly to enhance the calamari. It costs R65 as a starter, and was decorated with rice crisps and toasted brioche that had been dyed black with squid ink. A beautiful autumn-inspired dish contained beetroot, and leek which had been dyed a reddish colour using beetroot juice. It contained a number of interesting ingredients, including a Gewürztraminer-poached pear, gorgonzola balls, a ball each of yellow pepper and beetroot sorbet, pear compressed into small squares, and hazelnut. This starter costs R65 on the winter menu.
Another starter dish, costing R75 on the winter menu, was a chicken, crisp pancetta and prawn stack, served with an egg prepared at 62°C to get the white of the egg to set whilst keeping the yolk runny. It also contained almonds, and was served with a Spanish Sofrito smoked paprika sauce. This is a cold starter. So too was the starter of fig, teriyake glazed tofu, goat’s cheese, orange slices, hazelnuts and a tatsoi sauce. This starter does not appear on the winter menu, but was very popular on the summer menu, Chef Richard said. A palate cleanser of rose geranium sorbet (surprisingly white but tasting heavenly, more subtle in taste than that at Dash restaurant) and a pickled ginger sorbet (surprisingly pink) was a refreshing break on my culinary journey.
The first main course was a herb-crusted rainbow trout served on mash and wilted spinach, courgette and pine kernels, with a lovely violet beurre rouge, which costs R120 as a main course on the winter menu. As the eighth course, I could not finish all of the peppered springbok, which Chef Richard said he sources from Graaff Reinet, and this is one of his best sellers, costing R155. It was served on parsnip purée, with beetroot and croquettes, decorated with slices of plum, and served with an hibiscus jus.
The desserts were too delicious to refuse, and I had a wonderful strong cappuccino (R20) made from Deluxe coffee with each. The first dessert had no colour at all other than white, unusual given Chef Richard’s colourful dishes that had preceded the desserts. It consisted of a refreshing lemon mousse, mascarpone mousse, white chocolate sorbet, pieces of white chocolate and of meringue, and an almond financier, a type of sponge, cut into blocks. It costs R50 on the winter menu. The final course was a dessert (R55) made with hazelnut ice cream, pistachio sponge, aerated chocolate, coulant (a mini chocolate fondant), honeycomb and hazelnut streusel. As if there was not enough food already, the cappuccino was served with a coconut chocolate and two mini-meringues held together with chocolate.
The winelist and the menu are both presented in beautiful small black leather-covered holders, with the Ferreira family crest on them. The winelist states that BYO is not allowed. Cigars and cocktails are offered, as are 100 wines. Wines by the glass include Colmant Brut (R55/R290), Graham Beck Brut Rosé (R85/R430), Pol Roger Brut (R180/R890), and Sterhuis Blanc de Blanc (R50/R250). Seven red wines are offered by the glass, ranging from R60 for Hartenberg Merlot 2008 to R125 for Raats Cabernet Franc 2008. Tokara Zondernaam Cabernet Sauvignon (2008) and Shiraz (2009) cost R35. Ten white wines by the glass include seven Tokara ones, including Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, ranging in price from R25 – R55. Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé costs R1500, its Elisabeth Salmon 1996 R3000, and its Clos Saint Hilaire 1998 R7000. Steenberg 1682 Brut costs R290. Five Shiraz choices are offered, starting at R135 for Tokara Zondernaam 2009, to R1400 for Hartenberg’s Gravel Hill 2005. French wines dominate the imported wine section, with 38 choices, ranging from R600 for Château Margaux 1996, to R8500 for two wines: Chambertin Armand Rosseau 1995, and Le Musigny Comte George de Vogue 1995.
The only downside of the lunch was the number of noisy children running around, despite the menu not catering for children at all – half-portions of the linefish of the day and of steak are served with chips for children. I was impressed with the tolerance and patience shown to the children by the waiters, when stepping into the fireplace, for example.
Chef Richard Carstens is a definite Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant contender for 2011. He is constantly reinventing himself, not happy to just stay with one cuisine style, but looking to challenge himself and his menu regularly. He is hungry for new knowledge and inspiration, finding it in music, in fashion, in nature, and in books. His food is colourful, and incredible attention is paid to creating a dish consisting of a number of unusual elements, many of them having undergone prior work to add to the palette on the plate. When I first visited the new Tokara in October, Chef Richard sent out a carpaccio as an amuse bouche, and my son and I struggled to identify what it was made from, having quite a wild taste – we could not believe that it was made from watermelon, an idea that he had picked up from Mugaritz, now third ranked on the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants, but that he had executed completely differently. Chef Richard has a passion for his craft, commendable from a chef who has been around for longer than most in the Cape, and it shows in his creative cuisine. I felt very privileged to have been invited by him to try his new winter menu.
Tokara Restaurant, Tokara Winery, Helshoogte Pass, Stellenbosch, Tel (021) 885-2550. www.tokararestaurant.co.za (The website is disappointing for a top restaurant, only containing the address, telephone number, and Facebook and Twitter links. There is no menu, no winelist nor Image Gallery. Twitter: @Tokara_ @RichardCarstens. Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Tuesday – Saturday dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
My previous visit to Jardine, soon after George Jardine had left to start his new Stellenbosch restaurant Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, was not as excellent as I had expected, feeling that George Jardine had left a gap that new chef Eric Bulpitt still needed to grow into. Our return visit last week shows that Chef Eric has got there, and that George Jardine is no longer expected nor ‘present’ at Jardine. The advertised three course Spring Special meal is in fact a 7-course one, thereby offering excellent value.
I was interested in the four week period that Chef Eric had recently spent at Noma in Copenhagen, the number one of the San Pellogrino Top 50 Restaurants in the World and a 2-star Michelin restaurant. It was Chef Eric’s choice as restaurant ‘mecca’, for its focus on ‘natural’ gastronomy, and he worked there without pay, and in the company of many other chefs from around the world, to undergo a ‘learnership’ in this renowned restaurant. The first influence that Noma has had on Chef Eric is sourcing ingredients from nature, by foraging with his team in The Glen as well as in Newlands Forest, to find herbs and plants for his dishes, including wood sorrell, chickweed, Cape Chamomile, and nasturtiums. He also learnt about flavour combinations. The goal orientation of a restaurant such as Noma, which is based on focus and excellent organisation, was a further impactful influence, which Chef Eric wants to strengthen across the board at Jardine Restaurant. He described it as being almost “militaristic”, with strict rules and regulations to work by. He noted how the labour legislation differs in Denmark, in that one can fire staff if they do not deliver, and this is accepted by the staff, unlike South Africa and its restrictive labour law.
Other than the hostess Christina, who seemed to know who I was without welcoming me by name and therefore coming across as unfriendly, the service from new Manager Simon Widdison (Johan Terblanche has moved across to be the Manager at Tokara, which opens today) was friendly, as was that of Hannes the waiter (although he must please learn to not stretch across customers to place the fork on the left, and was not quite au fait about wine and food details). The biggest surprise of all was how friendly and relaxed Jaap-Henk Koelewijn (what an apt surname!), the sommelier, has become. The waiter had incorrectly indicated that the Jardine Shiraz was from Le Riche, to which I said yes immediately, when it was actually from Cederberg. Jaap-Henk immediately offered to replace it with Hartenberg at the Jardine price, and had no problem in pouring the wine at the table and allowing me to taste it first.
In coming to try the 3-course Spring Special running until the end of October, at a most reasonable R180, one does not expect any extras. We were therefore most surprised that we were served three pre-starters, and an amuse bouche, prior to the three course meal, making it a 7-course meal. The first dish to arrive was interesting-looking deep-fried tapioca over which frozen goat’s cheese had been grated. I associate tapioca with ‘pudding’, and not favourably from my childhood, so I was a bit nervous about trying it. I felt it to be a little dry, and so only had a taste of it. The second dish was vetkoek with a gorgonzola centre, which my son loved and I did not at all, finding it rather bland. What I loved was the third treat, being a most unusual Kingklip crisp made by dusting the thinnest slice of the fish in tapioca flour, and serving it with a ponzu dressing, made from citrus and soya. My ‘Larousse Gastronomique’ defines tapioca as follows: A starchy food extracted from the roots of the manioc plant, which is hydrated, cooked, then ground. It is used mainly for thickening soups and broths and making milk puddings and other desserts”. Clearly this is an ingredient that Chef Eric loves. The amuse bouche was a cauliflower spuma, with a very delicate and light taste on top, and a spicy taste underneath.
The three course Spring Special only has one choice per course, and last Friday it was a Confit duck leg terrine served with spicy orange and naartjie chutney as starter; the main course was sirloin steak served with smoked mash, spinach and carrot puree; and the dessert was a selection of three sorbets and ice creams. The duck terrine was served in a circular slice, quite coarse and crumbly, and bound by a leaf. I had it with the lovely Cape seedloaf. My son preferred to not eat the terrine, and Chef Eric made him a Vegetable Patch starter from their a la carte menu, a most beautifully presented Spring-looking collection of baby beetroot, butternut, cherry tomatoes, parsnip, buffalo mozzarella, and a watercress emulsion, on ‘mushroom soil’, resembling that in texture, and made by drying mushrooms, grinding them, and then adding butter and herbs.
I had asked the kitchen to take the photographs for me, due to the softer lighting at our table, and this may have been the reason why both our steaks had lost their temperature when brought to the table. They were immediately replaced, and were excellent, two small pieces, with wonderful carrot puree and spinach, decorated with tiny nasturtium leaves, foraged by Chef Eric and his team earlier that day. The smoked mash was good, but I would have preferred it plain, as the smoked taste was too dominant. The dessert sorbet and ice cream choices were lemon and thyme, espresso coffee and chocolate, coconut milk yoghurt and chilli, and pear and glÃ¼hwein. I felt that of all the dishes served, the desserts allowed Chef Eric’s creativity to come to the fore the most, with the unsual combination of flavours, and beautiful presentation with a ‘birdseed’ crisp on a patterned square plate.
The winelist has a black leather cover too, reminding me of that at Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine, and its first page contains the names of the artists whose work is on display in the restaurant and for sale. Its introduction states that the winelist is a personal selection of wines to complement the ‘gastronomic feast’. Wines by the glass include Colmant Brut (R65); Sterhuis Blanc de Blanc (R55); Jardine Unwooded Chardonnay, which comes from Vriesenhof (R30); Lammershoek Roulette Blanc (R45), Trizanne Sauvignon Blanc (R45); Jardine Shiraz (which comes from Cederberg, and costs R 40); La Motte Millennium (R45); Sterhuis Merlot (R45); and Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc (R45). The Shiraz selection ranges from MAN Vintners at R95, to Luddite at R450, the Jardine costing R160, Hartenberg R330, and Miglarina R250.
Jardine is one of twenty finalists for the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, and chef Eric is one of four chefs (with David Higgs, PJ Vadis and Chantel Dartnall) that will be cooking for the guests attending the Top 10 Awards ceremony. It is said that cooking at the Awards dinner is a sure-fire guarantee of making the Top 10 list, although Eat Out editor Abigail Donnelly specifically denied this when she met with these chefs recently. With Chef Eric’s dedication to his craft, and his recent unpaid ‘learnership’ at Noma allowing him to re-invent himself after four years at Jardine Restaurant, he stands a good chance of making it onto the Top 10 list.
POSTSCRIPT 14/1: It has been announced that Jardine’s will close down at the end of February – its lease comes up for renewal then. The focus will be on Tokara in Stellenbosch. Part of the motivation is the departure of George Jardine to start his own restaurant, Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine. Chef Eric Bulpitt will move to The Roundhouse.
POSTSCRIPT 28/2: Jardine has closed, without a whimper or a thank you for the client support from the management.
Jardine Restaurant, 185 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 424-5640 www.jardineonbree.co.za (It is odd to see George Jardine’s photograph on the website, and to see him listed as an owner, when he is not involved in any apparant way. The website needs to be updated, reflecting the staff promotions and movements, including the Noma visit. The website could also do with an Image gallery, to show off Chef Eric’s cuisine creativity). Twitter @JardineCape Town. Tuesdays – Saturdays.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
A Twitter friendship with co-owner Wilhelm Kuehn, and a challenge from him to visit the restaurant to do a review, was the reason for returning for a meal at Jardine Restaurant in the Cape Town city centre, after 18-months since the previous visit.
Jardine Restaurant makes me think that it is somewhat ‘schizophrenic’ – a fine-dining ex-Top 10 restaurant, which also has an informal take-away at its Jardine Bakery section, and an informal sit-down lunch at tables and benches outside the door on the pavement. Restaurant founder and co-owner George Jardine has opted out of city living, to start a new country restaurant on Jordan wine estate in Stellenbosch, and now only cooks at Jardine Restaurant “2 or 3 times a week”, I am told, but the restaurant still carries his name. Wilhelm tells me that Waterkloof and Tokara were alternate options George Jardine had evaluated for his new restaurant.
Jardine has handed over the chef reins to Eric Bulpitt, who has worked at the Winchester Mansions Hotel, The Showroom, Ledbury in London, and at Jardine Restaurant with George. Kuehn was a lawyer, and now is the General Manager, keeping a fine eye on things upstairs, walking the floor to check that all runs smoothly.
Jardine Restaurant had to face the humiliation of falling from 3rd place in the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list of 2009 to between 12 – 20th place last November. One does not know if the judges felt that things had slipped, or because they felt that an award cannot go to a chef when he is not cooking there all the time any more – Jardine’s move to the winelands had been widely announced. Kuehn says the Top 10 award result last year created introspection, but Bulpitt’s new menu for the restaurant is drawing in regulars. I heard tourists, and recognised Howard Godfrey, MD of @home, as patrons, on an almost-full Thursday evening.
When one arrives one is met by Johan. I had not booked, but he made a plan to make a table available. I told him I would be out by 9 pm, but Jardine is not for fast in-and-out dining, mainly because the menu requires one to have a minimum of two courses, and I therefore only left after about two hours.
The downstairs section has never made an impact, and is set up as a bar and lounge. Upstairs the restaurant space has a central middle area, and tables against the windows, separate from the rest. It is not a particularly attractive space decor-wise, only a pop-art painting by Richard Scott on the far wall creating a splash of colour, one of a few artworks on the walls, coming from Worldart. A functional shelf holds functional cutlery holders and crockery. Close by, an old-fashioned cash register has an untidy collection of paperwork next to it. The tables have white tablecloths, and attractive and comfortable brown leather chairs. I sense a woman’s hand is lacking in the decor of the room (as I did at the Warwick tasting room recently) – all is very functional here. The chef and his kitchen crew of five work in a very small space, preparing each dish. Chef Eric is in the centre, finishing things off.
Wilhelm comes to chat and we talk about Twitter, other restaurant Twitterers, and the soon-to-open nearby Cookery School. A waitress brings the menu, printed on strong board, and it changes day by day. One chooses two (R 230) or three courses ( R 260), a 5 course chef’s menu (R 400) or a wine pairing menu (R350), the last two options not being explained by the waitress. A side salad is specified as costing R 45 extra, and other (unspecified) sides at R 35.
The menu choice was five starters and mains, and four desserts. The starters seemed esoteric (‘Evita and Princess figs’ -two varieties of figs, I was told and ‘vegetable patch’) or too fishy (oysters, mussels and salmon) for my taste. Main choices were line fish, Frazerburg lamb leg, seared Kroondal duck breast, rump, and grilled elf mushrooms.
An amuse bouche is served, almost over the top and ‘airy-fairy’, very foamy in general, and is meant to be an olive tapenade covered by a “tomato spoon” (missed the tomato taste), white pepper and a basil leaf. It is extremely light and aerated, and I am brought another because the air will have escaped while Wilhelm and I talk too much. I love duck, and was surprised when it was served – I call it “deconstructed”, with four little bits of duck, and little portions of “parfait en croute, celeriac, pomegranate and shallot” spread out on a wooden platter. The tiniest of tiny flowers, nuts and other ingredients are sprinkled across the plate. Had I not ordered a side of the most wonderful crunchy green beans sprinkled with flaked almonds, I would have still been hungry after the main course. The parfait is outstanding, the little that is offered.
The dessert options were chocolate torte, citrus tomato minestrone, pineapple souffle flambe, and a selection of South African cheeses (gorgonzola, camembert, labare-style cheese, ash-rind goat’s cheese and gruyere served with walnut toast and watermelon konfyt). The cheese platter, served on an extremely heavy granite slab, was an excellent choice, and was an enjoyable slow eat. It was decorated with the finest apple slices, always great with cheese, and slices of strawberry and raspberries, as well as nuts and blueberries.
The waitress was very efficient in explaining the menu items, but each item has so many components, that when the dish is brought to the table, one has long forgotten what exactly the chosen dish entails (Opal Lounge has the same problem). But the waitress was patient in running through the ingredients again. One irritation is the waitress offering her personal recommendation of the duck – I know that many restaurants do not allow their staff to eat the restaurant’s food, so I always reject such “recommendations”, as tastes do differ. I chose the duck, because I love duck, not because she recommended it.
The winelist is attractively presented in a brown leather cover, matching the chairs. It is an extensive list, separating bubblies, whites and reds, each sub-divided into varietals and blends, followed by two pages of mainly French and some Spanish wines. Wines by the glass are reasonably priced – a Villiera by-the-glass costs R 40, a Tribout R 120. A Jardine (made by Paradyskloof) Unwooded Chardonnay costs R 25, a Lammershoek Roulette Blanc R 40. The La Motte Millenium and Sterhuis cost R 45 each (for 125 ml). For the tasting menu one can order 60 ml portions of wines too. Billecart-Salmon champagne is served in various options, ranging from R 950 – R 7 000 a bottle. Two Graham Beck Cap Classiques cost R 410, the VIlliera R 190. Red wine options number 35, and range from R 95 for a MAN Shiraz to R 990 for a Muemve Raats De Compostella 2006; 27 white wine options range from the Jardine Unwooded Chardonnay at R 100 to R 780 for the Platter 2010 White Wine of the Year, the Sadie Palladius. French wines start at R 1 600 per bottle, to R 8 600 for a Chateau Lafitte-Rothschild 1995.
The sommelier Jaap-Henk Koelewijn is told that I have ordered a glass of La Motte Millenium 2007, and that I would like it poured at the table (I distrust wine-by-the glass service). Johan tells me that they have actually found a bottle of 2006 – what luck! Koelewijn comes to the table, does not show me the bottle, as I ask of him twice, and just carries on pouring the small portion. I ask him if I may not taste the wine. He retorts that he has done so already! There was no “hello, my name is Jaap, I am the sommelier, let me tell you some more about the La Motte Millenium…” from him. Why is that sommeliers have such attitude and arrogance (like at Bosman’s and Reubens in Franschhoek)? The minute I started the cheese platter, he was back to offer me another top-up of the wine or a port. No question was asked whether I had enjoyed the first glassful. The empty glass was probably taken to communicate that it was good! I had to ask for a cappuccino to accompany the coffee, as this was not offered as a beverage option.
The lunch menu changes regularly too, and that of 11 March had four starters (oysters and mussels as per the dinner menu) and two salads, 3 mains (line fish, rump and mushrooms, as per the dinner menu), and 3 desserts (chocolate torte and cheese as per the dinner menu). Here the prices look reasonable, and one can order per dish. The sums do not add up if you see the lunch prices for individual menu items, compared to paying for 2 or more dinner courses. Wilhelm says the lunch menu dishes are simpler.
If Wilhelm had not come to chat, I would have left without the “connection” to Jardine Restaurant. There is some very soft music, so soft that it is inaudible. It gets progressively hotter in the room, as the airconditioning is on but the windows are open, defeating the function of the aircons. A fan is brought from around the corner, and makes a difference.
Jardine Restaurant, corner Bree and Bloem Street, Cape Town. Tel (21) 424-5640. www.jardineonbree.co.za. Twitter @JardineCapetown. Open for dinner Monday – Saturday evenings, lunch is served Wednesdays – Fridays.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com