Hemelhuijs is a heavenly new restaurant which opened two weeks ago in Waterkant Street, close to the World Cup pedestrian bridge crossing over Buitengracht Street, on the city side. It is owned by Jacques Erasmus, who was one of the founders of Manna, which had a strong following on Kloof Street, whilst it was owned by Maranda Engelbrecht (she has just opened Babel at Babylonstoren). Jacques assured me that Hemelhuijs is not another Manna, and that there will be no coconut bread, part of a Manna signature dish.
I asked about the restaurant name, and the Dutch imprint. The name came from the direct translation, which would be the house of joy, or it being heavenly. The restaurant is also around the corner from the Lutheran Church, which one sees on Strand Street. He chose the Dutch link, to give it a more charming feel and it reflects his heritage and family tradition, coming through in the menu, for example the fresh farm eggs, farm chicken and lamb ribs, all of which Jacques and his team have reinvented.
The restaurant is a large space, and spills out onto the traffic-free pedestrian walkway. Neighbouring buildings sell products relating to the design and decor industry (Lightworld, Finda spa baths, and a paint shop is being set up). A Peruvian restaurant is set to open across the walkway. When one walks in, one sees a display space for Jacques’ ‘home ware’ range, black ceramic crockery which Jacques has designed and is made for him. The black colour, not just on the outside but inside too, retains the heat of the plates when pre-warmed, for half an hour, he told me. I thought them to be great for getting a better photograph relative to the dominant use of white plates in restaurants. Jacques uses the restaurant as an outlet for the home ware, as well as for the wonderful slick classic yet modern square-shaped zen-feel furniture, made from wood and black steel structures, all of which can be ordered. Material serviettes are provided, and the cutlery is new and shiny, a classic modern design.
Jacques told me that he is the creator of crockery chandeliers, which I first saw at Manna, and he also made the three modern chandeliers with crockery from the Dutch East India Company for the new Pierneef à La Motte. There are no crockery chandeliers at Hemelhuijs. Not only is Jacques an interior designer and restaurateur, but he is also a restaurant consultant, helping others to set up new restaurants. On the ceiling is a large rectangular white structure, on which Jacques created images, ‘like a 5-year child having fun and playing’, he explained. I asked him which his favourite restaurant is, and he immediately said it is his home, having eggs on toast. He most regularly goes to Chef Pon’s in Gardens, for its predictability, nothing about the menu or the food changing.
Business has been good to date, and lunches tend to be fully booked, mainly by female supporters, rather than city businessmen, as Jacques had expected. Many of the clients are ex-Manna friends. The A3 white menu looks just like that which Manna first used, and on one side it says simply: “Hemelhuijs: Everyday Luxury”, a nice and simple positioning. Breakfast is served all day, and most of the menu items are relatively standard dishes with one surprise ingredient, giving them a creative twist. The wine selection is very small and focused, the “boutique house wine” being Henry Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, made by Hennie Andrews near Napier, not only a good wine maker, but the original bread baker at Manna. Two sparkling wines are served: Graham Beck Brut RosÃ© and Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel, reasonably priced at R35/R160.
The menu has no dishes costing more than R90, for Baked salmon trout, pine nuts, dried cranberries and grapefruit butter. I ordered Fresh asparagus, smoked salmon and a wonderful hollandaise sauce (R70), served with home-baked rye bread, which I dunked in the sauce, to mop it up. The white asparagus spears were lightly blanched, making them super crunchy. The dish looked beautiful in the black bowl. For breakfast/brunch one can order fruit and yoghurt (R40); poached eggs, prosciutto, artichoke and hollandaisse sauce (R55); scrambled egg, salmon and toasted apple cake! (R50); and omelette and maple syrup glazed bacon, figs and goat’s cheese! (R55). Salads cost R55 – R65. Marzipan and dried apricot roasted chicken, a definite for the next visit, costs R 60; slow roasted lamb ribs cost R75; and the Hemelhuijs burger with creamed mushrooms and poached egg costs R70. Crostini with various toppings range from R35 for mozzarella and tomato, to R50 for chicken and avocado. The duck liver patÃ© and preserved orange also sounded wonderful (R45). Balsamic vinegar and olive oil (Hamilton Russell) are served in the most exquisite glass carafÃ©s, the olive oil one containing a herb sprig, giving it a special touch and taste. The cappuccino (R17) was served with ‘anys-beskuit’, three generous helpings, at no charge.
I will be returning to heavenly Hemelhuijs for a breakfast later this week. Jacques was very generous with his time and information. The business card says: “Wholesome food, freshly made juices, artisan home ware, delicious daily bakes’.
POSTSCRIPT 6/11: I have been back to Hemelhuijs twice since writing the review earlier this week, having the scrambled egg and salmon breakfast dish, as well as the most wonderful roast chicken with cherries, rocket cream, and marzipan and dried apricot stuffing.
POSTSCRIPT 13/4: I went to look at the dinner at Hemelhuijs last night (only open on Wednesdays), but had to wait until 19h00 for it to open, so went to Keenwä, the Peruvian restaurant close by first, as they open at 18h30. I ordered what sounded like a nice watercress and poached egg salad, at R55 – it was half a boiled egg on a side-plate full of hard-to-eat watrecress with some pine kernels. I felt more than ripped off, especillay when the manager did not flinch nor ask a question in presenting the bill in full, after I left the plateful of watercress minus the egg!
POSTSCRIPT 10/5: Today I had lunch at Hemelhuijs with interior curator Neil Stemmet, also owner of award-winning Le Must in Upington, at which Hemelhuijs owner Jacques started his cheffing career, and with chef and cookbook writer Sonia Cobano. I had a most unusual and very tasty combination of pork and chicken liver terrine, served with orange preserve and toasted rye bread.
POSTSCRIPT 16/5: This evening Hemelhuijs was opened especially to cater for the persons invited to the opening of the ‘Openness to Explore’ exhibition at the Freeworld Design Centre next door. The menu at Hemelhuijs was changed yesterday, and prices are creeping dangerously close to R100 – they had used the lunch menu and not their Wednesday evening menu. While delicious, the three ‘frikadelle’ on a lick of mash accompanied with a sprinkling of tomato and onion was expensive at R95, but it was delicious.
Hemelhuijs Restaurant, 71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-2042. No website. Monday – Friday 8h00 – 15h00. Saturday 9h00 – 15h00. Wednesday evenings from 19h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com