The new ëlgr. restaurant which has taken over the space of the former Janse & Co is a breath of fresh air, having moved more of its restaurant seating to its newly created outside seating area, bar and pizza counter area. It opened on Kloof Steeet two months ago.
It has the most complicated restaurant name I have ever come across, a Swedish word that means moose, but the reason for the choice is not explained. It is pronounced like the composer Elgar. With such a Scandinavian introduction, one might expect the food to be from the region too, but it is local yet ‘multicultural’, its website informs, offering French cooking, South African dishes, and Italian pizzas., made with fresh ingredients, and to be enjoyed in a relaxed environment.
The owners of the restaurant space are the Nilsson family, the backers of Janse & Co originally. I was unable to get the reason for the break up between Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg and the backers, it appearing to have happened very suddenly late last year, four of the female staff having been retrenched, leaving to open Oxalis Eatery on Wale Street, to be followed by Chef Arno sometime later. As a past diner at Janse & Co, it was weird to eat off the same Revol plates, and to see their unique cutlery boxes still in use. The murals in the bathroom have been retained. The kitchen remains open and visible to diners.
However, much has changed. On arrival, the lovely Congolese doorman is still there to welcome diners, now no longer wearing black, being more than security and handling the Covid protocol at the door. It was lovely to be welcomed back by him, not having eaten in the space for more than a year, other than collecting some decadent desserts to take home during earlier stages of Lockdown. The mural one saw when one entered the restaurant has gone, covered with shelves with wine bottles, and more tables added in this space. The long table near the entrance area now has blue chairs. A circular couch has been moved to the fireplace, a cosy space in winter. A seating area with couches has been added. The wall colour has been lightened, to a lighter shade of grey. The outside seating area is vastly different, the hydroponic structure having been removed, the flooring tiled, a pizza oven added with a pizza bar, and a vast beverage bar, with seating, and the outside area now has a see-through covering. Plants in planter boxes round off the edges, and tables have pots with herbs on them. In summer this is a lovely protected area in which to dine. The staff shirts, including that of the chefs, reflects the greenery and foliage of the outside seating area.
I met friends Gary Peterson and Thomas Höhnke at the bar, and we decided to sit at an outside table. There were a few other diners as well, and our tables were well spread out over the large seating area. Our waiter Ryan introduced himself, and brought menus, printed on simple A5 sheets of grey paper. Ryan told Gary that he remembered me from working at Benguela on Main.
Chef Jesper Nilsson is the son of the owners of the restaurant, and he was the Sous Chef working for Chef Arno when it was Janse & Co. He has lived in the country for nine years, and studied cheffing at the Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch. He has worked at a restaurant in New Zealand, and then at Bastard Restaurant in Mälmo in Sweden, and in France, before returning to Cape Town. He has worked for Chefs Darren Badenhorst, Richard Carstens, and Arno Janse van Rensburg in their Franschhoek restaurants.
I was supplied with a lot of information by Manager Chase Pargeter, who met me at the entrance and showed me to the outside seating area. He has worked in Food & Beverage in Edinburgh, and returned to his home country late last year.
The menu lists all dishes together, not separating them by starters, mains, and desserts, an unusual presentation, only the desserts typed with a line space, separating them from the other 14 dishes. Ryan quickly started making recommendations, for starters, for mains, and for desserts. We were not wanting to eat a three course meal, so we ordered one each of the three main courses, deciding to share, and one each of the desserts. I had seen bread and crisps as I walked past the kitchen, all looking good, so Ryan brought us a platter with sourdough bread and delicious Scandavian style crisps, with butter.
We were surprised that Ryan offered us a welcome cocktail on the house, and there were seven to choose from, with a further four mocktails. I’m not a cocktail fundi, and did not know any of their creations. The ingredients were detailed on the cocktail menu, each having a provocative name, such as Doctor’s Orders (with Black Bottle, Vermouth, African Ginger, Bitters, and Atomizer) which Gary ordered but did not like the taste of (I concurring with him); Naughty Dessert, made with Don Julio, cacao, maple, Absinthe Mist, and Campari), and Love & Sage, the one I ordered, with Ketel One vodka, lemon juice, sage, and pineapple, nice and refreshing at the end of a hot summer’s day. Gary was very impressed when Ryan brought him a Thymeberry Tonic, made with strawberry, thyme, pineapple, and tonic, when he could not drink his first cocktail. Thomas does not drink alcohol, so he ordered Tepache Julep, made with mint, fennel, and lime, served in an unusual bronze cup. Standard Gin & Tonics are available, each using Fitch & Leedes Tonic, and fresh ingredients added. The G & Ts cost R90, mocktails R60, and the House cocktails R110. Craft beers are available on tap.
We met Italian origin but Cape Winelander Sommelier Mario Salvatore, who presented us with the wine list of Cape Winelands wines, an extensive list printed on a grey double-sided A4 sheet, starting with their House wines, at R55 for Rosé, R55 per glass and R200 per bottle for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and R70/R275 for a Red Blend by De Toren. White wines are offered from R60 by the glass upwards, and red wines from R75. Excellent producers are listed, smaller ones dominating, and vintages of each wine are specified. We decided to not order wine, enjoying our cocktail and mocktails. Mario spent ten years on luxury cruise ships, presenting wines to the clients. He has selected wines ‘from grand estates to smaller cellars’, the website informs.
If one wanted to subdivide the menu, one would do so as follows:
#. Starters: Charcuterie board at R190/or R120, the price difference not explained, and carrying on the charcuterie tradition of Chef Arno from the former Janse & Co, some house-made and some supplied by master charcuterier Richard Bosman; marinated olives at R30, which arrived at our table without us having ordered them; watermelon, lime and chilli at R45, a sweet/hot sounding combination; Toast, Lardo and anchovies at R70; sounding delicious is the bread crisp with goat’s cheese, honey, fig, and hazelnut, at R75; an interesting sounding combination is baby gem, plum, walnut, and Parmesan, at R90; odd-sounding is the combination of fennel, yoghurt, date, red onion, mint, and saffron, at R90; also bizarre, to my taste, is beetroot, curry, cashew, and coriander, at R90; and raw beef (not explained if minced as tartare), Dijon mustard, rocket and blue cheese, at R90, also a bizarre combination.
# Pizzas: Having installed a good sized pizza oven, only offering two pizza options seems odd, and not what one would expect from a restaurant of this calibre. Both pizzas cost R120, one having mozzarella, kale and Nduja, a pork sausage, and the other potato, leek, and Bocarones (anchovies).
# Main courses: all three main courses cost R140. Gary ordered brisket as his main course, I finding it the least attractive in its plating, as it is served with lentils, tomatoes, and salsa verde. It is prepared sous vide. I tasted a small bite of Thomas’ kingklip, loving its taste and presentation, served with tomato, red pepper, grilled bread, and red onion. My Pork was sliced and served with spinach, potato purée, Beurre noisette, and kale, the latter not my favorite, but served crispy.
#. For me the highlight of our dinner was the Dessert Selection, I ordering Paris-Brest filled with vanilla cream and decorated with strawberries, very filling after the crisp bread and main courses we had eaten already. It was a decadent end to my meal. Gary had a beautiful looking Raspberry Semifreddo, an Eton Mess type of smashed meringue, cream, and raspberries. Thomas ordered the Ice-Cream sandwich, two baked cookies on salted caramel, and pistachio ice cream inside. All three these desserts cost R90. A cereal ice cream costs R60, and chocolate sorbet with olive oil and salt R50, the latter arriving as a complimentary portion for us to taste.
The mostly three-ingredient dish composition from Janse & Co seems to have remained at ëlgr. Refreshing too is no smears and dots on the plate, also a carry-over from Janse & Co. The menu requests that one inform the waiter of dietary requirements.
So what made our dinner at ëlgr. so enjoyable? First and foremost, it was the company of Gary and Thomas. Then it was the very good service on arrival of the doorman, and our waiter Ryan. It was the friendliness of Chef Jesper, having time to speak to me, being less shy than his predecessor Chef Arno. It was the added service of Manager Chase, answering all my many questions. The person we interacted with least was the Sommelier Mario. The ambiance in the outdoor seating area and the breeze coming through the space at the end of a hot day was superb, surely soon to become a very popular summer spot. And the desserts were delicious of course. The spoiling cocktails and the crisp bread added to our enjoyment. The main courses were less spectacular, but did not distract from our overall dining experience.
I have the honour of being the first restaurant critic to eat at ëlgr. Chef Jesper told me. The staff were very relieved to hear that we had a fabulous time at ëlgr., a restaurant to return to.
Thank you to Gary Peterson for sharing his photographs of the evening with me, and for I being the guest of Gary and Thomas.
ëlgr., 75 Kloof Street, Cape Town. Tel 021+422-0384. www.elgr.co.za Facebook. Instagram @elgr.restaurant Book via @dineplan_app.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein @MyCapeTownGuide