Tag Archives: degustation menu

Franschhoek Uncorked toasts long-awaited Spring!

After one of the wettest winters in a long time, Franschhoek is ready to welcome Spring with its ‘Franschhoek Uncorked‘ festival on 1 and 2 September, and has laid on a wine and food tasting feast in its honour. Nineteen wine estates are inviting wine lovers to meet their winemakers and taste their wines on their estates, at a cost of R100 for the weekend pass, covering both days.

Each participating wine estate will offer its wines for a free tasting (some have ‘bespoke‘ tastings too, at a fee). Each estate has some form of musical entertainment, and they all serve food to buy.  The wine estates participating, and their programme for the two days, are as follows:

*   Allée Bleue: live entertainment, fresh herbs of the estate to buy, new vintage Brut Rosé, and enjoy a meal at the Bistro

*   Anthonij Rupert Wines:  Taste Protea and Terra del Capo wines for free, or attend a ‘bespoke‘ tasting of Anthonij Rupert wines at R50.  Half price entrance to Motor Museum, at R30.

*   Boekenhoutskloof:  Taste new release Chocolate Block 2011, enjoy the band, and taste Reuben’s BBQ

*   Dieu Donné : cheese platters and spit braai offered, live music

*   Franschhoek Cellar: jazz band, free tasting of wines, cheeses, chocolates, and olives. Cheese lunch at R100 for two.

*   Grande Provence: free tasting; buy 11 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Shiraz and get one free; taste the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, and Chardonnay 2011; tapas; Marimba band; art exhibition ‘Walk this earth alone‘; five-course degustation menu on 1 September paired with Grande Provence and New Zealand Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, at R495.

*   Haute Cabrière: Ratafia ball throwing competition, wine tasting, restaurant offers a la carte menu

*   Holden Manz: ShenFM performs, Chef Cheyne’s menu, taste wines

*   La Bri: offers cheese platters, olives, homemade bread and chocolates to buy, five year vertical wine tasting R100, chocolate and wine pairing R50.

*   La Chataigne: 2012 vintage, guitarist, boules, ‘Swedish street food’

*   La Vigne: wine tasting, art exhibition by Lötter de Jager, Pasta Fresca, outdoor chess.

*   Leopard’s Leap: free tasting, and introducing two cocktails: Chardonnay Margarita and Shiraz Cocktail

*   Lynx: tapas, Spanish guitarist, taste new Lynx Viognier 2012

*   Maison: taste Chenin Blanc 2011, Shiraz 2010, and new Blanc de Noir 2012, jazz band, slow roast pork belly with pickles, ciabatta and mustard (R85)

*   Noble Hill: taste first Rosé, gourmet taco, live music.

* Plaisir de Merle: sweet and savoury pancakes, live entertainment

*   Rickety Bridge: Reggae band, eat pork belly fingers, rib eye, mini burgers, tempura hake goujond

*   Solms-Delta: Kaapse music, Kaapse food, Kaapse wines!

*   Vrede & Lust: decor for sale, baguettes and mussels, Lindt chocolate.

Franschhoek Uncorked, 1 – 2 September, 11h00 – 17h00.  R100 weekend pass. www.webtickets.co.za

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Restaurant Review: Tokara’s creative cuisine chemistry is SA’s El Bulli, Richard Carstens our Ferran Adria!

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

Restaurant Review: Aubergine new top Cape Town restaurant, yet inconsistent

Cape Town’s only Eat Out Top 10 restaurant, Aubergine, went about its business as if nothing had changed for the team of Harald Bresselschmidt the day after receiving its special honour, it seemed.  The Eat Out  plaque is on the shelf in the entrance hall, and if one had not read about the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Award winners announced on Sunday evening, one would not have known that Aubergine has been crowned as Cape Town’s best restaurant, except that the restaurant was fully booked on a Monday evening.

I took relatives from Germany to try out Aubergine last night, and had not been there for many years.  My overall reaction was one of uncertainty of how I felt about the evening there.   I was not sure if I could agree with the Eat Out judges that this is the one and only top restaurant in our city, as judged by them. 

The building is Victorian, located in Gardens, but the interior was very unmodern, functional, almost old-fashioned, with some interesting looking lampshades (looked like serviettes hanging over the light fittings), with wooden tables and woven chairs seating 60 – 70 guests, woven beige placemats, and some paintings of aubergines downstairs (including one by Father Claerhout), and more modern artwork upstairs.   One enters past a bar counter, and a wine storage system separates the restaurant from the bar counter.  I was fascinated by the changing lighting effect on this wine storage section, and wondered whether it enhanced the wines.  We sat in the upstairs section, with just four tables, a reed ceiling, and a triangular window offering a peek of Table Mountain.  It became very hot upstairs, and the small open window did not cool things down much.   Lighting was very low upstairs, from interesting wall light fittings creating the shadow effect of branches on the walls.   Serviettes are of good quality, as is the glassware, but the cutlery seemed too ornate compared to the unfussiness of the decor.

The lovely hostess Jacqueline heard us talk, and immediately switched to German, and served us in German for the rest of the evening, which impressed my relatives.  Jacqueline has only been at the restaurant for three weeks,  and is a most efficient and helpful hostess, answering our many questions.    The menu is divided into an a la carte section, and a degustation menu, but one is allowed to “mix and match”, which caused confusion at the time of the presentation of the bill, as every item ordered was itemised and not charged as per the set degustation price.   The menu is attached to a leather holder, with Aubergine branding.   The menu has a welcome from the “Cuisinier”, as Bresselschmidt calls himself on the business card.  The introduction to the menu states: “Ingredients come first”.  As Chef Patron he emphasises the “honest use of prime South African products, often enhanced by Oriental spices and cooking styles, leads you to appreciate the subtleties of what I try to produce”.   The degustation menu costs R344/R485 for three courses, R 420/R600 for four and R 525/R745 for five courses, the second price reflecting the cost with a wine paired to each dish.

Howard Booysen was a very knowledgeable sommelier, who studied at Elsenburg, and makes his own Weisser Riesling under the HB Wines label, which is on the Aubergine winelist.  He shares the sommelier honours with Dominic Adelbert, who studied hospitality in Geneva and Adelaide, and learnt about wine at Gleaneagles in Scotland, he said.  The winelist is impressive, neatly bound in a leather folder, with 30 pages each in a  plastic sleeve.  Vintages and regions are mentioned, and each vintage of a wine stocked is priced separately.  The winelist contains about 490 wines, and a full page is dedicated to wines by the glass.  A good spectrum of local and imported brands, and prices, is included in the extensive winelist.  We ordered the Catherine Marshall 2004 Shiraz at R 225.  The champagnes include Pol Rogers (ranging in price from R580 – R2200), Le Mesnil (R790 and up), Billecart Salmon Rosé (R1300), Drappier (R375 – R500), Tribault Rosé(R696), Laurent Perrier (R1000 – R1450) and Duval Leroy (R795 – R 3300).  Local brands of bubbly are Steenberg (R220 – R425), Teddy Hall R(385), Villiera (R220 – R300), Simonsig (R430), Krone Borealis (R270 – R3000), Silverthorn (R280) and Jaques Bruére (R230).   Shiraz choices start at R52/R215 for Migliarino, with 27 brands offered, Signal Hill and Eben Sadie ranging in price between R1000 – R1200, depending on the vintage.   White wines by the glass cost between R35 and R50 a glass, and red wines R45 – R65 per glass. Bresselschmidt told us that he is a Riesling fan, and calls himself the ‘Riesling ambassador in South Africa’.  He is importing 500 bottles from Germany.  His cellar at Auslese, the events venue he opened close by in the past year, holds 25 000 bottles in total.

A number of bread options was offered, and the wholewheat bread I chose was crispy and crunchy, freshly baked.  We tried to order a variety of dishes amongst the three of us, to be able to taste as widespread a range as possible.   The amuse bouche was an unexciting kingklip terrine, topped with salmon caviar and vinaigrette, served with a mini cucumber salad.  The triangular plate it was served on did not hold the knife, and it kept falling off, a frequent complaint one has of restaurant plates these days.  The support staff, wearing burgundy shirts, did not match Jacqueline’s level in any way, even though the lady that served us had been at the restaurant for four years.  I found her hard to understand, and she kept stretching in front of my cousin to pass on plates and cutlery to me, an absolute no-no for a top restaurant.  We were surprised that more senior staff do not bring the food to the table and explain the dishes.    The waitresses tried hard but lacked polish.

I had the Delice of smoked salmon trout and caper butter, served with roccula dressing, and poached quail eggs in a potato nest (R85).  No fish knife was served with this course.  My cousin had the Carpaccio of cured beef, served with marinated Burrata mozzarella, and a tomato and herb salad (R89).  She expressed surprise at how thick the beef slices were.  Her husband had the fish soup (R65), and felt the fish taste too pronounced, not something he is used to in German restaurants, being prepared in the French style. 

The highlight of all the dishes was an ‘in-between’ dish, being steamed crayfish served with black noodles and a saffron sauce.  Then came a sweet melon and mint sorbet palate cleanser, too sweet to our liking.

Something odd happened with the serving of the “Cape Sea Harvest” main course (on the degustation menu), which my cousin and her husband had ordered, described as a duo of kingklip and kabeljou when the menu was explained and our order taken.   When it was served, it only had one piece of fish.  We were not told proactively that the kingklip had run out, and whilst Jacqueline expressed her sincerest regret about a communication error between herself and the kitchen, it seemed unacceptable that an order taken was served incorrectly and was only reacted to when questioned.   I had a most unusual tender tongue dish, with very finely sliced marinated tongue, served with asparagus and a delicious vanilla and green tea velouté (R160).  Other main courses are duck (R182), lamb (R178), beef sirloin (R175) and ostrich fillet and tartare (R174).

For dessert my cousin had a very generous duo of Aubergine Créme Brûlée (R65).  I chose a Beignet of Tomme Obiqua cheese from Tulbagh, served with Golden Delicious apple (which I could not taste), roccula and walnuts (R105).  Other dessert options included a Charlotte of pear and ginger served with prickly pear sorbet (R75),  assiette of chocolate (R84), Delice of lemon and strawberry meringue (R58), and a chef’s surprise (R94).  I had ordered a cappuccino with the dessert, but it was only brought to the table after we had finished it, sweetened by a lovely plate of friandises served with the coffees.

Bresselschmidt came to our table and was very generous with his time in answering all our questions.  He opened Aubergine 15 years ago, and chose the name because of his respect for a vegetable that is flexible and offers versatility.   He had come to South Africa in 1992 to work at Grande Roche, and thereafter at Rhebokskloof.    He has lost track of how many times he has been on the Top 10 Eat Out  list, and thinks it is six or seven times.   He told us how hard it is to run a restaurant, when you have to double and triple check everything, something that can affect one’s creativity, he said.  He called for a score from the Eat Out  judges, so that restaurants making the Top 10 list can get feedback about their performance relative to their colleagues, and not just on a ranked basis.   We discussed the variability in the Eat Out  Top 10 list, and Bresselschmidt felt it may be the magazine’s way of keeping interest in the Awards.  Rust en Vrede is his favourite restaurant, and Bresselschmidt plans to take his team there next month to allow them to experience the country’s top restaurant.   He is also loyal to Bosman’s, celebrating his wedding anniversary there, having met his wife at the Grande Roche.  Nobu is another favourite. 

I am yet to be convinced that Aubergine is the best restaurant that Cape Town has to offer.   I did not experience it last night, mainly due to the inconsistency of the service and of the food served.

Aubergine Restaurant, 39 Barnett Street, Gardens, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 465-4909.   www.aubergine.co.za Mondays – Saturday evenings, Wednesday – Friday lunches.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:  www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Restaurant Review: Myoga Restaurant little ginger, lots of value

In three years I had never made it to Myoga, a restaurant in the Vineyard Hotel, but operated independently by Mike Bassett, who also owns Ginja, which had previously featured on the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant list.  Reports I had heard about the “bizarre” food served at the time that Richard Carsten was working at Myoga did not inspire a visit.  An invitation from new Marketing Manager Marc Coppin to try out the Winter Special was an incentive to visit this restaurant, which offers the most exceptional value in its 6-course winter special at R 150 (an 8-course degustation menu is also available, and costs R 350).   Bassett is a lover of ginger, as his two restaurant names attest, but there is little ginger evident in the dishes on the Winter Special – only two of the menu items contain ginger (gnocchi with steamed shrimp, and in the roast pork belly dish).

The buildings surrounding Myoga lend a modern air to that part of the hotel, and therefore it is a surprise when one sees the old-fashioned look of the Myoga restaurant space.  Marc explained that it once was the Ball Room of Lady Anne Barnard’s residence, and the round kitchen design is exactly in this space, intended to display the “theatre of the kitchen”, Marc explains. If pots fall and bang, as they did that evening, then it is part of this theatre.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  As one steps in through the door, one looks straight ahead into a collection of colourful water-wings, and one sees a lady’s costume and shorts.  It is meant to be a wacky “decor” touch, in that the costume and bathing shorts are meant to denote the Gents and Ladies loos – too wacky, in my opinion, for a serious player in the restaurant industry.  Whilst we are on the topic – when one is in the loo, one is entertained by a live feed coming from the kitchen, on a flatscreen TV at the back of each bathroom door.   A pity therefore that one of the screens did not work that night, nor the latch on one of the doors.  In the entrance area a massive Aga stove, more suitable for a museum, displays the restaurant’s awards, alongside two brass washing basins on top of the stove (only a man can see these as being decorative assets to the restaurant)!

The decor of the restaurant space is a surprise, and quite frankly, leaves a lot to be desired.  As I wrote about Jardine, the decor needs a serious “woman’s touch”.   It has different design elements thrown at the interior, and there is little consistency.  Marc told me that a revered decor fundi advised Bassett on the decor, and that this is a touchy subject.  On entering the main restaurant space, one sees the bar on the right, with a multitude of thin steel strands.   To the left is a seating area at which no one sits, like a lounge, the black lacquer edging of the white leather couches badly scratched and a brownish couch being very much out of place in terms of colour and design.  My advice to Marc was to remove the seating area, and add restaurant tables.  The woodwork on all chairs in the restaurant has an orange-ish stain, with two different black and white fabrics used.  The tables are black with a silver edging.  Massive orange “thrones” are dotted around the restaurant, adding colour, but dating the restaurant.   An Eastern lighting touch around the columns seems to relate back to a previous restaurant tenant.  In general, the lighting is a busy and clashing mixture of lamps, chandeliers and downlighters.

All traces of Carstens have been removed from the menu, the feedback having been that he was too wacky with his deconstruction approach to food.  The menu has been simplified, and is updated every six months, says Marc.  Myoga offers “global fusion cuisine”, and the most favourite menu items stay, Myoga regulars enjoying this and others welcome the opportunity to try something new.   The mantra of the restaurant is “Relax Eat Revive”, says the menu.   The winter specials menu is a generous six-course one, each course offering three choices, and five of these are paired to a wine selected by the sommelier, at an exceptionally reasonable R 150 for the food and an extra R 135 for the wine pairing.  The dishes on the specials menu are different to those on the standard menu.  The sommelier/”mixologist” Carl is the nicest I have had the pleasure to deal with (lofty sommeliers are not my favourite).  Having worked at Myoga from the beginning, he is knowledgeable in being able to answer all my questions, and even about sister restaurant Ginja.  He does not flinch when I tell him that I would prefer reds with all my courses, and he found suitable ones for me. For a start, we were offered a cocktail, not something I indulge in, a strawberry sparkling wine martini mix, which had quite a bite to it, so I quickly put it aside.   Beaumont is the house wine. 

Rob Earleigh is the chef, working with Bassett at Myoga.  I started with an amuse bouche of coriander spuma with sweet chilli (not too hot at all), served in a shot glass, with a toasted crispy ‘salt and pepper prawn’, one of the Myoga signature dishes, which Carl serves with an Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008.  Iced oyster and roasted garlic flaky pastry tart were two ‘mouth tickler’ alternatives.  This was followed by a garden pea soup, pancetta and truffle cappuccino, with a refreshing taste of mint, with salted crackling, served with a Hermanuspietersfontein nr. 5 Sauvignon Blanc 2009.  We were served tasty ciabatta and wholewheat bread with this.  Other soup alternatives were a Cape seafood bouillabaisse, and slow cooked leek and potato soup.  A lamb and lemon canneloni (almost pancake-like), with a feta cream centre, and tandoori spice, was an unusual combination, and the least successful of the items on the menu in my opinion, being too bland relative to the other exciting pasta dishes (Semolina potato gnocchi, and baked ricotta and spinach dumplings) my companions had.  The pasta dish was served with Raka Sangiovese 2008.  We had a lime sorbet as a ‘refresher’, but even for this course one has the choice of apple and passion fruit sorbet too. 

The kingklip looked attractive with a green herb and mustard crust, and was served with Mediterranean steamed poatato, charred leeks, asparagus and sauce nantaise.  However, it had an overpowering taste of Dijon mustard, which is a shame, as kingklip is a lovely tasting fish and does not need mustard to spice it up.  Hermanuspietersfontein’s Die Bartho 2009 was paired with the fish.   The roasted pork belly, an alternative main course dish, was outstanding, served with sweet potato and cream spinach. Beef fillet was a third alternative.  I ended off with a hot apple and pear brulee tart, which I had served with fresh cream instead of creme fraiche, and Carl served Delheim Edelspatz 2009 with it.  The milk chocolate pot de creme was an alternative dessert, being a cooked chocolate pudding with a wonderful caramel foam, served in a coffee cup. Another alternative dessert was wobbly vanilla panna cotta with pineapple soup.

The service we received from manager Mike, who had to jump in at the last minute as the restaurant was so busy, was impeccable. I particularly liked him explaining the ingredient of each dish, as the menus had been removed after we had ordered.  Also, he laid the cutlery on the left and right of each diner, rather than stretching across, which I experience in restaurants with great regularity.  Marc is the new Marketing Manager of the restaurant, having been a waiter at the restaurant prior to this.  He is excited about the challenge that lies ahead, and he received a mini-lecture from me about the value of social media marketing.

We loved being spoilt by the Myoga team, and generally the food and service was of an outstanding quality, at most commendable value-for-money (hence the fully booked restaurant on a weekday night).  We will come back.  I wish I could get my hands on the Myoga decor though!

Myoga, Vineyard Hotel, 60 Colinton Road, Newlands. Tel  (021) 657-4545. www.myoga.co.za. Open Tuesdays – Saturdays for lunch and dinner.  6-course dinner R150.    2-course lunch R125, 3 courses cost R175.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com