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Guardian Peak

23 Sep

Guardian Peak has amazing views. Glass from ceiling to floor, peering out over vine-clad slopes and rugged mountains- the stuff that we are spoiled with in Cape Town. The staff is friendly and their wines are good. They call it the food and wine experience. The menu is organized around their wines with a starter and a main chosen to complement each wine. The price of each dish actually includes a glass of wine. I think it is a fun, refreshing way of organizing a menu. It did take a fair bit explaining from the waiter, given that there were lots of specials too that didn’t quite work the same way. The food options were quite approachable: lamb shank pie, smoked trout salad, steak etc.

I haven’t written any negative reviews in ages. I don’t particularly like writing them but I do believe in them (see rant here), provided that you give the restaurant some feedback. The reason is that we have actually been really lucky lately. Hooray! That is until a lazy day of wine routing about a week ago.

 

Beautiful views at Guardian Peak

Modern setting at Guardian Peak

Two things went really wrong. The quality of the food wasn’t great and the wine pairing (the focus of the menu) was just plain off.

Following a global carpaccio obsession, I had a mushroom carpaccio. I don’t know what had happened to it, but it was really bitter.  Moreover it was a light dish and it was paired with their shiraz-lead blend.  Apparently the mushroom dish was chosen to complement the earthiness of the wine. True, mushrooms, in general, are earthy but not when they are served as a fresh carpaccio. The Chimp (makes me smile every time I write that) had a warm trout salad, which was a huge pile of salad leaves (Woollies?) with some slightly overcooked trout garnished with cucumber and carrot ribbons. My second course (I took two starters) was pickled spicy calamari salad, also a light dish. The calamari was chewy (maybe just the pickling?) and it was a bit bland. The calamari salad was paired with another heavy red blend (cab sav and shiraz), which tasted completely sour with the salad.  The calamari salad was supposed to play with the spiciness of the shiraz (I did ask). The Chimp had some chewy Japanese-style beef, which was overwhelmed by a sweet chutney. I did actually complain. I have to say they took the complaint well saying that it was a new menu and it is great to get feedback on the wine pairings.

It is a pity. I really hope the feedback got passed on and they give some more thought to the focal point of the concept, their wine pairing. The space and the concept do have potential.

Mushroom carpaccio

Trout salad with carrot and cucumber ribbons

Seafood chowder

21 Sep

Adding corn and bacon to soups seems to be my thing of the moment. Here we go again! Using prawn heads for a quick stock adds some great flavour (something I picked up from making Tom yum soup). This makes a great quick dinner or an elegant dinner party starter. Shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to prepare.

seafood chowder

Serves 2:

1 onion
1 celery
2 strips of bacon
1 sweet potato
2 cobs of corn, kernels cut off
2 cups dry white wine (sav blanc works especially well)
4 cups/ 1 liter veg stock
8 prawns with heads, cut heads off (don’t through away) and deshell them.
pinch of chilli
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp soy sauce
300g calamari
fresh parsley and chives

Sweat the onion, bacon and celery in a hot pan until just starting to brown. Add the sweetpotato and corn kernels and stir for five mins. Add the white wine and let it boil for five minutes. Add the stock and the prawn heads and boil for ten minutes.

Take out the prawn heads and bacon and discard them. Puree the soup with a handblender and press it through a fine sieve. Add the chilli, paprika and soy sauce and season to taste. You can prepare it to this point in advance.

When ready to serve, bring the soup to a boil and add the sliced calamari and prawns. Take off the heat (calamari goes rubbery if you keep it on). Let it sit for a few minutes and serve with fresh parsley and chives and some nice crusty bread.

Seafood chowder

 

seafood chowder

Marinated courgette, lemon and goats cheese pasta

16 Sep

Sometimes you just get so excited, you need to post something right away. This new recipe of mine is one of those. It is spring on a plate. Apart from that it is easy and quick to make. Sure a bit of chopping, but all done and plated in less than 30 minutes. I promise.

The inspiration for this dish came from two things. A week of “two lunches and dinners a day”- eating in New York and a lunch with my mum at Tertin Kartano in Finland. The trend in New York seems to be serving pickled or lemon marinated thinly cut vegetables and calling it carpaccio. The chef in Finland had prepared courgettes soaked in lemon juice and combined them successfully with cauliflowers. This prompted me to make goats cheese and lemon marinated courgette bruschettas to delight my mum and her friends. Mum, this recipe is even better.

Serves 2:

4-5 baby courgettes/ zucchinis

2 lemons juiced and 1 zested

Handful of fresh parsley

a few mint leaves

1 small clove of garlic, grated

1 tsp of capers (use coarse salt flakes if you don’t have them)

olive oil

fresh goats cheese

toasted pinenuts

250 g tagliatelle

Slice the courgettes finely in a mandolin or use a cheeseslicer. You can cut them with a knife as well but you need to make sure they are really thin. Squeeze the juice out of the lemons (grate the zest off one of them first) and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Prepare pasta according to package instructions. Drain in a colander and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Chop together parsley, grated garlic, lemon zest, mint leaves and capers to form a gremolata (fancy way of saying chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic).

Combine everything on a plate and enjoy.

 

Roundhouse

16 Sep

I often get asked by visitors where they can go for fine dining in town that has a seaview or even a nice view of Table Mountain. Not in the winelands, but in town. I usually draw a slight blank and recommend Roundhouse in Camp’s Bay crossing my fingers and toes that it will be fine as until now I had never been.  Given the spectacular Table Mountain and stunning white beaches, it is a bit odd that there aren’t more restaurants with great views in town. The Noon gun is really the only one that springs to mind. Maybe Dash? Nothing up in the skyscrapers or high on the slope? No. Odd.  Given that the experience with Camp’s Bay restaurants has been pretty dismal to date I had to drag the Chimp to the Roundhouse kicking and screaming.

We loved it.

 

Killer view from Roundhouse

I started with a gorgeous velvety bean velouté made even richer with a chicken liver parfait. This was paired exquisitely with the Intellego chenin blanc, a rich full wine which reminded me vaguely of Sauternes. Maybe it was the pairing with liver. Cam took the trendy option of vegetable carpaccio (if think they call it something along the lines of a vegetable patch). The pickled vegetables were complemented by powdery “mushroom soil”. Soil it wasn’t, but it tasted a bit like vegan sugarfree raw chocolate. An earthy flavor with something like nutmeg (not sure). It worked well. Our second course was a light dish of sustainably farmed cob that came with dill and promises that it didn’t come from the overfished cob populations. Points for that. It was the first time that this type of information has been volunteered to me when presenting a menu. My main course was the only let down of the evening. Big roasted cubes of celeriac dressed with a bit of foam.  Our desserts,  textures of chocolate and a granadilla soufflé, were a big hit. The Roundhouse wine menu was a fascinating read. Pages of interesting wines from a wide selection boutique wineries and an extensive selection of wines by the glass.

Sustainably farmed cob and dill

Beautiful food at Roundhouse

We were well taken care of by an army of waiters all evening. I think at least three people told us that they would be taking care of us that night. What was surprising (and incongruous) was that they addressed us on a first name basis at this quite fancy restaurant (R500+ per person). “Marianna, you are having the soup…” Very odd. I think it may have been their way of making us feel at home in a formal setting but it didn’t work. It wasn’t just a specific waiter, they asked for our first names on the phone when reserving. Not only mine (I called) but my husband’s as well. Then they asked for our first names again when we were seated. I come from a really informal culture where you would never be addressed as Mrs. and even I reacted to this. Apart from that oddity, I have to say the service was smooth and very friendly. I especially appreciated having someone introduce the menu to us with some honest recommendations.  Mind you, the menu did need some introducing as you can only have a four- or a six course meal.

The Roundhouse is definitely a restaurant to recommend to visitors. Not only that, I would warmly recommend it to locals in search of a special treat as well. The lawns in front of the restaurant, which enjoy spectacular sea and mountain views, are also open for lunch in the summer season.

PS. Went back for a girls’ dinner and the food was even better. The chef had created a new celeriac dish which was sublime. Roasted in goat’s butter, cider fermented apple, hazelnut milk and huguenot cheese. Paired with Howard Booysen Riesling. Mmm. This was part of a R240 7 course winter special menu.

 

The Glen
Cape Town 8001
021 438 4347

Historical Roundhouse building

Quick rustic chicken, mushroom and corn soup

14 Sep

Chicken soup is the perfect rainy day food. Easy to make and infinitely satisfying. Bacon adds some extra meatiness and smokiness to this recipe. Enoki mushrooms and corn add texture. Apart from the recipe, I am quite excited by my props for this. The soup bowls are from the 1930s (vintage Arabia) and were used by my great grandparents. The seventies tablecloth is from my grandparents.

Chicken soup served on vintage Finnish bowls and tablecloth

Serves 3-4

2 celery sticks chopped
1 onion chopped
1 carrot sliced
2 strips of bacon roughly chopped
1 tsp white peppercorns
900 g of skinned chicken (on the bone), drumsticks and thighs are great*
1.5 liters of chicken stock
250 ml/ 1 cup of white wine
1 bay leaf
a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary
2 ears of corn destalked (/1 tin)
handful of enoki mushrooms (other flavourful ones like shitake should work fine)
1 tbsp of soy sauce
chopped parsley

Sweat the celery, onion, carrot and bacon in a pot. The bacon fat should be enough to brown the vegetables lightly but if it is very lean you can add some cooking oil. Add the peppercorns and fry for another minute. Pour in the white wine and let it reduce for a couple of minutes. Pour in the stock bay leaf, thyme and rosemary and chicken and bring to the boil. After about ten minutes check if the chicken is done (prick with a fork. clear juices mean done, pink juices mean it still needs to cook). Take the chicken out and remove the bones.

Add the corn kernels, mushrooms and soy sauce and season to taste. Boil for five minutes and put the deboned chicken back in. Serve with chopped parsley.

*It tend to use drumsticks and thighs with bones intact for extra flavor. You can substitute with chicken breasts (without bones), but be extra careful about overcooking them. If using chicken breasts take them out after they are cooked and shred them or slice them when they are raw.

Enoki mushrooms

Gaaitjie

9 Sep

Gaaitjie was the last stop on our drive down from London. The feeling of that first hot bath and gourmet meal after six months through Africa still lingers in my mind. It is a special spot. You feel like you have arrived at a secret gem but the truth is that even the New York Times has been wined and dined here. This was our third visit and we have been thoroughly spoiled every time.

Owner and chef, Suzi Holtzhausen, clearly lives and breathes good food and moreover works hard to support her west coast community. Her wine list is west coast only and local specialities like bokkom (salted fish), suring (little yellow sour flowers), witmossels and buchu oil dot the menu. Even the cheese is made by a local woman just outside Paternoster.

Sole topped with bokkom and suring butter at gaaitjie

Go with an empty stomach. The food is designed to satisfy after a long walk on the wind swept coast. We started the meal with freshly baked potbread accompanied by a preserved mandarine and paté. We had a springbok carpaccio with atjar and buchu oil and a witmossel and artichoke soup for starters. Sublime. The main course sole was served with suring and bokkom butter. Suring is a sour tasting wild flower that Suzi chopped up like chives to add sourness without the harshness of lemons. An elegant and minerally Tierhoek chenin blanc crowned our evening.

Suzi also has a B&B, the Salt coast inn with cozy little rooms. Ask for the one with the decadent bath tub opposite the bed : ).

Off Sampson Street, Paternoster
tel: +27 (0)22 752 2242

www.saltcoast.co.za

 

Veldkos Ramble and Lunch at Oep ve Koep

2 Sep

Last weekend was just perfect. Sunshine, culinary treats and a trip to Paternoster, a foodie fishing village on the west coast. If you have read some of my blogposts you may already know that I love to forage (read about mushrooms here). Foraging is something that we grow up doing in Finland and it has even become somewhat of a trend spearheaded by Rene Redzepi from Noma in Copenhagen. I have hardly been able to contain myself since I first heard about Slowfood’s Veldkos ramble. The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest yet richest in the world and I have been dying to learn about local wild food.

Oep ve Koep in Paternoster

20 slowfoodies pitched up at 11am on Sunday morning at Oep ve Koep in Paternoster and headed out to the veld with the enthusiastic, knowledgeable and very entertaining Rupert from Cape Nature.

20 slowfoodies on a veldkos ramble

We learned to identify sout slaai and veldkool (salty salad and field cabbage) as well as a prickly relative of asparagus that I can’t remember the name of (my brain switches off when plants are not highly tasty). Rupert also helped me identify sorrel. I have been happily eating it in Finland before (we call it fox bread) and some wild food enthusiasts use it in salads. Sorrel has crept into my salad pots uninvited in Cape Town and I have ignored it unsure of its edibility. I shall make sure it feels welcome from now on.

Veldkool, "field cabbage"

Sout slaai (salt salad)

As a conservationist, Rupert had slightly mixed feelings about foraging. It is not all fun and games here in the Western Cape. Wild garlic,which takes seven years to grow, is so loved as a natural remedy that stocks are being devastated. Apparently people have been caught smuggling pickup truckloads of it out of the Tygerberg reserve. An interesting thing about many plants in the Cape Floral Kingdom is that while some are found throughout the kingdom others, that might be closely related, are only found on a single ridge. The yellow daisy in the photo had Rupert dash up a ridge in excitement.

Rupert our veldkos guide and not just any yellow daisy

Lunch at Oep ve koep was an absolute treat. Kobus van de Merwe uses a lot of wild herbs and plants in his cooking. We started with bokkom butter and bread and a lightly pickled waterblommetjie. So pleased to see waterblommetjies outside of stews. These treats were followed by calamari bobotie, which was complemented by seaweed. Our palates were cleansed with pickled onion and salvia (sage related herb) soup poured from an enamel teapot. The main course was a highlight: potato dumplings with field cabbage and some dune spinach. Oep ve Koep is well worth a visit. Kobuses beautiful yet down to earth cooking is served in a cozy courtyard with missmatched tables and rambling herb bushes. His Sardines on Toast blog will have you salivating and planning a trip to Paternoster.

Palate cleanser of salvia and pickled onions

Calamari bobotie

Potato dumplings with veldkool

Chop Supper Club

31 Aug

Supper clubs or pop up restaurants encompass a whole range of setups from dinner parties with strangers at some eager cook’s home to creative evenings with a famous chef spreading his wings in an odd setting. Often based on invitation and membership, people are drawn in by the surprise and secrecy (It is actually illegal in most countries to sell food and alcohol without a license so the organizers have to keep things hushhush). Dining at a supper club is a social experience. Far from the typical restaurant behavior of avoiding seeing or hearing other people, part of the fun is having random conversations with strangers. Supper clubs also clearly belong to this great global trend of making things small,  local, cuddly and anti-corporate.  There are tens if not hundreds of these in major cities like New York and London (see coverage in the Guardian and in the New York Times over the last couple of years) and they have finally made it to this southern most tip of Africa.

Full of anticipation, The Chimp* and I went to our first supper club on Thursday. The one we visited was the last in a series of supper clubs called Chop leading up to the Toffie Food Festival. The supper club was located in a secret venue downtown. I arrived at the address and was greeted by a picture of a knife and a bleeding finger at the door. Hmm.. I knew I was at the right place. Three flights of stairs took me to a room decorated with brown paper. Brown paper as a video screen, brown paper as a wall, brown paper as a table cloth and brown paper as chair covers. Lots of brown paper. Even the cutlery was served in a brown cardboard box. The food was nothing short of spectacular. Snacks of salty popcorn, biltong and pickled quail egg, perfectly cooked veal brain raviolis with sage butter, angus beef steaks with smoked potatoes (and a photo of a salad!), vodka tonic jelly, flambeed chocolate pancakes and coffee and witblits (local spirit). (Our) creativity hit the roof when we were served the vodka tonic jellies. The lights were switched off and we here handed glow in the dark pens. Suffice to say that our hands and faces were beautifully decorated by the end of the evening.

Blurry glow in the dark fun

The supper clubs, I have come across on other local foodblogs and the media have all been from the professional end of the spectrum. Very innovative and well organized. Taste magazine covered one where the décor changed seven (for each course) times during the evening. I do hope the more amateur end of the supper club movement becomes popular here in the Cape as well. In my dear native country, Finland, they have even gone so far as to organize a national supper club day. Anyone who loves to cook and fancies opening a restaurant can do so for the day. It has been so well received that the third one (in six months) is coming up in November. The funniest one I have read about was a sandwich bar on the third floor of an apartment building that delivered its orders with ropes and baskets. Genius.

*My husband, Cameron, is upset about not having a pseudonym like the other foodbloggers plusones. The chimp is actually what his mum calls him ; )

Restaurant day in Helsinki- image from FB page

Restaurant day in Helsinki- image from FB page

Planet

30 Aug

I was quite hesitant to visit planet for a bit of a stupid reason. The name. Maybe it is just me but having a restaurant called Planet in a five star hotel doesn’t make me think quality. I must admit that I am also not a fan of eating at hotels. Especially ones that are decorated with chandeliers and antique furniture.  The Mount Nelson however got me (and it seems many others) with their six course vegan menu.

elegant setting at Planet

We do a fair bit of vegan experimentation in our kitchen. Often it ends with me adding a bit of cheese to just “round” it up. Vegan food often has this earthy “thin” watery quality to it (and no I don’t meant that it makes you thin which it probably does as well). Planet is the second time (other one being Pure Food & Wine in New York- seriously recommended) that I had vegan food that actually tasted creamy and might I add spectacular.


Lentils, aubergines and cashew nuts at Planet

We started with lentils rolled into aubergine with cashew nut paste – earthy and satisfying. We continued with apple and parsnip soup and a mushroom risotto which would have been difficult to identify as vegan in a blind tasting. The main course was a bit disappointing. The components were tasty things like chickpea fritters, curry tempura mushrooms and toasted quinoa but they just didn’t quite work together (for us anyway). You get the feeling that they are trying to make up for a lack of meat with quantity. The desert was exceptional and more than made up for this. Rich velvety chocolate mousse with no eggs or cream. The wine pairing was exceptional with all dishes. We especially enjoyed the combination of De Grendel pinot gris with apple and parsnip soup.

chocolate mousse without eggs and cream at Planet

Main course at Planet

Planet just goes to prove how much you can do without animal related products. There seem to be at least two tricks. One is to puree some of the key vegetable finely. The mushroom risotto was made creamy with finely pureed mushrooms or so we were told. The other is that cashews and soy beans can elevate any dish. Try soaking cashew nuts for a couple of hours in warm water, whizzing them up, straining and using it as a milk substitute. In Malay cooking they sometimes add nut milk to a curry as a lighter substitute to coconut milk.

Service was attentive. Slightly nervous but clearly well trained. It is the type of place where they give you a little chair for your handbag and put a slit in the napkin so you can use it as a bib. That being said, the food could have used a bit more introducing.

It is hardly the type of place we will be going to regularly but we will be keen to revisit to see what new wonders Chef Liebenberg has created.

Mount Nelson Hotel
76 Orange Street
Gardens
+27214831000

www.planetbarandrestaurant.co.za

 

Dine under the stars

Babel

26 Aug

I love that local produce and growing your own veg has become such a thing in Cape Town. I can think of at least three other restaurants that do it Fresh, Johan’s at Longridge and Eight (Spier) and countless others who make great strives to buying only local seasonal produce. Local and seasonal is a great trend worldwide. Most of Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares end up solved with a local seasonal menu. In New York there is even  a truck that grows salad leaves for aspiring locavores.

One of those ugly views

 

Broccoli in a vase. Why not?

85% of Babel’s vegetable and herb needs are grown on the farm and they even form an integral part of the décor. Babel has broccoli not only in carpaccios but flower vases. It looks great. Babel is set on the beautiful fruit and wine farm of Babylonstoren in Stellenbosch next to a couple of other spots I have been meaning to visit (like Anura for a cheese tasting). There is a stunning old manorhouse but interestingly the restaurant is not there. Instead it is housed in an old shed-type building done up floor to ceiling in white and crome. The design is quirky and interesting to say the least: a huge bull watches over the menu written onto tiles. Walking into the space evokes this lovely feeling of freshness and you know you are in for something interesting.

 

Babel offers quite a varied menu with slow cooked lamb, local trout and broccoli carpaccio. Dishes that really stand out are the yellow, red and green plate. Each containing a soup and a little salad in their theme colour. Cameron’s green plate was the winner this time with its beautiful mix of fresh leaves and apples. I enjoyed my yellow salad of pineapple and nasturtiums, but my coconutty soup could have had more of an edge to it. We also enjoyed some lovely fresh fruit&veg cocktails with our meals. Beetroot and guava will be a regular combo in our kitchen from now on.

 

Broccoli carpaccio

 

Having a wander through the gardens is a great way to end your meal at Babel. The vegetable gardens grow 100 different varieties of vegetables and some of the largest happiest chickens that I have ever seen. They don’t use pesticides in the garden but cannot call themselves organic as the fruit on the surrounding fields does get sprayed.

One of the most striking things during our whole visit was the genuine excitement and enthusiasm from the whole staff. We even managed to get a friendly tour of the guest cottages on our way out. Done up beautifully, guests are welcomed in rebuilt workers’ cottages with a vegetable basket from the gardens.

Veggie box welcome

 

Another tough day in the winelands! Thanks Robyn from Koek for the tip.

Babylonstoren

+ 27 (0) 21 863 3852

www.babylonstoren.com