East city frill-free fine dining
Claim to fame: South Africa’s first crowdfunded restaurant
Reason to go: Not knowing what’s for dinner; it’s a no-menu affair
To look out for: Next-level ice cream and desserts
Dream big or go home is the mighty mantra of long-time friends, business partners and chefs Neil Swart and Anouchka Horn who yearned for a city space in which to create a unique dining experience for locals. With insufficient pennies to develop their dream, they embarked on the first-ever-of-its-kind South African crowdfunding mission. Slowly but surely, supportive fans coughed up tile-for-tile cash and this dream came true. The time came to leave their sleepy suburbian Arugula Bistro in Welgemoed and step into the pumping heart of the city to claim an ex bike shop space on a previously seedy side of town, now favorably referred to as the east city precinct.
The interiors are simple, stark and modern. Vast cement-screeded floors flow to a long, luxurious leather bench seat which dominates the full length of the restaurant. Low lit fabric-free tables sport black and copper cutlery and glass tumblers in lieu of wine glasses. No fancy artworks adorn the exposed, matt black cinder block walls, forcing your focus on perfectly plated fare, served by leather- and denim clad waiters and the chefs themselves. The 20-seater dining area and kitchen are almost one, giving you front row seats to all the kitchen action and a chance to strike up a conversation with the chefs while dishes are developed, shaped and shifted to your table.
Forget dining here if you know exactly what you like to eat. This is a no-menu affair allowing the chefs to go the daily distance, literally, in search of the freshest seasonal ingredients, sourcing sustainably farmed animal protein and traceable, fresh fish. Freshly baked oil bread with burnt onion dust, hot from the wood fired oven, gets you tearing and sharing. First bites take the shape of tōgarashi-spiced gemsbok (venison) tataki, ponzu, wasabi oil, sesame and ginger. Farmed trout is brushed with a palm sugar vinaigrette and served atop a fine apple and asparagus salad. Braai (barbecue) flavors dishes like Pap & Vleis; meat barbecued on open flames and served with South African staple mealie meal, aka coarse corn flour, softened and slow cooked with stock and butter; tomato smoor, chimmichuri and garlic jus finishes this dish. Their fresh fish has an important ecological and social story to tell where fish is sourced through the revolutionary Abalobi App which is designed to support and honor small-scale fisherman, completely transparent from hook to cook. Pan-fried yellowtail is served with black mussels in a snow pea, sweetcorn and ginger broth with chili and coriander oil. Anouchka Horn is dubbed the ice cream queen, mastering fancy flavor combos such as brandy caramel and pecan nut and guava sorbet which dresses up as a pretty palate cleanser with banana and lime jelly, gem flower and mint. A decadent finish is a dark chocolate torte with ginger bread crumble, vanilla and honey mascarpone, balsamic jelly and ginger bread ice cream.
On the beverage front, local craft beers are playfully paired with Saldanha bay mussel and seaweed potjies and the wine selection is limited yet precision-selected to include top drops from local wine farms in the Western Cape.