By Mika Chall
After a morning spent exploring some of the best that South Africa’s wine country had to offer, it was time for lunch. We were off to George Jardine’s Jordan Restaurant―fine dining located at the Jordan Wine Estate. Jardine hails from Scotland and comes from a long line of chefs. He built a stellar reputation in Cape Town (Chef of the Year in 2006 and 2007), opened Jordan’s in the wine country in 2009, and in the same year, was awarded the number three position in Eat Out Magazine’s top 10.
There’s a large, open kitchen, dominated by a wood-fired grill where the hands-on Jardine whips up stylish, contemporary food with an eye to local, seasonal products. The market-driven menu changes daily. We were seated at a table on the patio with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding hills and valleys.
From the small, but appealing, menu, I chose an appetizer of Saldanha Bay mussels, wood-fired Roma tomato and fennel veloute, with an olive crostini. It was a terrific blend of textures, colors, and flavors. The fennel volute lent a tangy note to the plump, smoky mussels; the tomatoes provided a touch of acidity.
For the main, I opted for the wood-fired braised lamb shoulder, roasted young garlic, artichoke, broad beans, and olive fricassee. The tender lamb was literally falling off the bone, while the olive fricassee provided a salty note and the soft roasted garlic melted into the sauce, adding zestiness to the artichoke and beans.
Rather than ordering a sweet, I opted for a trip to the cheese room where guests can select from an array of cheeses, mostly from small, local artisanal producers. It was a lovely idea and a great ending to a first-rate meal.
I was now off to Franshhoeck, a nearby wine country town that was settled by the Huguenots in 1685. Although many of the wineries still reflect their French heritage, the local architecture is definitely Cape Dutch. The main street is home to several world-class restaurants and a number of fine art and antique galleries. Unfortunately, there was no time to trundle off for more wine tasting, but a walk through town and some gallery hopping was a pleasant interlude after several hours of sipping and dining.
Back in Cape Town, for my final meal before the long trip home, I booked into The Test Kitchen (TTK) in Woodstock; a gentrifying area of the city. Located in the Old Biscuit Factory, TTK is the brainchild of the talented and creative Luke Dale Roberts who made his bones at La Colombe, where his culinary skills earned the restaurant twelfth place on the list of the 50 best restaurants in the world in 2010.
The ambiance is industrial, but with a cozy feel. (Is that an oxymoron?) The design is exposed brick with high ceilings and open shelves displaying provisions and wine. There are no more than 12 tables and a large open kitchen dominates. All the prep is done in full view of the diners: baking, slicing, dicing, plating. A seat at the counter, which accommodates about eight, offers the best spot from which to watch the kitchen team in action. Reading the lunch menu, I knew I was in cutting-edge territory with strong Asian influences.
My cheerful, efficient, and knowledgeable server began the seduction with a serving of warm homemade bread, thyme-scented butter, and sea salt. I chased it with a glass of Bosman Rose and was ready to toss my training wheels. The trout tartare, green apple, lime crème fraiche, carmelized cured eggplant, Italian parsley, creamy miso dressing, and parsnip crisps sounds like too many layers of flavors, but it wasn’t. Actually, there was no conflict among these tastes and textures. I loved the contrast between the tart green apple and the sweet eggplant. Spot on!
Tuna tataki is served with cucumber and water chestnut salad, caramelized miso cured eggplant, and edamame, with smoked eggplant dressing, A mix of textures: crunchy, but also tender. It was excellent.
The warm duck crepe, Jerusalem artichoke, and hoisin dressing with bok choy, orange salad, and radicchio is a winning combination of sweet /bitter. The duck was abundant, tender, and extremely lean. The Adam Mason Yardstick Pinot Noir lent itself beautifully to this preparation.
The menu offers several desserts, including sorbets and South African cheeses, which I skipped. The tab came to approximately $48, excluding the tip.
There is a more extensive and complex dinner menu which offers the option of wine pairings for each course; five courses, with wine, costs approximately $85. Finally, for the gourmands among us, there is an 11-course tasting menu, with wine pairings, for approximately $120. Sounds like a good deal to me.