I’ve had this post in ‘drafts’ for over two weeks – firstly, because it is pretty darn long, and secondly I wanted to spend a little time thinking about it. I have, and now feel ready to state this this was the best meal I’ve ever had.
We’ve been to The Test Kitchen. Pot Luck Club. The Greenhouse. Along with exquisite food, La Colombe just brought something special I just can’t quite put my finger on. And I suppose, that’s the point.
What a meal. I mean, we’d been to La Colombe before, and it was exceptional – so we knew what to expect. I’m not sure if I’d forgotten how good it was in two years, or whether they have just upped their game (I think the latter), but this meal was better than even I expected. After a very public move to Silvermist Wine Estate, we were also keen to see what impact the new venue had on the restaurant.
We arrived on a chilly, but clear, winter’s afternoon. Walking from the weak sunshine into the toasty restaurant, we immediately relaxed. It wasn’t pretentious or stuffy, but warm and inviting. There is no decor to speak of – only white and wood – allowing the colours of the food to be the focus. The restaurant feels bigger, with an enclosed balcony with big windows facing the valley in the front.
We were seated in front of the windows, which were closed to start, but by the time we hit course number 6, we opened them to allow the fresh winter’s breeze to wash over us. In that moment, with weak sunshine, the valley across from us, fantastic good and exceptional wine – I could not have been happier. But, yes, let me skip back seven courses. When we last visited, we tried their three course menu – while it included amuse bouche and petit fours – it was technically still three courses. It was then a bit of a jump to the eight course menu we enjoyed this time around. We were invited to choose off the menu, or to trust the chef’s judgement and to let him send us what he wanted. We’ve learned that the second option is always the best.
We started with Constantia Uitsig’s MCC, with cumin crusted bread and home-churned butter with wild garlic oil. It’s worth noting here that we had an exceptional waiter (although I feel they would all be exceptional), Melissa. She was knowledgeable, personal and funny – while remaining thoroughly professional at all times. This can be a tricky balance to strike – as ‘professional’ can often translate into aloof and cold, but when anyone sees you squinting as the sun peeks out from behind a cloud, and then brings your husband her sunglasses – you know you have a winner.
Back to the food. I didn’t want to dumb the bread and butter down to fancy garlic-bread, but that’s exactly what it tasted like, in the best possible way. And who doesn’t like garlic bread? We were then served the famous amuse bouche – ‘tuna’ for Luke, and ‘tomato’ for me. The tuna was an Asian-inspired tataki, while my tomato had spice from red pepper, sweetness from the fruit and freshness from lime – it was an incredible start to the meal. From the theatre of opening the tin, to the tiny forks and spoons – not to mention the incredible attention to detail and ‘plating’ in a tin.
Next came two slices of brioche, the Mr’s with bone marrow, smoked aubergine puree, white truffle butter and salsa verde, and mine with tomatoes, salsa verde and a twist on ratatouille. Both were delicious – I could smell the hints of white truffle – and the perfect two-bites.
When we decided not to order, and trust the chef, we were also offered a wine-pairing with each course, which we declined. I was nervous tackling the hills and curves back down to the road, and wasn’t keen to try them after a few classes of wine. However, Melissa twisted our rubber arms and we enjoyed a soupçon of various wines as we journeyed along the menu. I saw a few wines that got me particularly excited – a Rijk’s Chenin Blanc and Cederberg Bukettraube – so was keen to see what other gems they had on offer.
A completely new discovery was the Bosman Family Vineyards Fides Grenache Blanc. Described as an ‘orange’ white wine, it is a Grenache Blanc with skin contact (you can view the full tasting notes here). I kept coming back to this wine throughout our meal – and as the estate says that it “keeps us on our toes in venturing into unchartered territories” – I still couldn’t place or describe it properly. One of the most unusual wines I’ve had.
I was told about the Bukettraube as I love this Gewürztraminer so much and was quite excited to try this unusual varietal. Offering a floral nose with apricots, it offers prominent muscat flavours, but I felt it was missing the depth of the Beautiful Lady. Still, completely enjoyable and I’m glad I was able to try it.
My next dish was Celeriac and Truffle espuma, goat cheese, and brioche, while Luke had the Foie Gras And Langoustine with hazelnut, fennel and jasmine tea. The Mr commented that it was possibly one of the most complex dishes he’d ever eaten – with the sweet, sweet langoustine, crunchy hazelnuts, the miring and jasmine tea and rich foie gras, he was still talking – and thinking – about it when we were about to leave.
My dish was decadent and filled with all the flavours of winter. Sweet, smith celeriac, earthy truffle and tangy goat’s cheese – it was another case of wanting to upsize this portion and have it as lunch, and not part of it.
Ah, this dish. Officially the best vegetarian dish I’d ever had. Simply called cauliflower on the menu, this was caramelised cauliflower, bok choi, baby leeks, pommes purée, cashew nut and salsa verde. I’ll admit, this is not a dish I would have ordinarily picked from a menu – I’m a little cauliflowered out at the moment, and while I love bok choi, I would not have thought to pair the two flavours. My mistake. Showcasing such exceptional, complimentary flavours – with crunch, fresh salsa, sweet puree – the thought and care that went into this dish will have me forever grateful. While I’m not expecting every restaurant to offer dishes of this quality for vegetarian diners, it is inspiring to see that options other than roast vegetable tagliatelle exist.
Luke’s dish was quite similar to mine – served with line fish and tempura oyster – but with the same flavour profile. Hence, he loved it too. We sampled the Arendsig Chardonnay Block A15 with this course – and it paired exceptionally. A wine I will be hunting down to add to our wine rack.
We thought this course would be ‘main course’, but quickly learned it was not to be. My dish was called kimchi : kimchi, sweet miso glazed aubergine, sweetcorn, water chestnut, lemongrass and ginger velouté – if I hadn’t just had the course before this, it would be my new favourite. To be fair, it came a close second. Again, perfectly balanced and interesting, the thought and care that went into this dish was evident (and, delicious).
Luke had Pan-fried scallop, Asian style pork, kimchi, sweetcorn, lemongrass and ginger velouté – same flavours as mine, but with animals. Again, you know it was simply delicious.
Fifth course was a palate cleanser, simply called ‘Granny Smith, cucumber and tonic’ – a crisp shell, courtesy of cocoa butter – gave way to a refreshing liquid centre. A surprise hidden in anonymous green spheres, we were warned against trying to bite it in half. Sage advice I feel necessary to pass on.
Main course arrived – for me, a wild garlic risotto with mushrooms and baby vegetables, while the Mr had duck breast, red cabbage, turnip, shimiji, beetroot and liquorice. The portion sizes were in line with courses three and four, hence our confusion of which dish ‘mains’ actually were. Thankfully the giant cutlery hinted that this was the main attraction. This was by far the prettiest risotto I’d ever encountered and quite a generous portion – considering that it was preceded by five. Quite light, but still offering the comfort expected from the dish, it was yet another course perfectly suited to the Cape winter’s day.
Luke’s duck was perfectly cooked, perfectly highlighted by the pressed beetroot and restrained use of liquorice. While his portion size seemed more restrained than mine, we both struggled with the last few forkfuls, knowing that there was still dessert to come.
Ah, dessert. I would normally say this is my highlight of the meal, but this case proved to be the exception. Not that dessert wasn’t food, but simply because all preceding courses were exceptional. We had the Rhubarb financier with strawberry purée, elderberry ice cream and pea pudding and the Bahibe 46% milk chocolate with pistachio espuma, bitter orange sorbet and pain d’épices. The first dish was zingy, light and fruity – quite summery, but a fresh end to the meal.
The chocolate bahibe was a surprise – as the dish was complemented by chocolate, but was actually a celebration of pistachio, contrasted by the bitterness of the orange sorbet. If you are looking for the chocolate hit of a fondant, then this isn’t the dish for you. But, if you are looking for subtle, clever and contrasting flavours – then this is the perfect dish to end with.
I’m aware I have probably used the words ‘exceptional’, ‘perfect’ and ‘delicious’ more than any elegant write would in this review, but this remains by humble attempt to do a truly…um…exceptional meal justice. With all my gratitude to the team at La Colombe for what will be a meal I will remember, and talk about, for years to come.
Note : We enjoyed our meal as guests of La Colombe. All views and images are my own.