Tag Archives: review

Spring Pea & Thyme Risotto with Manchego and Olive Tapenade

18 Jun

When we were in South Africa, one of the most memorable meals, for me was at Makaron at Majeka House in Stellenbosch. Having visited, and eaten in, about thirty restaurants in nineteen days it takes something quite special to stand out from the crowd.

In a sea of  mainly white, minimal, distressed wood interiors (which I love, by the way), this was a welcome diversion.  The bar has an opulent gentleman’s club/hunting lodge feel, with dark navy and gold upholstery and lighting. It manages to be eccentric and elegant at the same time. It is quirky and doesn’t take itself too seriously which is very refreshing.

 The Washer Up was very pleased (understatement) with the fact that they have a beer pairing with each of the dishes as well as wine pairings. This is the first time that I have come across this and think it is genius, especially as they are promoting local microbreweries at the same time. I have read in numerous publications recently that Beer is the New Wine and that some restaurants have started hiring beer sommeliers but this is the only place I have seen it in action.

 There is a sense of humour in the food that compliments the quirkyness of the restaurant perfectly.

The bread was brought out on a slate (my favourite thing) and included a beautiful braid, crispy lavash, homemade butter, anchovy mayonnaise, olives, figs, lavender & rosemary. The Amuse Bouche was a Peppadew Popper in beer batter with guacamole & sour cream.

For a starter we ordered the Caprese Terrine, tomato cloud, basil gelee, semi dried tomatoes, olive oil powder which was beautiful and delicious. And the Garden Pea Risotto, garlic espuma, smoked olive tapenade.

The main courses we had were an Open Duck Egg Ravioli, young artichoke, asparagus, truffle caviar, which was amazing, I loved the little beads of truffle caviar. And a Mushroom & Roasted Corn Open Lasagne that the chef Tanja prepared especially for us.

All the food was excellent but the stand out dish was the pea risotto with olive tapenade, it was stunning, and I don’t even like olives. This dish changed my mind. The pea risotto tasted like the best mushy peas you have ever had, the flavour intense & the texture comforting. There was a deliciously creamy garlic & parmesan veloute with it and the olive tapenade just took it to another level taste wise. Such a surprisingly good combination, even if you think you don’t like olives, like me.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get the original recipe from Tanja because she is a very busy lady working in Paris at the moment sharpening her skills even further at Alain Passard’s restaurant L’Aperge. But when I picked up some of these beautiful fresh garden peas in my organic veg box I couldn’t wait any longer and I had a go at it myself anyway.

I love the mixed mauve colours of these olives, so pretty with the bright green peas. A match made in heaven, believe me.

I used a mixture of fresh and frozen peas. I made a puree with the frozen and kept the fresh ones whole. You can use all fresh if you have that many, or indeed all frozen if you have no fresh. I used brown short grain rice to make my risotto but you can substitute arborio for a creamier finish and a lot shorter cooking time. It will also make the finished risotto look more green than mine.

Summer Pea & Thyme Risotto with Manchego and Olive Tapenade

Serves 3, vegetarian, gluten-free

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 150 gr frozen peas (or fresh if you have that many)
  • 50 gr fresh peas (podded weight)
  • a handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  •  a few sprigs of fresh thyme leaves removed & chopped plus extra for garnish
  • 1 litre (up to a litre & a half for brown rice) veg stock
  • a little freshly grated nutmeg
  • 50 gr manchego (or parmesan) grated plus 1 tbsp to finish
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 250 gr arborio (or brown) rice
  • 200 ml white wine
  • 1 tbsp cream cheese
  • a squeeze of fresh lemon juice

For the tapenade:

  • 75 gr good quality olives, buy with stones in, then remove them if possible (better flavour)
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped (or to taste)
  • fresh thyme leaves
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • salt & black pepper
  • extra virgen olive oil

To make the tapenade, put all the ingredients except the oil in a blender and blitz to a smoothish puree. Drizzle in the oil a bit at a time, blending until you get the desired consistency. Taste and adjust salt, lemon or garlic as required.

Cook the 150 gr frozen peas in two ladles full (just enough to cover the peas) of boiling veg stock with the parsley & thyme for about 5 minutes until soft. Puree this (stock & peas) with the grated cheese and season with salt, pepper & nutmeg. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Put the veg stock in a small pan over a medium low heat to keep warm but do not boil. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat then cook the onions for 4 minutes with a pinch of salt, add the garlic and cook for another minute. Do not brown. Stir in the rice and coat in the oil, add in the wine and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Add the hot stock a one ladle at a time waiting for each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next. Keep doing this until the rice is cooked and you have a soft soupy risotto. This should take about 20-25 mins for arborio, longer for brown rice. If you run out of stock add hot water.

After about 15 minutes add the uncooked fresh peas, then when the rice is nearly cooked stir in the pea puree. When the rice is cooked add the cream cheese, tablespoon of grated cheese and squeeze of lemon. Put on the lid, remove from the heat and leave for 2 minutes.

Taste for seasoning before serving with a quenelle (or dollop) of the tapenade, a few fresh thyme leaves and some shaved Manchego.

Things That Made Me Smile Today…….

Jacarandas, I love their pretty purple flowers, like a tree full of droopy bluebells…..

And Oleanders in soft apricot…..

Or electric pink against the bright blue sky….

Overture’s Mushroom Vol au Vent, Cream Sherry, Shaved Truffle and Parsley

17 May

This is my interpretation of the Mushroom Vol au Vent main course I had in Overture restaurant at the Hidden Valley Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.

I must point out first of all that this Vol au Vent is as far removed from the Seventies buffet staple filled with some dubious looking prawn cocktail as it is possible to be.

The Chef at Overture, Bertus Basson, has elevated the humble pre-bought classic to fine dining status and I managed to get the recipe. Result.

As you drive into Hidden Valley you are surrounded by stunning scenery that is the contrasting backdrop to an architectural, modern building that houses the wine tasting area and Overture restaurant with its beautiful dining terrace taking full advantage of those spectacular views.

We opted for the 4 course Chef’s Menu with wine pairings, there are also 5 and 8 course options and the menu changes daily.

After ordering our food the professional waitress (who also had a personality, very rare) brought us the bread (below bottom). Not just any bread basket though, the ciabatta and bricohe were accompanied by a smoked aubergine puree, red salt, confit garlic, aioli and a selection of olives all served on a slate tile, my new favourite thing. Everything looks good on a slate tile.

My starter (above top) was Variations of Beetroot, Buffalo Ridge feta, balsamic onion. The contrast of the sweet roasted and pureed beets with the sharp salty feta was wonderful along with the finely sliced lacey, crisp toasts. The Washer Up had the Chicken liver parfait, smoked raisin, verjus jelly, raisin jus (below) which was light and creamy. It was followed by a Peach Sorbet palate cleanser.

My main course: Vol au Vent, mushroom, brandy cream, celeriac, Brussel sprouts was the standout dish for me.  Beautifully crisp and light pastry with an intensely rich and creamy mushroom sauce that was perfectly seasoned and totally moreish. The roasted Brussel sprouts and celeriac gave the dish amazing flavour and I don’t usually like them at all. All topped off with some slivered truffle, you can’t go wrong with truffle and mushrooms can you. This dish was heavenly.

The Washer Up ordered the Pickled Ox Tongue, gnocchi, mustard, roots (below) and really enjoyed it. He was trying to overcome his fear of eating tongue and did. Something about being made to eat tongue out of a tin when he was little apparently. The palate cleanser was a Berry Thyme Sorbet, fresh raspberries, milk jelly.

The desserts were huge, surprisingly so, but we managed to force them down. Coffee Souffle, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce served with a Chocolate Grappa shot. And a Deconstructed Lemon Meringue Pie, cinnamon crumble, lemon ice cream.

Overture restaurant is consistently awarded and in the Top 10 restaurants in South Africa which is a lot to live up to. I’m pleased to say that this place doesn’t disappoint, the excellent food and service is definitely up there with the best.

The secret to a light and very well risen Vol au Vent is (I now know) piling three layers of puff pastry on top of each other, glazing with egg wash in between each layer, cutting a circle in the middle of the square half way through the pastry and, very importantly, trimming the edges so that it can rise evenly.

 Following these steps, and making sure you chill your pastry before you put it in the oven, should result in perfectly puffed up pastry. Well if it worked for me….

You then leave them to cool before removing the circle from the top of the vol au vents.

And then hollowing out the inside so you can fill it with gorgeous creamy mushrooms.

In my version I used Greek yoghurt rather than cream (those chefs love a bit of butter and cream) and I used a sweet sherry rather than brandy because that’s what I had. Mushrooms and sherry are a classic combination anyway, oh and I added a bit of fresh parsley.

*Remember to defrost your puff pastry in the fridge overnight before you need it*

Mushroom Vol au Vent Recipe

Makes 3, vegetarian. Adapted from Bertus Basson

Prep time: 30 mins (not including defrosting) Cooking time: 20-25 mins

  • 1 roll/block puff pastry (defrosted in the fridge overnight)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 100 ml milk
  • 500 gr mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • a big splosh or 2 of sweet sherry or brandy
  • 3 sml pots (375 ml) Greek yoghurt
  • salt & black pepper
  • 3 tbsp cream cheese
  •  a big handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped plus leaves for garnish
  • milk to thin sauce if necessary
  • a couple of thin slices of black truffle, finely julienned (optional)

Whisk together, the egg, sugar and milk with a fork for the glaze and set aside. Roll out the puff pastry on a floured board to a 12 x 12 inch square about 2-3 mm thick. With a sharp knife cut into 9 equal squares 4 x 4 inches each. Three rows of three (see picture above).

Stack three squares on top of each other, brushing with glaze in between each layer. Repeat so you have three stacks of three.  Put these in the fridge for about 15 minutes to chill. Preheat oven to 180 C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Remove from the fridge and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Brush the top with the glaze (if you haven’t already) and use a round cutter or glass to cut a circle in the centre of each square about half way through the pastry. Place on the lined baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

Leave to cool then remove the circle from the top of each one. I kept mine  to top each one off, like a little hat. Now hollow them out by removing as much of the pastry as possible from inside.

For the filling, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat and cook the onion and a pinch of salt for about 4 minutes until softened and starting to brown, then add the garlic & thyme and cook for a further minute. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until nicely browned.

Add a couple of sploshes of sherry and cook out for a minute then add the yoghurt, stirring to combine. Season well with salt & black pepper and cook to reduce the sauce slightly and intensify the flavour. Turn off the heat and stir through the cream cheese and chopped parsley.  Taste for seasoning.

I wanted my filling quite thick and creamy, if you would like it more like a sauce, just add some milk at the end until you are happy with the consistency.

To serve: Heat the vol au vent for a few minutes in a warm oven, place on  your serving plate, fill with the mushrooms, top with the pastry circle and garnish with the slivered truffle and parsley leaves. I served this with a simple green salad dressed with olive oil & lemon juice. Roasted Brussel sprouts and celeriac are lovely too if they are in season where you are.

For more information about Hidden Valley wines and Overture Restaurant visit their website here.

Piccolo Tesoro Goat’s Cheese, Fig and Rocket Spelt Pizza

29 Apr

This is my adaptation of a really excellent pizza we had at Piccolo Tesoro in Montagu. Montagu is a picturesque village  about 200 km outside Cape Town on Route 62. We stayed in a pretty little hotel called Four Oaks Guest House.

We had an excellent evening meal there and the breakfasts were lovely too. Piccolo was also the name of  the really cute chihuahua who stole the show at the hotel.

 After breakfast we had a walk around the village. We saw ibises nesting, weaver birds’ nests hanging over the river and some beautiful flowers.

Traditional architecture, churches and quaint cottages surrounded by white roses.

 We wandered around the Saturday morning market with people selling  homemade jams, chutneys, breads, cakes, pestos and freshly made take-away foods, but we couldn’t stay long.

We were booked on a river boat cruise at Viljoensdrift before lunch. We had a lovely bottle of the Viljoensdrift rose while drifting down the river enjoying the views. You can also order a picnic but we had lunch already booked at the beautiful Reuben’s in Robertson. You can see my full review of lunch here.

We were very full after our fabulous lunch so we had a lie down and went out quite late for a light dinner. Pizza seemed like the best option as we had gone gourmet for lunch. Arriving at Piccolo Tesoro it seemed like everyone else had the same idea. It was packed, they had actually run out of chairs. My dad had to sit on a stool for the first half hour until somebody left!!

 To be honest we were only expecting a quick pizza and a beer. Isn’t it sometimes the way, that when you are least expecting it a little gem (or piccolo tesoro) turns up out of the blue.

We did have to wait a while because they were so busy and we were the last table but we didn’t mind at all. We had enjoyed an enormous lunch remember and The Washer Up discovered his new favourite beer while we were waiting thanks to our friend Paul. Jack Black is the best South African beer now according to him.

The pizzas were excellent, some of the best I have ever had actually. The “Sophia” was my favourite, it was topped with Gorgonzola, green fig preserve and rocket. The bases were thin and crispy and not overloaded with toppings, which is exactly how I like them. Green fig preserve is used a lot in South Africa, we also had it at our picinic at Bramon Wine Estate with the baked camembert. It is made with unripe figs.

My version of this fantastic pizza is made with a spelt flour dough. I have just found a new supplier of spelt flour actually in Alhaurin (where we live). El Amasadero supplies all different types of flour including spelt, quinoa, oat, wholemeal and strong bread flour. He also supplies baking accessories and utensils, including pizza stones which I could definitely do with. He ships all over Spain and Europe or you can buy from him directly in his office/warehouse in Alhaurin just in front of the Policia Local.

He can also get Teff flour, which I am really excited about because I have been trying to get hold of  it for ages. It is used to make the Ethiopian flatbread Injera.  Injera is a flatbread made with yeast and the runny batter is poured into a hot pan and cooked a bit like a thick crepe. I have made it before with spelt flour and have been quite happy with the results. Now I can try it with the proper flour I will be posting an Ethiopian recipe soon.

Unfortunately figs aren’t in season here yet and we don’t have the green fig preserve so I used dried figs soaked in boiling water to soften them up a bit. Gorgonzola is also quite difficult to get hold of here so I used goat’s cheese instead, you could also use a blue cheese if you like.

Goat’s Cheese, Fig & Rocket Spelt Flour Pizza

Makes 2-3 pizzas, vegetarian, Dough recipe adapted from vegrecipesofindia

Prep time 25 mins (plus 1-2 hours resting) Cooking time 5 -10 mins

For the dough:   

  • 375g – 450 gr (2.5 to 3 cups)  spelt flour (or plain)
  • 220 ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 25gr fresh yeast, finely chopped or 1 sachet quick action dried yeast
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • olive oil for brushing
  • polenta/cornmeal for rolling

For the tomato sauce:

  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • a pinch dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tin (400 gr) chopped tomatoes     
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • a squeeze of honey
  • 1/2 tsp basil pesto
  •  1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:       

  • 100-150 gr goat’s cheese/gorgonzola/blue cheese
  • 10-12 dried figs halved (or 4-5 fresh figs, sliced) or some green fig preserve       
  • 3 handfuls of grated mozzarella or other cheese 
  •  fresh rocket leaves to garnish

Dough…

Whisk the honey into the warm water until it dissolves then add the yeast, whisk again and leave for 10-15 minutes to become frothy.

Add 150 gr (1 cup) flour, salt and olive oil to a large bowl, stir together then add the frothy yeast mixture. Stir again and add another 150 gr (cup) of flour until combined.  Add another 75 gr (1/2 cup) flour and combine. It should be quite a sticky dough.

Use some of the remaining flour to dust the board and knead the dough for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic adding more of the flour as necessary if it sticks. Put the dough in a bowl and rub some olive oil over it. Cover and leave in a warm place for up to 2 hours or until doubled in size. 

Meanwhile make the tomato sauce….

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over a medium high heat and cook the onion, herbs and chilli flakes with a pinch of salt for about 4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Tip in the tinned tomatoes, add the tomato paste, honey and pesto. Season with salt & black pepper, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes until reduced.  Taste and adjust seasoning. Leave to cool. You could puree it if you like but I left mine chunky.

To cook:

Preheat the oven to its highest setting, with the baking tray (or pizza stone) in there too. Make sure the oven is clean or you will have a smoking kitchen (just saying).

Punch the dough down and divide it into 2 or 3 equal balls. You can refrigerate it at this point if you like. Sprinkle some polenta (or flour) on your worksurface and start to roll or push out your dough to a kind of circle about 3-5 mm thick.

This stage is optional but this is what Piccolo Tesoro do to keep the dough crispy. They put it in the oven for one minute before they put the toppings on. That’s what I did and it worked, no soggy base.

Take it out after 1 minute and smear some of the tomato sauce on the pizza (not too much) then add your goat’s cheese slices (or chunks), your chopped/sliced figs and cover with a layer of grated cheese. Put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes (depending on heat of oven) but keep an eye on it and take it out when you are happy.

Scatter over some fresh rocket leaves and serve immediately, with a Jack Black if you can get one…

 Enjoy!!

Spiced Cauliflower and Red Onion Savoury Picnic Cake

23 Apr

Gourmet picnics are big news in Cape Town, espsecially in the winelands. Well it makes sense doesn’t it? Most of the wine estates have beautiful grounds, so why not make use of them. While we  were in South Africa we enjoyed three picnics. The first at The Roundhouse overlooking the stunning coastline around Camps Bay. The second at Bramon Wine Estate just outside Plettenberg Bay where our table sat amongst the Sauvignon Blanc vines. And the third at Boschendal, one of the oldest traditional Cape Dutch wine estates in Franschhoek, dating back to 1685.

We sat under ancient trees enjoying the view, while our picnic was prepared.

Ordered the wine, one of my favourites: the Boschendal Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend a lovely wine with a slight apricot blush.

They actually offer a Vegetarian Picnic option which is a first. It included a duo of potato salads, quiche, salad, sweet chilli vinaigrette, sundried tomato & spinach wraps, red pepper pate, caramelised onion pate, chocolate & macadamia nut brownies, cheese & biscuits, red onion maramalade and a french stick. We had trouble finishing it all.

Le Pique Nique, as it is called, is very good value, you get a lot of food and can enjoy their fine wines surrounded by Agapanthus, my favourite plants. I am a little obsessed with them actually.

So, inspired by the picnic food idea and eating outside. I came across an Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for a Cauliflower Cake. Ottolenghi is another one of my obsessions, I love his food and find it endlessly inspiring. See this post and this one for proof of his influence over my recipes.

He makes a big round cake in a 24 cm cake tin, I halved the recipe and cooked mine in a loaf tin. I also added some more spices because I can’t help myself. It’s kind of like a quiche without the pastry.

Spiced Cauliflower & Red Onion Savoury Picnic Cake

Makes 1 loaf, vegetarian. Can be doubled to fill a 24 cm cake tin.

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi Prep time: 20 mins Cooking time 45 mins

  • about 400 gr cauliflower broken into medium florets 
  • 1/2 large red onion, peeled
  • 1 or 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 5 medium eggs
  • a handful of fresh chopped coriander
  • 90g spelt flour (or plain)
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 80-100g grated manchego or vegetarian parmesan
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds

Heat the oven to 180C. Put the cauliflower florets in a large saucepan, cover with water, add a teaspoon of salt, bring to the boil then lower the heat and and simmer for 10 -15 minutes, until quite soft. Strain, and leave to drain in the colander.

Meanwhile prepare the batter. Cut a few 1/2 cm rings off one end of the onion, set aside to decorate the top of the cake and roughly chop the rest. Heat the oil in a pan and on a medium heat sauté the chopped onion and rosemary for about 6 minutes, until softened and slightly caramelised. Remove from the heat and leave to cool down.

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl, and add the parmesan, one teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper.

Add the eggs and coriander to the cooled onions and whisk. Then add the egg mix to the flour mix and whisk to eliminate lumps. Add the cauliflower and fold in gently, trying to keep some florets whole.

Use baking paper to line the inside of the loaf tin. Brush any visible sides of the tin with oil and dust with flour. Tip in the cauliflower mix, even out the top with a spatula and arrange the onion rings on top. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 40-45 minutes (for both sizes of cake), until golden brown and set. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The reason I called this a picnic cake is because it is equally good served warm with a lemon & olive oil dressed cucumber salad with fresh mint as a light evening meal or served room temperature the next day as part of a picnic lunch, wherever you happen to be, office, lawn or beach.  Just cut yourself a slice and relax.

A very nice glass of wine always helps too….

For more information about Boschendal Wine Estate visit their website here.

Indochine Melon Coconut Curry, Lemongrass, Coriander, Rice Noodles

26 Mar

This was one of the five different vegetarian curries we had the pleasure of trying at Indochine restaurant on the Delaire Graff Wine Estate. The whole experience was out of this world but this curry was the best I have ever had. And I’ve had a lot. I’d even go so far as to say it is one of the best dishes I have ever tried from anywhere in the world.

It’s unusual, elegant, fragrant, well-balanced, exotic, beautiful and totally delicious. It’s not actually on the menu, the chef on the evening that we were there, Virgil prepared a special selection of vegetarian curries for us to try. If anyone is listening from Indochine, you should definitely put it on your menu. It is really fantastic.

The drive up to the Delaire Graff Wine Estate has stunning views of the surrounding mountains and when you drive up through the shady tree-lined drive to see the well-manicured lawns and row upon row of parallel vines, you know you have arrived somewhere special.

And if you thought that the exterior was beautiful you have to see the interior to believe it.  The entrance lobby is flooded with light and filled with huge exotic flower arrangements. Bronze sculptures and water features punctuate the space, creating a modern African glass jungle.

Contributing to the theme, the lounge areas are decorated with gold and ebony pieces that transport you the colonial luxury lodge of your dreams. Or is it just me? I could definitely get used to this.

The restaurant has floor to ceiling glass doors opening out onto a terrace that takes full advantage of those spectacular views.  The copper and blue theme mirrors the red earth and blue sky of the surroundings bringing the outdoors in.

The curved banquette seating, facing the view is perfect for an intimate dinner for two.

A lovely detail, they have little pots of microherbs on the tables. Should you need a little more coriander.

Let’s get onto the food. First a bamboo basket arrived filled with pickled cucumber, black rice crackers (amazing), sweet potato crisps and a trio of sauces to go with them. Passionfruit, cucumber and pineapple & chilli. We chose a bottle of the Delaire Sauvignon Blanc as recommended by our excellent waiter. It had a hint of passionfruit which made it the perfect wine pairing with the spicy, fragrant dishes to come.

The amuse bouche was a little mouthful of tofu, mushroom, edamame and coconut sauce. Beautifully presented on a piece of slate. You may have noticed that I am plating some of my food on a slate tile at the moment. This is where the inspiration came from.

Our starter was an Indian Spiced Makhani Tofu Croquette, cinnamon confit tomatoes, pickled root vegetables, raita, beet leaves and tomato chutney. Presented on a slate tile again. You can see how all the colours stand out so beautifully.

We also ordered a Green Mango Salad with lime juice, chilli, ginger, coriander, mint. This classic Asian dish is refreshing, light, crisp and fresh. It makes a great side dish because of the contrast in textures. The cold crunch of the unripe mango with the hot spicy sauces of the curries. You can see why it is a classic all over Asia.

We were then presented with a palate cleanser. Apple and Ginger Sorbet with a sake shot. Oh alright then.

The sous chef Virgil came out with our main courses to explain the selection of curries he had made for us.

Tapioca Pearls with Curried Squash and Tofu Tom Yam, never has tapioca tasted so good or looked so beautiful.

Thai Green Pak Choi Curry with broccoli, sugar snaps, edamame, spring onions, light, fragrant and spicy

Melon Coconut Curry with lemongrass, ginger, coriander, chilli and fresh mint. Mind blowing honestly.

Lychee Red Curry with pickled cabbage, coconut, ginger and sprouts. This fruit in curry thing is going to catch on.

Burmese Aubergine Curry, tomato, garlic, cumin, coriander and turmeric. Aromatic and spicy.

For dessert we ordered the Trio of Creme Brulee because why wouldn’t you?

White Chocolate & Chilli, Ginger & Lime, Coconut. Heaven on a plate.

This restaurant has some of the best food I have ever tasted. It is daring, exquisite and mouth-wateringly good. If you live in SA and you haven’t been, you need to go. Exceptional food and service in luxurious surroundings.  Go on, treat yourself you know you want to. For more details and menus check out their website here.

For those of you that don’t live in South Africa, you need to try this recipe. And if you’re saying “Eww melon in curry, that’s gross” you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. The cool sweetness with the spicy, aromatic sauce is an unbelieveable combination that deserves some recognition. Do it.

You will have to make your own curry paste and coriander puree but don’t let that put you off it is not difficult and it is so worth it. You will also need to get a melon baller if you haven’t already got one leftover from the Seventies. You can serve it with plain rice or some thick rice (stick) noodles like I did.

Indochine Melon Coconut Curry with Rice Noodles

Serves 4, Vegan, Gluten-free. Adapted from the Indochine recipe

Prep time: 25 mins Cooking time: 20 mins

For the curry paste:

  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 5 white peppercorns
  • 1 pinch grated nutmeg
  • 4 small green chillies, deseeded and chopped (depending on the chilli)
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped/minced lemongrass
  • 1/2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic (about 3 cloves) finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp lime/lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp finely chopped coriander stalks
  • a big pinch of salt

Blend everything together in a mortar and pestle or food processor until you get a smooth- ish paste. Set aside.

For the Coriander Puree:

  • a bunch of fresh coriander leaves(or a mix of coriander & basil), roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
  • 1 bowl of iced water

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the bicarb. Plunge the coriander into the hot water and leave until the water starts to turn green. Drain off most of the water and blend to a smooth puree in a measuring jug. Cool down by putting the measuring jug in the iced water.

For the Curry:

You can use which ever melon is available, two different colours is nice.

  • about 500 gr (rind on weight) watermelon
  • about 500 gr (rind on weight) green melon
  • 2 cans coconut milk (do not shake before opening), I used low-fat
  • 2 tsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • coriander puree (see above) I used about 2 or 3 tbsp
  • salt
  • thick rice (stick) noodles for 4 people (or rice)
  • fresh mint leaves, rolled up & finely shredded for garnish
  • toasted coconut for garnish
  • vermicelli rice noodles deep-fried for garnish (optional)

Scoop out balls of melon flesh with the melon baller but leave the excess on the rind. Scrape out the excess flesh into a food processor and blend to a smooth puree.

To a large pan over a medium high heat, add the tops of the coconut milk (the thick cream bit) and cook until bubbling and starting to reduce. Add the curry paste and stir for 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the rest of the tins of coconut milk, reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stirring occasionally.

Cook the rice noodles according to the instructions on the packet.

Add the palm sugar, lemon juice and salt to the sauce then stir in the coriander puree and melon puree and taste. Adjust salt, lemon juice as required. Then add the melon balls, stirring to coat them in the sauce and heat through.

To make the vermicelli garnish, heat some oil in deep-frying pan until it sizzles when you test it with a dried noodle. Carefully drop a bunch of the dried rice vermicelli into the oil , it will puff up straight away. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and leave to drain on kitchen paper.

Serve the curry over rice noodles, garnished with the shredded mint leaves, toasted coconut and fried vermicelli (if using).

Thanks Indochine for a fabulous evening and for introducing us to the genius of fruit in curry. I am desperate to try the lychee one next…

Sweet Potato Brulee Tart, Lemon Asparagus, Pea, Mint and Feta

20 Mar

Haute Cabriere’s Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend is my favourite white wine in the whole world. The first time we came to Cape Town my Dad ordered a bottle with lunch in Manna. That was it, I was smitten. No wine has ever come close since. It has a slight apricot blush and creamy finish that I just love.

On our next visit to Franschhoek a few years later we had the pleasure of dining at The Cellar Restaurant on the Haute Cabriere wine estate. My Dad, again ordered a bottle (or maybe two) of their Pierre Jourdan Cap Classique sparkling rose. That was the beginning of my love affair with pink sparkling wine. That’s pretty amazing, don’t you think? Two of my favourite wines come from Haute Cabriere.

Ok, now make that three. They have recently added the first Unwooded Pinot Noir to the collection. It’s a light, fruity red that is served chilled. It’s a great summer drink, like a dark rose and it’s easy to drink in the sun. I can vouch for that, very easy!

This year we arrived at the restaurant to find the new outside dining terrace open with spectacular 180 degree views of the Franschhoek valley below. The chef, Ryan had prepared a special 5 Course Vegetarian Tasting Menu for us.  The marriage of food and wine is very important to them, each dish was especially designed to complement a different one of their wines. Normally it is the other way around, the wine is chosen to compliment the food.

We started with  Tomato Gazpacho, tomato pineapple sorbet, peppers, pineapple, cucumber garnish which was served with the crisp sparkling Pierre Jourdan Brut.

Then came a Smoked Cheddar & Green Peppercorn Souffle, ratatouille puree, apple crisps, sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, served with the Unwooded Pinot Noir.

Next was a Summer Vegetable Risotto, peas, parmesan crisps, asparagus, corn served with the Pierre Jourdan Tranquille.

Then the Sweet Potato Brulee Tart, asparagus, tatsoi, pickled artichoke, labneh, basil, sweet potato puree, served with my favourite, the classic  Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir blend.

For dessert we had Banana Parfait, liquid chocolate centre, chocolate vodka sorbet, dried banana, tuille, served with the Pierre Jourdan 100 % Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc.

I apologise for the lack of photos of the food but it was a very hot day and we were sitting under a red umbrella. Consequently all the pictures have a distinctly scary pink hue that was near impossible to get out when I was editing them. Hence the pictures above have a slightly dayglo appearance or I gave up and went for black and white instead!

All of the dishes were beautiful, well-balanced and delicious with the wines. The service was also exceptional. When it came to selecting a dish to recreate at home I had a hard time choosing but in the end it had to be the tart. It goes with my favourite wine after all. I changed a few things adding feta, peas and mint instead of artichokes, labneh and basil and made a spelt flour pastry instead of plain.

Sweet Potato Brulee Tart, Lemon Asparagus, Pea, Mint & Feta

Makes 3 x 10 cm tart tins, Vegetarian. Adapted from the Haute Cabriere Cellar Restaurant recipe

Prep time: 1 hour Cooking time: 25 mins

For the filling:

  • 1 large sweet potato (375 gr), scrubbed & roasted at 200 C for 1 hour (or until soft)
  • 150 ml oat milk (or any milk/cream)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 sprig rosemary or thyme
  • 1 egg
  •  a few teaspoons of sugar

While you are roasting the sweet potato make the pastry and put it in the fridge to rest.

Scrape the soft cooked flesh out of its skin into a sauce pan. Add the milk, salt and sprig of rosemary/thyme. Bring to the boil , stirring to combine then remove from the heat and take out the rosemary sprig.

Puree the sweet potato with a stick blender until smooth.  Add in the egg and mix together well. Check seasoning.

For the pastry:

  • 65 gr spelt flour (or plain flour)
  • 35 gr olive oil spread (or butter)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • iced water (?)

All the ingredients must be cold. Put the flour and diced spread/butter into a food processor and pulse until it resembles crumble mix. Add the egg yolk a bit at a time and pulse until the dough just comes together. You may (or may not) need to add a little iced water to bring it together. Do not over work or it will be tough.

Wrap it in cling film and put in the fridge for at least 30 mins to firm up.

When rested, cut into 3 equal parts and roll them out between two bits of clingfilm to rough circles around 2 mm thick.

Butter and flour you tart tins and lift the pastry circles into the tins, do not stretch the pastry. Press it into the tins evenly. Put back in the fridge to firm up again if you can.

Preheat oven to 180 C.  Prick the bases of the tarts all over with a fork. Place a square of parchment paper in each tart and fill the base with baking beans (any dried beans or rice) to stop it puffing up. Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the paper and beans and put back in the oven for 5 minutes until lightly cooked.

Pour the sweet potato mix into the tart cases and smooth the tops (you should have some puree leftover to serve with the tarts if you like).

Put back in the oven for 10 minutes. Then sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the tops and brulee with a blow torch or put under the grill until bubbling and slightly browned (optional).

For the Lemon Asparagus, Pea & Mint Vinaigrette & Feta:

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • juice of a lemon
  • salt
  • feta crumbled

Trim the woody ends off the asparagus and cut in half. Bring a small pan of salted water to the boil, squeeze in the lemon juice, lower the heat slightly and cook the asparagus for 3 minutes. Drain and run under the cold tap to stop the cooking, or serve immediately.

  • about 50 gr frozen peas, cooked in boiling salted water
  • 5 or 6 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, small leaves reserved for garnish
  • a squeeze of lemon juice
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • a pinch of sugar
  • salt & black pepper

Run the cooked peas under a cold tap to stop the cooking. Squeeze the peas out of their outer casing and mix the bright green pods with the rest of the ingredients and taste.

To serve: Top the tart with the cooked asparagus, crumble over the feta cheese and drizzle the pea & mint vinaigrette around the plate. Garnish the plate with a smudge of the sweet potato puree,  watercress leaves and some small mint leaves.

 

Now all you need is a glass of the Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir to go with it, and so do I…..

For more information about Haute Cabriere wines and The Cellar Restaurant visit their website here.

Ile de Pan – a Knysna Epidemic

29 Feb

Arriving in Knysna on a quiet Tuesday morning and driving over the bridge to Thesen Island we wondered where all the people were. It looked like a bit of a ghost town to be honest. We wandered around for a while thinking that there had been some sort of viral epidemic that had claimed the lives of all the inhabitants overnight.

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Then we spotted Ile de Pain, our main reason for visiting Knysna. It was packed with people eating at the wooden tables or queueing to buy the fabulous bread and cakes. It was like the whole of the town and a fair few tourists were sharing in the joy that the the Ile de Pain experience brings.

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We had reservations for lunch and it was only 11 am. You have no idea how much I wish we had booked for breakfast too. I had to get a blow dry just to waste some time before lunch. We also had a look around a new boutique hotel called The Turbine which is a converted wood fired electricity power station. Its industrial past combines with chic comfortable design pieces to create a contemporary space with a relaxed vibe.

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But back to the food. We arrived at Ile de Pain hungry and excited. For lunch the vegetarian choices are excellent. I went for the Butternut Squash and Chickpea Cakes with tomato salsa, tzatziki and fruit chutney. The Washer Up ordered the Halloumi Bruschetta with rocket and a lemon caper vinaigrette. Other options that looked equally good were the Wild Mushroom Tart with roast tomatoes, leeks and a shitake mushroom pesto or The IDP Pissaldiere, a thin crust french style pizza topped with caramelised onions, mozzarella, olives and rocket.

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Both dishes were delicious. The squash & chickpeas cakes were light and spiced with cinnamon. Too often any cakes made with pureed chickpeas can be dense and heavy. The bruschetta was amazing – I can see why their Companio bread is so popular. It’s chewy, crunchy, airy and has fantastic flavour. The dressing was zingy to contrast with the salty Halloumi and the heirloom tomatoes and peppadew peppers were sweet and spicy.

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Stuffed as we were from cleaning our plates, I was still powerless to resist when they brought around a two tiered cake stand filled with all the different cakes and pastries they had on offer that day. The difficult thing was which ones to choose.

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We made our decisions though. A sticky, chewy walnut slice and a peach and blueberry cake.

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Both stunning…..

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They very cleverly put the lunch and breakfast menus on the same sheet so you get to see both. I couldn’t think of leaving Knysna without trying out the breakfasts too so we decided to come back the following day.

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I ordered the Green Envy, scrambled eggs, basil pesto, rocket and parmesan on wholegrain toast which was lovely but The Washer Up made me green with envy when his choice arrived at the table. “Como” is delicious steamed vegetables, mushrooms, poached egg and tomato shitake pesto. It has a slightly Asian flavour from the vegetables and is the best breakfast dish I have ever eaten. Yes I had to help him eat it, for research purposes only, you understand. The poached egg was perfect too.

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We were meeting up with my Dad on the next leg of our tour later that day so I thought it was only right that we buy some of the beautiful tarts as a gift. He has never been to Ile de Pain and loves a little cake with his afternoon coffee. We chose the Portuguese custard tarts Pasteis de Nata (pictured above) which also happen to be The Washer Up’s favourite, a creme brulee tart…..

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And a mini lemon and passion fruit meringue pie……

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They were all beautiful, even though everything got a little bit squashed in the box on the back seat of the car when my suitcase slid along the seat on a sharp bend. We saved them though. It was hard to chose a winner, but I think the custard tarts just made it. Not eggy or bouncy at all, just creamy and ever so slightly burnt, which is a good thing. And that pastry…..

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Ile de Pain is a must on any trip to Knysna or Plettenberg Bay. They only open for breakfast and lunch and you will want to try both. It gets very busy especially at weekends so make sure you book. You really wouldn’t want to miss out believe me, this place is special and so is the food.

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Oh and Liezie very kindly gave me the recipe for the Butternut & Chickpea Cakes so I will be making them soon. Watch this space…

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