April 15 2011
I’ve never seen the point of molecular gastronomy, especially after suffering through a seven-course tasting menu at a wannabe el Bulli in Hoxton that shall remain unnamed. It was, without doubt, the worst meal of my life.
So it was with some trepidation that I browsed the menu at The Greenhouse in Cape Town on a warm December afternoon. This breezy restaurant is part of The Cellars-Hohenhort, a 52-room hideaway on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. I was quite taken with the fern-patterned wallpaper and the exceptional selection of Constantia wines; less so with dishes such as Forest Forage, featuring “scents of the forest”. Thanks to a crustacean allergy, I was spared the challenge of sampling Shellfish on the Beach, served with “sea sand, sea foam”. Alarm bells were ringing furiously as the waitress suggested I try one executive chef Peter Tempelhoff’s great-value tasting menus.
I demurred, but I needn’t have worried. Every dish was divine. Seared springbok carpaccio with shiitake mushroom and mange tout salad in a tamarind-sesame dressing, followed by marinated pineapple with tonka bean ice cream and coriander chilli syrup was the perfect postscript to a morning spent wandering through the magnificent Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens nearby. The sauvignon blanc was as entrancing as the views across perfectly groomed gardens (which provide many of the organic ingredients on the menu, second picture). Service was intuitive and unobtrusive.
The only letdown was that Mrs M failed to make an appearance. Liz McGrath (known among her staff simply as “Mrs M”) is the 80-something dynamo behind this flawless enterprise. She launched The Collection, her trio of stellar Relais & Châteaux hotels in the Western Cape, after the death of her husband, who ran one of South Africa’s biggest record labels. I was dying to hear Mrs M’s tales of wining and dining Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
You might be tempted to pick up a copy of The Collection Cookbook (R250, around £22) as you leave, but I can’t imagine how anyone could recreate such sophisticated dishes at home. Sourcing springbok and tonka beans in west London could prove problematic.
Tasting menus are R450 for four courses, R575 for a seven-course “menu gourmand”. A la carte, around R300 for three courses.