Around the World – La Colombe – Constantia, South Africa (May 2016)

We ended our culinary journey in South Africa with La Colombe at the Silvermist Organic Wine Estate on Constantia Nek.

Started by chef Franck Dangereux in 1996 at Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate, La Colombe took the 2002 and 2005 Eat Out Restaurant of the Year awards and was inducted in the 2006 San Pellegrino Top 50 Best Restaurants of the World at 28th place. Luke Dale Roberts was appointed as Executive Chef of La Colombe late 2006 and at the end of 2007 – after a 4-year stint in the kitchens at Haute Cabrière restaurant in Franschhoek and a 2-years stint under Marcus Wareing at The Savoy Grill in London – Scot Kirton joined Luke Dale Roberts as sous chef. The duo made their mark by securing the 2008 and 2009 Eat Out Restaurant of the Year awards and Dale Roberts taking the 2008 Eat Out Chef of the Year.

In 2009 Scot was appointed as Head Chef of the lauded River Café restaurant in London. Meanwhile, La Colombe reached new heights in 2010 when it sprung from 38th to 12th place in the San Pellegrino Top 50 Best Restaurants of the World (whilst oddly only being nominated for that year’s Eat Out Restaurant of the Year awards). Kirton followed in the footsteps of Franck Dangereux and Luke Dale Roberts (who started The Test Kitchen) by becoming Head Chef of La Colombe at the end of 2010.

After a promising start, securing a top 100 spot in the 2011 San Pellegrino Best Restaurants of the World and regaining top 10 positions in the 2011 and 2012 Eat Out Restaurant of the Year awards, it seemed to go downhill at bit. From dropping out the top 10 in 2013 and not evening being nominated in 2014, La Colombe’s recent move from Constantia Uitsig to the Silvermist Organic Wine Estate has – according to Scot Kirton himself – injected new life into the restaurant’s food and service.

And with the recognition to prove it: La Colombe catapulted back and took 2nd place at the 2015 Eat Out Restaurant of the Year award (Kirton picked the 2015 Eat Out Chef of the Year award too) and re-entry into the 2016 San Pellegrino Best Restaurants of the World at #76 and marching on to #73 in 2017.

It was a pity that we arrived whilst already almost fully dark, as the views during daytime must be quite spectacular from its spot high on Constantia Nek. We were initially seated in the conservatory with a view on the restaurants’ vegetable garden, but thought that there was a bit too much draft coming through the windows. Luckily we were one of the first to arrive, so we got a different table in the main part of the restaurant.

After getting our appetizer (a glass of Graham Beck Rosé Brut MMC bubbly and a G&T made with the local Hope Gin), we decided on their 7-course gourmand menus (👍 = favourite dish of the evening). When given the choice of “Regular” or “Fine & Rare” wine pairing, I tried to persuade Chantal to go for the regular wine pairing to both get a taste of their full range, but alas, she didn’t take the bait. 😉 (4⭐️+ wines in Platter’s 2016 are denoted).

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The starters: “ENCHANTED GARDEN”

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1a. OYSTER Poached oyster, lemon, seaweed, apple
Richard Kershaw Clonal Selection Chardonnay 2014 (Elgin), Platter’s: 4.5⭐️

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1b. CAULIFLOWER Cauliflower fondant, baby leeks, cashew, bok choi and salsa verde
Ondine Semillon 2014 (Darling)

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2a. TUNA TATAKI Seared tuna and tartare, avocado, quail egg, ponzu, citrus, nori puff

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2b. NICOLA POTATO Miso Orange Mousse, Sweet potato crisps, Pickled Spring Onion, Nori Puff 
Both our dishes were accompanied by the Hartenberg Tenacity The Limited Edition Riesling 2011 (Stellenbosch). Carl Schultz (Hartenberg’s cellar master) experiments with small batches of wine for his contribution to the yearly Cape Winemakers Guild Auction. The wines that don’t make the final auction cut end up in the Tenacity range; only 935 bottles were made of this exceptional 2011 Riesling.

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3a. LINEFISH Grilled fillet of fish, saffron bulgur wheat, squid, chorizo, smoked soubise sauce
Lismore Viognier 2014 (Greyton)

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3b. CAPONATA Griddled brioche, aubergine and tomato caponata, tomato purée, Salsa verde, capers
Hogan Divergent 2015 (Stellenbosch/Wellington)
A small batch (only 6 barrels were made) blend of equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Carignan

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4a. SMOKED OX TONGUE Smoked ox tongue, coriander, ginger, capers, red onion, umami broth and crispy kataiffi
Idiom Sangiovese 2012 (Stellenbosch). There are only about 10-15 producers of 100% sangiovese wines in South Africa

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4b. ASSIETTE OF VEGETABLES Chef’s selection of spring vegetables, lemon and herb butter
Rijk’s Private Cellar Chenin Blanc 2013  (Tulbagh)

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PALATE CLEANSER Watermelon and Lemon Verbena

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5a. SCALLOP & PORK Citrus glazed scallop, pork belly crepinette, kimchi, cauliflower fondant, smoked cauliflower velouté

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5b. SOUBISÉ Salad of saffron bulgur wheat, lentils, coriander, pickled onions, smoked onion purée, sauce soubise
Both our dishes were accompanied by the A.A Badenhorst White Blend 2013 (Swartland) Platter’s 4.5⭐️. A blend of 10(!) varietals: Chenin Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Colombard, Grenache Gris, Semillon, Clairette Blanche and Palomino. The pairing was explained by the fact that the different grapes in the wine go together with the diverse flavours of the ingredients in this dish. That did work well, but on its own we found the wine a bit flat.

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👍6a. SPRINGBOK LOIN Seared loin of springbok, caramelized onion, walnut crumble, asparagus, fig, fondant potato and fig jus
Hartenberg “Gravel Hill” Shiraz 2008 (Stellenbosch) Platter’s: 4.5⭐️

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👍6b. RISOTTO Smoked tomato risotto, courgette, Brussel sprouts, tarragon, goats cheese, Pastis velouté
Idiom Sangiovese 2012 (Stellenbosch)

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CHERRY BLOSSOM Manjari 64% chocolate crémeux, cherry stracciatella, kirsch, tonka bean and almond
For the dessert we decided to choose both the regular wine pairing Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Noble Late Harvest 2012 (Stellenbosch) Platter’s 4⭐️ and the Fine & Rare wine pairing Klein Constantia Vin De Constance 2011 (Constantia) Platter’s 5⭐️ to see how their both complemented the dessert… The Blaauwklippen had hints of berries, whilst the Klein Constantia leaned more towards dried stone fruits. Both were absolutely delicious, but we liked the Blaauwklippen slightly more as it enhanced the cherry elements in the dish.
The food was balanced yet full of flavour. Sometimes quite classic combinations, flawlessly executed, but many with Asian touches giving the dishes a bit of a punch. This was also the only restaurant with ample amounts of sauce instead of just a few drops scattered on the plate. The Fine & Rare wine pairing were mostly spot on and were well explained.

The service as such was not bad, but it was not on par with the efforts from the kitchen. Although our regular waiter was very friendly and explained the bulk of the dishes and some of the wines well, there was clearly insufficient coördination with other servers bringing the plates from the kitchen as we were asked several times by them whether or not the dish already had been explained (or once a bit more bluntly: whether we wanted an explanation of the dish or not…). Just when our wines for the main course were poured and about to be explained, the sommelier was beckoned by somebody at another table and she complied by just leaving us be for a couple of minutes while sorting out a wine for that other table. She did apologise afterwards that was not standard practice at La Colombe, but we were quite astounded by this as explaining the wines is usually done in under a minute.

According to their site, the 7 course Gourmand dinner will set you back R650-R870 (EUR 40-53 / USD 44-60) per person depending on the vegetarian or regular option. If you add the standard or Fine & Rare wine pairings, that total rises to either R1.050-R1.270 (EUR 64-77 / USD 72-87) or R1.460-R1.680 (EUR 89-102 / USD 100-115). Together with appetizers, water, coffee/tea and gratuity, the grand total of our dinner came to R4.000 / EUR 243 / USD 275. I just noticed when typing this, we were erroneously charged 2 regular Gourmand Menus.

Oh well… we still greatly enjoyed our dinner and would return nonetheless as the food was truly delicious.

One thought on “Around the World – La Colombe – Constantia, South Africa (May 2016)

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