Bizarrely, perhaps, I’m sitting in the south of France, thinking of the prospects of rich and gournmandising World Cup visitors to Cape Town who can’t get a booking at the city’s most internationally famous restaurant, La Colombe. And I’m reckoning they will do immensely well for themselves if they can get into Jardine, which might be a little easier.
Last week (a continent and a seemingly long time ago) I was fortunate enough to have two meals at Jardine – an excellent lunch and a superb dinner. Actually, I confess that what I remember most from the lunch was the bottle of Scali Blanc 2006 that we found lurking on the winelist. Scali is a small winery in the Voor-Paardeberg, that emerged in the post-Sadie revolution in those parts, when Tania and Willie de Waal started increasingly holding back their grapes from Boland Coop and vinifying them theselves. With ever-growing success. The Blanc is a rather oxidatively-made, intense and fresh wine from chenin – not, perhaps, to everyone’s taste, but if you value depth and character above cheerful fruitness, you might admire and enjoy this wine as much as I always do. And as the 2006 at Jardine proved, a few years in bottle only add to the profundity.
The dinner at Jardine was, to repeat myself, superb. In fact, George Jardine himself is now based, as I understand it, at the branch on Jordan estate, and chef de cuisine Eric Bulpitt (right) is responsible for the menu at the home restaurant in Bree Street. This has long been my favourite fancy restaurant in Cape Town (though I’m much more frequent a diner at 95 Keerom Street, which is playing a very different, much less elaborate game), and I have a feeling that it is going from strength to strength.
I’m scarcely a food critic, so I shall largely confine myself to telling of my sheer delight in the presentation of the food. Last time I was there I had for a starter something called The Vegetable Patch, which was a charmingly arranged little garden of variously prepared vegetables (on a “soil”, I recall, of mushroom-tinted couscous). This time my starter was the West Coast Rock Pool – described on the menu as “pickled squid, oyster, seaweed and radish”, but that does little justice to the range of flavours involved and the wonderfulness of the arrangement – on a “sea-bed” of the most flavoursome quinoa. I suspect my utter pleasure in these presentations is naïve and unsophisticated, but I daresay many others will share it. There is a poignancy to demolishing such a creation which adds a frisson to the swallowing down of it.
The arrangement of my main-course seared duck breast was very different. (I was breaking from vegetarianism in preparation for France, where chicken is about as close as they get to vegetables). The duck, brown and red, came in pieces almost scattered (but with some precision) over a rough dark wood board, with a few smears and bits of solidity (celeriac, walnut and onion crumble, pomegranate and cranberries). It was a sombre and somehow violent, certainly dynamic arrangement, and my pleasure in it was nearly as much as it had been in the charm of the starter. And it all seemed to me most marvellously cooked.
Incidentally, I took along a bottle of JJ Prum Wehlener Auslese 1994, a great and sweetish riesling that went well enough with everything, and then bought some very acceptable La Motte Millennium. (You’re allowed just one bottle corkage – at R50.)
Who cares that Jardine is a bit noisy (with totally unnecessary and rather unwelcome “music” just adding to the decibels shaped by all those hard surfaces), and that the taste in art is rather suspect (in my opinion), and that it’s a touch shabby in some ways? And that I was irritatingly asked by three different waiters whether I was ready for dessert? And that the rip-off cost of a bottle of water is R27? Well, I care a little bit about all those things, but I’m happy to forgive them, given the food. And if the place was seriously smartened up, they’d have to raise the costs so much that I couldn’t afford to go there occasionally. They charge a fixed amount for either two or three a la carte courses (R240 and R280 respectively).
Hardly cheap by Cape Town standards – but, I can assure you, absurdly cheap by the standards of France for this quality. Here (in Collioure for example, on the Mediterranean coast, and in Toulouse where I’ve just been, one can eat reasonably for little more than that (and they automatically bring water to the table!) – but at the more ambitious places the prices start rising alarmingly. South Africans are still unwilling to pay such prices at home, which is why there is comparatively so little difference in price between a mediocre restaurant and somewhere like Jardine – or La Colombe. So the World Cup gourmets and gourmands should have a good time for their euros, pounds, dollars, etc.
I see I’ve left myself no room for more about connections with the south of France. Reminiscences intervened, and enthusiasm. Bon appetit.