Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia

It was a lovely Saturday afternoon, the Uber driver was talkative, and his passengers were hungry and excited, because we all agree that Liam Tomlin (of the original Chefs Warehouse in Bree Street) is easily one of Cape Town’s best chefs. The Beau Constantia branch is headed by chef Ivor Jones, previously of the Test Kitchen, hailed as one of the best restaurants in Cape Town (if not the country, or the continent, given its listing at spot 22 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list).

But let us establish an important factoid before we discover the amazing views and loos: whether at Beau Constantia or on Bree Street, there is no universe in which the name Chefs Warehouse is a good choice if you care about language. It’s up to you where you put the apostrophe, but please put it somewhere (as long as it’s either before or after the ‘s’ in Chefs).

Right, to the views and loos. It’s hard to beat this, unless you’re James Bond (who incidentally has a lair on the hill just to the right of the estate):

So unlady-like business completed with a wonderful view (and a slightly awkward moment of wondering if people on the lawn can see as much of you as you can of them), we proceeded to the restaurant. Apparently they have good fun setting up the dining room for service, though when we arrived, the dancing and music had ceased to give way to a most lovely room with more views over the valley. Quite Scandi in an airy, light wood sort of way, even if some of the large chairs were poorly thought through since they don’t allow for two diners on one side to actually slide their chairs under the table in order to not dribble saucy things onto their laps. (Older and less agile diners at the table next to ours needed to be propped up on folded up blankets to bring them a bit closer to non-spilling territory. This is not ideal.)

The menu follows the Bree Street model, which is a what-the-kitchen-offers selection of eight tapas for two (doubling up for four etc), for a set price, so that’s what we ordered. The first courses come in a trio, on this day a Malay-spiced cured yellowtail, a beef tataki with mushrooms and sundried tomatoes, and fresh tuna with tempura kale and duck crackling bits.

These starter plates — and those that followed — were very chef Tomlin-esque, in terms of starting with fresh, clean flavours, followed by more punchy dishes. And good flavours they were, but… like the apostrophe in the name of the place, something was missing. The Malay-spiced fish lacked the daring of something properly curried. The beef tataki was delicious, but the sun-dried tomatoes added a completely unnecessary, and overwhelming, umami chorus. The tuna was beautiful, but the duck crackling won that flavour memory.

To the next set of mains: cauliflower with crispy capers and kataifi pastry, and the “signature” CW risotto (only because there’s always a risotto on the tapas menu at Chefs Warehouse, and this is where Liam Tomlin wields some arborio rice voodoo, because he serves a perfect risotto as part of the Bree Street line up).

The cauliflower here could not be faulted, even if you’re the kind of person who feels unexcited about eating your veggies. Together with its co-stars the capers and pastry, it was all the right kind of crunch, and salty, sweet, and something else elusive (probably because wine, at this point).

The risotto, not so much. It was tasty (pea and onion being the main flavours, I believe), but it wasn’t a Tomlin victory. Which is a difficult thing to fault, as risotto is quite frankly a bonkers dish to serve to a full dining room as part of a tasting menu. But if you can pull it off, it can’t not stand out as a highlight of a fine meal. This one would need stilts for that.

Which is an NB consideration, as we eventually concluded. Were we tourists who knew nothing of the “original”, we probably wouldn’t be pitting one chef against the other, and rather just soaking up the Constantia valley and the fact that our Dollars/Pounds/Euros extend to a laughable degree in this country. But we’re Capetonians, which means we ponder life, and value for money, and the miserable state of politics in this country, and what a jerk Iqbal Survé is, and how nice it is to get out of the rat race and go out for lunch, and also that it’s a bit shameful that we’re probably spending more (collectively) today than someone working for — or worse, under — the minimum wage in South Africa would earn in a month.

So being hypo-, and hyper- critical darlings, we are probably exactly the right people to pronounce this Chefs [sic] Warehouse very good but not (yet!) stellar. To wit, final mains included some superb lamb ribs, outstanding smoky pork loin with celeriac puree, and some sadly meh venison.

After mains we retreated to the very Godfather-esque spot under the wood-dappled sky for coffees, grappas, and some desserts to make up for the disappointment that the house bon bons were out of stock. There was a lemon posset with raspberries, a chocolate fondant, and a most intriguing honey and lavender crème with cassia bark ice cream. No complaints here. In fact you should probably go see for yourself how damn fine the desserts are. Vaut le détour pour les sweeties, as they say in La France.

Sweet teeth satisfied, we could have gone home, but that would have ruled out the possibility of another shared bottle of wine on the lawn with the grass between our toes, so that’s what we did instead.

Go for the views, the loos, and some delicious bites here and there. If you’ve got visitors, definitely take them. And definitely make them pay. If you’re after a killer risotto on little chairs, Bree Street is where it’s at.


Originally published at 2ladieswholunchblog.wordpress.com on January 11, 2017.