La Colombe, how is it faring with the ‘dreaded’ consultant celebrity chef?

“Would you like a roll to mop up the juice from your fillet steak?”
A more reassuring sign at a fine dining restaurant you will not find.  It indicates service without stuffiness.  That they want you to have a good time rather than intimidate you.  It is the kind of thing a genial host at a laid back dinner party might suggest.  And this isn’t a posh roll, just the same simple Portuguese bread you would have found at almost any Bez Valley* corner café in years gone by.

 La Colombe
+ 27 (0) 21 794 2390
Constantia Uitsig Estate
Spaanschemat River Rd
Cape Town

The only concession to class is the roll’s dainty proportions.

This also isn’t any ordinary jus but an excellent earthy truffle injected one to enrich the perfectly tender fillet, not the most flavourful of cuts found on a beast.  This ordinary flavour is the very reason I order it – does it cut the mustard?  The answer is a resounding yes.  Enquiring as to whether there are real pieces of truffle in the gravy or just synthetic truffle oil, the forthright response is that it is only the oil.  There had been a little slip-up over this the last time I ate at La Colombe (the link to that review is at the end).

The rest of this main includes a baby pie stuffed with bone marrow and what appears to be a tiny onion; and potato that has been pureed and then moulded into a brick.  The pretty picture is completed by baby marrow soaking up the gravy. 

Earlier the ‘free’ tasters – standard fare in restaurants such as La Colombe – are a rich liver parfait (in this case similar to pâté), a bright kudu tartare with the crunch of something raw, possibly celery or onion, and a surprise of potent pesto.  But most will probably talk about the seafood tom yum souplet, served in an egg shell. 

My official starter is a fricassee (stew) of quail and langoustine.  The langoustines are a sweet success and the quail is perfectly cooked, unlike at our recent experience at Wild Woods in Hout Bay where it was raw.  One of the pieces of quail needs a little salt (unlike some restaurants they have it on the table) but then I am on strict doctors orders to up my saline consumption on account of my low blood pressure.  The quail gravy certainly is salty enough and is peppered with sweet corn for contrast.  On top of the dish pretty micro-greens of pea are tossed to complete a fine dish. 

For pudding I select the beetroot (three ways) with chocolate.  Now the descriptions of all the dishes here are so complex and the sauces so numerous for my little pea brain that it is impossible to recollect all of them them (often the basic meat and potatoes stay the same and the creativity “is in die sous”)

There is a scoop of beetroot sorbet, a towering dark chocolate pipe filled with something creamy and as you bite down to the bottom there is more beet ice cream to devour with the chocolate casing.  The beetroot chocolate combo is a surprising success.  To complete the dessert there is a wafer-like biscuit with what appears to be stewed beetroot slices and a yellowy creamy finish. 

Petit fours are good without being mind blowing and espresso satisfactory but unsurprisingly not at the same level as the new breed of specialist coffee houses in town.  The service is excellent throughout (they offer to move me to an apparently better table because a couple have cancelled).  The only glitch here is that waitresses frequently make their enquiries when my mouth is full. 

It is Friday lunchtime and the restaurant is less than half full, which is sad but may just be the poor economy.  Sad becasue the food is beautiful today.  This despite the fact that chef Luke Dale-Roberts out of the kitchen now (the mantle has been taken up by his ‘protégé’ Scot Kirton).

With Dale-Roberts still acting as a consultant the arrangement appears to be working.  The trend of the famous consultant chef has had mixed success globally but it does offer chefs an avenue to make a lot more dough (along with TV shows and book deals).  Sometimes they simply consult and sometimes they try to build and own global chains.

The answer is as to how La Colombe is faring is that it is offering an excellent all round dining experience today without the celebrity chef.  The set-up certainly isn’t dreaded in this case (and a far better experience than last time).  Despite this business looks a little too slow today (and I am in no way suggesting this is since Dale-Roberts left).  Where else in the world can you get into the ‘12th best’ restaurant** in the world for Friday lunch without booking?  Look out for Dale Roberts at The Test Kitchen at the Biscuit Mill, Woodstock, due to open in November.

Other starter options on La Colombe’s French-Asian cuisine inspired menu on the day are: a beetroot and goat’s cheese salad; ballotine of rabbit: springbok tataki (seared) and tartare; and a prawn and sweetbreads (usually neck gland of a calf) salad (which I will order next time).  Last time the ballotine of rabbit came two ways: smoked and in a terrine (rough pâté). I suspect it may have been pot-roasted or poached before smoking. 

The most tempting main is assiette (assortment) of suckling pig but it is clearly marked as out of stock on the board as it sold out the night before.  I nearly order a kingklip with sevruga caviar.  Others include springbok (with or without their foie gras); a veal dish; and what I hear as a ‘cheroot’ risotto.  I know tobacco flavours in wine and food are the latest thing but eating baccy would be going a bit far.  My hearing must be poor. Possibly it is a root vegetable risotto. 

For dessert I consider the three teas ice cream with chocolate.  I only remember two: rooibos and Earl Grey.  There is also a cashew nut parfait and a lighter fruity thingy.

I enjoy a carafe of the Constantia Uitsig Semillon (R100; the wine estate which La Colombe is part of) with the quail and langoustine and their white blend (70 percent Semillon and the remaining 30 percent Sauvignon Blanc) with the fillet.  I don’t recall the years and stupidly leave the bill behind so can’t remember the price of this second carafe.  The wine list is a tome but everything is simply explained so as to educate and not to intimidate.  I seem to recall a bottle of something for R135 but most of it is in the top league, quality wise as well as price, as you would expect here.

The white tablecloth-clad interior is elegant enough anf the enclosed porch bright though I don’t care for the amablokke-blokke ceiling.  I guess these concrete blocks used as a ceiling would be très chic in Nkandla.  The outside garden-facing verandah is lovely on a sunny day. 

I do recall the total bill for one is R642, excluding the tip. 

5/5 stars over lunch.  Overture earned its 5 stars easier with more tastes that surprised on the tasting menu but then I haven’t tried the night-time tasting menu at La Colombe.  The current out of season seven course tasting menu is R550 (R750 paired with wine). 

* I reckon Bezuidenhout Valley near Ellis Park in Johannesburg had a strong Portuguese community.  The old hotel restaurant in Ellis Park sold fine Mozambo-Poro food. 

** According to the San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants of the World 2010.  Under Dale-Roberts it moved up 26 places.

You can read the previous review of La Colombe here

Tom Robbins
Posted October 14, 2010

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2 Responses to “La Colombe, how is it faring with the ‘dreaded’ consultant celebrity chef?”

  1. George says:

    I went to La Colombe in December last year when Luke was still there (we had the tasting menu) and it was absolutely outstanding. By far the best meal I have eaten in South Africa with every dish (bar a slightly bland Japanese seafood hot pot) a triumph.

    I am thinking of going back this year and would like to know if it is still the best and still worth it. I suffer from an unfortunate combination of a low budget and spoilt palate (think Fat Duck spoilt – excuse the name dropping)so this is an important decision.

    Thanks for your reviews, I am very happy to have stumbled upon this site.

  2. admin says:

    I can only offer you the recent review (above) after Luke Dale-Roberts left the kitchen. I found it very good. Indeed it was better than when I reviewed it when when Dale-Roberts had been there fulltime. That may well have been on account that the restaurant was distracted by the hosting of a pre-World Cup event. As my reviews are based on a single dining experience I can’t vouch for its consistency. My ‘guesstimate’ is tha La Colombe continues to maintain a high standard, though consistency is one of the hardest things for a restaurant to attain and even the best slip up at times.
    Tom Robbins

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