Recently I had a bit of an inconsistent lunch at Klein Joostenberg Bistro, being unaware that chef Christophe Dehosse is now focusing on his new restaurant in Stellenbosch. So it was time to snatch the The International Man of Mystery (Bluff chapter) from Durban and give Restaurant Christophe a stab.
The Man of Mystery’s almost exclusive dress code is a black vest and shorts, which given his sub-tropical home is not strange at all. What is remarkable is that he is a superb cook of winter fare, such as beef and stout pie. For today’s French summer fare he deigned to don his formalwear, a music festival T–shirt.
A duck-egg blue interior with white tablecloths and fine Sheffield Silver welcomes us, conveying a mood of calm elegance. Artworks are equally easy on the eye, with well crafted nude sketches and colourful pastiche lamp shades adding a hint of playfulness.
Before the development of energy drinks scorched Spanish farmhands cooled down with rehydrating slurps of gazpacho. Today the chilled raw tomato-based soup does the same for us at Christophe, with a dollop of added indulgence, three fat scallops.
There’s no laziness in the kitchen (the soup has none of the foam produced from a liquidiser). Tiny pieces of tomato remind that this dish predates the smoothie by about 500 years. With an invisible herby green injection (tastes like flat-leaf parsley) the dish is a conversation killer, the trip from spoon to lip winning out over the need to talk.
The scallops add a dense seafood element to the light soup but also bump up the price to R90, making it one of the pricier starters. I imagine that even without the scallops added to this simple but delicious soup it will still be a dish to tell your friends about.
The other starter (we are swopping plates midway) is a rich leg of fried quail. It’s called a salad and legally qualifies as such with a corner of greens but the best part is the warm little bird and its gravy. Not English gravy made gluey with flour.
“Mum there’s no Pritt.”
“Well use the gravy luv.”
No, just a light jus with the essence of flesh. A mound of toasted sunflower seeds and butternut sits alongside.
A brace of pork neck steaks are well done as pig should be but retain their moist tenderness from an ultra-low slow cook in the oven. It’s brown and meaty, vanquishing nightmares of grey pork at Sunday buffet lunches. A generous portion with crunchy green beans keeps you lively.
The sauce contains two dangerously potent ingredients, honey and fennel seed, but this is French cooking at its best. No flavour is allowed to dominate, rather it’s the way they combine to create a new taste. This is why we spend good money to eat out.
The highlight of the sea bream main is the asparagus in tarragon sauce nestled alongside. The nutty asparagus is so fresh it tastes like it was plucked from the earth that morning.
In her uncharacteristically boring but I guess important book on eating ethically, Barbara Kingsolver* argues that you haven’t eaten asparagus until you’ve cooked it immediately after picking. Even the most sophisticated supermarket group’s uninterrupted cold supply chain can’t come close, Kingsolver contends. After picking a rapid decomposition process starts, rendering its sweetness bitter or at best bland, she says.
Here the creamy sauce with the asparagus is giddily pungent with tarragon, a perfect accompaniment for the thin sliver of fish, with its skin intact to retain juicy flavour. But the fish portion is too small and in stark contrast to the quantity of pork in the other main.
For the final course an iPhone thin fig and almond tart is a welcome light touch to the end of a not inconsiderable meal. If it were not for the cheeses. Dehosse emerges from the kitchen to place a selection in front of us, giving the provenance of each, including three from France. My memory is poor and my French even worse so I don’t recall them but a runny soft cheese is a ripe goo of hedonism, just the right maturity before the inevitable decline into ammonia.
Dehosse extols the suppliers he’s proud of, including goat cheeses from Mont Verte in Wellington (I could only find Foxenburg goat cheeses from Groenberg in Wellington, which I guess translates to Mont Verte).
“They’re really passionate,” he beams.
Dehosse’s informal banter flows easily if given an invitation to talk. Not a man to guard his kitchen secrets he seems to relish telling you how he cooks. Genial service combined with the fairly formal setting is a fine memory to take home. Stiff formality is the antithesis of enjoying a meal and Dehosse understands this.
The food from bread to espresso is excellent, save for the too small fish. Today it’s up there with the Cape’s best.
Other starters include terrine of beef brisket with a tartare sauce; cold poached foie gras with walnut salad. For mains there’s kabeljou with a bordelaise sauce and a confit of shallot; loin of lamb with rosemary and tapenade. For pudding a fresh fruit sabayon (light boozy custard) with berry sorbet; “melting chocolate biscuit”. No vegetarian options today.
A glass of Joostenberg Fairhead (2007 if I recall) is a loud and fruity chenin dominated blend enjoyed with the quail. Dehosse’s wife Susan is from the Myburgh family that produce it but there’s no nepotism here. Broad range of wineries, mostly in the R100 to R350 bracket. If you’re just having a glass you can get away with R25 for Graham Beck Sauvignon Blanc 2008. Three courses for two (excluding drinks) at lunch R495.
Parking in the municipal lot across the road.
* Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: our year of seasonal eating by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
March 17, 2010
+27 (0)21 886 8763
44 Ryneveld St
Tags: 44 Ryneveld St Stellenbosch, Animal Vegetable Miracle, asparagus, Barbara Kingsolver, beef and stout pie, berry sorbet, bordelaise sauce, Cape, chilled tomato soup, Christophe Dehosse, Christophe restaurant, cold supply chain, confit, duck-egg blue, eating ethically, fennel seed, fig and almond tart, flat-leaf parsley, Foxenburg cheese, French cheese, French cooking, French restaurant, gazpacho, genial service, goat cheeses, Graham Beck Sauvignon Blanc, Graham Beck wine, honey, Joostenberg Fairhead, Joostenberg Wine, jus, kabeljou, Klein Joostenberg Bistro, poached foie gras, pork neck steaks, quail, Restaurant Christophe, runny soft cheese, sabayon, scallops, sea bream, seasonal eating, shallot, Sheffield Silver, slow cook, smoothie, Spanish food, Stellenbosch restaurant, stiff formality, summer fare, tapenade, tarragon, tarragon sauce, terrine of beef brisket, toasted sunflower seeds, walnut salad, Winelands, winter fare