Restaurant Christophe (now sadly closed. Christophe Dehosse is returning to Klein Joostenberg Bistro. Link below.)

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 Tshirt. 

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     

Tom Robbins
March 17, 2010

Restaurant Christophe
+27 (0)21 886 8763
Email: restaurant@christophe.co.za
44 Ryneveld St
Stellenbosch
Cape Winelands

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One Response to “Restaurant Christophe (now sadly closed. Christophe Dehosse is returning to Klein Joostenberg Bistro. Link below.)”

  1. Norma says:

    We were so dissapointed, I dont know what has happened but our experience was nothing like the review by Tom Robbins which inspired us to treat friends to dinner at Christophefor their 40th Anniversary
    Dining out in my opinion is a total package – ambience, service and food. Regretably Christophe fell short.
    Seating is very close to other diners – lighting is too bright (no candles to create atmosphere – if there was any background music we couldnt hear it) other diners spoke in hushed tones to avoid sharing their conversations with their neighbour tables – waiters did not introduce the menu – merely asked what we wanted – what we had, was o.k.
    The waiters hovered while we finished our coffee and dessert anxious to issue the bill,
    They clearly wanted to go home.
    The art work described as “easy on the eye” is anything but, it is not that I object to the nude sketches but one of the pictures still confuses me Its impossible to describe except to say, it was not easy on the eye and could definitely cause indigestion.
    I do not object to pay for a wonderful dining experience but unfortunatlely the whole experience fell short. Im not surprised that on a Saturday night the restaurant was far from full.

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