Spend R120 on a steak at Spur or six courses at La Mouette Restaurant in Sea Point?

Okay that is a lie.  Family discounter Spur Steak Ranch’s most expensive cut, a ‘lazy’ aged 500 gram rump, is R119.95.  Discount fine diner La Mouette offers six courses for five cents more.  All right that is not six full courses but rather a tasting menu.  Nevertheless it is still a daunting offer by independent chef Henry Vigar.  Can the Sea Point Seagull pull it off against the economies of scale of the Spur group?

La Mouette Restaurant
4/5 stars
+27 (0)21 433 0856
78 Regent Rd
Sea Point
Cape Town

First up are the restaurant’s popular ‘truffle’ and cheese croquettes, moreish in an addictive salty snack way but then this is no factory food.  Or is it?  Are there really truffles in here or is it just laboratory made truffle oil?  Well Lindt Chocolate is made by robots in automated Swiss factories and it ain’t too shabby.  But then these deep-fried nuggets are accompanied by a dip you won’t ever find on a supermarket shelf – an excellent smoked tomato aioli from La Mouette’s own kitchen.  This taster course is paired with a Villiera Brut no vintage bubbly.  (The option to accompany the courses with wine costs an additional R160.)

A sweet potato, yoghurt and harissa soup is comforting like a hot European soup should be, with the refreshing East Mediterranean yoghurt to cool down the more exotic North African spice of the Med.  The wine is a splendid L’Avenir unwooded chardonnay 2010.  Who says we can’t make understated quaffable Burgundy-style chardonnay even if this is more of a gulping wine than the little sips that result from the steely stature of French stones?

Tonight’s highlight is seriously salty-savoury mouthfuls of simple fried angelfish.  This is contrasted with starch: cute bits of gnocchi that are soft with potato inside and hint at crispy on the outside.  Pasta for Paddy.  A fickle smear of aubergine puree offers a smoothe texture on the side, dotted with capers.  Who needs a search party for rock cod and kabeljou when you can cook the humble angelfish this well even before the addition of sauces and accessories?  The accompaniment of a snappy Villiera Chenin Blanc 2010 is like fish to water.

The beef  tonight, a sirloin with smoked mash, caramelised shallots, port ‘caviar’ and bordelaise sauce, carries a R35 surcharge tonight.  The lamb alternative described lower down has no additional cost.  The full-flavoured beef cut, with the sweet of ‘French Onions’ on the side is exalted by the ‘peasant luxury’ of bone marrow in the classic French sauce.  Savoured next to one of the restaurant’s fires, it is deeply reassuring.  Like “Grandma’s Feather Bed”.  Micro-bubbles of port caviar are a superfluous gastronomic trick that will please many in the market.

Klein Constantia Cabernet Merlot Blend 2009 does the trick and is also paired with the alternative of braised (pot roasted) lamb ravioli (no additional cost).  The other three at the table order this but the lamb is a tad dull and not a great combination with the tangy puttanesca sauce, despite this “whore’s sauce” being one of my favourites with simple spaghetti.

Rhubarb is all the rage in spring so pud is a play on the rhubarb and custard of our childhoods.  A foam of the tart vegetable is served with custard panacotta (so with egg yolk added to the customary cooked cream).  Accompanied by warm doughnut but no wine pairing.  At its toned down best traditional Italian panacotta can be God’s gift of a pudding for those without a sweet tooth.

To end it is a white chocolate and lemon grass macaroon – passion fruit sorbet and lime leaf espuma (Spanish for foam) paired with Graham Beck Rhona Muscadel.  The sweet wine is lovely but then even my mother might find me delightful after drinking and eating her way through this menu.

The odds are high that one course out of six might not be to your taste (the lamb for all four of us tonight).  Certainly not all six courses are mind blowing but the level of professionalism is first-class.  And at R120 it is a gastronomic bargain.  A new tasting menu is on offer for the last days of September and then another until end of October (check the website).  Then the season starts…

Bring your pre-teen children for their birthdays.  For them it could be a delicious discovery away from the formulaic family restaurant fare of onion rings and spare ribs.  This is how food should be cooked.  A variety of humble ingredients that can enliven sustenanceYour kids might even enjoy it more than Spur.  If they do they will cook for you when you are old.  In these straightened times that prospect is almost as good as a flush pension fund.

The tasting discount puts bums on seats and is great for promoting the fuller priced in season months but whether or not those winter bums are profitable I have no idea.

With the wine pairing it is much more expensive – an additional R160.  But I could quite easily make a glass or two off the wine list, or even simply tap water, last through the evening.

The entire table needs to order tasting menu.  A vegetarian tasting option is available.  The menu leaves me feeling just right – neither peckish nor overly full.

La Mouette is, in part, the Parisian neo bistro I have written ad nauseam about but until now have failed to find in Cape Town (see the Test Kitchen).  The neo bistro offers creative cooking with fresh but usually inexpensive ingredients.  Choices are limited.  This gives the cash-strapped consumer innovative and mouth-watering food.  It brings the chef customers and very little wastage of ingredients due to limited choice.  Lunch spot Dear Me shows elements of this approach but I don’t know of any evening bistro that is able to offer this concept and pull it off. 

Of course La Mouette isn’t simply a neo bistro for it also offers a more expensive a la carte menu.

This restaurant has always shown potential and is now fulfilling that promise since it was first reviewed here.

4/5 stars on the night

Tom Robbins
Posted September 28, 2011

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