As I stroll up the steps of the Roundhouse, it’s hard not to think of the historic building’s long and storied past, of the myriad of characters who have walked through the doors and of the various shenanigans to which these walls have borne witness.
I recall the story of Lord Barry, now memorialised in graffiti within the restaurant’s waiting area — a woman who masqueraded as a man to qualify as a medical doctor and surgeon in the late 1800s. Then the starry-eyed lovers who would test the authenticity of their engagement rings by cutting their initials into the glass windows of the ocean-facing room — so in love... as long as the diamond was real (from certain angles they’re still visible today). And perhaps, somewhat conceitedly, of its most recent inhabitants, the Salsify team, and the last meal I’d enjoyed there.
It’s always a worry returning to the scene of an outstanding meal. As a critic there is naturally some pressure when choosing a restaurant to visit, your guests (as they rightly should) expect your recommendations to be worthy ones — as too should the readers, who follow such gastronomes. It’s not about consistency nor excellence, but rather of consistent excellence — knowing that each meal should in some way be better or more enjoyable than the one before.
So, it was with some trepidation that I took my seat for Sunday lunch to sample this latest offering from Chef Ryan Cole and his team. Still caught in the grips of a pandemic, the hospitality industry all but decimated and tourists still very much few and far between — I wondered whether this hard-headed bunch of young guns could manage to maintain the standard of my last experience and, as they’ve done countless times before, maybe even better it.
The menu runs six courses long and is built on the premise that like all Sunday lunches worth their salt, it is meant to be enjoyed slowly, spending time with good company and should, of course, include copious amounts of good food and wine.
A quick scan down the menu and I note there is only one dish I’ve had in its entirety before — it’s a brilliantly executed kapokbos lamb rib and loin served with a host of flavour-forward accoutrements — it’s a strong dish and one I’m not at all disappointed to have another opportunity to enjoy.
Another detail I notice is the wine pairings. On my last visit there had been an elaborate offering of older vintages, many from iconic estates, while this selection clearly comprises recent releases, but refreshingly, many from new and exciting producers and winemakers. It’s a move no doubt driven by the current spending capacity of Cape Town’s dining clientele (a clever one at that) but it’s also a fantastic showcase of winemakers who may usually not make it as first choice on a pairing menu.
Service runs like clockwork throughout the day, the quietly confident restaurant manager Pierre Broodryk overseeing the procession of waiters, wine stewards and chefs who arrive with dish or drink in hand to explain each of the components table side. The team is undoubtedly smaller — another devastating sign of the times — however, impressively no detail is overlooked.
The meal itself is simply sensational, beginning with the bread course of freshly baked babka bun made with fire-roasted potato, baked leek and blue cheese to be torn with your hands (as all good bread should be) and devoured after generously dunking the strips into the almost-bubbling, melting, cultured jersey butter, enjoyed together with a selection of “gifts from the kitchen” — a few choice snacks to get your taste buds going.
Cole’s latest creation — a proudly South African dish embodying opulence, luxury and indulgence — is a highlight. Delicate poached langoustine caught off the coast of Durban and shavings of Mpumalanga-grown truffle sit atop pillows of chive gnocchi. It’s a dish of utmost elegance and a culinary take on local luxury to the highest degree.
Equally delectable but perhaps with more humble origins arrives the slow-cooked petit poussin (baby chicken) — for no Sunday lunch is complete without a roast — this iteration likely finer than what one might usually expect though and too accompanied by truffle. Perfectly cooked, tender chicken is served atop a caramelised cauliflower purée — the caramelisation bringing out those wonderfully sweet, earthy and nutty flavours which compliment both the truffle shavings and the black garlic and hazelnut pesto with which it is served, the crispiest shard of chicken skin completes the glorious amalgamation of texture.
It’s often easy to impress with the more luxurious ingredients but to do so with a simple ingredient like chicken is no small feat.
Dessert follows the same ethos of making the ordinary extraordinary and is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most mind-blowing desserts I’ve had in ages. A twist on the classic Afrikaans sago pudding, here it is served elevated to a souffle deserving of magnificent esteem. It’s everything you could want from a good pudding and then some. The warm and rich sago base, the light and fluffy souffle, together with the sticky kumquat marmalade and cold, creamy pistachio ice cream. Tradition meeting fine technique to deliver mouthfuls of hefty flavour and sheer comfort. The perfect end to lunch.
I need not have had concerns — it was a truly superb meal from start to finish and I once again leave more impressed than I did on my previous visit.
In my opinion, it is these types of experiences which separate the great chefs from the merely good chefs. It’s not about resting on laurels, sticking to tried and tested ideas or serving up an exceptional menu this year that is all but a replica of the same menu last year. Rather, it’s about a constant (and perhaps relentless) strive for perfection, always pushing and getting better, in one way or another, every time.
Bravo Salsify, I look forward to my next visit.
The Salsify Sunday Lunch
Six course menu R675pp (wine pairing R600 supplement)
Click here for reservations