Ember Meat Room, Chef Michael Broughton’s latest project, brings the heat to Stellenbosch with live fire cooking and a top-notch meat offering. The new Stellenbosch eatery is the chef’s latest project with business partner, wine and cattle farm owner Tom Breytenbach, the two having previously opened burger joint Stud The Burger Shop, and Cucina, a casual Italian cafe.
The three restaurants share the same location within a chic, recently renovated strip mall across the road from Stellenbosch’s town hall. While Stud and Cucina are plainly visible on arrival, it’s only the small sign of Ember that gives an indication you’re in the right place.
We arrive and walk towards the sign to be greeted by the chef himself, who guides us down the passageway to the door of Ember. It’s a revelation of sorts walking inside. The fairly generic look of the centre gives way to the sexiest of restaurants — one that wouldn’t be out of place in the likes of New York or London — reminiscent of a speakeasy or gentleman’s club, but with a modern, minimalist twist.
It’s a moody and intimate 40-seater, with monochrome grey walls — the same colour used to paint the array of ornately framed farming equipment, dining utensils and cattle bones which hang on it, to great effect. Pendant down-lights above the pressed, snow-white table clothes frame each of the perfectly set tables, reflecting off the silver cutlery and crystal stemware, just inviting you in.
The dinner menu, concise and confident in its offering, features three starters, four mains and a handful of desserts. While a few options lend themselves to vegetarians or pescatarians, it’s clear that the focus here is on meat — and it’s mighty fine meat at that. Breytenbach’s superior quality Boran beef lends itself to the farm-to-fork ethos Broughton embraces here. Lunch is an even more simplified offering — with a beef or fish option and a dessert of the day.
As the name may suggest, Ember’s focus is on live fire cooking — they use coal for their grills — and almost each dish features an “emberised” component (the term they’ve coined for cooked over the coals).
For starters there’s the prawn risotto, a signature of Broughton’s from his days at Terroir.However I opt for the gorgeous beef tartare — it is a meat room after all — complimented by a cured egg yolk, leek ash and for texture, elements of potato and radish. It’s tartare done so well, perfectly portioned with a great mix of salt, fat and acid.
Mains obviously call for meat too, and here I go for the proprietor’s cut — a trio of fillet, sirloin and rump. It arrives at the table with the outside pitch black — too much emberising is my first thought — however it quickly becomes clear that this is intentional, the result of a specially formulated rub created by Broughton. The thin black exterior contrasting with the perfectly pink meat inside, it’s visually stunning and impressively subtle enough to allow the flavour of the Boran beef itself to shine. A beautifully plated array of crispy roasties and seasonal veg are served with the dish, but we go all out with sides of creamed spinach, truffle & parmesan chips as well as a beef jus.
It’s delicious in all the ways a good steak, veg and chips should be. Deceivingly simple cooking delivering big, bold flavours using superb quality produce. Nothing to hide, just bloody good food.
Accompanying our meal was a magnificent bottle of Waterford Estate’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, selected from the impressive, exclusively Stellenbosch wine list- it made for a solid pairing with the steak.
Dessert calls for the chef’s take a New York style cheesecake. As someone not particularly partial to cheesecake (I am incredibly fond of both cheese and cake, just not together), I must admit I was hesitant. However, I must also admit to it being one of the best I’ve had — this one more a delicate, light, creamy brûlée than the often, in my opinion, overly hyped stodgy, thick and too rich iterations.
A fantastic meal from start to finish and an exciting, interesting addition to Stellenbosch’s food scene. A great meal, superb wine and a beautiful space — what more could one need.
43 Plein Street, Stellenbosch
Contact details: 021 203 6255