La Colombe Group’s new Victoria & Alfred Waterfront venture is a triumph — an impressive, theatrical yet beautifully restrained culinary experience. The critically acclaimed restaurant group, renowned for its flair for theatrics and globally inspired menus, has opened its latest fine-dining offering, and it might just be its most exciting project yet.
Pier, situated on the first floor of the Waterfront’s Pierhead Building, sees the team, helmed by chef John Norris-Rogers, create a one-of-a-kind multi-course fine-dining experience, with the operational pier as its backdrop. Norris-Rogers — who was head chef at Pier’s sister restaurant, Franschhoek’s La Petite Colombe — brings his years of experience to the fore as he puts forth a seriously impressive opening menu.
The show begins with the arrival of snacks from the kitchen. The first is a tasty morsel of salmon, horseradish, and dill wrapped in a brick-pastry cone and topped with roe. Accompanying it is a thin and crispy oat-tart base that breaks to offer a spectacular filling of crumbly buckwheat and creamy chicken liver parfait topped with seared springbok, shimeji mushrooms, and generous truffle shavings, enlivened with touches of herb emulsion and a red-onion gel.
The next course is served by way of table-side trolley service and sees Norris-Rogers gently poach a fresh oyster in an MCC velouté. It is served with an apple, fennel, celery, and red-onion brunoise topped with an MCC foam and a dollop of Imperial Heritage caviar. This is a truly beautiful dish and a fitting ode to the ocean from which Pier draws so much of its inspiration. It’s followed by a sensational smoked bone-marrow butter, shaped like a bone, with the “marrow” a garlic-and-herb butter, and crispy-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside caraway bread. While the garlic butter is certainly nice enough, it’s the smoked marrow that’ll be remembered.
A trio of seafood courses is up next. All three are well-conceptualised dishes that balance flavour and texture to great effect.The first is shellfish enveloped in a soubise with a chorizo vinaigrette, a Black-Forest-ham crumble, and pancetta. Then there’s tuna — both a tartare and seared — topped with an avocado mousse and covered in an apple-and-celery veil served with a bowl of spicy furikake and a tom yum sauce.
And last but certainly not least is a crayfish, langoustine, and prawn tortellini served atop a melt-in-your-mouth sous-vide pork jowl — simply sublime. From here, it’s up to the in-dining room pass, where your palate cleanser of kalamansi is poached in liquid nitrogen. It’s a fun bit of theatre, and a refreshing mid-meal inclusion.
The main course arrives by trolley too. Here the Karoo lamb is brushed and finished in a herb crust before being plated with components of aubergine, harissa and pomegranate. It’s a very good dish, but it also most resembles what can be expected from one of the group’s other restaurants. While not a bad thing, it would be nice if the mains demonstrated more of Pier’s own identity.
The last trolley of the evening is filled with a host of gorgeous cheeses, followed by a chamomile-honey cake layered with textures of stone fruit, bergamot, and burnt-butter ice cream, and topped with a honeycomb-shaped tuille. The dish is both utterly delicious yet light enough to fit into a menu of such length and indulgence. The meal closes with a duo of petite delights — a salted passion-fruit caramel surrounded by a mango gel and encased in a mango glaze, and a miso salted-caramel flavour. The salty and sweet combination is a fantastic end to the meal.
A wine pairing is available alongside the menu, with a considered selection of wines ranging from classics to more usual regions and varietals. Pier is undoubtedly a triumph for Norris-Rogers, his team, and the larger group. A stellar menu paired with superb wines, the signature theatrics, and interesting serves are well balanced with remarkable restraint and a less-is-more approach to cooking and presentation. They’re off to an exceptional start.
• From the March edition of Wanted, 2022.