“Who taught you to make roti?” I just had to ask Upper Bloem head chef Andre Hill, because his roti was that good.
We were seated at his restaurant and tucking into the bread basket with its steamed mielie bread, roti, and seaweed when Hill introduced himself and I got to ask my question. “There’s a little bit from my mom, a little bit from my auntie, a little bit from the neighbour,” he replied with a laugh. The notions of borrowing and eclecticism sum up Upper Bloem’s approach to food and décor. The restaurant is in the vicinity of Cape Town Stadium on Green Point’s main road, and links the city with the cultural melting pot of Sea Point.
Hill’s family home was in Upper Bloem Street in the Bo-Kaap, so his menu gives a nod to childhood food memories as a non-Muslim, mixed-race South African. But that’s just the start. Hill’s deliciously aromatic, crunchy, nutty lamb-neck biryani will for instance confuse — yet ultimately satisfy — even the most discerning diner with its haute cuisine extras. His food is a tribute to personal experience rather than being a slave to formula.
British chef Henry Vigar of La Mouette is Hill’s mentor and backer, and he’s added some of his own touches as a foreigner to South Africa to the menu, such as sour figs to a potato dish. One can even detect his English curry leanings in the biryani’s vibrant spice mix.
The dinner serving comprises nine plates for sharing between two. They arrive in three waves, and there is a vegetarian alternative.
Standout elements of our dinner included pumpkin chutney, tangy with fresh coriander, ginger and green chilli, served with roti and mielie bread and creamy pâté rich in smoked-snoek chunkiness, with apple purée and a zingy teriyaki glaze, that we scooped up with samosa pastry and kale crisps. The sweet strawberry lollypops we were offered for dessert were wafer-thin yet chewy.
The carefully crafted food was served in an unfussy environment. Liam Mooney Interiors created the bold, colourful space with geometrically tiled walls, an orange banquette facing the open kitchen, and mustard and blue velvet trim on the chairs. As Mooney says, Upper Bloem is no shrinking violet. “We had to use bright colours because it wouldn’t be the Bo-Kaap otherwise,” he said, cheekily. “But no doilies, I’m afraid.”