Showpiece Waterfront hotel updates old-school SA cuisine

Showpiece Waterfront hotel updates old-school SA cuisine
Springbok loin with Kalahari truffle, rooibos poached pears, sorrel fricassee, raisin purée, pickled onion, and venison sauce. Photo: One&Only

At the One&Only, Chef Chris Mare has created a menu inspired by local cuisine, adding his interpretation of favourites like bobotie and West Coast mussels.

The restaurant at One&Only Cape Town has been through many incarnations, notably at the hands of Gordon Ramsay, and later Reuben Riffel. In October 2019, it relaunched as Ochre, with a menu of good old-fashioned South African classics, reimagined.

It’s a large space – triple if not quadruple volume, with large glass windows overlooking the canals of the resort against the backdrop of Table Mountain. It’s a stunning view, no two ways about it.

The great expanse of the interior can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially when there are only a few other tables occupied. Strangely enough though, it’s not echoey, and there is no cringeworthy clattering of cutlery on plates, or any other intrusive noises. It’s calm and peaceful, and if you have a worthy dining companion who is an excellent conversationalist, you’re not even going to notice the emptiness. Plus, there is the food to focus on.

The welcome is warm, and the setting is as plush as you’d expect from a five-star hotel. What did surprise me though is that the new menu – offering a small selection of starters, main dishes and desserts in two- or three-course options – is surprisingly affordable for a restaurant of this consequence. Respectively, it’s R420 and R490; some dishes carry a surcharge, however, and there are some additional house specialities which are priced separately. These include a 650g roast lamb saddle, 650g ribeye, seafood platter, and one kilogram ribeye (ostensibly to share between two or four, but let’s not appetite-shame).

Resort executive chef Chris Mare has put together a collection of traditional favourites we all enjoyed growing up, presented in a smart, adult way.

The meal begins with a bread course accompanied by a small cup of pineapple beer. Photo: One&Only

Mare has been working his way up the culinary ranks since he was 15, from earning extra pocket money waiting tables and gaining kitchen experience at a hotel, to studying at Protea Hotel’s service chef course and finishing at Granger Bay Hotel School. Before joining One&Only in 2016, Mare worked in some of South Africa’s top hospitality establishments including the Oyster Box Hotel and Fairmont Zimbali on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast, and 12 Apostles Hotel as well as On19 at the Westin Hotel in Cape Town.

Even though he was in the thick of things in the hospitality industry while still a teen, Mare says his love for food began as a family affair.

“We always cooked together, trying new recipes… whether it was successful or failed horribly, it was always exciting and fun to do as a family,” he recalls. It’s something Mare has carried with him throughout his career, and he likens his team dynamic to that of a “family” working together to wow guests. His food philosophy is, as Virginia Woolf said so succinctly, “a person cannot think well, love well or sleep well if they have not dined well”. 

The octopus starter, served with West Coast mussels, key lime, garlic chips and lemongrass sauce. Photo: One&Only

Starters at Ochre include Cape octopus with West Coast mussels, key lime, garlic chips and lemongrass sauce; buchu-cured tartare, sour figs, makataan (wild watermelon), tomato jam, wild rosemary and honey dressing; and beetroot quinoa with marinated tofu, tenderstem broccoli, sundried tomato, olives, chickpea, tomato and basil salsa. My choice was pressed terrine of goat’s cheese with plum tomatoes, aubergine, cashew crumble and honey mustard dressing, and my friend ordered seared scallops with biltong beurre noisette, celeriac purée, Cape gooseberry and yuzu compote. 

Asked for some of his favourites on the menu, Mare says for starters he will order the mussels first, in a white wine and fennel sauce. “There is nothing better than fresh steamed mussels from Saldanha – where I grew up.”

Mare’s inspiration was all about taking us back to our childhood days with all the old-school dinners with which our mothers and grandmothers used to spoil us.

“We have kept the flavours and just modernised the presentation,” he says. “Today, people eat with their eyes first.” Designing the menu was a team effort as everyone had a different take on South African food when growing up, Mare continues.

Pulled lamb bobotie with shortcrust pastry, sweet potato and banana purée, brandied raisins, and apricot chutney.  Photo: One&Only

“We are having loads of fun with our international guests, especially when it comes to the pronunciation of some of the dishes. We say bobotie, they will say ‘babowty’,” he smiles. “We have had quite a few locals mentioning the food took them back to their childhood, which is our aim.”

Main course dishes include pulled lamb bobotie with shortcrust pastry, sweet potato and banana purée, brandied raisins, and apricot chutney; baby chicken with creamed savoy cabbage, corn velouté, corn chakalaka, sweet potato, and a forest mushroom pot sticker; and for the vegetarians, cauliflower steak with broccoli, puy lentil fricassee, pearl onions, and lemon salsa verde. 

Braised pork belly, trotter skilpadjies, morogo, pampoen poffertjies, Malay curry sauce – chef’s favourite. Photo: One&Only

After his West Coast mussels, Mare says he’ll choose the “pens & pootjies” for his main course, which is what I had: beautifully soft braised pork belly (the pens) is served with morogo, pampoen poffertjies (pumpkin puffs, bringing a Dutch influence), and a mild Malay curry sauce. Also on the plate, representing the pootjies, is a trotter skilpadjie. I am so glad I got over my aversion to offal years ago. Well prepared, it’s quite delicious and nothing like the stinky dirty tripe my mom used to cook for the dogs. That foul odour would fill the house for days.

A normal skilpadjie is a braai delicacy – lamb’s liver wrapped in “netvet”, which is the fatty membrane that surrounds the kidneys. They are rich and utterly delicious. Here, instead of the liver, the meat from the trotters was the filling. My only disappointment was there was only one. I could happily have had a whole bowl of those delicious little morsels.

Despite not particularly like pears or rooibos, my friend took the plunge with the springbok loin served with Kalahari truffle, rooibos-poached pears, sorrel fricassee, raisin purée, pickled onion, and venison sauce. “Tasting everything together, it makes complete sense,” he commented.

Three desserts are on the menu – lemon meringue, malva pudding, and peppermint crisp. Locals will be familiar with these from their childhood but they are presented in a very grown up way. Photo: One&Only

There are three desserts on the current menu, plus a cheese platter. Peppermint Crisp pudding is ubiquitous, and like a nonna in Italy and her bolognese sauce, every family in South Africa has a version of it. My friend claimed his wife and stepdaughter make the best one, and it’s a big step to take on something like this. Mare’s Forest Flora Peppermint Crisp comprises a chocolate dome filled with coco soil, Dulce mousse, coconut rocher, Amarula pearls and mint micro sponge. Undoubtedly different from any original we know, it ticked all the boxes.

The average diner learns a lot about food by watching cookery programmes, and although I had a vague idea of how pearls are made, it wasn’t enough. We asked our waiter and he dispatched a member of the kitchen team to our table to explain it fully. It sounds quite easy – relying mainly on contrasting temperatures and not much else, but damned if I’m ever going to try it at home. I’ve seen those MasterChef contestants fail way too often.

I had “Our Lemon Meringue” which was superb – lemon curd coated in a ginger crumb served with meringue kisses and swirls of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream and mint dust, and a cheerful yellow macaron sporting a hat of gold leaf. I’m sure I could have greedily managed two of those as well.

“We keep on experimenting with new ideas, seeing that we update and add new dishes every three months,” says Mare of the collaborative effort with all the chefs in the kitchen and chef de cuisine Sandi Richmond.

“The sky’s the limit – who knows? You will have to come and dine with us regularly to see the progress and constant change,” he smiles. DM

Ochre is open to the public as well as resort guests for breakfast daily from 6.30am till 11am, and for dinner Thursdays to Tuesdays from 6.30pm till 10.30pm. Call +27 21 431 5888


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