LOCAL (SEAFOOD) IS LEKKER
From the Belly of the Beast to Galjoen
At Cape Town’s newest seafood restaurant you won’t find baby calamari from Patagonia. There are no prawns from Vietnam or Mozambique. No seabass from Mauritius. Or salmon from Norway.
Trivia question: what’s South Africa’s national fish? If you thought it might be the snoek, the Cape salmon, sardines or even the humble pilchard, you’d be wrong. It’s a species found in both our oceans, now fished to the point of virtual scarcity: the galjoen.
The first endemic marine species to be identified in South Africa, the galjoen was named after the Dutch word for “galleon” – a large sailboat that carried cargo and plenty of cannon for protection. Once abundant in our waters, galjoen stocks had almost collapsed by 1997 and today it’s on the WWF South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) Red List.
It’s for this reason that at Cape Town’s newest seafood restaurant you won’t find baby calamari from Patagonia. There are no prawns from Vietnam or Mozambique. No seabass from Mauritius. Or salmon from Norway.
But you will find octopus, hake, snoek, black mussels and oysters, caught freshly and sustainably in South Africa’s own waters, and given a fine treatment.
Brought by accomplished restaurateurs Neil Swart and Anouchka Horn of Belly of the Beast (BOTB) fame, Galjoen finally launched last week at 99 Harrington Street, Cape Town, just across from 84 Harrington – the world’s tallest hemp hotel – which is yet to open.
Galjoen’s opening was itself delayed, having initially been slated to open at the end of January.
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A few hundred metres from BOTB, the chef-partners – who met while working as trainees at Terroir on Kleine Zalze – explained that they were inspired to name their latest venture “galjoen” because it is tough, resilient and gives them an opportunity to educate their customers on sustainability.
Annelise and Yolandi Vorster are responsible for the interior design, which is a mixture of light-industrial and (subtle) coastal motif, which includes a fish-eye mosaic and a “fishing rod” showcase light fitting. Local ceramicist Amelia Jacobs, who is behind Galjoen’s bespoke crockery and the glazed green and black bricks cladding the pass and banquette seating, also created the ceramic light fittings modelled on fishing buoys. Artist Liz van den Berg’s gyotaku prints (a Japanese fish-printing technique) of galjoen and octopus dress up the walls.
Committed to showcasing South Africa’s beautiful local seafood, Horn and Swart’s focused tasting menu also ultimately reduces food waste. It’s a lovely idea and there are plenty of good sustainable vibes, but it’s not just for show. They’re making a difference by supporting the country’s small-scale fishers and coastal communities through sustainable sources such as the Abalobi digital marketplace and Greenfish fish merchants, and educating their guests in the process.
It’s for this reason that they won’t serve red-listed fish, or imports, and only offer green and orange SASSI fish, provided they are sustainably caught.
Horn explained: “People come to Cape Town and eat imported seafood, which makes no sense to us. You should be eating the fish that’s from our own oceans.” So, from the outset, they decided that they weren’t going to cook with anything that’s imported. Hence, no prawns from Vietnam. Or seafood from waters not our own.
Just like their intimate, 30-seater BOTB, Galjoen features a curated set menu, overseen by head chef Isca Stoltz, a Prue Leith Culinary Institute graduate who worked under Horn and Swart at BOTB. Before that she worked at The Test Kitchen, The Pot Luck Club and Skotnes.
Stoltz herself has drawn inspiration from her childhood holidays in Mozambique, where they plucked shellfish from the seashore and bought fresh fish from the local market, explaining: “With every single plate we really put the focus on the ingredients. Everything we do in the kitchen is to make them shine.”
Each course has a focused wine pairing: a bright and crisp Glenelly Estate Reserve Chardonnay is served alongside the snack of fresh Saldanha Bay oysters (topped with a light vierge dressing of chopped tomatoes and basil, lemon juice and olive oil, chargrilled pineapple salsa, black pepper emulsion and borage flowers) and the yellowfin tuna sashimi, topped with roasted garlic aïoli, grated bokkom and a luscious caramelised ginger dressing and nori foraged from Scarborough – served in a “Shell oil bottle” bowl, made by Jacobs.
There’s a flatbread, prepared in their charcoal oven, brushed with a garlic buchu butter, a Kashmiri chilli butter with snoek furikake – not a rude word but a Japanese seasoning typically made with toasted sesame seeds, nori, salt and sugar – and a curried snoek roll.
The steamed Saldanha Bay mussels, with white wine and parsley sauce, parsley oil and fennel flowers is a knockout: a pretty and flavoursome dish enhanced impressively by the inspired inclusion of pickled onions. Who would have thought pickled onions worked so well in a creamy, warm sauce?
I adore octopus: Galjoen’s is meltingly tender and braised for four hours, then served with a Romesco sauce of tomato and red pepper, and an octopus “marmite”. It’s paired with a zesty and flawless Daschbosch Sauvignon Blanc.
As impressive as the preceding dishes are, the true knockout is the deceptively titled main course of fish and chips. Nothing like one would expect, this hake is served with grilled gem lettuce, a herbed feta cream, gherkin and a crispy pomme anna (a twist on the classic French dish of sliced, layered potatoes), infused with vinegar seasoning and a brown sauce. For this, another unexpected pairing – red wine with fish: Rijks Pinotage, a medium-bodied, fruit-driven food wine.
Stoltz says their interpretation of the humble fish and chips will always be on the menu, whatever is fresh.
I often find dessert to be a disappointment and not worth the fuss. This time I had to rush out so can’t honestly vouch for the finale, which was a roasted sweet potato custard, with seeded rusk crumble, green rooibos ice cream, honeycomb, and a kataifi nest, accompanied by Silverthorn’s Genie rose brut, made from shiraz grapes, followed by petit fours.
Galjoen’s set menus will vary, depending on the kitchen and what’s available. DM
For bookings, go to www.galjoencpt.co.za.
Lunch at R550 per person | 12.30pm Wednesday to Saturday
Dinner at R750 per person | 6.45pm Tuesday to Saturday
Galjoen is at 99 Harrington Street, Cape Town.