Taking over the food scene, one small plate at a time

Taking over the food scene, one small plate at a time
The Pot Luck Club's 'family favourite' Penang pork belly, coconut and peanut curry. (Photo: Supplied)

The Pot Luck Club and Tintswalo Atlantic might be worlds apart, but their focus on small plates, well executed, is a drawcard for diners hungry for change.

It’s been about 15-odd years since I first started writing about food (and later wine) and the “foodie” scene has shifted fundamentally. Before, the opinions of “restaurant critics” could make or break a restaurant, in some cases, unfairly so. Most critics later chillaxed to settle into their roles as food writers, but they were aware that this was a job and they needed to be objective about the experience, while having fun.

In many cases, those who wrote about food had an inkling of what they were writing about — they had a reasonably cultivated palate, some talent, experience of dining, some resourcefulness and if they were astute, a few high-level wine courses under the belt.

Today, with the stratospheric rise of “influencers”, these requirements are no longer obligatory, which is both good and bad for restaurants. Good because it democratises dining and takes out the snootiness that once threatened to define food writing. Bad, because it gives people with literally “no cooking clue” about food (and wine) the power to post their uneducated opinions into the ether.

My experience is that most of the influencers I have encountered are professionals, of a kind. They might not know much about food and drink (although some do), but they know what their followers want and must clearly be doing it well because they seem to bring “Insta” joy to the table. Whatever the size of their following, they insinuate themselves into every occasion, shoot gorgeous pictures or reels, post on “Insta” to their legions of followers, kick back and get politely blotto if they like. And that’s the gig.

It’s no surprise that we have press releases proclaiming the opening of EL&N —London’s most Instagram-worthy café – in the Mall of Africa, Midrand. EL&N, which stands for “eat, live and nourish” and directly targets the Insta generation with “a maximally photogenic backdrop that is Instagrammable, yet stylish”.

Can’t say I’ve tried it (or would want to), but with 32 stores in world capitals from Milan to Dubai, diners can apparently order anything from tomahawk steaks to pizzas. My guess is there’s loads of picture-taking, probably focused as much on the cuisine as on the prominent “tree of light” centrepiece chandelier with more than 500 LED bulbs, “Barbie-worthy” pink and green interiors and neon slogans on the walls.

Each to their own.

There’s a place for everybody in this sector — “real” journalists, and influencers, working alongside one another, to offer balance and perspective to their readers or followers. And restaurants, which need as much exposure as they can muster in an extraordinarily crowded market, really just want their stories told.

In recent weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to dine at a couple of truly exceptional establishments, which deserve their praises to be sung.

The Pot Luck Club

The Pot Luck Club’s tuna sashimi, quickly seared over the coals, with grapefruit pearls, lemongrass and Vietnamese dipping sauce. (Photo: Supplied)

British-born Luke Dale Roberts, who trained in Switzerland and England before working in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and The Philippines for five years, might have honed his skills in Europe but his love of spice is certainly influenced by his time in the Far East.

In 2010 he took a chance on The Old Biscuit Mill, with the exclusive Test Kitchen, offering diners in Cape Town one of the first real tastes of experiential dining. Two years later, he opened the slightly more accessible (and affordable) Pot Luck Club in the same precinct, where diners weren’t required to book months in advance (and probably offer their first-born as collateral).

The Pot Luck Club later moved “upstairs”, to the top of the original flour silos, where diners could drink in the views from Devil’s Peak to well past the V&A Waterfront, while tucking into small plates of punchy Asian-inspired flavours over cocktails and fine wines.

Executive chef Jason Kosmas has been in charge since 2019, changing up the menu often to keep things fresh and flavoursome.

With summer weeks away, Kosmas is inspired by acclaimed Australian “fish butcher” Josh Niland, who has an innovative no-waste gill-to-fin approach, in which he could get the full return on what is not only an expensive menu item but also a dwindling resource.

Kosmas, who is similarly keen on fishing, is dry-ageing fish to create unique flavour profiles and textures.

When we visited, Kosmas was fussing over a dry-aged yellowfin tuna belly, which was not quite ready yet. Once mature enough, the fish will be like the wagyu of the sea.

“Ageing fish is an ancient Japanese technique that’s been part of their culture for centuries,” he said.

The Pot Luck team is renowned for great saucery, believing that great sauces bring a dish together.

“Family favourites” — dishes that will never be removed from the menu — include the signature smoked beef fillet with black pepper and a silky truffle café au lait sauce, which takes four days to yield the depth of flavour; Penang pork belly, coconut and peanut curry; chickpea, goats milk and Parmesan fries; and fish sliders.

The Pot Luck Club’s executive chef, Jason Kosmas. (Photo: Supplied)

Most dishes have a hint of smoke and flame, said Kosmas. “It’s absolutely central to our cooking technique… every single dish on the menu comes off the fire. And you definitely pick up that rich smokiness on the plate.”

Another central theme is spice: it’s not over-the-top but it’s just enough of a reminder of Robert’s time in the Far East.

New menu items include a fire-seared springbok loin in a miso and yuzu glaze, served at the table with a warm mandarin gastrique (sweet and sour sauce) and a tuna sashimi, quickly seared over the coals, with grapefruit pearls, lemongrass and nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping) sauce.

For my “Insta” friends, there’s a creative variety of sake cocktails and a Thai green curry martini that will rock your world. For the rest of us, an excellent wine list with glorious wines by the glass.

Chefs Warehouse at Tintswalo Atlantic

Chefs Warehouse at Tintswalo Atlantic. (Photo: Supplied)

Positioned on a strip of shoreline below Chapman’s Peak Drive, Tintswalo Atlantic is the only private lodge in the Table Mountain National Park, boasting the best of both the ocean and mountainside views. The boutique hotel, which has 10 individually styled suites on the water (named after various islands of the world, from Ithaca to Zanzibar), opened in 2007. Since then, it has survived two devastating fires, four years apart (a veld fire in March 2015 and a kitchen fire in February 2019), requiring extensive rebuilding.

Tintswalo Lodges CEO Lisa Goosen says the lodge, which is leased through a special concession from the SA National Parks, was ultimately built as a temporary structure — designed to leave a light ecological footprint and to be dismantled once the 30-year lease expires.

In November 2020, her family-owned hospitality group opened Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo Atlantic as a joint venture with chef Liam Tomlin, featuring his fine-dining quality global tapas concept, with Braam Beyers in charge of the kitchen until earlier this year, when Cameron Smith took over. Smith, who has worked at Chefs Warehouse Maison, La Colombe and La Petite Colombe, is passionate about seafood (much of which is sourced freshly, a virtual “stone’s throw” across the sea in Hout Bay Harbour), Japanese cuisine ingredients and techniques, mostly because of their clean and adaptable flavours.

Cameron’s small-plate menu, served to share over four courses, is inspired by the surroundings, the coastline, and fresh local seasonal produce.

It’s a special occasions destination property (and you’d want to take someone special to share the experience with). For R950 per person (excluding wine pairing), the tapas menu includes mini kitke bread to start, followed by choices of  yellowtail ceviche, beef carpaccio (served with smokey Stanford Catalan cheese, a burnt aubergine lavash and roasted red pepper), a saffron risotto, prepared “paella-style” with white clams and chorizo, and a sublime roasted duck with smoked cashew puree and celeriac mousse.

Chefs Warehouse at Tintswalo Atlantic was voted South Africa’s Best Hotel Restaurant in the World Culinary Awards in 2022. DM

Georgina Crouth was a guest of both Tintswalo Atlantic and The Pot Luck Club.

Correction: Tintswalo Atlantic’s tapas menu costs R950 per person, not per couple as originally suggested.


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