In Constantia, a brilliant chef takes us back to his roots
Beyond all the frippery on a plate, beyond the gels, foams, smears and perfect pairings, beyond the horizons of the pampered contemporary diner, lies a forgotten world where fine food was simpler. We find it at Peter Tempelhoff’s Constantia restaurant, beyond.
Father and daughter time together is a rare and special thing. In the mid-Nineties, when my girl was heading towards her teenage years, I used to observe the actor and radio presenter John Springett in the Talk of the Town restaurant in Cape Town’s Burg Street, our Friday night Press Club hangout, when his beautiful grownup daughter came to meet him.
He, with his white hair and intent, lean-forward engagement with her; she, with her striking dark-haired beauty, her intelligent eyes piercing his. They would sit opposite each other in a booth nearby, and talk and talk, a joyous time between dad and daughter, oblivious of the world around them.
I used to imagine: one day I want that to be me and My Girl.
Last Saturday night, came one of those moments. Just the two of us. She is such a beauty, inside and out. Me, I got old. And white hair. And happy with the smile that breaks out on my face as I write that. That I get to live this long and be rewarded with such a moment. Beyond happy.
Which is where we were: beyond. This is the present incarnation of what was known for decades as Buitenverwachting restaurant. Beyond expectation. So: beyond. We’re here for the Spring Menu.
We were there at the invitation of Peter Tempelhoff, who has grown into a giant of the Cape restaurant scene since his days under the wing of the late Liz McGrath at the Greenhouse at the Cellars-Hohenort.
Liz was a one-of-a-kind hotelier and human being whom I adored and who loved my writing, and Pete, back then, was the latest of several brilliant chefs whose careers she encouraged and helped flourish. And, boy, did he flourish, first with her and then when he went out on his own, with her encouragement and assistance. Liz would be very happy to see what Pete is doing now.
Today he has his three-star (out of three) rated FYN restaurant in Cape Town, beyond restaurant in Constantia on Buitenverwachting estate, Ramenhead at street level below FYN, and as of last weekend a second Ramenhead at the new TimeOut Market at the V&A Waterfront. He’s a real mensch with no sign of his success having gone to his head; pleasant, witty, courteous and kind. When I asked, may I bring my daughter along too, he was quick to say, of course, yes.
The beyond ship is steered by head chef Sebastian Stehr, who was to be honoured with the restaurant’s two-star trophy at the Eat Out awards the following night.
This space has a long history at the pinnacle of South African dining. As Buitenverwachting restaurant, it won award after award at the highest level, under various chefs including the original Buitenverwachting chef, Etienne Bonthuys, and later Thomas Sinn and the last chef under the Buitenverwachting name, Edgar Osojnik.
The last time I was here was in 2017 for the launch of my book, foodSTUFF. Then came Covid and all of our lives changed in some way. In the wake of that, beyond emerged from the ashes when owner Lars Maack agreed to let Tempelhoff introduce his new concept for the space.
Which brought him back to Constantia as well, so near to where he made magic under the guidance of Liz McGrath. Full-circle stories are always wonderful, especially when we’re older and get more out of looking back than we did when we were young.
The space is a little less formal than the old Buitenverwachting of the Nineties; more cool and collected than old-school chintz. It’s sleek but unfussy, a clean backdrop for some classy food where everything is about the cooking, and presentation is the way it used to be; attractive and considered, but without that determination to create art on a plate that is often a waste of time.
By which I mean: when the artistic perfection that meets the eye on a smashingly gorgeous plate of food is not matched on the palate, or is preferably even more delicious than it looks, then something has gone awry.
Which is the thing I have often said of Tempelhoff’s food at the sort of restaurants, such as his former Greenhouse at Cellars-Hohenort, where he too indulged in that art-on-a-plate thing that, now, many many others are doing: that no matter how gorgeous his plates looked, and beautiful they were, every morsel of food on that plate without exception tasted even better than it looked. Short of that, there’s hardly any point.
So it was intriguing, last Saturday night, to be able to experience the other side of his cooking. His roots in the classical French tradition.
“My first love,” he told me the next day at the Eat Out Awards.
And love shows on the plate, in the flavours and textures, and in the balance of the food. And when Dad is out with his lovely daughter, there’s a whole lot of love at the table already, so indulge we did, with wines to match. Thank you, Uber.
There was an amuse bouche, nothing too fancy, just a pleasant morsel of pickled hake with avocado mousse, pineapple, red pepper and tomato sambal, butter lettuce and a little cluster of sweet potato crisps.
Rebecca Jackman-Derman, with her excellent taste that I hope, at least in part, comes from me, chose the handcrafted local burrata, variations of pumpkin seed cracker and pecan nuts with a vinaigrette of fynbos honey and truffle. This last element was to follow through to her choice of a main course, it turned out. She loved it.
My choice was the coal-seared ostrich. Four slim slivers of super tender ostrich meat were seared on the edges but soft and raw throughout other than that superficial sear. Deliciously dressed: aubergine and onion chutney, a little mini bomb of soft aubergine roasted with sesame, kumquat gel on the brinjal, coriander pesto, a touch of minted cucumber and a napping of Cape Malay amasi dressing. It was finished with a nutty crumb.
That’s a lot going on on a small plate, and yet another example of amasi appearing everywhere on menus these days. It makes me feel that it’s time that I used it in my own kitchen. Never too late for a fresh idea.
When a lovely hunk of Kalahari beef fillet was placed in front of Rebs, I had one of those moments of plate envy. But I got a taste anyway with a little of the bone marrow and truffle jus that was right up her street, and a delightful morsel for dad too. A touch of intrigue was the smoked Stanford cheese grated on the pommes purée. There was no skimping with the delectable sauce, a true cheffy sauce full of deep and wondrous flavours. My Girl, being her dad’s daughter, was in raptures about the jus.
Various fine cuts of wagyu beef, sourced from Ken Forrester, could have been ordered instead of the Kalahari beef, at a premium.
Rebs also made much of a glorious sliver of carrot: that so much could be done with this simplest of ingredients. The waitress had said it was the best carrot she would eat in her life. But for the record, “not better than dad’s. Or Neal’s.” Neal having been patiently waiting at home minding the two children. (He’s a fabulous cook. I sometimes ask him for tips.)
But I was in no way disappointed with my Cape salmon (geelbek) which was so sensuously soft and delicious that on my way home two days later I stopped at the fish shop in the docks in PE and bought a whole butterflied geelbek to take home and braai that night. That’s how good the fish was.
On the plate were tomato risotto, seared cherry tomato, aubergine purée, chokka and Jerusalem artichoke piri piri, aubergine purée, and the glory that is squid ink sauce. Bederf is the Afrikaans word. Spoilt, but stronger and more encompassing than the English word. Like being wrapped in a blanket and loved. By some blue sauce. (Such are the things that occupy the mind of a food writer.)
We’d gone this far, there was no way we were eschewing desert on this rare night out. Rebs chose the dark chocolate cheesecake mousse with its chocolate-almond financier, ginger and baobab gel, and cocoa nib and sorghum ice cream. Who could not love that?
I went cherries all the way: cherry mousse, peanuts, and cherry frozen yoghurt, and caramelised white chocolate namelaka, a Japanese word for smooth or creamy and which suggests the strong Japanese influence on Tempelhoff’s cuisine in recent years. It was a good dessert but I was a little envious of the chocolate one across the table.
There had been superb wines along the way. Usana barrel-fermented chenin blanc, 2014. Rebel Rebel Syrah from Kaapzicht winemaker Kayleigh Hattingh, which idiosyncratically somehow brought my hero David Bowie to the table. Tremayne Smith’s The Blacksmith Vin Blanc, naturally fermented. Buitenverwachting’s own Meifort, a full-bodied red blend of complexity. Neil Ellis 2016 Noble Late Harvest from cool, verdant Elgin.
At beyond, Peter Tempelhoff celebrates his roots in the older traditions of good kitchens. Everything is about provenance and using produce in ways that bring out the best of an ingredient. Isn’t that all we really want from a plate of food? The intrinsic beauty of what nature bestows on us.
We’d been looked after so well by Joshua Crowe and his super competent team that we felt reluctant for the evening to end, but the Uber called, and off to my hotel in town we went. And Neal, poor Neal, having to drive across town to collect my girl, sleepy kids strapped into their seats in the back.
My thanks to my girl’s mom, her lovely husband and gorgeous children, for letting me borrow her from you all for the evening. DM
Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido.
Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.