Scot Kirton, head chef of La Colombe in South Africa, is moving away from Asian influences to a more classic French menu. Kerstin Kühn went to visit
La Colombe is one of South Africa's most famous restaurants and it's also one of the most gorgeous. Located at the stunning Uitsig vineyard in leafy Constantia, Cape Town, in the shadow of Table Mountain, its tree-lined courtyard with central water feature has got to be one of the most romantic spots to enjoy a lengthy lunch or dinner - especially during the long, African summer.
Former executive chef, British-born Luke Dale-Roberts, was the man responsible for putting La Colombe on the map. His cooking style combining French and Asian flavours achieved an impressive number 12 ranking in the S Pellegrino World's Best 50 Restaurants in 2010.
In October that year the chef moved on to launch his own restaurant, the Test Kitchen in trendy Woodstock down the road, leaving head chef Scot Kirton in charge at La Colombe. Almost 18 months have passed since then and Kirton is starting to make his own mark on the restaurant.
"I spent nearly three years working under Luke and he has been the biggest influence in my cooking career, so naturally in the beginning there were a few similarities in my cooking style," says Kirton. "But we are starting to move away to a more French inspired way of cooking with slightly less Asian influence."
He aims to use local South African produce wherever possible but says that with certain ingredients the quality just isn't there yet. While the local beef, game and fish like trout and kingklip are fantastic, his salmon comes from Norway, the crab is Alaskan and the foie gras is naturally French.
He uses the latter in a starter of quail and pan-fried foie gras (R130/£10.50). "The subtleness of the quail and the richness of the foie gras match one another perfectly," Kirton enthuses. He pan-fries the quail breast, cures and confits the legs and adds the foie gras and rhubarb purée for a bit of extra sweetness - as well as parsnip crisps for texture.
Other starters include a beautifully light dish of Franschhoek trout cooked sous vide in fennel oil with Nicola potatoes, cucumber and a fennel foam (R135/£11); and pan-fried scallops with confit pork belly glazed in a langoustine stock (R165/£14).
"We add texture to the dish with pork crackling and a slight smokiness with a Black Forest ham velouté," adds the chef.
On to mains and Kirton's favourite meat is local springbok (R275/£23). He cooks the loin with garlic and thyme and serves it with wilted baby spinach, mushrooms and fondant potatoes as well as a truffle jus.
Meanwhile, grilled fillet of Calmar beef (R165/£14) is the most popular dish on the menu and is served with braised oxtail, fine beans, baked potato foam and a black pepper velouté.
The line fish du jour - usually kingklip or kob, depending on what's available on the day - is inspired by the start of spring "with the fresh peas, leeks and asparagus coming into season", according to Kirton.
Conjuring up summer is a refreshing tropical dessert (R75/£6) comprising lychee granite, pina colada foam, Malibu jelly, pineapple and passion fruit cannelloni and a mango salsa.
But the standout pudding has to be the peanut butter terrine (R75/£6). "This dessert draws on my childhood memories of eating peanut butter and chocolate sandwiches," explains Kirton.
"It is layers of peanut butter and Ípraline feuillantine, a peanut Dacquoise, milk chocolate and peanut butter ganache and a dark chocolate and caramel mousse. To add a bit of fruitiness we include poached cranberries and apricots and finish with a bitter chocolate sorbet."
Sample dishes from the menu
Crab salad Alaskan crab salad in a yuzu dressing served on miso and orange crema, coriander and ham crumble with mirin and dashi jellies and daikon radish mouse, sweet potato crisps R195/£16
Beetroot cannelloni Cannelloni of beetroot mousse wrapped in pickled beetroot, toasted olive brioche, roasted golden and baby beets with a fromage blanc and poached raisins R95/£8
Veal La Colombe Fillet of veal, sous vide, then pan seared. A salad of sugar snap peas and Black Forest ham with buttered pomme purée, warm ballotine of sweetbreads and morel mushrooms, and steamed langoustine with a mustard beurre blanc R215/£18
Suckling pig Confit belly and shoulder, sous vide loin and rump, and braised cheek with caramelised apple and turnip spring roll, beetroot dauphinoise, onion and sage purée, creamed leeks, with a Calvados jus R195/£16
Rose and coconut panna cotta Cashew pebbles, orange & orange flower yogurt, lime syllabub, rose foam R65/£5
Smoked chocolate torte Rolled in coffee and hazelnut crumble, Hennessey marshmallow, hazelnut covered meringue, sour cherries, caramel sauce, hazelnut semi-freddo R75/£6
Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia, Cape Town, South Africa
Tel: 00 27 21 7942 390