Overture has been among the top 10 restaurants in the country for three consecutive years, according to the judges of the annual Eat Out Awards (of which I am not one). It resides there in the company of several other fine establishments. What sets Overture apart, though, is that it is the one place where you can get some of the finest food in the land at a relatively affordable price.
When I say affordable, bear in mind that everything is relative. At this level of very fine dining — brilliant food but with none of the pretentious nonsense that often goes with the territory — you would normally expect to pay close to or in exess of R100 for a very good starter, and way more than R150 for many main courses, in some cases well more than R200. At Overture, you can order the four-course chef’s menu for R350 — a tasting menu that would cost you between R600 and R800-plus at similar establishments — or R410 for five courses. Add wines matched per course at an extra R140 in either case. For individual courses, you may pay R80 (R115 with wine) for a first course, R115 (R155 with wine) for a second, R148 (R185 with wine) for the third (main) course and R70 (R105) for dessert and a matched wine. These are market-beating prices at this level of cuisine.
Yet for all that, chef-owner Bertus Basson manages to turn out plates of food worthy of the finest Michelin-star rated restaurants of Europe in an otherwise modest eatery barely 40 minutes drive from central Cape Town, and at prices that make you wonder just how much profit the competition makes. Got to respect that.
So, what do you get? Overture is perched on a deck high up on the mountainside with a view all the way to Table Mountain. In clear weather you can see the waters of Table Bay blinking at you, despite the distance. It’s very modern, lots of brick and sleek lines splashed with artworks, and big picture windows and doors to make the most of the gorgeous vineyard and mountain views. It’s a great summer lunch venue.
The small kitchen is open-plan so you can see Basson and his small team hard at work.
When you go, don’t expect the menu I will describe here. It changes daily. In the morning he’ll look at what he’s got in the larder, draw up a range of dishes, price them, and print fresh menus. But it will be much like the one set out here in quality.
Ingredients such as meat, fish and vegetables are sourced from specialist farmers and producers. The menu we had, for instance, had a pork belly dish using pork that came from a farm where the pigs are fed on goat’s whey. Basson is also known to go to a smokery with his own meat to smoke it himself.
This was only my second visit in two years, but the standard was absolutely on par with the first visit, and that says a lot. Consistency can make a restaurant, and lack of it can break it. Bear in mind that we were not expected, having booked under a pseudonym, not that I would presume that any self-respecting chef would do something special for a ‘critic’ that he would not do for any diner. That woud be idiotic, as we then go off and write about our experience, describing the dishes and their ingredients for all the world to read.
The menu we were presented with was divided into four courses, with two choices each. But you may choose any four, or any five, so don’t have to feel bound by each of the four sections.
In the first were fried chokka (calamari), prawns with toasted rice purée, and a chicken liver and foie gras parfait with beetroot, celeriac and raisin jus. The first is Basson’s distinctive take on your average calamari starter, but super-delicate and beautifully flavoured with Asian nuances.
The next pair were saffron risotto with peas, truffle and Parmesan, and beef tartare with fried egg yolk, pommes Dauphine and an endive salad. The latter was very clever — a sort of playful ‘steak, egg and chips’ where the steak was wonderfully balanced tartare (minced beef with flavourings), the ‘chips’ were a croquette and the egg was just the yolk, nice and runny for you to dip the rest in. The risotto was one of the best dishes of the day, and included slim shavings of black truffle, which surely ate away at the man’s profits.
The next choices were yellowtail, which could not have been cooked more perfectly, with the best asparagus I have eaten anywhere (named as Edwern-heim asparagus on the menu), and that pork belly with crackling, with sweetcorn and a delectably creamy avocado mousse. Very different, and everything remarkably well-matched.
There were three desserts but the one that had caught my eye was the lemon and poppy seed soufflé, which was as light as air and a tribute to this man’s brilliance in the kitchen. It was served with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice-cream plopped on top at the table, a fine finish to one of the best meals I have eaten in the region in recent years.
Overture Restaurant, Hidden Valley Estate, off Annandale Road, off the R44, between Stellenbosch and Somerset West 021 880 2721 firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in The Good Weekend, Weekend Argus, October 2011