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A little house of heaven

Lamb's kidneys

Let’s do lunch. The ladies who lunch. We must do lunch. I used to do lunch, a very long time ago, every weekday for many months. I exploded. I grew and grew and grew and finally gave up lunch as an evil to be avoided. It was either that or start shopping in the OS aisle at OK Bazaars.

There’s also the matter of having a working life which is not conducive to ‘doing lunch’. It’s called being a journalist. You eat most of your meals at your desk, because wherever you are, whenever you’re there, there is always a deadline. Always something to write, someone waiting for your copy. Like right now. It’s 10.37am and I haven’t had breakfast yet because someone is waiting for me to write this word and that one and then this one. So I suppose I will be having lunch today, but it will really just be a late breakfast.

Then you get the very charming business, if your business is this small part of my business, of receiving occasional invitations from marketing people to attend a fancy lunch, often in the Cape Winelands, to be pampered by a five-star chef sending out anything from four to seven or occasionally eight courses. All of which often happens in the middle of a working day, with those deadlines whooshing by like trains in the night, and an editor waiting for your copy. Which is why the likes of some of us only get to accept one in four or five of that kind of invitation on that rare day when we’re not working or when you are desperate for a break from the relentless pressure of the deadline.

Aubergine

When we, the scribes who must observe the world and record it, see you, the people who spend up to two hours in the middle of your week day reclining in a chair with gorgeously plated and garnished food and wine set before you, we marvel and think, how do they do that?

Which is why it was exceeding odd to be sitting at Hemelhuijs restaurant last week, in the middle of a Tuesday, rubbing elbows with the very people one normally only gets to marvel at and wonder about. It was almost like being in a movie, in a strange and intriguing other world, or one of those dreams you want to carry on and on and become your real life. The dream that you wake up from and greet the dawn with a groan.

And Hemelhuijs is a dreamy place. It’s small, situated in an ordinary modern building near the bridge that was built to take fans over Buitengracht Street at the beginning of the Green Point stretch of the fan walk. It’s very gay. Understated flamboyance. If you don’t think that’s possible, you don’t understand gay. It’s style with pizzazz in an over-the-top way which, in straight hands, would be vulgar or groaningly trashy.

Hemelhuijs is splendidly stylish, which is thanks to its owner Jacques Erasmus and his seemingly effortless way with design, colour, texture and space.

But what makes it for my less ostentatious taste is that when it comes to what goes on the plate and in your tummy, the food is as real and unpretentious as cheese and pickles on a ploughman’s platter. Only served with infinitely more style.

Duck pie

They offer you cocktails to start with, as fresh as a summer breeze, oddly for winter: ruby grapefruit pink gin; grenadilla Amaretto with lemonade and naartjie juice; pear juice, vodka and soda. Or a winter warmer of spiced orange chai tea, or dulce de leche steamed milk. I chose the freshly squeezed blood orange juice.

The present winter menu is a treat, and my only regret is that this really is only a lunch venue, which means that I will sadly not be going back in a hurry. There’s a green bean warm salad with young potatoes, duck egg and smoked trout (R45 or R80 – the starters can be ordered as larger main portions), beetroot salad with warm roast duck (they love their duck here), celeriac, walnut praline and aged balsamic, and my choice of aubergine with olive cream, gorgonzola and pear. I had been tempted by the panfried porcini with persimmon and feta, but this choice was a treat.

Actual mains start with rolled free range chicken with swiss chard, feta, pine nuts and quince marmalade (they’re fond of feta here too). They’re proud of their braised beef brisket with oyster mushrooms, snails, garlic butter and parsley, which I could not get my head around as a snail is the one gourmet item that I have never enjoyed.

For a bit of outydse Afrikaans honesty there are frikkadels with cabbage, potatoes and (to update it) tomato butter. A macaroni gratin with potato, bacon, boerenkaas and homemade apple sauce was (a friend gave me a taste of hers) utterly divine.

Calamari

But I was happy to have chosen the pan-fried lamb’s kidneys with brandy cream sauce, tomato and marmite toast soldiers. It’s heavy and hearty, make no mistake — I could barely finish it— and ideally I’d have prefered this as a night-time dish, but it was just delicious and so moreish that despite its generous serving you had to finish it.

Several people chose the calamari with Szechuan pepper, lime mayonaisse and green papaya salad, and they all adored it. There’s also a Hemelhuijs burger with tomato relish and creamed mushrooms, and slow-roasted pork with milk stout, ginger and golden syrup, whish is food for thought to say the least. And there was the day’s special, a duck pie, which was very hard to resist.

The Sugar & Spice section offers daily bakes presented on the deli counter including bread and butter pudding with white chocolate and pickled ginger ganache, and old-fashioned creme caramel, and various temptingly beautiful cakes.

A spread of cakes and other sweet temptations

So not doing lunch is my loss, because a little house of heaven seems to be the kind of thing I am missing out on by having been born a go directly from breakfast to supper sort of guy. And it’s 11.24. I need my breakfast.

Hemelhuijs, 71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town 021 418 2042

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