The future of South Africa’s restaurant industry is in safe hands, as Cape Town gourmand-about-town Aubrey Ngcungama informed his Facebook legions during a sunny lunch at the Granger Bay Hotel School Restaurant the other day. It sure is.
The students were showing off some of the fare on the venue’s menu that’s now available for public consumption, and quite literally. Ngcungama, whose face, wit and posh public schoolboy demeanour were introduced to South Africans during the first season of Come Dine With Me South Africa, and Masterchef South Africa runner-up Sue-Ann Allen were among a long table of food critics and sundry foodies – including veteran restaurateur-turned-food writer Michael Olivier – whose combined presence must have had some of the students quite giddy with nerves back in the school’s pristine kitchen.
It’s one thing cooking for your mates, or even for your teachers and examiners, but a crowd like this, all at one table and to be served at the same time, takes the stress into the danger zone. They managed with aplomb, even if their nerves were clearly apparent early on when a hapless trio of them were tasked with introducing the menu to us.
The restaurant couldn’t be more blessed by sun and sea, the school being at the western edge of what over the past two decades has become the V&A Waterfront. Broad lawns sweep from the restaurant to the sea, with a view towards Robben Island. We sat on the expansive terrace, but there’s a spacious and airy interior too, with a separate cocktail bar and a show kitchen to add more to the students’ stress levels as diners can see them at work. It must be a little like being on Masterchef South Africa with an audience of live paying guests. And the fact that they are paying – that they are real customers who are likely to demand what they’d get at any good restaurant in the Mother City – surely adds yet more to the tension. All we needed to do was throw in Gordon Ramsay to push them over the edge.
The meal, to be frank, started off on a rather dull note with vanilla and prawn tortellini served with a shellfish bisque and watercress salad. The execution was fair, but the tortellini were decidedly chewy – or at least mine were – and the broth was a tad bland. I’d like to have seen a more intense seafood reduction having been used for the bisque, which I suspect it wasn’t. In the spirit of this being a school, this is offered not as a whinge but as constructive input.
This was the only low note, however. The saddle of lamb that came out for a main course was splendid, in looks, taste and texture. Saddle of lamb, when deboned, rolled and stuffed, is a notoriously difficult thing to get just right, and it’s to the students’ credit that they were bold and brave enough to take it on for this discerning group. I almost wrote ‘hard-to-please’ but that’s not entirely true. People expect the likes of us to be looking for faults. Quite the opposite is true. All most of us ever want from any meal is food that’s delicious in taste and texture, meat that’s tender, sauces that are full of flavour. There’d be no point otherwise.
The saddle of lamb was stuffed with wilted spinach and chicken mousseline, one of the basics of traditional French cuisine – finely ground chicken meat that is seasoned and blended with cream. This is one of many techniques that are built into the menu, so that the students, every time they serve their customers, are practising a variety of the skills they have been taught.
With this in mind, if you do have a meal there, don’t be shy to offer constructive criticism, as it’s part of the learning process for them. They make everything themselves, from pastry and stocks to sorbets and brulees.
I was not able to stay for dessert but did see it coming out and heard the sighs of pleasure from those eating it. This was vanilla panna cotta, spiced poached pear and cardamom anglaise, cardamom being a clever enhancement for the fine custard.
The prices here are a treat. You pay just R40 to R45 for a starter of either a soup of the day, a Waldorf salad, baby candy beetroot, tomato duo (roasted tomato tart and gazpacho with pea sorbet) or chicken broth with mushroom tortellini.
There’s a selection of grills, including matured sirloin, rump steak, venison medallions, chicken breast, and (fish) catch of the day, and you pay just R54 (the fish) to R80 (the venison) for these. Side orders are extra though, with crispy fries, garlic mash, creamed spinach, salads or vegetables available at R22, and sauces (Bearnaise, Cafe de Paris butter, blue cheese, mushroom and pepper) at R15. But with a steak at R64, that’s still R101 if you add both a sauce and one side dish. Pretty good value.
The house favourites include osso buco (the menu’s best seller, even in summer, at R95), and it’s served with polenta so there’s no need for side orders), pasta of the day for R70, chicken and prawn curry at R85, served with rice and sambals, and a main course of the day which the students choose themselves (R95).
Desserts include a vanilla and lavender brûlée duo, soft meringue, a South African cheese plate, coffee semifreddo, and a dessert of the day again chosen by and the recipe formulated by the students. Desserts are R40-R50.
The venue is licensed and sommelier skills are a part of the training, so do ask them questions about the wines they offer, styles and so on. It’s a part of the point of them serving food to paying customers, which they do during the summer. And what a spot for a summer’s lunch.
You can book at 021 440 5736 and it’s at 85 Beach Road, Mouille Point, Cape Town.