My best meal in a year of good eating happened unexpectedly. And in great company too. The foodie set were all out for a lunch of note in the warm green garden of Kleine Zalze wine estate, where a vast team sweated in the Terroir kitchen while we langoured with bubbly and canapes.
The occasion was a meeting of minds and palates. Michael Broughton, whose name has now become an expected, even required, inclusion in the annual Eat Out restaurant and chef awards, had a guest in his kitchen – Justin Bonello, the laidback TV cook whose style is such a pleasant antidote to the more pretentious chefs on the goggle box.
Broughton and Bonello had worked together in an episode of the latter’s latest TV series, Cooked: Out of the Frying Pan, and now they were reuniting for a lunch prepared ostensibly by both of them at the celebrated Terroir, in the Stellenbosch winelands off the R44. This was Broughton’s kitchen, and his team, and anyway, Bonello had been filming endlessly, he deserved a break, and there were all these interesting media sorts to chat to on the lawns, glasses in hand.
And the Eat Out restaurant awards had just been announced, so there was plenty to gossip about for these foodies who spend their year dining out in, and on, the restaurants and chefs of the industry. The pair were marvellous hosts, ribbing each other and displaying a brotherly cameraderie as they imparted some of the secrets of the trade they have picked up in their disparate careers – Broughton operating his own restaurants in Johannesburg and Cape Town, Bonello exploring the plains and shores of Africa in search of genuine, no-BS local fare.
You might think that there is a vast difference between these two guys. Broughton has a delicate hand in the kitchen. He is all about the flavour and the texture, the fine detail and the simplicity of a deftly crafted plate of food. Bonello is all about roughing it in the wild, making meals of whatever food, ingredient or animal he finds, with scant thought of or need for conventional cooking methods.
Yet they are coming from pretty much the same place, for both care deeply about the importance of using fresh ingredients with as little impact on the planet as possible. And Bonello quickly reveals himself, when he talks from the heart, as a far more serious player in the industry than you might expect if you can’t see past the first impression of a naughty teenager let loose in the bush.
But if for Bonello it’s all about the authenticity of the food and where it comes from, for Broughton it ultimately comes down to the sauce, for this man is a master, an utter conjurer, of the perfect jus.
We had by now been ushered to a long table beneath enormous trees for the first of three courses paired with Kleine Zalze wines. And these are very serious wines, so you knew the assembled palates were going to be pretty demanding. The Issey Miyake-basted mademoiselles of Posh Galore would expect no less than a feast, and they were out in force today; not least, the deliciously amusing Abigail Donnelly of Eat Out and Taste, and the chirpily entertaining Justine Drake whose latest cookbook, Simply Good Food, is perfect for the modern health-conscious home cook.
To oil the palate, Kleine Zalze Family Sauvignon Blanc 2009, a full-bodied sauvignon blanc which overflows with luscious fruity, floral flavours to make most others pale into insignificance.
The starter with which it was paired, a tuna and avocado stack which was far more interesting than that plain title might suggest, was a sublime kick-off for a posh-nosh summer lunch. It was dressed with ginger, shallots and herbs, and graced with a sesame seed tuile. It made me think of Franck Dangereux’s fresh and colouful style on a plate, which is no insult.
Between courses, the boys chewed the cud with us, and the subject of fat in cooking came up. Fat is the foodie’s tipping point, where the arguments about healthy, fat-free diets fall apart because we all know, in our fat-lined hearts, that fatty food tastes better. So why use cream and butter, somebody asked. Broughton put it beautifully simply: “Because fat carries flavour”.
So use a little cream to finished off a great sauce, he says, rather than none at all and have a dull result. But if the proof of what he was saying was in the pudding, there was a heck of a lot of it, and dollops of it in the main course as well.
This was porcini-dusted fillet of beef with Parmesan, tomato and veal jus, baby portebellini mushrooms and pumpkin. Again, it is one of those descriptions which in no way explains the delights on the palate. The steak was absolutely perfectly tender, just the right degree of pink. The porcini dusting – presumably dried porcini, finely ground – gave the flavour a pleasing earthiness, but it was the sauces that made me want to sell all my possessions and move into Broughton’s restaurant. There were two, each more delicious than the other, but the one that had me drooling for more was the tomato and veal jus which involved double stock and multiple reductions to create something so good that any sauce I taste for the next year will battle to impress me.
This was paired with KZ Shiraz Mourvedre Viognier 2009, which with its blackcurrant notes was a brilliant match, even if I would have settled for a glass of the sauce instead.
To end, I eschewed the proferred glass of KZ Selection Chenin Blanc Select Cuvee 2007 but could not say no to the accompanying chocolate fudge cake with cherries and pistachio sorbet. The cake was one of those which hide a saucy secret: as you plunged in the spoon, hot chocolate poured out.
If there were an annual prize for the country’s best saucier, I would put my money on Michael Broughton to win it. And both of The Boys deserved gold stars for being such great, warm and slightly naughty hosts.
First published in Sunday Independent, Lifestyle, January 2011