Chef Rikku Ó’Donnchü, who studied chemistry, combines his love of food with his love of the molecular world in his menu at Gåte on Quoin Rock estate in Stellenbosch. Chef Rikku defines his food as fun dining rather than fine dining, as he loves surprising diners with his sensory menu.
Cost: R1250 for 16-course tasting menu (R1950 with drinks pairing)
Parking: Secure parking available on the estate
Star ratings: Food and drinks: 5; Service: 5; Ambience: 5
The bread course is called ‘Not an ashtray’ and arrives in a smoking pot alongside a lit cigar. It triggers curiosity on sight because the cigar (which happens to be rye bread) looks so convincingly real. The smoking pot is filled with a black garlic mousse and smoked tomato ash that is the perfect smoky accompaniment to the earthy rye bread cigar.
Next up is the oyster course, which is presented on a bubbling coral reef platter. The oysters are topped with an umami essence foam, a creamy caviar dressing and thinly sliced pickled green strawberry that offers a delicious contrast in texture to the creamy fresh oyster. The ‘Ethical fois gras’ duck egg is next – the name of the dish refers to Rikku’s use of duck liver coming from ducks that haven’t been force fed. It’s served as a mousse topped with cocoa nibs and banana gel, as well as toasted banana bread to accompany. The courses keep coming but it’s with the cauli-cheese course, a cheese lover’s dream, where you have to stop and take a moment. Three different ages of parmesan come together in the form of foam, espuma and a crisp. Nestled underneath them is a pickled and charred cauliflower. This plate is definitely on my list of top three courses.
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The standout dish of the evening, without a doubt, is the ramen course. The first thing to arrive is a syringe filled with a honey-coloured liquid and a green liquid. Next a hot stone is placed on the table, surrounded by fresh rosemary and raw seasoned Wagyu beef, which we cook on the hot stone. A bowl is placed in front of us with pickled radish, a quail egg and samphire, over which a deep dark aromatic brown liquor is poured. The syringe is then inserted into the bowl and the liquid inside is pushed out to form the noodles. The cooked beef is then laid on top to be enjoyed with the honey noodles and broth. This dish ticks all the boxes – from the theatre behind the presentation to the intense and rich flavour of the broth and the interactive element. It’s unbelievable, like nothing I’ve ever experienced while dining before.
Chef Rikku’s signature dish of wild peacock (the dish he received 10/10 for when he competed on MasterChef UK) is also to be found on the menu. It’s a deliciously complex plate with charred feta, pickled grapes, black rice and rice-puff-coated peacock.
Towards the end, the intriguing 3D menu is opened to reveal vials of Quoin Rock coffee-infused grappa, which is poured over ice and topped with cream to form a Black Russian cocktail course. That’s swiftly followed by a beetroot candy helium balloon that comes floating into the room. The waiter then instructs me to put my lips to the candy balloon and suck up the helium. I excitedly oblige and giggle at the sound of my squeaky helium voice. It’s such a fun way to end off a meal.
You’d think that after hours of sitting through a 16-course meal, you’d leave bloated and uncomfortable, yet we leave feeling sated instead of stuffed. Chef Rikku has found a way to balance flavours and courses so that the flavours are exciting but not overly rich, which means you can enjoy every course. There’s only one way that I would describe chef Rikku’s menu: theatrical – in flavour, presentation and experience.
The wine list consists of a collection of Quoin Rock wines, a few of which are available to order by the glass. The rest of the menu contains a selection of exclusive international wines. There’s a selection of cocktails available, as well as selected spirits on offer.
Seamless. Our waitress was knowledgeable about the food and even knew the stories behind Rikku’s inspiration for every single dish. The entire front-of-house operation runs with the precision of a military operation.
It’s clear that no expense has been spared in creating this gorgeous restaurant space. The arched entrance is the gateway into a beautiful minimalistic dining area, filled with light wooden tables laid with exquisite glassware and a beautiful geometric golden metal menu. You look out over the rolling hills and vineyards of Quoin Rock.
A ‘first taste’ is a review conducted in the first couple of weeks after a restaurant’s opening, when it is expected that the chefs and staff will still be finding their feet.
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