Liam Tomlin’s award-winning tapas concept has arrived in the Winelands. Chefs Warehouse at the beautiful Maison Estate opened on 26 November 2017, with a kitchen run by another of Liam’s protégés, David Schneider. Should you drive all the way to Franschhoek to try it, when there are two other Chefs Warehouse branches in Cape Town? Yes, says critic Katharine Jacobs; yes, you absolutely should.
Price: R700 for tapas for two (eight plates)
Parking: On the estate
Good for: A glorious Winelands lunch on the lawn or a romantic dinner inside
Star ratings: Food 5, service 4, ambience 5
There’s something inherently more fun and relaxed about tapas-style dining, so it always comes as a bit of a surprise when the dishes are this exceptional. The first clue that this might be the case at Chefs Warehouse at Maison comes with the bread, which we’ve somewhat greedily ordered to precede the tapas menu. The still-warm ciabatta comes with an unbelievably good tapenade and glorious whipped butter with fennel flowers.
The tapas for two consists of eight dishes, served in three stages. Serving them like this lays down a bit of a challenge to the chef: Each must be different, yet sufficiently arresting to hold its own in quick succession.
First up is a New-York-style pastrami dish with pickled carrots and a glossy, sea-salt-spiked pretzel roll. These strong, lip-smacking flavours are immediately counterbalanced by beautifully subtle wood-fired Franschhoek trout with a feta cream and burnt leeks. The final plate in this part of the menu switches things up yet again: The ceviche is full of curry flavours, tangy with lime pickle, green mango and coconut cream.
Both of the other Chefs Warehouse branches (in the City Bowl and Constantia) are known for their risotto, and this vivid green parsley-and-spinach version does not disappoint. It may be green in colour, but much to our joy, it turns out to be swimming in Parmesan goodness. Smoked bone marrow adds depth, with the glossy layer it adds taking the richness up a notch.
The grilled hake is another highlight: It’s miraculously firm and flaky, and comes served with ‘garlic bread’ for scooping up the sauce. If only all garlic bread were brioche and this sweetly perfect.
If there are missteps, they might be a slightly too peppery sauce that overpowers the blesbok loin, and a slightly too sweet dessert. The s’more with sticky chocolate brownie is little blunt after the subtleties of the tapas menu, but shows a spirit of fun. If you’re after classics, fear not, the famed lemon posset graces the menu, too.
Maison’s fabulous wines are available by the glass, mostly around the R60 mark. This list is augmented by a short list of bottles of varietals not made by the estate.
For the most part, service is very smooth. Slight issues with timing are fixed with genuine kindness, and will likely be sorted altogether once the team has been running for more than a week.
The lovely lawn at Chefs Warehouse, partially shaded by a tree, is the place to be for lunch. The interior is beautiful, too, with blonde wood, grey walls and lovely contemporary furniture.
Pop into the deli section, where Liam Tomlin has installed some of the fantastic recipe books and beautiful kitchen equipment he sells in the Bree Street store. You can also buy that amazing tapenade.
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