The dream team behind Bocca and Burrata opened up its third restaurant on Monday night – the first in the Southern suburbs – in the space formerly occupied by the River Café at Constantia Uitsig. Katharine Jacobs snagged a table at Open Door to bring you a first taste* of the food.
Diners are greeted by a promisingly short à la carte menu: there are just five options each for starters, mains and desserts for lunch and dinner.
We begin on a high note with a roasted pumpkin starter with curried fritters, buttermilk labneh and ginger. The fritters are light, crispy and sweet, contrasting nicely with the smooth purée. The labneh carries the ginger in a surprising form – tiny, deep-fried slivers that look like lemon rind – but the root gives itself away with an unmistakable gingery kick. The interplay of flavours and textures eclipses our other starter, a little crayfish tail with a parsnip purée and some frilly kale, which catches the sauce and sort of gets in the way. (Kale is always doing that.)
The lamb neck for mains is glorious, delicious and tender, with melting fat. It comes with roasted baby carrots that still have a bit of bite to them, and a moreish gravy. Our other main, the pan-roasted line fish, is perfectly cooked and served with a very tasty oyster velouté. The accompanying sweetcorn and peas, however, tend to leak water into the dish, thinning out the sauce.
Dessert is a challenge. I’m hesitant when I see the little worm-shaped snacks from Bombay Mix beneath my lime mousse and buttermilk parfait, but thanks to a coriander emulsion, they combine with the lime to create something quite clever – like a sweet, Asian curry. The chocolate torte is also an experiment in flavour, but the balance is a little more precarious, with the thinnest slice of dark chocolate torte – which is not very sweet itself – overpowered somewhat by a very tart citrusy granita and slices of grapefruit.
Meat and fish mains range from R147 to R172 (an open lasagna and beet risotto are cheaper options at R98 and R92) but perhaps in Constantia that’s not so very expensive.
There’s also a fantastic-sounding children’s menu (cookies and steamed milk!) and a café menu available for lunch. I’ll be back for the brioche roll with pulled pork belly, coriander, kimchi and sesame mayonnaise, for sure.
Restaurateur Neil Grant’s sommelier credentials make themselves apparent in the extensive wine list. In addition to well-known classics like Warwick, Springfield and A A Badenhorst’s Secateurs, there are sections for ‘interesting whites’ and ‘interesting reds’, giving diners a chance to try less common varietals like bukettraube, marsanne, cinsault and nebbiolo. There are just seven options available by the glass, which is a pity for those who are driving.
Staff are eager to please, and there are no hiccups that won’t be smoothed over in the coming weeks.
InHouse Brand Architects have done a great job of creating a comfortable, stylish space. Bay windows, white walls and wooden tables with cast iron legs give a nod to the history of the building – which was once a schoolhouse – while low banquettes in a regal blue, a selection of brass doorknobs, and a gleaming open kitchen add interest. It’s a big restaurant, and well segmented: there’s a side room, more seating outside, plus a wooden deck around the corner, which will be lovely in summer.
*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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