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Review: The Harlequin in Pretoria wows with gourmet pub grub

The Harlequin rugby club’s deep, cool verandah virtually begs for long afternoon lunches and so it should be: this is cuisine that should be lingered over.

Harlequin Restaurant 3

The Harlequin. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Food

Considering the location, one would imagine this to be a pub grub and boerekos type of place, but this is not the case. Once the menu arrives, it seems at first glance to offer the usual restaurant fare, but there are interesting twists in the descriptions and in evidence when the dishes arrive. The salmon roulade, for instance, comprises steamed prawns with cucumber and mayonnaise, wrapped in slivers of smoked salmon, served on a bed of micro greens and finished with a citrus dressing. The marrow bone starter is served with port onions and toast. In other words, expect many tantalising tastes.

The venison carpaccio is served with mango salsa and a mousse infused with that heavenly North African marinade, chermoula. Considering the audience there is, of course, also biltong, in the form of an amuse-bouche of biltong soup with a fresh garden salad and slices of deliciously aged biltong.

You’ll also find oysters, snails, mussels and, for the vegetarians, a beetroot tartlet with goat’s cheese, glazed with honey and served in a puff pastry case. There’s also a good selection of venison dishes, steak cuts, poultry and seafood as well as pastas, but consider the mouthwatering confit of pork belly with cider jus and wondrously crispy crackling.

Their flagship (beautifully presented) desserts items include vanilla-bean panna cotta, served with a carrot fudge sauce, candied olive, pistachio and coffee soil, and the dark chocolate fondant, which takes an extra few minutes to bake to molten perfection.

Drinks

A cleverly composed wine list. The house wine comes courtesy of Ken Forrester, there’s a number of South African varietals, and at R29 per glass, it’s good value for your bucks. You’ll spot some good local bubbles as well as a couple of French Champagnes. All varietals range from the mid-priced to some of SA’s greats like Ataraxia, Iona and Chamonix. This is a very approachable list even extends to the Strandveld Anders Sparrman Pinot Noir from Elim. There is also a good selection of cocktails and beers.

Service

Service is sharp, with friendly eye contact and a good personal connection without being all over the table.

The Harlequin. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The Harlequin. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Ambience

White napery gives the game away; this isn’t your ordinary sports club eatery. It’s a smart-casual, family-friendly restaurant, but it’s also ideal for sundowners. Apart from the private tables inside and seating at the long bar, there’s a lovely outside verandah, which is also the smoking area.

And…

The chef is willing to prepare special meals for vegetarians.

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