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New review: Playful French flair at La Madeleine in Pretoria

Chef Anne Leusch’s cheeky attitude to the French classics produces joyful, innovative plates at La Madeleine in Lynnwood, says Marie-Lais Emond.

Food

Well known for the many food awards that La Madeleine has won, the legendary Daniel Leusch – who’s cooking was all about sublime, French-influenced perfection – has now been succeeded by his chef daughter Anne, who brings a playful touch to the restaurant.

Anne grew up in kitchens and then studied, cooked and cheffed her way around the international and local food world before taking over at La Madeleine. Her cheeky attitude to the classics produces joyful, innovative plates.

Imagine a gastronomic walk through a forest, with a starter dish of morsels scattered across a plate, including braised Oriental mushrooms, smoky little tomatoes, quivering quail eggs, small curls of the rarest beef, and cubes of steaming hot marrow meat, golden outside and pink within. The dish is perfectly executed in all its fine detail, wonderfully entertaining and studded with culinary gifts.

Another great starter could be the golden ravioli, packed with shredded, moist and thyme-laden lamb and a rich jus.

La Madeleine. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

La Madeleine. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Other standounts include almost-sashimi salmon with a fantastic asparagus mousse, a dense and beetrooty purée, a jaunty piece of toast, and seared sour berries. An exceptional choice is the ‘hunting season’ dish, which features exquisite springbok, soft as the accompanying pear caramelised in sherry, served with a green-peppered sherry sauce and that old classic, potato croquettes. Unforgettable.

Desserts show a character of distinct merriment, too. This is one of the few places in Gauteng where whisper-perfect crème brûlée is to be had. At La Madeleine you may find it featured on a base of grated chocolate and tonka beans, which intensify its vanilla and caramel qualities and lift it off the plate.

There is no set menu. Every day can be quite different, depending on what’s exciting and fresh. Most ingredients are sourced within a radius of 80 km; speciality items like chervil, borage and free-roaming birds are farmed. Each day’s options, narrated by Daniel, usually consist of about six each of starters and mains, a few desserts, and a pre-dessert platter of rare cheeses.

Drinks

La Madeleine is the sort of place where an aperitif is suggested – and often taken up. The alluring wine list is beautifully constructed, covering the bases from elegant to interesting and local to international. The sommelier, Abou Fofana, is an inspired guide who asks you to trust him, offering unexpected suggestions that turn out to be brilliant matches.

Service

Expect faultless service and advice from Abou’s assistant, Gerald Chikaria. It’s a full-marks experience from entrance to exit.

La Madeleine. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

La Madeleine. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Ambience:

La Madeleine is now on a residential property, burglar-barred and unexciting; however, the interior is welcoming and cosy, with the décor showing an elegant, creamy-themed style. The atmosphere is warm and promising, especially now that the delightful Daniel works the front-of-house. His beatific smile and food descriptions are legendary.

The clientele, especially in the evenings and over weekends, is typically diplomats off duty. Daniel has always had his devoted following; Anne’s enthusiasts seem to be a younger set, with the ranks still swelling.

And…

Anne’s version of an amuse-bouche is utterly delicious and amusing. Don’t be surprised if you’re presented with a sorbet featuring lemon and raspberry, to be eaten with a runcible spoon! Don’t leave without having a madeleine or two with coffee.

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