There’s a chef that most other chefs look up to. Not only do they admire his cooking skills, but also the seemingly relaxed, happy way in which he runs his life. That man is Scottish born, has a French surname and an Afrikaans wife. He is George Jardine. And this time he has brought us Restaurant Jardine in the heart of Stellenbosch in Andringa Street.
We are spending the weekend in the Winelands and manage to secure a table for three for the first Saturday evening of the famous Woordfees in the student town. As far as we can see there are none of the controversial demonstrations, upsets or language debates on this particular evening. Just hundreds of festivalgoers spilling onto the streets, enjoying the last of the warm summer days.
“It’s like you’re in the centre of Amsterdam, just better and cheaper!” declares B excitedly once we have taken our seats in the small cobblestone outer room of the restaurant, which can accommodate 40 guests.
Our guest Ingrid is a foodie, and B has been named a super taster, so I, the accidental foodie, am in good company. I listen carefully.
The tables with their white cloths, the intimacy of the restaurant, and the simplicity of the offering remind me of a small restaurant, name long forgotten, at which we had the privilege of dining in the centre of Rome a couple of years ago. Except this is better.
The menu has only three superb dishes for starters and mains, two desserts and a cheese board. We decide to split our orders so we can try as many of them without having to choose the six-course tasting menu.
For starters we have:
Baked celeriac root, fig crust, black mission fig, gorgonzola and roasted hazelnut; house-cured seabass, buffalo milk labneh, passion fruit, mustard seed and fondant potato; and confit pork belly, cauliflower, parmesan, spicy kale and sesame.
It’s difficult to choose a winner here. I would recommend all three, but the menu changes all the time so you will probably not be able to select from all of the above at your visit. All I can say is that Ingrid gets this sideways far-off look when she enjoys her food – that is the look she had most of the evening. My seabass is like a painting, and the celeriac root keeps the super taster quiet for a long time.
With this we enjoy a glass (it’s a bonus that we can order such good wines by the glass) of Thelema sauvignon blanc 2015 (for the other two) and I explore my newly discovered love of chenin blanc with the much-celebrated Ken Forrester Old Vine. The Thelema surprises us as we have not tasted any recently and we all decide to buy some soon.
Our glasses for the mains are Keermont Red, Joostenberg Klippe Kou syrah 2013 and Newton Johnson Mrs M pinot noir. All very exceptional, interesting and special.
B sticks to the vegetarian options for mains, with baby cabbage cooked under pressure, with onion crust, mustard seed, fondant potato and buffalo-milk ricotta, and declares that she’s never encountered a cabbage before that feels as if she’s “eating a whole Sunday lunch”.
Ingrid and I both choose the confit and roasted Joostenberg Vlakte duck with artichoke purée, grilled artichoke, young beets and creamed spinach – and we love every bite.
Without a doubt, the caramelised fig and raspberry tart with walnut ice cream is the winner of the desserts, although B also tries the salted butterscotch pot de crème with vanilla ice cream and Ingrid enjoys the cheeses.
At a humble R280 for two courses, R320 for three, and a reasonable R420 for six, you won’t be able to do much better than this anywhere else at a restaurant of this calibre.
B’s comment sums it up: “This, to me, is a perfect restaurant.”
In my humble opinion, George Jardine is breaking new ground here with simple, excellent food coupled with excellent wines and service that is superb on every level.
What a relief not to be inundated with thousands of little welcome dishes, breads, palate cleansers and homemade sweets afterwards. I think Restaurant Jardine is leading the way for a new style of dining. As they say in Afrikaans: Hier kom ‘n ding.