This eagerly awaited charcoal-cooking-themed eatery is a joint venture by chef Ash Heeger, who’s worked at La Colombe and The Test Kitchen in Cape Town and The Ledbury and Dinner by Heston in London, in partnership with Publik Wine Bar.
The one-page menu is pretty exciting, with big and ballsy flavours. We kick off with the whimsically titled ‘snackles’ section, opting for game-changing puffed pig skin sprinkled with spice; sweet and sticky lamb ribs; and pig head scrumpets, which reward our courage tenfold with inner tenderness and crunchy outer crumb, szechuan-spiced apple sauce and perfect petals of onion. The modestly named ‘cheese on toast’ blows us away with its glossy parmesan sauce, onion mayo and tangy chives to offset the richness. As a nice unexpected touch, the kitchen sections it into slivers – one for each guest at the table. Our side of sourdough bread arrives with two giant quenelles, one of butter and the other of whipped chicken fat, which is surprisingly light in texture in flavour.
Under ‘colds’ we go for a stellar beef tartare with peppery greens (one of the favourites of the day), before proceeding to mains of a slow-cooked egg under a blanket of crispy kale and silky mushroom sauce; rolled lamb with fragrant rosemary oil and an ass-kicking gentleman’s relish; and a burger that is somewhat overshadowed by its neighbours.
To end the meal, the lemon meringue’s coconut base, very citrusy curd and beehive of just-torched Italian meringue culminate in a bold and delicious dish. The peanut-butter cookie sandwich with milk-stout ice cream is fun, and more dexterity is shown with the light vanilla cheesecake mousse accompanied by doughnut balls, and a portion of freshly baked madeleines.
With David Cope of Publik Wine Bar looking after this side of the offering, you know you’re in good hands. The menu has a handy by-the-glass section and one of the most interesting selections of lesser-known and boutique bottles in town. You can bet you’ll find something new to try; else ask for expert advice.
These are the big leagues. Water and wine are topped up discreetly; plates, crockery and napkins are replaced after each course; and the team manages the request of our group to move to another table with aplomb.
ASH is moody and dark down the stairs off Church street, reminiscent of its history as the Frankie Fenner butchery (which services the restaurant but has moved mostly off-site), with marble-topped tables and a glass fridge of hanging meat. In what is possibly the coolest open kitchen ever – those teal and black tiles! – a smartly clad bevy of chefs moves around, stirring, slicing and dicing. Chef Ash is ever visible, either with her sleeves rolled up in the kitchen or stopping at tables to talk through the dishes.
A hard-core extractor fan erases any trace of smoke, so that at first you wonder where all this ‘charcoal cooking’ is happening. But the trusty Josper is there, taking pride of place in the kitchen and lending a delicious smokiness to many of the dishes.