It’s simply not fair that anyone is blessed with the culinary imagination that Liam Tomlin possesses. Though the format remains the same, the same dish is rarely repeated here. Three fish-based tapas are followed by a break before two more dishes, one always a perfectly imagined and created risotto – on this night it’s a tomato risotto topped with semi-dried tomatoes. Another break is followed by the last three tapas, which will feature a red meat of some kind.
The seeming simplicity of the dishes – beef brisket with polenta, for example – belies the fertility of the conception and the highly skilled execution in the tiny kitchen by a young and enthusiastic brigade. The Cape Malay dressing that accompanies the kingklip and the pickled saffron onions means no other pickled fish will do in the future. The yellowtail sashimi is uplifted to sublime heights by the smooth avocado mayonnaise and the spicy flavours of the Vietnamese dressing. The fresh hake in a yummy coconut broth serves as a reminder of how well fish can be executed in the hands of a skilled chef.
If you have room, both the lemon posset and the crème brûlée are not overly sweet and offer an ending to a fabulous meal.
The wine list is excellent. You’ll find a good blend of familiar names and boutique producers at a fair mark up. There’s also a very acceptable set of wines that one can order by the glass, like Vinum chenin blanc, Ondine grenache and Natte Valleij cinsault. There’s also an exciting range of craft beers and imported teas. If you’re lost, ask a waiter. They offer very sound suggestions for what drink goes best with which food.
Like just about everything else to do with the Canteen, it’s great. The friendly and informed staff winds their way through the cluttered environment with aplomb, dispensing advice and food platters.
Cosmopolitan and full of hustle-bustle. The informal and communal seating arrangement puts you in very close proximity with your neighbour, leading to interesting conversations with the eclectic mix of nationalities that make their way to this bit of foodie paradise.
There are two great ways to while away the time waiting for a table – in the cosy downstairs bar, or browsing in the adjacent shop, where you’ll find an array of kitchen implements and cookbooks second to none.
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Every dish is a sensory experience that’s easy on the eye and pleasurable on the taste buds. It’s fine dining, democracy style. The tapas for two to share are served in three courses so you can take a breather in between to savour every morsel. The perfectly plated and presented little meals are more filling than you expect, and just when you think you can’t possibly eat one morsel more, out comes another set of dishes to which you can’t possibly say no – and your taste buds applaud.
It’s hard to decide what is better: crisply fresh tuna tartare with crunchy nut crumb and croutons, melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, the tender venison with rainbow carrots, or the truffly saffron risotto.
You might go completely overboard and order all the desserts. The lemon posset is joyfully tart, and the rich, yet subtle, crème brûlée is definitely of the best around. It’s innovative and original.
The wine list is quite extensive, with an interesting selection of craft beers and artisanal teas. It’s great to pair the different courses with a different wine. The waitrons are very knowledgeable about what to pair with the different dishes, and are spot on with their suggestions.
No nonsense, friendly and informed. Waiters don’t hover; they instinctively know when to appear to clear, suggest a wine or add clean cutlery. The food philosophy here is that everyone is entitled to good food, hence no table reservations. If there’s a spot available at the communal tables, it’s yours. The democratisation of great food for everyone.
Bustling. You feel like you’re somewhere in an international city. The close proximity of the tables tones down conversations that would otherwise be overwhelming in a bigger space. Sharing communal tables, whether perched on the stoep or inside where the shelves are covered with covetable kitchenalia, you feel part of the culinary world.
Browse in the adjoining cookbook shop where every foodie tome your heart desires can be found.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.
Chef Liam Tomlin quietly flies under the radar, despite the fact that he produces consistently balanced and flavourful food that’s beautifully presented without being pretentious. In short, it’s really, really good. The fact that the tapas for two (though it’s not Spanish) comprises the menu at Chefs Warehouse means you can have a taster of everything the kitchen produces, which is satisfying on one hand, though it’s hard not to play favourites and wish you’d had two portions of a specific dish.
The menu changes regularly, but when it's available the gnocchi is always feather-light and memorable. Risotto, too, is cooked to al dente perfection, and combines satisfying flavours such as pea and butternut with parmesan crisps. The salmon is so fresh you can cut through it with the side of a fork, and the sweetly savoury dressing for the fresh oysters, combined with shredded nori and lime, is exemplary. For dessert, you’ll never go wrong ordering the lemon posset, which is smooth as silk, and the chocolate fondant with its subtle orange essence, served with orange ice cream, is the stuff of dreams.
There’s plenty of variety on the drinks list, with everything from interesting craft beers, carefully selected wines and a few choice spirits to a host of artisanal teas making an appearance.
No-nonsense, professional and informed waiting staff will see to it your glass is full, as well as your belly. No bookings, though!
While it's located on busy Bree Street, once you're inside you’ll feel removed from the hustle and bustle and can imagine you're at a street side eatery in Europe – especially since the spot seems a popular choice for international visitors. Communal tables create a casual atmosphere.
The Chefs Warehouse shop has one of the best collections of interesting recipe books you could find (including three by chef Liam himself). You’ll also enjoy browsing the beautiful cookware and gadgets.
Winner of the 2014 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards for Best Everyday Eatery.
Deli options on the ever-changing lunch menu include dishes of pork or duck rillettes, potted shrimp or crab, and chicken liver parfait with grape chutney, but the real drawcard here is tapas for two at R380.
The eight tapas dishes flow over their large wooden tray in a parade of mini copper pots, steaming baskets and slate plates. You won’t quite believe this generosity and flavour. Dishes may include crispy calamari tentacles served on a fresh Asian salad with chilli for a lovely hit of heat; butternut or dark, glossy squid-ink risotto; slow-braised beef short-rib with crispy fat and tender layers beneath; and tender tuna slivers with swirls of sauces and fresh shoots. For dessert, the lemon posset is an utter delight: the ultra-creamy, vanilla-studded pudding is topped with fresh raspberries and lemon zest, and a warm raspberry syrup is drizzled over at the table. You’ll probably also scoop every last crumb of the excellent chocolate fondant – gleamingly gooey inside and crisp outside – out of a darling mini copper pot.
Deluxe coffee comes in cool clear-glass cups, with the menu also offering an affogato option (a scoop of ice cream topped with espresso). Unusual alcohol options include Dragon Fiery Ginger Beer, Liefmans Fruitesse, CBC Amber Weiss, Dalla Cia Premium Grappa and Sir George Brandy (from Napier Winery). There’s a good wine selection of special bottles for the discerning and a dozen easy-drinking wines are available by the glass.
Service is quick and no-fuss.
On summer days and evenings, grab a seat outside. The simple wooden counters and high stools are sturdy and comfortable enough to support you for two hours without you even noticing. Menus are printed on rice paper clipped onto sushi rolling mats, lending a minimalist Asian vibe to it all. The interior is split into two main rooms: a dark, cool dining area lined with shelves of exotic cooking ingredients – rose water, oils, salt, coconut milks and obscure sauces – and a room of kitchenware on the other side with neat arrangements of top-quality knives and heavy saucepans. The dining room with its narrow tables can be a tight squeeze when it’s busy, but it’s perfectly in keeping with the bustling vibe of the city bowl.
One wall is dedicated to rows of highly desirable food bibles. Bring your credit cards, folks – or be good and hope for a gift-card come Christmas.
(Updated August 2014)
Linda ScarboroughWhen we heard that 2013 Eat Out DSTv Food Network Restaurant Awards judge and renowned chef Liam Tomlin was moving Chefs Warehouse, his cooking school and shop, to Bree Street in Cape Town, we rejoiced that a part of our after-work kuier spot, the now-defunct Caveau, was occupied once more. Our excitement doubled when Liam opened up his adjoining canteen, which is a rather understated, casual word that belies the quality of the fare on offer. We grabbed a stool at the street-side counter one hot day to try it out.