Coming in at number seven in the Top 10 this year, La Colombe continues to surprise and delight. Chefs Scot Kirton, James Gaag and their team are pulling out all the stops to wow diners with theatrical touches and, in some instances, high drama. But if you’re a more reserved fine diner, fear not: flavour remains top of the list of priorities.
The first clue that things are getting a little fantastical comes at the entrance: guests are invited to pick an apple off a groomed landscape. The waxy sphere pops open, gushing sweet-and-sour apple juice.
At the table, the bread arrives with flair. Instead of demure pats of butter, a piping hot plate is laid on the table, smeared with lamb fat, dukkha, and hemp. The hot rolls, rubbed in this dripping, are lip-smackingly good.
Next, a statement of intention: beneath morsels of king crab and dollops of yuzu gel is a smooth film of lime-green asparagus mousse. As you gobble it up, a message is revealed beneath: “Food is our theatre. We hope you enjoy the show.”
The tinned tuna remains on the menu, encased in a lookalike tuna tin. The mini world of fresh tuna, with its micro-herbs and perfect dollops of purée is as fresh, sweet and perfectly resolved as ever.
The springbok dish, which comes in a beautifully carved wooden bowl, creates a similarly magical world: a paper-thin sheet of brik pastry, dusted red, and decorated with petals and tiny sprouts, conceals a mini wonderland. Underneath, the rich flavours of miso and chestnut blend with the sweetness of orange. And, somewhere amongst it all, is the most succulent morsels of springbok. It’s a triumph of a dish: scrumptious, beautiful and thoroughly memorable.
If you’re accustomed to La Colombe’s more sedate past, the Enchanted Forest course will come as a surprise. The most theatrical of all the courses, it’s an experience that will thrill some – and turn off others.
When you return to your table, the white tablecloth will be gone, replaced by a cattle skin – the prelude to the two Wagyu beef dishes. The first arrives on a marrow bone that would make Fred Flintstone proud. The tiny tasters of Wagyu bone marrow, truffle and pickled fish perched on the bones are a rather powerful reminder of the meaning of eating meat. Then there’s a char siu Wagyu dish, with a beautiful bisque, bok choy, corn and kimchi.
The cheese course features a rooibos ice cream, with the lovely sweetness of caramel, a sago puff and a cheese catalan, while the sweet option subtly brings together light flavours of rose, strawberry, white chocolate and geranium.
The final touch of theatre comes in the form of a taste test – five treats, which each represent one of the key flavours. Your palate is to do the work – it should by now be wide awake.
Sommelier Joseph Dhafana has a wonderful manner and will adapt his service to your level of wine knowledge and interest. Not interested in doing a full pairing? He can also recommend one glass to take you through all the courses.
White walls, wooden decking, white tablecloths and grey chairs leave a blank canvas for the food to glow. By day, it’s light and bright; by night, it’s slightly hushed. But, thanks to the various elements of drama, the quiet is now broken by delighted laughter. As for the enchanted garden, that’s something else entirely.
The team took the honours in previous years for Service Excellence, so rest assured you’re in good hands. The well-trained and -managed wait staff serves carefully and confidently. Unfortunately, telephonic communication can be less smooth.
A reduced menu is available at lunch.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their own way. Read our full editorial policy here.
In 2016 La Colombe cracked the list of the top 100 restaurants in the world, confirming what its many fans already know: Dining here is a special, singular experience.
To start, you’re invited to tear open sourdough rolls and lather them with virgin butter, pickled fish and bonemarrow served in a dish reminiscent of a cross-section of bone, with the matching texture and pure-white hue. It’s a humble-seeming but complex beginning to a meal that will become more precise and pitch-perfect as it rolls towards completion.
Another amuse-bouche, the Garden, is a dainty phyllo log filled with onion gel, tartare and edible flowers that look almost too beautiful to bite. The serving tray is a flower box, sporting smooth pebbles and a real little baby-leaf plant.
Next is a West Coast oyster with apple, caviar, kalamansi and a light soy dressing. It’s transportive; you won't want it to end, but you might be forgiven for taking the cue of the shell-like crockery and tilting it back to sip that last splash of sea-tasting sauce.
Tuna La Colombe is the one thing head chef Scot Kirton is unable to take off the menu – and for good reason. It's a play on a tin can with seared tuna tataki, dots of avo purée, ginger and a poached quail’s egg. The colours, textures and flavours play together beautifully. It remains a knockout.
An Asian-style steamed pork bun is fun, and offers a nice rich and fatty mouthful of pork to balance out all the seafood freshness so far.
Then comes a seared scallop – so tender, so beautifully browned – with a little lollipop quail leg, deboned wing and breast, and a pool of sensational parsnip purée with braaied corn – sweet and popping in your mouth – and wilted bok choi. It arrives with a ‘bird’s nest’, an artful couple of feathers and a little quail eggshell from which you can dot teriyaki onto your plate. Not that the dish needs it – the flavours are concentrated and intense.
The alternative is Norwegian salmon with king crab, blood orange, melon and wood sorrel, but how could you forgo ordering the scallop again next time? Whoever did it the other way around probably feels the same…
The palate cleanser’s simple designation of Granny Smith on the menu belies the theatre it delivers. Two ice lollies emerge from a cloud of dry ice, standing to attention in a bowl of stones and pebbles. Lean in and you can hear the bubble and crackle beneath the surface. It’s a multi-sensory delight.
For mains, you might select the Chalmar beef (substitute Wagyu for R150 supplement) with langoustine, sticky and pungent oxtail, and peas. Chef James Gaag comes to finish the meat off over a single hot coal at the table, and dress the dish with golden mustardy jus from a dainty copper pot. A thrilling experience.
While vegetarians will miss out on the rich stocks, broths and reductions that bring most of the other dishes together, they will be pleased with the gorgeous beetroot risotto with creamy burrata and sage-burned butter, and the golden herb gnocchi with gorgonzola and butternut.
For dessert, you can choose between two more unusual options. The Three Ages of Boerenkaas comes in whorls and shapes with onion, quince, and walnut-and-cumin ice cream. If you have more of a sweet tooth, go for the Valrhona Azélia cremeux with Jerusalem artichoke ice cream (pickled from chef James’s family garden and roasted with hand-crafted balsamic from Protea Hill in Stellenbosch), grapefruit cubes and hazelnut crumbs. It’s vivid, enthralling and interesting in the best possible sense of the word. Every bite draws you in with its intricacy and uniqueness of tastes: earthy, nutty, salty, bitter and sweet.
The rock-like petit fours look unusual – on a bed of dark crumbs – but they deliver a very satisfying sweet kick in the form of hazelnut squares with popping candy, salted-caramel truffles and blueberry muffins.
The wine list is sectioned into offerings by the glass, méthode champenoise, red, white, fine and rare, old world (Burgundy and Rhone), and dessert wines. If you’re not going to indulge, spring for a non-alcoholic cocktail made with fresh fruit. The Yirgacheffe coffee experience is fun for lovers of the bean.
Numerous faces will come into focus during the course of the lunch as the team discreetly clears dishes and replaces cutlery. Dedicated waiters look after glasses and keep you entertained. They take their cue from your mood, knowing when to crack a joke or leave you to your savouring. This faultless service garnered them the 2016 Eat Out Nespresso Service Excellence Award.
Having a table up against the glass windows is a real treat in winter. The blue gums and pine trees in the valley and beyond glisten with silver in the sunlight, and across the vineyards you might spy a chicken dust-bathing in the afternoon beams. In summer, the glass windows doors are flung open to let the forest air in. As for décor, it’s as subtle and soft as La Colombe’s namesake, the dove, with touches of feathery white and grey and dark beams inside.
Do go visit Foxcroft, the new venture down the road by Scot Kirton and Glen Williams, which won the 2016 Eat Out Retail Capital New Restaurant of the Year.
Eat Out critics arrive unannounced and pay their way in full. Read our editorial policy here.