Dahlia on Regent had been open for only a few months when COVID closed its doors. But, like a few other lucky restaurants, the Sea Point restaurant reopened – now with a new concept.
Head chef Damian Dafel, who previously worked locally at La Tête, La Colombe and Foxcroft, says that although Dahlia on Regent was named long before the lockdown, the meaning behind the name grew increasingly more relevant as time went on.
“The dahlia is a flower that signifies grace, elegance, inner strength, change and dignity,” he says. “These times have been tough on all our friends in the hospitality family, as well as other sectors that are struggling to keep their heads above water.”
Before lockdown, the restaurant focused on modern South African food, but Damian has since taken his offering in a different direction. Guests can now look forward to an Asian-style street food experience. Think biangbiang noodles, pickled daikon Sichuan peanut salad and crispy katsu chicken sandos.
Why the change? “Given the economic climate, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take our restaurant back to the basics, without compromising on quality but focusing on a selection of food that was more price-sensitive to a market who, like us, are still feeling the pinch of COVID,” says Damian. “And after spending a month in China and tasting the incredibly local cuisines, it became clear that there was a disconnect between the Western interpretation of Chinese food versus authentic Chinese cuisines. I fell in love with the incredible tastes and wanted to bring some of my experiences and inspiration to Cape Town.”
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The new menu idea, founded off the principles of Asian street food, looks to serve a quick and affordable meal with maximum flavour in a fun and playful manner, he says. “I like to keep it fresh and different. We spend time scouring fresh food markets at China City and, in particular, we regularly visit the Hong Da Asian Supermarket. These markets also help keep the creative juices flowing – the exciting fresh daikon radish, napa cabbage, pak choi and the like inspire different dishes. Our ethos is to build meals around the quality of the raw ingredients and let that drive the menu inspiration.”
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Damian, who works with a team of just five people, says the most popular dish is their beef short rib biangbiang. “The reason is because of the signature thick handmade pulled noodles with sticky ribs. It lends a superb balance of tantalising flavours through the Sichuan oils, black bean Lao Gan Ma, and the subtle flavours of sweet and sour chinkiang vinegar. The juxtaposition of different textures and flavours creates an exciting taste experience that many South Africans do not encounter in their regular dining.”
While it’s wonderful to see restaurants slowly getting back up on their feet again, Damian says it won’t happen overnight. “We ask that guests be patient with the hospitality industry. The future is always tricky to predict, and never more so than now. However, we are going to remain hopeful and stay positive as we push forward.”