For over three decades, Chef Richard Carstens has brought his artful cuisine to some of South Africa’s most treasured winelands restaurants. Then, in October 2019, he unpacked his knives at Chamonix Estate in Franschhoek, in a spot previously held by Reuben Riffel’s Racine and Dane Newton’s Mon Plaisir. The new venue is named Arkeste.
Chef Richard Carstens has an enviable resume. He ran Bijoux in Franschhoek and was renowned for his work at Lynton Hall in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Richard also worked at Saxenburg and received acclaim for his eight-year-tenure at Tokara in Stellenbosch. During his time at Tokara, the restaurant was awarded a coveted spot on the list of Eat Out’s top 20 restaurants in South Africa. In addition, Richard was named Chef of the Year at the 2005 Eat Out Johnnie Walker Restaurant Awards. His cooking at Tokara had a strong Japanese influence.
Richard has also worked in kitchens in Asia and Australia, but the strong pull of the Cape has drawn him to return to for various iterations.
Arkeste is predominantly a contemporary fine-dining restaurant with an à la carte menu. For Richard, the restaurant also presented an exciting opportunity to pass his knowledge and experience onto a host of emerging chefs.
Elements of collaboration are abundant at Arkeste. While Chamonix seems secluded in a forest of trees, there have been moments of partnership and collaboration in Arkeste’s brief history. Soon after its October 2019 opening, in November 2019, Arkeste partnered with Chef Arno Janse van Rensburg and pastry chef Liezel Odendaal, who were famed for their work at Janse & Co. Despite the tumult of the pandemic, Arkeste intends to host special evenings in the future with industry friends including leading sommeliers and Wolfgat’s famed chef Kobus van der Merwe alongside others.
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Arkeste’s wine list celebrates Cape wines and includes a nod to Richard’s past at Tokara, with wine from Tokara’s previous winemaker, Miles Mossop. The list also pays homage to its address at Chamonix. Chamonix has one of South Africa’s oldest chenin blanc vineyards, planted in 1965.
The seasonal menu is supported by an on-premise herb garden. For instance, one dish features the last of the season’s tomatoes, served with goat’s cheese, cucumbers, olives, red pepper, yuzu and a tomato vinaigrette. Yuzu is a yellow citrus fruit of East Asian origin and references the influence of Asian cuisine on Richard’s style.
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Richard’s history weaves his way through the kitchen like a fine thread and the artful plates enjoyed on the deck among the trees at Chamonix reveal the sagacity of his decades-long legacy.
As the restaurant opened at the cusp of a global pandemic, tenuous times have had their effect on Arkeste. In March 2020, through the advice of the World Health Organisation, South Africa was placed on a level 5 lockdown. As countries around the world reacted to the effects of the novel coronavirus, international leisure travel became a significant shadow of its former glory. Historically, Franschhoek has catered to international tourists, so the area was hard hit by these circumstances. However, local gourmands have embraced their new neighbour at Arkeste.
Arkeste has recently reopened following their winter break, under the adjusted lockdown conditions for sit-down dining.
While there have been many plates in Richard Carsten’s history, Arkeste has already shown that it presents an intrepid future.
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