Fine dining, tasting menus and seven-course meals don’t really exist in Pretoria. In the capital, ‘fine dining’ consists of a medallion of fillet on fondant potatoes with a fancy jus alongside. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just that the clientele here have a more conservative palate. But that’s changing: everyone still loves a good steak, but there’s a movement to more refined food recently, and Pretorians are ready for more. Enter chef-extraordinaire Adriaan Maree, who’s challenging diners with something totally new and delicious at Fermier in The Willows.
When you give unadventurous diners only one option and that is to enjoy a seven-course tasting menu, you have to be pretty sure of yourself, knowing that what you’re serving is absolutely amazing. Luckily, Adriaan has that cool assurance that all good chefs have. He knows his food is top notch and he won’t be making any excuses for it. His passion for farm-to-table cooking and using every little bit of every ingredient in his kitchen is infectious. Speaking to him, it’s clear that he’s an expert in his field – and that’s confirmed once your plate is set in front of you.
The duck-liver parfait with rillettes, sourdough and salted butter is simple perfection. (I can’t think how they made the parfait so smooth.) It makes for a relaxed, homely start to your meal – something Adriaan is quite serious about. He wants to give his guests a taste of home with a refined twist; what he most wants is for people to feel comfortable in his establishment.
The rest of the menu follows suit with accessible ingredients given a fancy hat and executed exquisitely. A simple fillet of bream is served on top of a fricassee of shiitake, edamame and peas, alongside a quenelle of the most delectable broccoli purée. The purée is so good I could eat an entire bowl of it. This is followed by marron on a bouillabaisse sauce; another serving of duck, this time perfectly paired with coffee, hazelnuts and red cabbage; and two servings of lamb, first the loin and rib served with black garlic, Brussels sprouts and pickled onions, and the second an unctuous piece of braised lamb served in a rich, savoury broth. The meal culminates in a celebration of chocolate: a slab of dark chocolate jelly covered in white chocolate snow, buttermilk sherbet and fresh berries, with a cherry compote and freeze-dried berries to finish it off perfectly.
Every month the team focuses on a different wine estate, choosing only a few wines to showcase. For January they’re focusing on Cederberg; in February they’re looking at Spice Route. Other options are soft drinks and sparkling water, and Cederberg MCC if you have a glass of bubbly.
Service is friendly and efficient. The chefs come to the table to explain each dish, which is always a treat. Plates are cleared efficiently and our glasses kept topped up at all times. The service doesn’t leave an impression, but then again it doesn’t need to. It just needs to flow, and that’s exactly what it did.
On arrival, the first impression is that you must be at the wrong place. Walking past farm animals, through an almost forest-like environment, you feel far removed from the noise and bustle of the city, but arriving at the simple wood and raw-earth structure is a little perplexing.
But then the wooden panels open and you are invited into a beautiful yet simple dining room. The kitchen is completely open and feels like part of the dining area. This is particularly pleasing when you experience the delectable aromas wafting around the room as the chefs prepare your meal. The restaurant’s rustic simplicity is the perfect contrast to the refined, elegant food. Surrounded by the greenhouses and fish ponds to the one side, and a woodland scene of bushy trees to the other, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d driven for hours to get out of the city. That’s the beauty of it: this incredible establishment is a stone’s throw away from the highway and yet it is such as escape. Fermier is an absolute gem.
Adriaan’s dream is for Fermier to be an entirely self-sustaining restaurant, where everything from the fruit and veggies to the fish and meat are grown and reared on the property, and where ‘waste’ becomes food again.
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