Eat Out Top 10-chef Bertus Basson’s new namesake restaurant in Paarl charms with a delectable combination of heritage dishes and modern flavours. Jeanne Calitz puts Bertus Basson at Spice Route through its paces.
Over the last couple of years, Bertus Basson has become known (and celebrated) for his love for heritage food, and at this new establishment his roots are allowed to shine. The food treads a comfortable balance between old-school classics and modern, international influences. It harkens back to grandma’s food (if she were a truly excellent cook), but imagine, if you will, that she shared her kitchen with a younger, eccentric sister – you know, the one who ran off in the 60s, travelled the world, lived as a nudist and then returned spouting foreign words like ‘chorizo’ and ‘kimchi’.
In this manner, Ouma Jossie’s baked tongue with slaphakskeentjies rubs shoulders with a wonderful little starter of squid, Malay mayo, miso cream and pickled greens, while a serving of chicken liver parfait on toasted mosbolletjie is offset by a dish of crispy pork with gem lettuce and parmesan.
The mains section continues the conversation between old and new: pork belly braised in CBC beer (brewed on site) is served with soetwortels (sweet carrots) and a dash of salsa verde. An excellent cut of sirloin is flavoured with braai spice and accompanied by a mouthwatering combination of leeks, mushrooms, bacon and dukkah. The traditional tamatie bredie (tomato stew) becomes a playful treat, served as a springbok tamatie bredie pie in its own little pan. A substantial dish, it is kept from being a touch heavy by the addition of sweetly sour pickled onions and a fragrant batch of pumpkin fritters that would knock the socks off any member of the CWAA, the formidable tastemakers at the Cape Women’s Agricultural Association.
Of course, no meal is complete without a decent helping of poeding. We settle for the old-fashioned comfort of Tannie Hetta’s apple pie with vanilla ice cream and homemade custard – Bertus’s mom’s recipe. Such sweet temptation. The same goes for the rest of the dessert menu, which includes items like a lemon tart with burnt Italian meringue, and fried camembert with watermelon preserve and peppered honey. Well, there’s always next time…
As can be expected, the range of Spice Route wines takes centre stage, with quite a few available by the glass. We opt for a carafe each of the Spice Route chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc – a perfect match for a balmy summer’s day. Sparkling water is served not in the normal bottle but in a sizable carafe, with lemon – a nice touch, and even more so when I study the bill afterwards and notice that it bears no charge.
The style is crisp, clean and uncluttered – all the better to enjoy the expansive views over the surrounding farmlands towards Table Mountain. Smart touches, like artistic antelope heads lit from within, and wallpaper consisting of what looks to be old dictionary pages, add interest and character. The atmosphere is relaxed and leisurely; this is not the kind of place where you’ll be rushed through service.
Friendly and accommodating. The waiting staff seem very pleased to be here and are quick to recommend their favourites off the menu and volunteer information about the origin of some dishes.
Spot on: flavours are robust and portions are substantial. This is not itty-bitty overly fussy food, and we are delighted to find it so. The restaurant is sure to be a hit with both locals in the mood for a moreish, leisurely lunch, as well as tourists looking for an authentic South African meal.