The secret to a satisfying crème brûlée lies in the contrasting textures of the brittle caramelised topping and the smooth, creamy custard centre. The seemingly simple recipe is not that easy to get right. The devil is in the innate understanding of the ingredients, the marriage of taste and texture, the accompaniments and the presentation. Not surprisingly, the big-gun chefs excel. We sent our intrepid reviewers out to find the best in Joburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town and the Winelands.
Clico Boutique Hotel Restaurant (Rosebank)
An Amarula-flavoured and, since it is moulded, surprisingly creamy crème brûlée, artfully presented with a home-made shortbread biscuit and chilli-roasted pineapple. The men loved this one. Chef Izanne Nawn attributes the crème’s taste and texture to the excellent cream that Clico sources. (R65)
For all the elements, in, on and beside, this is perfection from chef Philippe Wagenführer. A dreamy crème stands on the plate under a caramel so thin it would crackle in the slightest breeze but crunches deliciously as you enter. There is some black pepper in the brûlée that works its wonder with sweetly tart poached rhubarb and strawberry, and a pale quenelle of lemon ice cream with an own state of creaminess and tartness, all on the side. Plunging your spoon through the lot to collect all these complementary tastes and textures is unforgettable. (R55)
The Grazing Room (Dunkeld West)
It is difficult to conceive of it until you experience the popcorn-flavoured infused crème brûlée. On chef Marthinus Ferreira’s menu of tasting sizes, this was pretty much a full-sized portion of the raciest salty-sweet dessert, unctuous with a pale and crisply bubbled top. The scent and taste of each spoonful conjured up exciting movies. Extraordinary and a forever memory. The menu changes regularly. (R60)
The Leopard (Melville)
Andrea Burgener likes to play with the concept and she calls this a brûlée whisky custard. I have had a brûlée cinnamon custard in winter, as lovely but comforting, whereas this one is nostalgic somehow – that whisky-and-cream combination. It arrives in its little low pie dish with a dappled look to the fine caramel. In the corner stands a little mannikin, hands on hips, something like those old cereal toys. The dessert he’s guarding tastes just like you really, really hoped it would. (R48)
Le Petit Sel Bistro (Morningside)
Chef Coco Reinarhz would, of course, produce an unbelievably delicious crème brûlée. His has the addition of coffee and is darkly glassy, approaching it top down, though the thin crunch. Within, the combo of caramel and coffee is outrageously lovely, set in all that rich creaminess. (R40)
Le Soufflé (Fourways)
The Gueberts of Johannesburg produce the classics at their best, and their crème brûlée is a good example. It arrives with just-right ripe strawberries, and is the picture of finesse. The crust is gorgeously caramelly-scrunchy and the inner custard smoothly exemplary. This could easily be the yardstick for crèmes brûlées. (R42)
afro-boer (Die Wilgers)
Much debate on the merits of thin or thick cream and many experiments later, afro-boer’s crème brûlée is one of the finest examples of this classic dessert in Pretoria. Having eschewed versions using thinner cream, they believe the double-thick cream from Irene Dairy Farm is what makes the afro-boer crème brûlée super special. They are stepping it up a notch by using hand-harvested mulberries (for that brief spell when they are available) to impart a delicate flavour and a lovely mauve colour to the custard nestling under a thin crust of burnt sugar. (R45)
Brasserie de Paris (Waterkloof Ridge)
This restaurant has used the same recipe to make its crème brûlée for the past 21 years (it even moved with them when the restaurant changed venues). It has become one of those staples that they cannot remove from the menu lest they offend regular patrons. Classic in inspiration, vanilla pods infuse flavour, and eggs and cream give silky texture, but they have taken presentation to new heights, rounding off the dessert with a sphere of spun sugar on top. (R52)
Red Tomato Supper Club (Muckleneuk)
Chef Renette Vosloo, as well known for her eclectic cooking style and warm-hearted hospitality as for being one of Pretoria’s contenders in the cooking programme Kokkedoor and on early-morning Ontbytsake, has strong opinions about crème brûlée. She finds vanilla essence particularly irksome, favouring vanilla pods to infuse a mixture of cream and milk. Like a good boeremeisie, she also adds just a miniscule pinch of salt, reminding us that that a hint of salt is often what sweet items need to turn them from bland to beautiful. She is adamant that the “burning of the sugar should be done slowly and carefully, as it will often produce a rather nasty chemical flavour if rushed. At the Supper Club they serve tasting menus only, so the crème brûlée will feature in a smaller portion and therefore is individually priced.
Laughing Chefs (Rietondale)
Mother-and-daughter team Maggie Gey van Pittius and Esrida Brits love to give all their dishes a slight South African slant, so it is no wonder that their crème brûlée has a koeksister flavour. They leave whole koeksisters to steep overnight in cream, after which it is given the usual treatment of warming the cream, tempering the yolks and then baking au bain marie. They dust the cooled surface with brown sugar for a caramel brûléed flavour and, of course, serve the dessert garnished with a mini koeksister on top. (R40)
Ritrovo Ristorante (Waterkloof Heights)
This Pretoria stalwart takes pride in using only real Madagascan vanilla pods to flavour the custard in their crème brûlée, which is baked gently in a bain marie at the exact temperature to avoid that dreaded sweet scrambled egg taste. On occasion (provided you ask nicely beforehand) they will make an even yummier pistachio version, using a high-quality Iranian pistachio paste for flavour. This also happens to turn your favourite into a delightful green à la Dr. Seuss’s green eggs and ham. (R55)
Pure serves a South African version of this all-time favourite, the Amarula crème brûlée, which is so popular they often include it on their catering menu for off-site events. They believe good-quality eggs and cream contribute to the deliciousness of the dessert. Depending on the need, it can be made in a tiny glass cup (R17) or in the more usual restaurant-sized portion (R40).
Prue Leith Chefs Academy (Centurion)
Here, they serve a “turned-out” passion fruit crème brûlée that is plated with a chocolate crumble, basil and passion fruit glass. The sharpness of the passion fruit gives a lovely contrast to the creaminess of the crème brûlée; and since dark chocolate and passion fruit are such a happy blend, they add some further flavour. For a less traditional version, the custard is cooked slightly longer and cooled well before turning it out of the ramekin. Prue Leith Pastry HOD Andrea Pin gives a few tips for the best results: The custard mixture should be left to rest for 24 hours before baking; the custard should be baked in a bain marie at 150°C until firm but with a slight wobble in the centre; crème brûlée is best prepared in a shallow earthenware dish to ensure a smooth custard that has a bite of caramel with each mouthful; Demerara sugar is the best option to use for the caramelised crust, as it gives a lovely burnt toffee flavour, but castor sugar melts easily and gives an even brûlée; crème brûlée should be tilted when caramelising the sugar, as the sugar will caramelise and cover the brûlée evenly. (R65)
La Madeleine (Lynwood Ridge)
Daniel Leusch probably knows every crème brûlée in town. He says the dish was introduced in Gauteng in the mid ’80s by the late Walter Ultz of Linger Longer, Germain Marquis of Les Marquis, and Daniel’s wife Karine Leusch. These days, Daniel and his daughter Ann are in charge of producing the crèmes brûlées at la Madeleine, and Daniel has an absolute aversion to “fake” brûlées where the vanilla powder mixture is boiled on the stovetop and then left in the fridge to set. They have modernised their version at La Madeleine, which now comes with the thinnest layer of ganache at the base into which some tonka beans are grated, before the vanilla cream is poured over and finished as usual.
9th Avenue Bistro (Morningside)
At this buzzing Durban eatery, head chef Charlie Lakin sticks to the classics with a simple yet elegant crème brûlée. The sweet dessert is topped with a great caramelised crackle, which complements the creamy custard centre perfectly. The custard is made with fragrant vanilla bean, giving it those delicious flecks of flavour. (R46)
Bel Punto (Umdloti Beach)
Enjoy the gorgeous sea views at this beachfront restaurant and crack in to their popular crème brûlée dish. Made with a subtle addition of espresso, this traditionally French delight is given a delicious Italian kick that works brilliantly with the delicate vanilla flavours. (R45)
Café 1999 (Musgrave)
Chef Marcelle Roberts brings a South African twist to this bistro’s brûléed pudding. Silky vanilla custard is infused with warm, earthy rooibos tea and topped with a perfectly bitter crunch of caramelised sugar. (R45)
Harvey’s Restaurant (Umhlanga Rocks)
At this Durban stalwart, chef Andrew Draper is known for his decadent dessert creations. The current custardy offering is a pleasant mix of moreish flavours. A crack of the thin caramelised topping reveals a creamy custard made with zingy crème fraîche. It is served with a refreshing ginger-and-rhubarb ice cream. (R68)
Ile Maurice (Umhlanga Rocks)
This long-standing Mauritian restaurant serves the classic French dish, a firm favourite on the menu, using a perfected family recipe that has been around since 1976. The crème brûlée à la Madame Mauvis is a classic take on the dessert, with a vanilla-scented custard and a crisp burnt-sugar topping. (R60)
Bon Amis at Bloemendal (Durbanville)
Bistro classics are whipped up with a twist at this lazy lunch spot. With a menu that changes with the seasons, expect custard treats like the 3-way banoffee crème brûlée, made with Nachtmusik chocolate liqueur, Cape Velvet cream liqueur and a banana liqueur in the winter months. For the upcoming summer months, diners can dive in to the Amarula crème brûlée, served with a chocolate biscotti. (R55)
This elegant restaurant in the picturesque Steenberg vineyards offers contemporary cuisine with an influence of local heritage. The set menu (R300) includes a Catharina’s speciality: crème brûlée flavoured with Amarula cream liqueur. The à la carte menu boasts a mouthwatering option of salted caramel crème brûlée with a chocolate sorbet and fresh summer berries. (R65)
La Boheme Wine Bar & Bistro (Sea Point)
Sea Point’s neighbourhood wine bar is known for serving up stylish bistro-style fare. The blackboard menus change regularly, but a dessert that is a constant is the classic crème brûlée with vanilla-bean custard and a dark caramel topping. (R40)
Mano’s (Green Point)
Unpretentious and contemporary cooking is what you’ll find at this Somerset Road eatery. The crème brûlée offering is comprised of a humble vanilla-flecked custard topped with a spun-sugar crown. R60
Societi Bistro (Gardens)
Chef Stefan Marais’ French-Italian cooking makes for dishes that are unassuming and delicious. The dessert list favourite is, of course, the crème brûlée. This version is made in the traditional style using a fresh vanilla pod to infuse the velvety centre, which is topped with a sticky crackling of caramel. (R30)
Tables at Nitída (Durbanville)
Situated on the charming Nitída wine estate, this café offers country-style cuisine that is ideal for a long lunch after a wine tasting. The crème brûlée selection changes regularly, with the current offering being a timeless vanilla-bean custard with a crunchy caramel topping. A sprinkling of toasted almond slivers and a dusting of icing sugar add even more texture to each mouthful. (R55)
Quaglino’s (Mouille Point)
From the same team as Sotano, this Mouille Point eatery delivers a curate-your-own dining experience with sharing-style dishes. The desserts, however, are ones you won’t want to share, with previous choices such as a beautifully spiced hot-cross-bun tea crème brûlée. The current option is the beloved vanilla-pod custard crème brûlée with a very delicate sugary crust. (R45)
96 Winery Road (Stellenbosch)
Plunge into this cosy bistro’s traditional-style French masterpiece with its simple vanilla-bean custard that’s utterly rich and creamy, with a crisp bite of sugary caramel on top. (R55)
Delheim Garden Restaurant (Stellenbosch)
The menu at this scenic restaurant changes with the season. The current crème brûlée on offer is a delightful and comforting taste for the cooler days before summer kicks in. Spoon your way through the fruity version with syrupy figs for R45.
Restaurant at Glen Carlou (Klapmuts)
The innovative menu at this stylish wine farm restaurant boasts dishes that change with the seasons. The winter dessert selection included a vanilla crème brûlée with local roasted pear, Marsala cream and orange zest. For spring, guests can now delight in a traditional-style crème brûlée with a tang of fresh pineapple carpaccio, macerated naartjies and pops of fresh gooseberries. (R60).
Noop’s country-style dining wouldn’t be complete without a creamy custard dessert. A classic combination of eggs, cream, sugar and a burnt-sugar crust make up the heavenly trio of mini crème brûlées. The custard flavours include classic vanilla bean, rich white chocolate and aromatic coffee (R65).
Please note that although we take every care to get the details spot on, some dishes and prices may change without our knowledge.
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