It’s more like an extended entrance than a side alley but, given its location opposite Stellenbosch’s shiny white town hall, entering Dusk does feel like passing into another world. A shadow world of sleek surfaces and subtle stimuli, meticulously orchestrated to evoke a sense of worldly sophistication.
“We were aiming for the feel of an unpretentious New York side alley; the type of space where people understand that it’s about the beauty of the food, the experience and the company. Not the views,” says chef and owner Darren Badenhorst of the windowless space in the centre of Stellenbosch.
Dusk is the culmination of more than a decade’s dreaming by Darren and co-owner and chef Callan Austin. The space is compact and serves dinners only, with a small, devoted team and enough time to transform sustainable, hyper-local produce into luxurious, exceptional menus. The response to Dusk was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.
Darren and Callan are unapologetic about being edgy and different. “We’re naughty boys,” Darren says – hence the witty palate cleanser named ‘Wash your mouth out with soap’, a citrus sorbet with lemon geranium crémeux, vanilla snow and milk foam. A curse word is etched with gold dust into the milk foam. Served with limoncello, it’s a dish that revives the palate as much as one’s neglected naughty inner child. The Cape Rough Skinned Lemons used for the sorbet are sourced from a Citrusdal producer who grows hyper-seasonal, lesser-known citrus varieties.
Another surprising ingredient, snails and their roe, is produced by local snail farm Slak and presented much like caviar. A round tin is lined with snail ragout, topped with a Parmesan and garlic emulsion, a mixture of brined and cold-smoked roe, black garlic jellies, and parsley and wild cress jellies. Darren calls the roe “land caviar” and adds that the cress is foraged from rivers in and around Stellenbosch. “The dish is visually and texturally so refined – with zero resemblance to the snails in garlic butter that diners have come to expect – that it is very well received, regardless of any initial restraint,” says chef Callan.
Farmed abalone is another luxurious, sustainable ingredient on the Dusk menu. The flesh is braised in an Asian master stock for three hours, seared with a blowtorch, sliced sashimi-style and served with a deeply flavourful XO sauce. Chef Callan uses abalone “waste” (only 40% of the abalone is deemed fit to plate) to replace the exotic, expensive ingredients traditionally used to develop the deep umami flavours of XO sauce, like dried shrimp and scallops. Abagold farm delivers the live abalone in their shells, which are kept and used as serving dishes. “We have a zero-waste policy and use everything – not just the hero ingredient,” says Callan.
Their intent is evident throughout. Every evening, at the exact moment when dusk descends, Dusk’s chic pendant lights are dimmed to signal the start of an evocative sensory journey – with two very knowledgeable, naughty boys at the wheel.
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