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Reviews

Mariana’s

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Reviewed by Katharine Jacobs

Food
This is country-style food in its Sunday best, dished up by well-known chef Mariana Esterhuizen. The words ‘patat sop’ scrawled on the blackboard don’t quite capture the essence of the glorious, creamy creation made with the homegrown sweet potatoes that is placed before you. Delicately spiced, laced with coconut milk and sprinkled with coconut and pickled peppers, it’s immensely comforting and hearty but also complex – on a higher plane than most dishes called soup.

A Stanford platter – a plate of pickled veggies, fresh bread, homemade ricotta and salami – looks like nothing special, but the ricotta is so creamy and garlicky, and the charcuterie so incredible, that the resulting combination has us somewhat starry-eyed.

On the mains side, we sample a sublime springbok pie: the filling, composed of a delicious gamey stew with mushrooms and thyme, gives a concentrated umami kick inside the golden, flaky pastry. There’s a roulade – ‘a bad soufflé’ as host Peter Esterhuizen explains it – an eggy, fluffy omelette rolled with spinach, sweet slow-roasted tomatoes and offset with shavings of excellent, nutty cheese.

For dessert, the ‘chocup’ ('just shy of cockup', Peter quips), is an absurdly chocolatey little teacup full of a baked, creamy confection that's part mousse, part panna cotta. It defies categorisation, but delivers plenty of chocolatey goodness. I also sample the trio of citrus: a little tartlet dolloped with lemon curd, a citrusy sorbet and super-soft clementines stewed in sugary syrup so their skins are soft enough to eat, like little self-contained jars of marmalade.

Drinks 
They offer a balanced, fairly priced list with plenty to taste from surrounding farms.

Service
Peter and his wife Mariana are very hands-on, talking diners through the menu and sharing local news and pickling and preserving tips. Self-deprecating, witty and warm, Peter is like one of those charming hosts at a friendly dinner party you can’t quite believe you’ve been invited to.

Ambience
The little whitewashed cottage is decorated with jars of preserves and pickles, rustic wooden furniture, and some soft, natural-themed prints by local fine artist and photographer Stephen Inggs. It makes a cosy setting for a winter meal, while a verandah overlooking the bountiful garden is wonderful on sunny days.

And...
Book well in advance if you want to be assured of a table. Mariana and Peter also offer a ‘leftovers’ table for those who arrive unannounced and don’t mind taking up whichever dishes are left over at the end of service.

The verdict
This is one of the best country-style restaurants in the country. Mariana and her team season food with more wisdom and nuance than many out there claiming to offer fine dining. Certainly worth the easy 20-minute drive from Hermanus.

(July 2014)

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