At Dusk, chefs Darren Badenhorst and Callan Austin have set out to create a fine-dining experience that is unique and emotive. There is a huge focus on minimising waste and producing ingredients in-house, whether it's the cured meats and cheeses or lacto-fermented shoyus and misos. Launching into the tasting menu is the by-now signature snails and their roe with egg McMuffin and linefish ceviche – truly extraordinary, with the snails cooked to textbook perfection and a canny pairing of a citrusy blonde ale. Another menu semi-regular is the secondhand shellfish – a composition of coal-fired squid, grilled globe artichoke, prawn-shell barigoule, aerated pomodoro bisque and smoked red pepper – which is a flavourful, delicious dish that expertly balances umami and citrus flavours. The butter-poached Franschhoek Valley trout with kumquat gel, ricotta, koji-aged carrot and turmeric relish, nectarine and roe is a dish that could easily be too rich, but isn’t, pleasing the palate with a balance of medium smokiness, subtle sweetness, earthiness from the turmeric and great acidity from the citrus and nectarine. The chefs’ curing expertise is displayed in the suckling wild boar tortellini with Parmesan custard, morels, café au lait, KZN winter truffles and their Jamón ibérico-style charcuterie – a rich and earthy dish with wonderful aromas. A sleeper hit is the coal-roasted stuffed cabbage – the smoky, tender cabbage beautifully offset against the texture and flavour of KZN truffles. Closing things down is a fresh and zingy citrus sphere pre-dessert with honeycomb, nitro-poached yoghurt and fresh bergamot, waking up the palate just in time for the finale of bitter-coffee ganache with chestnut cremeux, vanilla ice cream, hazelnut feuilletine and fermented brandy pear – satisfying and just sweet enough with great toasty flavour notes. This is a world-class dining experience and – while not light on the pocket – well worth it, considering the scope of the menu.
There is a definite coherence between the menu and the wines – testament to a symbiotic exchange between the chefs and the sommelier. The sommelier has compiled a wine list that not only considers price range, but inclusiveness and diversity, which is very refreshing to see. He takes some big pairing risks and nails every one of them. The Pandora’s Box pairing-menu option offers diners an element of fun.
While professional, the service could do with a bit of choreography to ensure there isn’t more than one server present at a table at once.
With its dark, textural walls and moody lighting, there’s a definite theatricality to the interior at night. Starched, white table linen and glassware lend a feel of refined opulence, while a slick, contemporary bar injects the establishment with some sex appeal.