On the Abalone menu

Article By: Bryony Whitehead  of iafrica.com

In the old fishing town of Paternoster a little restaurant glows with warmth that melts even the chilliest evening.

Abalone House’s Saffron Restaurant is a little gem amongst the white-washed walls of Paternoster that will get your tastebuds singing. Chef Darren Stewart’s attention to detail and reverence for seasonal ingredients means he makes most things from scratch, so expect beautiful fresh breads and tangy homemade jams.

A unique smokey raisin bread, with a good chunk of butter will offer a taste sensation per excellence while butternut bread, chocolate bread, seed loaf and just plain fresh white bread are amongst many others that the chef whips up.

The restaurant itself, with grand high-backed chairs in warm tones of orange and cerise, offers a comfy and private experience. In winter, two menu options are available. The hearty and wholesome bistro menu consists of dishes such as Prego rolls, fish and chips, and with Darren hailing from the UK, you’re bound to be impressed by these as well as the local dishes on offer. Still, if you want to experience the chef’s unique cooking style, then go with the tasting menu which offers six or so smaller dishes at R265 per person.

The first dish on this menu incorporated the restaurant’s namesake – the lovely spice, saffron – in an earthy carrot and saffron soup served with thinly sliced and seeded melba toast. It was followed by an outstanding warm beetroot and goat’s cheese salad that had me groaning with pleasure at the symphony of tastes. Onion marmalade melded into the sweetness of the beetroot and the lovely creamy goats cheese. Combined with a glass of Journey’s End Haystack Chardonnay 2010 from the wine list, I was in heaven.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Wine Concepts owner and author of iafrica.com’s Wine of the Week column, Mike Bampfield-Duggan, was behind the wine list which offers a range of great wine from older to newer vintages, interesting blends and tried and tested favourites. I enjoyed a glass of Klein Optenhorst Pinot Noir 2004 too, which offered all the dark berry and gamey characteristics of the cultivar.

The first two dishes on the menu were wholesome and warming, so, a blackcurrant and liquorice sphere with a sliver of smoked salmon was Darren’s nod to molecular cooking and perhaps a little brag at what he is capable of in his kitchen.

That was followed by beef fillet, baby vegetables, potato galette and truffle infused consommé, The dish celebrated each ingredient whilst demonstrating an understanding of how each complemented the other to form a whole greater than its parts.

A thoughtful pre-dessert of pineapple mousse and jelly was presumably there to clear our palettes but interestingly, pineapple also aids digestion, though digesting Darren’s food proved no problem at all. There was nothing heavy about it, not even the bread which I sampled in large amounts.

Still, after five courses, dessert seemed an impossible feat . It was going to have to be good. Admittedly, I always find space for dessert and a chocolate risotto, brandy snap and scoop of marmalade ice cream was sounding particularly intriguing. Out it came – a triumphant pyramid of sweet goodness – and in my spoon plunged.

Darren had taken care not to sweeten the risotto, relying instead on the crunchy brandy snap and the outstanding vanilla and marmalade ice cream to do that. It was a perfect balance of texture and taste and a fitting finale to an outstanding kitchen performance. In fact, I’m still dreaming about that dessert. I might have to pay a visit to Abalone House again soon for another taste of it.

Abalone House is offering a special winter package of R1200 per person sharing, which includes an overnight stay, afternoon tea, dinner and breakfast, that’s available until the end July 2011.

Make sure you book soon to avoid disappointment. Visit www.abalonehouse.co.za for more information.

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