I love the quaint strip of restaurants in Upper Bree Street, and the exceptional cuisine at Little Saint restaurant blows my mind every time. Santi Louzán Fidalgo has over 18 years experience in Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK; I had to know how our own Bree Street had acquired a culinary artist of such high standards.

Santi was born and grew up in Galicia in Northwest Spain in the town of Cee. The family was not wealthy: his mother was from a fishing family and his father from a farming family. At home, money wasn’t required to eat well; they had access to the land and lived off pure and natural food. Santi has followed this trend through to Little Saint: When Harvest of Hope abounds with organic radishes, he will make magic with radishes. Another thing that his mom passed down to him is the ability to whip up something delicious from just a handful of ingredients.

At the age of 16, Santi was uprooted from Spain and relocated to England. He worked for his father in a cleaning and maintenance company but hated the menial tasks, and subsequently quit.

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In the late 80s, he found himself washing dishes at The Withies Inn, a first class establishment in Compton. The restaurant’s chef was incredible, but suffered a small drinking problem; the more he drank, the better his fare became! One night, the chef desperately required assistance. Santi stepped into the busy kitchen and helped out with the food. Although the exhausting night resulted in a severely burnt hand, Santi loved every minute of it. The chef insisted that he return again and again. They got along well but had a turbulent relationship while on the job. It was here that Santi first learnt about the hierarchy of the kitchen.

Santi was walking home on Christmas Eve when the bar manager from The Withies flagged him down and told him about an opportunity at The Angel Posting House in Guildford, Surrey. Santi started as a chef de partie in the early 90s. The Angel Posting House, at the time, while gunning for a Michelin star, attained three Rosettes. During this three-year period, Santi also scheduled his university studies in Hotel Management around the full-time job.

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Unexpectedly, the owner of the Angel Posting House fired him, but also announced that Santi would upgrade to the luxury establishment, The Savoy. From 1993, Santi served under one the greatest chefs in the UK at the time Chef Anton Edelmann. The Savoy was very precise in comparison to Santi’s previous workplaces. While he enjoyed it, he felt like a cog in a big machine; just a number; not an individual.

Santi progressed to Hanbury Manor. At the time, the consultant chef was Albert Roux; one of the world’s godfathers of Michelin cooking.

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Santi moved on yet again, to Paul Heathcote’s in 1996. The restaurant had two Michelin stars under Raymond Blanc. Santi admires Raymond Blanc for his perseverance and approach to food; he embraced having his own vegetable garden before it became cool.

Next, Santi was appointed alongside Steve Smith at Holbeck Ghyll in 1998 for the purpose of accomplishing a star. They achieved it on their first attempt.

Santi serviced other Michelin starred restaurants; The Castle at Taunton in 1999 with Phil Vickery and then with Richard Guest, followed by Llangoed Hall in 2002.

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At around this time, Santi met Dominique, his future wife. A crazy time in his life, Santi was burnt out and had no idea what he wanted to do. A professional change was in order and he pursued a career as an estate agent for nine years. He thrived, but all that time, he was longing for the kitchen and the creativity it offers. He sold the business and moved to South Africa with his now wife. Everything suddenly became clear: it was time to open a restaurant; and thus, Little Saint was born.

Santi’s favourite cookbook is White Heat by Marco Pierre White, but he rolls with what his mom always said: ‘Don’t worry about what you’re going to cook; the food will talk to you’, and this, it does. While butter is a favourite ingredient, the produce available inspires him, and he consistently aims to transform it to the best that it can be while remaining creative and true to himself. Santi seeks no admiration or fame and says that a Michelin star is not a requirement.

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The chalkboard menu at Little Saint changes daily, and the entire board changes completely every week apart from a few firm favourites, such as the triple cooked pork. The tasting plates are a huge hit: If you’re feeling indecisive, you can sample either four starters, four mains, or four desserts. The permanent menu features breakfasts and sandwiches.

Look out for Little Saint’s new line of preserves, salsas, chutneys, dressings, chilli and tomato sauces, and even bone broth which are available at The Oranjezicht City Farm Market. Get social with Little Saint on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with the latest news.

The five-star cuisine at Little Saint makes one feel good; it comes with a story and is made with unlimited passion and the finest produce. Chef Santi makes Little Saint a precious gem in our city; indulge in this golden opportunity.

OF NOTE
When Monday – Wednesday: 8 am – 4 pm; Thursday – Saturday 8 am – 4 pm and 6:30 pm until close
Where 223 Bree Street, CBD
Cost According to menu
Contact +27 21 4221135, [email protected], www.littlesaint.co.za

Photography courtesy author and Claire Gunn

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