The V&A Waterfront is one of the country’s prime tourist draws, replete as it is with hotels, shops, restaurants and bars, the Wheel, yachts, museums and so much more besides.
The Zeitz MOCAA and Silo District brought a sophisticated polish in 2017.
It apparently receives 24 million visitors a year, which is a lot of foot traffic, though that was in the heady pre-pandemic days. Last year, numbers clocked in at 15 million.
Yet for all the verve and vibe, proper fine dining was never on its menu. This is all in the past now; now there is the understated PIER, the latest in a family of culinary innovation that started with Scot Kirton and La Colombe. Along with The Waterside downstairs, PIER, which opened on Christmas Eve, brings the tally to seven.
It goes like this: La Colombe was followed by Foxcroft; then came La Petite Colombe, followed by Protégé and Epice.
The new siblings set up elegant shop in arguably the V&A’s best spot, at the edge of the water at the end of Pierhead.
The restaurant as respite
Leaving behind the hustle and heave of a hot summer’s evening, the cool, calm and considered PIER is a balm. You are lured past the impressive wine racks and up the stairs on the left.
Expectations are high, as to be expected, given PIER’s provenance.
And they are met. Chef John Norris-Rogers is a steady hand at the tiller, expertly guiding diners on a culinary journey that is 11 courses long – set aside several hours for the full exercise.
He aims for an inspirational experience through his food, with the freshest ingredients combining to consume all your senses.
It starts with the view. From the pristine, almost clinical, white room, the entire wall is a window out on to the water. From here, you can spy the charter boats set sail with their happy passengers aboard, bound for the open seas and sundowners. Much later, they will return in the dark.
But you won’t notice – because your entire being will be taken up with what’s in front of you. The food is art, the crockery a canvas.
Minimalist springs to mind. Everything has a function; nothing is fluff. And that function is to let the food sing, to spotlight the tableside theatrics. The view is a distraction but only momentarily. And then it is the backdrop.
It starts with the tiniest morsels of salmon, horseradish and dill, or porcini, sherry and truffle on the Chefs Vegetarian Experience, and continues with an oyster in MCC velouté, with apple, fennel and celery salsa, prepared at your table. It is pronounced perfection.
Flavours are Asian and Thai, with Japanese adding to the mix. There is a strong focus on seafood – tuna with tigers milk and furikake; mussels, black forest ham and soubise; crayfish, pork jowl and coconut. Eat slowly and thoughtfully; there is more to come.
On the vegetarian front – note, not vegan – there is smoked onion risotto, olive and goat’s cheese; asparagus, pea and furikake, sweetcorn, kimchi and miso.
Furikake is a punchy seasoning, salty, savoury, hints of nori, hard to define but delicious on the palate.
At this point, you are asked to leave your table. Not to be rude, but the palate-cleanser is this way. Poaching kalamansi in nitrogen, it turns out, is as curious to watch as it is refreshing to swallow. It’s tiny, it’s tart and it is eaten in one bite.
This is just a pause though. Night is settling in and there are still several courses to go. For the meat, Karoo lamb, aubergine, harissa and pomegranate; for the vegetarian a sublime trio of beetroot, aubergine and harissa, the Domaine de Deux Pinot Noir 2015 an excellent companion.
Top tip: order the cheese trolley at the beginning of the meal, so that it can be prepared. You will regret it if you don’t. It includes breads, pickles and preserves.
Despite all the eating, there is no groaning food coma. And there is space left for the sweet course – honey, stone fruit and bergamot. One last treat is what PIER intriguingly calls “sea salt”.
PIER delivers on its promise: an intimate, multi-course theatrical fine dining experience. It’s a blow-the-budget affair, a celebration of a meal. Regret nothing.
The serene space can seat a maximum of 40.
It is on the first floor, with no wheelchair access. Downstairs, The Waterside offers food as delicious, though from a smaller menu.
The restaurants are in the Pierhead Building, V&A Waterfront.
- Contact: 021 879 6329
Picture: Andrea van der Spuy