Every Cape Town fine-dining establishment has carved out a theme synonymous with their surroundings and their signature dishes. If you dissect their over-the-top concoctions, theatrical presentations and tongue-twisting courses, you will find simple ingredients, standing in front of a diner, asking him or her to love them.
What is simpler than good old Mother Nature? The answer is nothing. It all begins with nature and at Greenhouse Restaurant at Cellars-Hohenort, it ends with nature too.
The menu and the setting is an ode to our surroundings in the heart of Constantia – where trees collide with mountains and streams babble and bubble alongside them. The hotel is typical dutch-style chic, with immaculate lawns and rectangular wooden windows. A roaring fire warms the entrance hall, a welcomed source of heat on this chilly evening.
Our table is situated in a glass room, complete with glass ceiling… ahh Greenhouse. It’s hard to focus on the decor on the inside when the outside is so mesmerising from your table. But that is exactly the charm of it all. As the bushes rustle in the wind, you can be forgiven for thinking you’ve left the Mother City for a tryst in the French countryside.
The menu plays out on our table like a 9-piece symphony dedicated to nature. The first course starts on a high note – bite-sized surprises of kohlrabi, blue rock, fermented pear – then a meuse farm vegetables – heirloom tomatoes with huguenot mousse – and lastly dune spinach, maple pickled pumpkin and granola. Each morsel is delicately flavoured and kept as close to its natural intensity as possible. The vegetables comes straight out the garden, with no preparation directly onto your plate.
The next dish is my most favoured on the menu – when creativity and an education become part of your dining experience, you know you’re somewhere special. The Butcherbird’s Pantry is a brilliant presentation concept. To understand the dish, you need to understand the bird – Butcherbirds are insect eaters who impale their captured prey on a thorn, tree fork, or crevice.
The food comes to you on a tree, with pieces of meat impaled on the branches – it may take you a while to get to the taste because the presentation will leave you astounded. Once you have tasted it, you can’t wait for the next course to arrive, because more is what you really want.
Head Chef Farrel Hirsch is young and energetic, and his dishes are prepared accordingly. You can notice the subtle changes in the style of the dishes – just enough to say there’s a new chef in town.
The next three courses of steamed blue prawn, gamefish, quinoa, seaweeds and grapefruit – then cape octopus, samphire, sour fig and ink yuzu sauce – and caramel-smoked duck, truffled liver mousse, hibiscus beets with hazelnut and nasturtium crumble were wondrous creations and each were deeply delicious and satisfying. I am in awe of chefs who can magically blend flavours and contrast textures to create a seamless plate. It is an art form for sure.
Another excellent preparation is the free range jersey beef with tsukudani shiitake, lacquered onion, asian pesto, and sweetbreads. I am not a fan of sweetbreads, but in this case they intensify the flavour of the beef – which is of course prepped to within an inch of perfection.
Dessert is a potted plant. Seriously though, it could easily be mistaken for one. A beetroot flavoured ice-cream is presented to us in chocolate soil in a pot plant. It is not quite sweet enough for my liking, I am a sucker for overly sugary meal-endings, and this didn’t feel like an ending worthy of the main courses.
The service at Greenhouse is impeccable, as are their sommelier suggestions and wine offerings. It is a space where food and nature work symbiotically to bring out the best elements in each other.
It is definitely something completely different from any other foodie experience in Cape Town, one where you get to experience nature from a unique angle.