Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Lunch at Catharina's, Steenberg with Executive chef Archie Maclean

An intriguing meal at Catharina's at Steenberg
Are you an adventurous eater? Because we have been in the food and wine business for so long, first as retailers selling unusual ingredients and fine wines, then as writer and photographer of food and wine etc, we tend to take adventurous food in our stride, but the event at Steenberg this week made us pause. We were invited to sample the food of new Executive chef Archie McLean and it turned out to be quite an adventurous journey that we absolutely loved, but others, perhaps, were cautious
The event started very well with a glass (or two) of Steenberg's Lady R MCC, made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, dry, crisp and completely captivating. This high end sparkler has spent 52 month on the lees and has a very low dosage. The grapes are from Stellenbosch, Darling and Robertson. The wine and the restaurant are named after Catharina Ustings Ras, an immigrant from Germany. She founded this historic wine farm in the 17th century and was the first woman from the old world to own land in South Africa
The Steenberg girls with Caroline van Schalkwyk, Sales and Marketing Manager and Gudrun Clark who manages the PR for Steenberg and other companies
Chatting with Michael Olivier
The canapés were very good. Everything we were served for lunch is on the current menu, so you too can experience these adventurous dishes. First, a small salad of baby confit tomatoes, rocket pesto, mozzarella bocconcini and a parmesan crisp. Nice and refreshing with the bubbly. They also served huge shucked Saldanha Bay oysters which John says were superb.
Then two shared a platter: a sushi roll of raw fresh yellowfin tuna wrapped in salmon skin topped with pea purée, sundried tomato and dill. Sadly the tuna flavour did reach out to the other canapes, which were slices of a quail and bacon 'boudin' (sausage) topped with a truffled quail egg and a Caesar dressing
Another starter was Franschhoek salmon trout in a horseradish and sour fig risotto with fennel and radish
Also on Catharina's wine list are other brands and we had some of these served with lunch
The restaurant is newly decorated and origami swans hang from the ceiling to depict the original name of Steenberg which was “Swaaneweide” – The Feeding Place of Swans.
Time to sit down and begin the meal. No menu was provided until we went home. The wine served with the starter was the sophisticated 2014 Steenberg Semillon, a lauded food wine we admire
Steenberg General Manager John Loubser introduced the chef to us. John has been at the farm for 15 years. Garth Almazan, their previous chef was there for 18 years. Garth, whose food we always appreciated, has gone to open his own restaurant in Paternoster. Archie Maclean comes from Paisley and Dundee in Scotland and has worked in many impressive places in the UK, like Gleneagles and The St James Club, He did his apprenticeship with Michelin starred chef David Evans. He has been in South Africa for 9 years, is married to a South African and comes to Steenberg from a year at Neethlingshof. He spent five years at the Kruger Park, at Singita Lebombo and Sweni, and previously worked at Le Quartier Français with Margot Janse and at Asara. He has also spent time in New Zealand and Australia, so his experience is wide
Listening and making rapid notes
Cellarmaster JD Pretorius gave us a rundown on the wines they were serving with lunch and the current wine list
The origami swans. There is one black one to denote Catharina, always different
First course, our starter of fried parmesan gnocchi on beetroot puree with a beetroot, mushroom and basil ragout and topped with slices of almost raw crisp grilled cauliflower, Who knew that beetroot went so well with mushrooms? They do. Both have an earthiness that melds
Writers Malu Copeland and Neil Pendock discuss the food and wine
Chef Archie Mclean terms his food 'Contemporary Heritage'. “Catharina is the adventurous one and I need to follow in her shoes”, is how Chef Archie describes his role as new Executive Chef. “As a farm, Steenberg has such a deep and colourful history and we want our restaurant experience to bring the adventure of Catharina Ras to life. This is the crux of our contemporary heritage food.”
Fish course? That is what we all assumed when we saw the dish and when Chef Archie announced what it was, there were a few gasps. It was pan-fried crocodile tail on top of a salted crocodile brandade (just like a salted cod bacalao, tender and moist), creamed leek and roast garlic, blackened corn salsa, crisp fried leek. Those of us who had previously eaten crocodile were excited, it is delicious. And no, it doesn't resemble chicken in any way. More like lobster or monkfish in texture and a delicate flavour all its own. It also, like lobster, takes other flavours very well. The blackened corn was super, with great texture and the creamed leek and roasted garlic were just what the dish wanted. The blackened sweetcorn rock was not great, we don't like eating carbon. This was served with Mulderbosch's 2012 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay and the rich woodiness of the wine is a good pairing.
Chef announces the next course;. To quote him: When I started delving into the life of Catharina Ras, I just knew I had to include ingredients she would have served at her table,” says Chef Archie, whose menu is interwoven with unusual accents not readily found elsewhere. As a seasoned huntswoman of hippo and lion, warthog, ostrich, crocodile and zebra served with indigenous veld food would have been regular fare at Steenberg in her day
This was a first for us and we welcomed the experience. The clue was on the landscape plate, the black and white pap (maize meal porridge coloured with squid ink) stripes! It was grilled Zebra loin, smoked aubergine maize meal, chakalaka, buttered baby marrow, chickpeas and fine beans with a toasted pine nut and coriander. The zebra was very soft and did look rather undercooked but then we learned it was cooked sous vide which gives it this rare look. It was perfectly cooked and very tender. The flavour is not at all like horse, which both of us have eaten and not enjoyed, not at all sweet and rather resembles a good fillet steak. The plating is very witty, the spicy chakalaka being the sun setting. Lynne didn't enjoy this as she found it overwhelmed the delicate zebra and beautiful wine jus but others, who are more familiar with it as a family chutney, absolutely loved it. But to be honest, there were one or two shocked diners who declined
 The wine perfectly paired with this interesting dish was Steenbergs elegant and refined Catharina 2014 red blend. The soft sweet fruit has a lovely hit of fruit acidity which will help it last and mature, as will the good structure
Then a cheese course with a slice of Langbaken Karoo Sunset cheese, which according to their site is a camembert style cheese. We don't think that is what we were served. It was a sharp hard cheese and tasted more of goat than cow's milk. It was served with baba ganoush (aubergine puree), sour fig and goji berry compote and tiny mustard crackers. This came with Allesverloren's 2010 Fine Old Vintage Port, a classic, with forest floor nose and rich Christmas pudding vanilla fruit and many called again (and again) for more
Three happy guests: Winnie Bowman CWM, Mike Bampfield Duggan, owner of Wine Concepts and wine writer and judge Fiona MacDonald
Roving Sommelier Higgo Jacobs with Chef Archie. Higgo helped put the wine list together
Dessert: a Coffee panna cotta, amarula brulée, cocoa nib ice cream, shortcake, smoked hazelnuts. There were some lovely textures on this plate, mainly from the cocoa nibs, hazelnuts and the shortcake mixed with the soft panna cotta.. Lynne does not like coffee flavoured anything, only coffee but had to admit that this panna cotta is superb. A cold and wickedly creamy coffee
And the pairing was witty too: Non alcoholic Ginger beer or Steenberg's 2013 Shiraz
And finally: Good coffees and some mixed friandises: raspberry macaroons, chocolate truffles and mini soft almond biscuits, with a texture like those from Austria (crescents) or Italy, called Ricciarelli
We sat and chatted with chef about the rather controversial meal. Here he is with Malu Copeland
Cellarmaster JD Pretorius with Malu Copeland and Christian Eedes making notes
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2016
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