Friday, August 31, 2018

Dinner at Coco Safar, Sea Point

We wrote recently about being invited to breakfast at Coco Safar restaurant in the renamed Adelphi Centre in Sea Point. Why the new owners of the centre have chosen to rename a building which has been a landmark in Sea Point for more than 50 years is baffling. Most people we know continue to call it the Adelphi. This week, we were invited to have dinner there. Coco Safar takes up a lot of space - most of the front foyer of the mall, and it is detached from itself, being in three different areas. So to get to Clicks or the car parking upstairs, you walk between the restaurant and the bar and then walk up the broken escalator - we have been told for several months that it is being replaced by  the centre management. To get to Pick n Pay, you walk between the bar and the coffee roastery
The restaurant entrance is covered by a very large, thick and probably madly expensive brown theatre curtain and from this emerged the friendly and polite greeter, Valerie. Before we could enter, we were shepherded across the mall to the bar where we were given cocktails of Chenin and Blood Orange. ’Twas a bit chilly in the mall that evening
Yamkela the barman mixing the sparkling Chenin (unlabelled) with the Blood Orange cordial
We were each given one of these tiny puffs of pastry which contained olive tapenade and cheese. It explodes and is melt-in-the-mouth, but lasts one moment. Well done the pastry chef! It is supposed to be topped with those small candied slices of peppadew
A very strange presentation on a martini glass filled with flowers, covered in cling film. When you have had your puff, another is put upon it and it is given to someone else
The Prix Fixe menu is short. Three starters, all vegetarian; six main courses and two desserts to choose from. R495 for three courses and R 395 for two. And you get one glass of wine with the main course. We believe you can also have something from their Micro Brewery. We are bit confused by the term brewery because the products, mostly made with Rooibos, contain no alcohol. Fermenting in a brewery usually creates alcohol. If you don't want it, why would you ferment?
The restaurant is rather dimly lit and John had his work cut out to focus his camera. A guest who came in after us insisted on moving to a table with more light. It is something of a bugbear for us too; we actually like to eat with our eyes and admire the food
This part is more café than restaurant, with the coffee bar in the background
It is where we had breakfast earlier. It is a little austere in the evening
The wine list is small but rather good: Three white wines. Silvermist Sauvignon Blanc, Remhoogte Chenin Blanc, and Winery of Good Hope Unwooded Chardonnay and three red wines: FRAM Cinsault, Usana Le Fox Cabernet Sauvignon, and Gabriëlskloof's Red Blend. We chose the Remhoogte Chenin Blanc, a lovely elegant and crisp wine, full, with Chenin fruit on the palate and good with food
Now what starter to choose. We both dislike Cauliflower, so that was out. John is allergic to mushrooms and they were in two of the starters. Lynne chose the Boule Feta. Boule are something you use to play pétanque, with so we knew that it was going to be round. The menu said it was a Feta mousse served with mushroom caponata, leeks, croutons and Waterlily Extra Virgin Olive Oil. What arrived was an oval of feta mixed with low fat creamed cottage cheese, stuffed with more of the same but with some mushrooms, which had the texture of reconstituted dried mushrooms. No leeks in sight, but coriander microgreens, nor any croutons. A drizzle of good olive oil might have added something. It was on rather burnt toast corners. The manager Michael Halvorsen came to introduce himself to us and to ask what Lynne thought of the dish. She said it was Interesting. She misspoke. It was uninteresting. "Would she order it again?", he asked. No, never, was her frank answer
John's only choice left was the Forager's Salad. Lots of leaves, mostly spinach, chard and beetroot, with broccoli, beetroot slices, pickled carrots, orange, rather tired raspberries, herb infused cucumber and "hand-picked herbs". He really enjoyed the addition of the mixed seeds. It came ready dressed
We had seen other patrons eating these intriguing steamed Bao buns and wondered what they were and why they were not on the menu. So, after our starters, we asked and it seems that this is the bread course. They were surprised that we had not had them and brought them with our main courses. Light as air, they were stuffed with sliced vegetables; the black with spinach and grated parsnip or celeriac and the white with aubergine. They are wonderful and do so need a dipping sauce
We were surprised when this familiar coffee apparatus appeared on our table and learned that it was the broth for Lynne's chosen main, the Mushroom Gyozo pot sticker dumplings. It is very theatrical. They light the burner with a flourish and pile basil leaves and shredded celery in the top with a little chilli and the broth begins to boil. This causes a vacuum and the broth is sucked up into the container above with the herbs, where it stays for a brief moment or two. The fire is turned off, the vacuum is broken and the broth returns to the pot below. One would assume that the contact was too brief; not at all, it was indeed infused with marvellous aromas and taste of the basil and a warm buzz from the chilli
A generous portion of Gyozo dumplings and some rather sad,
seared bok choi which had seen better days
The aromatic herb and umami mushroom broth is poured in and the dish enjoyed. Offered another glass of wine by the manager, Lynne chose the Unwooded Chardonnay by Alex Dale at the Winery of Good Hope. A good partner for mushrooms
John ordered the Brisket and a side of Potato wedges; the latter a generous portion but, sadly, not crisp. The Brisket was soft and tender; in fact, it fell apart. It had good flavour, but it so needed some gravy to moisten the meat. The dish came with sauerkraut, carrots and marrow with a celeriac purée & dots of a green emulsion, possibly pea. John chose the Gabriel’s Kloof red blend with his main course and said that it was a good match
And then a nice surprise. Chef Archie McLean has just joined the restaurant; this was his first week. He is a renowned and experienced chef, having worked as Head Chef at Catharina's, the fine dining restaurant at Steenberg wine estate in Constantia and at prestigious Game Reserves as well as overseas restaurants. He is a Scot. We had a marvellous meal at Catharina's, where he cooked us all sorts of game. He is having to take over the menu from the previous chef and hopes to be able to inject some of his own flair into the menu. Lovely to chat with him
We were a bit full, but they persuaded us to try the two desserts. We chose one each. This was chosen by Lynne. John was many years at boarding school and will not eat rice puddings. It is the Tropical Coconut rice pudding with a basil gel, pink peppercorn, mango and passion purée, a coconut cream mousse, a lime and vanilla sorbet and rice crispies. The creamy rice pudding was excellent, as was the coconut mousse that topped it and Lynne liked the crisped rice texture. The mango and passion fruit were a good addition, but what was basil gel doing on this dessert? We KNOW its fashionable to add herbs to dessert, but the basil was alien on this lovely dish. It’s a fad we don't think will last, although we really enjoyed the thyme ice cream we had in Spain. The rice pudding comes in a collar of gilded chocolate, properly shiny and with a good snap and the sharp refreshing sorbet is on some coco nib crumbs and is topped with a bitter chocolate stick. Nice attention to detail. Almost two desserts in one
John’s dessert was entitled Botanica. An olive oil white chocolate ganache on a mint panna cotta on a disk of sponge topped with pickled apple and cucumber and an apple, lemon thyme sorbet, topped with a nitrogen frozen yoghurt powder and shaved fennel and micro coriander salad. The salad was incongruous. Lynne was glad that she had not chosen this option; two of her most hated things on one dessert: cucumber and fresh coriander, and we have to question whether this qualified as a dessert

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