When someone so accomplished in the cuisine universe shares her food stories, you listen. Her adventures are many as she shares everything she learns while moving around in different hospitality ventures. DIANE DE BEER visits her current spot Tashas on Menlyn Main:
Pictures: supplied by Tashas
This was the best of worlds. I was having a late lunch with chef-patron Elze Roome at Tashas, Menlyn Main, sampling her new menu in tapas style, while listening to her latest food adventures.
It’s been five years since she and her brother Wally opened this little corner of heaven where people are endlessly drifting in and out and platters of food come streaming past anywhere you sit in the room.
There’s nothing better than have the one who came up with the menu also make the selection of whatever you are going to have. Elze’s favourite (coincidently like mine) has always been the Levant and when she had to introduce her trademark to this particular Tashas, the region was an easy one.
“I’ve always liked the combination of spices,” she says and agrees with me, that a close second is Thai food.
I first met Elze when she was executive chef at Brasserie de Paris following their move to Waterkloof in their iconic Karel Jooste home. With the owner (who also happens to be Elze’s aunt), these two presented me and a couple of friends with many memorable evenings of sheer delight.
The one was an Easter dinner (bunny ears deluxe included) on their magnificent rooftop with food that was quite extraordinary and night skies that stole all our hearts.
But also the dinner led by Elze, when the Brasserie recently decided to close its doors, was quite spectacular. Fortunately for fans, they quickly opened again with new management after only a few months of closed doors and the reports out there are good. Similar ambience and food as before.
In typical Brasserie style, the farewell (if brief) dinner was done with many of the previous chefs slipping in for this one extravagance to celebrate the restaurant and everything it stood for.
Chef patron Elze Roome and Tashas, Menlyn Main.
But since her stint as fine-dining chef, Roome has travelled the world. First she spent some time in France where she trained as patisserie chef and on her return she was courted by Tashas as executive chef and product developer.
She was not easy to lure, but Natasha Sideris was determined. She is obviously someone who knows how to spot talent and once she has, she wants you as part of the Tashas team. Which is exactly where Elze has been this past decade.
It’s been an adventure and much of that time was also spent in Dubai where she helped with the establishment of the first restaurant in the emirates. In Dubai, they now have the fine-dining Flamingo Room, the Avli which is Greek inspired, the Galaxy Bar which has been named #45 in the world’s 50 best bars, with four Tashas restaurants- one in Abu Dhabi.
So watch this space. The Tasha empire is expanding … constantly.
In the process, Elze gave her heart to Dubai. If you ask her about the attraction, she distils it to the constant buzz. “Both Paris and London are sleepy towns in comparison,” she says as she explains how this desert city is always on the hop.
For this foodie, that’s part of the attraction. Anyone who has watched anything on food in Dubai will know that they have attracted many of the world’s top chefs. “It can take you easily an hour just to scroll through Uber Eats,” she says.
She also likes the idea of night or day, anything you want or wish to do is probably available. And, she says, the people are super friendly. It probably helps being part of the Tashas team which also provides her with a very special place at the Dubai table. After all, the brand has firmly established their credentials in a very short space of time.
One of her most recent Tashas adventures has been developing the recipes for the very smart Tashas Inspired: A Celebration of Food and Art.
The production team was identical to that of the previous book, Tashas Timeless Café Classics, but this was a much more expansive book with Elze focussing on the food side specifically. “We had many team meetings about the way to go, how to approach the book and what the end product should be,” she noted. But in the end, the food was really inspired by Natasha’s food memories.
“She wanted to reflect her food memories by way of her travels and her favourite cities and flavours,” explains Elze and obviously when it came to the Greek side of things, the family was very specific about the food, the presentation and how they do it. After all, this is how Tashas evolved into what it has become today.
It is a franchise but from the start, even in the early days, visitors to the different restaurants knew that each one had its own flavour and if you visit the revamped Hyde Park Tashas Le Parc today, the cake section has been another Roome-inspired creation.
The book too is something else. It is as much a lifestyle extravagance as it is a food journey as we go from New York deli to Greek taverna. And in typical Tashas style, even though this is a high-end cookery/art book, Natasha hopes it will sit as easily on the kitchen top as it does on the coffee table. In other words, appreciate the art, luxuriate in the lifestyle and travels to get to this continental style cuisine, but also get your hands dirty and start cooking.
Here’s one of my favourites from the latest cookbook extravaganza.. It is an easy salad/accompaniment and it points to the layering of tastes and textures:
Caramelised onion, feta, handfuls of fresh herbs and couscous make for a full-bodied flav ourful dish that can be a salad on its own or a side dish.
4 cups cooked couscous (I use the bigger sized couscous, but that’s a preferance)
1 onion, caramelised in olive oil (love that they tell you that)
4 spring onions, chopped
2 red chillies (optional)
4 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
80g shaved almonds toasted
120 extra-virgin olive oil,
Plus extra for drizzling
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
120 g feta cheese
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
20 g flat-leaf parsley
20 g coriander leaves
10 g mint
150 ml olive oil
Herb paste Blend the herbs and the oil to a smooth paste in a food processor or with a stick blender.
Couscous Put the cooked couscous in a serving bowl and stir in the herb paste, onion and chilli, cumin, almonds (keep some for the garnish), olive oil and lemon juice and zest. Mix well and season to taste. Cut the feta into thick slices and arrange on top of the couscous. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and garnish with shaved almonds and parsley.