It’s a blessing to have had meals cooked by two of my favourite chefs recently, not having been at their tables for quite some time and as always, their food was simply the best. DIANE DE BEER pays tribute to two of the best:
I have been a Lientjie Wessels fan forever – of her food, her art, her writing and more. Having tried for quite some time to go to one of her Cullinan long tables, I was excited when finally I could go with a group of foodie friends for one of her delightfully quirky meals.
That has always been part of her charm for me. She makes the kind of food with ingredients I really love. A long time ago she told me that for her mother, who passed on her love of food to her daughter, it was all about taste. I think she also taught her about unusual flavours and combinations.
Right from the start, my chef consort Hennie Fisher was just blown away by her very first dish of the day: Japanese-style pancakes, homemade mayo (and she was heard murmuring as an aside that she had put this together incidentally but would include it in her repertoire, it was that good!), bonito, lowveld wild honey and spekboom.
What Hennie loved about the dish was once again her creative playfulness. “It’s the clever way she emulated bonito with the fine powder biltong, almost turning the biltong into a kind of ‘land’ bonito,” he explains. “But also because she so cleverly combines meat and fish (even if both are dried), because it is so often a combination used in Asian cuisine. And how brilliant to make that connection with biltong and bonito!”
Just listing the ingredients should inform anyone about her innovative choices. But she’s not just throwing things together. Her cooking is instinctive yet thoughtful and she knows her customers. In her kitchen, she is always at play. And for diners, this is a fun adventure if you’re up for it.
The next one stuck to the Asian theme and clever combo with peri-peri prawns and miso with sesame coleslaw. It was just a dream and perfectly cooked. She seamlessly ticks all the boxes.
A Lientjie meal is possibly the only time I won’t shy away from krummelpap (maize, polenta), not one of my favourite foods but I knew if anyone could, she would convert me. She won me over with her specific buttermilk version served with Koji beef rump, a ginger steakhouse sauce (how can you not fall in love with that choice!) and pickled cucumber. It’s in the detail and the combinations, everything contributes to that single spoonful taste explosion.
And to perfectly conclude in Japanese style, the dessert, a cotton cheesecake with cinnamon syrup and tennis biscuit crumbs, sealed the deal, which I proclaimed perfection. Even as a cheesecake fanatic and two visits to Japan, I had never encountered a Japanese cheesecake before.
And blessings to the internet, which explained that this version is also known as a soufflé-style cheesecake, usually lighter in texture and less sweet than the more traditional version. But then also to serve it with Tennis biscuit crumbs! How could she not?
It’s not only the food that’s spectacular – the fact that Lientjie no longer has a restaurant in Cullinan hasn’t deterred her one bit. She simply commands the kitchens of friends in venues that contribute to the ambience of the event. And this one certainly did as I’m sure each one will. The walk up to the house was like stepping into a fairy tale.
Lientjie has recently bought a house in Richmond (Cape), a town that is fast becoming yet another food destination but with added interests like Die Karoo Padstal, Richmond Rooms and Café, MAP gallery with one of the best local art collections you will find anywhere, a bookshop to keep you busy for days and much more. It’s the perfect halfway stop.
And in future, when she’s in town, she will also be doing lunch in Richmond, like on April 9 when she is presenting a fantastic feast. If you’re passing through or sleeping over, book a table. She’s also doing a dinner in Cullinan at the Vrye Weekblad Boeke Fees, which promises to be spectacular.
Check her out on Facebook and Instagram for information. And whatsapp her on 082 531 6141 for bookings.
But while in Richmond, that’s also the location of my other much loved chef, Klaradyn Grobler of Richmond Café and Rooms and Die Karoo Padstal fame, who is also back in business. Yet she is still arguably the hardest booking to pin down.
I was thrilled when on our last trip to Cape Town, to show the London family the best of the best, we could manage to secure a booking for dinner while sleeping over at another guesthouse, one with an attached gallery – it is that kind of town, one with many hidden gems.
We had the best of all worlds to show off this spectacular landscape with a dinner celebrating Karoo lamb included. On our journey that morning we were sent the menu on our phones with three of us opting for lamb chops with roasted vegetables, while I couldn’t resist the lamb curry and one of the diners who couldn’t eat lamb, had a bacon pizza.
As with Lientjie, the venue is just as important as the food. In fact, I recognised Klaradyn’s style (having seen it in the Free State) when I first had a meal at her Richmond Café and Rooms. It’s unmistakable, buzzing with creativity and probably complemented by her husband Nicol’s architectural skills.
And with both these chefs, their style enhances the full experience. On the night, we had two charming women in the kitchen, and as they had our choice of meals ahead of time, everything ran very smoothly.
We sat down at 6 pm because the kitchen closed at 7 (one listens to their commands!) and were presented with what was the perfect starter, home-baked bread (deliciously thick slices) with farm butter and fresh tomatoes from the garden. We had to battle not to indulge to the point of messing with our mains.
And then the main attraction. I absolutely lost my heart to Simon’s lamb curry with flatbread even though the lamb chops (I had a taste) were fantastic. For me the curry had just the right flavours to celebrate the lamb and after a long day’s travel, it was the best comfort food.
The chops were served with roasted vegetables in just the right mix. It is a skill to present a simple meal to perfection. There’s nowhere to hide so everything has to work. And it does!
On the counter was the night’s dessert, a bumper milktart, which had us licking our lips. At R250 a meal, it’s a steal.
Both these chefs, Lientjie and Klaradyn, popped in to discuss their food and acknowledge that they were dealing with diners who are devotees of their special way with food. We appreciated that.
It’s not difficult to understand these two spectacular women, the way they cook and how in different ways they celebrate their strengths. For me part of the charm is their similar ethos, presenting diners with food to die for and yet, their menus are so different. It’s about how they go about it and what they come up with – and in the end, as they say, the proof is in the pudding!
For bookings and info: Richmond Café and Rooms 079 755 8285.
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