Wednesday, September 10, 2014

La Mouette

We don’t get out much. At least not if getting out means restaurants, city life, happening events and all that jazz. Living on a farm means that most of our getting out is looking at sunsets or moonrises, walking dogs, going to the market, or if we’re very lucky the razzmatazz comes to us. I’m thinking of the music festival at Camphill Village in two weeks where Freshly Ground are coming to play, almost on our doorstep and we are really looking forward to it. But every now and again I come across somewhere in town that niggles at me until we just have to go. La Mouette in Sea Point was one of those places that grabbed me from the first time I read through one of their tasting menus.

Chef Henry Vigar opened La Mouette in 2010 with his wife Mari and business partner Gerrit Bruwer. Between them they have created a wonderful restaurant. It manages to be comfortably stylish without being pretentious, the atmosphere is cosy, friendly and relaxed, and the food? Well the food is what I was there for and it lived up to my expectations and beyond, when we went there a couple of weeks ago with friends to celebrate my birthday.

The menu looks straightforward, no flights of fancy in naming dishes: mushroom soup, beetroot salad, fish pie, crispy pork cheeks, roast chicken, mushrooms on toast, waldorf salad, rhubarb crumble. But the flights of fancy are in the myriad pops of flavour in every dish, keeping us engaged and full of anticipation as each new dish was presented. I can’t remember another meal where I have had such a voyage of flavour exploration and have finished the meal replete and satisfied, without a trace of that overfull feeling that too often follows a celebratory dinner. Contemporary with French and South African influences, Henry is big on authentic seasonal flavours, has just enough fancy twists to make things sing without going overboard, and keeps the surprises coming course after course.

First off a plate of delectable breads, from miniature vetkoek to small cheese muffins along with dabs of aioli and dips. Then the mushroom soup came along, in the form of an abstract arrangement of cheese and truffle croquette, cubes of mushroom jelly, parmesan crust arranged in the bowl. At the table the soup itself was poured over, so that every spoonful came with a different zazz of extra flavour. Next up a beetroot salad, with a gorgeous peppery goats cheese, candied pecans, sumac and a hazelnut dressing.

The next course was a choice and of course we made sure that between us we chose both options so that we could taste them all (images above). I'd never order pork cheeks as a main dish, but these little cubes of crispiness were so succulent and delicious that I was left wanting more, and the crackling really did crackle. It came with a celeriac puree, pickled apple and wholegrain mustard. The other option was 'fish pie' on a mustard mash with a mussel, a sea foam and a leek and potato sauce, also melt in the mouth delish

More choices to be made ( images below): mushrooms on toast proved to involve a rich French toast and a truffle sauce over a mushroom ragout together with Bearnaise sauce and parmesan, stunning winter velvety flavour; the roasted chicken was light and delicate with Asian flavours in the pot sticker, pickled shitake, spicy butternut puree and coconut foam.

Almost there and we weren't in the least flagging, just wishing this would go on forever! A fresh sweet savoury bridge in this 'waldorf salad' made up of celery pannacotta with a sweet apple granita and raisin puree. And deconstructed rhubarb crumble was the finale, a base of almond crumble with rhubarb compote and a rhubarb and custard ice cream.

I'd love to go back... well pretty much every month, as the tasting menu changes regularly, but especially in summer, as the restaurant is set back from the busy Sea Point street with a gorgeous big courtyard, trees and of course a fountain, so it feels like a whole other world. The winter atmosphere was also lovely with log fires and several separate rooms in the original old building, so that it never felt crowded even though it was a busy Saturday night.

Our winter tasting menu was R195 per person (for the rest of the year the usual price is R295). One of us also had the wine pairings with the menu which was R335.

La Mouette Restaurant. 
Tel 021 433 0856. 
78 Regent Road, Sea Point, Cape Town.

Disclosure: We paid in full for our meal. No review was asked or paid for and all opinions are my own.