Capetonians love a new restaurant. Foodies are forever exchanging news about this or that eatery, burger bar, vegan gem or fine dining experience that has popped up on a corner, down an alleyway or in a basement somewhere. One of the newest additions to the Mother City food scene is ASH, a charcoal-driven eatery next to Heritage Square in the CBD and they have caused quite a bit of buzz.
The husband celebrated his birthday over the weekend and when it came to choosing a restaurant I instantly put this one on the table, having heard so much positive feedback. The restaurant shares a space with Publik Wine Bar and Frankie Fenner next to Heritage Square in the CBD, and is run by Chef Ash Heeger who previously worked at La Colombe and The Test Kitchen. With tattoos spread over her arms and an edgy cropped haircut, Ash brings lends a rock and roll flavour to your dining experience as she dishes out orders from behind the pass.
The open kitchen lining one end of the room gives diners the chance to peek behind the scenes, from the moment the meat hits the heat to the finishing touches being put on each plate. I have seen this at a couple of restaurants and I always enjoy being able to watch the commotion that goes into each dish that arrives at our table.
Their affiliation with Publik created great expectations around the wine list and happily we weren’t disappointed. You are looking at a pricey selection but we went for their most affordable bottles and these were seriously impressive too. I was also pleased by the fact that I knew nearly none of the wines on their list, which meant a whole new journey of discovery. Our waiter had extensive knowledge on each of the wines they were offering and when I told him we wanted something big and full-bodied he could instantly point me in the right direction.
We settled on the Sijnn Low Profile 2013, which was absolutely delicious. It is made up of a blend of big wigs: 45% Syrah, 22% Touriga Nacional, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Trincadeira, all working together to give you a spicy nose with dark fruits on the palette. You also get this comforting hint of Port because of the Touriga Nacional that I really enjoyed.
As a group of six we could try most of the menu, which has a small selection but a nice variety spread between hearty meat dishes, fresh salads and seafood, and of course a yummy few sweet treats at the end.
We ordered a few Snackles (as they call it) to start with. I can definitely recommend a bowl of olives if you’re peckish, which has a nice combination of smoky, salty and herb variations. We also had the country ham and the pig head scrumpet, both of which were tasty. My favourite thing (probably of the whole night) was their lamb breast / ribs which is basted in a sticky, sweet hot sauce with a side of mayo. I have always believed that lamb only loves rosemary, garlic and olive oil but this flavour combo was insanely good and the meat was super soft and succulent. Delish.
We sampled most of their main courses. Since we felt the need to balance things out with some greens we ordered the beetroot and fennel salad, which has a great blend of fresh, sweet, salty and pickled elements. Big thumbs up. We also had their burger, layered with mustard mayo, Emmental cheese, fermented ketchup, red onion and pickles on a sweet butter bun. Yes, it was totally as guiltily good as it sounds.
Their 30 day dry aged beef was equally delicious, served with smoked bone marrow and gravy. Make it even better with a side of bone marrow mash. So yum! Or go for the slow cooked lamb shoulder with smoked onions and rosemary oil. Since all the meat is sourced by Frankie Fenner you know it is top notch quality and sustainable.
The best thing I ate all night though as the Root Soup. I know, I thought it would be one of the meaty dishes as well but this simple soup was packed with so much flavour from spiced celeriac, nut praline and truffle. It was sweet and earthy and decadently creamy, and I was in love from the first spoonful.
Close second to the soup in my opinion was their charcoal fired West Coast mussels, served in a white wine and fennel veloute with shaved fennel and a few slices of potato bread to soak up that sauce. The mussels were beautifully plump and the sauce was light yet complex.
All in all though everything we ate was absolutely spot on. I think you’ll be safe with whatever you have.
On the sweet side my favourite dish was the sourdough French toast soaked in a butterscotch sauce with a yoghurt ice. The bread as a little tough to spoon through but that sauce was sticky and buttery and sweet and just so indulgent. I also liked the lemon meringue pie even though the plating made me think of a poo emoji (sorry, had to say it). Seriously though, the light meringue was beautiful, with a thin coconut shortbread and lemon parfait at the bottom.
Their peanut butter ice cream sandwich was yummy though the cookie was a bit hard to bite into – something about biting into ice cream kind of freaks me out so I prefer a softer cookie. Finally we also tried the smoked apple and bourbon crumble with citrus ice cream and brandy custard. The citrus flavour was quite dominant so all in all it actually made me think of lemon meringue too.
Since Ash restaurant is such a popular dining spot right now they have split their evenings into early and late seatings, and we were actually asked to be finished by a certain time. This was a bit awkward since you constantly have to check your watch to see if you’re still fine for time. Once we were there nobody actually rushed us, but in the end we had to have coffee somewhere else because the next table was waiting.
I would definitely recommend you visit ASH for a casual night out. Apart from great, unpretentious food they have nailed it on ambience. The space is super trendy and the atmosphere very laid back, and despite being filled to the brim on Saturday evening we could actually hear each other comfortably over the table. I later realised they weren’t playing any music and it actually made such a difference. There really was no need for mood music.
Cost: Snackles are all R75 and mains range between R90 and R115
For bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or 021 4247204
Pictures: Liezel Malherbe / 9Lives