So it turns out there is a whole part of the V&A Waterfront I never knew existed. A couple of weeks ago I was invited to dine at Dash Restaurant, the in-house dinner spot at the Queen Victoria Hotel. If you wander up the steps across from the Market on the Warf and Victoria & Alfred Hotel, you’ll find a whole community of hotels and spas, as well the Croquet Lawn where they host the Galileo Open Air Cinema during the summer months.
It was a beautiful, clear evening in Cape Town when we first visited and we were just in time to see Table Mountain turn pink, purple and then fade into dusk, as we sipped on some exotic cocktails. Overall our experience that night was lovely. The atmosphere was relaxed yet sophisticated, with jazzed-up pop songs floating over from the grand piano at one end, and a soft glow coming from a central fireplace.
That evening tried the four course menu. I loved the starter of parsnip soup with bacon jam and olive toast, and I thought the duck breast on the third course was just perfect, with a sweet-sour cranberry jus that perfectly complemented the soft meat. However, while everything we tasted was perfectly cooked, I did find the dishes slightly complicated – as though there were too many ideas on one dish. With both our Kingklip Carpaccio and the Seared Duck dishes, I thought they could have removed half the elements to end up with a simpler but more refined, clearer concept.
Then a few weeks later I was invited to a Doolhof media launch at Dash, with a wine tasting and lunch. As soon as the first dish hit the table I knew something was different in the kitchen. Each dish had better focus and bags of flavour. I wasn’t surprised when I found out the restaurant had appointed a new Executive Chef, Germaine Esau, who had taken on the new position just a week before the event. Talk about being thrown into the deep end.
Chef Germaine is Stellenbosch born and bred, and inherited his talent from a long line of cooks in his family. As a young boy he loved helping his dad create new dishes in the kitchen, and it is here, he says, where his love for food took root. He initially studied Geology but during his final exams in 2008 he decided to enter the Chefs Secret competition. To his surprise he won, landing himself a full bursary to study at the Institute for Culinary Arts.
Since then he has placed 6th in the 2014 International Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs Competition, won Unilever’s Chef of the Year in 2014, and was a finalist in the Chefs who Share – Young Chef Award in 2015 while still working as a junior Sous Chef at Majeka House in Stellenbosch.
I only learned about all of this after I tasted his food though. At that point I was only aware of the fact that each plate of food I tasted made me smack my lips in appreciation, savouring each bite. Our first dish was probably my favourite, a curried mussel velouté with coconut, charred cucumber and an orange puree. It was jam-packed with bold spice flavours that were big and punchy but still made room for the mussels on the plate.
Another yummy combination was the confit pork belly, with melt-in-your mouth meat, served with gnocchi in a bacon and cheese sauce, and fresh apple spheres. I thought the cool, fresh apple was such a clever addition, a pop of light sweetness that helped to lift the other heavier components.
Look, the meal wasn’t flawless. The pork crackling wasn’t perfectly crunchy and I wasn’t crazy about the monocrome colour scheme (a lot of purple on a purple plate) of our third course – Ostrich with dates, pickled roses and coffee butter, though I thought taste-wise he was really on to something. I also thought the red wine caramel in the dessert was a bit too savoury, though the smoked chocolate mousse was really interesting and intense. That being said these are small tweaks. Considering he was in the kitchen for about a week before we tried his food, I’d say he did pretty damn well.
The menu we tried at the Doolhof tasting was specially created for the event, but if that is anything to go by I think diners are in for a treat when Chef Germaine’s final menu hits the pass. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Dash restaurant this season.