Wild at heart

Private Property South Africa
Kit Heathcock

Flavours that span the centuries are the essence of the new “contemporary heritage” tasting menu at Catharina’s, in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs.

Walking into the gracious historic werf at Steenberg it’s hard to envisage the farm back when intrepid Catharina Ras was granted the land in 1682, surrounded by bush with wild game roaming. But this is the imaginative journey that chef Archie Maclean takes us on with his new tasting menu. Taking over the kitchens at Catharina’s from Garth Almazan, he was looking for something new but rooted in the history of the farm. Inspired by the spirited life of the farm’s founder, South Africa’s first female landowner, he dreamed up flavours that would have been familiar to her, living off the land through good times and lean.

Profile image of Chef Archie of Catharina’s RestaurantChef Archie of Catharina’s

“I want South Africans to remember how good meats like crocodile, zebra or wild boar taste,’ Archie says. “They would have been on the table regularly in Catharina’s time. I want people to be adventurous like Catharina, to open themselves up to trying new things.” His experience in top kitchens, including three years with Margot Janse at Le Quartier Français, ensures that there’s nothing gimmicky about his approach. Exploring these heritage flavours with contemporary fine-dining flair, he has put together a superb tasting menu, with well-chosen wine pairings including Steenberg Pinot Noir MCC and Mulderbosch barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2012.

Image of Catharina’s Grilled Zebra Loin food dishCatharina’s Grilled Zebra Loin dish

We started with an earthy umami risotto of Franschhoek salmon trout, with sour fig, piquant horseradish and pops of roe. Next grilled cauliflower played a starring role supported by bright splashes of beetroot, as a ragout, a purée and a foam, and excellent Parmesan gnocchi. The crocodile is imaginatively served, salted crocodile tail as a brandade accompanying pan-fried crocodile, the richness of the light firm meat cut through by a blackened corn salsa with balsamic vinegar.

Photograph of Catharina’s Cauliflower & Gnocchi food dishCatharina’s Cauliflower & Gnocchi dish

Discovering a source of culled wild boar, Archie added a pork belly dish that celebrates the leaner wild meat’s depth of flavour, set off by a deep cauliflower rice and blue cheese jus. Zebra turns out to be full flavoured and delicious, the “pap en vleis” creatively plated, with aubergine maize meal, a chakalaka setting sun over a bushveld salad, vibrant flavours. The cheese course, dessert and petits fours complete the story, perfectly judged to keep the palate absorbed and entertained to the end of a leisurely celebration of place and time.

Taste for yourself:

  • Catharina’s at Steenberg | 021 713 7178| steenbergfarm.com/catharinas

This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.

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