Stellenbosch is a world-class food and hospitality destination and, for many locals, eating out was a recreational activity at the social heart of this town. But with the lockdown regulations that came with Covid-19, that heart stood still. Ilse van der Merwe discovers how some top Stellenbosch restaurants made a plan so that locals could keep enjoying their favourite meals, albeit at home.
Tokara’s olive oil and garlic-marinated rib-eye steaks, broccoli/kale/red onion salad with Huguenot cheese and truffle dressing, sweet potato gratin, and olive focaccia – available as takeaway.
Under Level 5 of the lockdown, restaurant owners could do nothing. When Level 4 was introduced, they were allowed to prepare food for takeaway, either delivered or collected. For many higher-end restaurants, offering takeaways was an entirely new concept; the service, atmosphere and kitchen theatre were part of their package and price tag. At this point it became their only option.
It’s a strange concept, ‘fine takeaways’. Ordinarily, takeaways are regarded as providing convenience over quality, no matter the actual quality or freshness of the food. But when an establishment calls its takeaway something like ‘Jardine At Home’, that implies it’s offering not only food to enjoy at home, but also something of the restaurant’s essence. I put four established restaurants’ takeaways to the test, not to review the quality, but to find out what fine takeaways look like and whether it’s possible to experience a restaurant in my own home.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that you’re getting not a ready-plated meal but individual elements that need varying degrees of reheating or cooking. Then, everything arrives cold and needs to be refrigerated until you’re ready for dinner. And thirdly, you get instructions on reheating and plating, some easier to follow than others. If it’s a multi-course dinner, you should be prepared to spend some time in the kitchen between courses; and yes, there will be dirty pans and cooking utensils.
Not once did it cross my mind to eat straight from the containers. The plate before me should represent some aspect of the visual feast that is part of the restaurant experience and do justice to the skilful hands that had prepared the food. One thing was certain: it was the sweetest thing to once again enjoy expertly prepared, restaurant-quality food, even if I had to wash the dishes.
The convenience-over-quality essence of regular takeaways was turned upside down.
The four fine takeaways I tried were from Overture, Jardine, Lanzerac Deli and Tokara Delicatessen and they were priced from R485 (Overture) to R500 (Lanzerac and Tokara) and R550 (Jardine) for two people.
Overture’s box contained the elements for a three-course meal: Jerusalem artichoke soup, confit duck with slaw and two vegetables, and crack pie, with rolls and butter and after-dinner chocolate bon-bons. Jardine’s box had flavoured bread rolls with aioli and pesto, gnocchi starter, hake and smoked potato main course with two vegetables and pear frangipane dessert. Lanzerac’s offering was more bistro-style, with generous portions of pork belly and mashed potato with slaw and two vegetables plus after-dinner chocolates. Tokara offered a marinated rib-eye steak with focaccia, broccoli salad and sweet potato gratin.
Did I experience any of the restaurants’ essences? Yes. The four takeaways were distinctively unique to their establishments. Bertus Basson (Overture) hit the nail on the head by combining a fine touch with clever, familiar comfort: bold flavours, a seasonal menu that fits well together and that crack pie … I’m still dreaming about it. George Jardine is known for keeping things simple and executing them with perfection: silky smoked potato puree, the freshest piece of hake, clean and bright flavours and colours. Stephen Frazer (Lanzerac) knows how to add a pampering touch to comfort and value: bistro dining at its finest with generously portioned, perfectly cooked pork belly and punchy trimmings, with a little box of chocolates for luxury. Stephanie de Wet (Tokara) brings the perfect balance of familiar rustic farm comforts and attention to detail.
What impressed me most was the thought and care that came with the boxes. It was almost tangible. These professionals were born to create world-class experiences and they’ve been without an audience for too long. As chef Margot Janse recently stated, “Please understand that we really need to open our restaurants again. Our incredibly important industry has to get back up, even if it’s only on its knees to begin with.” Although boxed takeaways are not enough to sustain any restaurant, it is only with the public’s continued support that this industry (a crucial network which keeps thousands of families and many related small businesses going) will be able to survive.
Cape Town restaurateur Liam Tomlin added on day 84 of the lockdown, “We need to reopen with fair and realistic rules. We need to be able to sell the full experience, not half an experience. Tourism needs to reopen. South Africa is one of the top travel destinations in the world. Let’s not kill it.”
The plated meals are presented with flair, and the delivery boxes put together with almost tangible thoughtfulness. The packaging is mostly recyclable.
To get more insight into what they’re dealing with and to find out if there is still hope in their vision for the future, I asked the chefs/owners of the four establishments a few questions.
What were the main steps you took to ensure your restaurant would survive the lockdown?
Bertus Basson (Overture): As soon as we could, we opened up for deliveries. Cooking soup also helped by building relationships and giving us a sense of purpose.
Stephen Frazer (Lanzerac): We had to find creative ways to keep our brand alive after the fire in 2017 and this came in handy now. Home cooking videos over Easter, restaurant staff making entertaining clips, and projects in the community ensured Lanzerac would not be forgotten.
Wilhelm Kühn (Tokara): We have been communicating with and supporting our team and planning for after COVID-19. As the lockdown regulations were relaxed, we launched an online survey to establish what exactly our customers were craving. This directly guided our offering when we launched Tokara Deli Essentials in mid-May.
George Jardine (Jardine): The main things we did in March were to pay all our suppliers and renegotiate our rent. It was important to make sure our relationships with key partners are intact once we can open again.
Slow-cooked pork belly, ginger apple mash, Asian slaw, roasted carrots with hazelnut granola, roasted cauliflower, after-dinner tea with chocolate bon-bons.
Did the lockdown produce any unexpected positive surprises?
Bertus Basson: We had to rethink how we do business and what is really important. When we are able to open up, we will probably not be the same.
Stephen Frazer: How the Stellenbosch community came together to support its people in need has been heart-warming. Lanzerac is involved in a feeding scheme and we deliver 500 litres of soup per week to a project driven by Taste Stellenbosch and Stellenbosch Unite. Collaborations of Stellenbosch chefs and other vendors have been phenomenal and something we are proud to be part of.
Wilhelm Kühn: For me, it reaffirmed the resilience of people and that great ideas can come from anyone in the team. For example, one of our baristas found a second-hand sewing machine during the lockdown and taught himself to sew. Now the handbags, purses and face masks he’s made from shweshwe fabric are on sale at the deli. I find such a positive mindset and entrepreneurship inspiring.
George Jardine: We’ve had time to reassess what we’re doing and how we run our businesses and lots of time to think creatively.
Bread: ciabatta rolls and butter.
Starter: Jerusalem artichoke soup with roasted Jerusalem artichoke, pickled Jerusalem artichoke, nasturtium oil, wood sorrel, crispy onions. Main: five-spice BBQ duck legs, honey-sauced sweet potato, cabbage slaw with Marmite dressing, pumpkin mass with soy seeds and Huguenot cheese. Dessert: crack pie, Chantilly cream, macerated raspberry. Bon-bon: baumkuchen.
Do you think that ‘boxed’ restaurant offerings are here to stay?
Bertus Basson: Definitely. People will be cautious about leaving their homes for a while and also when it is cold and rainy in winter you can now get a restaurant experience without leaving home.
Stephen Frazer: I believe there will always be a market for it. Not everyone has the time to prepare or go out for dinner and this will be a great alternative. But it’ll never replace the experience of dining out.
Wilhelm Kühn: Yes, the crisis will have a long-term impact and more people may be inclined to have a restaurant-type experience at home. Although people are social creatures and they will flock back to restaurants once it is safe to do so.
George Jardine: I think it’s here to stay. We have had great feedback and while some guests miss the restaurant experience, others enjoy being able to eat our food in their own homes.
Bread: ashed ciabatta with salsa verde, aioli and nasturtium pesto. Starter: potato gnocchi, caramelised baby onion, mushroom duxelles and aged boerenkaas. Main: hake with smoked potato. SIDE: broccoli with anchovy dressing, roasted sweet potato and green bean salad. Dessert: frangipane tart
with Forelle pear and Chantilly cream.
What can diners expect that would be different from before lockdown?
Bertus Basson: There will obviously be social distancing and PPE measures we will have to put in place. Staff will have less interaction with the diners.
Stephen Frazer: We will be opening with new menus and fresh seasonal offerings at the Taphuis and the Deli but with some of the old favourites.
Wilhelm Kühn: It’s unlikely that we’ll see as many international tourists as before, so there’ll be a large focus on locals and domestic tourists. Many will have borne the economic brunt of the lockdown, so they may be more price sensitive, seeking value-for-money options. Others will want to celebrate that this strange trip that we’ve been on since March is over.
George Jardine: We are making exciting and significant changes. Diners can expect the same great quality food, wine and service, but with a different approach. Watch this space!
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