The Greenhouse, Constantia, Cape Town – Restaurant Review – 8th June 2012

An utter delight…..

Voted the best restaurant in South Africa by Eat Out magazine, we naturally had high expectations of The Greenhouse in Constantia.  The restaurant is situated in the beautiful Cape-Dutch CellarsHohenort Hotel – one of four gems in the famous Liz McGrath Collection for Relais & Chateaux.  Our expectations of the Greenhouse were not only met in absolute terms, they were exceeded.

For pre-dinner drinks we were ensconced in front of a roaring fire with a delicious bottle of Klein Constantia Brut MCC 2009.  The Greenhouse offers an extensive wine list.  Wines from the Constantia region are emphasised and only Constantia wines are paired with food in the tasting menu.  This bodes well for regional support and sustainability – it is great to see such a high profile hotel supporting the regional producers of South Africa’s exquisite wines.

Warmed in front of the fire, we went through to The Greenhouse proper.  The restaurant is situated in a beautiful greenhouse – softly lit, white and very chic.  The décor is subtle and attractive – though it is quite different from the old-world feel of the rest of the place.

We decided to order the Chef’s Tasting Menu with wine pairing.  Choosing a tasting menu is often a matter of debate.  At best, you – the diner – get to try signature dishes.  The chef gets to show off multiple skills across many different courses.  At worst, a tasting menu can be boring and ill-conceived – a great disappointment if the meal is expensive (which it generally is with tasting menus).  Chef Peter Templehoff’s approach to the food here is quite straightforward: “If it is not the best it can be, it doesn’t belong on the menu!”  Certainly Peter is true to his word: a brilliantly thought-out tasting menu, like the one we enjoyed at The Greenhouse, is a joy to behold.

What a spectacular gastronomic journey awaited us.  From a delightful Nicola Potata and Sunchoke Carpaccio, through ‘FoieGrasnola’ and Karan Beef ‘Tongue to Tail’ to a gorgeous ‘Camembert’ Cheese Cake, we could not fault the food.

Ostrich and Gemsbok Tortellini served in ostrich eggs

‘Camembert’ Cheese Cake with roast pineapple ice cream, pine nut biscotti melba, parmesan cheese and extra-virgin olive oil

We also enjoyed Miso and Sesame Cured Salmon Trout served with an ingenious soft vegetable spring roll, lashings of ginger aioli, jalapeño, crispy prawns and fluffy ponzu snow.  The Braised Ostrich and Gemsbok Tortellini was served in whole ostrich eggs, with hay-smoked sweet potato, celery tempura and the finest, most intensely flavoured consommé.  The palette-cleanser of Coconut Bavarios showed superb technical skill, peeling back the delicious layers of vanilla-lime sorbet and caipirinha jelly.  We also enjoyed some accomplished amuse-bouches and we were given an extra plate of friandises after the meal to have with our (second) double espresso.  Indeed, we ultimately concluded that this was one of the most fantastic meals we have had – right up there with the likes of the Fat Duck in Bray.  This is certainly high praise – and we spent a substantial part of our meal debating such a bold comment.  Furthermore, and importantly, the portions were not so tiny that we had to have a cheeseburger afterwards (has happened before!).

Amuse-bouches: Goats cheese and beetroot ‘lollies’ as well as sesame-parwn toasts with vietnamese-style sauce (fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli)

The wine pairing with the menu was fantastic and the sommelier had clearly given each course a great deal of thought.  Every wine was carefully explained – specifically how it had been chosen to compliment the food – which is always fascinating.  The portions were generous and the wine was served at the correct temperature.  We enjoyed the likes of De Krans Pink Port, Groot Constantia Shiraz 2010 and Constantia Uitsig’s Vin de Constance 2009 (A favourite of Napoleon whilst he was in exile on Elba).  My only real fault of the whole experience is that our wine arrived after the food on two occasions.  Unfortunately this called for some stern-ish words with the manager who ensured it didn’t happen again.  When one is paying top dollar for a meal, small details like this become more important.  The Greenhouse should ensure that this aspect of service is flawless in order to keep diners content – and coming back.

Apart from the two wine glitches, the service at The Greenhouse was charming and unobtrusive – just what one would expect from such a sophisticated establishment.  The waiters were very knowledgeable about the food and wine, and generally paid very careful attention to detail (folding napkins, ensuring that water glasses were always full and that we had the correct cutlery for each course).  The chef also did the rounds of the restaurant.  It is always such a pleasure to meet the person behind these spectacular meals – he was so interesting and friendly – endearing The Greenhouse to us even more.

The Greenhouse is expensive by South African standards: 2 x tasting menu’s with wine pairing, 1 bottle MCC, 1 glass red wine, 2 glasses dessert wine and 4 double espressos came to R 2 500.00 (including tip).  Money very well spent, says I.

Many a happy memory is made over a delightful meal, and I believe The Greenhouse will always stand out as one of the most enjoyable meals I have experienced.  The restaurant has a wow-factor which elevates a meal there from wonderful to quite exceptional.  I dearly look forward to going back to The Greenhouse soon.

You can contact The Greenhouse on +27 (0) 21 794 2137

This review was sent to the restaurant for a response on Monday 6th August 2012


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