Take the Cube(d) route for a remarkable eating experience…
Since the Cube Tasting Kitchen opened a year and a half ago we have dined there five times. What keeps us going back? The amazingly creative, original food.
A tiny (30 seat) restaurant in Parktown North, the interior of Cube is sparse. Here, food is the star of the show. Head chef Dario D’Angeli (of ‘Yum’ superfame) and his accomplished team push culinary creativity to the limits. Go to Cube when you’re in the mood for a splendid gourmet challenge – you’ll have to think about what you’re eating and sometimes you may feel at a loss to make sense of it all.
The general concept is deceptively simple. Every two months a new tasting menu is devised. These make use of seasonal variation and produce – showing off (sometimes surprising) ingredient combinations with expert preparation and cooking technique. Of the five times we have eaten at Cube the menus have ranged from a minimum of 12 courses to the unforgettable 19 course extravaganza. It has been interesting to watch the menus evolve. Now averaging off at around 12 – 14 courses per menu, a good balance seems to have been struck. The portions are tasting size, and this is a really generous establishment where you are bound to get added extras. You can adjust your portions down if you are feeling full – and for those with larger appetites you can also up your portion size!
Cube is not licenced, so part of the fun involves bringing wine from your own cellar to enjoy with the feast. The menu will be sent to you in advance – with wine recommendations – so you have plenty of time to mull over your choices. You can take as much or as little wine as you want, it all depends on the number in your party and the anticipated festivity-level of the evening. There is no corkage charge.
On Saturday we went to try out the 11 course *August / Sept 2012* tasting menu (12 courses eventually). We started off with amuse-bouches of four tiny plates which comprised a complete meal: spicy butternut soup, tuna tatare with salmon mousse, ostrich and finally preserved kumquats and cream. All were tasty, but I personally found the kumquats too sweet and a little cloying for the beginning of a long meal – they would have been better off with the friandises right at the end.
Course number 2 was a deconstructed gazpacho which was quite lovely. The components were presented in a shallow bowl and then bathed in red-pepper water poured from a teapot. The final result tasted fabulous – just like the traditional gazpacho we know and love. The dish would have been incomplete without several highly technical elements. The shallot pearls stand out. Edible pearls are enjoying a high profile at the moment – with Harvey Nichols trendsetting bar in London using them in cocktails. Imagine a large caviar which bursts in your mouth releasing whatever mouth-watering flavour Chef desires. These beauties require molecular gastronomy techniques. A solution of concentrated flavour (in this case shallot jus) is combined with sodium alginate and pipetted in small droplets into a weak calcium chloride solution. The result is a firm pearl which has a perfectly juicy centre and tastes delicious.
Another favourite course was to follow. Intensely flavoured mozzarella in smoked pork maceration with tomato mousse and coppa. We marvelled over the huge flavours that the chefs had extracted from these ingredients. The dish was rich and smoky, with the green edemame beans providing a wonderful textural contrast and injecting a fresh zing.
The following three courses were chicken-wings (fine-dining style, deboned, and served with crunchy duck fibres which are a Cube favourite and really scrumptious), white fish and tempura crab with squid ink.
Next up came the “High Tea. Egg, no chips. Meats. Tomato. Aubergine. Cheese. Salad. Olive Oil” which had us a bit nonplussed – it didn’t sound like scones with jam and cream. When the concept was explained to us it all started making sense: This was high tea a la Industrial Revolution (+/- 1750), when people only ate two meals a day. High tea was taken in the early evening, seated around a ‘high’ dining table – from whence it gets its name. It would typically consist of meats, cheeses, bread, butter, pickles and tea.
The next course on the menu said: “Pork roast. Traditional accompaniments. Apple. Cabbage. Mayonnaise.” I envisioned roast pork with crunchy-crackling and apple sauce. The eventual dish was quite different from the one I was anticipating. It was actually a gammon-esque loin of pork – and the lack of crackling proved a disappointment. This comes down to a matter of personal taste. Whilst it was my least favourite course, I still love the surprise element of the food here. Not everything on the menu at Cube can be taken at face value. I think this adds an interesting dimension to both the challenge and the enjoyment of eating there. Always be ready for a surprise. With a simplified menu, the chefs are free to change things up at will – and as a diner you may find yourself constantly challenged to revise your expectations
A fillet course “Evoking Embers” followed. This course was nearly delicious; except our fillets were both overcooked for our taste (I’d say they were medium – which any self-respecting meat-lover may deem a little too ‘done’). The fillets were coated in ‘embers’ – a finely ground edible soil which is also doing the molecular gastronomy rounds.
We then enjoyed two dessert courses – a creamy lavender ice-cream with floral scents, rusks and pistachio butter followed by a chocolate ganache with tuille. Sometimes a cheese-based course also features on the menu. We finished off with some friandises. One of these was redpepper taffy which was highly vegetal and, like the kumquats at the beginning of the meal, seemed a bit incongruent given that this was our very last course.
The service at Cube is smooth. Friendly waiters pour wine and water and remove plates. Dishes are brought to the table by one of the chefs who will explain each dish to the diners – pointing out the various components and preparation process. This interaction with chefs who are clearly so passionate about, and delighted by, good food is a real high-point of a Cube supper. We had to ask for a menu which we could peruse whilst eating our meal. I feel that this should be given at the beginning of each meal as a matter of course – it proves a useful guide and helps the diner to remember the dishes.
Cube is really worth a visit – it offers unique fine-dining in Johannesburg and you’re bound to learn a lot about food during the course of a meal. The menu is deceptively simple. The food you are presented with is highly complex and expressive. You may have to adopt a pragmatic attitude – the menu is set, and you might not like the sound of all the dishes. Be assured that they are unlikely to disappoint – the team at Cube is highly skilled. Dishes which don’t sound too promising on the menu are so beautifully prepared and presented that one cannot help but enjoy the experience. Every item on the menu has a vegetarian equivalent, and other dietary requirements such as food allergies are accommodated without any trouble.
Because you do not have to buy wine from the restaurant, Cube is well priced for the many courses it offers: 2 x 11 course tasting menus and one bottle of water came to R 1100.00 (Including tip). I recommend it highly.
You can contact Cube on +27 (0) 82 422 8158
Dario D’Angeli responded and said:
“Cube is (as you rightly point out) about something different. We call it a dining experience but it’s really about having fun with food.
In doing so sometimes our enthusiasm gets the better of us and in the case of the pork below, chances are one of us forgot to put the crackling on before we sent it from the kitchen.
The principles remain the same though. We try and keep up to date with food trends and look at interesting takes on classic dishes.
The fillet as you pointed out may have been overcooked, but I had no way of seeing that as it was covered in the ash (embers). It felt right to the touch but was overcooked. We were trying to recreate a grilled beef without using any flames.
That being said, no dish we ever do is final and constantly evolves so without reading your review, it was something that was worrying me.
I was also worried that the dish may have been a little dry.
So I tried food colouring – yuck! I tried less ash but couldn’t get the look.
We have now settled on the plain steak and the ash on the plate. Tastes the same, is less dry and we can cook it correctly.
This is how we evolve our dishes and you may come one night and have a menu item in one way, only to discover a different idea to the same dish on your next visit.
So, when guests come to Cube we really hope they will as you have, talk about the food, comment on their likes and dislikes and give us the same feedback you have.
There is no way we can produce 12 dishes that each guest is going to feel equal about.
There will be favourites and dislikes but this is the fun in eating 12 courses. “