Restaurant review by Bianca Coleman
The seasons, they are a-changing and along with them, Hemelhuijs has once again reinvented itself.
Since it opened in 2010, creative and culinary genius Jacques Erasmus has transformed the space and the menu…not so much that you walk in and think “what the heck?”, but in subtle ways that retain the sophistication, style and elegance to which we have become accustomed, as well as the divine food, which puts a contemporary twist on traditional favourites like ouma used to make.
Whether winter, spring, summer, or autumn, the emphasis is on comfort and familiarity, but without any old fashioned stodginess or dowdiness. Breakfast is served all day – old fashioned sago, or “melkkos” or a mosbolletjie, as well as the more modern poached eggs with artichoke hearts and hollandaise sauce among the offerings.
This is not the first page of the menu; that belongs to a list of delectable cocktails like ginger brandy with rosemary, lemonade and fresh lemon, or quince and saffron ratafia with soda and freshly pressed apple juices. You can have virgin juices too. Naturally there is a superb wine list, and hot drinks include hazelnut dark hot chocolate ganache with steamed milk or vanilla dulce du leche with thyme steamed milk.
The next page offers “Humble Beginnings”. From this I chose the slow-cooked onion soup, topped with brioche and baked with Kleinrivier Gruyere. A generous portion, it could easily be a light meal on its own. Another soup option is cream of roasted cauliflower and chestnut with hints of truffle. They say “hints” but we could pick up that distinctive aroma from several tables away.
My friend started with a salad from the “Life Is Beautiful” section – roasted cauliflower with soft poached egg, avocado, croutons, and a lemon-anchoïade dressing, which is made with anchovies, garlic, and olive oil. Fabulous presentation, fabulous flavours.
For main courses we turned the page to “Warm the Heart”… pan-fried lamb kidneys with mushrooms, mustard and Marmite toast soldiers, an open burger of slow roasted beef brisket with prune and peppercorn cream… The first thing I saw was farm style beef and cabbage frikadelle served with truffled bean and potato mash, which was the perfect dish for a typical Cape Town winter’s day. My friend had one of the restaurant’s specialities: white pepper fried calamari dressed with radish, green apple and miso mayonnaise.
We didn’t actually have space for dessert, which can be ordered from the divine selection of pastries and cakes, but I did ask for a sliver of pear and white chocolate tart, because it was, quite simply, irresistible.
This season’s décor at Hemelhuijs has walls painted a river clay terracotta shade accented with muted delft tones of blues and whites. Mounds of quinces, when available, are artfully displayed because at Hemelhuijs seasonal produce is visually celebrated as well as deliciously offered on a plate. Against one burnt orange wall stands the multitude of gold-labeled brown laboratory bottles filled with flavour compounds developed by Jacques and known as Flavour Intense. These were introduced last year and have proved so popular as small gifts or self-indulgent purchases that they are now an integral part of the Hemelhuijs collection.
Taking his cue from the Victorian botanists who first collected and preserved a diverse selection of flora for later identification and study, Jacques has introduced The Botanicals, a visual celebration of our own flora. The ever-changing collection of leaves and flowers are lovingly collected and meticulously prepared, pressed on acid free paper or pure linen. Each piece is a natural masterpiece – a perfect capturing of a very specific (and fleeting) moment of beauty.
Besides the lovely environment in which you will enjoy a fabulous meal, the staff are well trained, and Jacques himself is a gracious host. Highly recommended.
When: Open from 9am to 4pm from Monday to Friday and from 9am to 3pm on Saturdays.