Catharina’s: Embracing the past, but moving with the culinary times
By Bianca Coleman
Diners at Catharina’s Restaurant at Steenberg are in for a culinary adventure with new executive chef Archie Maclean’s exciting “contemporary heritage” cuisine.
Taking his cue from the spirited and feisty Catharina Ras – 17th century founder of the farm and by all accounts quite a wild woman – Maclean has reworked the menu, weaving into it fresh indigenous ingredients Catharina would likely have hunted, grown and prepared herself.
“Catharina is the adventurous one and I need to follow in her shoes,” says the Scottish born and raised Maclean, who has worked at luxury establishments all over the world, including here in South Africa. “As a farm, Steenberg has such a deep and colourful history and we want our restaurant experience to bring the adventure of Catharina Ras to life. This is the crux of our contemporary heritage food.”
Embracing the past, but evolving with the current to maintain a fresh and innovative attitude, the menu centres on simplicity, and lets the finest quality ingredients do the talking.
“When I started delving into the life of Catharina Ras, I just knew I had to include ingredients she would have served at her table,” says Maclean. A seasoned huntswoman, hippo and lion, warthog, ostrich, crocodile and zebra served with indigenous veld food would have been regular fare at Steenberg in her day. While food lovers are already familiar with ostrich and warthog, crocodile and zebra are less prolific (I’ve encountered the latter just once at a Cape Town restaurant), but you will find them on Maclean’s menu, exquisitely prepared.
We attended a media lunch to launch the innovative chef’s creations, and while some were less enamoured than others, there is no doubt these dishes will find favour with overseas guests who are keen to try something exotic and “African”. Of course, there is no reason why locals shouldn’t enjoy them as well.
After a starter of gnocchi with beetroot and cauliflower, we were served the crocodile, which is a pan-fried tail with salted crocodile brandade (a Provençal dish usually consisting of salt cod mixed into a puree with olive oil and milk), creamed leek and roast garlic, blackened corn salsa, and crisp fried leek.
The grilled zebra loin incorporates very South African ingredients – smoked aubergine maize meal, chakalaka, buttered baby marrow, chick peas and fine beans with toasted pine nut and coriander dressing, and red wine jus. Both dishes are beautifully presented and quite delicious.
We then had not one, but two desserts. Unusually, the cheese was brought out first – Langbaken Karoo Sunset cheese (just heavenly) with smoked aubergine puree, sour fig and goji berry compote, and a mustard cracker. This was followed by coffee panna cotta with Amarula brulee, cocoa nib ice cream, shortcake, and smoked hazelnuts – sweet but not too sweet.
“We want to take people outside their comfort zones, to try something new when they dine with us. Our guests need to leave in awe, having experienced something absolutely amazing,” says Maclean.
Catharina’s offers diners a three-course à la carte menu as well as an eight-course tasting menu. Signature dishes include seared tuna wrapped in crisp salmon skin; salmon trout served with a horseradish and sour fig risotto; and the crocodile and zebra.
While the tasting menu at R1100 per person, including wines from leading estates, is interlaced with Maclean’s more adventurous dishes, the à la carte menu still includes the familiar – roast duck, sirloin, sustainable fish – for a quick lunch or informal dining. Both menus are available for lunch and dinner and guests at the same table will be able to order from either menu.
Catharina’s Restaurant at Steenberg Estate, Steenberg Road, Tokai, is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For bookings, call 021 7137178; or send an email to: email@example.com.
For more information, visit www.steenbergfarm.com and follow @CatharinasR on Twitter, or “Steenberg” on Instagram and Facebook.