There is this “thing” called radical honesty. I’m not really a fan; if nothing else, experience has taught me that most people don’t necessarily want to hear the truth, which can oftentimes be considered rude or even hurtful. True, yes; nice – not so much.
But as a small exercise, allow me to confess (in all other instances when this urge strikes, see a priest or a lawyer) that when I first read through the new small plates menu at Makaron Restaurant, my eyes did a mental roll.
It’s written in the trendy style of mentioning a few ingredients (some of which you will never have heard of), but not really telling you much about the actual dish. For example: while it gives some small indication, “eggplant, shiitake, smoked macadamia” doesn’t specify very clearly what will be put in front of you.
Nevertheless, we embarked on a tasting of the menu, with each dish being explained more fully as it was served. To begin, with compliments from the kitchen, was a wooden tray filled with uncooked beans upon which nestled eggshell halves filled with egg and “hereboontjie” purée (Google translations are vague but we were assured it means heirloom beans), as well as tiny snoek tarts, and nasturtium leaves filled with avocado.
It was a nice enough way to begin. The aforementioned eggplant followed, a wonderfully “meaty” and cheesy dish full of rich complementary flavours. Octopus can be a bit tricky, in many senses. Here, a tentacle is served roasted by fire, with kohlrabi and apple, and about as palatable as the soft-bodied, eight-limbed mollusk can be. Which is to say, it still retains its unavoidable texture, but is not inedibly rubbery. The presentation is quite striking in colour and composition.
After that came the five-day aged linefish, something which had elicited much lively discussion around the table, along the lines of “Aged? But fish should be fresh!”
In this case, aged means salted and cured. The fish is served with pickled potato, green olives, and dune spinach; in a testament to the kitchen’s care and creativity, even once the paper thin slices of potato were moved aside, the rest of the dish was still perfectly and prettily presented.
At this point it occurred to me that each dish was better than the one before, which is a fine achievement for any meal. And it was to get better yet: the final dish I tried was the lamb “staanrib” (which refers to the cooking method of the ribbetjies). They were melt-in-the-mouth delicious, although I didn’t think pickling the waterblommetjies did them any favours, and overpowered the taste of the water weeds which marry so well with lamb. That aside, it was a meal which rose far above my initial expectations.
Makaron Restaurant is at Majeka House & Spa in Stellenbosch, and this menu is inspired by chef Lucas Carstens’s culinary exploration of the Mediterranean city of Lisbon. Etienne Hanekom-designed Makaron is rated among the best in South Africa, and the property itself is internationally awarded for its world-class interior design. Last year, Majeka House & Spa was named Best Design Hotel in Africa & the Middle East at the Condé Nast Johansens Awards for Excellence as a “wining, dining and super styling destination”.
* Makaron Restaurant is open daily for dinner, with first seating from 6.30pm and the second from 8.30pm. It is closed on Wednesdays until the end of September. Diners can choose four/five/six courses from the small plates menu for R390/R490/R590 respectively. An optional wine pairing is also available, at a cost of R645/R830/R1015 for both food and wine.
Majeka House & Spa and Makaron restaurant are at 26-32 Houtkapper Street, Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch.
By Bianca Colema