Down the Rabbit Hole of the New Menu at La Colombe
A fine dining offering is the pinnacle of food experiences. On the exterior, the dishes are intricate, ornate, and aim to inspire awe in the diner. On the interior, the dishes are complex, technical, and often laborious. The new menu at La Colombe is all of these things but it’s also so much more. Just because food is fancy doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. With their latest offering, Chef Proprietor, Scot Kirton, and his team have conjured up a new level of whimsy to add to the experience. It invites the diner down an awe-inspiring rabbit hole with some of the best dishes we’ve eaten this year.
Walking through the door at La Colombe we encountered our first taste of the new menu. An intricate emerald green display of moss, foliage, pebbles and greenery that form a forest floor. Amongst this ‘faerie glen’ are dishes shaped like lily pads that hold bright green cocoa butter orbs, which hold a liquid Granny Smith apple palate cleanser.
The finely tempered cocoa butter shell melts the minute it touches your tongue and reveals an explosion of bright, crisp apple flavour.
The hostesses wait, with a knowing smile, for eyes to widen as the burst of fruity flavour hits the palate. This start to the meal is indicative of what the expectation is of a dining experience these days. It’s no longer just about sitting down and eating a meal, it’s about theatre and spectacle. We expect chefs to entertain us with their innovation and to surprise us with their creativity.
Guests can opt to have the reduced menu (where there is a choice of one or the other on two of the courses) or the full gourmand experience. Both are also offered as wine paired menus as well. The wine pairing option is highly recommended and sommelier, Joseph, took us through a selection of incredible South African wines from start to finish.
Where bread is not simply just bread.
True to the magical nature of the experience of dining at La Colombe, the bread course is not simply just a bread course. It starts off with a member of the kitchen team swirling a hot plate with a chermoula lamb butter – rendered lamb fat that has been reduced into a mind numbingly delicious liquid.
The liquid is poured onto a heated ceramic dish – the heavenly scent is then elevated with the addition of preserved lemon, house made dukkah, shallots and parsley that are added at the table. A balsamic swirl and a sherry spray complete the introduction before the team leave the table and allow you to break your beer, blackberry and sage bread and mop up all this golden, fatty goodness.
When food becomes theatre.
To balance out the richness of the bread course, what follows is a light asparagus mousse. In keeping with the whimsical theme, the mousse doesn’t come quenelled or piped as you might expect, but rather smoothed over a specially created dish that reveals a message as you eat. Part of the fun is being a human windscreen wiper, scooping up the light mousse to see the message. Accompanying the mousse is steamed King crab, swordfish ceviche, confit lemon, sweet potato crisps, honeyed mustard grains and dots of yuzu gel for acidity.
What really struck me on this dish was the incredible daintiness of every element, as though plated by a fairy from the forest floor we encountered as we arrived. The tiniest sliver of radish, the smallest frond of picked micro herb standing upright in the dollop of yuzu. And it’s not about the portion being lean, it’s about aesthetic and attention to detail down to the tiniest minutiae.
The quintessential South African pairing.
A sublime glass of 2013 Rijks Reserve Pinotage partnered with the next course of springbok – the quintessential South African pairing if you will. The springbok is served in three ways – as tataki, tartare and biltong, with many other intriguing elements that add contrast. Beautifully served in a sculpted wooden bowl, a paper thin layer of brik pastry is dusted with dehydrated strawberry dust and hides all the elements below.
Breaking through the brik wafer reveals the most featherlight miso orange mousse that is one of those things you can’t explain, save to say that you’ll taste it and immediately love it. All of these elements are combined with a finely grated layer of frozen fois gras that adds a rich umami flavour and simply melts on the tongue. It sounds like a Machiavellian concoction of flavours but somehow it works.
“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
From here the courses continued in the manner of a good degustation with lighter courses followed by richer, each complemented by a well-chosen local wine, delivered by the team with passion and knowledge. From a silky chawanmushi set egg custard with delicate quail breast to a char siu wagyu and langoustine dish with kimchi and sweetcorn. Each course arrived to an awed “wow” and honestly, nothing could be faulted along the way.
We’re all mad here.
In the middle of the menu is a course entitled ‘Enchanted Forest’ which leads you away from your table and into a specially created world that entices every sense. It would be unfair to reveal exactly what happens inside the room and we’ll leave that to you to experience yourself, just know that it helps to be a little off kilter to fully appreciate it.
“Curiouser and curiouser!”
Back at your table, you’ll choose a knife from a knife block that reveals something about your personality to enjoy your next course with. The lamb course showcases the tenderest, creamiest sweetbreads, smoked garlic veloute, onion fondant and braised lamb neck and had us sitting back in happy resignation.
She ate from a plate called TASTE ME And down she shrank so small.
And so she changed, while other folks never tried nothin’ at all.”
If you opt for the reduced menu, you can choose between the cheese course or dessert course. The cheese course is a caramel rooibos ice cream with a crunchy sago puff and Karoobossie catalan. There was something oddly familiar yet unique about this dish at the same time. The familiarity most likely from the comforting flavour of rooibos, which worked so well against the mild zestiness of the Karoobossie – a handcrafted cheese from Langbaken cheesery in the Karoo that is made into a creamy, custard-type dollop.
Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.
The dessert course brings together the sweet and aromatic fragrance of rosewater with a white chocolate and tonka bean cremeaux. There is something about rose water that reminds me of Zoo biscuits and this favourite childhood flavour is elevated with crystallised white chocolate, freeze dried strawberries and geranium sponge. A yoghurt espuma and crispy yoghurt bits added freshness and texture.
Just when you think you can’t possibly fit another bite in, the incredible meal will end with a little bit of interactive fun, so keep your wits about you. You’ll have to identify 5 flavour types from a selection of sweets to end off the meal. One piece of advice, don’t go for the gel looking one first, it’ll throw your palate off for the rest of the tasting, which might result in you losing against the rest of your table (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).
From start to finish the experience at La Colombe is both expected and unexpected at the same time. Your expectation will be of superlative food and attentive service and this is exactly what you’ll get. The unexpected will come from elements on each dish that show consummate creativity and a bringing together of flavour combinations that will challenge and engage your palate.
“Have I gone mad?”
“I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”
The menu shows that chef Scot trusts himself and his loyal diners (food lovers locally and from around the world) enough to bring this level playfulness to the menu. It should be appreciated for the way that it evokes a sense of wonderment and magic, while still balancing this with a serious understanding of delicious, beautiful food.
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