A Bold, Fresh Experience at Ash Heeger’s Riverine Rabbit

Words: Julie Velosa

Chef Ash Heeger burst onto the Cape Town food scene in 2016 with ASH Restaurant, a meat-centric, no-holds-barred charcoal cooking concept that has us feasting on deep-fried chicken hearts and pig’s head scrumpets. Fast forward to 2018 and the announcement was made that ASH was closing, resulting in a sad sigh that echoed around the foodie scene. Any concern over what this meant for one of our fav spots was however unfounded, as the renovation has resulted in chef Ash’s new and recently revealed venture – Riverine Rabbit.

The Yin and Yang

The interior of Riverine Rabbit is bold and fresh and the new look is lighter, whiter and brighter than its previous counterpart. Gone is the dark, moody feel and in its place white tiles, light wood finishes, funky leaf print wallpaper and earthy greenery.

Riverine Rabbit

The change from ASH to Riverine Rabbit is almost yin yang-like in its transformation; dark has become light, masculine has become more subtly feminine and a strong steeliness has been replaced by warmth and lightness. All the while still maintaining its cool and seemingly effortless style. And, whether intentional or perhaps just coincidental, the space incorporates elements of all 5 phases in its design and decor – metal, wood, water, fire, and earth.

At its Core

As well as the change to the interior, the menu has equally undergone a revamp and, while things are new, the focus has remained the same – a constant commitment to sustainable and ethical dining. Chef Ash explores new flavours and dishes but the menu still inherently has her signature style and ethos at its core.

Riverine Rabbit

Riverine Rabbit is adorned with artwork from three local female artists (which are for sale). Pieces from Amore Coetzee, Amy Keevy and Maria Magdalena add subtle monochrome contrast to the walls. We particularly loved the namesake Riverine Rabbit line drawing (original framed R3 400). The art brings awareness to the plight of this endangered animal and the naming of the restaurant intrinsically links back to living consciously and minimising impact at all levels. 

The Riverine Rabbit Menu

Things at Riverine Rabbit have been simplified – the menu is no longer à la carte but instead there are options of an 7-course tasting menu (R895 with a wine pairing at an additional R575), a reduced 5-course menu, (R650 with an additional wine pairing at R475), as well as a 3-course menu at R395.

Riverine Rabbit

The menu is a fine-dining experience, but in my observation, a fine-dining experience Ash Heeger-style, which cuts through a lot of the periphery and focuses on simplicity. Simplicity in a fine dining environment is never simple though, the trick is to make it appear as though it is.

An Amusing Start

A beautiful amuse bouche arrived to whet the appetite and when we heard the words crispy chicken skin, it immediately had our attention. Firstly a delicate tuna tartare is served atop a wafer of brik pastry with burnt onion mayo. Then, we lifted the lid of our dish to reveal a bite of Ceasar salad encased in a single Romaine leaf, with a morsel of that crispy chook skin. Heaven.

Many dishes stood out but a definite favourite was the Burnt Leeks – Josper-grilled leeks are served with a buttery hazelnut crumb and tarragon bearnaise.

For my dining partner and I, the rich dollop of sauce is an Ash signature and this dish really won us over. Every last morsel disappeared off both of our plates. While the Tom Yum mussels of ASH fame are gone, we’re happy to replace those with this as a forerunner for favourite dish on the new menu.

Riverine Rabbit

Considered and Balanced

When it came to selecting other favourites, we absolutely loved the hearty Oyster Chowder with its layers of complex flavours and the mushroom pithivier (a fancy version of a pie) with porcinis and pine nut pesto. Also the duck, with a French-inspired vadouvan curry flavour and the most ridiculously perfect slice of layered crisp potatoes.

In-between courses a delightful palate cleanser is delivered. A crisp green apple and gin sorbet, with cubes of cucumber that you can’t see but can taste, allow the  palate to reset for the remaining courses. Served inside a hollowed out and frozen Granny Smith apple, it provides a fun little interlude.

Dessert can’t be counted in our whittled down list of favourites as it has a class all of its own. The one we enjoyed brings life to a classic South African favourite –  moerkoffie. A darkly decadent chocolate mousse served with Amarula ice cream and creamy condensed milk clouds.

To describe the food we enjoyed at Riverine Rabbit is quite simple, it is considered, balanced and above all, delicious.

Chefs Table At Riverine Rabbit

Another new addition to the space (which has been remodelled, moving the kitchen around a bit) is the inclusion of a Chefs Table. A corner of the restaurant has a booth section that has the really personal feeling of being in someone’s home. For one-on-one time with Ash and her team, book this special experience (must be booked through the reservations manager via email).

riverine Rabbit

Setting the Bar Way Up High

Nowadays chefs face the pressure of expectation borne of countless TV series and personalities that have elevated dining out to a cult level. In Cape Town, this is alive and well. The expectation of food is high and the delivery of an all-round experience when dining out is even higher and Riverine Rabbit delivers on all fronts.

Riverine Rabbit

In Chinese philosophy, the yin and yang, while representing opposites, also connect and show an inter-dependability – one doesn’t exist without the other. This is almost the perfect summation of the ASH-Riverine Rabbit transformation.

The restaurant as it is now reflects a new era, one that has taken learnings from its predecessor, allowing it to be everything that it is at this moment. We have no doubt that this evolution is fluid though and we expect to see exciting things in the future for Ash Heeger and Riverine Rabbit.

Telephonic Reservations: Monday – Friday | 09h00  17h00 | 021 4247204 | Email Reservations

81 Church Street,  Cape Town

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