The Bold, Innovative Relaunch of Catharina’s at Steenberg
Since August is a celebration of the women of South Africa, it is the perfect time to introduce the new chef and to launch the menu at Catharina’s Restaurant at Steenberg. The restaurant is the named for one of South Africa’s leading pioneer ladies, Catharina Ras, and the menu is a tribute to her trailblazing nature.
Scottish-born chef, Archie Maclean (ex-Singita), has been heading up the kitchen at Catharina’s for a couple of months now, playing with unusual and exciting ingredients in preparation for this launch. He has quietly been experimenting, all the while getting to grips with the rich history of Steenberg. The result is a dynamic menu that showcases the very best of local ingredients – many of which Catharina would have hunted or grown herself.
So who exactly was the paradoxical figure of Catharina Ras? Being newly-widowed at the age of 22, Catharina, disguised herself as a man and boarded a ship from Lübeck, Germany. The ship was bound for the shores of the Cape, where she sought to start a new life. In the 1600s, a time where women had no rights, making her way to a foreign land on her own was an phenomenal and brave achievement in itself. She went on to outlive 4 husbands, marry a fifth and give birth to 6 children.
Outliving several of her husbands earned her the nickname ‘The Widow Ras’ and probably gave her pause for thought. Deciding that independence was the key to success, she pursued the idea of becoming a landowner herself – a concept utterly unheard of in those days.
In 1682 she appealed to Governor Simon van der Stel to grant her a tract of land at the foot of Steenberg Mountain. For reasons that are unclear (there are murmurs of an affair, or perhaps he just admired her plucky nature), he granted her the land on lease. In 1685, she was granted the title deed and became the first female landowner. She then proceeded to farm it, hunt on it and continued to live out her days on what is now Steenberg as we know it.
“Catharina is the adventurous one and I need to follow in her shoes,” is how Chef Archie describes his role as new executive chef. “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,” says Archie.
The menu includes stunning dishes such as a pillow-light gnocchi with a beetroot pureé and mushroom and basil ragout. This classic dish will lull you into a somewhat false sense of security with its classic flavour combinations, but don’t be deterred by the next courses which are slightly less conventional. Even if you’re not traditionally an adventurous eater, the beautifully presented and elegant flavour combinations will surprise and delight.
Panfried crocodile tail is served with creamed leek, blackened corn salsa and crispy fried leek – the light, creamy leek works beautifully with the surprisingly tender and flavoursome croc tail. The addition of crispy fried leek adds a textural crunch.
“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 Chef Archie, whose menu is interwoven with unusual accents not readily found elsewhere.
The tasting menu continues with other African inspired additions such as a smoked aubergine maize meal and chakalaka, served alongside a sous vide and grilled zebra loin.
To finish off the meal, enjoy carefully selected local cheeses with compote, and to satisfy your sweet tooth, a delicate coffee panna cotta, Amarula Brûlée, shortcake and smoked hazelnuts.
Chef Archie and his team aim to take diners out of their comfort zone and the menu is both an ode to Catharina, as well as to African-inspired produce. Catharina should not only be revered and celebrated by Steenberg, but by all independent and fierce South African ladies. The restaurant pays homage to her life with a bold, inventive menu that mirrors a wildly determined spirit that was way ahead of her time.
Catharina’s offers diners a 3-course à la carte menu as well as an 8-course tasting menu. While the tasting menu at R1 100 per person including wines from leading estates, is interlaced with Archie’s more adventurous dishes, the à la carte menu also includes the more familiar 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 is open 7-days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For bookings contact +27 (0)21 7137178 or book via email.