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It’s a South African chef for La Colombe
Scot Kirton will be the first South African head chef at, arguably, Cape Town’s most famous restaurant
A smiling Jennifer Whittle greets us at La Colombe's front door. It's a wet day and walking into La Colombe's homely country-style interior is welcoming. Jennifer has worked at La Colombe for eight years. She started as a waiter and was gradually promoted to general manger. French-born, her accent fits in snugly with this Provence-inspired restaurant.
This is the first time I've been to La Colombe since Scot Kirton became head chef. He was ex-head chef, Luke Dale-Roberts's sous chef as well as his protégé. The pair worked closely on dishes together.
"Luke taught me a lot," he says. "But we also collaborated on the menu. We all had input."
Jennifer seats us at the very same table I sat at when I first ate at La Colombe. I think back over the four years since, at the time I was in my first job as a writer; I'm now in my third. Much like my path, La Colombe now also has its third head chef.
Frenchman Franck Dangereux was the first. Under his firm guidance, using only local ingredients, a classic French menu grew. The bouillabaisse was legendary as was the fillet with Bordelaise sauce.
Then in swept British chef, Luke Dale-Roberts, whose French dishes with an Asian twist not only got people talking, but had them streaming through the door.
South African Scot joined the La Colombe team just six months after Luke did. The pair created many dishes together, and worked hard to secure La Colombe's twelfth place on the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list.
"My style is slightly more classic than Luke's," says Scot. "There's more of a French influence. My food is wholesome, tasty, warming."
Our waiter brings an amuse bouche to the table. Set on a wooden block, there are three bites. At the centre is an egg shell with the top sawn off; inside is a truffle-scented celeriac velouté with a brioche baton balancing on top to soak it up. In a word: more-ish.
There's also marinated beef tataki wrapped around pickled enoki mushrooms, dressed with orange and rosemary, and the third is a puff pastry beetroot tart. All delicious.
Scot's first job as a chef was at Haute Cabriere in Franschhoek. He worked there for five years, after that, it was off to London for a stint at Gordon Ramsay's Savoy Grill. Back on home soil, it was straight to La Colombe's kitchen, where he's been ever since.
Our meal is faultless, the dishes flow like water and the wine, well, flows like wine. Some highlights include the Alaskan king crab with truffle mousse, soft-boiled quail eggs and horseradish foam. And, my eyes practically roll back in my head when I tuck into springbok medallions with pan-fried foie gras and fig puree.
All of the plates are beautiful. Plating here is a precise art; balanced and harmonious.
Scot's food has me hooked. It's still quite similar to La Colombe’s old menu, but as he says, 'my focus at the moment is to bring more and more of my own dishes onto the menu. We have some exciting plans for the future; one dish I'm working on is with veal and langoustines—a kind of 'surf 'n turf'."
Other plans include, basing an entire tasting menu around a single ingredient such as shellfish. (Sign me up.)
La Colombe is the kind of restaurant where you sit back and let the more than accomplished staff take the reins of your afternoon (or night for that matter). A quick meal here could never do it justice. A long, indulgent tasting menu is the only way to go.
By Malu Lambert
Note: La Colombe has since relocated to Silvermist Wine Estate on Main Road at Constantia Nek.
Read aboutLuke Dale-Roberts's No.1 restaurant The Test Kitchen and visit our eating out section for more fine dining restaurants in Cape Town.