AS SUMMER menus take over town, it’s time to revitalise your tastebuds after a long, lingering winter of comfort food. Mine decided on a fresh and summery lunch at Hemelhuijs.
Set at the foot of Cape Town’s pedestrian bridge across Buitengracht Street, the streamlined, airy restaurant is easily accessible to the city’s captive office workers. For out-of-towners, there’s a convenient parking area across the road.
The glass frontage offers views of the passing pedestrian flow; the back wall is devoted to eclectic, mood-changing displays. Right now repro blue and white-patterned VOC plates are showcased for a traditional touch befitting the restaurant name. You might find your food served on a matching plate, with a period chip or two adding to the quirky charm.
The popular venue is packed and noisy, offering food that delivers everything promised by the pragmatic slogan: wholesome food, freshly made juices, artisan home ware and delicious daily bakes.
A flowery website quote from chef/patron Jacques Erasmus adds the hype. Asked about the freshness of his bread, he replied: “It is at the crack of dawn that we add the happiness of bubbling yeast to flour. Strong hands knead soft dough and heirloom bread tins are gently filled to the brim with the day’s manna – in anticipation of the warm oven.”
That said, the bread is addictive. Inspired by Jacques’ childhood memories of helping his grandmother bake mosbolletjies, and now flavoured with aniseed, it cries out for the home-made preserves made by his mother using fruit from their country garden.
The simplicity of the décor follows through to food and menus. Focus is on flavour, with fresh ingredients, organic and free-range where possible, treated with respect and combined in original pairings.
Unpretentious menus, divided into no-nonsense categories that simply list the ingredients, spark the imagination. Don’t be tempted to try all categories, for portions are generous. But do start with freshly crafted juices that fall under “drink”. Apple, ginger and celery, clinking with ice, cools down a hot summer day; apple, strawberry and lime is as refreshing.
After much deliberation, backed by advice from our enthusiastic, well-informed waiter, we ordered from “begin”, “follow with” and “savour”, discarding “all season”, which centres on breakfast-style, egg-friendly dishes, and “bread”, offering old-fashioned toasties with enticing toppings.
My fellow foodie, a gnocchi addict, relished the light potato dumplings in a well-crafted tomato sauce that balanced sweetness and acidity, appetisingly presented with rocket and pecorino, but found the tempura prawn dish disappointing. Though the cucumber, mint and miso-ginger combo was refreshingly light, the tempura batter was neither thin nor crisp.
I delighted in the creative plating of peppered tuna, perfectly just-seared and set atop white beans and pear, with a parsley vinaigrette. As for the free-range chicken roll, the stuffing of crumbed dried apricots and marzipan is so more-ish a mix, I intend replicating it at home.
If you’re into cakes, leave room. Cakes supplant dessert, and the line-up of beckoning fresh bakes includes cheesecake, beetroot and apple, and feather-light date sponge.