Dining in the dove’s nest

The dove’s nest with two eggs filled with an orange, lime and ginger palate cleanser.

The dove’s nest with two eggs filled with an orange, lime and ginger palate cleanser.

Published Mar 3, 2024


La Colombe

Where: Silvermist Wine Estate, Main Road, Constantia Nek

Open: Daily lunch and dinner

Call: 021 794 2390

This is food as theatre. On a trip to Cape Town, a good friend who insists on remaining nameless, invited me to La Colombe, recently voted the best restaurant in South Africa. We even flew down a day earlier so we could get a table.

We collect our hire car and head for Constantia. When you reach Constantia Nek, you see the turn-off. You then wind your way farther up the hill, going through a series of hairpin bends. It feels like you might be in the French countryside.

The charcuterie trolley. From left, vegan chorizo and hummus butter, salmon gravlax and snoek butter, Peking duck and duck liver butter, wagyu biltong and onion butter and wild boar chorizo.

La Colombe ‒ or The Dove in French ‒ certainly celebrates its name. There are pottery doves on the walls, and bird song in the loos. Even the setting feels like a bird’s nest with wonderful views of the valley below through the floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s a dove’s nest on the table, with a personal handwritten note from exec chef James Gaag, welcoming us to his domain.

The setting is delightful.

Service is unlike anything I’ve experienced in Durban. It’s polished and professional without being supercilious. Glasses are filled, napkins folded, ladies even get a little stool next to their chair so they don’t have to put their handbag on the floor. Everything is thought of, everything is seamless.

A tin of tuna arrives at the table with chef’s secret sauce.
Tuna tartare served inside a tin of tuna

We’re not doing a wine pairing, as neither of us can drink that much wine. Instead, we sip on gin and tonic cocktails served with a giant ice-cube filled with a honey and rooibos tea centre. We would have a few more of those.

Our waiter tells us to look inside the dove’s nest where two eggs and two straws nestle. We’re encouraged to “crack” the eggs ( there’s a little cork in them you pull out) and inside is a palate cleanser of orange, lime and ginger. Delicious.

Madagascan crab with swordfish on a crisp waffle.

Next, our waiter wheels up the charcuterie board, while a little loaf of warm bread arrives in a little basket of greenery. What a platter! There’s wild boar chorizo, which is delicious, an exceptional wagyu biltong. The description as biltong didn’t do it justice. The meat had only been lightly cured and was fairly wet, with all those lovely fats in the marbled meat intact and adding to the flavour. There was a good Peking duck, and salmon was done gravlax style with the most beautiful textures and lovely subtle dill flavours. And then there was the vegan chorizo. They tried, but to me, it tasted just like hummus.

Each meat came with an accompanying butter, which was more a pâté dressed up like a fruit. There was a tomato with the wild boar ‒ I forget what was in it ‒ and a mushroom which was, in reality, an onion pâté with the wagyu. A hummus came with the vegan chorizo. I chose the duck liver parfait dressed up as an orange which had an orange gel around it. It was deliciously smooth and had a wonderful depth of flavour. Mr No Name Brand tried the snoek pâté dressed up as an apple ‒ also good.

Quail and crayfish in a rich seafood bisque.

Then came their signature dish. A can of tuna arrives at the table ‒ literally. It came with a jar of Chef James’s secret sauce. Apparently there are 30 to 40 ingredients in it and it’s a secret known only to the chef himself. We open the tin to reveal a pretty tuna tartare. We’re encouraged to spoon in the sauce which is basically a spicy orange chutney (I’m probably not doing the chef justice here) and enjoy. It’s a magnificent dish. You can buy the sauce to take home.

Madagascan crab came next, served on a crisp waffle with nahm jim sauce and caviar with little blocks of poached swordfish. This came on a crab-like shell and was the only dish served without cutlery. We enjoyed every morsel. Afterwards, to add a little drama, hot towels were brought in dry ice, which misted over the table.

Lime lollies rolled in grapefruit segments with raspberry dust made at the table using liquid nitrogen.

Every tasting menu has a course one simply couldn’t imagine; you wonder how it could possibly work. This was listed as quail, crayfish, sweetcorn and bisque. But it worked. The crayfish tail had the quail breast wrapped around it like a roulade, while the bisque was poured over it at the table. A crisp quail leg was served on the side. Each retained their textures and flavours and yet the bisque pulled it all together. Definitely a spot of alchemy here, and for me, the stand-out dish of the day.

Another trolley wheels up to the table, with a metal block over liquid nitrogen. A young chef from the pastry kitchen makes us ice lollies ‒ the second palate cleanser. These were lime ice cream rolled in freeze-dried grapefruit segments and dusted in raspberry dust. As the lime liquid was starting to set, a stick was inserted and the whole turned over to set the other side. She suggests we wait a few minutes for them to set properly. Delicious.

Lamb loin with mashed potato and a courgette flower stuffed with lamb rillettes.

The main course was loin of Karoo lamb. There was a Wagyu beef option with truffles that attracted a supplement, but we were both happy with lamb, which had a lovely rich jus poured over the meal at the table. The loin was perfectly cooked and succulent, but perhaps the highlight of the dish was a courgette flower that had been stuffed with lamb rillettes. Impressive.

I was chatting to a couple outside and we were comparing notes about our favourite: the tuna, the quail or that magnificent charcuterie board? They said wait for the cheese. Billed on the menu as cheese and honey, a large beehive-type pot arrives at the table. With great drama, the lid is removed to reveal what looked like two nuts on a bed of soil. The layer is taken off to expose a cheese roulade, and then that layer is removed as a Camembert magically appears at the bottom.

The large honey pot arrives at the table.
The nut and honey praline encasing a soft whipped mature cheddar
Raclette with raspberries and Camembert with raw honey.

Our waiter scoops raw honey in the comb over the Xamembert ‒ delicious. The roulade is raclette with a soft cheese, raspberries and slivers of pickled onion. It’s not a flavour combination I would have thought of, but it worked (and I am not a fan of pickled onions). And those two nuts were a shell of honey nut praline encasing a soft whipped mature cheddar. Wow. These were exceptionally good. It’s all scooped up with some really good, crisp cheesy crackers.

Dessert was a medley of strawberries and fennel.

Dessert was a medley of strawberries and fennel. There was a fennel sponge, and mini meringue bits with strawberry gel, fresh strawberries, and strawberry sorbet and a geranium foam or cream. Calling it a posh Eton mess would do it a disservice. After all that food was wonderfully light and refreshing.

We finished with a good espresso and petit fours that were brought around in a case like a cigar box. The mini cheesecake and little toffee apple were both delicious.

Our waiter serves us petit fours in a wooden chest

By now it was after 5pm. We left most satisfied as we slowly zigzagged back down the hill ‒ and came back to Earth.

Food: 5


Ambience: 5

The Bill: I didn’t see the bill but it’s R1 995 for the full chef’s menu, excluding drinks. There is a truncated menu at R1 695. Two wine pairings are offered ‒ a classic selection and an iconic selection. There is also the option of an extra mystery course held in the wine cellar.

Independent on Saturday