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Pulling the rabbit out of the hat

Woodfired prawns on a seafood risotto at the Chefs’ Table.

Woodfired prawns on a seafood risotto at the Chefs’ Table.

Published Jun 23, 2022

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The Chefs’ Table

Where: Protea Mall, 1 Chartwell Drive, uMhlanga

Open: Daily noon to 2.30pm, 6pm to 10pm

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Call: 031 001 0200

The last time I wrote about the Chefs’ Table was during the hard lockdown. Restaurants weren’t open yet, and the four of us had picked their up Father’s Day hamper, and made a spectacular lunch of it ‒ despite the fact that none of us were fathers.

There was a beautiful smoked trout salad and a beef Wellington with all the trimmings. It came with cooking instructions that might have been onerous if you were not handy in the kitchen ‒ fortunately, all four of us are.

Crayfish on risotto with confit tomatoes.
Duck dumplings with labneh, coriander, sesame seeds and red onion.

Two years later, we decided we didn’t want to do the cooking, and so Brad, Jason, Trevor and I met for a leisurely gourmet lunch to taste chef Matthew Armbruster’s latest offerings.

It’s a kitchen that always inspires with seasonal offerings of the best local produce and interesting pairings of flavours and textures. Inevitably, there’s something that inspires and a couple of dishes you can’t imagine. It’s part of the fun. And the plating is always a work of art.

We settled down to gin and tonics and craft beers while we perused the day’s menu.

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Duo of quail with pork tortellini.

Trevor relished his butter roasted crayfish. It’s a dish he had had recently and was almost tempted to order it as a main course. It was served on a delicious creamy seafood risotto with confit tomatoes (R225), the crayfish flesh succulent and sweet. Jason enjoyed the quail duo (R155) served with pork tortellini, pea, mint, pomegranate, artichokes and Napa cabbage. I thought it could perhaps have had a stronger presence of the quail. Brad’s leek fagottini was a wonderfully fresh and lively vegetarian starter (R110), flavoured with cucumber, peanuts, tenderstem broccoli and mushroom tea.

I, as always, found the item less seen on menus and really relished the “overnight” beef tongue (R135), which was melt-in-the-mouth tender, served with a light mustard sauce and crisp, fresh granny Smith apple. The fried quail egg gave it punch.

“Overnight” tongue with fried quail egg, mustard sauce and fresh apple sticks.

Then the chef sent us some tasters. The confit duck dumpling (R145) with labneh, coriander, olives, sesame and onion was a treat. These were mouthwatering little parcels of tasty duck complemented by those array of different sauce profiles. Yum. The beef tataki (R125) with fermented yeast, smoked dates, cured egg, summer greens, red onion, pumpkin seeds and coriander ponzu also got the thumbs up. This was a beautiful piece of beef cooked to perfection.

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Mains are equally interesting ‒ a duo of duck comes with parsnips, shimeji mushrooms and a sour cherry sauce; line fish is topped with clams, tenderstem broccoli, mange tout, pineapple and yellow peppers. Karoo lamb gets treated with red peppers, heirloom carrots, Puy lentils and labneh. There are steaks in a variety of sizes for those looking for the more conventional. These go right up to a 1kg tomahawk.

Trio of rabbit with baby gems, heirloom carrots, turnips and a cider sauce.

Vegetarians can enjoy the miso cauliflower or the more exciting sounding dish of a trumpet mushroom with leek gnocchi, Parmesan custard and sugar bean curry. I’m sorry, chef, but I can’t get excited by cauliflower.

Trevor and I went for the roast rabbit (R285), which offered three succulent treatments of the leg, shoulder and loin, along with pancetta, baby gems, heirloom carrots, turnips and a cider sauce. Delicious. Brad and Jason decided to share the woodfired prawns (R415), ten succulent monster creatures served up on some more of that delicious risotto. They tucked in with gusto.

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Winter citrus tart.
Eton mess.

Could we face desserts? We decided yes. Jason and Brad shared a winter citrus tart (R105) with its lovely dense marmalade flavours, while Trevor and I nibbled at the Eton Mess (R105). This was more a de-constructed version of the classic, with pretty little meringue cases filled with custard, pomegranate seeds and scoops of ice-cream. All delicious in itself, although I felt it needed more custard or crème Chantilly so I could turn it into a real mess. We enjoyed good espressos.

After a luxurious and leisurely Sunday lunch, we popped into the Lighthouse Bar at the Oyster Box for a sundowner.

Food: 4

Service: 4 ½

Ambience: 4

The Bill: R2 783 for four.

The Independent on Saturday

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