Woolworths TASTE - - Contents - bertus­bas­son.com

At Eike, Ber­tus Bas­son’s new­est restau­rant, the chef takes din­ers on a nos­tal­gic jour­ney into South African food mem­ory.

While South African cities of­fer ev­ery­thing from ta­cos and noo­dles to sushi and Hawai­ian poké, restau­rants that cel­e­brate lo­cal flavour are a rar­ity. Chef Ber­tus Bas­son makes a pow­er­ful case for why this should change at Eike, his new­est restau­rant


Bas­son is a busy man. To­gether with his wife Mareli, he runs an award-win­ning fine-din­ing restau­rant (Over­ture), a cult-favourite burger joint (De Vrije Burger), a fast-ca­sual spot with pos­si­bly the best views of any such restau­rant (The Deck at Over­ture), an­other wine­farm eatery (Ber­tus Bas­son at Spice Route), and a stel­lar small plates and wine bar (Spek & Bone). He’s hosted mul­ti­ple tele­vi­sion shows, pro­duced a cook­book, with a sec­ond in the works, and is also fa­ther to a tod­dler, Theodore, Spek the pig, three dogs and seven chick­ens. But all this, ap­par­ently, is not enough to fill his days. Be­cause, on 1 Au­gust, Ber­tus opened a sixth restau­rant: Eike, a stone’s throw from Spek & Bone, on Stel­len­bosch’s iconic Dorp Street.

Named for the univer­sity town’s other moniker, Eikestad, it’s a gor­geous space with a colour scheme that takes its cue from the chang­ing colours of the town’s oak trees; from the rich emer­ald of sum­mer to the fresh tones of new spring growth. What is it that drives the man, who man­ages to make each new of­fer­ing so dif­fer­ent from the last?

IT’S A GREY SPRING MORN­ING WHEN we meet the Bas­sons in their veg­etable gar­den at home in Jamestown, on the out­skirts of Stel­len­bosch, for a glimpse into Ber­tus’s vi­sion of Eden. They bought the house here af­ter they mar­ried in 2014 and have al­ways had a small veg­gie patch, but when they no­ticed a “For Sale” sign on the plot be­hind it, they jumped at the chance to ex­pand. Now, the space is home to an abun­dant 400m2 veg­etable gar­den.

“This used to be an agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity,” Ber­tus ex­plains. “As fam­i­lies grew, they sub­di­vided the land and it be­came more sub­ur­ban.” Now the cou­ple has their own semisub­ur­ban farm. “We grow enough pro­duce for Over­ture, Eike and Spek & Bone,” says Ber­tus as we walk through the neat rows of kale, toma­toes, radishes, turnips, broc­coli, sor­rel, wild rocket and toma­toes. There are also chick­ens that do their bit to keep the gar­den free of snails. “They’re sur­pris­ingly vi­cious,” says Ber­tus. Spek, his fa­mous pig, also spends his days out here (by night, he sleeps in­side). He’s a beloved fam­ily mem­ber – and very smart. Af­ter Ber­tus came home one day to find a thor­oughly up­rooted veg­gie patch and Spek try­ing to con­ceal his 130 kg bulk be­hind a le­mon sapling, the fences around the gar­den had to have their dead­bolts re­fit­ted out of snout’s reach.

Eike chef Kyle du Plooy is here to pick pro­duce for ser­vice. “We pick fresh pro­duce ev­ery day. Ei­ther I or one of the other chefs comes here ev­ery morn­ing.” He loads up with kohlrabi, radishes and broc­coli flow­ers, while gar­dener Joseph Kum­bukani tends the gar­den. “I say I have a gar­den, but ac­tu­ally Joseph has a gar­den,” quips Ber­tus.

We chat about what food means in the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Over­ture staff aim to serve the res­i­dents of Moun­tain View, a dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­nity nearby, sav­ing their kitchen scraps and mak­ing a hearty soup for them on Fri­days. And Ber­tus’s mind buzzes with ways to bring


more op­por­tu­ni­ties to Jamestown. Ac­ces­si­bil­ity is an­other thing that con­cerns him. “One of the big­gest mis­takes we made in the South African wine in­dus­try was mak­ing it ex­clu­sive, rather than in­clu­sive,” he says.

This is some­thing Ber­tus thinks about a lot: how to avoid be­ing too ex­clu­sive with food and restau­rants. Part of the so­lu­tion, surely, is about choos­ing food that is recog­nis­able and doesn’t in­tim­i­date.

BY NIGHT, THE EMER­ALD GREENS OF EIKE glow all the richer, and touches of gold sparkle. Ta­bles are set with a view of the open kitchen, and guests are here to watch the show.

(One group asks for a selfie with the chef.) Lo­cal mu­sic by Lau­rika Rauch, Tumi & The Vol­ume, and Hugh Masekela cre­ates an up­beat at­mos­phere.

First out of the kitchen are some de­li­cious snacks. The first of the gar­den’s broad beans are ready and come crisp in feath­erlight tem­pura. There’s a de­li­cious game “taco”, and a mod­ern take on a prawn cock­tail, with crispy fried prawn heads. Next up is some­thing re­ally spe­cial: served on beau­ti­ful cus­tom-made Diana Ferreira crock­ery, it’s a dish that looks like any starter at a fine-din­ing restau­rant – a mousse, with a crum­ble, a jus, an art­fully placed flower petal. But spoon the creamy con­coc­tion into your mouth and it fills with a fa­mil­iar pair­ing: rich Ched­dar, ba­con and pas­try. It’s un­mis­tak­ably – to my rather English palate – quiche Lor­raine, or if you’ve got Afrikaans sout­tert. blood – Then there’s the bread ser­vice: mos­bol­letjiebrood, the kind of densely crumbed white sour­dough ( su­ur­deeg)

pad­stalle, that’s sold in road­side and Ber­tus’s fa­mous beef tal­low can­dle. Dubbed the op­sitk­ers, this is a dish he has also served at Over­ture. It’s in­spired by the can­dle that was given to court­ing cou­ples in the times be­fore elec­tric­ity, to limit the length of time they could stay up, chat­ting. (“If the dad liked you, you’d get a long can­dle. If he didn’t you’d get the tiny end of a burnt out one,” ex­plains Ber­tus.) The key is to wait un­til a good amount of the can­dle has melted, then dunk the sour­dough into the melted beef dripping. If you didn’t grow up with dripping on toast,





it’ll make you wish you had.

The next dish, though called bobotie, looks noth­ing like the cus­tard-topped cur­ried mince we know. Lu­mi­nous, lime-green oil is driz­zled onto the plate and ruby-red lamb tartare lies be­neath per­fectly cir­cu­lar pock­ets of sweet potato. But bite into the tartare and a pow­er­ful dis­tilled flavour of curry, chut­ney and co­rian­der hits. The pock­ets burst to re­veal the egg cus­tard that tra­di­tion­ally tops a bobotie. The tangy chut­ney flavour comes from de­hy­drated spiced onions, which are turned into a kind of fruit leather. It’s what bobotie would taste like if the rigour of cor­don bleu cook­ery was ap­plied to its cre­ation: punchy and – for those who grew up eat­ing yel­low rice and bobotie – deeply nos­tal­gic.

“We had peo­ple in here the other night – one cou­ple from Ger­many who were thrilled be­cause it was the first time they had ex­pe­ri­enced the flavour of bobotie, and an­other lo­cal cou­ple who were emo­tional about tast­ing the flavours of their grannies’ bobotie,” says Ber­tus. For him, both of those re­sponses are im­por­tant. “There’s a lack of pride in South African cui­sine,” he says, which is pre­vent­ing us from prop­erly ex­plor­ing our food her­itage.

For dessert, there’s a spec­tac­u­lar ap­ple sor­bet which, com­bined with the but­tery crumb be­neath it, recre­ates the flavour of ap­ple crum­ble. It comes with a glossy red ap­ple – sim­i­lar to a tof­fee ap­ple – dubbed “What hap­pened in the Gar­den of Eden?” With a tap of a spoon, the choco­late cas­ing cracks open to re­veal a mousse that cap­tures the flavour of Cremora tart. It’s a He­ston Blu­men­thal-style piece of theatre made from the hum­blest of South African bring-and-braai recipes.

THESE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE THINGS that’ll pass your lips on an evening din­ing here. The jour­ney as a whole, for a South African palate, is a series of “aha” mo­ments, the thrill of recog­nis­ing flavours is a lit­tle like a trea­sure hunt. It’s an in­clu­sive feel­ing, for those who grew up with sim­i­lar flavours – a far cry from the menus laced with for­eign words and ref­er­ences that might in­tim­i­date rather than wel­come.

“We have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for South African flavour,” says Ber­tus. “Kyle and I will sit down and talk about dishes and that’s great too be­cause we come from dif­fer­ent back­grounds.”

Of course, South Africa has many dif­fer­ent food cul­tures to ex­plore.

While Ber­tus and Kyle ably break down some ribs, we talk about other chefs – ex­plor­ing the flavours of umqom­bothi and mle­qwa (see our in­ter­view with chef Nti on page 34). Ber­tus’s eyes light up. “It’s so great,” he says. “The more peo­ple who ex­plore lo­cal flavour, the bet­ter.” Ber­tus and Eike form just a small part of that.

Per­haps the key lies in ex­plor­ing smaller pock­ets of our na­tion’s cul­ture, rather than try­ing to de­fine South African food in one fell swoop. In a video shot by pho­tog­ra­pher Claire Gunn, Ber­tus speaks about the im­por­tance of fo­cus­ing on re­gion­al­ity: “We all think that we have to fly to Europe and eat our way through a moun­tain of French cheese and

foie gras, or loads of fresh scal­lops. We al­ways think that the great re­gional cuisines of the world are in France – Bur­gundy, Provence, Cham­pagne.

But in South Africa it’s the same.

And we should start cel­e­brat­ing it.”

Per­haps Eike is just that: Ber­tus’s space to cel­e­brate just one of South Africa’s in­cred­i­ble culi­nary re­gions: Eikestad, with a lit­tle of Ber­tus’s and Mareli’s Nel­spruit up­bring­ing and Kyle’s Cape Town’s south­ern sub­urbs her­itage stirred in. “South African food is an ever-evolv­ing thing. We haven’t found our way just yet, but we are on our way, and that’s the cool part: we are part of a move­ment to find out what South African food cul­ture re­ally means.”

Clock­wise from above: Rib-eye is smoked over the grill be­fore cooking; the wilde­beest “taco” served on a gi­raffe bone; Ber­tus’s take on bobotie. Op­po­site: The bone theme is in­spired by both Ber­tus and Mareli’s up­bring­ing in Nel­spruit.

Bread is served with an op­sitk­ers, lamb bil­tong, kohlrabi salad and a cu­cum­ber presse with olive brine and lab­neh. The cou­ple’s seven chick­ens help keep the gar­den free of snails,and sup­ply de­li­cious eggs.

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