Stellenbosch was on the cusp of winter when we visited – damp fallen leaves underfoot, and the scent of wood smoke in the air – so the roaring fire that met us inside Jardine Restaurant was a welcome sight. In the first of two rooms there are cobblestones underfoot, plump cushions on benches, blankets over chairs and botanical prints on walls; it’s friendly, unpretentious and intimate.
While chef George Jardine continues to win accolades at Jordan Restaurant, where’s he’s been for seven years, Jardine Restaurant, which he opened earlier this year, is his personal space that gives him the freedom to be creative and experiment. “George had his eye on this particular spot for years, but it kept getting snapped up,” recalls his wife, Louise. “By chance I saw on Facebook that it had become available again, and we were just in time.”
Short and sweet menu
The refreshingly short menu changes often and just three choices for each course made decision-making easy. There was a vegetarian, a fish and meat option for the starters and mains, and nothing predictable about any of the dishes: seasonal ingredients, simply presented in tantalising combinations.
A light autumnal salad of wild herbs, buffalo mozzarella and pickled mushrooms gained depth from satisfying nuggets of caramelised Jerusalem artichoke, and even the much maligned Brussels sprout was roasted into an appealing savoury gem. Tender roasted quail was a delightful tapestry of rich flavours, embroidered with aubergine, basil pesto, charred onions and mustard seed.
When it came to the main courses, the dish I would return for again and again was the hake baked in pastry. A sublime reinvention of a fish pie, the hake was moist and creamy with a contrasting tang of spinach, surrounded by a velvety mushroom sauce that lifted the whole dish to new heights of rhapsody, studded with dried mushroom flakes, shallots and peppery nasturtium leaves.
Valrhona chocolate and hazelnut torte with a kick and crunch of salted caramel was my dessert heaven. The rich granadilla tart and sorbet was also delicious, and the local cheese board arriving at our neighbour’s table looked varied and enticing. There’s a six-course tasting menu if you want to go all out, but we were in the mood for informality and sharing our three courses provided foodie fulfilment in abundance.
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Word: Kit Heathcock | Images: Kit Heathcock and Supplied