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Words: Kit Heathcock | Images: Kit Heathcock & Supplied

Karen Dudley’s The Kitchen has been an icon of the Woodstock food scene for years now, always full of regulars arriving for lunch earlier and earlier to make sure of a table.

Last year, Karen – at last – got her hands on the next-door property and is revelling in her new expanded space. Visiting for a wine-pairing dinner with Backsberg wines, it was great to see how the informal cafe transforms into an evening venue, candlelight softening the shelves of vintage plates and deli goodies, an inviting long table festooned with mismatched tablecloths and wild leafy flower arrangements.

Set a Table is the title of Karen’s new book (out in October), all about cooking for friends and gathering people you love. “The table is where everything happens,” says Karen. “It’s where we learn to have conversations – argument without upset – and that there are other people in the world besides ourselves. At the table is where we‑are‑longing to be.”

We were spoilt with a preview of tastings from the book – unfussy food that won’t intimidate a home cook: punchy flavours, plenty of spice, simply plated on Karen’s gorgeous collection of vintage crockery. The Backsberg wines held up beautifully to the strong flavours: the tom yum oysters were an explosion of ginger, chilli and lime granita, but the Sparkling Brut MCC 2015 didn’t miss a beat.

Spiced roast cauliflower with coconut relish was an intense but simple starter that I could imagine making at home. Also, pork belly on black rice with kimchi and pear hinting at cloves and star anise, and the sweet and sour beef brisket with horseradish mousse, the only secret of which Karen says is long and slow cooking. By the time we’d sampled luscious velvety pumpkin pangrattato and melting aubergine tempura, we’d tasted every spice in the book. It’s colourful heart-warming food.

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, three desserts arrived: a light jaffa chiffon cake with chocolate ganache, ile flottante, and a banana roti with delightful cardamom ice cream, paired with a deceptively delicate and raisiny Pinneau NV.

It was a memorable evening of fab flavours, conversation and laughter which Karen hopes will be the first of many. The space is available for private evening events and Set A Table will be published in October.

The Kitchen
021 462 2201

Backsberg Wines
021 875 5141

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