On a mission to explore the tastes of home and redefine them for the contemporary kitchen, Ryan Smith has built up a following for his creative cuisine and a constantly evolving menu. The theatricality with smoke-filled glass domes I remember from a visit three years ago is less in evidence, but the same experimental playfulness crops up throughout the menu.

Bread board and starters

We’d gone for the chef’s selection of four courses, abdicating the difficulty of choosing, and giving us four different starters to taste between us. Before those arrived we had already given our taste buds a workout on the bread board with mushroom butter and bokkom wafer, the jewel-like snacks (a rich duck parfait, a clear red cabbage and chicken jelly, and a melting hot nugget of mielie pap with chakalaka) and the amuse bouche of a smoked snoek and wood sorrel miso with floating pearls of black tapioca, satisfying in texture and umami taste.

Tapioca has become an unlikely favourite ingredient since Ryan tried it as an alternative to risotto. “It’s proved surprisingly popular,” he says. “People would go, ‘Yuck, this was horrible at school,’ and then try it anyway out of curiosity and love the way it can hold a flavour in the same way rice does.”

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South African fusion cuisine

With each dish we tasted influences from many cuisines, but somewhere in the make-up of each dish there was a South African element. In the tuna tataki, vibrant with fennel kimchi and melting ginger granita, a glowing cube of rooibos marshmallow offers a softer note of mellow contrast. The Cape Malay pickled fish potjie is all warm spices and local history in a bowl.

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Cool relaxed restaurant

The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable with an open kitchen; Ryan’s wife Lana is a welcoming host and skilled at pairing wines from small local estates with the succession of dishes. “We do serious food, but we don’t want people to be all hushed and analysing every mouthful,” says Ryan.

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“At the end of the day a meal out is about enjoying time together, tasting interesting flavours and coming away feeling like you’ve been fed.” And well fed we are, the dessert’s a perfect finale, apple and basil cannelloni refreshing a palate that has travelled the world and a rainbow nation in the course of one meal.

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Ryan’s Kitchen
021 876 4598

Words: Kit Heathcock | Images: supplied

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