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WORDS: KIT HEATHCOCK IMAGES: KIT HEATHCOCK & SUPPLIED

Sustainability has been the focus of Ash Heeger’s Riverine Rabbit since the family-owned Church Street restaurant opened a year ago. Her previous restaurant Ash, in the same premises, explored ethical meat in all its forms; the new iteration, named after the endangered Riverine rabbit of the Karoo, applies Ash’s considerable fine-dining experience and skills in celebration of the whole spectrum of local produce.

We were treated to a preview of the new spring menu, where a beautiful fish dish exemplified Ash’s approach. Red Roman – from Abalobi – is simply grilled on the Josper, the vegetables providing an intricate background canvas of contrasting flavours – thin slices of fennel braised in a compound butter flavoured with various seaweeds she’d collected and dried and a touch of anchovy for umami depth, the spring freshness of broad beans and cucumber from Abalimi, sea lettuce foraged and lightly pickled, it’s all super local and sparkling fresh.

Our seven-course tasting menu with well-judged wine pairings had already started on a high note, with snacks of sublime millionaire’s cheese on toast crowned with truffle butter, chickpea curry pani puri on a bed of dune spinach, and toasted focaccia with bacon jam, quail’s egg, caviar and porcini dust.

The honey-cured thick flank of beef, reimagined with a creamy gentlemen’s relish of anchovy and garlic, pickled and fresh mushrooms and cured egg yolk, with divine potato crisps, managed to be at the same time intensely grown-up and evocative of childhood treats. Ash’s dishes have a confident complexity with many layers of flavour, but an overall simplicity that gets right to the heart of the ingredients. That quiet confidence is reflected in the almost silent open kitchen – smoothly running, calm and focussed. It’s fine dining without any hint of pretension or flamboyance.

As a self-confessed butter freak, putting together a vegan tasting menu was a challenge but one that Ash has relished. It launches this month, including a lovely burnt leek dish with luscious vegan Béarnaise, hazelnuts and pickled lemon.

After a superb duck dish using the whole bird – breast, rillettes and duck fat potatoes – we’d gone beyond an elegant sufficiency, but Ash’s new Hangi pudding revived our flagging appetites. Dreamt up on a recent visit to New Zealand, it’s a gorgeous deep honey sponge pudding, with sweet potato, cinnamon and nutmeg parfait, lime crème fraiche and cider compressed apples. A foodie delight from first to last.

Riverine Rabbit | 021 424 7204 | riverinerabbit.com

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