It takes bags of bravery and a skilled chef (not to mention a healthy bank balance) to resurrect a failed restaurant. Les Oliviers opened in a flurry of hype a couple of years ago, resplendent in a landmark Georgian manor in the midst of much architectural (and culinary) mediocrity.
With its eye-catching bold red and white paint job and menu by celebrity chef Paula Nel, it appealed instantly to pampered palates on the look-out for something new.
When Nel headed off to new horizons, standards nose-dived. Les Oliviers gave up the struggle and died stone dead.
Memories of our last (disastrous) meal there flooded back as we headed expectantly up the stairs into the glamorously revamped dining rooms of Manolo. Good reports from satisfied diners had piqued our curiosity, so we had decided to give it another go, hoping that history wouldn’t repeat itself. Happily it didn’t, and we departed several hours later – replete, in excellent spirits, and hardly mourning the fair whack of hard-earned cash we had parted with.
British-born chef Philip Alcock, last noticed at the Cellars-Hohenort, has an admirable pedigree and a CV littered with mentions of stints with top celebrity chefs in some of Europe’s finest kitchens. He has made Manolo his own, and is chuffed at the number of regulars returning for a meal.
Alcock cooks upscale modern cuisine on the cutting edge of fine dining, which is good to know at the start. Quite frankly, Cape Town is spoilt for choice when it comes to haute cuisine (with or without a twist), and Manolo doesn’t pretend to do anything less, right down to the excellent sorbet (mixed berry and apricot) doing its palate-cleansing thing at the mid-point of the meal.
Our party of four put the kitchen to the test, agonising over what to choose while nibbling crisp cheese straws and sipping tiny cups of roasted tomato and pepper soup. The menu was so seductive that holding back was not an option. As the meal progressed, we were delighted that no one looked askance as we passed our plates around in an effort to taste something of everything. And Kerry served us well: she was fully conversant with the menu and pandered with good humour to our idiosyncrasies and boisterous behaviour.
Creations are complex, which can easily trip up less competent cooks. Classic chicken liver and fois gras parfait comes with blackcurrant and onion jam, and raisin and walnut bread. Thai-influenced sesame crusted tuna has prawn and cucumber salad and chilli-cucumber dipping sauce. Guinea fowl (roast breast and confit leg) is partnered with red onion tart, glazed baby vegetables and honey-balsamic jus. Poached, rolled Norwegian salmon is rounded off with braised, leeks, fresh pasta and basil cream. Chargrilled springbok is perched on an alluring vanilla seed risotto with confit shallots and garlic and orange and lime syrup.
And while I don’t believe there is any reason to stuff a leg of lamb with tarragon mousse, or braised oxtail with mushrooms, at least Alcock does it with aplomb.
Though tummy space was, by now, seriously limited, we pigged out on the best desserts ever: “Grande Manolo”, a splendiferous platter of just about everything on the list.
Curiously, the winelist was presented before the menu, which is hardly conducive to making an effort at wine-and-food pairing. And several wines were not available, which should not happen at restaurants as swanky as this. As one would expect, wine prices are in the upper echelons, but we gave extra points for the fact that a Méthode Cap Classique (Villiera Monro Brut 1999) as well as five whites and five reds were available by the glass. While vintages and origins were stated, wine descriptions would be helpful, and it would be nice to see a couple of new grape varietals and styles in the line-up – we spotted just one Viognier (Uiterwijk) and one Cabernet Franc (Laibach).
Our meal cost R250 a head, including wine and gratuity, but you could spend less if you practised a little restraint and stayed with the daily specials that embrace market-fresh ingredients.
By Lannice Snyman
Province : Western Cape
City/Town : Cape Town
Address : 30 KLOOF STREET, CAPE TOWN. TEL 021 422 4747. OPEN FOR DINNER MONDAY TO SATURDAY. BYO R40 (MAXIMUM TWO BOTTLES PER TABLE AND WINES ON THE LIST MAY NOT BE BROUGHT IN).