by Tamlin Wightman
on April 12, 2012
“After one taste of French food… I was hooked. I’d never eaten like that before, I didn’t know such food existed. The wonderful attention paid to each detail of the meal was incredible to me. I’d never really drunk good wine before, and knew nothing at all about it. It was simply a whole new life experience.”
– Julia Child
“Six course meals are a sham,” a colleague at Rhino Africa told me as I bragged about my dining experience at La Mouette restaurant in Sea Point, Cape Town.
We were in the office kitchen and I was loudly praising La Mouette’s Autumn Special – a six course tasting and wine pairing menu. “They’re a sham because the portions are so tiny yet you pay an arm and a leg!” The colleague rambled.
I explained to him that it’s the French way. Nouvelle cuisine (a form of cooking from the mid 20th century) emphasises lightness and decorative form. When it comes to food of such quality in taste and presentation, to have anything more than a mouthful or two of each dish would be too much goodness. The point is to slowly savour and get a whiff of heaven – not to overdose in its clouds.
La Mouette, meaning seagull in French, was named after the seagulls often seen riding the breeze in Sea Point. Offering modern French cuisine with a distinctly Mediterranean flair, La Mouette is situated on a corner of Sea Point Main Road, a road up from the beachfront.
Chef and owner Henry Vigar walks to work along the Sea Point promenade, breathing in the cold ocean air every morning before work. It’s obvious that he’s an inspired man, whether it’s the ocean doing the trick, his wife, Mari, with whom he works, or his simple passion for fine food – or all of the above.
The Vigars own and manage La Mouette. Chef Henry brings to the table vast experience in the restaurant industry, having worked in Australia and France, and a number of UK based top-ranked and Michelin starred restaurants. The couple renovated what was once an old Cape Mayor’s house in Sea Point with adjoining, but separate rooms, five fireplaces, a beautiful dark wood staircase, and a fountain and courtyard outside.
Two friends and I started inside by the fireplace surrounded by several other couples and families. The first dish, the truffle and cheese croquettes with smoked tomato aioli, paired with Graham Beck Brut, was the best of all the courses to come – the pièce de résistance. It even managed to shut up my very talkative dining partner. Well, for a few seconds, as her eyes rolled back in her head and she uttered rather lewd “aaaah” sound effects at the table. We thought we’d better move our “ménage à trois” outside as our volume tended toward maximum, and the Autumn night outside was rather lovely.
We picked a table in the dimly-lit courtyard, looking out at the fountain, under the stars. Quite magical really. A bit Parisian-like. Step outside the gates, and the main road of Seapoint is quite a rude awakening, but there in the courtyard bounds of La Mouette, with the ocean in the not too far distance, it’s all European elegance and Cape Town joie de vivre.
The butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter and shaved pecorino went down far too quickly, along with the Elgin Ridge ‘282’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011 the friendly waitress brought us. The service is tough to fault, from the waiters to the host and Henry’s business partner, Gerrit Bruwer.
A Spanish looking woman in a tight-fitting red dress left her silverfox partner and fox-trotted up to the fountain, as our next course (roasted line fish with a chickpea, tomato and baby spinach ragout served with a barrel-fermented Villiera Chenin Blanc 2009) arrived. I guess she was taken by the music playing inside and the romantic flair of the place, and maybe the wine.
I don’t blame her, the wine is excellent, especially the Domaine Grier Syrah 2006 (served with confit shoulder of beef, sweet corn polenta and tomato gremoulata – tasty, although not my favourite). But then, I’m a red wine girl and a sucker for all things French. The Domaine Grier is made from grapes grown on a wine farm in the south of France and is a product of a union of two families – one French, one South African (read more here).
I clutched the red, while I’d permitted earlier glasses to be carried off to the kitchen half-finished, and received a spoon with a single warm choux pastry doughnut, lemon curd and coffee Chantilly. It was delicious and, as Goldilocks would say, tasted just right with the Syrah. We were hoping for a few more truffle and cheese croquettes, but no one got our hints.
The Autumn Special ended on a sweet note, with chocolate orange macaroon, chocolate financier, orange puree, marmalade ice-cream and cointreau syrup, paired with Graham Beck ‘Rhona Muscadel’ 2008.
Some might think it a sham that the dishes on six course menus come in such small portions, but you have to admit the presentation is exquisite, like the streets of Paris at midnight (watch Midnight in Paris if you’ve yet to visit it yourself, like me…). And by the end of my La Mouette dining experience, I felt, well… like Goldilocks, or as the French like to say Boucle d’or (sans les trois ours).
La Mouette Restaurant
Address 78 Regent Road, Sea Point
Tel +27 (0) 21 433 0856
$ La Mouette’s Autumn Special 6 course tasting menu costs R165; R330 with wine. La Mouette also has an excellent ala carte menu with a selection of starters (ranging from R45 to R95), mains (from R100 to R145), side orders, and desserts and cheeses (from R45 to R65).