Coobs’ new winter menu reviewed by Moira de Swardt.
Finding Coobs is easy. It is on 4th Avenue Parkhurst. Keep on going north until you are convinced you’ve missed it and there it is on the right. On the corner of 14th Street. 38 4th Avenue, Parkhurst. I arrived early and had a choice of parking spaces. The building is contemporary chic.
Some of our party were outside. Our waiter for the evening, Lovemore, offered me the choice of drinks inside (alone) or outside with the rest of the party. Anti-socially, because of the slight chill in the autumn air, and because I don’t smoke, I headed inside. I was soon joined by the rest of the party.
The restaurant has several sections. I was ushered to the inner sanctum, a private area partitioned by glass on the one side and concrete on the other. The concrete area had books against it, which cuts some of the general restaurant noise, but not all. Sound bleeds into the venue and at one point I became aware of it. Then my awareness was gone again. This is not so much because the sound subsided, I think, but because I was having a good time. Anyway, back to the room. The room seats 12 comfortably, 15 at a push. It is open to the restaurant area with the kitchen to the left.
I am not going to dwell on the wines in any great detail, but the owner/chef, James Diack, started out studying in the wine field before switching to food. He knows his wine. We started with a dry local MCC, Le Lude. Lovemore talked me through the choice of a white wine (Haarlem to Hope), a light red wine (Eenzaamheid Cinsaut) and a heavier red wine (Gabrielskloof The Blend). Later in the evening Chef James Diack went through them again, explaining why he had chosen these wines for his restaurant (and for these meals).
We, members of the social media, were invited to preview the new winter menu and we were not eating off the regular menu. There were menus outlining our four choices of starters and four choices of mains and two courses of dessert on the table. I studied the menu in detail. I made my wine choice accordingly. The light red, the Eenzaamheid Cinsaut would do very nicely for all three courses. Eenzaamheid is a multigenerational family operation. The winemaking is handled by Janno Briers-Louw. Cinsaut, despite it being heat tolerant, is not a common varietal in South Africa and this wonderfully friendly, crisp wine delivered all I expected it to, and I enjoyed it. It is not impossibly expensive either.
Our VIP guest for the evening was the lovely Jen Su, who came to talk about her new book “From Z to A-lister”. Jen Su is friendly, sincere and very charming and it is impossible not to warm to her, especially when she is sharing her secrets for personal branding. She contributed an autographed copy of her book for each of the social media people. Also in our goodie bags for the evening was a voucher for a QMSmedicosmetics anti-aging treatment at Acorn Lane Guest Estate.
One goes to restaurants to eat, of course, and the most important thing is the food. I have sampled Coobs food before at the Taste of Joburg events (which I understand may not be happening anymore?) and I knew I wanted the pork belly as a main. I remembered from Taste of Joburg that Coobs is one of the restaurants that sources most its food from the chef’s family farm, Brightside, in the Magaliesburg, farmed by his mother. Every animal is raised as a free-ranging animal until it is ready for ethical slaughter. The pigs used are a cross between wild boar and domestic pigs which makes the pork less fatty than normal pork. The vegetables are also organically grown. Later this discussion led to the issue of the American chicken imported into South Africa. Most of this is being sold to markets who are largely unaware of the storm of protest and who do not have the luxury of being financially able to select products based on their origins.
Right. Back to the food on the menu. I often have to ask what the item on the menu actually is. This was certainly the case at Coobs.
The first option for starters was “Slow braised Suffolk lamb shoulder serve with a truffle infused arancini, minted broad bean puree and radish and micro leaf salad. Arancini are stuffed rice balls, coated with breadcrumbs, which are fried, in case you, like me, were wondering about this.
I ignored the second choice, a bouillabaise because I am allergic to shellfish. After we all had our starters in front of us, there were some raves about this being the best selection.
The vegetarian option was “Crispy coated creamy polenta served with a charred aubergine puree, tahini yoghurt pomegranate, Swiss chard and pine nuts”. No-one selected this.
My choice was “Chicken liver parfait served with port braised red cabbage, candied watermelon, warm chutney and homemade melba toast”. This turned out to be chicken liver pate with preserves which is more or less what I expected. I make killer chicken liver pate and this was as good as mine (not that I am conceited or anything), smooth and not overly offalish. The port braised red cabbage was good, not too crisp and not too soggy. My late father always said one had to have eaten well to be able to cook well and I certainly would take lessons from this starter back to my home kitchen. For me the crowning glory of this dish was the candied watermelon which was gingery and crisp, contrasting perfectly with the smooth blandness of the pate. It was the taste sensation of the evening for me.
Most of the party had the “Confit pork belly served with roasted apple, pommes Anna, craft beer battered onion rings, bacon crumble and a brandy jus. I understood “pomme” as potato, but I was unaware that Pommes Anna is a classic French dish of thinly sliced layered potatoes cooked in melted butter. I am definitely making this at home in the future. Pork goes well with apples and the roasted apple was pureed and not too sweet. The pork belly was served lean with crackling on the side. As I said, I was expecting this and I was not disappointed.
The other main course options were carbonara with wild boar bacon with confit egg yolk. Now a confit is slow cooked, so I am not sure about the eggs. However, I wasn’t selecting this option (no one in our party did) so I let it slide. The vegetarian option was Turkish style roasted aubergine served with crispy fried masala dusted tofu, tomato and onion garum sauce and a micro salad. The final option was porcini crusted slow braised lamb terrine served with pumpkin puree, kimchi, charred baby onions and a minted sherry jus.
The main portion was large and there wasn’t really room for dessert but I still ordered the chocolate plate – “chocolate mousse, warm chocolate brownie, toasted marshmallow and choc-chip nutella ice cream and dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is a confection prepared by slowly heating sweetened milk to create a substance that derives its taste from the Maillard reaction, changing flavour and colour. It was stunning. The portion was again large.
At that point I was just about in a food coma which brings me to the only negative point about the particular menu selection for a group. The other dessert was a citrus thing described as “Lemon curd brulee, koeksister ice-cream and candied citrus. There was no cheese platter for those who need to stay away from sweet desserts (but get tempted so easily even when not hungry). It is a minor gripe and I am sure that if I had asked I would have been accommodated. I’m simply blaming someone else for my excesses.
All round the evening was a huge success. The food, wine, and service combined with the conviviality for a truly great evening.