To dine at one of the top-ten restaurants in South Africa has always been a phantasmagorical daydream of mine. Little did I know that I’d soon spend a luxuriously dreamy afternoon indulging at Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenhort with one of my very best friends. It was everything I could ever have wished for, but above all, it was beautiful in every aspect. Warning: 1200 words to go!
How it happened
Friendship isn’t necessarily about who you’ve known the longest; it’s about who walked into your life and said: “I’m here for you,” and then went further to prove it to you. This story is about such a friend, our love for food and our afternoon at Greenhouse.
For weeks, she planned and schemed behind my back with a song in her heart and a sweet smile. It was a belated birthday present, she said, a day of indulgence for the two of us. So, I booked a day off work and couldn’t help getting caught up in her excitement and cryptic clues. When the day arrived, she picked me up and took me on a whirlwind detour to our “surprise” lunch venue.
Now, the Eat Out Magazine is my favourite piece of reading material. I salivate over the pages and recite the names of the year’s top ten restaurants as if I’m studying for an exam. So, when we finally wound our way into the beautifully lush suburb of Constantia, I automatically knew there were a few fine dining options in the area, but never did I imagine us to pull into the leafy retreat of Cellars-Hohenhort a few seconds later! Casually, she grabbed her bag, hopped out of the car and said, “[C]ome let’s go; they’re waiting for us at Greenhouse.”
We sat down in the cool glass conservatory at the front of the restaurant, with the other tables slowly filling as the lunch hour approached. We were surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens, massive old trees and an impressive variety of indigenous plants covering the vast estate in its own little forest. The views are unparalleled, and a walk in the gardens after lunch a complete must-do.
The ambience was surprisingly relaxed; almost casual, but classic elegance oozed from each detail in the restaurant. Here you can eat without feeling stifled or overwhelmed. The dark-wood tables were set beautifully minimalistic with only a small square vase of bright purple Peruvian lilies.
Leather chairs and standing lamps added to the contemporary texture, and the “greenhouse” effect was accentuated with potted Ficus trees lining the windowsills in worn terracotta pots. A huge glass ceiling and strategically placed mirrors allowed for the space to be filled with ample natural light, mimicking the airiness of a garden haven.
The TEN menu
By now I managed to compose myself and eased into the glorious surroundings. The next surprise was that we were going to experience the exclusive TEN menu. To celebrate a decade at Greenhouse restaurant, Chefs Peter Tempelhoff & Ashley Moss designed a decade-spanning commemorative menu for the occasion, aptly called TEN 10 years | 10 dishes.
Without writing a lengthy novella about my new-found love for fine dining (because it would be a love story of epic proportions!) I’ll try and briefly guide you through the ten dishes. Disclaimer: I’m not even going to entertain the thought that I can do it any justice!
The opening acts
After a beautifully subtle opening dish of crustacean custard, we were transported to the African savanna plains and thorn trees with the arrival of the “Butcher Bird’s Pantry.” Impaled on the branches of a magnificent bronze tree were delicate morsels of quail tacos. It was breath-taking, and quietly confident as it stood boldly on our table. It was paired with a bottle of Dainty Bess Pinot Noir MCC and without a shadow of a doubt, this pairing was one of my all-time favourite courses.
“Release the Kraken” sashayed its way onto our table with a flamboyant table-side plating of the dry ice-chilled dressing which arrived with lots of smoke and magic in a rose-gold pot. Again, a gracefully gorgeous dish that paid perfect homage to the sea and its creatures. Some elements on the plate included cubes of cured fish capped with rounds of octopus, finished with a side of Japanese crackers, tiny green apple spheres and a smudge of squid ink. It was paired with one of the most stunning wines I’ve tasted to date; the Cape Rock Asylum, a delicately fruity Chenin Blanc.
A surprisingly humble dish of chicken, mushroom & sweetbreads terrine was brought to life with chantilly green beans, five-spiced pear chutney and onion brioche. Incredibly unassuming, but the flavour combinations were heavenly, and the dish itself incredibly more-ish.
The main stars
There was Saldanha sea trout ‘cuit sous vide’, served with smoked potatoes and a champagne velouté. The trickery happened under the delicate glass cloche on our table, where a prawn was quickly cooked on a bed of fresh seaweed and hot stones to coral pink perfection.
Then came torched wagyu beef with braised kelp, green romesco, beef tendon and sesame. Again, the beef was faultlessly torched tableside, without compromising the creamy, intense richness of the wagyu beef.
The last of the main courses – another of my absolute favourite dishes – was called “braai bokkie”: springbok with mielie pap, carrots, hibiscus jel and eryingii mushroom, paired with a lush High Constantia Cabernet Franc.
We eased our way into the wind-down of sweet sensations with the next three courses. After a light refresher dish of cherries and champagne jelly, we were presented with a ‘camembert’ cheese cake, which, for the lack of a more elegant phrase, completely blew my mind! It was served with roast pineapple ice cream and pine nut biscotti.
The sheer ingenuity and boundless creativity almost caused me to tear up. The slightly sweet Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc Noble Late Harvest elevated the rich cheesecake components to new, more indulgent heights, and it was as if this union was created with each other in mind.
We finished the day of indulgence with a “tree of delights” and hot beverages.
In retrospect, what I enjoyed most (other than the food, of course!) was the complete unexpectedness of not only the day itself, but also of the plates presented to us. Nothing was as it seemed; my senses were challenged and my imagination stretched. I was shocked and surprised and pleasantly wowed with every mouthful. I felt awake and alive as I journeyed through flavour combinations that at first seemed unimaginable, but ended up in a harmonious amalgamation of textures and tastes.
The vast amount of thought and hard work that went into this menu was generously reflected in each component and detail. Each plate forces you into a minute of silence before you pick up your cutlery; just a minute of pure eye-indulgence to appreciate, absorb and understand the aesthetically flawless dish in front of you in its fullest glory.
I also respected the total commitment from the chefs to use mostly local, sustainable and fair foods. Rightly so, it was a peacock showcase of South Africa; a culinary tour through the abundantly stocked pantry of our country.
If you ever want to tick something off your bucket list, put the Greenhouse right at the top (if it’s not on your bucket list already!) and spend a few hours in a different gastronomical dimension of this universe. Be prepared to be mesmerized and awestruck by a galaxy of inventiveness and raw talent.
Our day came to an end. But before it did, we chattered and excitedly discussed the dishes. We tasted wines and enthused about the beauty that surrounds us. We sang the praises of the chef. We spoke about life and loss. About plans and dreams and ideas. We reflected on friendship, and how incredibly valuable these bonds are in our voyage through life. We decided friendship and gastronomic experiences are best paired together and that we should continue to seek out more. Looking back at our afternoon in the Greenhouse, it was the most perfect afternoon; one that will keep my soul fed in many ways for many days to come.
The Little Hedonist has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, I do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, menu changes, opening times, and contact details.