Tradition and history: Quarter Kitchen at the Portswood Hotel
I’ve tasted, experienced and cooked many different authentic world cuisines in my life as a wandering foodie. But time and time again, when I’m asked what my favourite dish is, I will immediately return to the smells of my childhood and my mother city; the sweet and spicy aroma of Cape Malay cooking. A recent visit to the exclusive Quarter Kitchen restaurant at The Portswood Hotel became a beautifully nostalgic trip down the memory lane of our vibrantly amalgamated Capetonian culture.
The Quarter Kitchen has recently undergone a name change from The Quarterdeck. Along with the new brand identity, they also introduced a delicate fusion menu, giving diners the option to choose between traditional Cape Malay style dishes and other gourmet choices. Executive Chef, Wade Kearns, adds a delicious and individual twist to this new fine dining menu that promises to be an authentic experience in the buzzing heart of Cape Town.
Needless to say, I was overly excited when I was invited by Chef Wade and his team to feast on their new Cape Malay inspired menu. I’ve always battled to find good curry in this town; something that bothers me a lot, seeing that I very often want to send my overseas family and friends to indulge in a traditional Cape Malay experience! I was holding out high hopes for the Quarter Kitchen, and that they would be able to deliver the sweet heat I was craving so badly. Spoiler alert: I was definitely not disappointed in the least!
As you enter the chic, city-slicker The Portswood Hotel, just keep on walking straight ahead, following your nose right into the warm and welcoming embrace of Quarter Kitchen. Tucked into a refurbished section of the original Breakwater Prison that was known as the “Good Conduct Ward,” the space has now been transformed into a modern, classic and openhearted restaurant. In sharp contrast to the clean lines and contemporary feel, it is steeped in rich history dating from the 1860’s.
As you gently run your eyes across the sections of exposed original bluestone walls, you almost wish they could speak, for they would tell a thousand tales of love, suffering, loss and life. Looking up to where the original prison chapel would’ve been (which is now a state-of-the-art boardroom and meeting facility), you can see the tiny barred windows, beautifully incorporated into the décor and overall ambience of the dining room.
We were presented with the Chef’s Feast, and “feast” was putting it mildly! Chef Wade and his team pulled out all the stops and presented us with samples from all the items on their Chef’s Feast menu.
Starters consisted of a savoury Malay platter, chicken & corn soup and pumpkin, corn & chilli fritters. The minted meatballs in red wine jus were incredibly fragrant and juicy; the samoosas and spring rolls crispy and light. The soup was creamy, beautifully aromatic and the chicken cubes gently simmered to delicious perfection. The fritters were fluffy and just a little spicy – the chilli and pumpkin combination results in an exciting twist on a Cape Town classic.
The main course was what my wildest foodie daydreams are made of: a selection of curries, served in stunning little cast iron pots. Generous portions of panang curry, butter chicken curry, lamb and pumpkin bredie, bobotie and vegetable curry filled our table, served with a side of rice, turmeric rice, roti and a crisp, delectable poppadum bowl. I can’t even begin to describe the aromas that filled the dining room when we lifted the lids to peek inside. And choosing a favourite dish would be a sin. Each dish was filled with individual flavours and textures, and each an incredibly journey of the senses. I personally fell in love with the lamb and pumpkin bredie. The penang curry was flawlessly tender and so more-ish that I could’ve finished the whole pot by myself. The classic bobotie got a modern face-lift with the addition of a fluffy omelette blanket that harmoniously contrasted with the spicy mince underneath. Pieces of heaven on a fork.
By now, I’ve eaten way more than my fair share, but between the great service, cosy ambience, classic elegance of the venue and the gorgeous plates of food that kept on coming from the kitchen, I couldn’t help getting excited at the prospect of dessert. We took a welcome break between mains and dessert just to take it all in and bathe in the gloriousness that is the Quarter Kitchen.
Dessert was a party on our table. Traditional malva pudding, Malay koeksisters and a pear tart tatin drizzled with a berry compote. The koeksisters were still warm, soaked in orange syrup and rolled in crunchy coconut. The light vanilla bean custard served with the malva pudding cut through the richness of the sponge and elevated it to absolute decadent status. The star of the show, however, was the pear tart tatin. The plate was pleasingly decorated with fresh strawberries and berry compote. It was crunchy and sticky and sweet and full of fresh, juicy fruit. I do not have enough words or recommendations for the pear tart tatin.
I need to add a word of thanks and appreciation to the wonderful staff at Quarter Kitchen. We were invited into their space with beautiful smiles, lovely chats and impeccable service. It’s wonderful to feel so welcomed and embraced by genuine South African hospitality.
It’s as if time stands still between these four historic walls, and for a few hours you are gently transported on a culinary journey of the senses; a journey where nothing else matters than the exquisite surroundings and fine food in front of you. For me, food is supposed to be an experience to savour and cherish, and that is exactly what we found at Quarter Kitchen. A special thanks to Chef Wade and his team for an unforgettable evening of food, laughs, companionship and happy memories in this beautiful setting.
Second photographer and photo credit: Timothy P. Gibson
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.