Foraging can be an over-hyped word. For many, it means banging on about the stir-fried dandelion greens, garlic mustard pesto, stinging nettle soup or violet-infused syrup they once made. For chef Candice Philip, however, it forms part of an inventive approach to cooking that’s based on a total sensory experience. Her story has taken her from Grei at the Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa, then, earlier this year, to Basalt Restaurant – a dimly lit, seriously sexy dining room situated in The Peech Hotel’s original heritage house. Go for the intimacy, the je ne sais qois and the brand-new Forage & Flora tasting menu.
Finally, something to dress up for. The vision at the core of chef Candice Philip’s residency at Basalt Restaurant is both different and bold: A new seven-course tasting menu every season, each with a different theme, all riffing off memories and ideas. The flashy and splashy dark-grey interiors, meanwhile, are just as extravagant as the deliciously fine-tuned cooking skills the chef shows in the kitchen – with pops of burnt orange, brushed copper, dark wood furnishings and plush velvet chairs. It feels as much of an intimate dining experience as a masterclass in playful, produce-led fine dining.
The newly launched Forage & Flora tasting menu for spring promises an unparalleled dining experience that’s refined, ambitious and intense. By searching for herbs, fruits and roots from the wild, chef Candice creates food that rivals high art and brings diners unique experiences closer to nature. Dishes like the line fish on the pescatarian menu may be tweaked from week to week. But the big-hitters, sourced through consistent channels, rightfully retain prime position. Spoiler alert: For those who want each and every of the seven courses to be a surprise, look away. Just go along and take an open mind (there’s nothing particularly challenging though). For others, we’ll keep a few of the plates to ourselves.
Some courses come with the scent and tang of the sea, while others are focused on proteins from land that are whipped into edible masterpieces. First up is a generously portioned trio of bread and snacks – plump baobab milk bread with beechwood smoked butter; dainty lemon poppy lavash garnished with micro herbs and edible flower petals; and mussel pani puri, the perfect blend of spice and crunch featuring a crispy, wafer-thin outside and a mouthwatering filling that packs a rich punch. Up next is the sushi-grade ceviche studded with chamomile and almonds, giving a burst of tangy acidity. It’s followed by pink slices of beef served alongside truffle and bay leaf (heavy on the former ingredient, just the way we like it) – earthy in flavour and silken in texture. The main course of duck cooked to glistening perfection is a triumph of the senses, if we were to sum it up in five words. The duck breast is as soft as fresh pasta, tingled with slightly peppery red cabbage and tart hibiscus reminiscent of pomegranate.
Closing the menu is a not-all-sweet amasi, apricot and bee pollen dessert to scrape with your spoon and wonder how slightly sharp fermented milk – that tastes like something between cottage cheese and yoghurt – can be quite so puddingy. And finally, phyllo pastry wrapped around a savoury Karoo crumble cheese filling with walnut and green tea to prep the palate for the tempting after-dinner treats. Beetroot and rose pavlova truffles, lemon and lavender Turkish delight, and miniature café noir cakes decorated with golf leaf are works of art and culinary prowess that let chef Candice’s impeccable techniques do the talking. We washed our food down with a bottle of the Vondeling Sauvignon Blanc 2020, loved for its green herbal flavours and racy acidity with aromas of peach blossom, white pear, passion fruit and lime. Next time, we’ll try the food-friendly wine pairings by specialist fine wine importer, Great Domaines. Chat to the mixologist at the bar for recommendations on post-supper tipples to round off the evening.
Cost: R875 per person for the food menu (excluding the optional beverage flight)
The Peech Hotel, 61 North Street, Melrose
011 537 9797