La Mouette, Cape Town

My dad and I were recommended this restaurant by my restaurant-snob-cousin, who raved about their spring tasting menu. So off we went to La Mouette on his stern advice. This is probably one of the most enjoyable fine-dining restaurants I have been to in Cape Town, at the most reasonable price, and with a menu suitable for vegetarians. We dove straight into the tasting menu, which has vegetarian alternatives for all of the meat and fish dishes, so you are really made to feel welcome. This six course tasting menu, at only R120, blew our minds. We enjoyed it with a wine pairing too, which comes at an additional cost, but is well worth the experience if you enjoy your wine and are interested in appropriate pairings.

We were started off with onion bhaji and potato samosas on a yogurt and coriander dipping sauce. This dish transported these indian favourites from the fast-food takeaway corner shop to the fine-cuisine dining table. Served in an offset bowl, which invites you most adorably to try these little treats, this was a great way to start the meal. The second dish was a butternut soup. I wasn’t too excited about a butternut soup. These days, lazy restaurants serve “creamy butternut soup” everyday as their daily soup, and it is almost always simply pureed butternut and potato, sometimes overpowered by sugar or citrus, allowing the chef to feel like she made it really special for you. Boring! But this butternut soup was utterly delectable. Light in viscosity and delicate in flavour, this teacupful of butternut soup was topped with a pumpkin and cumin seed oil, allowing it to transcend its tarnished title and remain firmly in my mind the most delicious soup I’ve had all year.

Next came a grilled angelfish and asparagus salad, with cherry tomatoes and baby green leaves. The angelfish was perfectly grilled and its saltiness contrasted beautifully with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the subtlety of the asparagus. There was a vegetarian alternative to this dish, of course, but I chose to try the fish. The thing about tasting menus is that if you like something as much as I liked this dish, you’re always left wanting more. Until the next course comes along, of course, and takes your tasting experience to the next level. And next up was a sweetcorn risotto, with cherry tomatoes, topped with a few greens. I was a little disappointed with this dish, to be honest. Being someone who cooks a lot of risottos myself, I found the rice to be slightly undercooked. On the other hand, it retained the most gooey ooziness, and was uplifted by the fresh, light flavour of the sweetcorn.

After this, we were served a little dessert called Sunny Side Up (click here for recipe), which is an apricot and yogurt delight that is designed to look just like a fried egg. The centre is an apricot jelly, made from fresh apricots, and the white is a yogurt espuma. It was surprisingly delicious and refreshing: the perfect interlude between savoury and sweet. Last up was an ice-cream cheesecake: a scoop of homemade cheesecake flavoured ice-cream balanced on a bed of crumbled biscuit base and accompanied by decorative cubes of pink jelly and sliced marshmallows. This was a fun, cheeky dessert to top off an exciting and stimulating dining experience.

Having raved about the food, I’m now going to rave, unwaveringly, about the rest of the experience. The service was unbelievably quick, with dishes coming out almost as soon as the last had been taken away. The wait staff were very well trained and happily knowledgable about both the food and wines. Management was present and friendly, the owner herself visiting our table for a chat during our meal and indulging us with some of the details of the restaurant’s story. The chef is her husband, and, having done some cooking in Europe, he recognises the trend toward making good food at a reasonable price using local, seasonal ingredients that, with a little creativity, bring together simplicity and flavour. I can’t recommend this restaurant more. Especially because it allows vegetarians to dine alongside their meat-eating friends without dragging them to restaurants they don’t want to eat at, or having to ask the chef specially to make something they can eat. The restaurant is in a big, beautiful old home on Regent Street and the decor is equally grand and tasteful. With brilliant food and superb service, this is my number one restaurant for 2011.

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