The technically-minded have suggested that in relation to Western
foods at least, particular ingredients form agreeable flavour
combinations because they share the chemical compounds responsible for
flavour. It never crossed my mind, when I was given a chemistry set for
Christmas as a 10-year old, to test this hypothesis. But I do know that
intuitively, fresh basil, tomato and olive oil make for a more pleasing
flavour combination than chocolate, anchovy and balsamic vinegar.
get me wrong, I’m very open to experimentation – my deconstructed Big
Mac (with onion ice cream and lettuce foam) is still the subject of
family jokes (or is it ridicule?) But deconstruction tends to retain
conventional flavour combinations – it’s the delivery that’s different.
In short – it’s hard to dispute that some flavour combinations work, and
that there are others that ought to be avoided.
What got me thinking along these lines were the two dishes served at the
recently opened Possum’s Bistro and Deli, located on the south side of
the 4th Ave strip, opposite the Jolly Roger. From it I opted for the
salad (a salad for the table was a collective decision with which I was
happy to concur) and the tagliatelle with fresh porcini. The salad
comprised a mélange of whatever was in the chef’s reach. The usual
leaves, cucumber and tomato were supplemented by strawberries,
gooseberries, grapes and dried fig .
As Michel Roux would say, ‘too much
going on here’. In short, a series of combinations in which the whole
was less than the sum of the parts. The pasta, on the other hand, was
simplicity itself, but a classic flavour combination – pasta, wild
mushroom and fresh parsley. It was one of the best I’ve eaten in a while
– the pasta was perfectly cooked, the porcini was generous, firm and
meaty and the dish was well-seasoned. The dessert disappointed – it was a
pistachio ice cream that had clearly been brought in and which had that
grainy texture of ice cream that has been refrozen after softening.
Of course, a dining experience extends beyond flavour combination. As
its name suggests, Possum’s is a combination of deli and restaurant. The
ambience is Oom Samie se Winkel meets Provence – a floor-to-ceiling
assemblage of object d’art, including ceramics, old Bollinger posters,
cases of canned tomato and olive oil, interspersed with assorted
industrial memorabilia. All of this serves to promote a sense of
claustrophobia, reinforced on a warm evening by the lack of any
ventilation if you are not fortunate enough to secure an outside table.
The service was good, in fact, particularly impressive given that the
place was packed. On a late lunch time return visit, the kitchen was
closed, but the waiter obligingly prepared a selection of charcuterie
(most of it sourced from Fama in Lorentzville, it seems) with a side
salad, this time mercifully confined to a selection of well –dressed
micro-leaves with a few pieces of fruit plated separately.
Jugs of water are presented on arrival, perfumed by a variety of fresh
herbs, again, with little regard for flavour combination. The
hand–written menu suggests an attention to detail that is promising, but
the absence of a spell-check shows. The ‘roularde’, ‘pommegranate’ and
the ‘panini’s’ will no doubt attract the attention of the spelling and
apostrophe police. The deli offers a selection of goodies that you’d
otherwise have to trek to La Marina in Modderfontein to find- think
cheese, truffle oils, olives and patés from Petit Cochon.
All of which went to reinforce my intuitions about conventional flavour
combinations – call me boring, but they work. So I’ll continue to serve a
salad of warmed chèvre with slivers of lightly-toasted hazelnut, duck
confit with kumquat sauce and to finish, chocolate fondant with
pistachio cream. Those combinations work for me, and always will. Don’t
ask me for my onion ice-cream recipe – it defies combination, even with a
Where? 7 4th Ave, Parkhurst.
You’ll like this if you enjoy fresh, reasonably priced but sometimes unconventional food in a relaxed but cluttered environment.
You won’t like this if can’t get into Jolly’s and are desperate for a
beer and a pizza, or if you suffer from anxiety attacks in anything but a