When asked why he bothered to set up a website to advertise his restaurant, Paul Bocuse is reported to have responded that even God needs people to ring bells on Sundays to remind us of his presence.
Sel et Poivre has a web site (quite a good one) but it seems to ply its trade in an unassuming, almost publicity-shy way. It doesn’t feature in the 2012 edition Rossouw’s Restaurants, (although there’s a brief review on the website), none of the regular Food 24 amateur reviewers appear to have been sufficiently moved to express their views, and the Eat Out website proffers a single (glowing) review.
It’s not as if chef/patron Coco Reinarhz is unknown – his Ma Passion had a brief but brilliant life in Greenside before he relocated to the Quartermain, Morningside. Coco’s credentials are impressive – he attended the Hotel Management School at Ecole Hotelière de Namur in Belgium and has worked in Kinshasa, Abidjan, and Brussels. More recently, Coco appeared as a guest chef on SA Masterchef; the most self-effacing person on set.
We had a little difficulty finding the Quartermain but once there, the welcome was warm and the ambience more than one would expect of an ‘in-house’ establishment. The service was as it should be – attentive but unobtrusive. The menu is mainly French, with a bow in the direction of the chef’s African origins. What is unique is the divide between the ‘Fine Dining’ options and what is termed ‘Comfort Food’. The former are accompanied by wine pairing options from the award-winning wine list; the latter, as the term implies, suggests more traditional, less adventurous options. (Some of these are to be found on the menu of the Le Petit Sel Bistro at the nearby Falstaff Hotel).
I decided to forsake the comfort food and to go big and go duck, opting for the butternut ‘tarte tatin’ topped with foie gras (R75), and the sliced duck breast served with a prune sauce and a beetroot and brie gratin (R165). Other fine dining options include kabeljou fillet with emulsified artichokes on Parmesan gnocchi (R135), and Scottish salmon papillote with fennel and lemongrass (R165).
The starter was delicious, the butternut an unusual but satisfying complement to the foie gras, which was lightly caramelised to add a light crunch to the texture of the whole and a sweetness to offset the richness of the foie gras. The duck breast was cooked a little beyond the point of perfect pinkness, but the prune sauce was a perfect accompaniment, as were the more earthy flavours of the beetroot and brie. The dessert menu beckoned, but a good espresso was as much as I could manage. (The banana zabaglione sprinkled with dried banana powder and the ‘mille feuilles’ of pancakes with caramelised pears flambéed in pear liqueur looked particularly likely to lead one onto temptation.)
I can’t understand why Sel et Poivre doesn’t enjoy a higher public profile. Perhaps it’s because Coco Reinarhz is so unassuming. He needn’t be.
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