Most restaurants situated at the Waterfront are flogged off as touristy and over-priced and for this reason seem to lack critical acclaim on the trend front. A few come to mind, but simply because a handful fit into this unfortunate bracket we shouldn’t lump the Waterfront’s finer establishments with its inferior counterparts. The truth is The Waterfront is home to some seriously worthy dining treasures and one that I will now be referring to is Seelan, owned and run by one of Cape Town’s most determined chefs, Seelan Sundoo.
On a balmy night, myself and partner took our seats at the quayside where Seelan proudly stands. I’ve witnessed the resurrection of Seelan taking the space of a fish and chips joint, setting the scene for something out of the French Riviera. Despite my frequent visits, dining at The Waterfront is not something I do often, rather getting stuck in the new trend-grabbers sprouting up in town. However after sitting at Seelan on this Monday evening, I felt far away from The Waterfront I'm used to, and sat appreciating the scene before me with fresh, tourist-like eyes.
Instantly welcomed by Tony the maître d' of sorts and then our waiter, we were eased into the classic dining experience that is Seelan, a sort of La Perla of the Waterfront without the arrogance. No surprise here, Chef Seelan being the head chef at La Perla for a number of years, he keeps with the tradition of Italian fine-dining, white table clothes and matching white shirts for staff.
The staff all share a hospitable manner that undoubtedly stems from a direct requirement of Seelan. They appear to be handpicked by him for their ease of interacting with patrons and the best part is they actually seem to want to work there. A trait that only good management can acquire. Apart from the food and the setting, the staff certainly made the place instantly likable.
To start we steered clear of anything too lavish and shared the Seelan chopped salad with my partner ordering two oysters that simply could not be passed up. The salad had me written all over it, crisp lettuce drenched in a well-balanced vinaigrette of olive oil and hints of lemon, tomatoes, cucumber, Parmesan shavings and half a boiled egg. I was sad when it had finished. The oysters were above par due to the sauce of garlic, soy and coriander.
The night reminded me of one I’d had in Barcelona, and my partner literally took the words from my mouth. The place definitely has European attributes that are reflected in the Mediterranean, Italian and French make-up of the menu. Chef Seelan also holds out for his own heritage, and you’ll spot one or two Indian curries.
Mains were timeously brought out, with a constant attentiveness given between meals. We were graced with grilled veal and a salmon tagliata – both signature dishes on the menu. My veal was a large flattened piece that had been grilled in a lemon butter sauce with mushrooms, accompanied by angel hair pasta with fresh tomatoes and a side salad. A typical Italian dish that for me should ring simplicity, and it did. A fairly rich buttery sauce that complimented the plain pasta and fresh tomato – also a greatly generous portion.
The salmon tagliata was cooked just as ordered, medium rare, still bright orange inside, served with fine leaves, rocket, spring onions. My partner was very impressed with the freshness and the precise cooking of the Norwegian salmon, and this is saying a lot as he’s a raw and seared fish fanatic.
Sticking with the Italian theme, dessert was was a delightful cliché of tiramisu. I’ve had my fair share of the dessert around the city, each one differing from the others. Seelan’s hefty tiramisu was made to share (like a lot of his dishes) which of course suited us. It had a heavier dose of Mascarpone making it richer and denser as opposed to the more fluffy tiramisus I am used to. This went down well – the richness was welcomed since neither of us has opted for a heavy dish, and the tiramisu easily won me over with an even coffee to sponge to Mascarpone ratio.
Seelan took me back to another era of dining, a night spent on the once 1960s Amalfi Coast, or at least how I would imagine such an era. Seelan has taken the very best of old-fashioned, classic European cuisine and given it an accessible and personal South African feel. Dishes, although not unique to the restaurant, have an undeniable presence of quality cooking, which of course is the hand of Seelan himself. And this hand seems to care dearly for every bit of the restaurant.
It’s the genuine nature of Seelan that pulls you in, down to the manager conversing with the Italian guests next door to me, or the comfortable chairs that don’t mind you sitting for hours. Also, who can knock a white table cloth on a table by the quayside.
Food24 was invited to dine as a guest at Seelan.
Follow Seelan on Facebook.
- Ceili McGeever