Food24 eats at Bizerca...
What makes a restaurant great?
On a recent weekend in Cape Town, I chanced on a piece in the weekend paper written by Tony Jackman, who posed the same question. There were no direct answers given, although longevity seemed to come into the reckoning. Jackman observes that restaurants come and go almost as fast as you can corrupt a government official.
Longevity may be a factor, but how adequate are the traditional criteria of food, service and ambience? Is price a factor? Rossouw’s, the Platter of the restaurant trade, seems to suggest that price is relevant – stars appear to be awarded on the basis of performance within a restaurant’s price category.
I’m not sure that this is valid – does one expect a lower level of service at a Wimpy because breakfast comes in at R19.95? Conversely, is one entitled legitimately to expect Architectural Digest finishes just because the flown-in-yesterday never-been-frozen hand-dived by nimble-fingered children scallops will set you back a couple of hundred bucks?
How important is greatness? Do we always want greatness when we eat out? What about the local establishments that we frequent by habit, predictable and mediocre as they may be, but comforting nonetheless? I think it was Richard Nixon who after criticism that one of his appointments to office (a Supreme Court judge or the like) was a mediocrity, responded by saying that even the mediocre need representation.
It brings shame on Gauteng
On the same weekend that these idle thoughts crossed my mind, I had dinner at a truly great restaurant. I would go so far as to rate is it as one of the country’s best. It brings shame on Gauteng. Bizerca Bistro is stuck away in Cape Town’s business district, on the Foreshore, housed in what was once apparently a car showroom.
The entrance is on the ground floor of what seems to one of those hotels where, as a friend once remarked, if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the faint rustle of pubic hair. But once you pass through the reception and into the world of Michel Roux Jr. lookalike Laurent Deslandes and his wife, Cyrillia van der Merwe, it’s a different ball game, as they say.
To be sure, the industrial-type finishes are not what one immediately associates with bistro decor, but the place bustles and exudes exuberance. A small printed menu is offered, with a larger daily selection of starters and mains from the chalk board. Fixed offerings included braised veal shoulder with pommes mousseline, roasted parsnip, asparagus and baby onion, the house’s signature dish of braised pig’s trotter with a seared scallop, truffle oil and a small salad (R110) and raw Norwegian salmon salad with goat cheese, soy ginger and échalote dressing. Specials vary depending on what’s available, and on the night included starters of game terrine and pork rillettes with a quince and prune chutney, and a medley of beetroot with crisp goat’s cheese with beetroot sorbet.
My starter of fresh porcini served with a lemongrass velouté, topped with a scallop rolled in Parma ham, was easily one of the best things I’ve eaten. The meatiness of the porcini, sweetness of the scallop, saltiness of the ham and hints of lemongrass made for a gently controlled explosion of flavour. The seafood nage (R65) was excellent – a broth with a depth of flavours – the taste of the sea, white wine, herbs and spice, but oh so delicate. A perfectly balanced dish, supplemented with a generously-sized prawn.
For mains, I chose the trio of rabbit (R145) – a braised saddle, with a pan-fried loin and liver served separately. It was very good – the saddle was tender and the sauce served with it well-flavoured, (perhaps with too heavy a hand on the pepper), the loin and liver providing different textures and contrasting flavours – the one delicate, the other more robust, but heavenly in combination.
Desserts included a soft-centre chocolate pudding with white chocolate crème brûlée, and a roasted pineapple carpaccio with rice pudding and lemon and passion fruit ice cream. I opted for the apple tarte fine (R50). It was an unctuous blend of lightly caramelised apple slices and honey syrup, served on a puff pastry base with a vanilla-flavoured crème fraiche ice cream.
But dessert of the night award went to the Granny Smith apple sorbet (R50), served with oven-dried apple slices and a generous helping of Calvados. The texture and flavour of a good sorbet requires balance between fruit and sugar syrup. Here, the tartness of the apple and the sweetness of the stock syrup were in perfect harmony- the result a light, delicately coloured, refreshing and beautifully flavoured dessert.
The wine list is not extensive, but it’s thoughtfully put together. The wine-by the glass options are far removed from the ubiquitous ‘house wine’ blends generally on offer, and comprise a few carefully selected options. I tried the Morkel Malbec (R45), the spicy overtones complemented the rabbit perfectly.
In sum: the service was knowledgeable and efficient but not intrusive, the food excellent, and the prices more than competitive. But what makes this a great restaurant? For me, there was integrity about the place. Ingredients are high quality, seasonal and fresh, and the menu is crafted around them. The foundations are classic, but the combinations are adventurous, with nods in the direction of the cosmopolitan influences picked up on the way to the Cape. These are people who are proud of what they do, and how they do it. They also understand balance – in relation to service, the composition of the menu and each dish that they present. That’s what makes it great.
You’ll like this if you enjoy classic French bistro cuisine with a contemporary twist.
I can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t like this.
Bizerca was reviewed by Like Father Like Son.