Cooking with Fynbos

Wednesday, 2 June, 2004
Graham Howe
Cape Cuisine on the wild side

A wild dagga pesto is one of the rare novelties I enjoyed on an innovative fynbos menu at The Twelve Apostles recently. Inspired by the natural setting of Azure, the restaurant on the slopes of Table Mountain, talented South African chef, Roberto de Carvalho, has created a menu that showcases the lost art of cooking with the edible wild foodstuffs of fynbos. He explains, ‘There are not many Cape restaurants with an indigenous flavour. My new menu draws on the environment around us - from the mountain to the sea.’

Taking advantage of a rare opportunity to experience the aromas and flavours of fynbos, I ordered all three of the starter options - eschewing mains for a soupcon on the wild side. Over a champagne cocktail - Cap Classique with local buchu brandy - I perused the indigenous section of Azure's a la carte menu which tempts with snoek tart, lamb bredie and fynbos bavarois as well as melktert with koeksusters.

Our fynbos feast began. The spicy west-coast crayfish bisque with wild fennel (foeniculum vulgare) and plankton was attractively presented in a giant tea-cup with a puff pastry hat that released an aromatic infusion upon being pierced by my eager spoon. An intensely flavoured bisque with dark, spicy-sweet African notes and a hint of anise, it was enhanced by the crisp, tropical flavours of Bouchard Finlayson Sauvignon Blanc.

Sourced directly from the mountain and the sea outside the restaurant, the African sushi rolls were wrapped in seaweed, combining the flavours of wild garlic (Tulbaghia capensis), avocado, Elephant's Foot (dioscorea elephantipes) and chakalaka. More subtle than the bisque, the wild flavours came across less pungently - though sushi fans who can't get enough of sushi will no doubt enjoy the novelty.

The piece de resistance was yet to come. If you're tired of that ubiquitous starter found on all Cape menus - and sense that ABC (‘Anything but Carpaccio’) feeling coming on - spare this much-abused dish a second thought.

Roberto's ostrich fillet carpaccio was the highlight of the evening - slivers rolled in thyme and wild rosemary (eriocephalus africanus), drizzled with Paarl grapeseed oil and served with a rocket salad tossed in a wild dagga pesto. The robust combination of flavours was astounding, with concentrated green chlorophyll notes rolling over the palate. The wild dagga (leonoti leonuris) is picked legitimately by fynbos guru Professor Wim Tijmens, culinary consultant to The Twelve Apostles.

Feeling elegantly replete, I enjoyed a glass of Ashanti Pinotage, the Cape's great indigenous grape. I watched my dining partners enjoy their main courses - loin of springbok wrapped in morogo served with butternut putu in a wild rosemary and Namaqua brandy sauce, a vegetable potjie with wild thyme and wild rosemary, and kingklip masala in a buchu butter sauce. My inquisitive fork went on the occasional foray all of its own accord.

The fynbos ingredients are all identified by their proper botanical nomenclature on the menu. Hands up if you know what mentha longifolia is? The menu ends on a sweet note with an irresistible rooibos, peppermint geranium and fynbos honey ice-cream, pumpkin fritters with wild mint syrup and amarula custard or chocolate tart with wild dagga in a suitably flaky pastry.

Afterwards we discussed the many traditional culinary and medical properties of fynbos. Did you know that the evergreen shrub vegetation of the Cape floral kingdom is home to nearly 6 000 endemic species - including 2 500 species on the Cape Peninsula alone (more species of flora than in all of the British Isles)?

· ‘Cooking with fynbos’ is a set dinner menu with three options for starters, mains and desserts at R195 per head at Azure.

For reservations, contact The Twelve Apostles, Oudekraal
Tel: +27 (0) 21 437-9000

Graham Howe

Graham Howe is a well-known gourmet travel writer based in Cape Town. One of South Africa's most experienced lifestyle journalists, he has contributed hundreds of food, wine and travel features to South African and British publications over the last 25 years.

He is wine and food contributor for Eat Out and WINE.CO.ZA, which is possibly the longest continuous wine column in the world, having published over 400 articles on this extensive South African Wine Portal.

When not exploring the Cape winelands, this adventurous globetrotter reports on exotic destinations around the world as a travel correspondent for the Intrepid Explorer and - and for the weekly travel show on SAFM radio.

Over the last decade, he has visited over fifty countries on travel assignments from the Aran Islands and the Arctic to Borneo and Tristan da Cunha - and entertained readers with his adventures through the winelands of the world from the Mosel to the Yarra ."