I was really looking forward to finding out whether the Pomegranate tomato tart was as good as I remembered from my last visit to the Melville establishment more than a decade ago.But, alas, Eskom intervened. Chef/patron Mike Israel met us outside the beautiful Vergenoegd manor house, home to the winelands incarnation of Pomegranate.
“Welcome”, he said, “it’s going to be a romantic candle-lit evening, because we’re doing our load-shedding bit tonight.”
And tomato tart was one of the electric oven-dependent menu items that had to bite the dust. The disappointment was short-lived, and replaced by a deep sense of contentment as we sipped on a glass of bubbly outside, looking across at Table Mountain and enjoying the last rays of the setting sun as they fell onto the dam in front of the manor house – do they make the water look like burnished or molten gold?
In an environment where gorgeous views are commonplace, this is exceptional. Whitethroated swallows hawk insects for their supper; a grey heron waits patiently for an unsuspecting fish to swim past; and a flock of Vergenoegd’s prize-winning Indian Runner ducks waddles past after a hard day’s snail-munching in the vineyards. Time to go in and eat!
Israel’s cuisine is fresh, simple and modern, but underpinned with an appreciation of the virtues of classical techniques – there are no short cuts in his sauces; all are built from hours in an ingredient-rich stock pot. The menu says playfully ‘poultry’, ‘fish’, ‘lamb’, ‘game’, ‘vegetarian’, and so on. And Israel is on hand with a good line of patter telling diners what he’s doing in the kitchen that night with each of those categories.
We started with beetroot carpaccio – whole beetroot, oven-roasted (before the lights went out) with rock salt and served thinly-sliced with rocket, crushed pistachios, goats cheese bocconcini and a chive and black pepper vinaigrette. It was delicious, as were the field mushrooms served with rosemary and gorgonzola in a poppy seed crêpe, garnished with white truffle oil. In both dishes, and in the mains to come, the primary ingredient dominated the palate, with the accompaniments adding piquancy and highlights, not vying for attention themselves.
We enjoyed, with gusto, slices of eland fillet, char-grilled and served with a truffle and red wine jus; and lamb rack, also char-grilled and served with red wine and rosemary jus. We could have had kabeljou, pan-seared and then steamed and served with a mango, lime, chili and coriander salsa; or deboned duck breast with a white wine and pomegranate molasses sauce.
As we were eating the main courses, the lights came back on. A mixed blessing, really, because we were enjoying the candlelight and the absence of the background humming that goes with operational electrical equipment. But it also meant that chocolate fondant was now available. It was promptly ordered, and even more promptly dispatched. Other dessert specialties are crème brûlée made with duck eggs, and a double helping of Vin de Constance. Israel says that the first time he drank this nectar, “it tasted like a glass of pudding.”
The wine list is varied and interesting. There are three categories – Bank Manager’s Choice with wines (like Kanu Chenin Blanc at R59 and Croydon Cape Blend at R58) ranging between R49 and R69; the standard category; and the R200+ SA flagship range, featuring brands like Waterford, Martin Meinert, Thelema and Meerlust. Israel doesn’t charge any corkage, but he does ask for a taste if he likes the look of what someone’s brought along.
Average cost of a three course meal without wine – R150.