A giant glass packed with huge portions of crayfish, prawns, avocado, and greens – our server William informed us that the Crayfish & Prawn Cocktail (R 195), though listed as a starter in the menu, would be a force to be reckoned with. Keen as we were to try the dish, it was going to be just too hefty if we were to stand a chance to enjoy any other courses. After all, my husband and I are in possession of only one stomach each. This didn’t seem to faze William, however: “I will ask our chef if he could perhaps accommodate you.”
When he showed up just a few minutes later with a small-scale (but still generous) version of the dish, we realized we had just experienced the Red Carnation Group’s motto in action: “No request is too large, no detail too small.”
Azure is the award-winning restaurant at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, Cape Town’s very own Red Carnation landmark nestled into a cliffside overlooking the Atlantic. We felt no need to be chatty while admiring the vista with a lazy ear tuned to the assortment of languages at neighbouring tables. Aptly named for its colouring, Azure brings to mind an ocean palace with its large pillars, mirrored walls, paintings of seashells in rustic frames, and the wide blue stretch of sea beyond the floor-length windows leading out to the balcony. The flashes of silver, black, and blues of all shades can be quite dramatic, but the décor transitions well between a serene day atmosphere and a sophisticated evening ambience.
While waiting for our orders we munched on Mrs. Tollman’s cheese straws, one of a handful of comfort food recipes thoughtfully mixed into the restaurant’s epicurean offerings. Remembering Executive Chef Christo Pretorius from our small exposure at last year’s Taste of Cape Town Chef Theatre, we tried to surmise from the tuna tartare amuse-bouche how his culinary style might compare to that of his predecessor Henrico Grobelaar, with whom he spent six months in the kitchen before taking the helm.
The arrival of the Chalmar Beef Fillet (R 185) confirmed the continuation of a signature Azure move: rich, resonant purees used as accents wherein numerous and often starchy ingredients are implemented without adding bulk to a dish. The smoked onion puree that accompanied the fillet was an absolute delight in taste and texture, the carefully piped blob lending an almost mushroom-like earthiness to the conglomeration of braised oxtail pie, baby leek squash, parmesan crumble, and sauce bordelaise. The Blesbok (R 185) came with no less than four different purées and creams, each with its own vivid flavour. While I could see the rationale for this, as blesbok is extremely lean and requires strategic collaboration, the dish felt crowded – and somewhat scattered at the same time – between all the sweet and earthy and nutty and fruity. On both counts, however, the meat was exquisite: choice cuts with a pretty sear cooked to tender perfection inside.
The best part about dessert was that we got to sample four of them with the Dessert Quartet (R 125). Each bite of these miniature portions delivered full flavour, maintaining the detail-oriented nature of the meal. In particular, we noted the use of salt edging to bring out the sweetness in the dark chocolate mousse, as well as the scrumptious nuttiness of roasted coconut over the mango tart. And if rice pudding could ever be deemed exciting, that’s because it was with matched with fragrant caramel custard and candied nuts in this case.
Kicking our Azure experience up a notch was the quality of service provided by the conscientious and well-spoken staff. From our server’s familiarity with the intricate menu to the manager’s grasp of the chef’s culinary philosophy, it was apparent that the team operates on a deeper level of understanding and ownership. Sommelier Gregory made it a point to acquaint himself with our minute personal preferences before suggesting pairings from Azure’s extensive wine list. Here I might add that when I say extensive, I do mean possibly more extensive than any other wine list I’ve seen in the past year.
All in all, Azure’s brand of hospitality is an artfully crafted one that leaves you feeling part museumgoer, part celebrity. That is, so long as you don’t mind the price tag.
Azure Restaurant, The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, Victoria Road, Camps Bay
Contact: 021 437 9029 or firstname.lastname@example.org