A big-name wine estate, a picturesque location, and a chef who’s cooked for the likes of U2 and Claudia Schiffer – this could easily be the recipe for an overly elaborate dining experience. There’s even a rumour that Margaret Thatcher dined here on occasion. But there is nothing pompous about the affable staff and the homey ambience of Constantia Uitsig.
Perhaps it was the glowing fireplace in the foyer. The restaurant resides in a handsomely restored farmstead house overlooking the vineyards. Between the posh bar inside and the cosy dining space out on the patio, the place oozes with a kind of upscale comfort that does not come easily to most restaurants of its calibre. Adding to the good cheer of the place was our witty server Graeme who rightly classified our parting sorrows with each successive emptied plate as “separation anxiety”.
It’s more than just the venue and the service, however, that keeps locals and internationals alike frequenting the Constantia Uitsig Restaurant. On the menu is a stalwart line-up of northern Italian and Provençal fare, accompanied by an extensive array of specials which Graeme fluently catalogued for us. As elegant as each dish sounded, it was the simplicity of integrated flavours that lived up to Chef Clayton Bell’s motto: “Don’t overcomplicate food.”
Take, for example, the Lamb Noisette from the special menu. A noisette is a thick, round piece of lamb that has been deboned. It looks much like a roulade, except in this case it was made of a tender, meaty centre encircled by a crispy fat layer. Served on a bed of chickpea ratatouille, the dish was finished with a fragrant wine jus – made with the estate’s very own Constantia Red – which, alongside the ratatouille’s bright tomato tones, offset the richness of the lamb. Honest flavours, spot-on balance.
The same was true for the baked kingklip (on the menu, it’s “Fresh Linefish” prepared the way you choose) which incorporated the components into a full-flavoured dish without being too heavy: well-seasoned fish with a good flake, a serving of sautéed baby spinach, and a potato mash that had wisely averted the salt-and-butter crisis were all gathered in by the peppery verjuice and onion vinaigrette.
In contrast to the poise of the tomato tart with its soft tomato topping and gentle waft of Fontina atop a phyllo puff pastry, the Caesar Salad had us extraordinarily miffed. It arrived as a mound of soppy lettuce covered by an armadillo shell of thick Parmesan shavings. A battle of proportions, the little lettuce and crouton pieces had wearily succumbed to the sheer volume of the mayonnaise dressing, anchovies, bacon, and cheese.
Dessert was right back on track, however, and foregoing the death-by-chocolate lure of the Marquise au Chocolat may have turned out to be the best gastronomic decision I have ever made. By all means, order the Banana Sticky Toffee Pudding! Paired with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, the fluffy banana cake crumbed perfectly against the buttery ooze of the sweet toffee syrup. It was a star of a dessert which more than met the decadence quota without being too obvious.
Constantia Uitsig seems to have found the oft-overlooked value of quality in simplicity – one that need not rely on the obvious factors for glamour and success. Far from intimidating, it opts for accessibility and comfort. And lest you have any lingering qualms, here’s a fun fact: leftovers get a makeover and go home as tin foil swan sculptures.
Constantia Uitsig Restaurant:
Location: Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia, Cape Town
Hours: 12:30pm to 2:30pm (Lunch); 7:30pm-9:30pm (Dinner)
Bookings: 021 794 4480 or email email@example.com