Award-winning chef Richard Carstens celebrated his first anniversary at Tokara in style last week, with a bevy of loyal followers and food critics. And me.
I’d heard of him and I’d heard of the restaurant, but I’d never had a chance to experience either. Boy, had I missed out.
The restaurant perches on top of the Helshoogte Pass (R310) outside Stellenbosch with quite simply the most breathtaking views, and yet it is not in awe of its setting. In fact, it took me a while to find the time to soak in the views of vineyards and olive groves and mountains, as I was too busy enjoying the interior, from the chic contemporary design of the bar and tasting area to the exhibition of Wine Made Art, where artists have been challenged to create pieces using wine instead of paint.
Established in 2001, Tokara Restaurant was renovated and came under new management in 2010. Wilhelm Kühn, formerly of the highly praised Jardine Restaurant, heads up a young, passionate and highly personable management staff, each of whom from the sommelier to the sous chef appears to bring their own joie de vivre to the team.
Having been a firm favourite on the gourmet map a few years ago, Tokara is clearly once more a force to be reckoned with, and much of this is of course due to its chef. As with so many celebrities, Richard Carstens is shorter than you might imagine him to be, and has a rather appealing shy manner. And this has been a big year for him: the former Eat Out Chef of the Year was selected by the SA Consul General in Hong Kong to represent the country at a South Africa promotion at the Island Shangri-La Hotel in Hong Kong in July – an event which served as a showcase of modern South African food.
Service was highly efficient and unfussy, with an impeccably presented ‘Baked Alaska’ of rainbow trout with smoked salmon ice cream followed by a delectable and texture-rich warm salad of turnip, mushroom and goat’s cheese. The 2010 Tokara Sauvignon Blanc was a touch of heaven in a glass, but not perhaps the best choice of pairing and I noticed experts such as Neil Pendock ordering chardonnay with this latter course.
The main course was a triumph: beef fillet and wasabi potatoes with asparagus and a teriyaki and tomato jus. Somewhat inelegantly I gobbled every morsel, thinking I might just skip the next course, never having been much of a pudding girl. How wrong I was. A playful coriander ice cream and coconut panna cotta was, to my delight, exactly what I needed – refreshing, cleansing and melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Carstens is a magician. I left enlightened… if a little distended.
Tokara Restaurant offers an à la carte menu with prices ranging from R50 to R155 a course. There is also a seven-course chef’s menu featuring more ingenious creations, with each course optionally paired with premium South African wines. The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday to Sundays and for dinner Tuesdays to Saturdays. For more details visit www.tokararestaurant.co.za, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 021 885 2550.