Review: Sense SA

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Sense SAThe pop-up dinner trend is going from strength to strength in Cape Town. With the allure of offering guests a taste of something different – perhaps an unexpected location, a personal interaction with the chef, a unique menu or an unusual theme – these events cater to the ‘Experiential Diner’, one who craves not just an amazing meal, but a new and exciting dining experience. New kid on the block, Sense South Africa, has now elevated the concept a few notches higher.

Curator Sarina Jordaan’s exclusive debut dining event marries a myriad of sumptuous South African dishes with a unique setting and a line-up of up-and-coming Capetonian Arts performers. “My mom had an enormous love for entertaining and every family event we would spend hours with her preparing dishes, décor ideas and doing crafts to get the theme to fit together,” Jordaan explains. “There is a gap in Cape Town when it comes to a holistic overview of South African cuisine and culture that is representative of the whole country.”  Sense South Africa aims to pull the two together.

With most of the details kept hush on our invites, we found ourselves at the obscure and intimate Drifters Brewing Company – a perfect dining platform for a small pop-up dinner event in Cape Town. After all, what could be better than concluding a busy week with a generous helping of a coconut beer or a Buchu gin laced with hints of orange?

We soon moved from the bar to a long table, from which the candlelight reflected off the massive steel vats lining the double height space. In keeping with the South African theme of the evening, decor included traditional Basotho blankets, large table pots painted in Ndebele-style patterns, and Zulu telephone wire baskets commissioned especially for the event.

The six course tasting menu saw a series of beautifully presented small dishes starting with a moist and rich Cape Malay bobotie nestled in crispy phyllo pastry, and moving through traditional Zulu phutu pap, chakalaka and Afrikaans boerewors, taking in along the way some biltong, kudu, koeksisters, bunny chow and more. For the adventurous, Jordaan also offered Mopane worms. Admittedly the dried caterpillar hardly looks very appetising, and the taste for most part is pretty nondescript. But at least the high protein and mineral content of the larva made it easier for me to stomach. Jordaan will constantly update Sense SA’s menu, but it’s reasonable to forecast an experimental take on local classics.

Another surprise factor of the evening was the ‘Fruit Jam’ line-up of young and gifted artists who between courses took centre stage to showcase their talent. MC Fruit Vendor, also known as Josh Prinsloo, not only gave a casual, and often comedic, introduction to each of the courses but also spoiled us with some of his beautiful folk songs. Actor and singer Julian Wenn, a former South Africa’s Got Talent semi-finalist, entertained with his unique humour which shone a tongue-in-cheek spotlight on diversity. Immensely talented poet, Vusomuxi Mpofu, at the ripe age of 20, delivered a poetic monologue with such depth that he drew goosebumps as his story flickered between adult confidence and child-like vulnerability. And throughout the evening guests marvelled at Lily Brannon’s watercolour-style painting, using only red wine, her easel surrounded by candlelight.

So when is the next event? “I’m aiming for mid-November,” says Jordaan happily, “And if there is enough interest I would love to do it fortnightly if not weekly!”

In Cape Town, we often look abroad for trending foodie concepts, and create a direct facsimile of it. But with Sense SA, Jordaan has not only put her finger on the pulse, but also tailor-made a creative and entertaining night to enjoy the spontaneity of making new friends around a shared experience. Watch this space: Sense SA is likely to become one of the hottest tickets in town for a truly South African experience.

Benn van der Westhuizen

Benn was a guest at Sense SA’s trial event, which took place at Drifter’s Brewery in Woodstock on 29 September 2017.

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