Review: Resplendent Decor and Dining at Signal

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The chandeliers at the Cape Grace say it all: sparkling and ornate in the usual ways but draped with odds and ends such as vintage teacups, pearls, flowers, and feathers.  Each chandelier, hung with items unique to each room’s theme, evokes an anchor that has been hauled up into its ship, its tines rich with debris from the bottom of the ocean.  It’s just one of the many ways that the Cape Grace has made a resplendent pairing of nostalgic nautical themes with the historical elegance of the Victorian era.

And just as each chandelier is different, so is the handpicked décor of every room.  They’ve got fine detail down to an art, with personal touches that set them head and shoulders above the generic five-star hotel vibe, from the fresh (and massive) floral arrangements designed and delivered by the floral team each morning, to the hand-printed African textile bedspreads and the age-specific gifts awaiting the children of family guests. The only hint of a big and well-oiled machine is exactly that: everything runs smoothly.

It should come as no surprise then, as we sat under the cake-server-laden chandelier inside the Cape Grace’s award-winning restaurant Signal, that our meal was in keeping with our overall impression of Cape Grace.  From starter to dessert, our dinner was packed with details made to look effortless by the meticulous presentation and smooth-running service.  Executive chef Malika van Reenen’s menu offers a contemporary take on a blend of cuisines, mostly French-based but borrowing heavily from Cape Malay fare, along with hints of flavours from all over the world.  A good example was the crispy duck leg (R 175) served with sticky coconut rice, roasted king oyster mushroom, and a sticky sweet plum jus.  There to lighten up the dish was a small but essential portion of pickled cabbage and carrot which, almost like the Korean kimchi, cut through with a spicy, vinegary twist.  The grilled springbok loin (R 195) came with an assortment of taste-bud-jogging flavours: cardamom-scented sweet potato, green beans, caramelized orange jus, and crispy chilli-salted kataifi.  Although the overall flavour profile seemed dubious, there was no question that each individual element had been thought through and punctiliously executed.

Of course the real reason we were at Signal was for the giant tiger prawn, green risotto, semi-dried tomatoes and Cape Malay curried coconut foam (R 145).  I had been dreaming of this dish since trying a tantalizing bite-sized version at Taste of Cape Town, and the real thing turned out to be even better.  The risotto was cooked to that ever-elusive perfect texture of soft-not-mushy, dappled with finely chopped greens, and topped with tomato to offset the rich parmesan taste.  The highlight, however, was the tiger prawn that had been charred ever so slightly over open flames, at once both meaty and tender.

A taste of the truffle-celeriac soup (R 75) only confirmed that punchy, petite dishes are where Signal’s flair for detail thrives.  The soup came in a decanter that was poured out at the table into a bowl, in the middle of which sat a dollop of duck liver parfait—the ideal creamy companion to a smoky and aromatic soup.  It was just the kind of thing to mop up with toasted mushroom brioche, which tied the dish together with an earthy hint from the porcini powder.

The dessert offerings tasted just as elaborate as they sounded: apple tarte-tatin, Ugandan vanilla apple tuile, blackberry brioche macaron, burnt butter ice cream (R 65)—and that was just one dish.  There was an extensive wine list from which to choose (the Cape Grace has its own wine club), and the Bascule Bar downstairs holds the largest collection of whiskies in the Southern Hemisphere.  If you’ve ever wondered how a hotel can manage to stand out amidst a glut of accommodations at the V&A Waterfront, now you know: the Cape Grace has retained historical sophistication alongside old-fashioned maritime charm, bolstered it with world-class service and strategically placed conveniences, and in doing so has mastered the art of detail down to every last chandelier.

Esther Lim

Signal, Cape Grace Hotel, V&A Waterfront

Contact: 021 410 7080 or signal@capegrace.com

Website: www.capegrace.com/#/en/Dining/SignalRestaurant

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