There was a crashing sound, a brief burst of flames and some rapid scurrying before things settled down again. We were craning our necks to try and see what had happened, but it was all under control. A little later the sous chef shouted some stern words across the kitchen, rapidly followed by a chorus of ‘yes chef!’ as the staff acknowledged the reprimand without looking up from their tasks at hand. Nothing was directed at us, but our hearts beat a little faster, like we’d just been admonished ourselves.
Open kitchens have become a common thing these days, being able to see into the kitchen while one is sitting in the restaurant is not really a novelty anymore. In fact, most diners ignore the kitchen, preferring to focus on other things like the conversation at their table. Which makes sense, as dining out is normally a social occasion more than an eating occasion. However, sometimes dining out is about the experience, something different, and a chef’s table offers exactly that.
Not many restaurants offer a chef’s table, and those that do each offer a slightly different experience. The idea is for the chef(s) to interact with the table, normally presenting the food dishes to the table themselves, allowing the diners to learn about the dish, its components and preparation. A waiter will handle the the other aspects of the table such as the drinks. Sometimes the chef’s table is situated near the kitchen and the chefs will come out of the kitchen to present the food. The chef’s table at Societi Bistro is like this. But the experience jumps to another level when the table is actually in the kitchen like it is at the Mount Nelson.
I was invited to experience the Chef’s table at the Mount Nelson recently, and I was very happy to accept the invitation. I’ve always respected Chef Rudi Liebenberg for his commitment to using sustainable ingredients (he is a SASSI Trailblazer chef too) and a chef’s table in a hotel kitchen is a rare experience. Many people don’t realise that a hotel kitchen does much more than prepare food for the hotel restaurant. It handles the catering for hotel events and functions, it handles room service as well as breakfasts, high tea and other orders coming from the lounges and pool. It’s a very busy place with a staff complement of about 30!
The chef’s table at the Mount Nelson has been on offer for a long time but it was only for 1 table of 8 or more. Now one can book for just 1 or 2 people if so desired, while the big table option is still available too. The tables are situated in an alcove to the side of the kitchen. There is a big angled mirror for those sitting with their back to the kitchen, so everyone has a good view of what is happening in the kitchen.
If you are interested, you will be given a tour of the kitchen so that you can see what is prepared at each station. Once seated, it’s time for wine and a selection of freshly baked breads and flavoured (herb, olive & marrow) butters. The offering is a set menu of 5 courses which changes every day. You can choose to have the courses paired with wines or not. Planet Restaurant is a nominee for the Eat Out Top 10 awards again this year but Chef Rudi tells me he plans to change the Planet offering to more bistro style food, so those wanting the fine dining experience will have to book the chef’s table.
Our menu was:
Ham hock terrine with lentils, braised leeks and sauce gribiche (De Grendel pinot gris)
Baby beetroot salad with home cold smoked salmon trout (La Motte sauvignon blanc)
Pan fried kingklip with grilled porcini mushrooms, lemon and mashed potatoes (Allee Bleue Isabeau)
Roast lamb loin, braised shank croquette, lamb kidneys with caramelised onion and summer green vegetables (Saxenburg private collection shiraz)
Chocolate and cherries (De Krans Tawny Port)
Each course was introduced by one of the chefs and we quizzed them about various elements the dishes, picking up some nice cooking tips for ourselves! We remained at our table, but those wishing for a more interactive experience could go and watch various stations or even ask to do something (like stir a pot).
It’s a great experience to see a professional kitchen in action. I would certainly recommend it. A special treat, especially for foodies.
The chef’s table experience is R595 per person without wine or R995 with wine pairings (Friday lunch is a cheaper at R500 per head).
Details at the Mount Nelson website.
The full gallery of pics from my experience is here.
Some extra tips for you:
Tip 1: A great idea is to have a pre-drink at the Planet Bar. My martini was excellent.
Tip 2: There is a fridge with handmade treats for sale, like mixed veg atchar, which is delicious. Buy some to take home.
Tip 3: Don’t forget, the Mount Nelson also has Oasis Bistro, which offers a casual lunch option, a la carte or buffet.