Ever since it opened back in October 2010, Hemelhuijs has been a restaurant of many faces. Now, as the seasons change, artist and chef Jacques Erasmus has transformed the Cape Town eatery once again. Guest writer Eugene Yiga tells us about his visit.
Last year, at Cape Town institution Hemelhuijs, the walls adopted burnt orange tones. This year it’s a river clay terracotta shade, accented with tones of blue and white – becoming displays for rows upon rows of brown ‘Flavour Intense’ laboratory bottles.
Artist and chef, Jacques Erasmus developed these compounds – with enticing names like Black Dukkah and Kashmiri Chai – during his alchemist’s quest for the perfect blend of scent and taste. And now that they’ve been such popular small gifts (for others or yourself), they’ve become a key part of the Hemelhuijs décor.
Another design change is an introduction of The Botanicals, described as a visual celebration of our flora. Erasmus found inspiration from the Victorian botanists who first collected and preserved flora and now presents his own ever-changing collection of leaves and flowers, prepared and pressed on acid free paper or pure linen.
Despite the changes at Hemelhuijs, some things stay the same. First, the professional service. Even though it’s been almost a year since I was there, the same waiter remembered me and even exactly where I sat. Another constant is the elegant simplicity and culinary creativity Erasmus puts into each dish. While last year’s menu fit onto a single page, this year’s is presented in what looks like a glossy coffee table magazine.
For breakfast, start with freshly squeezed juice served in a vase. My favourite is the apple, celery, and ginger but another great choice is the pear, naartjie, and carrot. Then order something simple like old fashioned sago ‘melkkos’ with a generous dusting of cinnamon or something more indulgent like masala yoghurt grilled chicken with yellow cling peach yoghurt on lightly toasted bread.
For brunch, try one of the winter salads: young beetroot with shaved pear, garden leaves, candied walnuts, and gorgonzola dressing or roasted cauliflower with soft poached egg, avocado, croutons, parmesan, and lemon-anchoïade dressing. Another beautiful salad choice is the selection of winter garden vegetables with aubergine caviar, chermoula hummus, poached egg, and homemade herb cheese.
For lunch, there are lots of options depending on how hungry you are. You could go for a hearty slow-cooked onion soup, topped with brioche and baked with kleinrivier gruyere or a lighter cream of roasted cauliflower and chestnut soup with truffle. There’s also the delicate pan-fried veal with mushrooms, marsala wine, and parsley or the zesty white fish in coconut milk with noodles, ceylon spices, hearts of palm, and shredded herbs and shoots.
Hemelhuijs is best experienced over several visits at different times of the day, all the while dreaming of what you’ll discover next.
And let’s not forget about the drinks! If you want a cocktail (which they hand-blend and infuse with bark, seeds, and winter fruit), try the white pepper and orange blossom gin with tonic and freshly pressed ruby grapefruit or the quince and saffron ratafia with soda and freshly pressed apple. But if it’s a rainy Cape Town day, warm up with vanilla dulce du leche or hazelnut dark hot chocolate ganache. Yum.
Despite the brutality of winter, it is the comfort and the nourishment of the winter flavours that I love.
– Chef Jacques Erasmus
Best you book into Hemelhuijs sharpish, so that you can love them too.
Photography by Myburgh du Plessis, styling by Jacques Erasmus.
BOOK YOUR TABLE:
Weekdays from 9am to 4pm | Saturdays from 9am to 3pm
Hemelhuijs, 71 Waterkant Street, Cape Town
Also: Hemelhuijs offers promotional discounts through Entertainer Cape Town.
After graduating with distinctions in financial accounting and classical piano, Eugene Yiga chose to follow his heart and become a writer and journalist instead. He’s written about travel, leisure, food, wine, marketing, media, TV, film, music, theatre, personal development, books, and more for over 50 different websites, newspapers, and magazines. Follow @eugeneyiga on twitter or get in touch via eugeneyiga.com.