La Colombe consistently appears amongst the Top 10 Best Restaurants in South Africa. Despite its proximity to Cape Town and my goal to eat my way through the best restaurants in South Africa, I had yet to dine there. Cape Town in July is ordinarily rainy and cold, so I had planned a quiet weekend in Constantia (a suburb of Cape Town) comprised of indoor activities – wine farm visits, reading, a massage, roaming Kirstenbosch gardens, and a long leisurely lunch at La Colombe. After I made the reservation, the restaurant also appeared on the San Pellegrino World’s Top 100 Restaurants at spot #76. Only two restaurants in Africa (both located in and around Cape Town) cracked the list.
The restaurant is located on the Silvermist Mountain Lodge and Wine Estate halfway up the mountain slopes and within the Table Mountain National Park. Despite my fears of inclement weather, it was a stunning winter day. The restaurant is perched high on the estate and affords views over the valley below, especially if you are lucky enough to be seated next to one of the large windows. While certainly fitting the description of a fine dining establishment, at lunch the restaurant was loud, jovial, and relaxed. No restaurant is afforded best restaurant accolades unless the service is impeccable and the food is inventive and delicious. On both counts, La Colombe did not disappoint.
I started with a glass of bubbles and settled into my sun-drenched table for a multi-course meal. Nearly all of the dishes had shellfish and the kitchen happily noted my allergy and removed that element of the dish. Many fine dining establishments will not do this as the chef’s original creation is altered and therefore compromised. Although I respect the artistic vision of any chef, as a diner I appreciate the flexibility and ability to accommodate my dietary requirements, especially when it means I can order the dishes that appealed to me.
We started with an inventive nibble entitled “La Colombe Garden” and I wish I had written down all of the intricate elements. The dish was served alongside the most unique bread basket, or rather the bread was a simple sourdough, but the butter was topped with dollops of bone marrow and chunks of pickled fish. With the next course, I had little choice as replacing oysters was not an option, and despite my hesitancy in ordering the lamb tongue and sweetbreads because tongue does not always suit me, it was my favorite dish of the afternoon. Next the kitchen sent out Tuna ‘La Colombe’ which was served in a customized dish resembling a can of tuna. The next dish was perhaps the weakest – a steamed pork bun – not only because it seemed a bit out of place, but because it lacked the theatrics the other dishes.
For the next course we could choose between the cured salmon and king crab with blood orange, melon, and sorrel or a scallop and quail. I elected for the former and thought the dish was lovely. It is the only dish I forgot to photograph, as I was too excited and delved in immediately. Next up was a palate cleanser – a granny smith apple popsicle that was served on a plate with with rocks and dry ice. It looked like a small piece of the Cape Town coast sitting on my table. For the next course, I selected the line fish with squid and chorizo and a creamy onion soubise sauce instead of the beef and langoustine dish.
The waiter sensed that I was reaching the food saturation point and asked if I wanted to hold the desert for 15 minutes, for which I was grateful. All of the portions were small, but I find that when I dine alone I tend to consume my food faster and pacing becomes key to being able to eat everything placed in front of me. I was intrigued by the dessert options, one being a South African cheese, borenkaas, served at three different ages and the other a cremeux with jerusalem artichoke. Taking my waiter’s suggestion I ordered the cheese plate and it was one of the most phenomenal deserts I have had. The kitchen then sent out petit fours and I ordered an espresso. By this point most of the other diners had left and the rhythms of the open kitchen had slowed, as very few dishes were coming out at that point.
After three hours I left the restaurant satiated by my experience. Solo fine dining is one of my favorite activities when traveling alone and this restaurant was certainly the highlight of my weekend in Constantia.