Stellenbosch-based Makaron Restaurant’s latest menu is inspired by chef Lucas Carstens’ culinary exploration of the Mediterranean city of Lisbon.
Lucas says his Portugal visit was a reassertion of the simplicity inherent in all great dining experiences – characteristics that along with locally sourced, ingredient-driven dishes have always been a feature of the Stellenbosch chef’s eye-catching repertoire.
Seafood is featured on the menu with the five-day aged linefish with pickled potato, juicy green olives couched in dune spinach that is locally harvested from the wild; linefish cooked in leeks and served in a delicate fish-bone broth with tjokka (a colloquial name for squid); and, fire roasted octopus cloaked in kohlrabi and apple slithers.
Makaron has started using the digital seafood platform Abalobi, which empowers small-scale fishers and provides greater seafood traceability. “This is the best to have happened for those communities,” says Lucas. “We get the freshest fish while the living standards of artisanal fisher communities have been positively affected.”
The same theme applies to the restaurant’s lamb, which is supplied with a code certifying its origin. “Like our guests, it’s important for us to know where food comes from and how it was farmed,” says Lucas
Most of Makaron’s ingredients are sourced within 20km of the restaurant, allowing Lucas to build long-term relationships with suppliers and farmers. Produce such as figs, plums, peaches, citrus, almonds and herbs are often supplemented from the hotel’s own gardens.
Knowing the source is of course an incentive to showcasing ingredient excellence, which is Makaron’s mission. Dish listings on the menu reflect the approach: Pea, buffalo labneh and avocado; Golden beetroot, nasturtium flower and gooseberry raisins; Eggplant, shiitake and smoked macadamia.
“There’s no room for smoke and mirrors,” says Lucas. The South African-ness of his cooking is also important. “We want to retain a connection with older cooking techniques that may have fallen out of fashion,” he says.
The staanrib (Afrikaans for standing rib) features lamb roasted crispy and plated with pickled waterblommetjies and whole lemon. The complementary farm egg-and-hereboontjie uses a South African heirloom bean cultivated in the Sandveld and is served with a snoek-tertjie (snoek tartlet) and avocado wrapped in nasturtium leaf. Two-day whole-wheat sourdough is provided with house-made amasi (the Zulu and Xhosa word for fermented milk) butter.
The menu retains the small plates design, a style that dispenses with the traditional starter, main and dessert classifications. Rather, guests are invited to enjoy a more complete and diverse experience of the kitchen’s capabilities with dishes available in smaller sizes and sharing encouraged.
Diners may compile their own menu from three to five “small plates” per person. Lucas and his team have also paired every small plate with wines from across the region and made the pairing option available.
Fans of the restaurant will be keen to know that like the small plates design, not everything has been replaced for the new menu. The zucchini risotto served with raw mushrooms and rich shavings of cured egg yolk is still available.
“I keep a notebook of all my dishes. Some make a return, but there’s always an evolution that takes place along the way,” says Lucas.
Other new savoury additions include slivers of perfectly prepared beef tongue with celeriac, mustard and mizuna greens; potato gnocchi on a bed of parsley and onion; springbok rump with loquat and kale; and, a sumptuous beef brisket with aged gruyere and horseradish.
On the sweeter side, diners can choose between guava served with turmeric and melon; pear with parmesan and burnt onion; and, the kitchen’s enticingly-named “variations of dark chocolate”.