While Stellenbosch’s stylish Majeka House is tucked away in the suburbs, away from the madness of student night life, it seems pretty likely that the new menu from Makaron House’s Head Chef Lucas Carstens will draw a crowd. And that’s how it should be, because this menu is all about sharing. Globally, there’s definitely a trend towards small plate tapas-style dining, with people sharing flavours and textures around the table,” explains Carstens, who took the helm of the Makaron kitchen in 2015. “The idea here is flexibility, and we want guests to decide for themselves how they discover the menu.”
Makaron’s new menu offers 18 small plates, inspired by cookbooks, international eateries and culinary discoveries. “I’ve always been a big fan of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, a rustic-urban eatery where the focus is on small plates served yum cha style so guests can choose what they’d like to eat” explains Carstens.
The menu is split into four sections, ‘Suggested Start’, ‘Followed Up By’, ‘The Serious Choice’ and ‘To Finish’, although guests can pick and choose as they please. It all begins with an amuse bouche of leaves from the Majeka vegetable gardens, tossed in rooibos vinegar and served alongside korrelkonfyt, sourdough and butter.
“We are definitely incorporating more modern techniques in the kitchen, but we’re also focusing on just a few ingredients in each dish, showcasing those as the hero on the plate,” adds Carstens.
A fine example is the pan-fried springbok rump. Plated on a bed of caramelised red cabbage purée, it arrives topped with bacon crumb, pickled red onions and a beetroot crisp. The Chalmar sirloin is also a unique take on a bistro-style staple. Here, Carstens delivers it with a memorable hit of ‘umami butter’, enriched with miso, dried shitake, confit garlic and dried sea lettuce.
One dish that Carstens simply couldn’t take off the menu is his much-loved baby marrow risotto. Topped with raw mushrooms and infused with truffle, the secret ingredient is the shavings of cured egg yolk that provide an extra dollop of unctuous richness to the perfectly cooked Arborio rice.
Along with all that innovation on the plate comes plenty of experimentation behind the pass.
“We’ve really shifted to making whatever we can on our own, right here in the kitchen,” explains Carstens.
For instance, their own almond milk neatly balances the acidity of grapefruit in a sashimi of local line fish, while milk from local farms is used for the creamy house ricotta. With an eye firmly on embracing sustainability in the kitchen, the ricotta whey is then used for creating a dessert sorbet, as well as brining the delicious fermented lettuce served with suckling pig.
Another dish not to be missed is the slivers of house-made duck breast ham. Brined for three days, then cured for up to three weeks, it arrives thinly sliced over baby figs done three ways: fresh, dried and pickled in a red gastrique.
Fermenting plays a key role in the new menu, with the team making kombucha, malt vinegars and ginger beer.
“We’re really trying to bring out the umami flavours in the dishes, using charring, pickling and fermenting,” explains Carstens, who uses a wood-fired Little Green Egg in the kitchen for roasting carrots in the coals, and finishing broccoli and cauliflower over the flames before plating.
“The diners who come to Makaron are looking for a more adventurous dining experience, and we wanted to cater for that,” explains Carstens.
Although the inspiration may be global, there’s a striking inclusion of homegrown South African flavours and ingredients here too.
A ‘mielie pap’ croquette with sheba (spicy tomato and onion sauce) brioche kicks things off with the amuse bouche, slivers of suckling pig are given a lift by naartjie notes, while spekboom and buchu are a tip of the hat to the Cape’s rich floral kingdom. Perhaps the best is left for last though, with an original milk tart recipe from C. Louis Leipoldt providing the inspiration for a playful cinnamon-infused ‘ice cream sandwich’.
Makaron Restaurant is open daily for dinner (closed on Wednesdays during winter between May and September), from 18h30 – 20h30. Diners can choose four/five/six courses from the ’small plates’ menu for R450/R565/R675 respectively. An optional wine pairing is also available, at a cost of R770/R940/R1100 for both food and wine.