Essex lad Matt Manning arrived on our shores a few years ago and almost immediately made waves. A stint at La Colombe made sure he got his foot in the city’s foodie door, while private demonstrations and underground pop-up events, where he showcased his love of complexity – made and served simply – had people sitting up and taking notice. That, and the fact that he’s worked with some of the best in the British food biz, of course.
Matt had been looking to open his own spot, and when the three-storey Bree Street building, where Grub & Vine is now housed, presented itself in 2018, he knew the time was ripe. Since then, this bistro has become one of the most loved, smart-foodie destinations in the city.
Grub & Vine actually consists of three experiences: the bistro; the adjacent Green Room – which hosts dinner spillovers, private events and the ever-popular weekly Vine Nights at Grub & Vine; and the upstairs Chef’s Studio, a fully equipped demonstration and interactive training facility where weekly cooking classes take place.
Stylish and smart
Together with local design maven Monya Eastman, Matt has created a space that befits the elegance and quirks that pepper Grub & Vine’s menu. A juicy teal wall painted halfway creates the impression of the kind of dado rail you’d find in a private members’ club, while framed copper plates of birdlife fill the walls, and a plethora of plants create a living and moveable visual feast.
It’s an avid Instagrammer’s haven, and I’m not ashamed to admit I snapped plenty of pics for this very reason. This compelling scene is offset with a perfectly worn, scruffy-ish floor – just the kind of unpredictable detail Matt loves. “People want to be surprised on every level, from the décor and ambience to the food. It’s what I’m passionate about; it’s why we change the food and wine menu as often as possible,” he says.
Grub & Vine reviews all point to one thing: diners can expect bistro fare conceptualised and served with the utmost care. It’s simplicity that belies an enormous amount of thought, what Matt likes to downplay as “no-nonsense food”, but really it is supremely sophisticated in its simplicity.
Think heritage tomatoes served ceviche-style with the creamiest, dreamiest burrata and teeny just-picked baby figs for starters, followed by perfectly pan-roasted West Coast hake, served on a silky sweetcorn, white bean and mussel velouté (which Matt says he has tried to shift off the menu but regulars’ protests were too loud).
Another main worth a mention is the thoroughly moreish bowl of yellowfin tuna tartare, served with cubed watermelon and cucumber and topped with sweet potato crisps. The soft cubes of tuna combined with the crispy crunch of melon and cucumber, bring a flavour fest of note to the party.
While we opted for a half-glass of Colmant Brut Reserve MCC to sip on during our lunch, the winelist is equally interesting. Matt is mad about maverick South African wine producers and, since his passion lies in emulating the perfectly simple fare one finds in out-of-the-way French bistros, so his winelist is also sprinkled with small-label French offerings that change as the menu does.
The dessert menu sees Matt’s leanings towards French classics, where simplicity is king, come to the fore. His Tarte au Citron with a scoop of raspberry yoghurt literally sings – it was the perfect finale to what was, for me, an unforgettable meal.
I opted to go for a lunchtime experience, an altogether quieter affair, and serendipitously so, as it allowed my cousin (who lives in Zurich and lives for food adventures while back in SA for the holidays) and I to linger longer, dig into each other’s plates and snap images for our Instagram grids to our hearts’ content.
In fact, she loved the experience so much, she went back again for dinner that same night. Testament certainly to a special chef’s inordinate attention to detail and providing the wow factor with every morsel he makes.
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