This supremely stylish eatery is an absolute must-visit for any gourmand looking for an exciting gourmet experience. Housed in the large space that was the longtime home of Ocean Basket on Kloof Street (and then Yuzu, for a fleeting moment), this daring new endeavour is the brainchild of chef Arno Janse van Rensburg and his wife and pastry chef, Liezel Odendaal.
For those au fait with the Franschhoek food scene, you might recognise Arno’s name from his time in the valley. The 32-year-old chef spent six delicious years creating culinary exquisiteness at The Kitchen at Maison, whose enviable farm setting and Scandi-chic interiors, coupled with Arno’s beautifully restrained menus, kept it on all the awards lists during its tenure.
Passion has always been the cornerstone of his offering, but here it feels as if Arno and Liezl have also taken on the responsibility of creating the perfect user experience. From the moment you step through the door of this 110-seater eatery, you’re aware that all the finer details have been designed to complement (even elevate) the calibre of the food – from the neatly dressed, bright-faced staff who welcomed us on the pavement, to the chic interiors (charcoal, slick, urbane – with earthy accents adding a warm, pastoral tone), the pitch-perfect front-of-house manager, flattering lighting, and so on. The vibe is buttoned-up in an easy-going kind of way.
Ostensibly proud of his new baby, Arno invites us into his gleaming kitchen, giving us an impromptu tour, and introducing us to his team of seven. His workspace is divided into a cold and a hot section, with a wood fire burning in the centre of the hot area – the only clue of what’s to come: nearly every dish at Janse & Co contains something smoked, grilled or roasted.
Back at our table, I ask him what must be the most annoying question on the planet: “What do you recommend?” But Arno, it seems, is ready for me: “As much as possible,” he quips, before vanishing back into the comfort of his kitchen, where he spends the evening slicing, grating, sprinkling, and finessing every breathtakingly beautiful dish that comes out.
The Exquisite Ingredients
Like they did at Maison, ingredients take centre stage, dictating the flavours, textures and painterly palette of Arno’s out-of-the-box dishes. But something feels different here… perhaps the super-slick urban setting has added a different lens, but there’s a new level of refinement and considered simplicity that embodies every aspect of his superbly varied menu. Not to mention a gamut of original new techniques… Dehydrating and crushing granadilla pips, and then sprinkling them on a mango-and-honeycomb dessert, for example, is sheer genius, adding layers of flavour, crunch and contrasting blackness to the yellow parfait.
The menu comprises 20 dishes – 17 savoury courses and three desserts; there are no starters or mains, as such. Diners are invited to order a minimum of three (R385) and a maximum of seven (R785), which can be brought to your table in any order. There’s also a glossary of terms on the back, which sounds snooty, but is incredibly handy. I had no idea what duckweed* was, until Tony, our friendly waiter, explained it (and also pointed me to the list). Have you ever heard of kvass*? Or chokka*? Me neither!
Every dish is exquisite (to be fair, we only managed 10 out of the 20) – and tastes as spectacular as it looks. My favourite has to be the grilled leek topped with roughly sliced smoked almonds, beurre noisette, and house-made crème fraîche. Reminiscent of a Manet still life, the super-sized leek pops with fresh flavours that are rounded off by rich and comforting creaminess.
The thinly sliced sous-vide lamb (that had been cured for four days), served on an aubergine and dark-garlic purée, and served with wild spinach is another triumph, in that it veered so wildly from anything I’ve tasted.
Of course, the focus is sustainability. The linefish on the night was yellowtail – an utterly delicious play-off between subtle perfumed tones and lemony zing.
The wine list, like the interiors and the food, is smart with an artfully offbeat (and sustainable) edge, including a Momento Chenin 2015 and a Cape Rock Amnesty Blend 2015, to name a few.
Janse & Co delivers that wonderful sense of occasion, which in no way implies that it’s only a special-celebration venue. Just “don’t get too attached to any of the menu items,” laughs Janse & Co’s delightfully affable manager, Ronel Smidt, “because Arno changes them regularly!” Even more reason to visit often!
* duckweed aquatic plant with small leaves that’s rich in protein
* chokka local name for calamari caught on the SA coast
* kvass a fermented probiotic-rich beverage made with beetroot and salt, originated in Russia
Contact 021 422 0384, book through DinePlan.
Opening times Thursday – Saturday, 12pm – 2pm
Tuesday – Saturday, 6pm – 9pm