How does a restaurant change ownership, close for a period, move location up the road and yet retain its reputation as one of the finest? Not easily is the answer! Yet that is what La Colombe in Constantia, Cape Town achieved.
TripAdviser, the largest travel site on the planet, with more than 535m reviews, has just announced The Traveller’s Choice awards for 2017. There sitting comfortably at seventh in the world’s Top Ten, and the only mention in Africa, is La Colombe.
Chef Proprietor Scott Kirton is understandably extremely chuffed and praises the consistancy and passion of his team, both key ingredients in creating and maintaining a strong brand of any kind.
Interestingly I noticed a recent rant by an associate editor of this organ about his recent underwhelming experience at Tokara restaurant. He might simply have been in a fowl mood, something highly possible, but the absence of the main celebrity chef, the key to most top restaurants, and a sous chef sans the experience is an oft-repeated story. If you go to a top restaurant, and you are prepared to pay for the experience, if the understudy is performing in the kitchen rather than the rock star, surely you should get a discount?
But I digress. Originally part of wine estate Constantia Uitsig where the superb restaurant was managed and cooked for by the irrepresible Frank Swainston, La Colombe came about in the mid 1990s.
The story goes that a young Frenchman, already trained in classic French cuisine, visited Cape Town, happened to bump into Frank, became his sous chef, so impressed him that he was given his own restaurant, La Colombe (The Dove). That person was Franck Dangereux, who remains an institution in the area.
Now I have to own up to being a (very) regular visitor to Frank’s Trattoria Fiorintina in Braamfontein in the late 70s and 80s, and when Frank moved-on, I had no idea where he had gone, other than that he had sadly left town. Only a decade or so ago – after a superb lunch at Constantia Uitsig, when buying The Cook Book, I made the connection.
In September 2014 we stayed at Constantia Uitsig as we conducted our annual Winelands Meander, this time in the Constantia area. We were staying two nights, and had booked at the hotel restaurant and at La Colombe itself. Frank had passed on by then and Franck had started The Foodbarn. Unbeknown to us, the Estate was in the process of being sold off, and – whilst still magnificent – was looking a little tired, and we sensed the staff were understandably unsettled. But our evening at La Colombe, enjoying the tasting menu and paired wines was totally sublime. And Scott Kirton was in the kitchen. From this you can see that La Colombe has a proud and highly celebrated past, but as with any brand, has to be constantly tweaked and refreshed to stay relevant.
You may wonder who finished in top spot according to Trip Adviser: First was Tommy Bank’s The Black Swan, at Oldstead in Yorkshire, UK followed by Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom. The 11 course menu at the Black Swan with paired wines will set you back R2890 a head and a room for the night a further R6000. Given the incredible array of restaurants in the Cape area, I think its about time I paid a return visit to La Colombe, and celebrated Scott and his team. And it is a far better deal than trekking to faraway Yorkshire – although the Pea and Elderflower Tartlet does sound intriguing.
Jeremy Sampson is Managing Partner, JSCS (Jeremy Sampson Corporate Strategies)