Friday, December 27, 2013

Bistrot Bizerca

I love the entrance to Bistrot Bizerca at 98 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town. Under a red awning and set back from the street in a beautiful heritage building, one wanders up 2 wooden steps and through a curtain- flanked doorway into a world away from the noise and bustle of the city.  A step  'Through the Looking Glass'.

Eugene and I escape often into the bliss of Bizerca.  It is whispered that a very famous French chef, whose food we adore, eats there occasionally.  What better accolade?

On our most recent visit, my mission was to interview owner/chef Laurent Deslandes. Oh, and to eat of course. The interior is soothing, contemporary and a touch whimsical.  A red carpet runs the length of the restaurant and on entering, one sees right through the restaurant to a stone-courtyard. There, on a fine day, you may dine al fresco under huge umbrellas.  The courtyard has a laid back vibey feel and is perfect for long lazy, hazy lunches. 

Eugene and I prefer to sit inside.  I love the grey columns, wooden floors and tables immaculately set with snowy white linen cloths and huge, flat folded napkins, embroidered with huge butterflies. That day, a glorious fresh orange pepper lay nonchalantly on each table. The walls are bare brick and stone, save for one wall with tumbling greenery.  Butterflies hover over the stone walls. And the ceiling lights are set within snowflakes!

We chose to sit near a window which allows a view of the street.  Chef Laurent explained that he could not stay after the lunch service to chat, because he had to do a school run and then cook for the children. He would dash out of the kitchen whenever he could and we would do the interview in stages.  It all worked  very well. 

There is a small regular menu which describes signature dishes and favourites.  Make no mistake, regulars would stage a revolt if these were ever withdrawn. This menu is the same for lunch and dinner.  And butterflies flutter all over the cover. Then there are the offerings of the day on chalk boards.   These do differ from lunch to dinner.  The entrees on the regular menu consist of 'Saldanha oysters with Cape gooseberry dressing' or you can sample a 'Duo of asparagus and soft boiled egg served with aioli and herb sauce topped with shaved Parmesan'.  Eugene chose this as his starter.  There is a 'Guineafowl Ballotine', a 'Caramelized pork belly' or a 'Duo of pates and rillettes, cornichons and pickled pears'.  Oh heavens, how on earth were we ever going to choose?

Then I spotted 'Fennel Soup with Prawn Toast' on the blackboard.  I have previously experienced Chef Laurent's soups and they are a triumph.  So that was that!  Fennel Soup it would be. 

There is a section on the menu that one can enjoy as an entree or as a main course.  Choose a beautiful raw 'Norwegian Salmon salad with goat cheese, soy ginger and echalote dressing'. Definitely my choice for next time, that is if there is no soup!   Try the 'Chalmar beef fillet tartare with pommes gaufrette' or the 'Butternut pumpkin gnocchi with roasted vegetables, tomato coulis and parmesan'.  There are several dishes that are perfect for vegetarians, the gnocchi being one and my fennel soup another.  The soup is made purely with vegetables and water. 

From time to time, Chef Laurent would dart out of the kitchen, sit down, fold his arms and wait to be interrogated. I had to be on my toes as I had exactly five minute tranches. This is one very charming and very French chef.  I think it would make better reading if I tell his story in one burst, rather than in the fits and starts that were the pattern of the interview.  So food first!

The main course section of the regular menu includes a dish I dream about, 'Karoo Lamb Stew with sautéed vegetables and gremolata'. It is simply sublime. So, naturally I ordered this.  Eugene chose 'Grilled veal liver with baby spinach, fondant potato grapes, beurre noisette and verjus sauce'.  My mouth waters just writing about this food.  Other lovely mains are 'Braised farmed Rabbit' and a 'Pistachio crusted free range rack of Lamb.'

Desserts include an Apple Tarte Tatin that requires one to pre order as it takes 45 minutes to prepare.  I am told it is a triumph.  As Eugene and I seldom eat dessert, we enjoy these delicacies vicariously through other people's experiences. You could also enjoy a plate of artisanal cheese or a Summer Berry Trifle with crème de Cassis and much more. 

The items on the blackboard change daily. That day the starters were a choice of 'Sweetbread and Asparagus Salad', a Garden Salad with all sorts of lovely ingredients, a 'Duo of Tuna' and my divine 'Fennel Soup'.  On the mains section of the menu, there were 'pan fried yellowtail fillets with asparagus, fennel, sweet potato puree, pesto and citrus sauce'.  Chef Laurent made it very clear that he uses only sustainable fish in the restaurant. Or you could try a 'Beef Onglet with spinach, crispy cauliflower' or a 'Free Range Pork Rack with roast vegetables, peaches, raiti and a curry sauce'.

One could describe Chef Laurent's food as hearty country French fare.  He is a classic French chef and whilst he insists that it is not fine dining as the table appointments do not match the requirements of that status, one certainly dines most finely. In the evening one might enjoy his famous signature dish, 'Braised Pig Trotters with seared scallops and truffle oil'.  The dishes on the evening menu are more fulsome.  The idea is that one dines in the evening with leisure and purpose, while lunches are generally eaten in a shorter lunch hour. 

There is a compact and expertly chosen wine list which includes several Cape wines of different vintages and varietals.  There are also varieties of French wines and French Champagnes.  The bistrot has a full liquor licence.

My Fennel soup with Prawn toast was a symphony of rich and creamy fennel flavour enhanced by a swirl of dill oil and a touch of cream.  The prawn toasts were crisp and crunchy, with a piquant flavour that worked so well with the more gentle flavour of the soup.  Chef Laurent told me that his vegetable soups do not have a stock base. They are made with only vegetables, water and seasoning.  Heavenly!   Eugene ate his starter with such gusto, that while I was busy being transported by my soup; he cleared his plate without giving me even a tiny taste.  I'll get him for that!

The Karoo lamb stew is one of those dishes that I could eat over and over again, even in the heat of summer.  The meat is tender beyond belief, succulent and unctuous. Of course, only the best meat is used.  It is marinated for 24 hours and then cooked for two and a half hours. The baby vegetables, carrots, onions, mushrooms or whatever is best that day, are scrunchy and delicious. The jus is a beautiful deep rich brown and flavoursome beyond belief.   I have watched as other guests mop up the last vestiges of the jus with fresh ciabatta, as do I.

Eugene eyed his grilled veal liver with unbridled delight.  Served on a bed of baby spinach, it glistened with beurre noisette and verjus sauce. Plump, shiny grapes nestled between the liver and a battalion of fondant potatoes.  It was cooked as he had requested, medium, and was a beautiful pink colour.  Tender, luscious and moist. He raved.  This is one for those who love liver and are on a quest for perfection.

Our chef, Laurent Deslandes, studied at a hotel and hospitality school in Saumur, a beautiful city in the Loire valley in France. Then it was on to Paris, where he worked in fine dining, bistro and brasserie kitchens for 17 years.  Working at the coal face, he learnt the discipline, professionalism and ethos of French kitchens. While totally indulging his love of the romance and artistry of food, his methods are traditional.  He describes how stocks are made the old traditional way and no flour is ever used to thicken a sauce.  Quelle horreur!  Only authentic French methods are employed in his kitchens.  He is dedicated to using the finest and freshest ingredients and thinks nothing of scouring the Small Supplier Market at Epping at 4am! 

He met his future wife, Cyrillia, while she was waitressing in a restaurant in Paris.  South African born, she had gone to Paris to further explore and develop her love of food and French cooking.  Romance in Paris!  Then, onto the next stage of their food odyssey, Sydney, Australia. There they opened a fine dining restaurant and succeeded brilliantly.   Two sons, Armand and Hugo were born.  The couple decided it was time to wed and travelled to South Africa to be with Cyrillia's family for the ceremony.  They loved it here and decided to stay.  First a restaurant on the Foreshore, Cape Town  and then the brilliant move to Heritage Square.  Hopefully, the end of the odyssey.

Bistrot Bizerca is open for Lunch from Monday to Friday from 12h - 14h30
                                        Dinner from Monday to Saturday from 18h30 - 21h30

Bizerca has a great option available for people who want a late afternoon drink and a light meal.  This is called "Afternoon Bites".  From 14h30 - 18h00 one can enjoy a drink and some of the lighter menu choices, such as a plate of oysters, a salad or the Chalmar beef fillet tartare pommes gaufrette.  Love it - so French! There are also "Late night bites" from 21h30 - 22h30.

Booking is recommended, especially for dinner.

Address:  98 Shortmarket Street, Heritage Square, Cape Town.
Tel:          +27 (0)21 423 8888

Eugene and I love eating out and always pay for ourselves whenever and wherever we go.

‘Back Chat Eats Out’ describes the dining experiences that Eugene and I have enjoyed and wish to share with you.

They are written purely for pleasure and Back Chat is in no way affiliated to or remunerated by any establishment.


Michael Olivier said...

You do write so well and should do it more often! Maybe it's time for me to go back. Not been there since they opened at the new venue. Big hugs to you both for a peace filled health filled and happiness filled 2014. Mx

Leslie Back said...

Dear Michael,

Praise from you is praise indeed. It is so special that you take the trouble to comment and encourage. Thank you so very much.
And may you and lovely Maddy also enjoy peace, health and happiness in abundance in 2014.

Love Leslie

Unknown said...

Great Article thank you so much for choosing
Bizerca and Laurent to interview.

Leslie Back said...

Dear Cyrillia,

Thank you for your super comment on Back Chat.
I am delighted that you like the article.

Leslie Back.

Karen Meader said...

Dear Les, Much enjoyed reading about Bisrot Bizerca! Left me feeling very deprived not to be able to join you in Cape Town for a meal there! Best wishes for 2014! Karen Meader

Leslie Back said...

Dear Karen,

Thank you for your lovely comment and we may yet share a meal at lovely Bizerca.

Thank you too for your good wishes for 2014 which we heartily reciprocate.


Jason Crane said...

Dear Les,
Great article, and great blog. I will definitely be a regular on your site. Jason Crane

Leslie Back said...

Dear Jason Crane,

Thank you for your very kind comment.

I am so pleased that you are enjoying the Back Chat experience.

With Best Wishes,
Leslie Back