All white on the night

All white on the night

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, stepping into the White Room, at the sheer Antarctic assault on the senses; the dearth of sensory input focusing all attention on the plate. In contrast, black-clad waiters floated like benevolent shadows, wafting in and out bearing the nine ‘episodes’ of the White Room’s tasting menu.

Sandwiched between the ground floor Dear Me eatery and the rooftop Tjing Tjing Bar, the White Room – only open on Thursday nights – is the latest offering from chef Vanessa Marx and owner Ilze Koekemoer. 

One of my favourite young chefs in the city bowl I’ve long been a fan of Vanessa’s fresh and inventive menu at Dear Me, and with the White Room she’s showing just how creative she can be when let loose. 

Inspired by a gastronomic gallivant through France and Spain that took in the likes of Mugaritz, Dos Palillos and Arzak, the White Room menu combines the artistry of fine-dining with the respect for provenance and produce that is a trademark of Marx’s approachable menu at Dear Me. 

“We came back from the trip with so many ideas,” explains Vanessa, “But mostly we wanted to take some of the attitude out of fine dining, and put back the sense of ceremony we found at Mugaritz, along with a little bit of humour.” 

And there’s humour here aplenty, with an endearing playfulness to every dish on the menu as each episode offers up its own quirks. 

The ‘Greenhouse Salad’ is served in a glass cloche to resemble a garden ecosystem; all the while trapping in the fragrances of your mini-garden; while traditional steak, egg and chips is reinvented with hollandaise and potato matchsticks. A puckering tonic water sorbet arrives balancing on a crushed Schweppes tin, while the quivering green orb of the Olive Sphere is a nod to the molecular gastronomy of the Adria brothers. 

On the table, an ingenious notepad offers an introduction and explanation to each episode, and it’s hard to resist the temptation to page ahead. Don’t ruin the surprise though… and I won’t here either. I’d love to rattle off all that lies in store if you go, but suffice to say that a porky piggy bank and a wonderfully interactive dish involving a mortar, sesame, soy and farmed kabeljou – SASSI-green listed – make for two of the most memorable dishes I’ve enjoyed in Cape Town.

Distractions aside, even the simple elements of the meal are perfectly executed. A single oyster was perfectly plump, smacking of West Coast waters and topped with a gentle dressing of onion and red wine vinegar. Tomatoes marinated three ways and served in a chilled tomato essence offer an unusual palate cleanser, and pickled cucumber offset the sweetness of a vanilla-and-honey quail breast. 

Each of the nine episodes – 11, if you throw in the fresh focaccia to start, and the sorbet before dessert – are little more than a few mouthfuls, but even my gluttonous stomach didn’t walk away hungry. 

Nor thirsty… wine-pairings are available with each dish and are no run-of-the-mill tipples: Cape Winemakers’ Guild bubbly, delicious Chenin Blanc from the up-and-coming Voor-Paardeberg region and a few surprises from Japan and France round off the experience. 

Is it a cheap night out? With wine pairings, perhaps not. Rather, this is special occasion material… birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day. Hell, why not just payday? But whomever you’re looking to woo, you won’t go wrong in the White Room. 

Dear Me, 165 Longmarket Street, Cape Town

021 422 4920; www.dearme.co.za

Booking required

R380pp or R610pp including wine pairings

Vegetarian options on request


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