Aubergine Restaurant, Cape Town, South Africa – A Review

by artfuldiner on May 1, 2024

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Review, Travel, Wining and Dining

Aubergine Restaurant

39 Barnet Street

Gardens

Cape Town, South Africa

www.aubergine.co.za

Visited during a recent cruise from Dubai, UAE, to Cape Town, South Africa

During the past few years, it has been my distinct privilege to dine at – and review – several outstanding restaurants in the Cape Town area of South Africa. Stellar establishments such as Tokara, Fyn, La Petite Colombe, Chefs Warehouse, Salsify at the Round House, and Helena’s Restaurant (Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel & Spa) are, of course, at the head of this sensual sybaritic safari.

… But I have also encountered a host of decidedly humble eateries – Basic Bistro (Stellenbosch) and Foodbarn Café and Tapas come immediately to mind – that, while serving up more casual cuisine, do so with both proficiency and panache.

And then there’s Aubergine. Of all the restaurants I have visited in South Africa, this was, without doubt, the most anomalous… On the one hand, Fodor and Frommer simply gushed all over it. Cape Town Magazine called it “Fine dining in one of Cape Town’s most iconic eateries.” And the culinary coup de Cape Town - Aubergine 50 Bestgrâce – at least literarily speaking – was delivered by Discovery, which included it as one of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants: “Opened in 1996, it’s the magnum opus of chef-owner German chef Harald Bresselschmidt, who cut his teeth at the likes of London’s Savoy. Rooted in classic technique, his menu is a love letter to South Africa’s natural larder. But where things get interesting is how he artfully marries international flavour within such framework. The result is a colourful cuisine – fed by two organic kitchen gardens – running from à la carte and summer small-plate lunches to an ‘East Meets West’ degustation menu.”

On the other hand, the social media changes this glowing picture somewhat, as there are just enough dissenting opinions to give one pause. The real barn burner, however, is a review by Daisy Jones in winemag.co.za: “Despite the plaudits, despite the showcasing of local ingredients our food was generally Cape Tow - Aubergine Exteriorordinary, and in the case of my main course, downright awful…. What was awful? My ‘Cape Sea Harvest’ main, featuring monkfish, was a fright. The dish was described as “line fish set on a ragout of broad beans and artichokes with crayfish bisque spinach and grilled octopus”… Monk is rich and sweet… It’s also impressive on the plate with its tail so similar in colour, texture and girth

to a crayfish tail. I was eager to see what Bresselschmidt would do with local monk tail – and as eager as a little girl at Christmas to see the plating…

“What arrived was light green slop in a bowl with two chunks – not a single tail; two chunks! – of tail dumped on top. Crowning the chunks were some leaves Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Chef Harald Bresselschmidtof wilted spinach like a flat hat caught in the rain. The octopus was like takkie rubber; literally unchewable. The monkfish was watery and tasteless. It didn’t even hold together. It wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t rich. The ragout was gloopy, like a confused pasta sauce.”

And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call the food “awful,” it was, however, significantly less than stellar… as was our entire luncheon experience. As noted above, I have been fortunate enough to dine in several of Cape Town’s most illustrious restaurants; and, based upon my own experiences, Aubergine is simply not in the same league. From the Rabbit’s Finest to the Springbok Pie to the Beef Brisket and Sweetbreads, nothing quite measured up to the hype. No matter what the dish, it was the bland leading the bland – flavor was conspicuous by its absence. And I didn’t find the presentations particularly attractive either. Oh, the pictures on their website look beautiful… but up close and personal they lost a good deal of their photogenic luster.

… But, as well as the food, there were a number of other issues… The service, for instance. It was just okay. Generic at best. Nothing special. And hardly commensurate with the restaurant’s description of itself as a “fine dining” establishment. Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Interior 2Then there’s the ambience – or lack thereof. “Zero,” as one reviewer on social media put it. And while I wouldn’t go quite that far, I must admit that the restaurant’s stark interior, which looked infinitely more attractive in photographs than in person, left me rather cold. And, by way of contrast, since weather on the day of our visit was quite warm, the door to the alfresco courtyard remained open, which let in a slight breeze – as well as a host of flies… At times, it seemed we spent more time swatting than eating.

If the food had been up to snuff, there is no doubt in my mind that these minor faux pas would easily have been overlooked and/or forgiven. And, interestingly enough, the harshest criticisms of the cuisine came from those who were most enchanted by the wine, as Chef Bresselschmidt is not only famous for his wine list, but also for his attitude toward wine in general. Unfortunately, not even my incredibly succulent glass of Pinotage was capable of snatching oenological victory from the jaws of gastronomic defeat.

The bottom line…? As one reviewer put it: “The entire experience was weird.” I couldn’t agree more.

 Bon Appétit & Cheers!

TAD

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