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Watermelon radish - tastes of Cape Schanck

"We each make our memories in different ways. But it has to be worth it." Jay Rayner

Yesterday I felt far too tired and mildly hungover to write a blog about our overnighter at Cape Schanck, but today I'm going to give it a go, although in some ways there is perhaps too much to consider for me to think clearly. And, as usual far too many photographs to choose from.

When you have lived a long life, and experienced a multitude of beautiful places and wonderful food and when you have lived with one person for a very long time, then it maybe becomes increasingly difficult to enjoy every little moment of an 'experience', although this is usually not a fault of the place, or the food and is much more likely to be associated with, shall we say, marital familiarity as well as previous similar experiences? I say all this, not because we had a bad time at Cape Schanck - quite the contrary - no it's just trying to say something interesting, maybe even mildly amusing, and to find something unique to say about, what some would say was just another hotel, just another meal is testing my capabilities somewhat.

On the mildly amusing - the little disasters that become the funny stories for times to come. Very mild ones. Super clever lifts that required you to tap your card before selecting the floor you were going to. Being old and not reading the sign clearly or properly listening to instructions our first trip in said lift had us going nowhere for a long time whilst we tried different things - all the time with the doors closed, before eventually the doors began to open and close, and open and close, and open and close ... before going nowhere. Not funny at the time. It is now.

Then, because it was dark and I couldn't see, I hit the wrong light switch - not a light switch but a switch that turned everything off in the room. Easily rectified - just turn it back on - but alas the TV would not come back on. A trip to reception with laughs of recognition - I think this happens often - again all was well. And did I mention the spa bath turned itself on with much noise? Apparently it does this if you have a spa bath (David had), but we worried it would do it all night. Not a good start though.

Beautiful room, wonderful views - nothing to complain about there.

Nor Cape Schanck itself.

But on to dinner and watermelon radish, amongst other things.

No first - another tick to the hotel who provided us with a complimentary bottle of local bubbly because of my birthday. A glass, or in my case two, were consumed in our room before venturing down to the restaurant. Possibly a disastrous start and the cause of the subsequent hangover. Do I regret it? Not one bit. It put us in the party mood. And so, having now mastered the lifts we descended to the restaurant.

The first thing to note is that, as is increasingly the case these days it seems to me, it was a tasting menu. You could have three, five or eight courses. I actually completely understand why a restaurant would go for a tasting menu. It allows them to do a number of things - economise - you don't have to have things on hand in case - because you know what people are going to eat, and therefore you probably need fewer staff to cook fewer dishes. And because it's

a known number of particular dishes you can get them absolutely perfect every time. It also allows you to experiment - the poncey part of the equation I suppose which involves all those trendy things like philosophy, foraging, provenance and so on. Not to mention fancy plating. The cynical would say it allows you to charge more.

From the customer's point of view there is perhaps not quite as much joy? The Guardian's restaurant critic Jay Rayner has a couple of things to say on this - sentiments that I'm sure many of us would agree with:

"Not choosing your dinner strips a certain joy out of going for a meal”.

"my heart falls at being told I have to spend £90, £110, to sit through a menu of varying quality. Dishes tend to be small and intense, and when something comes along you do like, you ain’t got much of it."

And we didn't start well at Cape Schanck because for starters David wanted three and I wanted five courses, and as we sat down and told the waiter this we were told this was not allowed - too difficult to handle when the courses arrived. Tension - which the waiter- actually manager I think - detected and went away whilst we discussed. Amazingly we reached a mutually happy conclusion - three courses because this allowed us to choose - a limited choice but a choice none the less.

Wine was chosen and ordered - a Sancerre for sentimental reasons - although we should probably have ordered a local chardonnay, and the procession of dishes began. A wattle seed brioche with roast lamb and rosemary butter, followed by our first courses. Mine was the watermelon radish which topped diced kangaroo and white anchovy. I think there was a whole lot more going on as well - there was a lengthy introduction - as with every dish of course. This was a posh restaurant. David had chicken, mushroom, sorrel - a wing deboned, rolled and stuffed I think. The little cup was a kind of savoury cappuccino - not sure - but Parmesan was involved. He pronounced it delicious anyway.

Watermelon radish. And here I confess to actual ignorance. There was not a huge amount of taste, to my mind to the thin round red pieces on top of my kangaroo, anchovy mixture - which was surprisingly tasty and crunchy by the way. I thought they might have been artfully sliced and cut pieces of watermelon that were dried in some way. Which now makes me feel really stupid. But no, today I discovered that watermelon radish is indeed a type of radish - shown here - related to a Japanese daikon radish. Which I have also never tried. I don't think you will find a watermelon radish at your local supermarket though.

A suitable pause was followed by our mains - for me Dory, macaroni and mussel with some Victorian black truffle on top. It was my birthday, so I splurged. The Dory was beautifully crisp and the mussel was smooth and puréed underneath. Truffles - good but I think it finally confirmed to me that a lot of unwarranted fuss is made about truffles. Pretty wonderful overall though. Pretty awful photograph. Sorry. David had wagyu beef with red wine and beetroot. Not sure what the vertical things were - indeed all the other things on the plate. There is much more than beef, red wine and beetroot there, and I am sure we were told what but completely forgot as soon as we were told.

And then we discovered that we had two desserts, instead of the expected one. First there was yoghurt, olive oil, persimmon - the olive oil being delivered in liquid nitrogen form - so a bit of theatre to top off an extremely delicious few bites. Followed by the even more delicious Quince, quandong and anise myrtle concoction - again apologies for the photograph.

I should perhaps mention that the beautiful pottery was of course hand-made by an Australian potter - well that's also what they do in these kind of restaurants. Cutlery hand-made too I believe.

To end - coffee in a beautiful cup for me - and beautiful coffee I have to say - tea, I think, for David. By then, a little to our surprise, such was the very deft serving of the wine by the lady sommelier, we had consumed the entire bottle. We had not expected to. Another cause of the hangover. The coffee and the accompanying little delights are shown at the top of the page. Below are the chefs at work, reflected in the window in front of me, myself with the sommelier, the manager/waiter, with the pastry cook on the left and the assistant cook on the right. The head chef was elsewhere when we went to congratulate them, but it was just the three who cooked the entire meal. They seemed pleased, and I have to say that the staff - throughout the hotel - were indeed wonderful, and the barman next door said people mostly did not acknowledge this in any way:

"There is a tension in balancing a relaxed atmosphere with the desire to communicate the detailed, often idealistic work undertaken in such restaurants." Tony Naylor

So was the tasting menu a good thing? Well eventually after a very minor bit of tension over what to do at the start, yes it was. Mostly because we did end up having a choice, but also because as Tony Naylor of The Guardian says: "Tasting menus force you out of your comfort zone." Will I remember what I ate? Over time probably not, but I don't have a very refined palate. I will, however, remember the hotel, the staff, and the whole thing with great pleasure. It's the little things that linger in the mind, not the grand gestures.

The next day, I was feeling a little pale - entirely my fault for drinking the bubbly and half the bottle of wine. I could pretend that I made up for it with a very restrained breakfast shown here, of fruit and granola with orange juice. But of course I had previously had a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, tomatoes and the most delicious crispy potato cake, followed by some kind of almond pastry thing. Hotel buffet breakfasts are one of the big treats of the world, and always to be enjoyed to the full when you can.

We visited friends on the way home and then collapsed on arrival at home. Lunch, needless to say, was not required. For dinner I went for bland and soothing Carrot and leek risotto - though without the crispy Parmesan bits. It was certainly not haute cuisine. I didn't even have any chicken stock so had to use a stock cube. A culinary black mark. But just the thing for an over indulged but beautiful two days out. Thank you David.


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