Every foodie has a bucket list. Dishes they want to eat, culinary adventures they want to undertake, flavour sensations they wish upon their taste buds. Very often, these bucket list items are also “firsts.” Without knowing, a friendly invitation to dine at Mångata Restaurant in Simon's Town offered so much more than a gastronomical feast for the eyes and soul, but it also ticked at least five “firsts” from my bucket list without even trying very hard!
Setting the scene
By now, you should know that I have an unhealthy obsession with pretty things. Even more so with pretty food and pretty coffee. Needless to say, I was goofily excited when I saw an email from Mångata pop up in my email box one afternoon. They squarely placed themselves in the middle of my radar when I first read The Inside Guide’s article on “The hottest new restaurants in Cape Town 2017.” I have been drooling over their beautifully curated Instagram feed for weeks; crammed full of impossibly pretty plates of dainty morsels. There’s been a buzz in the air about the new French restaurant that has opened in Simon's Town, and I was dying to find out more.
Owners, General Manager Rachel and chef William, couldn’t be more down to earth. They generously invited Karl and myself to a chilled Sunday evening dinner. We happily agreed to eat whatever they put in front of us. This was a bold move for predictable old me, seeing that usually select my meal from a restaurant’s online menu weeks before actually going there.
They are still in the process of acquiring their liquor licence, but in the meantime, you can bring your own wine, without any corkage costs. I thought this was a very reasonable compromise, as the type of food they serve (especially with it being French inspired!) begged for a beautiful bottle of moody red or a vibrant, fresh white as a dinner partner.
Let’s first take a step back to the name; Mångata. It’s an almost untranslatable word taken from the Swedish language, referring to the road-like reflection of the moon in the water. Given their location right opposite the Simon’s Town waterfront, it’s perfectly fitting. Here you can sit on their expansive balcony with a drink and watch the sun set golden across the ocean, trailing a path of shimmer from horizon to shore. So how does this all fit together; a French restaurant with a Swedish name in South Africa?
Mångata offers the South Peninsula something it didn’t realise it’s been craving for all these years. They describe themselves in true Euro-style as a contemporary bistro serving classic dishes with a modern twist. I would make a strong case for affordable fine-dining, bound to delight everyone from the local-est of locals to wandering tourists and food aficionados.
The venue is snugly tucked on the top floor of one of of Simon’s Town’s iconic heritage buildings, and after a quick flight of stairs, it opens up into a gorgeously warm and welcoming space. Classic paintings line the walls, and the rest of the décor consists of clean, neat lines and understated furniture items. For winter, a lovely fireplace and couches offer reprieve from the wind and weather; for summer, that roomy balcony with sea views surely entices passers-by to stop for a while. Fully opening glass doors also creates the perfect flow-over from the restaurant to the balcony, adding to the lightness of this classic venue.
Once all the introductions and hearty welcomes were taken care of, we settled with glasses of Lemberg's Spencer Pinotage. Starters consisted of pork neck bon bons and ostrich carpaccio. I must’ve exclaimed out loud when Hayley, our waitress, brought the dishes to the table. I was in a moral dilemma – the food photographer in me urged me to get snapping, but the foodie in me begged to cut into those crispy bon bons! Karl was positively drooling by now, whilst I assembled my camera and lenses and flash. He was like a horse at the gates, but mustered up quite a bit of patience for me to take photos.
That was the easy part, although I must admit, food photography is a tricky profession. But with dishes this beautifully plated, not much credit can go to the photographer. I’m merely the eye that sees the art on my plate. I didn’t have to do the food justice by dressing it up in Lightroom filters; it spoke confidently and boldly for itself.
The pork bon bons are little fried balls of pulled pork meat, served with an apple & cider purée and crispy bacon streaks. They were served on a heavy clam-shell inspired stone plate, decorated with fresh radish slices and dehydrated apple rounds. The age old classic combination of pork, apple and cider has been creatively re-imagined at the hands of chef William and given a second, more glamorous, life.
I was a bit concerned about the ostrich carpaccio (not being the biggest fan of raw meat), but on reflection, it turned out to be my favourite dish of the evening. Paper-thin slices of ostrich fillet just slightly charred on the outside. It was beautifully presented in a festive wreath, dotted with bloody mary jelly cubes, horseradish snow, capers, pink peppercorns and fresh slivers of spring onion. It was addictively good. If you’re texturally inclined like me, you would find it to be the an amalgamation of the most perfect ingredients for the most satisfying mouthful. The ostrich was creamy and melt-in-the-mouth, complemented by the crunchy pink peppercorns and spring onion, brought together with little pops of surprises hidden in the bloody mary jelly cubes. The capers and berries balanced out the richness of the meat, and the horseradish snow, oh, the horseradish snow…just the tiniest nod of spiciness to leave your taste buds positively zinging.
The main event
After a palate-cleanser of a trio of homemade sorbets, it was time for the main event. I was starting to understand why I craved more and more of Mångata’s plates. It was down to the quality and freshness of the ingredients; adding a whole extra dimension to the flavour of the food. Rachel jokingly told us that other than the meat (because of the lack of space at their home), everything else is home grown or locally sourced, which is also why their menu changes seasonally and often.
Dinner was served. Confit duck quarter, with a cassoulet, baby carrots and a red wine jus. This classic French dish is served African style, in an earthen bowl, reminiscent of winter comfort food. The humble peasant dish of butter beans and bacon forms the foundation to carry the delicate duck quarter. The cassoulet was topped with the most fragrant scoop of slow cooked duck meat, topped with a crispy poppadum, the duck-leg on the bone and deep-fried vermicelli noodles. In the bottom of the bowl, tender baby carrots in a rich red wine jus.
The second main course was confit pork belly, with (get this!) duck fat soil (!), kohlrabi and corn, apple puree, honey and cider jelly, garlic foam, sautéed potatoes and a honey jus. This plate was just beautiful. I actually didn’t want to disturb the perfect plating. I didn’t want to flatten the delicate garlic foam; I didn’t want to squish the perfect square of jelly. We turned and turned the plate around, admiring it from each angle, making sure to pay each element the respect it deserved. Even though the plate looked as if it belonged in a high-end art gallery on a pedestal, it was completely approachable. The pork belly was generous and very tasty. It was cooked in duck fat which added that extra layer of lusciousness to the meat.
My personal favourite was the duck fat soil – it was surprisingly light and fragile. It only perches on your tongue for a second or two before it dissolves into beautiful nothingness. Karl’s favourite was the honey and cider jelly, speckled with aromatic cumin seeds. Needless to say, we devoured everything else, too! We decided, after a long deliberation, that the best way to summarise the main courses were “comfort food in a tuxedo.” But I’m afraid that might not do it adequate justice. For once, I was at a loss of words as the food spoke languages I've never heard before.
I realised that none of the dishes contained what I call, “tummy fillers.” The fries, bread, pastries, dough or onion rings of the gluten-world. What you got on your plate was quality food that filled your tummy without any of the nasties, which contributed to an overall sense of wholesomeness, rather than self-loathing after consuming buckets of calories hidden in everyone’s favourite chips-on-the-side.
By now the restaurant has filled up nicely and happy chatter filled the dining room. The space was dappled in soft candlelight and the fire was crackling companionably. Rachel popped by our table every now and again for a little chat and Hayley was not only super attentive and entertaining, but also very knowledgeable, seeing that she’s pretty much been on the Mångata journey since it’s opening a mere 10 months ago.
By now my heart was openly sewn onto my sleeve and I was childishly excited for dessert. I did a little mental elbow pump when we were served the deconstructed lemon tart. I have a thing for lemons. I also have a thing for anything deconstructed. It was a striking combination of soft Italian meringue, tart lemon curd, blueberry coulis, the-most-divine almond crumble and cute little purple meringues reminiscent of a coral reef, abundant with anemone’s and magical mermaid stuff. The other dessert was a darkly decadent “tree of life” chocolate fondant.
Winter is the time when most chefs play around with recipe development, and the “tree of life” chocolate fondant dessert plate was one of chef William’s newest creations. We were happy to be deemed worthy test subjects! An artistically free-hand drawn chocolate tree, with little cherry blossoms of strawberry and rosewater mousse, served home-made vanilla ice cream, chocolate soil and of course, nestled between the roots of the tree, a chocolate fondant that deserves streets to be named after it. At the risk of being embarrassed, we secretly scraped our fingers through the plate to pick up the last of the chocolate soil crumbs.
And when we thought this was the end, there was more! A last hurrah if you wish. A beautifully handwritten chocolate plate with more of the cute orange-flavoured purple meringues.
Back to my bucket list and “firsts.” I tried to jot them down in bullet points so not to keep you reading for much longer. If you’ve made it this far, you must be a serious foodie! So here goes, the added extras from our dinner at Mångata’s:
√ First time eating (what I class as) fine dining food
√ First time eating classics in a French-style restaurant
√ First time eating whatever is put in front of me (major accomplishment!)
Ticks off my bucket list:
√ Trying new ingredients I’ve never really encountered before, including radish, duck fat, carpaccio, caper berries and horseradish (all very yummy!)
√ Running out of adjectives to describe a meal.
I honestly hope the locals will give Mångata Restaurant a warm welcome to the Valley. The community is something they feel very strongly about, as first and foremost the food is for the locals to enjoy all year round, long after the throngs of tourists have left over the summer holidays. Keep an eye out for their set three-course menu specials, Sunday roasts and other specials advertised on their well-maintained Facebook page.
I’m positively excited to watch Mångata reach new heights and gain their spot in the sun they so richly deserve. Their business model is simple and effective; local produce, fresh ingredients, classic recipes with a clever twist and affordability. Mångata is more than just another restaurant; it’s an experience. It’s a festival of food appreciation, an exhibit of edible art, a culmination of passion, hard work and perseverance. But most of all, it’s grounded in humility and good ol’ fashioned customer service.
The Little Hedonist has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, I do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, menu changes, opening times, and contact details.
**This post was sponsored by Mångata Restaurant who generously wined and dined us for the evening.
Meet Amilinda Wilkinson
Amilinda Wilkinson is a small town girl with big dreams. She is a nature geek, total foodie, devoted wife and mother to furry children. When she's not at the office, she explores, writes about, photographs and indulges in this fragile adventure we call life.
Read more from Amilinda on her blog The Little Hedonist.