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Sat Oct 25 23:16:35 SAST 2014

The Restaurant: Prue Leith

Food Weekly | 23 January, 2013 13:31

The food doyenne's Centurion restaurant is far but fine, writes Lyn Woodward

SA-born, UK-based Prue Leith - CBE, restaurateur, caterer, broadcaster, cookery writer and novelist - is a household name locally and abroad. In 1996, a couple of South African industry professionals approached her about opening a cookery institute in SA. It was the first time she'd allowed a third party to use her name. Seventeen years later, the Prue Leith School of Food and Wine is flourishing and churning out skilled cheflings for the local and international hospitality arena.

The Prue Leith Restaurant is on the same premises as the school in Centurion, Gauteng. I've never been able to understand why such an esteemed establishment would willingly be positioned in such an obscure residential location. However, the restaurant is elegant without being stuffy, with high ceilings and a polished parquet floor.

Last year, the wine list won a Diners Club International Diamond Award. It has an interesting selection of wines to suit all palates at different price points. However, it was cheaper to order two 375ml bottles of Methode Cap Classique than a comparable 750ml bottle. For a restaurant attached to a culinary institute, are such steep mark-ups really necessary, I wonder?

The à la carte menu features some fresh and innovative items, and the balance of the menu has a distinctly Francophile feel, which is understandable considering the students need to hone their culinary skills based on classic cooking techniques. Deciphering the menu with its prolific technical jargon may be challenging for professionals, never mind Joe Public. "Macedoine", a fancy name for a cubed vegetable, plus a couple of other terms, had even me flummoxed. My international dining companion was equally puzzled by the biltong carpaccio, R55, that was described as "biltong and grass-fed beef fillet, thinly sliced, Dalewood Huguenot crumbs, celery diamonds and rooibos dressing". "Is the Dalewood bakery really good?" she asked, naturally not knowing that Dalewood Huguenot is a matured cheese from an artisanal Cape fromagerie.

With a little gentle prodding, the friendly waiter deciphered the menu. My guest was tempted by the pork testina, R56, which was described as "panéd [crumbed] and shallow-fried". Neither of us could fathom the "testina" part, which we discovered to be slow-cooked meat from a pig's head. My companion felt obliged to try it. I suspect the accompanying sweet mustard ice cream was the swaying factor. The pork was deliciously tender, but the large portion too rich to finish. I was not as daring and opted for a devilled quail's egg salad, R48. It was a beautifully arranged compilation of stuffed quail's eggs, beetroot macedoine (yes, small cubes), shards of crisp pancetta, trout roe and carefully placed herbs.

The main courses offered excellent value. My stuffed quail, R120, was served on a bed of creamed barley with wilted radicchio. The fillet Rossini, R135, was a beef medallion wrapped in Parma ham and topped with seared foie gras that still had a faultless "wobble factor". Outstanding.

For dessert, the chocolate and pistachio gateau, R52, was one of those highly crafted French-style desserts that looked impressive but failed to thrill. My crêpes Suzette, R55, however, were delicate and excellent.

Would I go back? Probably. Would I go back sooner if it was in a more central locale? Definitely.

Open Wednesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner; also on other days for groups.

Prue Leith Restaurant, 262 Rhino Street, Centurion, Pretoria. Call 0126545203 or visit www.prueleith.co.za.

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