Good conversation is on the menu at Cape Town's Reverie Social Table
Chef Julia Hattingh loves throwing dinner parties - and does it in her own inimitable style in her Cape Town restaurant daily, writes Allison Foat
Julia Hattingh is a conversation ambassador and all in the name of food, glorious food.
At Reverie Social Table, the table d'hôte style dining concept she introduced in Observatory, Cape Town, three years ago, it's best to drop your phone into a handbag, forget about Instagramming your plate and focus on the company, because being chez Julia is a chance to engage with new people, make eye contact and dine the old-fashioned way. After all, the intimate restaurant seats just 18 around one large table.
Citing two late greats, South African Bruce Robertson and American Charlie Trotter, as among her first sources of culinary inspiration, this well-travelled 31- year-old's journey has taken her from the acclaimed Waterkloof Restaurant in Stellenbosch to Lucas Carton in Paris where she spent a year.
After a period at Holden Manz in Franschhoek, she ventured solo, fulfilling her career ambition to have her own place and has never looked back.
Julia has always loved throwing dinner parties so thought: "Why not do it every day - good food, good wine in a relaxed atmosphere, and a comprehensive dining experience."
The Reverie dinner menu - five fixed courses - changes every three weeks and dishes are typically crafted to complement the wines on offer. Lunch, Tuesdays to Fridays, sees at least one menu item changing daily with the same superb wines on offer as per what's on the list for the night.
Julia's recent attendance at MAD in Copenhagen, an assembly of brilliant and influential figures from the cooking world, provided an invigorating boost in community, ethics and innovation.
"My time at MAD was an eye-opener in so many ways - the main theme was inclusion, which I think relates so well to SA as a whole and not only the restaurant scene. The time has come to focus and pay attention to the minorities - gender, sexual preference, race etc," said Hattingh.
"If we were to look back to 10 years ago - these topics were taboo in the restaurant scene," she added.
Ethical sourcing and sustainability are at the core of the Reverie ethos with an emphasis on local flavours and farm-fresh ingredients. Dishes have a definitive South African identity and Julia's innovation is inspiring.
Take the dessert inspired by Christina Tosi of Milk Bar USA fame - a matcha white chocolate cremeux, with kumquat jam and sorbet, orange blossom marshmallow and the piece de resistance, a crisp "compost cookie" made from dried apricot, almond, oat and white chocolate - dreamy.
The stuffed nasturtium with puffed grains, green oil and the utterly perfect egg yolk was matched with a glass of the Kat Met Die Hout Been (cat with the wooden leg), and the Skoonma (mother-in-law) shiraz, well suited to the Cape Malay-spiced mussel bobotie, finished off with a sultana custard and funeral rice cracker.
• Reverie Social Table is open for lunch Tuesday to Friday and dinner Wednesday to Sunday.