Skotnes answers patrons' calls by offering a decent vegan menu
Andrea Nagel samples the vegan offerings at Skotnes restaurant at Cape Town's Norval Foundation gallery and sculpture garden
The term only came into existence when our parents were kids, but veganism is fast becoming a kind of religion. That's why I'm not surprised when Luke de Kock, communications and marketing co-ordinator for the Norval Foundation and its associated restaurant Skotnes (after the artist Cecil Skotnes) tells me over lunch that their patrons have been asking for a vegan menu offerings since the opening of the restaurant last year.
At the helm of the Skotnes is executive chef Phil de Villiers. Ironically, De Villiers was previously the head chef of the Primal Eatery, named Eat Out's Best Steakhouse of 2017. Clearly, he's rethinking his target audience in line with worldwide trends in food.
De Villiers has focussed on creating a menu for the Skotnes filled with South African flavours like biltong, bobotie (deconstructed and reinvented), calamari on mieliepap flavoured with chakalaka, fish from local waters and jaffles - the last of which is easily transformed into a vegetarian option.
Now the chef has answered the call for vegan dishes, saying, "I've started delving into SA's culinary heritage and discovered that my passion lies in exploring the 'forgotten' vegetables our forefathers used to cook with, and re-imagining their preparation in new ways."
De Kock suggests we start with braaied watermelon - a sweet and savoury summery dish, balanced with pickled melon rind, feta, olives, onion and salad leaves. It arrives looking like a juicy piece of rare tuna, decorated with appetising edible flowers.
It's a very light starter, and has me wiping the plate with my finger to get the last sumptuous mixture of salt and sugar into my mouth.
De Kock has the spinach, feta and caramelised onion jaffle with uitpak slaai and tzatziki.
For the main course our charming waiter - who professes to love working in the Norval Foundation grounds, surrounded by wetland and beautiful sculptures - suggests a cauliflower bake with pickled, grilled and roasted vegetables and Romesco sauce.
It was a bit mushy, a little bland and seemed more like a side dish accompaniment than a full-blown main (but that just may be the unhealthy meat-eater in me talking).
I doubt the pea risotto with goats cheese and sugar snaps would have been more filling - though it did look good on the plate on another table - and the chickpea and chia seed burger didn't really appeal. My pickled vegetables were rather delicious, though.
The waiter's choice of dessert proved to be a winner - a pineapple, lime leaf, lemon grass and coconut dish. Small balls of creamy (dairy free) sorbet and some other substance mixed with frozen bits of fruit and small yellow jelly-like balls that pop in the mouth arrive on my plate. The flavours are subtle, not too sweet, and very satisfying - a milky (perhaps coconut) yet tangy combination.
Though the non-vegan menu has more choices and variety on it than what we had to choose from, what is available is a welcome addition to the dishes available at a high-end establishment that doesn't specialise in vegetable-based food.
It's a good business decision, too, with more and more of the world's eaters turning away from living creatures as sources of food.