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Encore for South African cuisine

By Mike Peters ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-10-20 08:13:30
 

Encore for South African cuisine

Goat-cheese "dumplings" with beer trimmings look like fashionable hats on a starter plate. [Photo by Bill Gaspard/China Daily]

Beijing's only South African restaurant, a standout in Shunyi district for about six years, has opened a promising second outlet in the Sanlitun area.

The new location is a pleasant, airy space, with high ceilings, white brick walls and big window frontage that lets in plenty of light.

It's a chic, semi-industrial look with rather minimalist decor - you won't get an eyeful of wooden giraffes, zebra skins and other kitsch of the continent. Instead, chef and co-owner Amber Deetlefs has been content with two main visual attractions, a painting of Table Mountain and a mixed-media tribute to Nelson Mandela by US artist Chase Bray.

Deetlefs, who launched the first Pinotage restaurant at the age of 19, wants to keep the focus on food and wine. The elegantly presented entrees are designed to be enjoyed with the restaurant's huge selection of South African wines.

While dinner at Pinotage isn't cheap, each menu item is offered in three sizes: "Share" serves three or four people, "enjoy" feeds one or two, and "taste" is a small-plate serving that allows diners to mix and match several goodies into a meal.

Daily soup and salad choices are posted on a blackboard, but we opted to open with biltong carpaccio, artfully presented slices of the traditional dried beef served with creamy avocado and parmesan. Deetlefs doesn't cure this biltong to the usual jerky-like dryness, so it retains considerable moisture and stays easy to chew. Dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, the appetizer has a pleasing tang.

Goat-cheese "dumplings" are bedecked with hat-like slices of beet trimmings, easily the most colorful of the starter offerings.

Lamb shank is a house specialty, in dumpling form on the starter menu and a savory entree among the main courses, where it's served with parsnip puree, sauteed spinach and parsnip chips.

While the wine list is South African from A to Z, the restaurant is less territorial about food. Deetlefs takes advantage of readily available Australian beef ("all S grade") to offer sirloin, T-bone and fillet steaks. Our 250-gram fillet was a gem, perfectly grilled medium-rare, and a perfect match for an estate-level pinotage or cabernet sauvignon.

The most exotic offering may be the roasted bone marrow, which we tried on a second visit. Diners unfamiliar with the concept may greet the idea with a bemused "thanks but no thanks". We adopted a when-in-Rome mentality, however, and were rewarded with savory, slow-braised oxtail served on top of the gelatinous bone marrow, a mouth-watering treat served with chanterelle mushrooms, caramelized onions and a North African herbal sauce, green chermoula.

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