On Friday he first birthday of Chef Richard Carstens at Tokara restaurant at the winery of the same name in Stellenbosch.
Carstens is associated with the controversial school of “molecular gastronomy” and the first dish on the day did indeed feature a savoury ice cream – smoked salmon ice cream to be precise atop baked Alaska of rainbow trout with citrus salsa, cucumber, ginger, soya and mirin. Pretty predictably, most at our table were dismissive of the dish but I liked it. This kind of cooking is “intellectual” rather than “comforting” and I think there’s a place for that.
Though all the wines from the extensive Tokara range are available at the restaurant, supposedly only two were being served on the day: Tokara Reserve Collection Walker Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and Tokara Director’s Reserve Red 2007. These were both available from start to finish, which I thought was excessively casual, the food demanding more careful wine pairings.
Luckily,sommelier Jaap-Henk Koelewijn, who is possibly the least haughty of his profession I’ve ever encountered, was on hand and we were able to indulge is some more of the Tokara wines.
Carsten’s turnip, mushroom, garlic crème, goat’s milk cheese, pear, pea sponge, macadamia and Tokara Chardonnay dressing was exquisite both to the eye and in the mouth. It cried out for a glass of Chardonnay to accompany it and Koelewijn graciously provided both the Reserve Collection Walker Bay 2009 and the Reserve Collection Stellenbosch 2010 – both excellent, the former elegant, the latter rich and powerful.
The main course of beef fillet, wasabi potato, asparagus, tomato and teriyaki jus would please even the most conservative of dinners – excellent ingredients skillfully prepared but with no unnecessary flourish. All Tokara winemaker Miles Mossop’s wines show great precision but none more so than the Tokara Director’s Reserve Red 2007, a blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot and 5% Malbec. It showed optimally ripe dark fruit and carefully judged oak (20 months in French, 85% new) and worked brilliantly with the food.