Epicure restaurant is located on the first floor of a super smart Sandton apartment complex. In order to eat therein, diners ascend a gleaming (and at night glittering) escalator which opens out into a culinary kingdom of Afro-optimistic elegance.
Belgian-Burundian chef Fathi (aka ‘Coco’) Reinarhz has decorated his restaurant with warm wood tones interspersed with splashes of gold and regal Prussian blue. A private dining room allows for special celebrations or discrete discussions. On warm nights tables spill out onto the manicured lawns of a walled garden. On selected Sundays the garden is given over to Champagne picnics.
Johannesburg diners will recognize chef Reinarhz’s signature style from previous restaurants. His food philosophy and culinary aesthetic have consistently engaged with what it means to be African in a global gourmet context. Over the past decade he has done this with varying degrees of success. Ma Passion in Greenside was path-breakingly wonderful. His more recent Sel et Poivre in Morningside was less so. At Epicure the chef is back at his best.
To eat with chef Reinarhz is to learn a lavish new language. All humans use food to pass emotional messages. South Africans are familiar with expressions of affection made manifest in butter, cream, chocolate and steak. In the Central and West African recipes that make up the majority of the menu at Epicure similar sentiments of abundance are expressed in seafood, peanuts, plantains, palm palp and okra. I ate a lean yet moist, intensely flavourful guinea fowl (R195) embraced in rich, generous, slightly floral palm pulp moambe sauce. Saka saka cassava leaves provided a vibrant, peppery contrast. My partner chose deconstructed Thieboudienne. This composed rice and fish recipe is the national dish of Senegal. Those who deconstruct regional treasures risk causing offense. Epicure’s tomato reduction tossed Basmati rice was topped with grilled red snapper and a sweet, sticky, mellow yet tart tamarind and okra sauce which successfully carried the spirit of the original recipe out of its hearty one-pot family meal beginnings into a modern restaurant setting.
In recent years South African diners have become accustomed to parsimonious restaurant wine lists. Two-page affairs with limited choice and little information beyond price are now the norm. Not so at Epicure. The 78-page document presented by sommelier Mike Buthelezi offers so many local and international wines (each listed where applicable by vintage, varietal, wine maker and region) that there is a risk of paralyzing even the most dedicated of oenophiles. Here is a tome which harks back to the days when restauranteurs considered it their duty to offer customers a skillfully curated chance to deepen their wine knowledge.
Given sufficient funds, a diner at Epicure could spend many happy hours, days, weeks and years comparing, contrasting and communing with pages and pages upon which sit four or more vintages from single prestige estates. The chef has a particular interest in Pinot Noir and the depth of deliciousness in this section of the list is such that a customer might drown in the quantity and quality of wine on offer. More prosaically the mark up is approximately 100% and the by the glass offering is limited. Those needing Dutch courage to tackle 78 pages of wine choice should start at the bar where the African Diaspora comes home with Caribbean style. I was enchanted by a Senegalese Ditakh fruit and Haitian rum cocktail. Eco-friendly metal straws keep the dolphins happy too.
We live in a world where many chefs and diners seem almost proud of not enjoying dessert. Such posturing misses the point of pudding. Great meals are stories told in flavour. To disparage dessert is to leave a statement of epicurean intent without a vital piece of punctuation. Which is a long-winded way of saying that only a fool would say no to the seriously special sweeties at Epicure. It is hard not to love a meal that ends in a perfect pairing of delicious demi sec Armand de Brignac Champagne with Ivorian-style fried plantain aloko topped with swirl of tuile biscuit and a quenelle of ruby bissap rouge (hibiscus) sorbet.
Glamour, great taste, innovation and authenticity. Epicure offers the very best in edible opulence.
Epicure Restaurant: Central Square, Corner West Road South and Lower Road. Morningside Central; 011 594 5336 / 072 2680353; www.epicurerestaurant.co.za
• Dr Anna Trapido was trained as an anthropologist at King’s College Cambridge and a chef at the Prue Leith College of Food and Wine. She has twice won the World Gourmand Cookbook Award. She has made a birthday cake for Will Smith, a Christmas cake for Nelson Mandela and cranberry scones for Michelle Obama. She is in favour of Champagne socialism and once swallowed a digital watch by mistake.