Growing up I called it a chatterbox. My ten-year-old son says it’s a paku-paku. Either way I was charmed when the menu at the restaurant inside chef Jackie Cameron’s culinary school in Hilton came in the form of one of those pincer shaped origami fortune tellers. You know the ones I mean. Apparently, they have survived into the internet age and kids still make them at school – although I see that there is also an iPhone app version now. You manipulate them with index fingers and thumbs and after a series of selections open up flaps to reveal concealed messages. Usually the paper predictor issues a dare or a declaration of love. At chef Cameron’s Sunday brunch offered at her in the small KwaZulu-Natal town of Hilton, each flap of the chatterbox reveals a menu option.
I opened and closed the chatterbox to select a starter and so it was that my brunch began with ostrich tartare moistened with ash mayonnaise and dotted with chive croutons. Tiny nasturtium leaves added mustardy loveliness. Delicious and oh so pretty. Not overly fussed with. Not style over substance. Just robust flavours graced by truly beautiful plating. The paper fortune teller suggested a pear and gorgonzola tart for my dining companion. And very fine it was too. A stolen mouthful revealed it to be blessed with slightly piquant creaminess melding into the caramelized edges of firm fruit and the heaven of properly made pastry.
Next was a rich in flavour and ethereally fluffy souffle omelet folded and stuffed with Waygu mince, kimchi and izaqheqhe (amasi curds). Tender, creamy and held in place with that slightly nutty surface only achieved by lightly browning its exterior in foaming butter. An overly complicated, somewhat disjointed plate of pickled fish with naan bread, chorizo-hummus, cumin mayonnaise, carrot powder and fried egg was the only confusing note in a meal otherwise characterized by clear, confident and delicious cooking.
The wine list is a small and intensely personal chef’s selection which encourages patrons to try lesser known exemplars of the varietals that one associates with brunch. Waiters were well-informed, amiable and unobtrusive chef students. Puddings included a perfectly executed butternut pie encased in meringue shards and topped with black sesame seed frangipane. A whorl of thyme-studded clotted cream served to soothe the sweetness. Innovative yet comforting. Velvet textured. Exceptional delicacy of flavour. And glowing with the burnish of cinnamon and ginger. The accompanying espresso was life affirming stuff with a perfect crema.
Chef Cameron and her colleague chef Kate Cousins (with assistance from the students at the Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine) offer this three-course meal with three options at each stage for a remarkably reasonable R150 per head. There is talk of expanding into other meals on other days but for now brunch (served from 08h00 to 14h00) Wednesday to Sunday or a private function is the only way to enjoy this very fine cooking. So, what are you waiting for? The chatterbox was charming. The food was fabulous. The service was slick. You don’t need a paper predictor to tell you that this is the best brunch in South Africa.
Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine: 241 Old Howick Rd, Worlds View, Hilton, 3201, KZN; 033 343 1784; www.jackiecameron.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.