I do love a good million-course dining experience. Yes, sometimes they can be a little overwhelming with the multitude of flavours, wines, and the unfortunate tiny capacity of my tummy. But, they’re still a joy ride for your taste buds and you’re likely to experience dishes that you’ve never tried before. Or even thought of before. And there’s no place where you’ll experience a taste of innovation more than at Exhibit A.
Exhibit A, which is located on the 3rd floor of the Villa 47 building on Bree Street, is a new addition to Cape Town’s fine dining scene. It opened its doors towards the end of November last year and has been going strong for the last two months. But Chef Rikku Ó’Donnchü and Chef Warwick King, who are joined by Christiaan De Jongh, are certainly no newcomers to the foodie world. Their past gigs include the likes of The French Laundry, The Fat Duck, Delaire Graff, and La Colombe. I personally have always been interested in seeing what culinary delights they come up. Their signature was the original Gate at Quoin Rock, followed by the SYN pop-up in the same space that Exhibit A is now in.
The space itself is a little clinical and doesn’t quite offer you that warm and comfortable restaurant feel, despite beautiful decor. But, at the same, it is rather fitting to the experimental dishes that come out of the kitchen. Perhaps I can describe it best as a “lab feel”, where you’re not quite sure what will happen next, and the focus is definitely all on the food. It’s a good thing, then, that the food impresses.
12-Course Exhibit A Tasting Menu
We embarked on the Exhibit A 12-course tasting menu with wine pairing. If you’re settling down to enjoy a tasting menu of this many dishes, you know it’s going to be a long evening (or lunch). I generally block out a minimum of four hours in my schedule to leave ample time. There’s nothing worse than trying to race through these dishes. Make sure you’re in good company, bring a jersey (it can get a little chilly), wear comfortable shoes if you’re a lady, and relax. Exhibit A is there to entertain you.
And entertain you they will, starting off with their ‘From the Earth’ segment. With that, a quick note on the menu. You don’t really know what you’ll be getting, but each diner is presented with an edible menu (yes, you read that right) with the notes: From the Earth, From the Sea, From the Farm, From the Field, From the Patisserie. You have to keep the menu till the end when they do something special with it and you get to eat it. Oddly enough, I rather enjoyed eating the menu. It’s certainly the tastiest menu you’ll ever have 😉
From The Earth
Ok, back to business. From the Earth. These are your little amuse-bouche starters to get you ready for the evening. We got to enjoy Potato Fossils (thin slices of compressed potato with parsley decorating some branches), Indian Panipuri Wontons, Smoked Snoek Vetkoek, and Cape Wagyu Beef Dumplings in a smoked beef broth. The flavours were wonderful and the dishes still delicate enough, but I’m not a particular fan of Indian curries or of vetkoek, so the winners here were definitely the dumplings and the crispy potato fossils.
Cigar & Ash
From there we moved on to the next From the Earth dish: The Chefs’ signature Cigar and Ash Dish. Upon initial presentation, you may be slightly confused by this dish: A cigar with an ashtray. But the “cigar” is made of soft boa bread and the “ash” is an onion jam mousse with smoked onion embers and paprika pepper powder. This was one of my favourite dishes of the evening, and certainly quite the talking point. Taste-wise, of course, this is also a hit. There’s a slight sweetness to the onion mousse, from the jam and the smoked onion, which makes this dish exceptional.
From The Sea
This concluded the From The Earth section, and we then moved on to From the Sea. To start off this journey, we were presented with a seared scallop with soy and radish dressing, served in the shell on an ice cap and topped off with liquid nitrogen. Everyone says liquid nitrogen has been so overdone. But I still find it rather exciting every time, and it’s great to create an aesthetically pleasing dish. I’m also a huge fan of scallops and don’t often have the chance to enjoy them in Cape Town, so I savour every moment I do. This dish was delightful – summery and refreshing – and served as a perfect introduction to the seafood journey.
False Bay Octopus
The next dish was already a little heavier in terms of flavour profile: False Bay octopus served with mango, spekboom, and a black garlic atchar, as well as a lime emulsion. I do like octopus and I do often enjoy bold flavours, but I found the accompaniments of this dish to be a little overwhelming and much preferred eating the octopus with the lime emulsion alone. In saying that, I am well aware that this may be a very personal preference.
From The Farm
Cowpea & Truffle Panna Cotta
The ocean took a rest and we moved over to From the Farm. First up was another one of these uniquely interesting dishes that I think put Exhibit A on the Cape Town dining map: Cowpea & Truffle Panna Cotta, served with black Kalahari truffle shavings. I’m a huge fan of panna cotta but generally enjoy it with coconut or yoghurt served with a berry coulis for dessert. This savoury version was certainly new to me and I’m not entirely sure it was my favourite but Sabine really enjoyed this one!
What I did particularly like about this dish, though, was the emphasis on cowpea (an African legume) and a relatively unknown truffle variety. All in all, I think, Exhibit A highlights more unusual food items splendidly, which is something I find highly commendable. All too often we get stuck eating the same 10-20 sorts of food, rarely venturing to explore what else is out there. I can only applaud restaurants that expose our tastebuds to more than the usual. We may not always fancy what’s new but you never know – cowpea may be your new favourite thing!
Tomato Tartare Caprese Salad
From the African soil, we moved on to a dish that definitely did become one of my new favourite things, even if only because I’m a lady and I like cute things. So, up next, was the Tomato Tartare Caprese Salad. Our lovely waiter, Neville, emphasised the – and I quote – “teeny tiny tomatoes”. And they definitely were very teeny tiny – just look at the picture! This dish was served with homemade ricotta, basil sponge, and a 12-year-old Balsamic Vinegar.
I haven’t said much about the wine pairings (all the wines thus far had been excellent). But the pairing on this particular dish worked really well, as the Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2017 broke the sweetness of the balsamic vinegar perfectly, making this a most delightful dish. And, also, teeny tiny tomatoes. What’s not to love?
From The Field
Ethical Foie Gras
We then moved on to another dish that I perhaps found too bold in flavour but one that I can only commend: Ethical Foie Gras. If you know anything about the production of foie gras, you’ll know that it’s a pretty awful thing and ranks highly on the animal cruelty scale. I’ve eaten foie gras before – in Paris – and while I do actually enjoy the flavour, I can only stand a tiny bite of it (it’s incredibly overwhelming flavour-wise) and would never go out of my way to eat it due to ethical reasons. That’s where this fantastic ethical foie gras comes in.
Basically, the Exhibit A team recreates the texture and taste of foie gras in the kitchen by serving a duck liver mousse that’s been prepared in a hundred different ways to get it just right. The dish comes served with a black garlic banana bread and a cherry gel. As you may have gathered by now, I’m not always a fan of flavours that are too intense, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the ethical foie gras, I did think the portion was a little too big for me and I couldn’t finish it (which always makes me feel bad). The cherry gel, however, was my absolute kryptonite. I loved that.
Golden Duck Egg
What followed the foie gras, though, was probably my number one dish of the evening: the duck. This dish follows the nose-to-tail principle, another thing I can highly commend. Instead of serving an “exquisite” cut of duck, Exhibit A served the duck neck – but exquisitely done! Presentation-wise, this dish was also fantastic. The golden duck egg – which contained a black garlic mousse and cream of duck innards – was served separately and then dropped on to the plate to crack open in artistic style. This resulted in the beautiful display to be seen in the photographs. The dish was served with a pickled plum rose and gel, which contrasted beautifully with the flavours of the duck. The golden egg, made of maltitol, is also edible, though I’d suggest it’s better for display purposes.
From The Patisserie
Cheese & Brown Beer Ice Cream
This concluded the hearty dishes of the evening and we moved on to desserts – From the Patisserie. First up, the cheese dish: Cheese & brown beer ice cream, served with a green herb gel, blue cheese fudge, and blue cheese foam. I’ll say straight up that I’m not a blue cheese girl. Not in the least. But this dish – my oh my, what a delight! The ice cream was weird – but lovely. The herb gel was weird – but lovely. The blue cheese foam was, yup, weird – but sort of lovely. And the blue cheese fudge was definitely weird but divine! This was probably one of the coolest, yummiest things I have ever experienced. I’m absolutely in awe that Exhibit A managed to serve me blue cheese that I enjoyed!
Tastes of Beetroot
I definitely think that the dessert dishes at Exhibit A were a special kind of extraordinary. I was enormously unimpressed when I was told about the cheese dish. And I was enormously impressed once I had tasted it. Likewise, I was enormously unimpressed when I was told about the second dessert – a taste of beetroot. But I was equally impressed once I had tasted it!
The beetroot dish included a beetroot ganache with white chocolate, beetroot parfait, beetroot sorbet, beetroot sponge cake, beetroot crisp, and beetroot sherbet. If you look closely at the photos, you’ll also some white splinters with letters. This, as you may have guessed, is the edible menu. Each menu was briefly placed into liquid nitrogen and then splintered over the beetroot dish (watch the video below). It was all quite theatrical and absolutely enjoyable. And, yes, every bite was delicious, with firm favourites being the menu and the beetroot sherbet.
But there was still one last petit four dish to be presented. This platter included hazelnut pralines, Amarula ice cream, white chocolate ganache hot dogs, and a raspberry delight. Together with these, we got to enjoy edible balloons, which was quite a sensation. The balloons were a little sticky but the fun of attempting to eat this in itself is worth it. Apparently, if you do it right, you’ll even inhale the helium while eating, resulting in some after-dinner comedy. We didn’t succeed. I’m left as probably the only girl in the world who has never inhaled helium and spoken with a funny voice. Tragic, I know. Nonetheless, the evening ended with quite a bit of laughter and excitement. This really is a spectacular way to end an exquisite culinary journey.
The Menu & Prices
Now that you’ve gotten this far, I’ll let you know that Exhibit A has since changed their menu structure slightly. They now offer a 7-course lunch menu (R990 per person; R1490 pp including wine pairing ) and a 9-course dinner menu (R1 590 per person; R2 290 pp with wine pairing). The menu is now listed as including From the Earth, From the Sea, From the Farm, and From the Patisserie.
The individual courses of these tasting menus continually change. But I believe that it is the overall feel that is more important than the individual courses. Plus, you’re bound to enjoy the signature favourites. I’m betting on the cigar, beetroot dish, and the edible balloon.
Visit Exhibit A
The menu may change, the setting may change, but I have no doubt that whatever this team presents will be innovative and delicious. And, sometimes, it’ll be a real “get out of your comfort zone” push to your taste buds, which I absolutely love! I highly recommend a visit to Exhibit A to tantalise your taste buds!
Address: Floor 3, 47 Bree Street, Cape Town
Opening Times: Tuesday – Saturday (12:00 – 14:00 | 18:00 – late)
Call: +27 60 392 2234
Article Date: February 2020
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