Best Restaurant Cape TownIn the Kitchen with Dion Vengatass
Some days, we really love our job. Case in point, we spent the afternoon cooking (and eating) with the formidable Dion Vengatass, who is one of Africa’s most talked about up-and-coming chefs for the cuisine he creates at Planet Restaurant at the Belmond Mount Nelson. While he was trained formally in hotel management, his passion for cooking brought him to work his way up in the culinary world, where he now for all intensive purposes helms the kitchen at Planet in the most iconic of Cape Town hotels. What distinguishes Dion is that his food has soul; yes, it’s fine cuisine and we learned more than a few presentation techniques in our time with him. However, the root of his cooking is highly influenced by his mother and aunties when he was as young boy in India, elevated with an intellectually philosophical and almost spiritual take on the highly intricate dishes he prepares. Check out our short film with Dion when we called the Mount Nelson home for a few days in Cape Town, and gorged ourselves on his coconut rice with super model Ubah Hassan every chance we got. Recipes are below, but know they require some serious skills. We have confidence you are up for the challenge, but otherwise, Cape Town is a flight away.
For the Butternut and Curry Leaf Purée
Place all the ingredients to a medium pot and cover with water. Boil and a medium to high heat until the peels are completely soft. Top the water up if need as the butternut cooks. When the butternut and peels are soft turn the heat down to low to medium. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Place into a Thermomix and blend on high speed until smooth. Adjust seasoning if needed. Pass through a fine sieve. Set aside for service.
For the Curry Sauce
Begin by chopping the heads into smaller pieces. Place the heads onto a roasting tray and evenly spread out. Roast at 180°c for 15mins. Remove from the oven and cool down slightly. When cool place all the roasted head pieces in a cheese cloth and wrap thigh. Tie with butchers string and set aside.
In a medium pot add the oil and bring to a medium heat. Add the onion and sweat for 10mins. Place the cumin, black mustard seeds, green chilli and curry leaves. Temper for 5mins. Add the rest of the spices and cook out for 10mins. When the oil begins to separate from the onions and spices add the ginger and garlic. Stir in well and cook for 2mins. Add the sugar, lime, lemon juice and tomato purée. Place the crayfish heads wrapped in the cheese cloth with the water to the pot. Cook until 80% of the liquid evaporates. Add the fresh coriander and stir in well. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for 20mins. Squeeze all the liquid absorbed by the crayfish heads in the cheese cloth. Discard the Heads and cloth. Place the rest of the content in the pot to a Thermomix and blend on high speed at 70°c for 45mins.
Remove from the Thermomix and pass through a fine sieve. Adjust seasoning with salt if needed. Cool down and set aside for service.
For the Crayfish Tempura
Marinated the trimmed head pieces with the salt and curry leaves.Place individuality into the tempura batter and coat well. Carefully deep fry until crispy at 180°c for 2mins. When crispy place on a kitchen towel to drain.
For the Tempura Flour
Combine all the dry ingredients together. Add the soda water while wishing until combined. Allow to rest for 10mins before using.
For the Pickling Liquid
Add all the ingredients to a pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 5mins and remove from the heat. Set aside for the terrine.
For the Butternut Jelly
Rehydrate the gelatine leaves in cold water. Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil. Remove from the heat. Strain the liquid. Add the gelatine leaves and stir in until melted. Strain and set aside for terrine.
For the Butternut Powder
Grate 100g of butternut trimmings on a micro-plane. Place in a dehydrator for 5hrs at 90°c. Remove from the dehydrator and blend until it turn into a powder form.
For the Coriander Shoots
Carefully pick the shoots keeping them the same sizes. Place into iced water and allow to shock for 10mins. Gently remove from the iced water and drain on a kitchen towel for 5mins. Place into a small container with a damp cloth on top of it. Cover the container and keep in fridge until needed for service.
Serve on a large warm flat square white plate, to bring out the shades of orange. Drag the curry sauce from the top left corner of the plate to the top right corner. Place the portioned butternut terrine in the top left corner on the curry sauce.Pipe one tear drop of the crayfish aioli on top of the butternut terrine and two more in front and behind the press. Pipe two tear drops of the curry sauce on top of the butternut terrine on either side of the crayfish aioli. Place a dollop of the butternut purée at the middle right. Place the green mango salsa on the bottom left of the plate. Poached the tails cut in half and place each half on top of the butternut purée, must be served warm.
Tempura the crayfish head meat and place on the top right of the plate, must be served hot and crispy. Place five marinated legs on top of the mango salsa. Drizzle the curry leaf dressing next to the crayfish tail, on the butternut terrine and besides the tempura. Dust the plate with the butternut powder. Place the coriander shoots on the crayfish aioli and marinated legs. Serve immediately to enjoy the fullest potential of the dish.
For Springbok Loin
Marinate the springbok loin with the rest of the ingredients and place into a large bag. Vacuum pack the bag until air tight. For service sous vide in a water bath for 15mins at 54°c. Remove from the bag and grill for 2mins on each side.
Allow to rest for 5mins before carving.
For Braising of the Springbok Shanks
Rub the shanks with 100ml of the oil and season with salt. Grill for 5mins on each side with the grill set on high. Allow to rest until ready to use.
In a large pot add the rest of the oil and bring to high heat. Add the mire poix and caramelize for 8mins. Add the tomato paste and cook out for 5mins. Add all the spices and herbs and fold into the other ingredients. De-glaze with the red wine and cook out the alcohol. When the alchol is cooked out add the beef stock and bring to a boil. Place the grilled shanks inside the pot. Cover the pot with foil and oven roast at 150°c for 4hrs. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down at room temperature covered. Once it is cool carefully remove the shanks from the braising liquid.
Pulled the meat away from the bone, place the bones into a clean pot. Strain the braising liquid and add it the clean pot with the bones. Reduce the liquid until by 1/8 the amount and strain through a cheese cloth.
For the Chakalaka Soil
Place the oil into a medium pot and bring to a medium heat. Add all he spices, garlic, ginger and curry leaves. Allow to gently temper for 5mins. Add the vegetables and turn the heat down to low. Allow the vegetables to stew in the flavored oil for 45mins. Season to taste and cool down. Strain the vegetables and reserve the oil. Blend half of the vegetables until smooth. Mix the puréed chakalaka with the pulled springbok shanks. Spread the other half of the vegetables onto 3 silicon mats and dehydrate at 56°c for 48hrs. When dry, blend into a powder. Mix the whole wheat crumbs with 250ml of the reserved chakalaka oil.
Toast the crumbs until dry. Mix the powder into the crumbs and check seasoning add salt if needed. Set aside for service.
For the Beetroot Purée
Place the beetroot into a oven set at 180°c and roast for about 45mins to an hour until soft inside. Remove from the oven when soft and peel the skins off. Place peeled beetroot into a bar blender with the honey and red wine vinegar. Blend until smooth. Add the Xanthum gum and blend for a further 10mins until it thickens. Cool down over a ice bath and set aside for service.
For the Beetroot Leaves
Place into boiling water for 1min. Remove from the water and drain excess moisture. Toss in butter with smoked paprika and season with salt to taste. Ready to serve.
For the Wild Spinach Purée
Begin by washing the wild spinach. In a medium pot add the oil and bring to a medium heat. Add the onions and gently cook for 3mins. Add the spices and temper for 2min. Fold in the garlic until gently tempered. Add the wild spinach and turn the heat down to low. Allow to simmer until all the spinach has rendered. Cook out all the excess moisture. Season to taste and blend smooth in to a purée. Set aside for service.
For the Baby Beetroot
Place into a pot with water and salt and boil until tender. Remove from the boiling water when cooked and place into a ice bath. Pull the skins off the flesh and set aside, discard the skins. For service season and drizzle with chakalaka oil.
Roast at 180°c for 5mins. Ready to serve.
Heat the beetroot purée up and place on the centre of a hot large white round plate. Place the baby beetroot onto the purée. Carve the springbok loin and place along side the baby beetroot. Smear the wild spinach purée next to the springbok loin. Place the cooked beetroot leaves on the wild spinach purée. Place a teaspoon of the chakalaka soil on the wild spinach purée next the beetroot leaves. Heat the braise mix up and place on top of the soil. Heat up the jus and pour along side the springbok loin. Ready to serve.