It’s late autumn here in Durban. Which means, that for the most part, temperatures have dropped to an unbearably cold 23°C and some of us have had to find shirts with long sleeves to wear. But further inland, away from the coast, if you are a visiting Townie, it gets significantly cool enough to respectably light fires in your cottage, without too much judgey side-eye from the locals. The air is dryer, hair can be harnessed as an alternative power source (are you listening, Eskom?) and comfort food is a prerequisite. And beer. Craft beer and autumn pair nicely.
At Granny Mouse the season has become an inspiration to try a little something new, taking local brews, meaty stews and autumn hues and fashioning it into an experimental tasting menu. As well as inspiring that clumsy pseudo-poetic sentence out of me.
Press were invited to experience this 5 course mini degustation menu that paired and incorporated food with locally brewed craft beer from Nottingham ales.
The first course presented was a twice-baked cheese soufflé with an infused Pickled Pig porter cream foam. I missed the first course due to a mild crisis but fortunately made it in time for dish number 2. And I’m rather pleased that I made it in time for this one: a prawn chowder with succulent prawns, cubed roasted potatoes and crispy carrot strips, also infused with the Pickled Pig porter. And my heart. In the context of Pickled Pigs and pigging out, I could have had a trough of this. Thick and luscious, the creamy chowder was enriched with the prawn flavour, contrasted with the crispy salty carrots and the juicy, sweet prawn pieces, it all created a holy trinity on my palate. I could devote a whole post just to soup, an underrated dish that can yield an incredible complexity of flavours not unlike developing the notes to a heady perfume. And I love it when a good soup comes together. And this one really did.
The soup was followed by a sort of deconstructed Sunday roast. Described as Pale Ale braised lamb, confit potatoes, mint & pea purée and Pale Ale spheres (specifically, Whistling Weasel Pale Ale). The lamb was tender and I enjoyed the drizzle of gravy. I am not entirely convinced that a Pale Ale was the right choice for lamb, though. It had a slightly bitter after taste, which was unfortunately only exacerbated with the jellies. The jellies themselves tasted as if just a can of Pale Ale was reduced to syrup, had a setting agent like gelatine chucked in and left as is. The problem with that is it meant the alcohol was evaporated off and the sugars that were concentrated in the reduction was the yeast. Not ideal. I think a darker, richer beer would have suited this better, and the jellies be made of the flavoured stock, with a hint of beer. But I enjoyed the reinterpretation of a conventional meal.
The palate cleanser was a pineapple, basil & pilsner sorbet. As the little frozen balls warmed and dissolved on the tongue, the flavour became gradually more pronounced. I liked the pairing of pineapple with pilsner, and it didn’t need the underlying basil note.
After a bit of a pause between dishes, the second entrée taster arrived. Pork & chicken roulade, topped with a porter and pear jelly, resting on a smear of sweet potato purée and accompanied by sauerkraut croquettes. Not your average pork and cabbage! The jelly mop crowning the roulade could perhaps have been arranged in a neater fashion but other than that, this was a delish dish. The croquettes were soft and delicate on the inside, well seasoned and eavenly coated in a light dusting of crunch. The roulade was tender and paired beautifully with the sweet jelly and purée. None of us left a crumb unscoffed.
The final item on the menu was a root beer float with Tiger Ale infused koeksuster, beer-based brioche and bacon ice cream with maple syrup. YAY, root beer! What a treat! The koeksuster was handled well, without being rendered cloyingly sweet. The brioche was a bit salty for me, and overpowered the ice cream resting on it. The ice cream itself had subtle hints of the bacon and worked well with the root beer. Did I mention the root beer? So good.
The dishes were cooked by the sous and pastry chefs, Leon De Kock, Kirstie Cawcott & Thys Schoeman. The challenge was set by the hotel to get them to prepare and serve a menu at a function without the executive chef, Shaun Dampies, assisting. The result was a fun event, with creative dishes and a great concept, with a few areas that need a little refinement, but overall has yielded some notable dishes that I hope will be introduced as a more permanent fixture on their main menu.