Constantia restaurateur comes full circle with Botanicum Café & Grill

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WHEN someone talks passionately about something, I’m very easily on board with what they’re selling. This is what happened when I visited Botanicum Café & Grill.

Marc Botes, formerly of Chalk & Cork in Kloof Street, took over the former Greens, former Bootlegger space at High Constantia just four months ago. It’s been infused with light, mirrors and greenery, and given a menu full of people-pleasing favourites.

The pizza though…

Made in a wood fire, with 48-hour fermented sourdough, in the style of southern Italy, Marc told me they are amazing, incredible even. I was already hungry so I was listening closely.

“They’re not everyone’s style,” he admits. “Cape Town traditionally does thin crispy bases; these are thicker and puffier…it’s the big trend in London right now.”

This very specific style means the fermentation process takes place outside your belly beforehand so you won’t feel full and bloated – which means you can eat more. “Crazy, I know and maybe a bit far-fetched, and to be honest the margarita is the best,” says Marc. “It’s that simple and pure; rest are great too with the toppings but if you want the best darn pizza then it’s the way to go. My wife makes me bring one home several nights a week.”

Amy has the new five-month old baby so she can have whatever she damn well wants, I reckon.

Okay, so that’s one margarita pizza please.

Seared yellowfin tuna with black pepper dressing

Wines are always special, says Marc, and the list will change frequently (it won’t get laminated), with bottle prices beginning at R175. There is a mixture of some well-known reliable choices as well as the more unusual. “I’ve done it in the same style as Chalk & Cork – fun stuff, and the high end wines only have a small mark up,” says Marc, who doesn’t believe in having R900 bottles standing around gathering dust. You might even be lucky enough to pick up a ridiculously good bargain that came in as part of the back stock…Constantia Glen Five 2014 was there last week at just R545 a bottle, average online price R463.

“The ethos is if you come in here and you have a glass of Chenin, chances are it will be something different when you come back a few weeks later.”

Marc then went on to tell me about the Search Grenache Blanc Marsanne Roussanne from the Voor Paardeberg region, a “fantastic fun winter white, no primary fruit, no tropical punch. It’s white flowers and stone fruit. Soft scent on the nose. It’s a delicate subtle wine. Much more mineral flavour. Texture that gives richness without the oak. Great for the warm sunny Cape Town winter days.”

Fine. I’ll have a glass of that please.

The food style at Botanicum is something Marc describes as “modern European” and the menu is inspired by the six years he spent at Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Café in London. Breakfast is served till noon, and thereafter a range of dishes from little snacks to have at the bar, to light lunches, to classic dinners like lamb shanks (you simply cannot go wrong with these in winter) and mac and cheese with truffle and wild mushrooms.

Hanger steak with fat fries and chimichurri

With daytime trade pretty much taking care of itself, Marc’s aim is to build Botanicum into a night time destination as well. “Don’t ever not come – we will always find you a table,” he says. “We wanted to create something easy; pop in for a sandwich or a wrap or a wine, but also something more substantial.”

The pizza was delicious but eating it all was never part of the plan. I also tried the hanger steak – an often-overlooked cut – with fat fries and gorgeous chimichurri, and at Marc’s urging, the signature seared yellowfin tuna on a bed of rocket with black pepper dressing (not sauce). Hooray for leftovers and not having to cook at home!

The steak is on the current set lunch menu winter special – three courses for R225, Mondays to Fridays between noon and 4pm. You have a choice of three items for each course, and the dishes will change every week to 10 days. A fabulous pizza special is available Mondays to Fridays from 12pm (lunch and dinner): for R250 you get two pizzas and a bottle of house red, which I think is flipping fantastic.

Before you go, have a scoop of the lemongrass ice cream. Or the pear and almond tarte with crème fraiche ice cream. It’s to die for, says Marc.

Lemongrass ice cream

“I know what I want to eat – this is basically me on a plate – and I think I know what other people want to eat too,” concludes Marc.

I think he’s on to something here.

THE DETAILS

Where: Botanicum Cafe & Grill, Shop 6, High Constantia Centre, Constantia Main Road, Constantia

Telephone: 021 794 7843

When: Mondays to Saturdays 8am – 10pm, Sundays 8am – 5pm

PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©

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