JOINING Ryan Shell’s Õku and Yama Asian Eatery in Franschhoek is the new kid on the block – literally, the corner of the same block as Heritage Square where the first two restaurants are located – Eleven. It opened on the last Monday in August, and we kind of sort of invited ourselves for dinner there on the Saturday. This happened while we were at Yama on the Friday evening and that story will follow.
Here at Eat Play Drink Cape Town, I’m very particular about calling a press release a press release, so let’s get some background from that before I tell you about our meal.
“For some, eleven is the mystical character of spiritual awakening. Indeed, this is the underscoring of a dream now made reality by globe-trotting chef-proprietor Ryan Shell and the team at Õku and Yama restaurants in Franschhoek.
“Taking its name from the address on the historic town’s main road of Huguenot Street, Eleven will offer global contemporary cuisine inspired by big themes. Here, in a chic, relaxed setting, industrial design employing wood, raw brick and burnt copper melds with elements of artistic finesse. Furniture made by Cape artisans talks of heritage infusing the contemporary.
“The restaurant is a concept inspired by the sum of Ryan’s experience gathered at premier eateries in the UK and several of Southern Africa’s five-star properties including top restaurants of the Cape.
“And it is at Eleven that his personal experience now blends – as twin – with that of the team to present a concise selection of small plates with a hyper-seasonal approach to ingredients.”
Heading the kitchen is Pieter du Preez, who has come over from Õku. Managing the floor is DJ Faroa (that’s his name, I don’t think he plays records), and the team comprises some movements from the other two restaurants as well as new hires. Staff retention is important to Ryan and by 2025, he says the goal is to have 50% of the staff complement from the Franschhoek Hospitality Academy.
By now, Pieter will have devised a vegetarian menu. In that first week there was the option of an eight-course tasting menu (R950), or a choice of three courses for R550, with dessert extra. Those three courses could be selected in turn from three groups of three dishes, and a full vegetarian meal is doable. I’m going to go ahead and assume tweaks and changes have been made in the past 10 days, but here’s what we had.
We were seated at the best table, with a view of one of the calmest kitchens I’ve ever seen. Everyone had their job and got quietly on with it with nary a clatter or a crash. There’s a bar to the left as you enter the restaurant, and a huge central fireplace for the last of those chilly evenings. There are heavy wooden beams, and some exposed brick, juxtaposed with a window into the gallery next door. There are tables outside too, on the wraparound veranda, and I can picture wonderful summer lunches. On that night, Eleven did not yet have its liquor licence so we were invited to bring our own.
The first course on the tasting menu was warm focaccia with herb butter, followed by an oyster for my friend, with masala oil, curry leave and cashew. My substitute was tuna ceviche with avocado, cucumber, kataifi and tiger’s milk. Truffled goat’s cheese and pickled beets are an obligatory combination; they just go together so beautifully.
My friend didn’t fancy the springbok tartare so she had the tuna. I loved it though, with its smoky flavour, egg yolk, crispy capers and tiny onion rings, and raisins. The kitchen snuck in an extra course after this, and I am so glad they did – prawn tortellini with peas and basil, and bacon velouté. I knew immediately I would want a spoon and I was not wrong. Oh my, so delicious.
Next up were two vegetarian courses: parmesan gnocchi with aubergine, pine nut, rocket and tomato aioli; and slow roasted butternut with couscous, orange, and liquid gorgonzola cream inside leave of burnt onion. The final savoury course was Angus fillet with mustard mash (or pomme purée if you’re wearing fancy pants), buchu jus, pickled cabbage and a bit of brisket.
That extra dish was taking its toll (no regrets, heavens no…bacon) but we were urged to indulge in tiny pre-dessert, a chocolate brownie with whipped cream foam and glitter. It was divine, and sparked a discussion between us – neither my friend nor I have particularly sweet teeth – that restaurants should offer the option of tiny desserts. I don’t think Ryan agreed though. The main dessert was salted chocolate crémeux, three words I enjoy seeing together, with coffee sponge, brandy and mint.
I always find it special to visit a restaurant that is newly opened, to experience the fresh vision and original dishes, to see those first tentative steps growing increasingly confident. Here, Ryan’s experience – and indeed that of the team he has surrounded himself with – is so apparent in every aspect, from the look and feel, to the well-trained staff, and of course what is on the plate. I look forward to revisiting over time.
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Follow progress of this restaurant’s evolution via @eleveneats on Facebook and @eleven_restaurant on Instagram. And more from me on Instagram too.