Salsify (Sal-suh-fee): A root vegetable with an oyster-like flavour, popular in old French and modern British cuisine.
“I love salsify, it’s the most unassuming of vegetables, with it’s ugly and rather unfortunate looking exterior, but it is absolutely amazing to work with, full of taste surprises and so versatile,” says head chef and operating partner Ryan Cole of Salsify, a new addition to the Dale-Roberts empire, due to open its doors this October.
“I think it’s important to honour the legacy of The Round House and to do it justice with seriously good quality food and service,” says Ryan, adding Salsify will be offering fine dining without the snobbery. “We want to really push boundaries of flavour and technique but we’re not trying to be a Test Kitchen, we will develop our own signature and style as we go.”
Salsify will open its doors on October 16 with an a la carte and in time, says Ryan, this might develop into a tasting menu based on the successes of the a la carte offerings. In reference to the restaurant’s name, a focus on “root to leaf” dining is one of the elements of dishes that are being developed for the menu, there will also be a strong focus on fish (“my father was a career fisherman and my brother is one too, it’s in my DNA,” says Ryan) and a waste-not-want-not nose-to-tail approach will feature too. “Cape Town has such amazing produce and we’ll definitely be making the most of what our suppliers can source – I’m especially excited about the micro seasons we experience in the Cape and the produce that’s only available for a few weeks at a time, I can’t wait to start sharing our discoveries with our guests,” he says.
The news comes barely two months after The Test Kitchen was crowned Best in Africa and also named 50th at the World’s Best Restaurants awards in Barcelona. Ryan has worked alongside Luke at The Test Kitchen as head chef for the past three years and when the opportunity for a new eatery at the historic Roundhouse arose, there was no question as to who would be heading things up. “Ryan is a quick-minded natural talent, he’s one of the best technical chefs I’ve ever worked with and I trust him implicitly,” says Dale Roberts, who will play an integral role in the new endeavour but who is equally determined to give 29-year-old Cole autonomy in flexing his culinary muscles.
“It’s part of the process of growing as a chef; I’m ready to let key members of the team take the reins in different places, I’m excited and they’re excited,” says Luke, who adds that while he will of course be involved in key decisions, he is determined not to impose his opinion too much. “I want the team here to grow into the space, to develop their own culinary handwriting and to make it something completely different to The Test Kitchen or Pot Luck Club,” he says.
Ryan has earned his chef’s stripes, beginning his career at the age of 16, after a successful week job shadowing in a hotel kitchen led to him working on weekends and during school holidays. After various apprenticeships Ryan made his way to London in his early 20s on a one-way ticket where he worked for a number of years under some of the UK’s rising stars. Back in the Cape in 2015, a chance meeting with Luke and an invitation to come and see how things worked at The Test Kitchen led to Ryan’s entry into the Dale Roberts way of work and thinking, and so his course was set. “Chef and I are always talking and we think the same way about a lot of things. He’s an incredible mentor, always open to new flavour combinations and ideas, then he pushes you to make it the best it can be. It’s an amazing way to work and grow,” says Ryan.
Like its namesake vegetable, the new eatery is a space that promises to be full of surprises. Salsify will occupy the upper level of this historically-significant building – and will be dressed by Luke’s wife and design partner Sandalene in a way that both honours and challenges its historic past. On entering Salsify guests will immediately be drawn in by avante garde graffiti produced by international street artist and “instigator” Louis de Villiers, AKA Skull Boy, a South African artist now based in New York.
This and a focal 1.3m bronze sculpture by local sculptor Otto du Plessis, named Salsify, will no doubt be cause for conversation over pre dinner drinks. “Salsify is the guardian and muse of the space – she is half game bird, half woman,” explains Sandalene who worked closely with both De Villiers and Du Plessis to create these unique and arresting talking points. “We want our restaurants to be a sensory experience from start to finish and it all starts with the visual feast from the moment you enter that space,” she says.
Contemporary cues aside, Sandalene has been careful to honour the history of this historic building which dates back to 1786 when it was first built as a round guard house, then later used as a hunting lodge for Sir Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape from 1814 until 1826. Some say it was also a favourite place for Somerset’s liasons with one Dr James Barry, who on his death it was discovered, was actually a woman (there are even tales of Dr Barry’s ghost being seen on moonlit nights). Over time The Roundhouse was used as a home, a hotel complete with two ballrooms, tea room and restaurant and its incarnation as a smart, dining talking point is one that Capetonian foodies and fans of the other eateries in the Dale Roberts empire, The Pot Club and The Short Market Club, will no doubt celebrate.
“Because it’s a significant historical building, we couldn’t and didn’t want to change its bones. We chose to amplify its history with really modern touches juxtaposed with nods to the past and plenty of surprises too,” says Sandalene.
“The Roundhouse has always been something of an anomaly; it’s shape is unusual, it’s had a pretty chequered past and there’s a romance to it that fuels people’s fascination with it. A restaurant that pushes boundaries just makes sense for it,” says Luke.
The restaurant’s main dining areas are in the inner and outer rings of The Roundhouse. There are huge, faded vintage Persian rugs set on the original faded oak floors, beautiful antique pieces are upholstered in jewel-coloured velvets and bring an undeniable sense of luxe to the space, while modern upholstered chairs in a mix of patterned velvets and fabrics emphasise the marriage of old world and new. “We’re beyond playing things safe. We want people to be interested in wanting to know more about everything they see and taste,” says Sandalene.
It’s clear that Ryan, together with his polished team including general manager Markus Fiedler (ex The Test Kitchen) and sommelier Nash Kanyangarara who comes to Salsify care of the world-renowned Constance Moofushi in the Maldives as well as the brand’s property in the Seychelles, looks set to take fine dining in Cape Town to exciting new heights and Cape Town’s stalwart foodies will no doubt agree. “We’re ready for something new and we think the city is ready too,” says Luke.
Salsify will be open from Tuesdays to Sundays for lunch and dinner. Reservations at Salisify are online only via the website. Bookings are open one month in advance from 8.30am (South African time). It does not take reservations via email, however, will still be able to assist telephonically + 27 (021) 010 6444.