Small Plates with Big Flavours at Makaron

Makaron Restaurant is cementing its reputation as one of the most exciting dining destinations in the winelands with a compelling new ‘small plates’ menu from Head Chef Lucas Carstens.

Makaron, situated in the stylish Majeka House & Spa on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, has long been known as a haven of fine food and gorgeous design. In November of 2016, this luxury small hotel scooped a coveted international award in recognition of their world class interior design. Named as the Best Design Hotel in Africa & the Middle East at the Condé Nast Johansens Awards for Excellence 2017, the property was praised as a ‘wining, dining and super styling destination’.

Now, just in time for winter, Carstens is heating things up at this Etienne Hanekom-designed gourmet destination with an innovative menu of small plate cuisine.

Globally, there’s definitely a trend towards small plate tapas-style dining, with people sharing flavours and textures around the table,” explains Carstens, who took the helm of the Makaron kitchen in 2015. “The idea here is flexibility, and we want guests to decide for themselves how they discover the menu.”

That flexibility comes courtesy of an exciting menu offering of 18 small plates, dreamt up by Carstens from a well-thumbed notebook of ideas, and inspiration collected from cookbooks and his own culinary discoveries.

“I’ve always been a big fan of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, a rustic-urban eatery where the focus is on small plates served yum cha style so guests can choose what they’d like to eat” explains Carstens.

That same sense of discovery finds a home on Carstens’ new offering at Makaron. Although the menu is broken into a recommended journey of ‘Suggested Start’, ‘Followed Up By’, ‘The Serious Choice’ and ‘To Finish’, guests are left free to curate their own culinary experience.

It all begins with an amuse bouche of leaves from the Majeka vegetable gardens, tossed in rooibos vinegar and served alongside korrelkonfyt, sourdough and butter. It’s a perfect scene-setter for a menu that ably showcases Carstens’ ever-growing skills behind the pass.

“We are definitely incorporating more modern techniques in the kitchen, but we’re also focusing on just a few ingredients in each dish, showcasing those as the hero on the plate,” adds Carstens.

A fine example is the pan-fried springbok rump. Plated on a bed of caramelised red cabbage purée, it arrives topped with bacon crumb, pickled red onions and a beetroot crisp. A handful of ingredients expertly prepared and delivered as a striking dish of bold, uncomplicated flavours.

The Chalmar sirloin is also a unique take on a bistro-style staple. Here, Carstens delivers it with a memorable hit of ‘umami butter’, enriched with miso, dried shitake, confit garlic and dried sea lettuce.

While these new creations are sure to have foodies Instagramming up a storm, one dish that Carstens simply couldn’t take off the menu is his much-loved baby marrow risotto. Topped with raw mushrooms and infused with truffle, the secret ingredient is the shavings of cured egg yolk that provide an extra dollop of unctuous richness to the perfectly cooked Arborio rice.

Along with all that innovation on the plate comes plenty of experimentation behind the pass.

“We’ve really shifted to making whatever we can on our own, right here in the kitchen,” explains Carstens

For instance, their own almond milk neatly balances the acidity of grapefruit in a sashimi of local line fish, while milk from local farms is used for the creamy house ricotta. With an eye firmly on embracing sustainability in the kitchen, the ricotta whey is then used for creating a dessert sorbet, as well as brining the delicious fermented lettuce served with suckling pig.

Another dish not to be missed is the slivers of house-made duck breast ham. Brined for three days, then cured for up to three weeks, it arrives thinly sliced over baby figs done three ways: fresh, dried and pickled in a red gastrique.

Fermenting plays a key role in the new menu, with the team making kombucha, malt vinegars and ginger beer.

“We’re really trying to bring out the umami flavours in the dishes, using charring, pickling and fermenting,” explains Carstens, who uses a wood-fired Little Green Egg in the kitchen for roasting carrots in the coals, and finishing broccoli and cauliflower over the flames before plating.

The diners who come to Makaron are looking for a more adventurous dining experience, and we wanted to cater for that,” explains Carstens.

Although the inspiration may be global, there’s a striking inclusion of homegrown South African flavours and ingredients here too.

A ‘mielie pap’ croquette with sheba (spicy tomato and onion sauce) brioche kicks things off with the amuse bouche, slivers of suckling pig are given a lift by naartjie notes, while spekboom and buchu are a tip of the hat to the Cape’s rich floral kingdom. Perhaps the best is left for last though, with an original milk tart recipe from C. Louis Leipoldt providing the inspiration for a playful cinnamon-infused ‘ice cream sandwich’.

It’s a perfect example of why Makaron has long been a haven of homegrown hospitality paired with South African-inspired global cuisine. While the temperatures may be cooling down, this latest offering from Lucas Carstens shows that things are certainly heating up at Majeka House this winter.

Makaron Restaurant is open daily for dinner (closed on Wednesdays during winter between May and September), from 18h30 – 20h30. Diners can choose four/five/six courses from the ’small plates’ menu for R450/R565/R675 respectively. An optional wine pairing is also available, at a cost of R770/R940/R1100 for both food and wine.

Take advantage of the special winter promotion available at Majeka House & Spa where you will pay only R1420 per person sharing a night inclusive of breakfast and dinner at Makaron, available from Sunday to Thursday, May to end of August 2017.  

Majeka House & Spa and Makaron restaurant are situated at 26-32 Houtkapper Street, Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch. For bookings call 021 880 1549 or email reservations@majekahouse.co.za. For more information visit www.majekahouse.co.za