Style – you either have it or you don’t. It can’t be faked but it can be learned.
Jacques Erasmus, owner of Hemelhuijs, has it in abundance and it is manifested in every aspect of the restaurant.
As an artist and designer, the interior is constantly evolving; long lapses between visits will mean an entirely new canvas of eye candy every time. Meticulous attention can be seen in every detail, from the charcoal black salt in shallow bowls with mother of pearl spoons (looking deceptively like caviar from a distance) to freshly squeezed juices in vibrant colours served in glass carafes.
Hemelhuijs is more than just a uber chic restaurant where even the frumpiest of us can feel grown up and sexy, merely by association, but a showcase of Jacques’s many talents. The homeware on sale is his own range, and it is from here that he works not only as a restaurateur extraordinaire but consults with those who seek to tap his creative talent.
Last week it was the setting for a select group of ladies who lunch. Or aspire to, achieving it through the magic of it being our jobs. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it. The menu has a strong focus on traditional Afrikaaner comfort food, elevated with modern twists, and we were invited to sample at will. Luckily most of us were friendly enough to share our plates so we got to taste a variety of delicious flavours over and above our own orders.
The milk stout braised beef brisket topped with snails and oyster mushroom butter is a firm favourite, as are frikkadelle in cabbage (I know these as “ou mense onder komberse”, or “old people in blankets”, which somehow just doesn’t translate well). Other lunch options include porcini mushrooms with persimmon and feta, pan fried lamb kidneys with brandy cream and Marmite toast soldiers, and a warm baby beetroot, roast duck and walnut praline salad with naartjie.
I started with grilled aubergine with gorgonzola cream, which was, well, heavenly. I followed with a bowl of mac ‘n cheese. Yep, that’s right – good old fashioned macaroni cheese, with bacon bits and a gorgeous creamy apple sauce (not the baby food kind at all) to complement the strong boerekaas. I also tasted my neighbour’s Szechuan calamari on one side, and the duck salad on the other.
Oh but you simply must leave space for something sweet at the end. Or just go there for a slice of cake and coffee. I never eat bread and butter pudding, which upsets my mother no end but I thought I’d give Jacques’s a try despite the array of ridiculously amazing cakes on the counter. After all, he is the king of bread, for which Hemelhuijs is famous. The pudding is made with ginger and white chocolate sauce and it was good, but after tasting Raphaelle’s moist burnt orange and almond cake with caramel and Amaretto frosting, I had a bad case of order envy.
There was also grapefruit and cranberry tart, apple and nougat tart, lemon meringue, melktert, red velvet cake, among others, and jars of dulce de leche – very good simply spread on toast or eaten directly with a spoon, I am led to believe.
Here’s the thing about Hemelhuijs… it’s not only an ambrosial eating experience, but a feast for the eyes and soul as well.