ISANGO Gate in Port Elizabeth has launched its new winter menu, which yours truly and other guests from the media and tourism industries were invited to sample and critique earlier this month.
The posh boutique hotel in Summerstrand has two extremely talented new chefs, and a new general manager, who pulled out all the stops to impress their diners.
The restaurant is called Pendu Penda which, new general manager Liezel Haarhoff explained, means “together in our house” in Shona.
And that is exactly the vibe my husband Salvelio and I encountered at the establishment: Pendu Penda is swish and elegant, like the rest of the hotel, but has a relaxed warmth about it that makes one feel instantly at ease.
Head chef Lerique Allers, who joined Isango last month, qualified at the esteemed Institute of Culinary Arts in Stellenbosch and earned his stripes at the likes of the exclusive The Vineyard Hotel and Spa in the Cape, Granny Mouse Country House in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, and Gorah Elephant Camp in Addo.
Sous chef Xander Barnardt is a product of the Eden School of Culinary Arts in George, where he was mentored by legendary chef Francois Ferreira. Xander’s career highlights include working at two Relais & Chateaux accredited establishments: The Plettenberg and, closer to home, Kwande Private Game Reserve near Grahamstown.
Isango Gate’s restaurant has up to now mostly been frequented by guests staying over, and that is something Haarhoff – who joined the team in December last year – is eager to change.
“We are open to the public seven days a week, though it is preferable to book,” Liezel said. Their menu has been redesigned and expanded to offer more choice, and will be adapted every two to three months so regular diners always have something new to look forward to.
We were especially impressed by the informed and attentive service from waiter Loyiso Ntya.
But then the food started coming and the oohs and aahs intensified as we were presented with dish after perfectly plated dish.
Our modus operandi and that of others at our table, including PE Metro Bed & Breakfast Association spokeswoman Sheena Wilmot and hubby Nick, and Anne Udemans and Darren John of Ricochet Publishers, was to each order a different starter, main course and dessert from the menu and then share these out as we went along. This meant we got to sample virtually everything on their impressive new menu.
Among the five starters available the standout, for me, was the fire cracker prawns – garlicky morsels served in a flavourful, home-made tomato and chilli sauce with melba toast rounds artfully arranged on either side. The venison carpaccio filled with avo mousse, spicy crisps and mango compote was also a triumph.
On to mains, top dishes were the paupiette of sole and salmon – twirls of delicately flavoured fish served with wasabi pomme puree (chef-speak for mash) and shrimp leek veloute (a velvety sauce). The apple confit pork belly with lemon pomme puree, caramelised apple and cider foam would also get my vote.
Dessert-wise the warm chocolate fondant with two-tone white and milk chocolate delice and popcorn brittle showed innovation and skill, as did the vanilla-honey cheesecake in tuille cylinder with port-poached pear.
Isango Gate is at 23 Bournemouth Avenue. Bookings are on (041) 811-2225. – Louise Liebenberg