Sometimes you come across absolute gems – and this is one of them. I had read a couple of glowing reviews so headed on down to Claremont to check it out – and so glad we did.
Located in bustling St Quentins Avenue, it is very attractive room – long and relatively narrow, with a bar and open kitchen to one side – and with an alluring outdoor area too where a few people were catching the rays on a sunny May day. Welcomed by a very attentive and helpful waiter we sat and looked over the menu and wine list.
The wine list is outstanding – it has a wonderful selection of wines across regions, varieties and countries – and includes a good representation from some of the new wave young producers around the traps – Tripe Iscariot’s two fabulous Chenin Blanc – one from Karridale and the other from Willyabrup immediately sprang to notice so they set the scene. The Karridale with a very fragrant nose – lemon blossom, honeyed notes, some ginger spice; crunchy green apple and citrus flavours; crisp and elegant. And the quite distinctive and different Willyabrup with aromas of lemon peel and spice with a palate which is chalky and with finely balanced citrus flavours.
Now the food – small dishes made to share and produced with such flair – was exceptional – pretty to look at on the plate, stunning to eat.
We began with carpaccio of thinly sliced gold band snapper – juicy slices circling the plate, drizzled with oil and lemon, and dotted with tiny mounds of mild tangy mustard – simply brilliant.
A decorative plate of heirloom carrots was next – thin ones, thick ones, yellow, white, red, orange, lightly cooked to retain a firm bite and sprinkled liberally with deep fried Puy lentils adding a nutty, snap, crackle and pop. Another spot on dish.
Smoked mushrooms – aromatic earthy meaty and juicy topped with creamy, mild goat cheese – the smoky notes on this were superb, lingering long after the dish was wiped clean.
Finally a plate of braised octopus – succulent, tender, slightly spicy, cooked with slippery paprika, orange and chilli adding spice and sweet citrus notes – topped with crunchy chopped almonds – what a dish!
Of course we had finished our introductory whites before the food got too much underway and we looked for something else to accompany our meals – and with Andrew Hoadley from La Violetta a couple of tables away we thought it fitting to try one of his beautiful wines – and a bottle of Neu Rosé was answer; bottled under crown seal this Nebbiolo based wine has a slight spritz on opening – strawberry and musk aromas, with a touch of spice; a palate full of the flavours of rosewater and pomegranates – delicate and gluggable!
We had a spot of wine left and so dessert to finish seemed appropriate – here we went for a crumbly dark pastry shell filled with brown butter pastry cream, with a scoop of fragrant, milky, Earl Grey ice cream sitting alongside, the bergamot adding its characteristic citrusy note both of flavour and bouquet. Fantastic conclusion….
Billie H is a must. It is one of those few wine bars that nail the wine list as well as the food – nothing but praise. The residents of Claremont should be grateful that it is there….superb.