Master Chef judging, the Firefly version – Ginger Restaurant

Port Elizabeth is very quickly getting a reputation as a good food destination with visiting bloggers and journalists raving about the variety and quality of restaurants and food markets available around the city in their articles.  Now I’m not food expert although I am known to enjoy a good steak / pizza / chop and braaibroodjie / plate of home cooked food / cinnamon and sugar pancake / or > insert whatever food here< on occasion.  I'm not the judgmental type (friends not allowed to comment on this) and can be pleased very easily when it comes to food, but I have also watched my share of cooking shows so have learned to not just stick my food in my mouth, chew, swallow and not have an opinion about it.  So Facebook will hear about it if it wasn't good.  Having known that, the marketing people at Ginger Restaurant probably wouldn't have been so quick to invite me to the relaunch of Ginger at the Beach Hotel.  Or if they did, perhaps they had the conviction of their chef's abilities to back the invitation up with. 

Since opening in 2007, Ginger Restaurant has carved a reputation for itself as a fine dining restaurant with a comfortable yet upmarket atmosphere.  The restaurant just underwent a refurbishment to modify its contemporary flair and under the guidance of interior designer Michele Leyland, Ginger has a fresh look but with the characteristics that it has developed over the last nine years.  That, along with being awarded a Platinum Wine List Award from Diners Club International, the relaunch was seeing in a new era of dining at Ginger.

The Damselfly and I were the first guests to arrive the evening (seeing that it was a school night and all) so chose one of the best seats in the house.  Right by the big windows with a view across the road towards Hobie Beach and Shark Rock Pier.  It was dark though, and raining, but we wanted to sit there regardless.  We were showed to the table and was served welcome drinks.  Now I’m not a whiskey drinker, but the whiskey cocktail I got really wasn’t bad at all.  Wonder if they would tell me what went into it so I can try making it at home next time somebody comes over.  You know, that’s how you impress folk.

Ordinarily Ginger would have an a la carte menu but for one night only they had a Relaunch 7 course menu for diners to enjoy. First up was Amuse Bouche.  Like I said, I’m not food expert or restaurant critic, so I had to turn to my friend Google to see what it meant.  To quote Wikipedia, An amuse-bouche [aˌmyzˈbuʃ] (plural amuse-bouches) or amuse-gueule [aˌmyzˈɡœl] is a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre. Our Amuse Bouche was made up of rare beef, onion marmalade, blue cheese and guacamole on croutons. Bite sized?  Probably more like two bites if you didn’t want to struggle to chew because of a overly full mouth.  The Damselfly wouldn’t ordinarily do the blue cheese thing nor am I an avocado fan, but together this was a bite that ushered in a very enjoyable evening of dining.  Ok, so now I also want to know how to make onion marmalade.

Next on the menu was the Starter consisting of poached crayfish, mussel, mange trout and seaweed salad all in an aromatic chorizo and saffron broth.  When our waitress put the plates down I wondered why she had a teapot on the tray but it turned out to be the broth that she then poured over the seafood.  The Damselfly who will always order seafood if it’s on the menu was over the moon and it probably came in as her third favorite of the dishes for the evening.  You’ll see her top two below. Unfortunately it was my least favorite, but hey, I only learned to eat Sushi the other day.  Please don’t misunderstand me, there was nothing wrong with it.  I just didn’t enjoy it as much as what was to follow.
After a sorbet to cleanse the palate (no, I’m not posting a photo of sorbet), the first of two Tasting Plates were served.  Lamb chop, herb crumb toasted cumin cauliflower pops, candied carrots and a chive mash finished with a natural lamb jus.  If they had just served me a big plate of this I would not have wanted anything else for the rest of the meal.  The first thing I tried was the cauliflower pops.  Nice texture and slightly crispy. Man, I’ve got to try this at home.  The lamb was soft, juicy and the spicing was perfect.  If this was made outside over the fire, Justin Bonello of Ultimate Braai Master would have been seriously impressed.  Candied carrots? No, not just sweet carrots. Candied like a toffee apple gets candied. Great combination along with the green mash. Perhaps I don’t do fine dining enough, but I approached the green mash with a Dr Seuss rhyme in the back of my head before recomposing myself. Can’t help but laugh looking back at that.  This dish was definitely the favorite one with both of us.
The second Tasting Plate was made up of toasted beetroot risotto, pickled mushroom, home cured venison loan and finished with a smoked creme fraiche.  The Damselfly once, many moons ago on a cruise we took, had a very bad risotto experience which often still comes up as a personal joke between us.  She wasn’t so sure about this one.  Me on the other hand dove straight in to find out what the risotto tasted like.  A very peculiar taste and not bad at all.  She picked a pickled mushroom off
and said it tasted sour.  This is where watching Master Chef comes in.  It’s not about the individual components of the dish, but rather what they taste like as a combination.  And no, they don’t just make that up as something to say on television.  I piled a bit of everything onto my fork and took a bite. Mmmmm, now there’s a combination that talks to each other very civilised.  This time around the shoe was on the other foot and I really enjoyed the dish while the Damselfly didn’t.  It just shows that it is different strokes for different folks.

The Pre-Dessert was more like a different take on a palate cleanser and had a combination of fruit to start the transition from savory to sweet.  Bring on Dessert. 
Dessert came in a close second on both our favorite dish ratings although it could well have been a draw with the earlier lamb.  Salted caramel ribbon, chocolate and Frangelica soil, ginger sponge accompanied with a smooth mango sorbet and mint leaves. This was chew your lips off lekker.  If Ginger would package and sell the caramel ribbons I would probably have a standing order for them.  Yet again the whole combination was a winner.  We ended off our evening with coffees and then it was back to real life but with the memory of a great meal enjoyed in the perfect environment.  That big boerseun from the Free State would probably have stopped for a burger afterwards, but we found the meal to have been just enough not to feel uncomfortably full, the flavours were perfect and the service excellent. Obviously I will have to come back another time to see what is on Ginger’s new menu.  Now back to the salted caramel ribbons.  Could I perhaps have the recip… Never mind. 
Disclosure: I was invited to the re-launch by Ginger Restaurant as I work in the tourism industry and not as a blogger.  They didn’t ask for a blog post to be written (and not being a food writer I don’t think they even thought I’ll post something about the meal) and I keep full editorial control over the post and content.