Liam Tomlin is the most internationally experienced and respected but one of the least known chefs working in Cape Town, despite having worked in our country for ten years. The recent move of his Chef’s Warehouse & Cookery School on New Church Street to Bree Street, now named Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen, seems to have transformed him and he seems happier than he has been for a long time, being back in the kitchen and hands-on in his restaurant.
Located in a heritage building on food fashionable Bree Street, where Caveau used to be before it went under, Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen has been painted a soft grey, which brings out the best of its simple red Chef’s Warehouse branding. When I arrived to meet Judy for lunch, I spotted former Portofino restaurateur Cormac Keane having lunch as I was taking a photograph of the exterior of the building. Cormac was a maverick whilst he lived in Cape Town, and it is a shame that he left Cape Town to return to London, having shaken things up in the restaurant industry when he operated here until the World Cup 2010, it not living up to his expectations. The Irish roots of Chef Liam and Cormac created a friendship in the early days in Cape Town for both men, which still holds. Chef Liam started his career in Australia, and opened his restaurant BANC in Sydney, which earned him a 3 Hats award, as well as two Restaurant of the Year awards. He moved to our country ten years ago, and has written cookbooks (‘BANC’, ‘Season to Taste’, and ‘Lessons with Liam‘), which are available at Chef’s Warehouse, still serves on the British Airways Taste Team, and has assisted wine estates such as La Motte in setting up Pierneef à La Motte and its kitchen. For a year he operated at Leopard’s Leap in Franschhoek, selling cooking and baking utensils and vessels, and offering cooking courses, whilst also running his Cape Town operation. Franschhoek did not work out, and so he and his wife Jan returned to Cape Town about a year ago, and saw the opportunity to enhance their business’ visibility when Awestruck, the successor to Caveau, also did not make it. Chef Liam was probably the most undercover Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant judge last year, least likely to have been recognised by the Top 20 shortlisted restaurant staff. Chef Liam is not running the Cookery School in his new premises.
The building’s largest room is the Warehouse shop, filled with a wall full of cooking related books, with a red ladder to assist one to take down the higher placed books. That part of the shop looks very neat and disciplined. The rest of the space looks unstructured, and contains a large variety of cooking related items, including slate plates and bowls, ceramic platters, tea pots, coffee pots, salt and pepper grinders, glass jars, wooden platters, Staub ceramic bowls, Littala glassware, casserole pots, cutlery sets, baking forms, trays, chefs’ knives, copper pots, woks, and much more.
The mid-room houses fridges with many of Chef Liam’s dishes, which one can buy prepared to take away, as well as fresh meats, many sourced from Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants down the road, having a very good relationship with its owner Andy Fenner, Chef Liam saying that he gives him carte blanche to source what will work for his restaurant. Recessed in this space is the kitchen, in which Chef Liam and his three kitchen hands prepare the dishes off the Canteen menu, all personally made and plated by Chef Liam. A third room contains non-refrigerated products such as Vilux French mustards, Asian soy sauces, and tinned chestnuts, flavourings, spices, glucose, Spanish sherry vinegar, De Cecco pasta, olive oils, olive tapenades, sushi rice, paella rice, couscous, salts, rubs, and Eureka Mills stoneground flour, on shelving. One can sit at tables and chairs if one does not want to sit at the high tables and chairs outside. The outside seating is clever in attracting attention to others walking and driving by. Chef’s Warehouse is already attracting foodies, and I saw a number of patrons I knew. Chef Liam said that a number of top chefs such as Luke Dale-Roberts and Peter Tempelhoff have already been to visit. When we were there Chefs Kevin and Leigh from Birds Boutique Café were taking a coffee break from their own restaurant down the road. Friends sitting next to us allowed us to photograph their Tapas, which included mushroom arancini, rabbit confit, lamb and lentils, Spanish omelet, pork ribs, Thai beef, swordfish, and slow roasted calf.
Chef Liam showed me a downstairs space which used to be the Caveau cellar, which he will transform into an authentic Asian street food take-away section later this month, which he has already branded Street Food. He recently was invited to visit Mauritius to participate in a TV programme on street food, and was impressed with how fresh the island’s ingredients are. He took lots of photographs there, and is using them as decor in Street Food. He will be selling Peking Duck (can’t wait), seared salmon, and other delicacies from a conveyor belt, predominantly to students and office workers, in a price range of R35 – R70.
Judy and I met for lunch, and I ordered a ‘deconstructed’ iced coffee which the waitress had made up for me, so they brought it in separate elements. Deluxe coffee is served, and the slate plate for the iced coffee elements came with tiny sweet red tongs for the cubed sugar, a nice decorative touch. The menu is printed on strips of parchment paper and clipped onto a rolled up Asian style place mat. We were told that the menu changes daily, but some menu elements do remain. At lunch time, from 12h00, one can order food from the ‘Canteen’ menu. After 16h00 until 20h00 during the week, and on weekends one can only order Tapas, at R220 for two sharing, and a selection of eight dishes is offered, which can change from day to day, depending on what ingredients Chef Liam’s kitchen receives.
Judy ordered Potted Shrimp, which can also buy to take away, in a glass pot, served with a salad (R75). I ordered the smoked salmon risotto topped with a soft poached egg and pea shoots, and a parsley velouté sauce (R120), perfect in being creamy, attractive in its plating, but very salty when I ate a forkful containing smoked rock salt, Chef Liam explained. We must have confused the waitress by asking about the Crawfish tails dish (R90), which she explained to be freshwater crayfish, and brought the dish to the table, having thought that I was ordering that dish, despite having ordered the Salmon Risotto with her already. Chef Liam quickly whipped up the Risotto, and came to the table afterwards to apologise personally with humour and charm, something I have not seen from him before, but reinforced how the move to Bree Street seems to have set him free and how much he is enjoying cooking in his own restaurant. On the day we had lunch one could also have had a rillette of duck, rabbit or pork at R70; a salad with melted raclette (R90); chicken liver parfait (R55); chilled roast tomato soup (R65), veal balls with rösti; and duck confit (R105). A daily vegetarian dish is offered. For dessert I had a lemon posset (a creamy pudding) with a berry consommé, which the waitress poured over the dessert at the table, topping it with raspberries (R40). Other dessert options available ten days ago were Crepe Suzette with vanilla bean ice cream (R40), and spiced chocolate soup with dried fruit and nuts (R45). A cheese platter with mature cheddar and grape chutney is offered at R45.
The winelist is short and sweet, and is presented as part of the menu. The only MCC is Colmant Brut NV (R250). Ten ‘Easy drinking’ wines are available by the glass or bottle, ranging from R25/R95 for Beau Belle Rosé 2012 to R 45/R175 for De Grendel Shiraz 2012. Proudly ‘Heritage Square’ wines are offered, made in the same building, being the Vins D’Orrance Chenin Blanc 2012, Signal Hill Grenache Blanc 2007, Simply Red Syrah 2009, and Signal Hill Cabernet Franc 2009, in a price range of R135 – R170. ‘Some of our Favourites’ include Rupert & Rothschild Baroness Nadine Chardonnay 2011 (R300), Saronsberg Shiraz 2011 (R335), and Lothian Pinot Noir 2012 (R255).
I didn’t know what to expect of the new Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen, but I loved how casual it was, how friendly Chef Liam and Jan were, both being very hands-on, that one can buy some of the dishes on the menu pre-packaged to take home, the enjoyable outside seating which is shared with other patrons, leading one to chat with people one has never met before. I returned the following day, on a Saturday, to redo some photographs and to take further notes, due to a shortage of time the previous day. It was far less busy and one had more time to chat with Chef Liam and Jan. It is welcoming, stocked with delectable ‘hand-made’ food, as well as imported as well as local delicacies. One has the pleasure of having one’s meal prepared by a world-class chef, who does not sit in a little office behind the computer to let his staff get on with it! Having their own restaurants now could mean the end of their judging of the Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards for both Chef Liam and Fenner. New Media Publishing has not made any announcements regarding Eat Out 2015 this year so far!
POSTSCRIPT 26/4: A post on Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen’s Facebook page announces that Street Food will open imminently, and hence they have reduced the Canteen menu, the main courses having been removed. There are five starters now, the Tapas for two to share (now increased in price to R260), and 4 desserts.
POSTSCRIPT 28/5: The MasterChef SA Season 2 Finalists Leandri van der Wat and her sister Seline had lunch with me at Chef’s Warehouse Canteen today, a day before doing cooking demos at the Good Food & Wine Show from 29 May – 1 June.
POSTSCRIPT 28/5: Chef’s Warehouse has opened Street Food below the next door hotel, from which one can buy take-away food from 7h00 – 15h00, Mondays – Fridays, about which we will write a separate blogpost about.
Chef’s Warehouse, 92 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-0128. www.chefswarehouse.co.za Twitter: @Chefs_Warehouse Monday – Friday, 12h00 – 15h00 Canteen menu, Tapas from 16h00 – 20h00. Coffee from 8h00 – 20h00 daily on weekdays. Saturdays 8h00 – 14h30. No Breakfasts.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage