Tasty Ode to the Wild Woman of Steenberg

The new approach at Constantia’s refined eatery named Catharina’s is refreshingly visceral and beastly. Set in a beautiful Cape Dutch house among the vineyards of Steenberg wine farm, Catharina bears the name of the farm’s founder who left an indelible impression since arriving to tame the South Peninsula wilderness in 1682.

The story of Catharina Ras is found between the restaurant’s menu and her black skirted figure adorns a glass-panelled entrance. She was apparently quite a character. The woman was wedded five times, losing husbands in unnatural ways that would have made Daisy de Melcker envious. On horseback and rifle in hand, she rid her farm of wild animals such as lion, elephant and hippo while mothering a set of wild-looking kids that – according to the VOC’s records – resembled Brazilian cannibals.

Catharina, demon on a side-saddle.
Catharina, demon on a side-saddle.

Today Catharina’s is a coolly smart eatery with modern fittings complementing the barn-yard rusticity that gives the place an authentic and original, if not quite homely, feel.

Along with the recent aesthetic revamp comes a new menu that could be a tad risqué, but one I find enormously exciting in its offering of slabs of meat chopped from all kinds of weird and wonderful wild animals.

The main courses look like something out of a Lion King production: Quaint pyjama-skinned zebra are lovingly shot on the plains of Africa, de-loined before being roasted and served with smoked aubergine maize meal, toasted pine-nuts and an unctuous red wine jus.

Wild boar, fatly fed on roots and shrubs, are given the old lead-pellet to the brain after which those delectable belly rushers are baked slowly and dished-up with cauliflower rice and Jerusalem artichoke. A silky butternut purée adds a perfumed sweetness to the boar’s savoury gaminess.

Did any one say "lunch"?
Did any one say “lunch”?

And let’s not forget Mister Crocodile. Not so cute to look at, is he? But after death by careful electrocution, a ripping-off of that dinosaur-like nobbly skin and frying the tail-steaks in butter, Mister C looks golden-brown and cute, and decidedly edible.

For the less adventurous, main courses offer mussel linguine, fish of the day and a hangar steak from cow.

Liking the wilderness theme, I started with quail while Southern Suburbs inhabitant and Muesli Curtain Bunny Hugger Abigail Wesley-Smith settled for the Garden Salad. Starters also include beef tartare, calamari and a dish of seared tuna and salmon trout.

The quail was beaten into sausage-shaped boudin and served with an umami-tasting pancetta chip and truffled quail egg.

My quail was fine-dining stuff. I normally prefer tearing the flesh from the bones of a whole bird, roasted, but the mellifluous texture of the pulverised quail made eating it a gorgeous sensation. For its match I chose a Crystallum Cuvée Cinema Pinot Noir 2015, the spicy berry-fruit forming a groin-jerking satisfying combination.

Crocodile, Catharina's way.
Crocodile, Catharina’s way.

Abi’s salad was green and fresh – the zebra would have liked it.

Having hunted quite a few of these bush-monsters myself, the wild boar had my name on it when it came to the main course. Abi settled for the fish after interrogating the charming waitress on the sustainable origins of the fishery at hand. It proved to be Angel Fish, more common than Crocs at a Potjiekos Competition in the Northern Suburbs and unfortunately not more threatened.

I like boar because they are challenging to hunt and are the true gourmands of the animal kingdom. These 180kg monsters eat fruit, vegetables, roots, sweet meadow grass, and I once shot one that had half a just-born lamb in its stomach. The result of this permissive eating habit, is a solid flesh of complex flavour. Its fat, less than that of confined domestic pig, is sweet and fennel-tasting. If Margharet van Wyk had sent me a picture of a piece of boar fat I would have been far more excited than the intimate object that popped up on the world’s smartphone screens.

Catharina’s kitchen had cooked the wild board to perfection. Tender, but without that messy gooey falling-apart-texture, the meat sat easily on the palate yielding to the bite the way a heavy kimono gives way to the shiny blade of a samurai sword. The food was accurately cooked, seasoned to perfection so as not to hinder the originality of the taste but still giving the broad, plush fleshy flavour a lift.

Folded-paper-birdy-things called origami.
Folded-paper-birdy-things called origami.

The Pinot Noir did nothing wrong, too, playing bass guitar to the wild boar’s piercing lead.

I had a chunk of Abi’s fish which was served on a bed of risotto. Perhaps it was the picturesque effect of the boar flesh, but the fish tasted overtly citrusy to the point of sourness.

Desert was a shared cheese platter, washed down with espresso and surprisingly good Klein Constantia Grappa.

The fresh air smelt of the False Bay sea as we left and a brooding blue Edoardo Villa metal statue under a faint moonlight showed the road away from one of the most exciting fine-dining establishments to hit this part of the Cape in a while. And no wild animals were harmed on the road home.

  • Emile Joubert

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