Chefs Warehouse and Canteen came highly recommended by Delaire Graff restaurant’s head chef, Michael Deg. I, therefore decided it is a must visit on my next trip to Cape Town. Chefs Warehouse and Canteen does not take bookings, so best to get there early. At first, I thought it would be an issue to get a table. However, this was not the case, as I arrived about 45 min before they opened (Yes, I was quite eager). It was however 45 minutes well spent in their store, my credit card might tell a different story.
If you are a foodie, you would have a great appreciation for this store. There are so many interesting things to use, in and around the kitchen. They also have an interesting collection called “books for cooks”. The bookshelves were divided into different categories. Some of the authors included; Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White as well as the owner of Chefs Warehouse, Liam Tomlin.
Liam Tomlin is an Irish-born chef and no stranger to the culinary world. He has worked with culinary icons like Shaun Hill, Mark Edwards and Richard Corrigan. He has published a number of cookbooks and together with his wife, Jan, they own and run two other restaurants (Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia and Thali) as well as a bar (No Reservations) in the Cape Town.
As I was waiting for the canteen to open, I made a new friend, Bailey, the Chefs Warehouse dog. Bailey can be seen either on the patio or snuggled up in his bed. If you see him give him a pat, he loves it.
The clock struck 12 noon and the moment of truth arrived. It was time for the canteen to open their “spoon handled” doors and let some hungry clients enter. There were already a few people seated by the time I entered, however, I was still able to get a great seat. Yeah!!! (Happy dance). I would recommend being at the canteen about 10min before they open for service. They have seating inside that can accommodate up to 40 people as well as weather dependent seating outside for an additional 24 people. All the tables are communal tables that create an interesting vibe, where it is easy to make new friends during your meal.
The dining experience is casual and based on sharing of great food. If you are two or more, the tapas are served over three courses. If you are dining alone, like I was, do not fear. They would still be able to provide you with four items of your choice from their tapas menu, over two courses. I am sure you would be able to order the entire menu for one person, but finishing it might be a challenge. All of their tapas sounded fantastic, and it was hard to narrow it down to only four. I decided to have whatever four dishes the chef recommended. It was rather exciting as I had no idea what I was having for lunch until the food arrived.
While waiting for the food, I took a look around the restaurant, the décor was unique and well designed. The main black door to the canteen had a creative personal touch with large black wooden spoons as door handles. The red wooden sliding door, separating the canteen from the store creates an interesting focal point and tied in well with their logo and the red exposed features and trimmings. The bar counter and service area are finished with a vintage look mirror that reflected light into the space. The Spanish-themed flooring was gorgeous and very appropriate as the canteen serves “tapas”, a very popular Spanish way of dining.
There are food products available to purchase in the canteen. They vary from Tannie Evita’s Darling product range, to dates, to a variety of spices and other ingredients. These items are great to keep in your pantry and also makes for brilliant gift ideas.
The service at the canteen was excellent. As I was seated near the kitchen, I could hear “service, service” every few minutes. I was amazed at the speed that this team worked at, and how calm they all looked. This was obviously not their first time doing this.
The first two tapas that arrived were the, deeply fried squid and tuna tartare. Both the dishes looked and smelled amazing. I could not wait to start.
The deep fried squid dish looked so fresh with the greenness of the basil leaves as well as the pesto. The squid was crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. The baby potatoes were soft, and light and together with the pesto and aioli just melted in your mouth. The chorizo added a little bit of a spiciness to the dish, really complimenting the other elements. I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of chorizo and was not sure about this in the dish when it arrived, but after tasting the combination of flavours, it was required to push the dish from good to amazing. Hands down my favourite dish.
The second dish was, the tuna tartare with a nigiri dressing topped with micro herbs. The flavour combinations worked well, and in between each bite, you get a few sesame seeds adding a nutty flavour and a delicate crunch to the dish. There were a few fresh pomegranate seeds sprinkled on the top that added a surprising burst of a sweet and sour flavour to the dish. I used the cracker to scoop up the tartar, this crunch element was delicious.
The last two tapas that arrived were the pan fried silverfish and brisket with saffron risotto.
The pan fried silverfish with tomato gastrique, semi dried tomatoes and olive tapenade was plated beautifully. Each element was prepared to perfection. The fish was so crispy on the outside, and as I cut through, I could hear a very light crack. It was like music to my ears. The centre of the fish was cook perfectly and was jam-packed with flavour. The tomato gastrique added colour as well as an extra tomato element to the dish. The olive tapenade was a bit salty on its own, but together with all the other elements, it balanced the dish beautifully. The combination of the crunchy fish, soft tomatoes and olives just took this dish to the next level. My taste buds felt like it was on a roller-coaster, and boy did they love that ride.
I loved the plating of the brisket and saffron risotto it was very simple but elegantly. The brisket was cooked to perfection, it pulled apart easily, and once you take a bite, the meat just melts away. The risotto was silky and smooth, and the flavour combinations worked very well. The colour of the saffron risotto made the dish stand out.
I was at the end of my tapas experience and pretty full, but if the dessert tasted even half as good as the tapas, I was not going to pass it by. All the items on the dessert menu sounded amazing, and once again I asked the chef to choose.
The chef’s choice was the rose water pannacotta. The pannacotta was smooth and set perfectly, still with a little bit of a wiggle. The meringue was delicious and light and added a hint of sweetness. The crunchiness of the nuts, together with the freshness of the mint leaves, and pomegranate seeds tied the dish together perfectly. This dessert was a great finale to a fantastic meal.
As I finished my dessert, none other than Chef Liam Tomlin walked through the black door. I was lucky enough to meet him and have him sign my “Lessons with Liam” cookbook. While talking to him, I experienced a little bit about this humble chef and what made him tick. Talking to his staff and seeing their respect and gratitude towards him, and experiencing how proud they were to be part of his team made me realise what a great leader he is.
If you love the dishes, you can attempt them at home, with the help of Chef Liam’s “Tapas” cookbook.
It does not matter whether you are a professional or amateur chef, foodie or wine lover, or just having lunch this is a spot not to miss. The great thing about this restaurant is the fact that the menu changes daily and therefore you can dine here often and have a different culinary experience every time. Chefs Warehouse and Canteen has great food, great staff and a great vibe. Chefs Warehouse and Canteen, without a shadow of a doubt, gets the DBM splash of approval.