You would've noticed my not-so-subtle "preachings" about free-range meat lately. It's a lifestyle choice I've made and it has been tough. No more Wimpy burgers on road-trips. No more bacon thrown liberally onto pasta and pizza. No more boerewors rolls on the side of rugby fields. No more Nando's when you're hammered or hungover. I've had to sacrifice certain dishes I used to love at restaurants and choose vegetarian options instead. Shopping at markets instead of grocery stores has taken on a whole new level of importance for me. Basically, free-range meat is a big deal. It's a huge deal. So when I heard of Catharina's Free-range Fridays concept, it was something I absolutely had to check out.
I was invited to a lunch to showcase the type of dishes the restaurant will be featuring on the menu, where chef Garth Almazan (surely one of the most underrated in Cape Town) talked a group of us through the philosophy. Not surprisingly, it all starts with the supplier and Garth explained the care that goes into sourcing the finest animals from the best farms. From there, Garth has borrowed from the "nose to tail" eating trend which, as the name suggests, focuses on using every part of the animal (or as much as possible). This brings me to my next point: offal. Offal has never really been given a chance here in South Africa, mainly because I feel people have no relationship with the animals they eat as meat. So the idea of eating livers, kidneys, sweetbreads etc. makes the average person squeamish. I guarantee that if people ate it in a blind-tasting they would love it.
Anyway, onto the lunch. We enjoyed roasted bone marrow with a quinoa stuffing. Braised beef tripe with pan-fried sweetbreads and a bean ragout. Pan-fried calves liver with oxtail rillette. Pork belly with trotter spring rolls. All paired with gorgeous wine. Think Herold Pinot Noir, Steenberg Nebbiolo, Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal (all from 07). The most unusual - and my favourite - was the Jordan Riesling teamed up with the pork belly. Cathy Marston (wine guru over at food24.com) was there and her explanations of the wine were fascinating. For example, I had never noticed the strong minty/Eucalyptus character of Steenberg wines which she pointed out. Watch out for it next time you have the chance.
The food was sensational. Honestly, some of the richest, deepest dishes I have enjoyed for a long time. The rain outside made it a perfect day to get stuck into such earthy flavours and the afternoon flew by. Bianca Coleman made an excellent drinking partner and I was quite bummed when I checked my watch and realised I had to get out of there. Next time - and there will definitely be a next time - I will make sure I stay longer, drink more and then roll down the road to my parents' house. (Yip, they have a place there - very convenient.) I'll probably wake up, go for a trail run on the Silvermine Reserve and enjoy brunch at Bistro Sixteen82. Because that's how we do it in Cape Town.
To find out more about the Free-range Friday movement, give Catharina's a call on (021) 713-2222. Do your bit. Do your bit and enjoy an unbelievable meal.