By Emma Scott
Art and cuisine combine at Casparus to create a feast for the senses.
Physical Address: 59 Dorp Street, Stellenbosch.
Call 021-882-8124. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Casparus is like no other restaurant you have eaten in before. An ode to the work of land artist Strijdom van der Merwe, it starts off on Dorp Street as a Victorian shop front with sandy pavements, and tunnels back to open onto a garden of deciduous trees and soft green lawn. Roof trusses hang over a selection of ball and claw furniture and modern teak in the 70-seater restaurant. It is a moving, changing space with doors which roll back, screens that move up and down and huge panels of photographs of Strijdom’s land art which slide back and forth across the kitchen, allowing diners to catch a glimpse of food alchemist Etienne Bonthuys at work.
Classically trained in Belgium, Etienne has been a leading light on the Cape restaurant scene for decades. His last stop was a 10-year stint at Tokara at the top of the Hellshoogte Pass, but he is glad to be back in Stellenbosch where he grew up. Etienne met Strijdom about eight years ago. “At night we project Strijdom’s work on to the wall of the restaurant and, with the lights on in the rafters, you sit as if you had the whole Milky Way overhead.
There is a simplicity about both the wine list and the menu that is restful. Wines are listed under cultivars and there are some 15 starters on the menu. The starters range in price from R30 for carrot soup; to R75 for raw salmon with finely diced seafood and a lemon grass, ginger and lime dressing; and R90 for warm oysters in a cap classique wine butter sauce. Star of the list is the salmon soufflé and delicate shimeji mushrooms with a roast red pepper and macadamia sauce. For mains Etienne’s wine sauce is delicately poured over kabeljou to create something far above the fish’s humble place in the sea food chain. The sirloin and rump steaks with mushroom or pepper sauces are popular at R145 and R100, but the more unusual baby calamari with shredded oxtail in a cream of tomato sauce at R105 is also a favourite. “I like to keep things simple, stick to natural products and all I really do is create a taste.”