Review of Gaatjie: West Coast gem

During a recent long weekend break in Paternoster, we dined at Suzi Holtzhausen’s fisherman cottage- style, Gaaitjie Salt Water restaurant, located ideally on the beach and famed for its creative and seasonal gastronomic offerings that rival the best in Cape Town and the wine lands.

If you’ve been to the little village on the West Coast, with a population I’m yet to confirm (I’d be surprised if it’s over 3500), you can understand the awe surrounding Gaatjie and the dishes she presents her guests.

This was our last dinner in Paternoster and by far the meal I was looking forward to the most.

Roughly a week before, I booked a table with a view and spoke with Suzi herself who suggested that we come in at 7pm and not 8pm, to make the most of the views and the setting sun.

view from Gaaitjie

Service

We were greeted warmly and Suzi introduced herself and promised that we could have a little chat later.

The wait staff are mostly locals (our waitress Palieswa, from Cape Town, moved to the village in search of employment a few years ago), and I overheard fellow patrons comment about how service had improved over the last few months. Good service is pertinent to a pleasant dining experience and getting the balance of good, well presented food, friendly but not overbearing, professional but not curt service is an art.

I found the service to be of a good standard and we were made to feel very welcome.

Drinks

I had been battling horrible allergic rhinitis all weekend, and had to have a cup of tea, or three (a basket is brought out with several choices, some uncommon such as bucchu and passion flower). I was pleased with the options available.

I appreciate eating at a restaurant that does not make you feel like a leper if you do not drink wine with your meal, as more often than not we will have ice tea, water, bubbles or a cocktail instead.

The drinks menu is small and choices are local (including a lovely citrus iced tea from De Berge)

Starters

A mini loaf of bread baked in a small tin, with caramelised onions and sesame seeds and what tasted like a coriander mint chutney, served on the side, was presented with a steak knife poked through it. I thought it to be wonderfully dramatic and almost broke out in applause. It tasted magnificent too. I am an absolute sucker for good home baked bread.

I had the perdevoet (or limipit, which is a little clam) pastei (R45). Pastei is an Afrikaans word for a pastry or Cornish pasty. It was served with a spicy tamarind sauce (just up my taste alley!) The pastry was delicate, flaky and golden brown and made by Suzi’s assistant Chef.

My husband had the glorious asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon trout and served with a fresh fennel tartare sauce.

It was heavenly, and the portion generous at R50.

Suzi mentioned later that she also serves this dish with smoked tuna but had run out. (Mentally, I started to plan another visit to Paternoster. This has to be sampled!).

Asparagus and smoked salmon trout

Mains
I do not eat pork (apart from bacon). I surprised both myself and my husband (especially myself, I think), when I ordered the crisp pork belly with hot apple moes (apple sauce, a Dutch favourite that my husband grew up with – useful to drown horrible veggies like Brussels sprouts, he says), steamed greens and mash (R115)

It was delicious. I will have to get used to crackling and am no connoisseur- but, for those in the know, if the picture doesn’t do it justice, it was bubbled, browned and very crisp.

The meat was tender and thankfully not fatty (that’s the image pork belly always conjures in my mind). A successful pork belly first.

Waiter, there’s a crisp on my belly!

My husband had the yellow tail fillets prepared in a curry leaf masala with mustard seeds and served with basmati rice and a poppadom (R115)

We both loved this- it was aromatic, spicy and the gravy delicious.

Dessert

lemon meringue ice cream

We had the lemon meringue ice cream, which is a lemon flavoured ice cream with meringue piled over and a lemon sauce drizzled on (R45) and the traditional milk tart served with cardamom gooseberries.

Let me tell you about the latter. It was served warm, the pastry crisp and the milk tart filling with just the right amount of wobble. In other words, the perfect milk tart. The gooseberries were infused in a cardamom syrup which was nothing short of divine. Perhaps it’s because I have a fondness for the spice, but I found the syrup an ingenious way to serve otherwise tart gooseberries. Overall, I’m not a fan of a lot of sugar and the syrup is sweet- but you don’t need to eat it all.

But all of the milk tart and berries, were eaten.

The menu changes regularly, and I am looking forward to the start of crayfish (lobster) season in November (oooh, look: that’s right round the corner) and returning to Gaaitjie, a West Coast gem.

A Chat with the Chef

Just after the meal, I popped into the kitchen to have a casual chat with Suzi who was prepping the last of the mains for a large table of guests who were sitting out on the veranda.

Suzi was warm and entertaining and revealed that she had been in the industry for 25 years. It shows.

I must add, that even though she didn’t know us and understood that my blog is merely recreational and certainly not going to convert and influence the masses, Suzi went out of her way to twist another local’s arm to serve us breakfast (amazing, must- have apparently) the next morning. Alas, he wasn’t planning to open. (Another reason to visit the village soon!).

While I strive to be independent and as objective as I can in my reviews, I must add my personal view that a Chef’s kindness in real life can be tasted in his/her food.
I’d like to think the same applies to the cook at home as well, like myself (and you!).

Suzi’s vegetables are sourced from a local supplier, but the bulk come from Cape Town. Spices (especially the Indian essentials), are bought in Cape Town and fish from the West Coast, with some of it coming from the village.

I have the distinct impression that should the local suppliers of produce be more consistent and offer the variety, Suzi would willingly engage their services.

Knowing that it would be difficult to answer, I asked Suzi to recommend four store cupboard ingredients, essential for the cook at home.
Suzi’s everyday picks:
good tinned tomatoes
cumin (Bless her heart- I’d say the same!)
good quality salt flakes (Suzi uses a local brand)
brown sugar

Date visited: 17 October 2010
Contact: Suzi at (022) 752 2242 or email: saltcoast@tiscali.co.za
Address: off St Augustine’s Rd, Paternoster

*Note* The opinions expressed above, and interpretation of the menu and ingredients presented, are mine alone. I apologise for inaccuracies, if any.

No offence to the establishment, chef or staff is intended.

My photographs are unedited.


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