It’s honestly taken the longest time to write this blog post about Exhibit A because the more I experience Chef Rikku (and his team’s) food the harder it is to write about.
In the beginning you’re blown away so you have all the words, but after experiencing the food a few times, it leaves you more in a contemplative space as you try to figure out each dish, how they came up with the ideas, the techniques and why you love things you’re used to hating. It really is one of the few restaurants that makes it very difficult to share the experience in words.
SYN was born off the back Chef Rikku’s departure from Quoin Rock, an exquisite wine estate in Stellenbosch that took over 5 years to build. Having established the restaurant setup there, Rikku left to start again on his own, but where do you go from there? Back to the basics – nothing other than
good great food.
SYN opened up as a pop up restaurant above Villa 47 in Bree street last summer. This spring, Chef Rikku, Chef Warwick King & Chris De Jongh made it a permanent member of the Cape Town restaurant scene under a new name, Exhibit A.
Exhibit A is more aligned with what made Quoin Rock so well known, food beyond the diner’s imagination. Colourful, creative, unusual…it challenges everything you think you know about food and leaves you questioning what you thought you knew.
There are a few dishes that stay in the kitchen’s repertoire, although the brigade is constantly experimenting, tweaking and updating the dishes. These include variations of Potato Fossils and Holy Smoke.
I mean, to be fair, you had me at potato. These are thinly sliced, cooked in garlic butter with a parsley leaf set inside (think Jurassic Park) and served with baked potato hollandaise. Y.U.M.
Holy Smoke really is holy because it’s a triple threat with presentation, flavour and texture all on point.
Earlier in the evening I saw a man smoking a cigar and thought to myself, “People are so annoying when they smoke it restaurants. How old fashioned.” I didn’t even CLICK that it was fake and I’ve had it 3 times already!
It really does look amazing, but the flavours and textures are really what makes it so good. The ash is super soft like a savoury childhood sherbert. Under the ash is an onion mousse and strings of onion that you scoop up with the bread cigar. Basically, I’m not a massive onion fan. This is an onion dish. It’s divine. The end.
Octopus. Eish. You know I hate seafood, but this was the best dish of the night. Well – along with the panna cotta. The reason why the Octopus is so good is because:
a) not fishy at all (my worst).
b) Texture. Calamari, hair elastics, rubber bands, they all belong in Walton’s. This texture was really firm, easy to cut but something decent to bite into.
c) Lime puree. What on earth? I like limes, but they don’t make me feel well, yet, I haven’t stopped thinking about this weird puree since I left. Soft, sour, hint of bitter but also sweet…it’s so simple and complex at the same time.
d) It’s local and local is lekker. Exhibit A has put a lot of effort into incorporating more local ingredients into their menus, which is so beautiful; to see what some of our humble ingredients can do is a proud moment and truly what where I feel our restaurants can shine on the world stage.
The second dish that I keep thinking about is the truffle panna cotta. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I love a panna cotta. While this dish looks massive, the level is actually very shallow so it’s easy to eat. All the decor adds a different texture or flavour slant as you eat your way through.
Having said that, it wasn’t the favourite of the rest of the table! Any time we eat at Exhibit A, the debate starts on what was the favourite dish of the night.
I wasn’t keen on this one AT ALL! But it was very subtle so I was happy. (I did scratch off the caviar, I know, I’m a pleb.) But it’s an another example as to why it’s worth being brave at Exhibit A and giving everything a chance.
I feel like tartar is mac&cheese for rich people, it’s a standard dish in any posh restaurant, but I’m a basic bish who doesn’t like egg yolk so I don’t feel my perspective on the dish is fair.
The meat was incredibly tender, but the green powder channeled Marmite (made it incredibly rich) and the yolk went back to the kitchen as is.
I loved this duck dish. Head to tail duck roulade with a black garlic mousse and pickled apple, I took a poll on Instagram asking whether the public thought this gold egg shell was edible. Very few people said yes and they should have known the Exhibit A crew by now! It was totally edible!
The sauce was a glossy dream, the duck cooked to perfection (not super gamey either), the fresh, pickled apple gave the palate the relief a rich dish does and the liver pate is also good, but you’ll only finish it if you’re a liver monster like my friend Dean (who may have eaten mine as well). 😉
Beetroot or Beer?
This is beetroot dessert that includes sorbet, jelly and parfait. It’s earthy, it’s sweet, but mature and once again it had the table squabbling about which parts were the best parts (no consensus).
The cheese board didn’t blow me away like the SYN blue cheese dessert did simply because I’m not a beer fan – again, no consensus here. But I’ll be team beetroot and Dean will be team beer 😉
The restaurant is green. I know it may sell the least amount of magazines, but I love green so I was super happy. The lighting is quite dark though so if you’re wanting to grab your own pics, ask for a bright table.
I love art so the graffiti upon entrance and local artworks make it even better for me. It’s weird mixture of 80’s & future, so on trend I might add.
My only gripe was the music. I don’t know where the awesome UK alternative/pop music I’m used to went (think Sia, Porterhead, Gabrielle, etc.), but I started getting a bit cranky after 3 hours of elevator music. Yes, I did tell chef.
Is It Worth the Money?
I remember watching David Dickinson on Star Portraits, a show that commissions 3 artists to create a portrait of a celebrity. The artworks are then revealed and the star gets to choose their winner. Dickinson was so moved by one portrait, not because it was picture perfect, but because it captured how he felt about himself. He felt he could live with it forever because any time he saw it, it would engage his emotions.
That’s how I feel about Exhibit A. Exhibit A is the only restaurant I know that challenges my perception of food: ingredients that you generally hate – end up being your best dish of the night. Vegetables that you’ve put down to a party snack turns up in a delicious desert or your (usual) favourite flavours are ignored because you’re too keen to try the new things you think you hate.
It is, however, on the high end of the price list when you include the wine pairing. All the wines were incredible, however, focus on the food if you’re anxious about over investing OR choose the 7 course just to dip in your toe.
Book at Exhibit A
With a focus on “fun dining” (over fine dining), a concept Chef Rikku is passionate about maintaining – and I can safely say that I really do have the best time any time we’ve visited.
If you don’t want to go the “whole hog” then Exhibit A has a variety of set menus such as their pre-theatre offering, which has less courses and will allow you to pop in for an amazing meal before heading to a show. Follow the Exhibit A Facebook page for weekly updates.
Menu options (excluding wine)
12-course Tasting Menu | R1 490 per person
7-course Tasting Menu | R790 per person
5-course Tasting Menu | R590 per person
Lunch: Tuesday to Saturday: 12:00 – 14:00
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 18:00 – late
If you’d like to spend an evening relaxing with good friends, excellent wine and unforgettable food, book a table at Exhibit A via their website or mail: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to the Exhibit A team for using us.