"Fine dining in a shack" - we review Fermier Restaurant in Pretoria
(image: Fermier Restaurant)
When your friend describes a restaurant as being ‘Fine dining in a shack’ you gotta go, right? So I did, to Fermier Restaurant in Pretoria, the latest in the farm-to-table concept, and undoubtedly one of the best as well.
I’m not going to lie – probably best not go to Fermier if you’re of a nervous disposition. It’s located in a dark hidden corner of The Karoo Yard centre and you are met in the car park by a smiling attendant armed with a cell phone to light your way to the door. There are a few dark and ineffective lights en route which do little to guide you through the sandy paths and across wooden steps into the restaurant. Don’t bother with high heels and take your own torch is my advice.
Having braved the entrance, the inside is very welcoming and charmingly rustic. Made entirely from reclaimed wood (even the sinks in the toilets are made of wood – a tad bizarre but definitely different) and what appears to be two old furnaces merrily burning away, it is cosy and inviting on a cold evening. I hear it can get hot in Summer and there is no outside area, the garden being used for veggies and herbs, many grown hydroponically, as well as fish ponds. The tables are spacious, the staff are smart and in one corner is the open kitchen, allowing you to watch your food as it’s made.
Fermier offers a 9-course set menu for R550 a head with no choices – although if you inform them in advance of any dietary considerations, they will undoubtedly take these into account.
The plus side of a menu like this is that the staff get into a nice rhythm and food comes out promptly but without a rush. The portions are small, but over nine courses, it adds up to a substantial meal. Chef Adriaan Maree trained at Prue Leith Academy and his food is adventurous and beautifully-plated. It’s a deceptively-simple sounding menu which lists merely the key ingredients and the waitress explains everything in detail as the food is delivered.
On the night I dined, the dish of the evening comprised of the fattest, juiciest mussels imaginable topped with baked milk, full-flavoured mushrooms and a beurre noisette in a rich, creamy, umami mouthful – possibly the finest morsel to pass my lips this year. Other stand-out dishes include smoked springbok and a delicious sliver of sea bass with roasted cauliflower and kumquats. Quality was maintained throughout culminating in a slice of dark chocolate mousse with pear, quince, rhubarb and fennel. A truly memorable meal. And yes, I did lick at least two plates.
It almost seems not worth discussing the wine when the food is clearly the thing, although I should add that you can get a nicely-judged pairing for your meal at a reasonable R250 a head. Some interesting and unusual wines with a couple of curveballs and the list changes regularly.
Very professional, very friendly, happy to chat if you want to, or not (as you like) but quick and on the ball.
Accustomed as I am to Cape Town prices, R550 per head seems to me to be ridiculously-low for the quality of food served. This was exquisite food, full of balanced flavours, plated with flair and served with care.
It seems to me that the only thing it needs in order for it to take a well-deserved place in the hallowed halls of fine dining in this country is a slightly more upmarket entrance. I’ll certainly be back again – with flat shoes, a torch and a pair of elasticated waist trousers.
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