Our guidebook offered us two restaurants for our one night in town. There was the longstanding “best place ” and there was “up & coming” Kalinka. So, no contest for us.
Tables are set in a series of rooms in a converted house, so there’s a feeling of some stylish intimacy. Service is bang-on – just the right mix of friendliness and formality. And the menu has heavy emphasis on local produce from the Klein Karoo. As seemingly often the case in South Africa, the cuisine leans towards a North European style that wouldn’t be out of place in the UK, Belgium or Ireland. But there is also a fusion spin to dishes as in an ostrich dim sum starter.
Ostrich is very much local produce and, indeed, we’d visited a farm earlier in the day and been treated to it for lunch. Here, the meat was long-cooked and then shredded before being encased in dim sum pastry and steamed. Flavoursome in itself, it was enhanced by a chilli dipping sauce that had an added sharpness to the usually very sweet bottled kind. In a nice touch, chopsticks were provided as knife and fork.
As well as its main carte, Kalinka offers a bargain three course menu for around R170 and my partner’s starter came from that listing. Spinach & ricotta ravioli were perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. There was a drizzle of pesto and a few sliced cherry tomatoes. What’s not to like?
For mains, rack of Karoo lamb was perfectly pink. Of course, this means that the fat hadn’t had time to crisp and was pretty much inedible. Always a difficult one to call with a rack. It came, almost classically, with ratatouille forming the sauce, mashed spuds and a scattering of mixed veg.
On the other plate, a generous portion of beef fillet accompanied by a potato gratin and sautéed courgettes and aubergines.
Both plates were complete successes. Delicious non-poncy food. Although delivery of the plates had been entirely poncy – it must be getting on for 20 years since I last had a meal where plates came covered with silver domes, to be ceremoniously lifted in front of you. Come on, Kalinka, your food’s 21st century, make the service match it.
Desserts were a delight. A menu description of apple pancake didn’t do justice to the dish. Several small pancakes layered up with cooked chopped apples and topped with vanilla ice cream. Superb. The other plate brought a chocolate cake (perhaps a little too dense for perfection), a quenelle of ganache and a chocolate mousse. It could have been a bit of a choccie overdose but the richness was cut by the inclusion of half a perfectly poached pear.
We finished with good espresso. We suspected it might be the case – and we were right – this did prove to be the best meal we had during our three weeks in SA.