16 May 2013 by Denise Slabbert

Dinner with Reuben

It’s not everyday one gets to sit down at the table with celebrated South African chef Reuben Riffel. Here are some insights into what makes him so popular…

Reuben Riffel

Reuben Riffel gets food; he also gets people – two good reasons why he is one of South Africa’s most celebrated chefs. Not that you would say it upon meeting him.

Humble, down-to-earth and just fractionally shy, Reuben, it appears, would rather be in the kitchen than parading in the media spotlight. The fact that he’s been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and Time magazine and has cooked with Martha Stewart has done nothing to inflate his sense of self. And he’d rather chat about his kids, favourite charities and the latest rugby score (not necessarily in that order) than flout his culinary achievements.

Slow-baked lamb shank Slow-baked lamb shank

With three restaurants under his belt, including Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town, he does like talking food, though, and gets rather animated when talking about his latest winter menu, which features hearty dishes with strong Cape flavours. 'The fact that the One&Only Cape Town resort has so many guests from all over the world is exciting for us,' he says. 'We are able to include classic Cape flavours and styles to the menu and add our unique twists, and the feedback has been amazing.'

The winter menu includes slow-roasted oxtail Bordeaux served with rosemary-scented mash potato and mint jus, while the slow-baked lamb shank is a win among meat-loving diners. There is a deliberate focus on meat dishes. Reuben says: 'We serve as much organic meat as possible and we only serve A-grade Chalmar beef cuts from small, trustworthy suppliers.'

Favourite dishes include the flame-grilled Chalmar beef fillet served with roast carrot puree, a bone marrow and Gruyere croquette, field mushrooms, potato fondant and Bordelaise jus. Or guests can opt for the pan-roasted Springbok loin for something a little different.

Look out for the confit of duck, spicy chicken and prawn curry served with Cape Malay sambals, or any number of seafood dishes made from the freshest ingredients. You might want to try Reuben’s 'Famous Chilli Salted Squid' with cucumber spaghetti, nuac chum dressing and a lime mayonnaise. For vegetarians there is a pan-seared Parmesan gnocchi and white onion and mushroom risotto.

We have people from all walks of life. Some use Reuben’s as a special-occasion restaurant, and others just use it as their regular.

Desserts are to die for, and head chef Victoria Scott has added her flair to a number of sweet treats that are ridiculously moreish. Think banana sticky toffee pudding with Madagascan vanilla ice cream and pecan caramel; malva pudding with stone fruit and golden raisin compote; or tiramisu with cocoa custard and a mascarpone sabayon and mocha sauce...

Of course all this deliciousness is accompanied by choice wines from around the world, suggested by the super-chatty and rather suave sommelier Luvo Ntezo.

Dinner conversation with Reuben flows easily, and he explains why the restaurant works so well: 'Recognisable, tasty food is what Reuben's is all about. It's bistro food, but not too much fine dining. We use good ingredients; when you get up from the table you feel satisfied.'

Confit of duck Confit of duck

He says the restaurant attracts many regular Capetonians, as well as international travellers. 'We have people from all walks of life. Some use Reuben's as a special-occasion restaurant, and others just use it as their regular. I really value the fact that people come from Constantia and Mitchells Plain. The locals really do support us.'

In terms of food trends, he says the next big thing is 'smoking' or smoked meats. The trend is big in the United States, and as South Africans are big meat-eaters he sees it catching on over here. He also says that now, more than ever, the focus is on healthy eating – and seasonal produce really rules the day.

As for his own projects, there's more TV work in the near future and numerous charity appearances, while fans will be happy to know that there is also another book coming (September/October). For Reuben himself, the rest of the year is all about making a difference, good food, and creating a balance between his family, three fantastic restaurants and his celebrity status.

For readers who want to meet Reuben in person, he is always at Reuben's at the One&Only on a Thursday evening. Guests will find him plating dishes at the open kitchen counter with Victoria Scott and are welcome to watch the team in action.

Reuben Riffel and head chef Victoria Scott. All images courtesy of the One&Only Cape Town Reuben Riffel and head chef Victoria Scott. All images courtesy of the One&Only Cape Town

Category: Food & Wine

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