Almost two years after La Tete’s opening in Bree Street, the French eatery has made CNN’s list of the best restaurant’s in the world for 2017.
Head chef and partner, Giles Edwards, said he received the news from a friend in the UK, who sent him the link in the early hours of the morning. “I read it, but I don’t think I digested it. Then I sent it to my brother and business partner, James. I woke up the next morning and read it again. It took some time for it to settle in. It’s amazing that someone from CNN has been here and this is how they feel about the restaurant. Someone thought we are one of the best in the world. It’s quite an accolade. I still can’t believe it, it’s phenomenal.”
Giles’s brother, James, said when he received the message he was extremely excited. “We had quite a tough December in terms of bums on seats. Although the reviews (informal as well as formal) had been excellent, the restaurant had been quiet during season due to its inner CBD location. It was very frustrating… so when the article came out it was a real signal that what we are doing had been noticed, not just by the local market but at a very high international level.”
Two weeks ago, CNN writer Chris Dwyer published an article listing the top 17 restaurants in the world to visit in 2017. La Tête was named alongside restaurants in the UK, Scotland and Hong Kong.
Giles, who is from Newlands, said their focus is on sustainability.
“We use absolutely everything we can. It’s been titled nose-to-tail, which means you start at the nose and end at the tail. But it’s more than that. It’s about educating people about the lesser-known meat, fish and vegetables.”
And by “lesser-known”, Giles refers to pig tails, hearts, livers and brains, to name a few menu items.
“When we opened up our shop, we said we are going to serve things like lamb brains and pig tails and whole veggies, and stick to what we were doing. To be recognised for that and to keep on doing it, and people coming in and appreciating it, is great.”
Giles said that in London, where he worked as a chef for over 12 years, such foods are a norm.
“In Europe, you will find this type of thing on every single menu. It seems that in Cape Town we are really focused on prime cuts in restaurants, but in Europe, it’s a way of life. Things like liver are delicacies.
“When animals are slaughtered, people eat the liver first because that comes out first and they sometimes make hams. They eat everything. I think we just drifted away from that, but in rural South Africa that is how it is. I think we lost where we came from.”
Another aspect of the restaurant which stands out, but not quite stands out, is the decor. Giles called it a “blank canvas”.
“There’s no music, no art and no pot plants. It’s blank. The focus is on the food and the wine, and coming in with your date or friends and not being distracted by the, say, amazing decor. It’s an unusual thing for a restaurant to be so sparse, but for me it’s perfect.”
So what can people expect on the menu when visiting La Tête? The menu changes twice a day, said Giles, depending on the availability of ingredients, and because he uses the entire animal.
Giles said he also helps local butchers to use things that are often left behind, such as trotters, “afval” and heads – the part which brought about the name.
Giles explained that La Tête is French for “head”. “The French are masters of using everything, and the head is a prime example of this. People think that there’s nothing left but you’ve got cheeks, tongue and brains. That’s three items I can put on the menu.”
He said the biggest hit is the deep fried pigtails. “It swims in a solution of salt and water, exactly how you would make ham. It turns the porky fat pigtail into something more like bacon and ham and we cook it and deep fry it. It’s much like the bacon version of KFC.”
Ox heart is also a best seller, said Giles. “People love it. It’s a lot like steak. We recommend it for safe diners who come in and look for steak.”
He also tries to cater for vegetarians and pescetarians. “My background is meat heavy but also fish heavy. I love fish. I will have one vegetarian starter and one main, but a lot of fish as well.”
Guiles said the restaurant scene in the city is exploding. “It’s interesting, and it’s quite scary, being a restauranteur myself, but I don’t think it will be oversaturated. We have enough people and tourists coming into the city centre. The competition is healthy, and you maintain your standards because it is competitive.”
And the space he is in, lower down in Bree Street, makes La Tête more of a destination.
“In the evening its very sophisticated. We wanted to be accessible, but not in the hub further up Bree Street, where there are many other restaurants. I love this space. it’s perfect.”
James said that their vision for La Tête is to be a local restaurant for the people who work in the area and don’t need to book two weeks in advance. “It’s working, and we are thrilled,” he said.