EAT REVIEW: CITÉ

The Dunkeld West Shopping Centre is arguably the most aesthetically unappealing mall in the leafy Northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Living a couple of streets from the parking lot-enclosed monstrosity, it’s nevertheless a very practical and functional space thanks to Fournos bakery, a good fishmonger, a flower shop and a hardware store. But, surrounded by the fumes of endless Jan Smuts Avenue traffic, it’s also one of those places where I don’t usually linger longer than I need to get what I came for.

That’s changed with the recent opening of Cité – meaning both ‘city’ and ‘suburb’ in French. Located at the butt-end of the complex – thankfully away from Jan Smuts – it’s an odd place to open a trendy eatery; especially when headed by a restaurateur with considerable experience in the field. One assumes that Jaco Welgemoed must know what he’s doing, and judging by the brisk business of the place it certainly seems that the man and his reputation outweigh the dubious location.

In the two or three times that I’ve been to Cité Jaco has always been present. Rather attractive and friendly (Jaco, I mean), his previous establishments – including Singing Fig, Circle and Orient – have become solid dependables in the city. Apparently, he is now – along with partner and Chef Brian Jacobson – focusing only on this new endeavour.

The bright and colourful décor keep things contemporary, fresh and clean. The menu is described as “urban comfort food”, which, I guess, means that it combines warm, traditional flavours and ingredients with slightly off-beat contemporary and fusion twists.

On my most recent visit I began with the Goat Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart with Season Greens. It was quite spectacular: a beautiful balance between the tart (excuse the pun) cheese and the sweet onions. I was however previously disappointed by the Summer Greens Salad with Pear, Beetroot, Chicken Livers and Hazelnuts. While it wasn’t bad it really didn’t offer anything new or particularly memorable. This was also the case with the Chicken Liver Pate with Sauternes Jelly, Fig and Apple Confit. While I am a fan of liver, it’s quite honestly rather tired as a restaurant starter – enough already!

On the other hand the Mushroom Terrine with Truffle Oil and Onion Confit was definitely something worth remembering – packed with robust flavour: certainly not for mushroom sissies.

Of the main courses I’ve tasted, the Mussels with Orange and Fennel is without a doubt the star of the show. I couldn’t get enough to be honest, although, while it ultimately suited my attempts at a low-carb diet, it doesn’t come with a side dish. (I was promised bread by the waitress, but it failed to materialise.) Nevertheless, with its plump, supremely fresh mussels I’d highly recommend this dish.

One could argue that the main courses suffer a little from an over-dependence on “comfort” mashes (potato, leek and carrot varieties are on offer), but the Roasted Line Fish with Roasted Carrot Mash and Vanilla Veloute (a type of white sauce) worked particularly well. Some may still be a little wary of vanilla in savoury dishes – which seems to have popped up all over the place – but this will put any doubts to rest.

The Pan Fried Salmon with Leek Mash and Pea Mint Sauce was a little flat and one-note in flavour: the leek, pea and mint not doing much for one-another and tasting a little “too green”. The Shitake Encrusted Fillet, Roasted Carrot Mash and Porchini (sic) Mushroom Crème was tasty and done as per the medium order according to my lunch-partner, but could have been a touch rarer to my taste. But I quibble; it was good meat and well served.

Not having much of a sweet tooth, I must admit that I haven’t yet tried Cité’s sweets, but the sorbets, including orange and clove and peach and star anise options seem particularly appealing

The prices are currently relatively reasonable; I do hope this lasts as some Joburg restaurants seem rather intent on catching up with their Manhattan counterparts’ menu prices. Service is warm but needs to be improved: On my first visit the waiter forgot to tell us that there were off-the-menu specials until our order arrived. Other than Jaco himself, the staff don’t seem to note empty and desperately thirsty glasses, and a request for an additional two minutes to decide on what to order led to a ten minute disappearing act on the part of the waitress.

My critical eye aside (that’s the point of a review, I imagine), Cité is a welcome addition to the neighbourhood. Obviously gay-friendly – it’s been a sponsor of a recent gay bash – its combination of “urban comfort” food and welcoming ambiance, together with a dash of Joburg hipness will see me becoming a regular. Come to think of it: three times in the last two months? I guess I already am.

Cit̩ can be found at shop 11 Р13, Dunkeld West Shopping Centre, corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Bompas Road, Hyde Park. It is open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner and Sunday for lunch. Tel 011 341 0663.

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