EAT: YUM NOSTALGIA

High expectations are often a prelude to disappointment. This was the case with Yum Nostalgia; the much-vaunted return of Chef Dario De Angeli to the City of Gold’s restaurant scene.

De Angeli came to prominence thanks to his previous Greenside eatery, Yum. I was a very vocal fan of his innovative combinations of flavours and textures which led to Yum deservedly being acclaimed as one of the city’s finest restaurants. Here, for once, was an opportunity to try cutting-edge internationally-current cuisine in Joburg.

Then, in September 2006, at the peak of all the acclaim and amid a growing celebrity profile, De Angeli closed-up shop and went travelling around the globe. It was ostensibly a search for inspiration and re-invention by visiting some of world’s greatest restaurants. By the time he opened Yum Nostalgia in Rivionia last year, I had, I admit, built up many expectations.

The entrance bodes well, thanks to a small but smart and sassy Manhattan chic bar as well as the dark chandelier that hangs over the reception, but the seating area is drab and lacks ambiance. We had booked inside fearing the recent Gauteng downpours, but it was an uncharacteristically hot and dry summer evening. The outside veranda was too busy to accommodate us, so inside we remained. This soon proved to be problematic.

If Yum Nostalgia had air-conditioning it was on the blink that evening. A fan was brought out in an attempt to cool us down. Unfortunately, all the fan did was emphasise the acrid smells rolling out from the open kitchen. Throughout the night we were treated to an unpleasant olfactory roller-coaster-ride – thanks to the burnt oils and foodstuff on the grills.

The restaurant has been open for some time now, and it’s unacceptable that neither the extraction in the kitchen nor the air-conditioning could cope with the demands put on them. Unsurprisingly, this all left a somewhat bitter taste, or I should say smell, in our table’s collective mouths.

De Angeli has stripped his menu of many of the experimental aspects of his previous venture and instead now focuses on bringing together more traditional ‘comfort’ fare (the “nostalgia” part) with elements of sophistication. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, we are perfecting it,” states the restaurant’s website.

This means you can expect Duck and Foie Gras Burger with Preserved Figs and Beetroot; Gorgonzola Ravioli with a Coating of Pine Nut and Sage Butter; or even Double Breasted Chicken Supreme with Foie Gras Stuffing and Madeira Butter Sauce. You can also expect salads and good vegetarian options. The menu is an interesting read and when it comes to cooking, Chef De Angeli generally seems to have retained much of his spark.

“…from a pedigree as remarkable as De Angeli’s, the restaurant’s failings become even more apparent and annoying…”

The appetizers and entrees were universally praised by our table of eight. My Prawn and Asparagus Tart with Mascarpone and Coppa was packed with flavour. I also tried the Smoked Salmon Roulade Filled with Salmon Tartare with Steamed Asparagus (a knockout) and the Duck Samoosas with Soy Dipping Sauce (dare I say, “yum”?). It was all meticulously presented, often stacked high, yet pleasing to the eye.

Our main course was more a mixed experience. The Prawn and Rabbit Paella with Cabernossi sounded intriguing: While the overall taste sensation was fantastic, I was disappointed with the rabbit in the dish. I’ve eaten rabbit over the years, especially when growing up (mom is a great fan), and while it’s often compared to chicken, it is certainly different from poultry.

In this combination however, the rabbit is a waste – the prawns and other flavours overwhelm the slight gaminess and the rabbit really does simply taste (and look) like chicken – to the point of my wondering if there was actually any rabbit in the paella. The rice was a little more risotto than paella – nevertheless, I ate every morsel.

I also tasted the Roasted Salmon, the Roasted Duck and the Fillet, which were all superb. Fresh and deeply flavourful ingredients and spectacularly cooked.

The only significant misstep when it came to the food was the Spaghetti 4 Sausages with Luganiga, Chorizo, Salami and Bratwurst in a Tomato and Onion Sauce, which, appropriately enough, was ordered by the hungry Italian at the table. It was a pretty dismal choice – overwhelmingly meaty to the point of being unpleasant it lacked any fineness whatsoever and should not be on the menu of any respectable restaurant. This was left largely un-eaten.

The service was generally competent, but was spoilt when the Potato Gratin side orders for two main dishes arrived shortly after these were almost completely eaten. We were told that the orders had been forgotten and only remembered at the last minute. These also seemed undercooked and pallid – clearly a rush job. They were taken off the bill.

The deserts really excelled when it came to the chocolate offerings – including a remarkably rich Chocolate Fondant, and a Chocolate Sundae (“with all the bits and bobs. Bar one sauce”).

There is a very acceptable, although not vast (a good thing in my opinion), wine-list to suit all tastes, yet appropriate to the menu; but don’t expect to pay less than around R 120 for a bottle. While the top-end of restaurant food prices has remained relatively stable over the last year or so in Joburg, wine at eateries continues to soar in price.

Despite its culinary highlights, and there were admittedly quite a few, the Yum Nostalgia experience is gratingly inconsistent in almost all aspects: It’s something one might overlook in a new restaurant, but from a pedigree as remarkable as De Angeli’s, the restaurant’s failings become even more apparent and annoying. Count me as one very disappointed fan.

Yum Nostalgia, located at Corner 10th Street and Rivonia Boulevard, Rivonia, is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, and Mondays only for lunch. Call 011 234 0877 to make a booking.

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