Harbour House Restaurant has opened at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Very good news for Cape Town!
The original Harbour House opened in the quaint, picturesque and colourful fishing village of Kalk Bay quite a few years ago now and, from its wonderful perch on the rocks and breakwater of Kalk Bay Harbour, is a very popular venue. In fact it was here that my husband and I chose to entertain ex-pat Saffer Jeanne from Cooksister!, and her husband Nick from London and Jamie from Lifes a Feast, an ex-pat American living in France, our guests and presenters at the Food Bloggers Indaba in February this year. We had a memorable meal and evening here.
Brainchild of, and owned by, Michael Townsend, who also owns those other Kalk Bay favourites – Polana, Live Bait, Lucky Fish and Sirocco, Harbour House Restaurant has carved out a good name for itself and is a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike. So the news that a second restaurant was opening in that other wonderful harbor venue, The V&A Waterfront, was greeted with mixed feelings by some regular patrons. Were they overextending themselves and messing with their magical formula of seafood so fresh that its just come off the boat, great ambience, fabulous uninterrupted views across False Bay and good service?
Having been a guest at the opening last week of Harbour House V&A I have to say that the crew have outdone themselves! What a fabulous and very impressive, stylish yet relaxed venue. A great mix to achieve. Beautiful bleached wooden floors, pristine white décor, glass walls exposing the exquisite views of the bustling harbor and nearby mall, efficient friendly staff and their signature food dishes that will keep one coming back for more…everything you would desire from a restaurant I would say!
Downstairs is the main restaurant, a spacious area with an indoor and outdoor dining area, the kitchen and beautifully appointed toilets. The stunning design of Harbour House is a collaboration between architect Thomas Leach and Magda Viotti. Thomas Leach explains that the dramatic location on the edge of the old quay required a bold architectural solution. The design was inspired by an older arts and crafts tradition of solid timber post and beam structures once prevalent in warehouses and on the quay-sides of the old harbour. The wooden structure is allowed to become the main feature; its authentic and hand-made craftsmanship bring a warmth and rustic feel to the interior. The palette of materials is kept to a minimum so as not to compete with the beautiful location and brings an unpretentious, relaxed and inviting feel to the restaurant. Warm natural woods, oak floor boards, mussel shell plastered walls, a white painted concrete ceiling and beautiful lighting….all work towards creating this most unique dining environment. The project also has an interesting eco/green aspect to it; the wooden structure is entirely made from alien hardwood timber – namely Eucalyptus or “blue gum” trees that were harvested locally, thus lowering the project carbon footprint significantly. Other green initiatives include the internal painted rubble stone wall and the roof top decking planks which are all made from recycled timber.
In terms of the food, the emphasis is on (genuinely) fresh fish. The bulk of Harbour House’s sales are made up of line fish, so over the years they have become experts in the field. Fish is purchased fresh and whole, never filleted. This is to ensure that the gills are red and the eyes are bright and shiny, the two definitive indicators of fresh fish. Harbour House is a member of the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and is eco conscious, recycling its glass, cardboard and plastic. The menu (and wine list) is the same as the Harbour House Kalk Bay menu. Signature dishes are the line fish dishes such as Yellowtail with an orange beurre blanc sauce, blanched spinach, potato, sage and artichokes; Yellowfin Tuna with garlic mashed potato, fine green beans, rocket, poached egg, Japanese Mayo and salsa verde and Kingklip with a basil cream sauce, roast Mediterranean style vegetables and rosemary baked potato. The restaurant has its own separate bakery at each of the Harbour House stores, and bakes its own bread daily. YUM!!
Interestingly, the restaurant does not have a head chef or sous chef per se as they do not work with the typical hierarchical structure common in the industry. Rather, a system of team leaders, each of whom has responsibility for the kitchen on his or her shift is employed. The staff in the different sections in the kitchen are trained to multi task and to be able to work as many sections as possible. This is required if one is attempting to provide a fine dining standard when doing consistently high volumes. This approach has led to a loyal staff of highly skilled kitchen stalwarts, many of whom have been with the company from the outset. The focus is on doing a reasonable number of dishes very well, rather than on constant menu changes. Line fish presentations do however change daily, depending on the species of fresh fish available on any given day.
Upstairs is a deck/lounge area with a bar, comfy couches in white (with throw cushions in shades of green, yellow and brown) and bar chairs at a long wooden counter that extends the length of the restaurant and looks out over the harbor and boats.
The perfect spot for indulging in a cocktail or two and a platter of sushi while watching the passing traffic and enjoying the last rays of sunlight as it travels westwards to drop below the horizon.
The official opening of Harbour House V&A was well attended last Thursday, 3 November 2011, with the upstairs area filling up quickly once the typically and traditionally late Capetonians started arriving. We’re not your typical Capetonian though, coming from the back of the Lentil Curtain, so we got there early, were warmly welcomed by Garth, the manager on duty, and managed to ensconce ourselves on two of the bar chairs upstairs in time to watch the sunset. Champagne cocktails and platters of canapés and sushi just kept coming, served by very competent and friendly helpful staff. Mo, in particular, took very good care of hubby and I, especially when we snuck downstairs to escape the nippy sea breeze and crowds, to sit in a quiet corner at a candlelit table and enjoy the delicious red wine and snacks while catching up on each other’s day and watching the ebb and flow of boats, birds and listening to the happy murmerings of people close by as dusk gently settled over the water and city like a soft peachy pink pashmina.
Achim von Arnim, in typical elaborate fashion, opened a champagne bottle sabrage style with his sabre at 8pm, accompanied by very appreciative ooohs and aaahs. He traditionally does this at all of Michael Townsend’s restaurant launches! After making his mark in the fashion industry in his earlier years, ordinary Mr Nice Guy Michael has applied his creative vision, and unwavering commitment to quality, to the restaurant industry for the past 15 years. The result has been signature venues that feel as if they have always been there, and which boast an interesting and quality conscious following. I foresee a bright, happy and shiny summer and future for this stylish new V&A venue. I would suggest booking well in advance. The Harbour House Restaurant V&A is situated between the amphitheatre and Quay Four Restaurant. Lunch is served daily from 12md – 4pm and dinner is from 6pm – 10pm, bookings can be made telephonically via 021-4184744
Look carefully on a beautiful calm summer evening if you go there….you might just spot me sitting in that beautifully quiet corner sipping on my glass of chilled wine and indulging in a sumptious feast :)
Info and photos (that are not watermarked with cg-photo) used courtesy of Diva PR company and the Harbour House website