South African cuisine generally struggles with an identity crisis. There are so many different cultures and influences to the country that it’s hard to pin down a quintessential style of cooking that forms a specific South African culinary identity. The food cooked in homes across the country is based largely on family recipes handed down through generations, but is considered just that – home cooking, as opposed to a single, definitive cuisine.
Upper Bloem seeks to take one of those ‘home cooking’ cuisines and spin it into a culinary experience that’s uniquely South African – or, at least, definitive to a particular cultural group. Chef Andre Hill and his team have deconstructed the flavours, spices, textures, colours and inspirations of his youth and applied a modern touch. The result is a heady ‘Cape Malay’ style food experience, heightened by fine dining technique, while remaining deferential to the humble origins of the food.
Upper Bloem is a sister restaurant to La Mouette, with Hill having started at the Sea Point eatery as Sous Chef in 2013 and impressing Chef Patron Henry Vigar with his command of flavour and technique that the two partnered to co-create and co-own the new restaurant in 2017.
The location is slightly innocuous, in a mini roadside shopping centre of sorts, not at all in keeping with the homely and very traditional ‘Bo Kaap’ area from which it draws its history. The interior is welcoming, though, and the geometric tiles which line the walls do pay tribute to the heritage of the food in both colour and form. It’s a small space, with the open-plan kitchen dominating one side – cosy without being cramped.
The menu follows the La Mouette premise – dinner is generally presented in three courses, each featuring around three dishes, although a la carte is also an option. It’s utterly worth following the set menu, for the sake of the journey through the flavours and textures composed so lovingly by the team in the kitchen.
The small plates look nothing like the home-style meals which influence them, but contain all of the flavours – hits of coriander, judicious garlic and deep spice mixes. It’d be a brave venture to take your expert home cook mother in law to a restaurant like Upper Bloem – she’d probably shudder at the ‘fancy’ non-traditional presentations of dishes like Bunny Chow and Samp & Beans, but grudgingly declare the flavours utterly present and authentic.
Alcohol isn’t a common part of traditional Cape Malay culture, often for religious reasons, but the wine pairings to the set menu at Upper Bloem really add another dimension to the food experience – worth trying for a small surcharge.
Shop 1 Winston Place,
65 Main Road, Greenpoint