After spending several months kicking about South East Asia, eating in some of Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore’s top restaurants, as well as in family homes – for a taste of real local cuisine – Chef Virgil Kahn has returned to home soil with the rabid inspiration to embark upon a bold new era at Indochine. Located within the spectacularly beautiful Delaire Graff Estate near the top of Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, Indochine serves Asian-fusion cuisine with a South African twist. With his epic epicurean adventures behind him, Chef Virgil Kahn is primed to put the “Asia” in Asian-inspired cuisine and, this month, has launched his new, invigorated menu.
Fine Dining Theatre
First and foremost, no account of any experience in Indochine can begin without a mention of the restaurant’s aesthetics. Grandiose yet elegant, this fine dining theatre has been expertly curated with fine taste and a pervasive appreciation for bold art. Polished copper tables reflect a staggering art installation of thousands of swirling swallows by South African artists Lionel Smit and André Stead, while royal blue accents form a warm juxtaposition to the metallic surfaces. Simply put, Indochine is exquisitely beautiful; a work of art entirely on its own.
With eyes full to the brim with beauty, enhanced by the restaurant’s view of the surrounding estate and Stellenbosch, we turned our attention to the task at hand: the new menu, which had me particularly intrigued. You see, I lived in Thailand for two years and, from north to south, I got to thoroughly explore the country’s diverse, pungent, punishing, and thrilling cuisine. In other words, I know authentic Southeast Asian food when it’s put in front of me and so I was excited albeit somewhat sceptical about what was in store for us.
Understanding Thai cuisine
One of Thai cuisine’s greatest traits is that it is simple in compilation, yet absolutely loaded with layer upon layer of flavour. Using ingredients that deliver a maximum sensory experience (garlic, chilli, lime, ginger, fish paste, coriander, etc.), Thai cooks craft plates of food that are a study in flavour juxtaposition and complexity. They also favour simple, super fresh, colourful, and seasonal ingredients, often harvested from their own gardens or purchased from their local fresh fruit and vegetable market that very morning.
This is rarely something foreign kitchens get right, not only because it’s challenging to harvest fresh ingredients every day but also because western palates aren’t accustomed to such explosively flavourful food. With this scepticism in mind, I embarked upon the first few waves of canapés and it soon became clear to me that Chef Virgil has achieved a masterful balancing act between East and West. Also, many of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs used had been harvested straight from Delaire Graff’s greenhouse and gardens!
We were served delicate bites composed of super fresh, colourful, and seasonal ingredients, drawing inspiration from all over Southeast Asia, and not just Thailand: pine needle-smoked langoustines on scorched tofu and a sweet creamy coconut spread; crisp shrimp puffs served with a delicious, vibrant shrimp paste (served in a tin can); fresh, juicy Korean oysters with miso sauce and pineapple; and, for starters, slices of fresh tuna with sweet watermelon, salmon ginger floss, salmon roe, and Thai herbs. The first half of the meal was accompanied by Delaire Graff’s luscious and elegant Summercourt Chardonnay 2016.
The stand-out STAR of the show was Chef Virgil’s main course, the absolutely delicious Massaman chicken (free-range), a coconut curry of tremendous depth, vibrancy, and creaminess, served with smoked potato, pickled shallots, and cashew nuts. This was one of my favourite dishes in Thailand and to encounter it again here, tens of kilometres away, and made so authentically was a real treat! The estate’s 2016 Shiraz made for an excellent companion to this dish – fruity, ripe, smooth, and characterful.
Dessert was grilled pineapple, coconut espuma or foam, a coconut and chilli salad, and pound cake.
Delaire Graff is quite honestly one of the Cape winelands’ most beautiful wine estates (certainly in my opinion) and it’s only fitting that its restaurant, Indochine, is as riveting and spectacular a space as the rest of the estate. As someone who knows authentic Thai cuisine when I experience it, I was most impressed by Chef Virgil Kahn’s Massaman curry, while the rest of the meal was fresh, colourful, and tasty. Indochine is on the steep end of the price spectrum but well worth it; the experience was a real treat, the service on point, and the surroundings utterly resplendent, richly colourful, and sumptuous.
Indochine Restaurant is open daily for lunch from 12:00 to 14:15 and dinner from 18:30 to 21:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 21 885 8160.