×

We've got news for you.

Register on BusinessLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now
The oak tree next to the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington club house before it had to be removed. Picture: ROYAL JOHANNESBURG AND KENSINGTON CLUB ARCHIVE
The oak tree next to the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington club house before it had to be removed. Picture: ROYAL JOHANNESBURG AND KENSINGTON CLUB ARCHIVE

Eleven strangers have gathered around a table in a small room at one of SA’s oldest golf courses. There is some nervousness, more anticipation, but none of it to do with golf. No, this group has gathered for a meal.

Each have before them a lone herb on a saucer. On the chef’s instruction, every one drops it on their tongue — some more hesitant than others. There is an immediate buzz, a tingling, or numbing, as when your senses return hours after a dentist appointment.

“It’s going to feel like its an allergic reaction but it’s not, I promise,” said chef Ransley Pietersen, who refers to the Sichuan peppers on his menu as “buzz buttons”.

They serve as a type of palate cleanser, explained Pietersen, as they open “up your tastebuds and whatever you taste going forward for the next two hours will be accentuated quite a lot”.

Oysters are the first of five courses. One stands out immediately: a vegan oyster. The shell is filled with a combination of oyster leaf, salt leaf and ice leaf, topped with salty fingers, samphire and spekboom — the proudly SA succulent. While the crisp texture shouts plant, the flavour is undoubtedly of oyster. It is fresh, interesting, but only a hint of what is to come.

One of chef Ransley Pietersen’s oysters was entirely made of plants and included spekboom. Picture: NIKITA VAN DER MERWE
One of chef Ransley Pietersen’s oysters was entirely made of plants and included spekboom. Picture: NIKITA VAN DER MERWE

Pietersen has hosted a number of what he calls chef’s table dinners in recent months in preparation for the opening of The Old Oak restaurant, an ode to an oak tree that was 100 years old just before the birth of SA’s democracy. It has flanked the clock tower — the oldest standing structure on the property — since before the opening of what is now the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club more than 130 years ago until recently, when it had to be removed after wood-boring beetles got hold of it.

The Old Oak is at the heart of the club’s R1bn upgrade to turn the property into a lifestyle estate. “It’s basically to ensure the longevity of the club itself,” said Candice Humphrey, the Royal Johannesburg’s marketing and membership manager, “because membership in general, although it’s on the rise, is not sustainable for golf clubs.”

Pietersen, along with Ruhan Duvenage, who will manage the restaurant, have been preparing since the spring of 2021. They have planned every detail, from the edible gardens leading to the main entrance, the scent — musk, oak and vanilla — when patrons walk in, to how they are received, the flow of service, the label of their house wine, and even the salt.

Duck with beetroot. Picture: NIKITA VAN DER MERWE
Duck with beetroot. Picture: NIKITA VAN DER MERWE

Between the two of them they have tasted more than 200 wines, 80 of which landed on the wine list. All local wines. “Instead of going for the mainstream lines we’ve gone to smaller wine farms, boutique wine farms and we got the same price point but with a better style wine,” said Pietersen.

The Old Oak is also set to become the second home of Stellenbosch-based L’Avenir wines, said Duvenage. The Old Oak will sell two wines — L’Avenir’s Provenance chenin blanc and pinotage — under its own label.

Given carte blanche, Pietersen and Duvenage have every intention to use every bit of the 249ha available to them. Plans range from the edible gardens — also on other parts of the property — to beehives and eventually harvesting the edible mushrooms growing on parts of the course.

As for the menu, Pietersen said he wants to keep it clean and simple. SA foods at the heart with a Mediterranean influence. “It’s paying tribute to what’s been pulled out of the ground that’s basically died to nourish your body” and celebrating “who we are”.

The ingredient list may be short, but the flavours Pietersen has managed to produce are anything but simple. Even more complex is the preparation: from the black garlic purée — a sundried and fermented husk — that accompanied the prawn and scallops to the duck offcuts, cooked “down for at least six hours”. Paired with Diemersdal’s Journal pinotage and you have, as Pietersen put it, “a showstopper”.

Dessert of dark chocolate pearls, mango custard, caramel and tuile. Picture: NIKITA VAN DER MERWE
Dessert of dark chocolate pearls, mango custard, caramel and tuile. Picture: NIKITA VAN DER MERWE

And then there was the pork. Cheek to be specific.

The meat was braised for eight hours off the bone with carrot, apple and leek. The apples were then compressed for six hours with a celery fragrance and the carrot puréed. What is there to say about the carrot, when the pork is the best cut you’ve ever had but you cannot stop thinking about that yellow mush on the side. And to round it off, all of the drippings are reduced down — 500ml from a 10l pot.

These are the types of flavours that Pietersen wants to translate onto the menu in tribute to the oak tree and to meet the standards of a course that has hosted the PGA and the Joburg Open.

“It’s keeping the old and the tradition and the history,” Humphrey said. They want to give their members the option of bringing their families along as well as to attract visitors who would otherwise avoid a golf course.

That is why much of the planning has focused on children. The R1.2m playing area includes a treehouse made of offcuts from the oak tree. The self-designed colouring books will include images of the oak, the course, the treehouse and other parts of the restaurant.

“It’s basically just creating a space where the kids and adults get the best of what there is,” Duvenage said. And after close to a year of preparation, beset by delays due to rain, the two are anxious to see what Pietersen described as a “once in a lifetime dream” come true.

The Old Oak plans to open its doors in early May.

• The writer was a guest at one of the chef’s table dinners.

subscribe

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.