There’s a need for restaurants that are casual enough for an after-work drink, but formal enough to clinch a business deal over lunch, or for a special celebration in the evening.
It’s a tricky balance because food needs to be familiar, but gourmet without the rigidity of fine dining. Signature Restaurant in Brooklyn in Pretoria, and Morningside in Sandton seems to have found the perfect balance. It’s sleek and chic, boasting an impressive wine list and menu, without being pretentious.
Food-wise there are a lot of crossovers, which translates into more choice.
You can start with sushi, expertly made and presented in Japanese minimalist perfection. The seafood options wash over into the starters section, where there is plenty of choice, from fresh shucked oysters, salmon or fish cakes, or more luxurious items you’re sometimes hard-pressed to find, like steak tartar or oysters Rockefeller.
Comfort options include a roasted pumpkin and red onion soup, a spicy liver salad or a decadent BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) salad, finished with honey and dill pickles.
What is important to point out is that all the options (and there’s quite a few) have fresh ingredients, creating something surprisingly earthy but elevated.
The menu almost becomes a treasure map when you start toying with what to have as a main dish. There’s pages of options with a good variety of traditional dishes taking cues from French cuisine (with a few surprises in between).
If you want to keep it light, shellfish dishes include various sized prawns and lobster prepared with a Mozambican twist. But it’s the variety of duck, beef and lamb dishes that really sets the tone. It’s fantastic to see duck leg confit, duck magret and orange duck on one menu.
The lamb dishes include chops and rack of lamb, but the beef medallion with rooibos tea and parsnip puree, braised exotic mushrooms, grilled asparagus and red wine jus seems to really speak to diners.
Similarly, the beef fillet and mushroom royale with oxtail-mustard and cheese croquette, confit mushroom potato, mushroom royale, slow roasted and grilled pearl onions, grilled zucchini and mushroom puree is a top choice.
The menu includes nods to South African cuisine with grilled half baby chicken braised in chakalaka sauce with pap, a chicken coriander roulade with fried pap, broccoli, tomato royale, broccoli-tomato tortellini and chicken jus.
Meat-lovers may want to try biltong-encrusted venison served with a pap-spinach gateaux. Other venison options include ostrich, cooked two ways, and a more traditional grilled venison steak.
With such a large main menu, Signature made a good call in keeping the dessert menu small. Crème brûlée, pear malva pudding, panna cotta and baked cheesecakes aren’t too sweet but deliver a memorable end.
For those who don’t have a sweet tooth, the cheese platters are marvellous with flavourful options, not the rubbery blobs of goo you’re sometimes served.
If you think Signature overdid it on the menu side, the thick book makes a lot of sense when you pull the wine list closer, because its equally big. It starts with introductions into French, American, Argentinian, Italian, Portuguese and South African wine regions. It gives you a clue on how many wines are available from the cellar.
Considering that you have a lot of room to play with pairings, the wine list becomes an unexpected playground. Varietals, styles and regions all come into play and you have hundreds of options.
Signature in Brooklyn is still an undiscovered gem, surprisingly laid-back, but ultra professional, which really makes it an exciting newcomer in Pretoria.