The year is 2019. You’ve just woken up from a ten-year coma. Cannabis has been decriminalised, Donald Trump is president of the United States, and one of the top chefs in Cape Town is an Englishman from Essex. Now don’t fall out of your hospital bed. It’s true, we live in interesting times, and while our society appears to be simultaneously progressing and regressing, the SA foodie scene is on top form.
Enter the newest addition brought to the city by none other than aforementioned Englishman, Chef Matt Manning. Matt cut his teeth in London Michelin star restaurants under the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing, before migrating South and taking up a position as sous chef at La Colombe. But Matt couldn’t sit still for long. Shortly thereafter, he broke out on his own as a private chef hosting bespoke dining experiences. Most recently, he has used his entrepreneurial prowess to open one of the most unique dining setups in the city, housed within a 220-year-old heritage building on foodie-centric Bree Street.
Upon arriving at 103 Bree, the initial impression is that there’s a lot going on in the space – and that’s because there is. Three separate concepts meld together almost seamlessly: Grub & Vine, The Chef’s Studio and Froggit & Vonkel Wine Bar. While the latter does not fall under the Manning empire (rather, owned by established wine merchants of the same name), it acts at the perfect place to grab a pre- or post- Manning experience drink. As for the Manning experiences, these are twofold. Grub & Vine is a restaurant in the classic sense, while The Chef’s Studio, occupying 160 square metres of the spacious top floor, features custom-built workstations with appliances from Siemens, a communal table for social dining and an elegant private dining room, setting the stage for a plethora of events, interactive cooking demonstrations and private functions.
While the possibilities are limitless (and Manning does indeed push the limits, especially when it comes to his one ingredient interactive dining experience – if you’re keen to learn how to cook quince 5 different ways, be sure to pencil in the 17th of August), the common thread across the venue is Matt’s approach to cooking: refined, bistro-style fare using local, seasonal ingredients, and always paired meticulously with excellent wines, selected by Matt and sommelier Keize Mumba.
In fact, wine is what initially drew us to Grub and Vine as it offers a (free!) weekly Vine Night on a Wednesday, showcasing wines from quality producers with the hope that you’ll either be tempted out to the wine farm, or for the time being, into the adjacent dining space, which we can tell you from personal experience worked like a charm, as we were back a few weeks later with our squad in tow.
Both the grub and the wine did not disappoint. As an amuse bouche, we happily munched our way through Matt’s special, er, ‘chef’s balls’ – perfectly crispy arancini filled with gooey, cheesy risotto (unmissable).
The seasonal menu itself was concise with a dozen or so courses to mix and match, but varied in flavours – think chargrilled tenderstem broccoli with fresh pear, forest phantom cheese and pommery mustard; ricotta served with ‘saladini’ of 32 herbs; pan fried West Coast hake with steamed mussels and bacon velouté; and our standout dish – the slow-cooked leg of lamb (melting apart!) with braised celery heart, celeriac puree, potato fondant, spinach and lamb sauce.
Of course, this feast was paired with some really yummy wines that worked beautifully with our dishes – we opted for the creamy-yet-refreshing The Introduction Chenin Blanc from Miles Mossop, followed by Arendsig’s Site Specific Grenache which made the lamb taste even softer, if that was even possible. Both wines were enjoyed from Gabriel Glasses, considered by many to be the world’s best universal wine glasses – it’s the little things done with style and finesse that nudge this cosy bistro into the fine dining space.
Our evening ended on the sweetest note possible, with oozing chocolate fondant and a lovely relaxed chat at our table with Mister Manning himself. We first met Matt a year or two back, and like his tender leg of lamb, he himself seems to have softened since tying the knot earlier this year with his lovely wife, Roxanne.
Softened, but not gone soft: while understated, the space Matt has created at 103 Bree is as sharp as it gets on grub, wine and service fronts. We’ll be back – once the happy food coma has worn off.
Visit mattmanningchef.com to find out more about Grub & Vine, The Chef’s Studio and the range of events taking place monthly.
Words & Images: Kristen Duff