Breakfast date with The Countess
A retro-futuristic America breakfast date with The Countess in Melville.
What happens when a well-travelled engineer wants to make good food? He starts experimenting with all kinds of crazy foreign (and very technical we might add) cooking methods, and opens a restaurant that looks like a factory. In a nutshell. Oh, and just because he’s that kind of guy, he names his responsible dining establishment after a mysterious female acquaintance who transcends time and culture.
The Countess opened her doors to Melville in September of 2015 with the idea to have fun with food and make good, hearty meals from scratch. And that’s exactly what Leon Pretorius has been doing ever since, with beautifully presented, high-quality American Smokehouse meals with the occasional European or African twist.
The right décor fit
We visited on a fresh, wet Saturday morning in early January and sat next to a large window where the city had just the right amount of gloom to compliment The Countess’s industrial, Steampunk décor: copper pipes, exposed brick walls and strange looking inventions against a dark backdrop.
Inspired by the industrial revolution and more specifically, steam driven machinery, Steampunk, a subgenre of science fiction, offers a look at the future from the perspective of an 1850’s visionary. This accounts for this décor style’s conflicting vintage and futuristic, almost fantastical qualities.
Together with Cape Town artist, Ruann Coleman, Leon made or conceived just about every décor piece in the restaurant – from light fixtures to ensembles of salvaged copper and steel goods.
Every corner offers a point of interest that reflects the creative Steampunk décor theme; every table is set in detail and contrast with delicate, colourful flowers and flourished chalk reservations.
The good stuff
“I have always loved food, but I couldn’t find good food as easily as I wanted to and didn’t want to wonder how my food was made and more importantly, what it was made from. Here, almost everything is hand made from scratch.”
Leon’s word is as good as his Belgian style waffles (more on that yummy morsel later), because not only is all the produce sourced locally by Leon, but a fair quantity of the seasonal vegetables are actually grown by him in his Hanley on Klip garden.
The coffee is blended and roasted especially for The Countess, then ground and delivered within two weeks. This means that the RYO coffee in your cup and on their shelves is pretty darn fresh. In addition, Leon and his team also take a low-sugar, sustainable approach to their dishes. Their signature dish, for example, the 18 hour smoked brisket, is aged in-house and the off-cuts are used for the brisket lasagne.
“I wanted as authentic a smokehouse as possible, so I use a blend of wood chips you don’t actually find in South Africa.”
Apart from well utilised imported American smoker, responsible for a variety of menu components, Leon also employs French cooking methods to produce a sweet and creamy spreadable garlic confit. He further uses Sous Vide for the perfectly cooked, perfectly pink chicken liver parfait and the sans brûlée, crème brûlée that made Eat Out’s list of 5 great salted caramel desserts in SA – Pot de Crème. It’s extra creamy, made with real maple syrup, topped with black lava salt and top of my list of things to try.
The most important meal of the day
On our rainy breakfast visit however, we had no spare space for sweets. We dined on the previously mentioned, our favourite, Breakfast Waffle: an English breakfast served with a savoury bacon and cheese filled Belgian waffle. Eggs and bacon are great, but I’d have this winner on its own any day. We also feasted on the Vegetarian Breakfast: rich and flavourful mushrooms, smoked cheese and avocado means this dish is perfect without even a hint of meat; a Ciabatta French Toast with brie, bacon, banana and just about all the sweet and savoury toppings you could want with French toast; and finally, in true American diner style, Countess Flapjacks with a delectable, eat-with-a-spoon genuine maple and butter syrup.
Perhaps an introduction by Leon on this positively hearty, eclectic spread from The Countess’s breakfast menu would have better prepared you: “Breakfast is something I think needs a little pizazz.”
“All these recipes are things I have been cooking for my friends and family for a long time. Food is such a beautiful thing, but not a lot of people understand that they need to spend time in their restaurants. I’m here four days a week, developing new dishes and working with the kitchen staff. I take my hat off to the wonderful people I work with.”
+27 11 482 7361
+27 83 469 3032
27 Boxes, 75 3rd Avenue,
Images: Belinda & Mark Fourie