4th November 2020 – It’s the final night before Lockdown 2.0 in England and Talia Prince is the chef responsible for preparing our last supper. As a restaurant lover and food enthusiast, I had to have my last evening out planned out to the very last minute.
I’ve never tried South African cuisine and usually just stick to their wine, so I was very excited to experience the whole package at the pop-up hosted by South African chef Talia Prince. Talia Prince was born in Cape Town before moving to London in 2009. Well-versed in fine-dining cooking thanks to her time spent at Le Gavroche and The Fat Duck, she combines her heritage with modern techniques while adding a beautiful twist: a menu matching with wines from South Africa – a nation ravaged by the global sales ban imposed on winegrowers, which has resulted in many livelihoods being lost and or seriously threatened.
It’s the only country to have imposed a ban on sales of alcohol during lockdown – and for five weeks, exports of South African wine were outlawed as well. Because tasting rooms have been closed and tourism pretty much non-existent, there is a predicted stock surplus of 300 million litres, which if it isn’t cleared could mean some of the 2021 harvest will not be picked, posing more threats to the country’s economy. That’s why this unique residency plays a small but important part of helping to put South African wines back on the map.
‘This pop-up is the first time I’m really exploring some of the nostalgic dishes and ingredients from my upbringing in South Africa. I’ve had great fun weaving these into my style of food, and bringing the flavours and influences together,’ Talia says.
The place she chose to showcase her quirky cooking is a lively neighbourhood bar Great Guns Social nestled in the heart of Borough. Hidden behind the unassuming façade of a former public house on Southwark Bridge Road, it prides itself on rooting out some of London’s freshest pop-up talent to offer an ever-changing menu from the country’s established and upcoming chefs.
‘It’s heart-breaking how many families have been pushed below the breadline by this lockdown in South Africa, and I’m thrilled to be able to help them in this small, but practical way,’ she says.
As we enter the friendly interiors covered in a dim, red light and with tables spread out across the room, I immediately realise that tonight is all about tasting; a row of wine glasses and an extensive sharing menu is presented on each table, signalling a good start to the evening.
The evening kicks off with a gin cocktail inspired by botanicals such as fynbos growing in the Table Mountain in South Africa – an area which has more species of flowers and plants than the whole of UK. It’s the first drink on the menu and designed to give us a boost of energy to be able to digest what comes next.
Just like a fashion show, the opening and closing dishes are the most important, so I’m particularly surprised when a fluffy mini doughnut called vetkoek arrives in front of me. Accompanied by a glass of Chi Riesling Jessica Sourwein 2019, it reveals the much familiar fluffy texture of its sweet counterpart with an unusual savoury eel filling.
The biltong cracker with chakalaka, on the other hand, serves as a palate cleanser for all the food that’s yet to come. The thing I particularly enjoy is how smooth the service flows and how knowledgeable the staff are. Our waitress talks about each wine with love and care, as if she was involved in the whole harvesting process herself. I have enough time to scan each bottle, mentally memorising the beautiful labels to use them as pinpoints in the future.
Our second dish is a classic – a fire-baked sourdough rosterbrood with biltong fat lardo – dried meat that has been cured with spices such as coriander, black pepper and vinegar. Dry curing was a method to preserve meat by the indigenous tribes and so this delicacy dates back hundreds of years. Accompanied by nothing else than an elegant red Bodenhorst Cinsault Ringmuur 2019, it creates a harmonious blend of flavours in my mouth, making me further appreciate this exquisite experience.
The plates come and go and so do the wines, allowing me and my partner to exchange our plates a couple of times. Starters include stonebass tartare with ponzu, yuzukosho and Iwisa chips, chawanmushi with porcini, bone marrow, celeriac and Maltabella crisp; everything as unique as the one before.
However, when the mains arrive, I finally begin to understand the love South African people have for meat. It’s hard to decide which one is better – the fire-charred Iberico pork with black garlic and watermelon rinds kimchi or koji beef pincanha with potato galette, pinotage sauce and pickled walnut béarnaise, both rich in flavour and equally succulent.
The desserts are some classics with a quirky twist – milk tart with pickled cherries, similar to a cheesecake, sake kasu and Appletizer ice-cream with sansho pepper meringue and koeksister bites drenched in green fig syrup – fried dough bites traditionally served from food trucks that are a big part of the South African heritage. Since these were a bit too sweet for me, especially at this time of the night, I instead reached for the last liquid of the evening which happens to be an equally nectarous Keermont Fleurfontein dessert wine.
Talia Prince with her excellent menu and South African wine together with the team at Great Guns Social made the first night before lockdown 2.0 memorable and I can’t wait to be back again.
Talia Prince will be popping up at Great Guns Social in Borough for just two nights on 11 and 12 December and booking is essential.
To find out more, visit greatgunssocial.com
Imagery courtesy of Alessandro Swainston