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Nocturne: An inspiring experience that tantalises the taste buds and the imagination

This restaurant and mixology bar has gained a reputation for its distinctive approach to food and drinks

By Ingrid Wood

An avant-garde restaurant and bar on the vibey Plein Street in Stellenbosch, Nocturne is the brainchild of Darren Badenhorst and Callan Austin (the same duo behind the award-winning Dusk restaurant next door). While Dusk serves a decadent 13-course tasting menu, it shares its test kitchen and fermentation lab with Nocturne allowing the latter to serve its unique flavours and local ingredients on a smaller scale. A smaller menu, however, doesn’t mean less extraordinary.

Each dish is a work of art, meticulously plated and bursting with flavour and pushing the boundaries of traditional cuisine. The Line Fish Sashimi starter, served with sour plum Ponzu, spring onion, sesame, fennel and citrus, was the best I have tasted, while the Heirloom Tomatoes, served with burrata, olive oil and basil oil were equally impressive, showcasing the chefs’ flair for creating palate-pleasing vegetarian meals. Other starters include Wagyu Tartar, Harissa Grilled Prawns and Duck and Spring Onion Croquettes.

For mains the Wagyu Steak with chimichurri was exceptional (how does one make potato chips so delicious?) and the humble carrot, which was given a grand makeover to create a char-grilled side dish, decorated with tahini, roasted seeds and pickled carrot salad, was satisfying enough for a vegetarian main. Pan-fried Line Fish, Grilled Venison Loin and Glazed Lamb Rib make up the rest of the mains. Leave space for dessert – choose from a citrusy Lemon Posset or Elements & Textures of Chocolate, with figs and burnt butter ice cream.

And then, of course, the drinks. In addition to a variety of spirits and a well-curated wine list, Nocturne’s bar is a sanctuary for cocktail enthusiasts where the mixologists are true artisans, crafting delightfully creative beverages. The classics are on the menu but expect a proper spin. Then there are “Rotational Riffs” – Wet and Dirty Vesper Martini or Coffee Cola Negroni – while the Featured Cocktails will have you coming back for more.

How about a Nocturne’s Garden (botanical liqueur, spirulina, Bramble gin and berry cider), S’More Cereal (rice crispy infused vodka, strawberry Oleo and marshmallow) or Gran & Gramps (Jim Beam whiskey, Rouge apple pie, apple syrup, citrus and bitters)?

The moody, richly textured interior is an inviting space, but we chose to sit outside and enjoy our meal al fresco as the weather was perfect. However, the theatrical flair of the mixology marvels kept drawing our attention towards the buzz at the bar. It is an experience that engages all the senses.

Nocturne is running a winter promotion: Guests may choose three dishes from the menu at a set price of R550 per person or R750 per person with wine pairing. For bookings, call 021 023 4745 or email reservations@nocturneexperience.co.za

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