Launches extensive vegan menu

A review of Balducci Restaurant, Cape Town…

I’ve long been a fan of Balducci, the urbane eaterie overlooking the harbour at the V&A Waterfront – a diverse crowd, just the right mix of comfort and easy sophistication, and views to remind you that you’re in one of the most visited cities in the world. In the past, I’ve always cobbled together my own vegan options from their extensive menu of fresh and delicious cosmopolitan fare – or opted for vegan sushi in the chic little adjoining sushi and noodle bar. So I was particularly thrilled to be invited to the launch of their new vegan menu.

Farm Animal Sanctuary SAIn the run-up to the occasion, I confess to having imagined it might be a case of one or two delicious token dishes, which is often the case with newly vegan-friendly establishments that were popular before veganism started becoming mainstream. Get thee hence, oh jaded one! Imagine my delight at being presented with an entire menu sheet packed with up-to-speed imaginative vegan options, ranging from juices, to smoothies and power bowls (with optional super foods and probiotics), to soups, starters, salads, pizzas and pastas, burgers, wraps, mains, sushi and desserts – a seriously impressive range of flavours and options to woo even the most demanding of vegan palettes.

At the start of the evening, I was ushered to a huge long table in the prime spot, overlooking the passing parade of nighttime shoppers and boulevardiers, and the boats bobbing on the twinkling water. The view from these window seats makes Balducci a decidedly high-rent location – and on windless days and nights there are tables outside to enjoy the sea air along with the view. The table was long and welcoming in the spirit of a true Italian feast – and almost everyone present seemed to be vegan, a heartening fact in and of itself.

We started with a mix of 3 shooter juices, a delicious chopped salad (served in a jar to enhance the beautiful colours of all those crunchy veggies), platters of robust falafels with the dreamiest hummus and slices of tasty, thin-based Trader Joe pizza with chopped peppers, red onions and mushrooms topped with vegan cheese and dollops of fresh pesto – an optimal mix of Mediterranean flavours and textures. The starters were so tasty and satisfying, in fact, that I was a bit daunted by the prospect of what was yet to come. But the (vegan) wine and conversation flowed so freely that our appetites were pleasantly piqued by the time the main courses arrived.

We were joined by Ian Halfon, co-owner of Balducci and MD of the Slick Restaurant Group (which includes acclaimed Cape Town restaurant Belthazar, among others), who explained that it was his wife’s recent passionate embrace of veganism that inspired this new culinary direction for Balducci. Also, more broadly speaking, cruelty-free, plant-based food is the hottest culinary trend of 2018, and with the rise of conscious eating, awareness surrounding sustainability and emerging health trends, veganism is on the rise around the planet. “At Balducci we believe that you always have to keep abreast with the latest trends, keep upping your standards, innovating and reinventing yourself to remain a step ahead”, says Halfon. “That’s why we’ve been around for 21 years!”. This on-trend approach is also evident in Balducci’s elegant contemporary interior following the restaurant’s recent makeover.

Farm Animal Sanctuary SA

1. Chocolate Decadence Smoothie
2. Chocolate Decadence Power Bowl garnished with optional additions
3. Onion Blossom Starter
4. Chopped Salad tossed in a Mediterranean splash
5. Oriental Rice Paper Wrap
6. Falafel and Tahini
7. Napoletana with Zucchini Noodles
8. Falafel and Tahini Wrap
9. 160g Smokey Black Bean Amaranth Burger
10. Vegetarian Sushi Platter
11. Marinated Tofu Roll with Cucumber, Carrot and Avocado
12. Cheese Cake with a Berry Marble Swirl

Although there is a far wider selection of mains on Balducci’s vegan menu, we sampled 3 dishes at the chef’s table: Red Thai Curry (prepared with whole fungus mushroom, tofu, bamboo shoots, cauliflower and broccoli, served with basmati rice), Smokey Amaranth Black Bean Sliders (served with sweet potato fries or a side salad) and Cashew Nut Cream Pasta (marinated tofu and smoked mushrooms in a cashew nut cream sauce). I opted for the pasta, which was creamy and rich enough to demand a return to visit soon. By common consensus of the people sitting near me at the table, the Red Thai Curry was also deliciously piquant, spicy and more-ish. Several people indulged in a small second serving of the curry, which was telling…

Although, via my Instagram feed, I see some extraordinarily inventive vegan desserts emerging around the world, I generally find the vegan dessert offerings at local restaurants and cafés somewhat uninspired. So I was impressed by the vegan cheesecake with a berry marble swirl and the strawberry chia parfait glass, a delightful contemporary riff on a classic lush dessert.

Speaking of freshness, this is something that Balducci takes super seriously. Their menu planners are emphatic about their commitment to “supporting sustainable organic agriculture in the long term”. “Wherever possible, their ingredients are organic, seasonal, gluten-free, low-GI, chemical and preservative-free, non GMO, detox-friendly, raw and loaded with vitamins and minerals”, they say. What’s not to love about this? More importantly for me though, in addition to meeting all these standards, Balducci’s vegan menu is cruelty-free – my kind of delicious.

As an intersectional vegan and someone who cares a whole lot about animals, as well as human beings and the future of our planet, I was heartened, a few days after the magic of the chef’s table dinner, to read that the Slick Restaurant Group’s commitment to the environment includes the use of menus printed on recycled paper with sustainable ink, recycled paper bags printed with vegetable ink and phasing out the use of disposable plastic products. They only use recycled paper straws and straws made from corn and maize starch.

Their caring approach also extends to the local community in the form of a partnership with Tygerberg Hospital (assisting them in increasing the number of corneal transplants undertaken by their Department of Opthalmology). Slick Restaurant Group company donations together with help from generous customers resulted in the first lamellar corneal surgery being performed on Mrs Gladys Maistry from Eersterivier on 10 May 2018, restoring her sight.

This might seem like extraneous information for a restaurant review, but for a vegan restaurant review – far from it! Knowing the sensitivity of my fellow vegans, I imagine that many potential diners will feel as inspired as I do by the holistic approach of this establishment and the care they are taking to give us the opportunity to indulge our own culinary pleasures in ways that are kind to the planet and our fellow living beings… With spring in the air, I will be returning to Balducci with someone special soon to look out over the harbour at night and taste some of the other tantalising options on their impressive (in many ways) new vegan menu.

BalducciOpens in a new window, Shop 6162, Victoria Wharf, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Tel.: (021) 421 6002/3. Daily operating times: 11h00-23h00.

Reviewed by Alexandra Dodd, for Vegan SA

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