‘We’ve tried to make it cosy, but sexy,’ says Paul van Zyl, chief creative officer of The Conduit members’ club, as he spots me looking round from my seat trying to take in the busy interiors of its new public restaurant Warehouse.
But nothing about this place screams sexy at all. Cosy? Yes, but it felt a bit too try-hard. There’s a tapestry from Swaziland, the tiles that frame the kitchen hatch are from South Africa and the bright turquoise-blue walls on your way to the toilets are adorned with a Durban dish collection. The room’s a loud and lively mix of colours and textures, with hanging woven lampshades, mismatched wooden chairs, gigantic plants and stone floors. I understand they’re trying to support craftspeople and use repurposed and vintage materials, but there’s a lot going on. It felt very jarring and incongruous to what was being served.
As for the food, ex-head chef of zero-waste restaurant Silo Brendan Eades brings his environmental credentials to the table. The seasonally fluctuating menu has a focus on locally sourced ingredients from artisan suppliers and producers. I started with a refreshing, clean-tasting, luminous green Gimlet cocktail made with foraged sea herbs. With every sip I was reminded of the breezy, salty, sea air with hints of floral juniper botanics. My pal tried a pink drink made with whisky, foraged and fermented sloe berries and spent coffee grounds: a warming, fruity and punchy concoction. Seriously sublime tipples that were great for whetting the appetite.
My vegan pear, celeriac and lovage salad with hazelnut cream looked like a spaceship with thick slices of white, pickled raw celeriac draped on top of each other and carefully tweezered leaves. But there was something about the punchy, vinegary pickle and the creamy nutty flavours of the sauce that didn’t work. I had serious food envy of my mate’s soul-soothing roasted pumpkin dukkha that looked like two Aunt Bessie’s yorkshire puddings filled with coriander, sesame and crème fraîche.
For mains: a thick slab of bone-in free-range pork chop was a soft, tender and juicy explosion. You can tell that this pig had a very happy life judging by the texture and the quality of the meat. Slathered with a generous, thick layer of browned anchovy butter, capers, fennel seeds and parsley: a winning salty and herby combo. My friend’s perfectly pink slow-roasted venison with a viscous liquorice sauce was accompanied by hay-smoked beetroot and greens. There were a lot of bold, contrasting, gamey flavours and textures going on – it wasn’t my favourite, but it wasn’t my main! My pal loved it and wasn’t it complaining, so who am I to argue?
I’ve never met a potato that I didn’t like, and the salt-baked desiree mash with smoked butter and crispy shallots was certainly no different. It was super-soft and smooth that I wasn’t ashamed to eat it directly from the bowl with a spoon to ensure every last bit was scooped up. The lightly braised Italian cavolo nero side was earthy and buttery. The fresh, natural, slightly bitter flavours of the veg came through beautifully.
At first glance, both of our desserts looked deceptively simple, but were delightful surprises. A cute white chocolate and chestnut mousse dome filled with a pear puree core that was simply transcendent. And my friend’s bowl of rice pudding came with a deeply caramelised golden brown top that’s asking to be broken into. Hidden underneath lies a thick skin, a pool of comforting, crimson damson jam paired with a cooling yoghurt sorbet offered pure, sweet pleasure.
Eades’s former gaff Silo has a sterile and righteous approach to sustainable cooking, whereas Warehouse feels more warm and welcoming. It does its bit for the planet by sourcing better, reusing and recyling, but without shoving it down your throat. The ambience and food didn’t really match up. Some dishes needed more thought in balance and some dishes were knockout.
What’s the food like? On paper, the dishes don’t sound very imaginative but some interesting techniques, flavours and textures.
What’s the drink? Bold, punchy cocktails using foraged finds. Try the samphire Gimlet or Sloe Sip whisky if you know what’s good for you.
What’s the vibe? Homely and definitely not sexy.
Time Out tip? Save space for the stellar desserts. Order the chestnut, pear and oolong tea dome or rice pudding, damson and yoghurt sorbet.