Former fashion editor and style guru Isabella Niehaus’s latest venture is an ode to oceanside eating and socialising – the West Coast way.
After years of being “allergic to kitchens” Isabella woke up one day to discover that not only could she cook, she was in fact jolly adept at it. Never short of ground-breaking ideas, she set up shop in her stylish Langebaan dune home in 2012 hosting langtafel Sunday lunches – an intimate anthropology told in beloved recipes.
She admits that these much-talked-about feasts are an improvisation, more jazz than symphony. For a limited audience of between 12 to 48, she riffs with spontaneity to serve up a memorable gastronomic experience, all while creating a community that lasts as long as the meal.
What makes the twice-monthly five-course lunches all the more exceptional, is that they’re not stand-on-ceremony kind of affairs. Some diners relax and chat; a few might happily lend a hand; others clear the table; and those who want to learn, get first-hand tips from a master cook.
When it’s all done, the dishes starring locally-sourced, fresh seafood reflects Isabella’s personality: joyous. She finds it difficult to list favourites, but says, “My mussel bobotie and smoked snoek cheesecake are guaranteed to blow minds.”
The adventure starts the minute you arrive at the top of the stairs to a breathtaking ocean vista from the stoep. G&T in hand and introductions all around, the atmosphere warms even more. Enormous platters of oysters accompanied by sparkling wine set the tone of much conviviality on the expansive deck. Oh, and on the side: that snoek cheesecake. Damn, it’s good!
Now seated at the langtafel, fat, juicy mussels enhanced in a soft masala curry/coconut cream sauce with one-bite vetkoek balls are a tip of the hat to the West Coast. Same for the angelfish in a soya/yoghurt sauce all but hiding the green salad which is a party of flavours. Braaied harders deliver an authentic taste of nearby Velddrif.
Finally, a blushing grilled rump with mushroom sauce is rounded out with golden sweet potato chips and crunchy bulgur wheat. Ah, and then the dessert: chocolate tarte and a Cointreau chocolate log has one seeing stars.
Knocking out plate after plate of the things she loves, Isabella maintains, “The food has to be simple, honest, delicious and beautiful.”
A few times a year the Gauteng crowd is privy to her epicurean spreads and she makes sure West Coast magic accompanies these events. It follows then that a cookbook was called for, so last year saw the launch of the aptly-titled Duinhuis. “A storybook of my life,” she calls it, “the people, the journeys and most importantly, the food.”
Also in demand as a teacher, Isabella finds time once a month to give seafood cooking classes both in Langebaan and Cape Town.
Although her prolific 23-year career as stylist and fashion editor for leading South African magazines is long in the past, she admits that she sometimes misses it. “It was a glamorous life indeed. But the time came to let go.”
At home Isabella is surrounded by a zoo of four dogs, three cats and when not competing in international kite surfing competitions, her son Taro. “Much as I love people, I absolutely need space-out time with my animals and books.”
To veg out I read
My pet place on the West Coast is my home in Langebaan
My favourite restaurants are Wolfgat and Noisy Oyster in Paternoster
I love eating mussels
My signature drink is a good MCC
Favourite reads are fiction, biographies and autobiographies
To book for Langtafel op die Duin or order the cookbook, call 083 2652147
All photos: Yvette Jordaan