The joyous season of Christmas, celebrated at the end of a busy year, brings families and friends together to give thanks and to eat!
Yes, it is the perfect time to travel and spend quality time with people you enjoy and hold dear. But it is also a time for lavish meals, banquet-style cooking in the kitchen, and leisurely and extended meal times around the dining room table.
Having successfully navigated that Romanesque eating feat, which spanned two weeks, I am now hitting the great outdoors to banish the pounds and reminisce on some of my most memorable meals.
During my 2023 Christmas trip, I had the great honor of arriving at the dining table each evening, having not lifted a finger to prepare anything more than my appetite.
My first memorable meal was straight out of the gate, a little over two hours into my Christmas trip. My journey began with an extended layover in Doha, which afforded me and my traveling companion enough time to leave the airport and visit the Museum of Islamic Art.
The Museum holds a significant place in the cultural world, promoting a more profound knowledge of Islamic art and facilitating cultural exchange and diversity in museum discussions.
At the top of the museum building, looking over to the city's neon skyline, you will find IDAM by Alain Ducasse. Upon setting foot in this establishment, it was abundantly clear that every staff member had completed a rigorous program dedicated to the art of hospitality.
The presentation and overall experience is Michelin star; and the menu is a glorious riot for the senses. Every morsel is created from scratch to form an original and unforgettable menu.
The special festive menu offered four, six, or eight courses. Thankfully, I demonstrated restraint and opted for the four-course menu. Your experience begins with a selection of homemade butter (grape or au naturel) and freshly baked crusty artisan bread reminiscent of a French boulangerie. So simple, yet so perfect together. I don't think I have ever tasted a better combination.
The menu includes artistic flair befitting any self-respecting and seasoned foodie. The menu is garnished with Kristal caviar, aroma of truffle, argan oil foam, mustard leaves, and homardine sauce with blue lobster, seared spiced venison, or roasted quail.
The courses are interspersed with palate cleansing breaks. By the time you reach the dessert, you are replete and your senses can't take anymore. This dining experience was delivered with nods to its Arabic surroundings and a modern, sophisticated flair, exceeding our expectations. It also set the benchmark for the rest of our holiday.
Our connecting flight from Doha took us all the way down the African continent to Cape Town in South Africa.
The next notable stop for good food during my trip was in Simon's Town, located on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula, on the shores of False Bay. Simons Town is home to the famed African Penguins, South Africa's largest naval base, great local hilly trail walks, and hearty home-cooked food. The Lighthouse Cafe, a slightly more casual affair, is located on the high street and was our favorite daily haunt. It offered a beachy, shabby, chic cafe-style dining experience while serving generous portions of tasty food at great prices.
For Christmas day, we dressed up and drove to Delaire Graff Estate in Stellenbosch. Our journey was beset with diversions due to bushfires, but we eventually reached this panoramic location. The Delaire Graff Restaurant describes itself as shaped by the seasons.
It is a year-round culinary destination in prime Cape Wineland. Guests can savor an impeccably plated and wildly creative a la carte menu, including plant-based options, all served as you gaze at the exceptional South African countryside.
Between these epic dining moments, we ate in cafes that we stumbled upon and liked the look of, which were no less impressive. Cape Town takes good care to offer great coffee, super service, value for money, a comfortable setting, and very tasty local food.
For the ultimate dining experience in Cape Town, it can only be La Colombe, located in the affluent suburb of Constantia.
With an implausible three Michelin stars, it won't come as a huge surprise that this restaurant is amongst the top restaurants in the world. The restaurant's interior is small, with white linen-dressed tables and a beautiful view of the sloping grape vines below. The restaurant only offers two short seatings a day: lunch from 12 pm to 1.30 pm and dinner from 6 pm to 8 pm. You absolutely need to book months in advance if you want to eat here during your visit.
La Colombe is an immersive experience from start to finish. Each course begins with a show and tell, where your elegantly dressed waiter explains the reason for the dish, where the ingredients come from and how the Chef constructed the artwork on your plate. Then, you are left to enjoy the dishes at an unhurried and leisurely pace.
The menu begins by whetting your appetite with a tropical fresh fruit tonic served inside a hollowed-out eggshell, which arrives at the table seated on its very own nest.
The choice of the Chef's Menu has a fantastic ten plates.
The starter is fresh lavash bread & a charcuterie board of local dried meals and pates. All suitably adjusted and redesigned to respect food allergies or dietary requirements.
Each plate is a star in its own right. The Tuna' la Colombe' is a delicate Ceviche served in a small branded designer tin can!
The next performance is a whimsical arrangement of Namibian crab, game fish, nahn jim, and Madagascan caviar. For this course, the Chef is having some fun with us as the instruction from the kitchen is only to use your hands to eat.
Following that, you are treated to quail, crayfish, sweetcorn bisque.
The mid-way palate cleanser is a Nitro citrus lollipop made at your table side using dry ice.
In the middle of the courses, you can take a break from eating and tour the wine cellar below. The restaurant is part of a Silvermist estate and has won multiple awards over the years. So, there is a fascinating pioneering history to share.
Then, it is back to the table to continue where you left off; the finale is a main dish of succulent Karoo lamb with globe artichoke, perfumed by Harissa.
The meal's rhythm becomes more measured as you reach the cheese & honey plate, which is followed by a beautiful Christmas dessert and the petit four chest.
The choice of flavors and textures are nonetheless memorable and complimentary to all the preceding dishes.
The finely tuned balance during the entire meal ensures you are not consumed with self-loathing for indulging in such a beautiful feast.
The presentation wows at each step, and the delivery by the Chef holds your excitement for the whole meal.
No other meal following our evening at La Colombe could compete, and we did not try to draw any comparisons because La Colombe sits on its own in terms of experience and food quality.
Now, here I am back in real life, with those impressive food memories keeping me company as I pound the treadmill, but trust me, it was all worth it.