Who can deny that 2020 has been a less than ideal year? However for Jesper Nilsson, the chef of just-launched ëlgr, the time in lockdown led to deep introspection and creative conceptualising – and the result is this moody, effortlessly cool hub that peels back from the buzz of Kloof Street to a plant-filled courtyard – the perfect place to while away a summer’s evening.
Great food makes a great mood
ëlgr is elegantly dressed in custommade local furniture designs and a soothing, innately urban palette of charcoal, black and pops of sage green. It’s an ultra instagrammable visual feast but more than that, there’s a careful consideration for the food and drinks experience.
“I just love shared-plates dining, it’s informal, makes people feel connected and when there are exciting things on the menu, it means you get to taste more and really experience the variety,” says Jesper of his small but considered menu that features a slew of fresh flavours, plenty of seasonal plant-based offerings and even artisan pizza.
“We designed the menu to make people feel at ease – and also to complement our expertly crafted wine list by our sommelier Mario Salvato and of course our artisan-style cocktails we created with local experts SIP Exclusive,” he explains.
27-year-old Jesper grew up in Sweden (he relocated to South Africa with his family as a teenager), and the ëlgr menu reflects a pared down ‘less is more’ Scandi sensibility coupled with an appreciation for the abundance of fresh local produce in the Cape.
Having cut his teeth after his ICA studies with the likes of Richard Carstens, Darren Badenhorst and Arno Janse, more recently, Jesper did a stint at the famed Bastard restaurant in Malmö, Sweden. His time with some of the best Cape chefs and in the kitchen of one of Europe’s most respected and popular dining destinations has certainly influenced his sharp and considered menu, he says.
From the Charcuterie Board with meats from the ëlgr in-house curing room and by local legend Richard Bosman to the likes of Raw beef with Nasturtium, Mustard Aioli, Rocket and Capers, and a Med-inspired Burrata with Baby Tomatoes, Oregano and Almonds, this is fresh, easy-eating small-plates fare that’s beautifully balanced.
With this diverse dining style that acknowledges guests’ different moods – the ëlgr team has created a variety of dining hubs within the restaurant. There’s a straight-off-the-street, sun-filled spot with leather banquettes and easy-on-the-eye curated displays, then diners are drawn deeper into the moodier heart of restaurant past beautifully dressed tables (think slate tableware, Chinese money plants in containers, wooden cutlery boxes and apothecary-like glass vessels) until they emerge into a light-and-plant filled courtyard, complete with a bar, huge corner sofa, café chairs and tables and a pizza oven clad in sexy white tiles.
It’s innately urban, ultra social and oh so easy-on-the-eye. Exactly what the city and its residents need as inspiration after a long lockdown. The courtyard is perfect for socially distanced dining and Jesper anticipates that this dressed-to-thrill outdoor bar (with its own custom built menu of crafted cocktails and Rosé on tap) will be a popular haunt this summer.
Impressive wines & drinks du jour
As much as the food menu is a considered celebration of concise skills and flavour marriages, so the wine and cocktail offerings at ëlgr are equally impressive. The restaurant’s wine cellar is in the capable hands of experienced sommelier Mario Salvato who has gone to great lengths to acquire the best and the most interesting choices available in South Africa, from small winery finds to auction big hitters.
The cocktail list features seven carefully crafted choices designed with local bar pros SIP. Instead of cliché syrupy cocktails, guests can enjoy the likes of Love & Sage – a vodka, lemon juice, sage syrup and pineapple juice, a refreshing and zesty liquid creation. “We want our guests to really feel that every single element at ëlgr is created with intention and the cocktails definitely fall into this category,” says Jesper.
By the people for the people
Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of this new Kloof Street restaurant is the focus on the integrity of the ëlgr experience from the get go. This is reflected in everything from the locally designed and manufactured furniture to the succinct and seasonally influenced menu and finally, the approach to the team of talents who prepare, cook and serve the food and drinks here.
Waiters and kitchen staff alike are salaried employees and all gratuities are shared amongst every member of the team. “I’ve worked in many restaurants and I truly believe its possible to democratise the restaurant experience; if everybody is absolutely committed to the process and in creating an outstanding experience for the guest, then I believe great things can happen,” says Jesper, who insists on a family-style lunch for every team member daily, has a consecutive two-days-off policy for all staff members and has taken great care to appoint a diverse crew that reflects the melting pot that is Cape Town.
“We wanted to create a space where food is taken seriously but whwre we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We want people to feel comfortable, to celebrate what it is to share delicious food, wine and cocktails in easy and great looking surrounds and to celebrate how good life can be,” says Jesper. And who wouldn’t want to drink to that?
ëlgr opens to the public on Friday 18 December 2020