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Coachman’s Inn

Coachman’s Inn Every time I see The Coachman’s Inn I want to transplant it to a quaint English country village, where you sit on the terrace and watch yokels in straw hats grooming down the horses.
Instead this lovely Tudor mansion lies incongruously close to William Nicol, looking out over garish signboards and traffic in the Peter Place shopping centre. But pretend those modern distractions don’t exist and immerse yourself in bygone days, when dining out was about quality food, attentive service and a flagrant disregard for the drink driving laws.
The Coachman’s opened in 1980 as a fine dining establishment serving French cuisine with a nod to South African palates. That means plenty of red meat including impala, ostrich and kudu augmenting French influences like rabbit and braised duckling.
Over the years some Asian touches have sneaked in too, making the menu an eclectic mix of flavours where each dish is an adventure in itself. Actually the menu is almost a book in itself, with lovely sketches of olde worlde pubs and explanations of how popular sayings came into being. Which meant that when the chef and manager Peter came to take our orders I was still looking at the pictures and hadn’t even thought about the food.
The owner had already led us through a couple of elegant rooms and up onto the terrace, thoughtfully bringing a blanket with him as the evening chilled. Hot bread rolls and a complementary sherry arrived moments later.
The wine list offers a solid collection with reasonable mark-ups, but doesn’t mention any wines by the glass. The owner recited six choices instantly, clearly well versed after 34 years in personal command of the restaurant that he built himself. I picked a Merlot, my partner a Sauvingnon Blanc, and each was proffered for tasting before our little carafes were poured, in a simple yet impressive touch of pure professionalism.
The menu is vast, with at least a dozen dishes I was keen to try. I always work backwards and check the desserts first to see if it’s worth leaving space, and the Gateaux Froid Aux Chocolat at R60 had my name on it. It’s billed as a decadent Belgian chocolate fudge and shortbread fridge cake, served with peppermint ice cream. But then I was led astray by the starters, including chilled mango soup with double thick yoghurt and saffron, snails in garlic butter or cheese croquettes.
The main courses sounded equally enticing, and in a city dumbed down by pizza and pasta restaurants, this is a delightfully confusing conundrum.
Finally we decided to share a starter of crab cakes served with three different sauces. They were crispy and spicy, and nicely matched by the tangy trio of mayonnaise, mango chutney and sweet ‘n sour dips.
My partner’s main course of fillet topped with a light curry sauce and stuffed with mango chutney and cottage cheese was delicious, apparently, and perfectly cooked, although it could have carried a little more of the mouth-tingling filling.
My main dish was more elaborate still, with red mullet served in three styles: gravlax in beetroot then quickly grilled and served on sautéed potatoes; drizzled with lime juice and served on mash and a grilled fillet served on tagliatelle.
Lots of things come in threes at the Coachman’s including the vegetables, with a trio of excellent creamed spinach, carrot strips and delightful baby onions served in creamy sauce. 
My fish was firm but moist and each piece was almost a portion on its own. I couldn’t decide which was my favourite, so I took mouthfuls from each in turn until my stomach sent an alarm signal to say that adding a dessert on top would be a reckless manoeuvre. Drat, I thought, there’s no chance of tackling that chocolate cake now.
When the bill came we had to call the owner back with a query. He’d forgotten to charge us for the wine. He whisked it away to amend it, and returned with two glasses of port on the house.
That’s the Coachman’s for you, a charming, quaint, olde-world place where service is attentive if eccentric and the beautifully presented dishes live up to their enticing descriptions.
The Coachman’s Inn:
29 Peter Place, Bryanston.
011-706-7269.
Open Monday-Saturday 6.30-10pm.
www.coachmans.co.za.