Anyone who has ever spent time in South Africa knows meat plays a key part in its national cuisine. Smoked, roasted, dried, fried, whatever - meat is king.
So when touring Cape Town, it is a great surprise to find a fine-dining restaurant that, as well as the usual selection of meat and seafood dishes, also offers an entire vegan menu.
Located in the historic Mt Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, Planet Restaurant's vegan menu was introduced earlier this year by executive chef Rudi Liebenberg.
"The inspiration started when we were looking for sources of good quality fruit and vegetables," he says. "It was not difficult finding local good ingredients, it was difficult finding transparency in how it was grown, where is it from and then it was important that I know who the farmer was."
He recently set up an organic and sustainable vegetable farm, growing most of his own crops in the nearby Stellenbosch region, and has a herb garden on the hotel's roof.
In winter, he grows beetroot, carrots, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, beans, peas, chard, leeks, spring onions, broccoli and cabbage. For summer he will grow pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, brinjal, baby marrow, gem squash, butternut, onions and strawberries.
The vegan dishes mostly use raw vegetables, served as fresh as possible.
Excited by the vegan menu, an order is put in for a starter of beetroot raviolli, followed by a salad of brinjal parcel, nut and seed couscous, quinoa, courgette and peas. A vegan cheesecake is ordered for dessert.
Each of the dishes is immaculately prepared and delicious.
Local feedback has been slow, but "this is a slow journey", Liebenberg says. "For me and my staff it was the only direction to take. The raw food was clean and brought a different perspective to the dining experience.
"Understanding what a carrot can be when raw, cooked, roasted, pureed, whatever, it gives us more to work with. I do not want to add cream to a dish if it is not going to add purpose and most of the time it disguises the true flavour of food. We might like the taste, but it is not pure and it is not clean," he says.
Qantas Airways flies from Sydney to Johannesburg, from where Cape Town is a two-hour flight.
WHERE TO STAY
The five-star Mount Nelson Hotel has options starting at $460 a night. See mountnelson.co.za.
* P.K. Stowers travelled to South Africa with assistance from South African Tourism.