Is there any South African food quite as iconic and as deeply intertwined with French wine culture and the acknowledgement of provenance as the Cape Rock Lobster? France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) system was at the forefront of the movement to protect and promote the unique qualities of wines produced in specific regions. In 1935, a culinary exchange was made, known as the Crayfish Agreement. In return for acknowledging Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne as Geographical Indication (GI) regions, France imported South Africa’s abundant supply of Cape Rock Lobster to land on the tables of discerning French epicures. Really, it’s because of the Cape Rock Lobster that South Africa became the first country in the southern hemisphere to recognise wine GIs.
While the trade agreement and many South Africans refer to the crustacean as a crayfish, it is in fact a saltwater lobster or Jasus lalandii to use its scientific name. Found nestled along the rugged Western Cape coastline, this species thrives among the shallow underwater boulders and rocky outcrops that gave them their name, weathering the extreme conditions of the cold Benguela current. It’s this exposure to the nutrient-rich Atlantic ocean that has given the Cape Rock Lobster its quintessential briny and umami flavour, which, coupled with its flaky texture and earthy richness has made it synonymous with the cuisine of the West Coast and Swartland wines. This is not to be confused with its more colourful, larger deep water counterparts, the Natal or Mozambican Spiny lobster (Palinurus delagoae), East Coast lobster (Panulirus homarus), or South Coast rock lobster (Palinurus gilchristi). However, on occasion you might find Caribbean Lobster (Panulirus argus) on our Belthazar menu, which boasts a buttery, sweet and slightly firmer bite with a hint of the sea.
The true skill in serving the perfectly grilled Cape Rock Lobster lies in accentuating its delicate natural flavours. “This takes expert sourcing, precision, attention to detail and an intimate understanding of this wonderful ingredient,” says Belthazar owner Ian Halfon. After meticulously cleaning and butterflying the lobster, it is brushed with a marinade of olive oil, lemon, butter and seasoning, after which it is rested to allow the marinate to penetrate the flesh. It is then grilled flesh-side down on a flat top grill for 5-7 minutes (depending on size) until the flesh turns opaque. “The critical thing is to respect the product and avoid overcooking. You must preserve the succulence, tenderness and subtle flavours,” says head chef Sherwyn Rayners.
After brushing with the marinade again, the lobster is finished off under the salamander or in a combi-steamer for larger lobsters. At Belthazar you can enjoy your Lobster on its own with our signature lemon butter, peri-peri or garlic butter sauces, or as part of 5 seafood platters on offer.