Hartnett, who is a longstanding friend of Northcote, is today accompanied by her dog Alfie (a Jack Russell who is determined to steal the show). Her dishes tonight are her trademarked Italian-inspired fare. Lines of beautiful fresh agnolotti are being made in the kitchen for her starter - always a pleasure to watch. When it comes out in the evening, the little pheasant parcels have a shaving of black truffle and sit in a rich, earthy jus of pheasant and rosemary. It's a warming starter of staunchly Italian roots.
It is Margot Janse's first time at Northcote and indeed "so far North in England" she tells me. Janse emigrated from Holland to South Africa over 25 years ago and worked as a photographer, witnessing Mandela's release at the end of apartheid, and assisting the famous photojournalist David Goldblatt. Her time was spent knee deep in a darkroom shooting black and white pictures, but ultimately she decided food was her passion and since there were no cooking courses available, she asked Johannesburg restaurateur Ciro Molinaro for a job in the kitchen.
She's been at the award winning Le Quartier Francais (part of the Relais and Chateaux group) since 1995, overseeing The Tasting Room restaurant where her focus is on local ingredients, such as spekboom and baobab, that are less common to a Western audience. Janse's fish starter arrives under the cover of a beautiful piece of homemade sorrel nori, looking like something that has been freshly unearthed from the sea. A delicate consommé of cucumber and horseradish is poured at the table, melting the nori slightly and revealing what lies under: thin slices of smoked eel accompanied with a savoury custard and squid ink, accompanied by a salad of daikon, radish shoots and crispy quinoa. The overall effect is clean and light, but bursting with texture and little surprises.