FOODSTUFF: Abundant greens at Allée Bleue’s picnic

abpic1.jpg I’m often asked to recommend Winelands picnics. I tend to make the effort to drive out to a restaurant. But having a husband who isn’t flexible enough to sit hunched and cross-legged for longer than five minutes, means spreading a blanket isn’t a popular choice in our house.

Fortunately he didn’t have to do that when we were invited to experience a Sunday family chicnic for four at Allée Bleue. Their idea of a picnic is a table and chairs, and waiters bringing drinks to your checked tablecloth under a shady tree. Younger kids are kept busy with a trampoline and jumping castle, and there are lovely lawns to run around on. Live music makes Sunday picnics a particularly good choice.

Although much of the farm is filled with practical packaging warehouses and hydroponic tunnels, the picnic area makes the most of its proximity to charming Cape Dutch buildings. The wine tasting centre recently moved there, so it’s handy to collect a few bottles en route to your car.

abpic3.jpg Allée Bleue grows, and supplies retailers, with incredible leaves, herbs, (including less usual tarragon and tatsoi) and fruit, aside from delicious wines. Their Chenin Blanc and Isabeau (Semillon Chard Viognier blend) have long been favourites of mine because they are so food-friendly.

So unsurprisingly the Allée Bleue picnic is a tasty showcase of the farm’s fresh produce. It goes down well in hot weather, especially if you’re big on salad – we had five of them, plus two artisanal cheeses. A lot of thought goes into providing quality homebaked breads, incredibly creative salads, a vibrant salsa verde, and some savoury preserves. It is beautifully presented in a basket where the sides open out, and all the food is served in jars with lids.

So a lovely country experience all round. On the salad note: the wild rice with smoked feta and baby carrots was delicious. There was mixed baby leaf salad with grated Parmesan, plus a crunchy baby fennel, red onion, preserved citrus with hazelnut dressing scored points. A beef stir-fry with egg noodles; and an unusual salted chicken salad with coconut shavings, dried mango and coconut dressing.

ab1.jpg Little jars aside, a few solid separate bits of protein would not have gone amiss – a few cocktail sausages perhaps? Melktert miniatures and farm nectarines finish it off. (The vegetarian picnic version is fairly similar, but the salads only have cheese, and a Med grilled vegetables replaces the beef noodle stir-fry).

The kiddies’ option was the source of envy at our table of four. A box of homemade chicken nuggets and fries were still warm. We felt lucky when our son graciously shared bits of his chocolate brownie.

ALLÉE BLEUE, Intersection R45 and R310, Franschhoek. Allée Bleue, 021-874-1021.
Picnics: R185 per person for standard or vegetarian picnic. Includes two glasses of Allée Bleue Starlette Blanc per adult.
Kiddies’ picnics: R65 per child including a juice box.
Herb tours (40 min) 10.30am on Fridays. R185 per person including a welcome drink and three-course meal at Allée Bleue Bistro.

PLACES: Escape to Tree Tops in Citrusdal

dsc_0041.jpg We wanted a different getaway, a place warm enough to ignore the outdoor chill of spring, with a drive of sufficient distance from Cape Town to remind us that we had escaped urban life for three days and two nights. Tree Tops near Citrusdal ticked the boxes.

It wasn’t easy finding September weekend accommodation near Citrusdal. Only two hours from Cape Town, this is citrus country, and it’s surprisingly popular for mountain bike races and company retreats. Spring probably increased the appeal of the area, as the wild flowers were out in force once we detoured.

dsc_0022.jpg The Baths is an outdoor resort with hot springs that date to Victorian times. Their numerous affordable self-catering options were full – we were advised to book their weekend accommodation two months in advance.

Luckily we heard about treehouses overlooking the river at a farm, 9km along a gravel road from The Baths, and booked the last one. The location was tranquil and beautiful. Tree Tops is what I’d describe as a decent glamping option – something in between self-catering and luxury camping. It’s privately owned and well equipped, but we didn’t know to what extent. The email from the owner provided a map, and only instructed us to bring towels and food. Firewood was available for R20 a bag.

In fact each treehouse has a double bed, reasonable quality linen, a bar fridge, kettle, and glasses and mugs for two. A table and two chairs on the balcony, a small basin, and a tiny electric fan, were also standard. One bigger treehouse also had basic cooking facilities and a fireplace inside, so if you’re looking for solitude, that’s the one to request (we never saw the couple staying for a night, only their parked car).

The communal toilets had separate shower rooms. They were all clean and linked to the treehouses via a wooden bridge. The showers were hot, but you need to take your own soap and two-ply.

dsc_0011.jpg A stone kitchen on the lawns was well equipped with a communal fridge, a couple of two-plate stoves, and a cupboard for each treehouse – containing two sets of plates and cutlery, pots, wine glasses and even a waiter’s friend. The only drawback is that if all treehouses are occupied, you need to request extra bits and pieces for any children. We’d already called the owner on arrival, after requesting extra bedding for a five-year-old, and finding only a bare mattress in our room.

The communal braai area facing the river has its own grid and a few seats, and makes a lovely sunset or breakfast spot. Two smaller braais are available if you don’t fancy being sociable.

Which is obviously a consideration. We were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves on the Friday night. On the second night we shared a fire and a chat with a young apple farmer and his girlfriend, before moving to our treehouse balcony with our bottle of wine, when our son wanted to go to sleep. Tree Tops is designed more for couples than families, and huts are close enough to each other to necessitate keeping your voices down when moving around.

dsc_0037.jpg If I returned I’d probably book it with two other families, and take over a few treehouses. Your kids need to be old enough to share a double bed – with a sibling or friend – in a separate treehouse though, as you won’t fit more than one young child on the floor. The treehouses are close enough for adjacent occupants to call to each other, but they’re suspended on stilts some distance from the kitchen and braai area – so something to keep in mind, as most young urbanites struggle to sleep near night-time crickets and chatty morning birds.

But that’s part of the appeal that makes it so worth doing. It’s quiet, you’re in nature, the views are lovely, and the two-man canoes are tied to the riverbank for anybody to use. We had great fun tackling the beer-coloured Olifants River with our paddles every morning. We also spent a day at The Baths as day visitors, alternating between the bathtub-heat of the hot springs and the icy regular swimming pool.

TREE TOPS, Citrusdal. Adults R650 for two a night; children R120 per night.
Tel 022-921-2474 or 071-681-3871, Tree Tops

RECIPE: Superman birthday cake

dsc_0036.jpg Daniel’s 5th birthday party fell on a public holiday again. Five seems to be an age where kids love to show off their strength, lightning speed and superhuman powers. So naturally we had a superhero and pajama party (a few adults dressed up too, but swapped the spiderman mini-juices for wine).

We usually get a bit carried away and invite too many people, but it was a little more hectic than normal this year. I’m working fulltime as an acting magazine editor for six weeks, so it meant I only had weekends to run around and source cake decorations and ingredients. Then Craig’s flight was delayed for hours the day before while the house/cake/cupcakes/garden were meant to happen. No pressure. It’s why I wore a Wonder Woman T-shirt on the day and felt the part.

dsc_0004.jpg I deviated from the usual beer box cake recipe because I was given a new Kitchen Aid cake tin with smaller dimensions (23 x 33 x 5cm) and wanted to put it to the test. It made just the right size of cake to accommodate Clark Kent’s buffer alter ego. My cake rose too much in the centre, but I just piped butter icing in the cracks and kept spreading. Fortunately Superman needed a puffy chest.

The party was a blast, with granny baking cheesecake and gingerbreadmen, Hannah beautifully icing the cupcakes, and I sorted out the cake decoration late at night. In attendance: four spidermen, a superman-batman, dinosaur and a maiden or two. A few days later when I asked Daniel if he’d expected a superman cake (it’s a surprise until we bring it out), he said sort of, but he was hoping he’d have a cake with Superman’s kryptonite. Right …

Versatile and flop-proof, butter cake is the foundation for many recipes. The cake batter is easily modified to include other ingredients and flavours.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Baking time: 25 minutes
Skill level: easy
Makes: 1 two-layer cake

Ingredients: Double the recipe for the large tray bake variation below
125 g butter, softened
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
3 extra-large eggs
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla essence
560 ml (2¼ cups) cake flour
12 ml (2¼ tsp) baking powder
1 ml (pinch) salt
150 ml milk

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease 2 round 20 cm cake pans. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until light and creamy. Add essence.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add dry ingredients, alternately with milk, to egg mixture.
  3. Spoon mixture into the prepared pans and bake for about 25 minutes. Leave in pans for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

-Oil cake: Substitute butter with cooking oil.
-Large tray bake cake: Double the recipe. Bake mixture in an oven pan of about 24 x 34 cm for 35 – 40 minutes.
-Chocolate cake: Mix 60 ml (¼ cup) cocoa powder with 60 ml (¼ cup) warm water and add to the cake batter.

dsc_0048.jpg BUTTER ICING
(Multiply the recipe according to the quantity required)
100g soft butter, cubed
300g sieved icing sugar
2.5 Tablespoons milk
lemon juice to taste

  1. Beat together butter and icing sugar until soft.
  2. Beat in the milk and lemon juice. Add colouring.
    Tip: buy cake decorations and ingredients, including bottled red, yellow and blue gel food colouring, Spiderman cupcake icing faces, and catering packs of smarties (sort them into red, yellow and blue colours) at CAB Foods.

dsc_0063.jpg Superman S design
I photocopied the S emblem from a T-shirt, enlarged it to size, and cut out inside the letters to create an icing template. I was surprised I managed to pipe in the yellow and red design using a fine icing nozzle. The blue surrounding icing was easily spread with a knife. Extra smarties stuck on the board with piped white icing blobs. We don’t do plastic icing, so it’s never on the cake itself. But Superman needs a red cape …

Also see Daniel’s 4th birthday Peter Pan cake

Find the original beer box recipe here at Daniel’s 2nd birthday red bus cake

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five best teatime patisseries

Tracy-Leigh Genricks at Four & Twenty
Bread & Butter. Stephen and Eileen Cross’s passion for baking (all self-taught) put a suburban tea room on the map. Their tea lover’s menu includes a loose tea selection, while a display table is filled with Amarula carrot cake to daintily decorated lemon meringue cupcakes with curd centres on cupcake bases. Five types of cheesecake include Oreo, red velvet and caramel chocolate. They’re also known for Banting sweet treats. Sandown Road, Sunningdale. 021-554-5817.
Main Road, Paarl. 021-863-0672, Bread & Butter

Four & Twenty Café. Silwood-trained Tracy-Leigh Genricks’s display of hand-crafted pastries, biscuits, tarts and cakes are innovative, delicious and a treat to look at. Staples include scones, cheesecake, and fruit-filled tartlets – always with a new flavour, topping or twist. Try decadent chocolate ganache cupcakes to meringue, lime and strawberry pies.
Wolfe Street, Wynberg. 021-762-0975, Four & Twenty (Reopens on 20 July 2015)

Sweet treats from The Birdcage

La Belle Bakery. A cosy interior and terrace is a popular option in this leafy neighbourhood where Ronnefeldt teas are served. Tag on a meander down the adjacent Alphen Trail afterwards. A pastry chef’s display entices with lemon bars to baked cheesecake, rocky road squares or coconut and pineapple mini carrot cakes. The Alphen hotel, Constantia. 021-795-6336.

M Patisserie. Self-trained and extremely talented, Martjie Malan sets the standard in Cape French-style patisserie. This Koekedoor TV show finalist epitomises baking precision and perfection. She’s the queen of macarons, sweet or savoury eclairs, and madeleines made the classic way. Visit her venue to enjoy exquisite cakes with Nigiro’s loose-leaf teas. Andringa Street, Stellenbosch. 021-886-5020.

La Belle's display includes rocky road squares and brownies
The Birdcage. Institute of Culinary Arts-trained baker Beate Strydom says red velvet cupcakes put this tearoom on the map, but she prefers making more interesting, newer creations including brown sugar cupcakes with butterscotch centres. The people’s favourite, this tea room offers Dilmar teas, custard and chocolate bars, cheesecakes (always baked), and even nougat studded with Jelly Tots.
Plein Street, Stellenbosch. 021-882-9790. The Birdcage

A version of this appeared in The Times on 7 July 2015

REVIEW: Loaves on Long is satisfying a knead

loaves.jpg Cape Town’s restaurant-clogged centre is still luring new converts. Loaves on Long opened their artisan bakery café recently in a double-volume building linked by charmingly uneven stairs. It’s diagonally opposite The Grand Daddy hotel and surprisingly easy to miss, yet is attracting regulars.

Chefs Ciska Rossouw and Lyndal Wakeford operate their joint business on passion and a shoestring budget. The upstairs level has basic pine tables and white banquettes, but in good weather balcony seats provide a bustling city snapshot.

Downstairs the counter is only replenished with fresh bakes once the rest have sold. That meant only gluten-free brownies – more chocolate-coconut cake than brownie-chewiness – were available for dessert when I went for lunch.

Roussouw made her name at The Bakery at Jordan, producing baked goods and country meals from quality ingredients. The Loaves on Long philosophy is similar, but there’s more food to go.

Foraged Newlands mushroom soup with a crunchy goat's cheese surprise

Eggs and meat are free-range; some cured into bresaola or salami for gourmet sandwiches (pork belly with apple is good). Roussouw is often visible kneading her signature rye that encloses a whole pear, or shaping croissants (they’re puffily crisp).

loaves3.jpg Wakeford primarily runs the café with its tiny rotating menu. We didn’t fancy roasted vegetables with grilled halloumi, or the popular burger on a homemade bun.

So tomato-based fish curry with prawns, hake and potato tasted homely, but its bread-dough ‘vetkoek’ seemed heavy. Homemade tagliatelle wasn’t rolled thin enough to lift the partnering cream sauce, duck and wilted spinach. Thanks to a staff shortage, lunch was also slow.

But an inspired mushroom soup eased all those shortcomings. Pine rings and Boletus foraged in Newlands, merged creamy-earthy goodness and sautéed slices. With goat’s cheese croquettes, perfection.

Loaves on Long’s winter dishes are flavourful but hearty; starchy vegetables or bread items feature often. Next time I’ll know to order only one course.

What to eat If available on the small menu, don’t miss the foraged mushroom soup with goat’s cheese croquettes.

When to go early morning for pastries and muffins, or breakfast on the run. At midday for a weekday lunch.

Who to take Catch up with a friend, or have a casual lunch meeting with a colleague.

loavescounter.jpg What not to do expect tons of staff input. A split-level space and limited floor staff means an element of self-service may apply when you eat in.

What to drink They’re waiting for a liquor licence, so soft drinks, coffee or leaf teas are the current options.

Whatever you do don’t forget to take home fresh loaves made from stoneground flour. The ciabatta is still good the next day.

How much? Croissants and mini cakes R18 to R25; gourmet sandwiches R45; breakfast dishes R45 to R55; lunch dishes R65 to R85.

The verdict A modest bakery and café offering hearty fare.

LOAVES ON LONG, 33 Long Street, Cape Town. 021-422-3353. Open weekdays 6.30am to 6pm, Saturday 8am to 4pm.

REVIEW: Open doors at Constantia’s original Spaanschemat restaurant

Roasted pumpkin, curried fritters, seed crumble, buttermilk labne and fried ginger
There’s a new place where people eat in rural Constantia. Open Door restaurant is modern enough so its central Art Deco bar doesn’t seem at odds near the chef’s table in view of open kitchen activity.

But the remodelled River Café space is sufficiently time-worn with repurposed beams in ceiling alcoves, and old brass handles, numbers and hooks now forming decorative detail on smoky-grey walls. Most were building originals.

Staff wearing dapper uniforms offered a café menu, or – what we tried – lunch and dinner options. Sommelier co-owner Neil Grant’s wine bottles zigzagged inside a glass display fitting 1000 labels. We ordered easy-drinking Fist of Fancy Pinot Noir (R160).

If you have one dish from executive chef Annemarie Steenkamp, make it the nifty vegetarian starter. Soft pumpkin puree under spiced seeds, a buttermilk labne blob; zestiness from crisp-fried root ginger; herb oil. The fun came in dipping curried fritter squiggles into it all.

Vegetables also featured creatively in pan-roasted kabeljou, its crisp skin topped with charred turnip slivers, on peas and sweetcorn kernels. A leeky, light velouté tasted of poached oyster salinity.

Pan-roasted kabeljou under roasted turnip slivers, oyster velouté, sweetcorn and peas

A fireside table showed off stately trees through a former schoolroom’s sash windows. Wintry moodiness in a chunk of venison loin; orange sweet potato kept interest; cranberry jus and puy lentils affirming earthiness.

By the time desserts were sent, we were hooked. I’d probably skip on walnut and banana loaf again, although its banana sorbet and blowtorched banana balls were fun.

But I loved the guava pudding. Freshness of aniseed panna cotta on a guava and fennel compote. Simplicity, poached guava and homely almond crumbs on top.

Steenkamp and Grant stamped buzzy Burrata and Bocca on Cape Town’s culinary map. Open Door’s experience is different. More polished, like many of its customers. But reliant on cleverly crafted combinations that wow if given a chance.

openfire.jpg What to eat There’s a lunchtime café menu (kale chicken Caesar to beef burgers). Or creative options on a small lunch or dinner a la carte menu.

When to go Take in the space over a drink at the bar, followed by dinner. Or lunchtime is lovely near the fire.

Who to take Enjoy with a romantic partner, impress your visiting in-laws or host a business lunch.

What not to do Offer the management advice about how everything was before. It’s a new concept in an historic venue – relax into the experience.

Aniseed panna cotta on guava and fennel compote, topped with poached guava and almond crumbs
What to drink Wine – sommelier Neil Grant’s vast but approachable list has something for everyone, by bottle or glass.

Whatever you do make sure you return later in the year, once their breakfasts on the deck are in operation.

How much? A la carte starters R62 to R89; mains R98 to R172; desserts R42 to R62.

The verdict A pricier yet quality food and wine experience.

OPEN DOOR, Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia. Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner; Sunday lunch. 021-794-3010, Open Door

A version of this review appeared in The Times on 17 June 2015

Also see Q&A with Annemarie Steenkamp

REVIEW: Bistro 13’s winter menus, and sporting connections

dsc_0010.jpg There’s no cricket paraphernalia or framed Protea shirts on Bistro 13’s smoke-grey walls. The countryside restaurant interior is uncluttered: lithe wooden tables on cement floors, a few floating shelves; light streaming in large aluminium windows. Diners watch busy chefs through a kitchen hatch.

Proteas cricketer Faf du Plessis owns Bistro 13 with chef Nic van Wyk. Word is that Van Wyk’s brother is a sports agent, and the Indian Premier Leaguer was looking to invest in a project. The restaurant opened on Welmoed Estate in September 2014. Du Plessis enjoys cooking in his spare time, but his sports commitments prevent any hands-on input.

My weekday lunch with a winemaker friend from a nearby cellar started with very good breads, all baked inhouse.
Pointing out industry faces at two other tables, the winemaker happily selected off the small menu, but declared no interest in sport. We sipped Credo Chenin Blanc, modestly marked up from the adjacent Stellenbosch Vineyards tasting room. You’ll find more innovative Cape labels on the wine list too.

dsc_0007.jpg The calamari and potato crisps with red pepper, tomato and squid ink sauce, came recommended. Instead we enjoyed three perky smoked salmon croquettes, alongside lemony crème fraiche, rocket, delicately pickled fennel slivers and pomegranate pips. A light and fresh start.

Ordinarily I find springrolls to be crunch with no inner substance, but Bistro 13’s fine lamb shoulder filling caused a rethink. The clincher was dipping in mild curry cream, with a dab of sweet plum chutney. Sauces are good here.

A main course of vegetarian risotto was a weak point. On face value all homely and autumnal, pumpkin pieces and crispy sage leaves in burnt butter over al dente risotto. But after a few forkfuls, squash and melted gruyere cheese heaviness.

For those unfamiliar, Van Wyk trained at La Colombe, partnered Michael Broughton at Terroir, and worked at Barnyard Brasserie previously. He only serves sustainably caught linefish – I’ve known him to delete fish from the menu when a supplier couldn’t source it.

We were in luck with sustainable yellowtail. Easily overcooked, this panfried piece was moist, floating on a beurre blanc sauce that cleverly balanced its harissa spice. I loved the fried-to-crispy chickpeas and roasted cauliflower, aubergine baba ganoush blobs adding grunt.

The restaurant was emptying by the time dessert arrived, service still efficiently friendly. A shared warm chocolate pudding oozed sweetly like a fondant, but for me lacked bittersweet intensity. Accompanying peanut butter caramel was rich in a wintry custardy way, dotted with shards of peanut brittle.

Bistro 13 serves tasty bistro food that’s interesting and skilled but not ridiculously fussy. It’s why families and business people return. A fireplace kept things cosy inside, but I’ve eaten on the sunny deck during lazy Sundays when young kids from surrounding tables mucked in on an impromptu soccer scramble on the lawns. I wouldn’t rule out a mini cricket match.

Starters: R65 to R70. Mains: R120 to R150. Desserts: R40 to R65.

Feed Me Experience Any two starters, two mains and one dessert, in half portions. Winter special of R225 per person, valid until 31 August 2015. Lunch or dinner excluding Sundays.

BISTRO 13, Stellenbosch. Welmoed Estate, Baden Powell Drive, Stellenbosch. Lunch Tuesday to Sunday; dinner Wednesday to Saturday. 021-881-3044, Bistro 13

A version of this review appeared in The Sunday Times on 14 June 2015.

WINE: Cape Town’s five of the best Shiraz


Two recent competitions put Shiraz, or Syrah, in the spotlight:

Boschkloof Syrah 2013 from Stellenbosch may have only been a Shiraz SA Wine Challenge finalist in 2015, but at R155 it’s my go-to wine for a classic Stellenbosch Syrah that finishes dry. This Syrah’s 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages were previous Challenge winners. Reenen Borman barrel-matures the wine for 14 months, using 10% new oak.

boschkloof_syrah.jpg Driehoek Shiraz 2012 If you want to try something different, it doesn’t get more remote than Shiraz vines growing at over 1000-metre altitude on the oldest farm in the Cederberg. Neighbour David Nieuwoudt makes this fruity, spicy-prune Shiraz SA Wine Challenge winner, R175. Nieuwoudt’s elegant Cederberg Shiraz is also one of the 12 winning wines this year.

Eagles’ Nest 2012 My most exciting Shiraz Challenge winners in 2015 were wines grown at higher altitude, where grapes can hang longer without becoming overripe. Full of dark berry richness, this elegant wine is grown on an incline below Constantia Nek. My special-occasion choice at R225.

en_shiraz.jpg Fleur du Cap Bergkelder Selection Shiraz 2013 is from predominantly cool vineyards in the Cape Agulhas area. At the 2015 Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show competition, this wine won trophies for Best Shiraz and Best Red Wine Overall. At R79 it’s a no-brainer. Shiraz is on the up in South Africa, with more vines being planted than pulled out. The Bergkelder, 021-809-8025.

Strandveld First Sighting Shiraz 2012 wears the best-value price tag of the 12 Shiraz SA Wine Challenge winners in 2015. At R75, a juicy mouthful of Elim flavour shines through, thanks to only 20 to 30% new oak. This ‘less is more’ approach to oak is catching on. It’s also half the price of the winery’s flagship Strandveld Syrah.

Attend the annual Shiraz Showcase on 18 June 2015 (6pm to 9pm) at Cape Town International Convention Centre. Find some of South Africa’s best Shiraz labels and Shiraz blends, including the 12 winners of the 2015 Shiraz SA Wine Challenge. Contact Sandra Lotz at 082-924-7254. Tickets R120 webtickets

A version of this appeared in The Times on 3 June 2015

FOODSTUFF: Bree Street brings home the bacon

bacononbreesign.jpg In case you haven’t noticed, real bacon is back. Not the brine-injected, bland supermarket stuff, but naturally-reared pig bacon from the belly or loin, dry-salted and hung so that when you put slices in a pan they quickly crisp up.

You can buy charcutier Richard Bosman’s coppa, bresaola and other cured meats in Spar and fancy delis. But when eating breakfast out, local cafes and restaurants that serve non-commercial bacon are harder to pinpoint. Bacon on Bree is Bosman’s ode to superior bacon in an urban restaurant.

Bacon on Bree's Smokey Joe: house sourdough, crispy bacon, cheese.
Opened in partnership with wife Justine Seymour in mid April, it’s a daytime bacon bar offering a tiny menu: five bacon sandwiches or croissants arrive on pig board cut-outs. Bacon is partnered with homemade Asian-inspired salty sauces, salad or cheese.

The Harvey Specter flies, with crisp bacon, Brie, tomato and pesto crammed into a ciabatta. The Smokey Joe house sourdough (shaped as a government loaf) simply pairs bacon and cheese. Dusted with smoked paprika, it’s a winner.

bacononbreeinterior.jpg Sandwiches aside, there’s bacon and blue cheese salad, bacon-flavoured sauce over chicken wings, and home-cured salmon. You can order Kamili coffee or juice. Occasional menu specials appear on the chalkboard: look out for bacon and mushroom soup, or a spicy bacon-and-pork-patty burger …

In demand are Bosman’s vacuum-packed bacon products to go. Priced from R40 to R45, at least five types of pig are sliced under the guise of cured meat. There’s smoked, streaky, nicely marbled neck, or fattier cheek guanciale strips. Bacon cured with honey (best with breakfast pancakes), competes with herb-and-spiced pancetta or lightly smoked lardons.

Unusual wild boar is available as belly pancetta, or in pinker boar bacon loin strips. You can take away crackling ‘chips’, jars of bacon dust or packs of mixed nuts partnering crispy lardons. In short, it’s bacon or bust.

BACON ON BREE, 217 Bree Street, Cape Town. Open Monday to Friday 7am to 4pm; Saturday 8am to 2pm. 021-422-2798, Bacon on Bree

A version of this appeared in The Times on 3 June 2015.

REVIEW: Riverway Cafe a little bit of all sorts

riverway_cafe.jpg Hout Bay locals are familiar with Spiro’s and Ragafellows restaurants, operated by Spiro Ragavelas, his brother, and Spiro’s wife Julie. Riverway Café is Julie Ragavelas’ personal venture, with feminine décor showing in vintage plates decorating walls, old-fashioned cabinets and scarves draped over wrought-iron chairs.

The café’s location is one of its best assets, outside a shopping centre on the Baviaanskloof River embankment planted with greenery. Glass walls and a terrace let in spirit-lifting sunlight.

The menu offers all sorts: breakfasts, substantial salads and even high tea. But I found it lacking in starter-type dishes for nibbling on during a lazy lunch. Pulled pork jalapeno bacon poppers didn’t entice. Mushroom and Brie soup did, but wasn’t very shareable.

We settled on a salt and pepper squid main dish between two. Calamari rings and tentacles, plus tempura vegetables, were tasty but oily, suggesting a kitchen not understanding batter-friendly temperatures. A vinegar overdose made the accompanying Asian dipping sauce inedible.


There were no complaints from the child at our table, who was delighted to have a spice-free squid half portion, after a request to the management. But then children enjoy most things arriving with fries and tomato sauce, and Viennas were the only protein alternative on the children’s menu.

For adults, a grilled citrus tuna steak was topped with sliced avocado, on wilted spinach. Its soy and coriander leaf fish marinade was garlicky, but made for a tasty combination with sweet, zesty lemon curd.

Baked cheesecake and chocolate cake from the display were homemade and sweet; coffees perkily strong. But the dish we’ll remember was the bunny chow. This was Durban street food lifted to café-style glamour: a soft loaf replaced government issue bread, whole spices infusing a chicken and potato curry inside to just beyond Cape Malay heat.

riverway_c1.jpg What to eat Soup options change from time to time. The rest is usually on the printed menu.

When to go glass-walled, it offers cheerful daytime terrace tables and winter sun well into the afternoon.

Who to take family for all-day breakfast or lunch; girlfriends and aunts for tea and scones.

What not to do expect waitstaff with menu knowledge.

What to drink Bring your wine corkage-free while they wait for a liquor licence.

Whatever you do don’t ignore this if you’re worn out by soulless shopping centre eateries.

How much?
Breakfasts average at R55 to R75; kids’ lunches R25 to R45; adult mains R65 to R95; salads R65 and cakes R35.

The verdict honest but not exceptional food.

THE RIVERWAY CAFE, Midpoint Centre, Mainstream Way, Hout Bay. 021-791-0565. Open weekdays 8am to 5pm, Sat 8am to 4pm; Sun 9am to 3pm.

A version of this appeared in The Times on 27 May 2015.

REVIEW: Homespun in Table View has promise

homespun_tataki.jpg Homespun’s owner Matt Schreuder worked in Zurich for five years, making cocktails and managing travelling pop-up restaurant Pret a Diner, where big-name chefs make guest stints. Back in Cape Town, he opened Homespun restaurant near Table View’s beachside strip this February.

Schreuder is obviously a gambling man. Homespun is in the frenetic heart of fluorescent-lit franchise restaurant grimness, yet its slate plates lean ambitiously towards finer dining.

Seated with a one-page menu, dim lighting and deep house beats, the puzzling décor combined beach-house-style beams and wicker chairs with oversized candelabras, velour drapes and booths reminiscent of supper club shows.

We took along wine, but some laidback Western Seaboarders tucked into inexpensive bottles for cash donations (they’re waiting for a liquor licence).

homespun_decor.jpg We found out later that chef Ryan Mollentze is only 24. Unfortunately his inexperience showed on some plates. Fiddlier food is about ensuring you’ve developed an idea, while not forcing too many elements. So pork belly was good: crispy crackling atop tender meat, if a little safe with its Sunday roast and apple puree vibe.

A bland fishy main was poorly cooked and stood apart from its seaweed-like herb crust. Spinach with garlicky basil cream aside, it was a disservice to sustainable hake. I’ve heard it’s now off the menu – a mussel, calamari and fish seafood selection replaced it.

There were moments of promise: a pulled lamb main had super-creamy, umami cauliflower puree. While in the beef tataki, bright flavours, crumbed balls of rare beef, and a clever spin on onion in creams and rings, demanded attention as a diner.

Desserts finished well with mousse-like bittersweet chocolate torte partnering not-too-sweet chocolaty custards and smears. Baked honey cheesecake was excellently creamy, but didn’t need its multiple sweet and nutty extras.

Yes, Homespun is on its way. Folks out that side are lapping it up.


What to eat Beef tataki is delicious, and fillet medallions on a potato stack looked good for next time.

When to go Dinner is the only option. In summer there are two evening sittings.

Who to take A group of four is ideal. Only a few tables work well for couples.

What not to do Order fish if it’s topped with a herb crust. Rather try something else.

What to drink Bring your own wine. Other drinks and bottled water are sipped from jam jars.

Whatever you do Save space for dessert. They’re rather good.

How much? Starters are about R55; mains average at about R130; desserts shouldn’t cost over R50.

The verdict A promising culinary step-up for the Western seaboard.

HOMESPUN, Porterfield Road, Table View. Open Monday to Sat for dinner. Tel 021-556-2824.

A version of this review appeared in The Times on 20 May 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best waffles

The Creamery's apple crumble ice-cream (May's flavour) on a waffle with salted caramel sauce
Belgische Wafels. has five waffle machines on the go, crisping egg white batter into fluffy Brussels waffle rectangles, starting at R35. At the Belgische market only, you’ll find the ‘volkswafel’ topped with beef in Trappist beer, R60. Henrij Twigge offers less waffle toppings at his daily Yummyness stand. Try the signature waffle with spekulaas spread, cream or ice-cream (R40). Or top with Nutella, caramel or chocolate sauce. Also find pre-baked round Liege waffles (from R35) and Dutch stroopwaffels (R10). For the Love of Yummyness, V&A Market on the Wharf. Open daily from 10am to 6pm. Belgische Wafels, Neighbourgoods Market on Saturdays. 021-552-8381.

Lefty’s Dive Bar. No waffle round up would be complete without Lefty’s Kentucky chicken waffle, R75. A stack of beer-based Belgian waffle quarters is topped with crispy bacon, and buttermilk-marinated, deep-fried chicken breasts. With its maple syrup drizzle, it’s surprisingly satisfying, but very sweet. Open Mondays from 4pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11am. 103 Harrington Street. Tel 021-461-0407.

Tashas Waffle House. Part ice-cream parlour, part waffle house, order signature waffles or make your own here. Select plain, choc-chip or red velvet round waffles (R16 to R24), and top with assorted syrups and ice-creams, and from jars of colourful toppings (Smarties, Oreos, almonds and wafers to fresh fruit). The four signature waffles cost R85: there’s banana mania, red velvet cheesecake, lemon meringue or apple crumble. The popular red velvet cheesecake tops a red waffle with cream cheese, shortbread biscuits, mixed berries, two scoops of strawberry sorbet and strawberry coulis. Sun to Wed 10am – 9pm. Thurs to Sat 9am to 10pm. Constantia Village. 021-794-5449.

Belgian waffle with caramel sauce and ice-cream at For the Love of Yummyness
The Creamery. Like their glorious ice-creams and sauces, these rectangular, biscuit-like malted waffles are handmade from real ingredients. Waffles cost R42 with a single scoop of any ice-cream flavour, or R60 with a double. Sauces and toppings (R5 to R12) include chocolate, sea salt caramel, lime curd or blowtorched banana halves, to toasted almonds or coconut or marshmallow. Mon to Thurs 12pm to 6pm; Fri and Sat 10am – 11pm. Durham Ave, Salt River. 021-447-7690.
Dean Street, Newlands. 021-686-3975. The Creamery

The Wicked Waffle. Gino Adriaensen says there are many Belgian waffle recipes, but his uses egg whites and traditional potato flour to make the waffles light and crispy. Rectangular and made to order, they’re dusted with icing sugar for R22. Honey, Nutella and fruit costs extra. Bay Harbour Market, The Range Market in Tokai, and Lourensford Market. Wicked Waffle

A version of this appeared in The Times on 20 May 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best online organic greens

Think Organic offers two bags or build your own
Ethical Co-op. Operating since 2005, minimal packaging, smaller local farmers and support of fair working conditions where possible. Order fresh produce, dairy and even dried goods. A good selection of fruit, vegetables and herbs starts at R115 (a small salad box or small Banting box) to R170 (a family mixed box or family Banting box). You’ll find organic dairy, eggs, breads, honey and more. Order on Sunday (northern suburbs) for collection every Wednesday, or order Tuesday (southern suburbs) for collection on Thursday. Door to door, or from more than 30 collection points including Durbanville, Paarl, Muizenberg and Melkbosstrand. Ethical Co-op

Harvest of Hope. They’re a project of Abalimi NGO, who supports trained micro-farmers in Nyanga and Khayelitsha. Shoppers commit a month in advance for weekly Tuesday collections. Operating since 2008, Harvest of Hope shoppers commit a month in advance for weekly collections every Tuesday. Order a small bag (eight organically grown vegetables including one herb, a leafy green and a rotation of seasonal items) at R99 or a bigger bag (bigger quantities) at R133. Occasional extra additions include eggs or fruit. Primarily southern suburbs and some CBD points. Harvest of Hope

The Green Road is a not-for-profit organisation sourcing organic or free-range produce from small farmers near their Stellenbosch Waldorf School base. The shopper bag is popular: your organic product choices to a R100 minimum value. There’s also a weekly bag (six vegetables and a herb) at R95; a small bag (three vegetables and a fruit) for R70; a fruit bag (four fruit) for R90; a meat bag (1.5kg chicken and 500g mince) for R125; and a dairy bag (12 eggs & 250g cheese) for R90. Order by Tuesday; collect on Thursday at collection points in Stellenbosch, Somerset West and Strand. Deliveries for a fee. Green Road

Apricots from Tierhoek farm destined for Wild Organics bags
Think Organic. ‘Most users build their own bags from scratch,’ says Jamie Veldman, ‘but some say the pre-packed bag is like having a lucky packet. This online business operates from their Kenilworth shop. Place orders by Saturday; collect every Wednesday. Pick-up zones include the northern and southern suburbs and Western Seaboard (that’s Milnerton, Welgemoed and Woodstock to Kalk Bay). There’s a budget organic fruit and veg bag at R105; a family pack at R155. There’s also frozen grassfed beef and free-range poultry, dairy and eggs from the online shopping list. 083-423-6931 or Think Organic

Wild Organics. Subject to seasonality and regionality, check the website for the weekly contents of their brown bags. Order by Saturday; collect organic produce on Wednesday. It’s sourced from a variety of farmers. Try the Wild mini bag (eight to nine veggie and fruit items) at R110; standard bag (11 to 12 items) at R160; or made-to-order bag with a R200 minimum value. Flexible ordering and Peninsula-wide collection points. Other items available too. A flexible ordering system allows stopping and starting. Wild Organics

This one delivers to only the immediate area so wasn’t in my list of five, but if you live in the CBD you may be interested:
Zetler Pharmacy. A collection point from Naturally Organic in Phillipi. Organic grower Skye Fehlmann delivers a produce bag for a small group every Thursday. A brown bag of 10 to 12 items could include carrots, green onions, green beans, Swiss chard, patty pans, parsley, apples, sweetcorn and turnips, for R130. Six free-range eggs cost an additional R18. Gardens, 021-465-4217.

A version of this appeared in The Times on 22 April 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best supper collection spots

The Flying Pan's spaghetti with meatballs, spicy tomato sauce and fresh basil

Move over Woolworths. These cafes and caterers send out menus, and prepare creative, fresh supper portions on weekdays. Most expect cash payments when you collect (a few do deliveries), and some even accept same-day orders.

Chardonnay Deli. Place same-day regular or vegetarian orders before 10am, and collect by 5.45pm. Expect lamb pie and salad, bangers and herb mash with relish, or butternut and black bean curry with quinoa. From R60 per portion, free-range meats and quality ingredients are used creatively. Extra veggies or salads cost R35 per person. Or select from their similar selection of supper meals in-store for R60. Main Road, Constantia. 021-795-0606, Chardonnay Deli.

Dish Food & Social’s Gourmet Garage Monday to Friday supper service accepts same-day orders by 10.30am, for collections between 5pm and 7pm from an Oranjezicht home (from R75 per portion). Or sign up by 10am for their winter Tuesday Special (pot pies with veg, or butter chicken with rotis) for four, at a feel-good price. Collect Tuesday Specials only at Liquorice & Lime cafe in Higgovale. Deliveries possible. 021-447-0323, Gourmet Garage menu.

Dish's winter Tuesday Special butter chicken
Food of grace. Anleroux van Schalkwyk cooks and delivers good-value, no-frills meals in glass bowls (they are returned) within a 10-kilometre radius of her Stellenridge home, near Tyger Valley. She produces bobotie to bacon and mushroom pasta bakes. Sign up for three to five weekdays; it’s cheaper for bigger families. From R280 per couple or R620 for a family of six, for a three-day week. 021-919-3043, Food of grace.

My Basaar. Bernice van der Merwe’s cafe offers a ‘take-out dinner Tuesday’ butter chicken, basmati and tzatziki service for R65 per portion (order by 12pm; collect between 4 and 6pm). On other weekdays, order the day before for prebaked chicken or venison pies, or chicken or beef lasagne feeding two to six, at R55 to R65 per portion. Collect by 4pm. 16 Loop Street, Cape Town. 021-421-6391, My Basaar.

The Flying Pan. Chef Mathew Hoepner cooks and delivers on Monday to Friday, from Westlake and southern suburbs to the city bowl. Order by 12pm the day before. From R55 or R65 (regular or low-carb) per portion, including delivery. Expect healthy meals with made-from-scratch sauces such as spaghetti puttanesca (carrot and pumpkin is the low-carb alternative) and beef vindaloo with basmati (cauli rice is the low-carb alternative). Ensure somebody is available to receive office or home deliveries as they don’t commit to specific delivery times. 081-385-5589, The Flying Pan.

A version of this appeared in The Times on 13 May 2015.

REVIEW: Culture Club Cheese: yellow and rather mellow

Kale Caesar salad with chicken and yoghurt dressing
New Culture Club Cheese is hard to miss with its bright yellow paint splashed over a characterful building, and yellow hairpin legs under repurposed wood tables on a Bree Street pavement. Inside, a faux wheel of Parmigiano forms an eye-catching light, but the star attraction is a fridge filled with local artisanal boerenkaas and buffalo mozzarella, to French Morbier, Comté and Camembert de Normandie.

Nottinghamshire-trained cheesemaker Luke Williams worked briefly for Fairview, but you won’t find his own cheese on sale yet. Trading in partnership with wife Jessica, he’s focused on fermenting gut-healthy products (sauerkraut to ginger and carrot gut shots, and kefir drinks mixed with berries) for now.

One week in, various cheese sandwiches formed about a third of the single-page breakfast and lunch menu. There was a tendency towards unpasteurised cheese and natural, free-range charcuterie, poultry or meat.

cheese_building.jpg Quality and flavours are good at Culture Club Cheese, but portions are on the small side. A sourdough toastie made a good shared snack, sandwiching melted Myst Hill cheddar with walnuts, caramelised onion and apple butter in a nuttily satisfying ending.

A delightful plate of lentils merged mellow curry spice with crunchy garlic and onion under a vibrant tomato sauce, but topping it with only one halved Toulouse-style Cederberg pork sausage seemed stingy.

Worth having is the excellent Caesar salad, where kale leaves replace the classic cos. Satisfyingly different with a perfectly poached egg, walnuts, optional chicken breast pieces and croutons, under Myst Hill yoghurt whipped into a creamy, anchovy-salted emulsion.

Myst Hill cheddar, walnut, caramelised onion and apple butter toastie
Waiters never offered our table any sweet treats, but the menu is sugar-free, with coconut sugar or stevia substitutes used in cheesecake or gluten-free biscuits. ‘We’re very organic in how we’re developing, and we’d rather take longer and do it right,’ said Williams afterwards. Still to come are cheese boards, Welsh rarebit and croque monsieur.

What to eat Cheese sandwiches or toasties on quality sourdough. A kale Caesar salad is unusual but good.

When to go Pavement tables create sunny breakfast or lunchtime spots to catch up with chatty friends.

Who to take cheese-lovers and others keen on flavourful savoury dishes and sugar-free indulgences.

What not to do Get impatient about service. They’re new. Friendly staff need time to settle in.

What to drink Juice, Deluxe coffee or tangy, gut-healthy milk-fermented kefir drinks blitzed with fruit. There’s no liquor licence yet.

Whatever you do don’t forget to buy cheese: a washed rind or pressed goat’s curd perhaps, with a homemade fruity membrillo paste.

How much? Toasties and sandwiches from R55; risotto and salads from R45 to R75; banting breakfast or sausage and lentil lunch at R70.

The verdict An incomplete but promising menu, and great cheese to go.

CULTURE CLUB CHEESE, 215 Bree Street, Cape Town. Open Tuesday to Friday 8am to 5pm; Saturday 9am to 4pm. 072-428-9572.

A version of this review appeared in The Times on 13 May 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best homemade pie places

Great value and moist yet not runny fillings at The Foodbarn Deli
Comfort food if ever there was. A good pie starts with homemade pastry and finishes with chunky fillings. These are all individual pies. Ask about take-home-to-bake versions too.

Jason. Called kickass pies, they rule inner city gourmet pie territory. Enclosed in boiled all-butter pastry, there is one flavour daily, with pies starting from R40. Exotic fillings include apricot, lamb and toasted almond; mushroom and Emmenthal; osso bucco; duck and cherry, or lobster mac and cheese. They’ve even made a luxe wagyu beef, truffle, potato and shitake mushroom pie. Bree Street, Cape Town. 021-876-4788.

Martins Bakery. Hidden in suburbia since 1983, John Martin’s tasty pies use homemade flaky or shortcrust pastry. The flaky chicken and mushroom pie skimps on mushrooms but is big on herby chicken, while mild peri-peri chicken trumps the steak pie with floury gravy. There are other flavours too, from R20 to R30. Main Road, Diep River. 021-712-8555.

Pasticcio's pork belly in aspic pies
Ou Meul Bakkery. Baked with flaky pastry to the famous Riviersonderend pie recipe, nine fillings change daily. ‘They taste good because they’re made with love,’ says chef Jaco Bothma. Sought-after beef bourguignon was sold out, but excellent, meaty pepper steak offered mild peppery bite. Plain chicken was better than the breyani-style chicken with coriander. Willowbridge Centre, Bellville. 021-914-0540.

Pasticcio Gourmet Bakery. Pasticcio is an Italian description for a pie or pastry. Anthony Benvenuto started making curry-filled pies in the UK. Returned to do the same in South Africa, his wife suggested he move out of their kitchen. His local bakery shop opened this year, offering five curry pies (try the lamb and veg curry), using homemade shortcrust and his butcher neighbour Ryan Boon’s free-range, grassfed meats. Pork belly pies are made the English way with aspic. Biltong and mozzarella is unusual, while chicken, leek and bacon is a customer favourite. Benvenuto makes vegan and other pies to order too – a stout and steak pie using Darling craft beer is a special I’ve tried and really liked. Hefty standard pies cost R21 to R28, but there’s also mini (100g) R5, medium (170g) at R14. Old Rembrandt Mall, Central Paarl. 021-200-1807.


The Foodbarn Deli. Offering great value at only R18.50, light, homemade puff pastry pies enclose meaty, moist yet not runny fillings. The chicken and mushroom could do with more seasoning, but spicy Moroccan lamb is a treat, as is Coq au vin with its strong wine flavour. Check the board – pork and red wine, pepper steak and vegetable pies are other possibilities here. Noordhoek Farm Village, Noordhoek. 021-789-1390.

Late addition: Butcher Hennie also makes a take-home-to-bake venison pie at Cape Venison Butchery in Welgelegen. Two sizes on offer: a pie serving two (R50) or four (R90). The puff pastry isn’t homemade but Hennie cooks the gamey filling himself. Call ahead as the pies are usually available every Wednesday. 021-558-9005.
A version of this appeared in The Times on 6 May 2015.

REVIEW: IYO’s burgers that give back

iyo_decor.jpg ‘We’re good on the inside because of what we put in from the outside,’ explained the menu at Inside & You’re Out. Much thought went into IYO burgers and the environment in which they’re served. The plus is diners will find things to like even if they’re not beef and bun fans.

The space is cheerful with recycled orange tins holding cutlery and sides, forest stewardship council-approved pine tables, and food served on recycled wine barrels. Herbs in planters form part of your table. You’re handed a pencil and tick list, to place your counter order.

Entrepreneur Jonah Lewis says minimising food wastage, knowing the source of food (all free-range or grass-fed meat, and some veggies are organic), operating ethically and sourcing locally is important to him. IYO implements these principles and can tell you how. Chef Jean-Marc Lenferna uses his fine dining background to put it on a plate.

Fortunately excellent burgers do their bit. The Better BLT: free-range, grass-fed beef tucked around a Boerenkaas cheese centre. Bouncy sesame buns, homemade bacon and onion jam, lettuce and garlic mayo. An unripe, crumbed tomato slice on top disappointed, but otherwise it was umami all the way. Flour-dusted curly fries were good; hand-peeled sweet potato chips were awesome.

iyo_planter.jpg The Umami burger took an Asian bent, tasting more sweet than salty with hoisin sauce and a pickled cabbage vinegarish sting. A pulled pork patty and creative ostrich version are alternatives. There’s goats’ cheese, bean and beetroot for vegetarians, or a lentil sweet potato patty for vegans – women at the next table had theirs with salad and sprouts instead of a bun.

I went healthier with a spiralized Asian salad, tangily raw sweet potato and carrot lengths in a peanut satay sauce. A beetroot-based red juice was refreshing. Then, crossing back to baked territory, the cheesecake under blowtorched marshmallows was glorious.


What to eat You can’t go wrong with any of the four beef burgers, holding cheddar inside their patties.

When to go It’s a sunny lunchtime burger option to go with colleagues, as the vegetarians and vegans eat well too.

Who to take A date, a group of friends or work colleagues.

What not to do Get too upset if you have to wait for a table if you arrive after 12.15pm. IYO is popular.

What to drink Beer – everybody else is, because it’s so burger-friendly. Local craft, bottled or on tap.

Whatever you do don’t forget to tip after ordering and paying at the counter. Waiters in dungarees will explain dishes and clear your plates.

How much Starters cost R39 to R66. Burgers with sides range from R58 to R87.

The verdict: Excellent burgers and a super-cool ethical experience.

INSIDE & YOURE OUT BURGER BAR, 103 Bree Street, Cape Town. Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner; Sat dinner only. Tel 021-422-1313, IYO Burgers)

A version of this review appeared in The Times on 6 May 2015.

REVIEW: Try Quaglinõs for sophisticated food and sea views

quaglino_view.jpg The Atlantic Seaboard has a new spot where you can contemplate late-afternoon light while yachts bob and people walk their dogs. With wraparound glass, lounge music and modern furnishings in muted tones and occasional vintage mirrors, Quaglinõs feels cool but not ostentatious. Four-month opening delays to placate the luxury flat-owners upstairs, allowed for finishing touches.

Quaglinõs is about creative breakfasts, or casual lunches and dinners of Asian duck broths or classics with a twist. Comfy bar stools in blonde wood are positioned for views and picking on pintxos snacks, but most diners choose tables and booths. Jean-Yves Muller, Brendon Crew and Marc Langlois used to run Caveau Restaurant in Heritage Square and Newlands. They still operate Sotano. At Quaglinõs they have a fourth shareholder.

We booked Friday lunch, but loadshedding meant Quaglinõs never confirmed they were operational. It became a positive, bringing on an early dinner and a seaside vista. The waiter reported no mussels, clams or oxtail tortellini. So we enjoyed zingy sesame seed kingklip sashimi from the raw menu, served carpaccio-style. A fresh fusion touch in rocket leaves, over sesame oil, pickled ginger and wasabi mayo.

The beef sirloin main was alright, with Café de Paris ‘butter’ beaten into a runny sauce. Pork belly was better, its cubes fattily crisp, with perky lentils in gravy and smoked tomato salsa – super-tasty with pea shoots.

A good dark chocolate-crusted tartlet holding soft caramel under a bittersweet chocolate layer held its own. But beef shortrib was the dish of the night. Technically pintxos, but practically a small main, this was beefy fall-off-the-bone stuff, with quality jus to mop up Shimeji shrooms and baby onions. Sauces are good here.

So a good Quaglinõs experience overall, although communication could be better. After being asked to bring our own wine, a corkage fee on the bill was a surprise.

What to eat Something from the raw or snacky pintxos menu.

When to go Daytime, or early dinner with the sun setting.

Who to take Friends or a date. The crowd is predominantly in their forties.

What not to do Take kids at night, if you don’t have to. Although a children’s menu is on offer, tables are close. Let them tag along in the daytime.

What to drink Until the liquor licence is approved, take your own alcohol. The wine list is grouped by variety, with a great selection by the glass.

Whatever you do don’t be a cheapskate. One couple brought a R35 semi-sweet rosé wine to partner their three-course meal.

How much Starters and pintxos R60 to R80; mains R120 to R170; most desserts R44.

The verdict Some teething problems to be ironed out, but worth a visit.

QUAGLINõS, Corner Beach Road and Rothesay Place, Mouille Point. Open from 7am until 11pm daily. Tel 021-202-2720, Quaglinõs

This review appeared in The Times on 22 April 2015.

REVIEW: There’s the beef. Don Armando steakhouse

donarmando_picanha_steak.jpg Somebody told me it was the best steak they’d eaten. They were at Don Armando, a steakhouse with Argentine leanings. Owner Daniel Toledo also runs Il Leone, the Italian eatery nearby. Opening in late 2014, Armando is named in honour of Toledo’s Buenos Aires-born father.

It’s a compactly cosy space. Stairs lead up to a dining area with wooden tables and modern grey decor. The waitress was charming, explaining the meats are all charcoal-grilled, but was stumped by a query about the beef being grain or grassfed. We heard about a 400g rump special, and ordered the 800g ‘picanha’ steak special for two – with a 45-minute waiting time.

Chorizo and empanada starters kept us busy. Made inhouse, Argentinian-style chorizo tasted porky with strong herbs, but no chilli heat. Great with the vinegar zing of herby Argentine chimichurri sauce. Two empanadas held umami beefiness inside undercooked turnovers, instead of the feather-light Argentinian pastries they’re modelled on.

donarmando_wine_list.jpg On to the meat. An impressive hunk arrived, with salad and so-so handcut chips. Brazilians call it picanha, the top of the cow’s rump, served with its charcoal-charred fat-layer crown intact. Ordered medium, well-seasoned beef was sliced at the table. Lean yet mellow, it tasted of something between sirloin and a roast. Delicious dabbed with chimichurri.

A manager said Don Armando uses only Chalmar beef. One of the pricier local grain-fed beef sources, this top-grade meat is from cattle raised in one company’s feedlots.

But Toledo later revealed that only Armando’s rump, sirloin and T-bones are in fact Chalmar. He doesn’t know his butcher’s source of grain-fed beef picanha, but said it’s closer to the Argentinian ‘vacio’ or flank in cut.

The adjacent table called for their bill. Our steak-friendly Neethlingshof Malbec (R195) was empty. A shared flan (crème caramel) added a custardy, singed-sugar-sauce finish to a carnivorous evening.

donarmando_flan.jpg What to eat Charcoal-grilled steaks. Ask about specials not on the menu.

When to go Dinner is cosy in the small upper-level dining area. Have an appetite-whetting drink downstairs.

Who to take A colleague at lunchtime. A partner or friends, at night.

What not to do Expect creative vegetarian options. Order salads, fish or butterflied baby chickens if you must.

What to drink Steak-friendly blends and a good Malbec (Argentine and SA) selection from a small, red-focused list. Corkage R50.

Whatever you do Don’t fill up early. Leave space for meat, and perhaps a shared dessert.

How much? Starters and desserts average at R50. 200g sirloin at R110; 400g at R165. 800g picanha steak (serves two) at R395.

The verdict Add Don Armando to your steakhouse shortlist.

DON ARMANDO, Coburn Road, Green Point. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Tel 021-418-1462.

This review appeared in The Times on 8 April 2015.

REVIEW: Prickly fare at a Robertson restaurant

Unusual but tasty: pecan nut soufflé
On a rare weekend in Robertson, we were after a lunch stop worthy of a detour. Food lovers I asked all pointed to one place. Mo & Rose Wine Bistro, at Soekershof guesthouse, on the Robertson-Ashton road.

Nearly four years ago German Axel Daniel bought Soekershof with his Italian wife Monica. The luxury guesthouse is the couple’s main focus. Daniel, using his hotel management training, also creates a two and three-course bistro menu. Belgians Jeff ‘chef’ van Moffelen and wife Ilse alternate with Daniel in the kitchen.

We were seated at modern, open-air veranda tables, with grand glimpses of the cactus garden established in 1953. I discovered that fact afterwards – our friendly waiter could only talk food.

dsc_0011.jpg Kranskop wooded Chardonnay, and De Wetshof Limelight Pinot Noir, were both R35 a Spiegelau glass. Main courses showed off vibrant colours but interspersed too many strong flavours. Perfect country greens, but confit duck saltiness and dry, smoky duck-breast slices. Peculiar beetroot dumplings contained fried croutons.

The bacon-wrapped pork fillet dish was tender but too intense with its sundried tomato pesto sauce, over a barley and diced veg ‘risotto’.

The best dishes were starters. Homemade ravioli pockets: two with feta and mint; two holding lamb ragu in a light, herby tomato sauce. And a granular, unusual pecan nut soufflé ‘special’. Quietly comforting, its red onion jam not overly sweet.

A smartly dressed Afrikaans family ordered. Dutch tourists chattered. Sadly a shared chocolate fondant partnering pleasant cherry compote lacked a signature bittersweet kick. A kitchen chat revealed the dark Valrhona chocolate hadn’t arrived that week.

Confit and smoked duck with beetroot dumplings
We loved the local quiver tree, a toothpick cactus from Bolivia and the plump golden barrel cactus from Mexico, cheekily named mother in law’s seat. Effort went into a charmingly presented meal. But on a late summer’s day the garden stole the show.

What to eat Look to the monthly changing menu, which is tweaked around available ingredients.

When to go Sunday lunch – the best time to appreciate the views.

Who to take Your partner, and a couple of friends.

What not to do Get too hung up on the food. Keep in mind this is a guesthouse, occasionally serving diners from elsewhere.

What to drink Affordable, boutique labels from an extensive, mostly Robertson list. Magnums, vintage wines and craft beer also on offer.

Whatever you do don’t miss the Soekershof cactus garden, where some of the oldest cacti in South Africa grow. Take a stroll before dessert.

How much? Two courses at R250. Three courses at R310.

The verdict Go if staying over in Robertson but don’t make a special trip.

MO & ROSE WINE BISTRO, Klaasvoogds West, Robertson. Open for Sunday lunch and dinner Wednesday to Saturday, mid-April until October. Tel 023-626-4134, Mo & Rose

This review appeared in The Times on 1 April 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best sausagemakers

I excluded boerewors because it’s a category in itself. Here is where to find the best locally made bangers. Remember with artisan sausages in particular, a higher price usually means less other nonsense goes into them.

Martin's Cure Deli packs of sausages
Cure Deli. If processed bangers are all you know, Martin Raubenheimer’s artisanal pork sausages will rock your world. Only hormone-free, hand-sourced quality meat with no cost-cutting fillers, bread or preservatives. Made in his parents Bergvliet garage, the range varies from chorizo to Toulouse or sundried tomato. For the incredible, chunky bacon and apple or pear sausages, he cures the bacon first. Price point in April 2015: various pork sausages cost R127 per kg, or a pack of four or five for R45 to R55. Cure Deli Oranjezicht City Farm and Tokai Earth Fair Markets.

Joostenberg. The Myburgh family are former pig farmers who now buy in top-grade pork and produces tasty, consistent, preservative-free, commercial sausages. Their English sausages are delicate, their Toulouse heavy in garlic salt. Plainer breakfast sausages are moreish. Kameeldoring sausages mix pork, grassfed Joostenberg beef and MSG-free spices. Price point in April 2015: various pork/beef sausages cost R61 to R73 per kg. R304, Stellenbosch. Joostenberg

Ollie’s Fine Meats and Sausages. Formerly trading as Rudi’s Sausages, Willie Viljoen uses personal recipes and spice mixes for his 17 sausage classics. ‘We mince and stuff by hand,’ he says. ‘They’re gluten-free, with no rusks, wheat or bulking agents.’ His range includes Argentine or unsmoked Spanish chorizo. There’s a Toulouse, five Italian sausages, two German and two English sausages. Wild goose, venison and sour fig sausages are seasonal. Price point in April 2015: sausage prices vary but average at R90 per kg. Gordon’s Bay shop, Root 44 Market and Slow Market Willowbridge, Tel 072-556-1701.

Salvin's yummy cooked lamb and pork sausages
Raith Gourmet. Feeding Cape Town’s German community, Raith produces commercial pork sausages but the deli’s head chef Clara Bubenzer says they meet a German master butcher’s standards. Fried or grilled, the most popular are bratwurst or garlicky bockwurst. Also try textured Thüringer, herby weisswurst or smoked, stubby knackwurst. Kids love fried Nürnbergers. Price point in April 2015: various German sausages cost from R97 to R118 per kg. Constantia and Gardens. Raith

Son-of-a-butcher. Salvin Hirschfield’s dad really was a butcher, and his quality Glen Oakes farm pork, grassfed beef or free-range lamb sausages have only natural ingredients with his spice mixes (no fillers or preservatives). The pork sausages are endorsed by Grass Consumer Food Action – I love the fine-textured bacon, and uber-popular chilli-flecked Italian salsiccia or sweet Spanish-paprika Cuban chorizo pork sausages. Some enjoy the robust, harissa-ish lamb merguez, or Wagyu beef sausages. Price point in April 2015: various sausages cost R85 to R120 per kg. Oranjezicht Farm Market and Neighbourgoods Market. Tel 082-307-9985.

A version of this appeared in The Times on 1 April 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best spots for cooked chips

mchips.jpg Some consider crispy to be the only true test of cooked chips. But slap chips also have their place.

Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room. Chef-owner Lyndall Maunder says good fries look different: ‘They’re perky and hold their shape.’ Clarke’s chips are double-cooked: blanched in oil initially, then fried to order in very hot oil. Potatoes, skins on, are sliced in a machine operated by hand, on site. Order magnificent fries on the side (R10) or regular fries with homemade aioli (R40). Cheese fries (R55) are practically a meal: a basket of crispy fries under tomato ragu, with homemade ‘Melrose-like’ gooey sauce that imitates America’s cheese whizz concept, finished under the grill. Bree Street, Cape Town. 021-424-7648.

Lusitania Fisheries. Some consider crispy to be the only true chip test. But slap chips have their place, indicated by queues inside this second-generation family business. Potatoes are put through a machine slicer here daily, and fried once in clean oil, creating properly cooked, no-frills slap chips (R15 to R65 for extra large). Request extra vinegar and salt before they’re paper-wrapped. Waterkant Street, Cape Town. 021-425-4532.

Mondiall Burger Bar. Most people go for their burgers, but R28 French fries doused with truffle oil and grated Parmesan are worthy of a special visit. Sold from Mondiall’s take-away hatch, potatoes are machine-sliced on site. Like their truffle counterparts, plain skinny fries (R20) are crispy, thin and double-fried. Alfred Mall, V&A Waterfront. Tel 021-418-3003.

lusitania.jpg Societi Bistro. I love it when chefs talk potato. ‘We go for the Van der Plank variety if we can,’ says Stephan Marais. ‘Ours are fatter, peeled fries, cut by hand so they’re not uniform.’ Double-fried until crisp, a R20 side order includes homemade mayonnaise. Orange Street, Cape Town. 021-424-2100. Find these also at The Brasserie, Tokai.

The Company’s Garden Restaurant. Perfect, rustic chips: order as a menu side order, or devour a bowl for R30. Starchy Avalanche potatoes are machine-sliced here; skins stay on. ‘We cook for three or four minutes to set the outside. The second time briefly at higher temperatures, so the inside gets crispy and golden,’ says chef Jody Carolus. Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town. 021-423-2919. Find these also at Café Manhattan, Sidewalk Café and Café Mozart.

Late addition: Bertus Basson at Spice Route. This missed the print deadline, but I have it on good authority that the chips served at this Paarl Winelands restaurant are worth a special mention. Twice-cooked, freshly cut with skins on, dusted with braai spice and Parmesan.

A version of this appeared in The Times on 25 March 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best cheese shops

Try my list when next looking for great local or imported cheese:

Aroundcheese. Aside from her Waterfront stand, Jane Selander sells artisan cheeses at four local markets. ‘Instead of supplying delis, I sell to the public. People can buy only what they need,’ she says. Find only naturally produced South African cheese from artisanal farmers, including a tangy Grana or Montagu cheddar (Selander says locals generally enjoy stronger cheese). The Karoo Swiss, Blue or Crumble appeals particularly to foreigners. Sat at Oranjezicht City Farm Market, Neighbourgoods Market and Oude Libertas in Stellenbosch. Thurs at Earth Fair Market, daily at V&A Waterfront’s Market on the Wharf

Giovanni’s Deli World. Operating since 1989, Nicholas and Giovanni Esposito airfreight quality cheese from Europe. You’ll pay a little extra but Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano is cut from the wheel, or pear-shaped Provolone is sliced into chunks. Also find Spain’s sheep’s milk Manchego, Danish Esrom, Greek goat-and-sheep feta, Dutch (young and old Gouda, Boerenkaas, Leiden, Gouda with mustard) and French signatures, plus Swiss Appenzeller. Main Road, Green Point. 021-434-6893.

Cheese from Gay's Guernsey Dairy in Prince Albert
Fromages de France. Selling from her husband’s charming wine shop, Lodine Maske’s passion for French cheese knows no limits. She supplies French embassies in a few Southern African countries. Naturally she’ll also offer cheese and wine pairing tips (South African or French bottles, take your pick). Maske supports family-run producers, so find three different Munsters, four Epoisses (three hand-moulded), seasonal Vacherin Mont d’Or from the Alps, or Ossau-Iraty sheep’s milk cheese made up in the Pyrénées. Main Road, Franschhoek. La Cotte

La Crémerie Shop. Suzanne Himely’s childhood stints with her French grandmother rubbed off. Initially selling French wine and goodies at markets, she now mans a shop stocked with wonderful products, cheese and wine. “I probably have 10 different cheese regions and 20 styles,” she says. Find genuine Roquefort, Morbier from Jura and little-known Tomme Noire des Pyrénées. There’s also Reblochon from Savoie, and Cantal from Auvergne, an ancient cheese predating Roman times. Gardens Centre, Cape Town. The French Market

The Real Cheese. Valerie Elder has talked cheese and supplied it to delis and restaurants for 20 years. This retail outlet of Get Stuffed Enterprises showcases producers from every province for cheese-loving consumers. Taste and learn from her extensive knowledge, while being tempted from the vast display, including award-winning Pecorino-style goat’s milk Grison, a Free State seasonal Ficksburger washed rind, or Chrissi’s unusual Natal beetroot. Lower Main Road, Observatory. Get Stuffed

A version of this appeared in The Times on 11 March 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best pancake places

Thomas Le Clech: ‘The traditional way is to mix the batter by hand.
Birds Cafe. Two pan-flipped pancakes are made to order here at breakfast, lunch or teatime. Quality fillings include cinnamon sugar, or proper maple syrup with homemade bacon. After sampling a creamy 70% Lindt chocolate-and-Nutella pancake, I recommend sharing – one pancake was sufficiently filling. Bree Street, Cape Town. 021-426-2534.

For the Love of Yummyness. At counter seats at the V&A Market On the Wharf, pancakes are made to order daily. Henrij Twigge’s team serves the same menu at the Crêperie de Bonneterie stall at Woodstock’s Neighbourgoods Market. Adjusting the recipe to local tastes, his sugar-free crêpes use nuttywheat flour, formed into rectangles over creative sweet and savoury fillings. Market on the wharf

La Rozell. Breton Thomas Le Clech is a French lecturer during the week, and people queue for his traditional sweet crêpes on Saturdays. ‘My mother was a crêpe maker too,’ he explains. ‘I make crêpe on the billig, scraping it with a wooden rozell.’ On the savoury side, Le Clech makes the only buckwheat galettes in town – try his ‘full house’ galette of cracked egg, cheddar and Parma ham; with tomato and rocket topping. Oranjezicht City Farm Market. 079-700-1274.

A half-portion Birds Cafe chocolate pancake
The Famous Pancake House. These signature Dutch fluffy, soufflé-style sweet and savoury pancakes were much loved in the nineties. Wilma Botha and daughter Odette recently resurrected the family business, and now co-own this popular tourist eatery. Although pricier, they have a following for pancakes crammed with banana in Muscadel, or chicken livers in cream sauce. Huguenot Street, Franschhoek. 021-876-4788.

The Wicked Waffle. Belgian Gino Adriaensen started producing traditional waffles in Knysna, and crêpes were a natural progression. His mixture includes peanut oil for earthiness, but otherwise it’s the same recipe used by the French and South Africans. Sweet fillings include cinnamon sugar, Belgian milk chocolate, fruit, cream and Nutella. Bay Harbour Market (Fri night, Sat and Sun), Hout Bay. 082-674-0182, The Wicked Waffle.

This appeared in The Times on 4 March 2015.

FOODSTUFF: Cape Town’s five of the best artisanal bakeries

Quality loaves from C'est La Vie
Plenty of bakeries sell loaves and rolls, but only a few use slow, natural artisanal processes worth seeking out.

C’est La Vie. Jo Hill’s excellent artisan breads deserve wider recognition. Trained in France, Hill uses only stoneground flour, water, salt and a well-tended starter for her sourdough wholewheat, rye and Campagne loaves. Beautiful baguettes and rustiques feature too. ‘Our breads take 18 hours from start to finish,’ says Hill. ‘That makes them artisanal.’ Kalk Bay, 083-676-7430.

De Oude Bank Bakkerij. It’s worth the drive to Fritz Schoon’s rustic bakery where integrity shines in every wood-fired loaf made from a farmer’s stoneground flour. Baguettes and ciabattas aside, all breads use a five-year-old sourdough starter. From the Schoon’s sourdough white-wholegrain-rye, to ancient grain loaves such as sprouted buckwheat sourdough, naturally fermented bread reigns. Stellenbosch CBD, 021-883-2187.

Eurohaus. While not professing artisan techniques reliant on slow, natural fermentations, this bakery has a steady following, especially on Sundays. Gerd Zerban, 72, still begins his work day at 2am. Known for Zerban’s Cake and Coffee Shop in its heyday, his three crusty sourdough rye variants combine yeast, water and a pre-starter with German rye flour. Half loaves available. Cape Town CBD, 021-422-0168.

Jason's Bree Street Sourdough
Jason Bakery. You’ll queue to snag a loaf from the hatch, but charred sourdoughs or crusty baguettes are worth the wait. Jason Lilley feeds his white bread sourdough and sourdough rye starters ‘born’ in August 2007. The latter gives the signature Bree Street sourdough distinctive flavour, combined with white bread and rye stoneground flour, salt and water. It takes three days to make. Cape Town CBD, 021-424-5644.

Woodstock Bakery. Most people buy these artisan loaves from Oranjezicht City Farm or Neighbourgoods Market Saturday stalls, but they sell from their synagogue-turned-bakery too. Paul Cremer hand-shapes breads using sourdough starters and stoneground flour. Expect wood-fired crusts on roasted potato to assorted sourdough ryes, ciabattas and baguettes. ‘We use a minimum 18-hour fermentation, so the bread is easier to digest,’ says Cremer. Woodstock, 074-797-7324.

This appeared in The Times on 25 February 2015.