REVIEWS Top 10 seafood not all hitting the highs

In the January 2009 issue of WINE magazine, I was part of a team of reviewers recommending 10 South African spots for good, simple seafood see WINE seafood.I selected the team and the criteria, and also reviewed all Western Cape venues. How disapointing a year on to discover that quality had slipped severely at some of them. dsc_0015.jpg

During December and January 2010, over nearly a month of visiting family or friends, a summer holiday request for seafood didn’t seem unreasonable on days when we didn’t fancy entertaining at home. As with the WINE magazine 10 spots, we sought out everyday seafood where the focus was on freshness and simple presentation. Yet the quality of food and service seemed to take a serious nosedive once the serious holidaymakers arrived. With a few exceptions the motto seemed to be: tourism is alive and well and we’d love to take your money, but we’re very happy to rip you off.

Here are my 2010 summer holiday highs and lows, from those that made the original top 10 or reserve bench in January 2009 of WINE magazine:

Thumbs up: Live Bait, downstairs in Kalk Bay harbour, early December Sunday. Tel 021 788 5755. In my original 10 favourites, I’d happily go again. The linefish was creatively presented, succulent and served with a Champagne sauce and colourful vegetables. The battered hake and chips was fried in fresh batter, in oil that had been changed regularly, and the price was average. Visitors from overseas enjoyed the lunch and were happy to wander the streets afterwards.

Bientang’s Cave, inside a caveside precipice adjacent to the old harbour, Hermanus, early December weekday. Tel 028 312 3454. dsc_0022.jpg Previously only in the WINE magazine reserve bench, but it deserves an upgrade after we spotted two whales very late in the season! Aware that it is a tourist trap, we booked a waterside table over the bay. We were disappointed to hear they only had calamari steak cut into strips, instead of tubes, but the dish was pretty tasty nevertheless. What a pleasant surprise to have the bluenose catch of the day expertly grilled and served with thin chips and lots of lemon wedges. No-frills food, but worth a stop when you have visiting friends in search of sun, sea and decent grub.

Thumbs down: Quayside Cabin, new harbour, Hermanus, mid December weekday. Tel 028 313 0752. Absolutely appalling meal. Originally included in the WINE magazine seafood top 10 for being an inexpensive, simple harbourside venue that wasn’t part of a franchise. I liked the fact that they use sustainable fish suppliers. But having a SASSI sticker on your door doesn’t excuse poor ingredients or delivery during a busy service. A waiter persuaded our table that three orders of calamari were “the best around” even though they were strips in crumbs. Two orders of a calamari and prawn combo, plus one calamari and fried fish combo. The battered fish was off, so we returned it directly to the owner in the kitchen (the waiter being too busy to notice). The dish removed from the bill, we were charged for a replacement starter portion of calamari ordered. Even the calamari didn’t come near its hyped reputation because the oil hadn’t been changed regularly and it was over-seasoned. With no apologies from the owner, we paid our bill as fast as possible and left with that stodgy unsatisfied feeling you have after eating too much bad fast food.

dsc_0031.jpg Tricky things to photograph: spot the whale fin!
Thumbs up: Chapmans Peak Beach Hotel, Hout Bay. Tel 021 790 1036. In the original list of 10, I wrote that if you queued for a deck table and ordered a pan of “tender calamari rings in light crumbs, you won’t bother anywhere else”. calamari_pan_sml.jpg
Visiting friends went for lunch in mid January 2010. They were really impressed. Their only regret: not being advised against ordering a separate calamari for their two-year-old as portions were big enough for junior to dip into too.