February 2011

WINE: summer picnic, Sauvignon and big screen

I recently researched romantic restaurants for WINE magazine’s Feb 2011 issue. A Q&A on the contributor’s page asked my thoughts on Valentine’s Day. My response: Not a biggie. I’d rather have a spontaneous experience any day of the year.

dsc_0003.jpg Out of the blue Overgaauw winery contacted me and asked if I’d like a “spontaneous Valentine’s Day experience”. Why not? So yesterday we trekked out to this small Stellenbosch Kloof farm with blankets and cushions and spent a delightful summer evening on the lawns and under trees dangling red paper hearts. It’s the third Valentine’s Day the Van Velden family has organised and it’s really popular, with February’s hot weather virtually guaranteeing a great evening under the stars. The deal was R250 for a picnic and a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

dsc_0009.jpg Supper goodie bags were provided by Food Fanatics, filled with tasty snacky stuff such as chicken liver pate and tapenade, chicken mayo baguette and delicious goats cheese and tomato tartlets. Overgaauw’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc made a delicious green fig and grassy wine partner.

Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline starred in French Kiss, the movie shown on two big screens in the farm’s spacious gardens. A mobile van sold hot popcorn and candyfloss and a shooting star even sneaked across the sky. I’m not a Hallmark romantic and I opt out of staged Valentine’s evenings in restaurants. But a spontaneous Stellenbosch evening in summer under shooting stars certainly gets my vote.

Overgaauw, Tel 021 881 3815,Overgaauw

REVIEW: Quick sea view and lunch at Sotano

dsc_0020.jpg It’s interesting how some sites don’t work for a restaurant, and then new owners move in and a dead loss becomes a popular space again. Gauteng friends in town necessitated lunch out on a Monday, which is typically when most good venues close. Sea views appeal to people up north, so we gave Sotano by Caveau in Mouille Point a try. Quite a few outdoor diners had the same idea.

The décor in white tones has been spruced up by interior decorators since my last forgettable meal when it traded previously as Bravo. Our waitress delivered good service throughout, and informed us that Caveau’s Brendon Crew and Jean Muller have two partners in this venture.

We wanted interesting yet not overly substantial lunchtime options. The choice: starters and lighter options. We ordered pizza, what I’d term ‘pizza-like’ ie thin, crispy square bases arriving with a smear of tomato sauce, the cheese and toppings added after baking. The Parma ham with rocket and Parmesan shavings (R88) was piled with toppings and tasty, the base made more in the dry style of Jewish matzos crispbread than a chewy-gooey American-style pizza. In contrast an avo and feta pizza (R62) was too sparse on toppings and flavour. dsc_0024.jpg Spinach and ricotta cannelloni (R60) baked under a tomato sauce and melted cheese was decent, but Italian mom and pop joints do a more authentic job. Harissa chicken served with pita bread (R60), plus a side order of straw fries (R18) was nicely presented with salad, but the chicken lacked spicy bite.

The wine list appears to be the same or similar to the version on offer at Caveau’s wine bars. We sipped happily on Avondale Brut MCC (R160). A glance of a chocolate dessert at another table didn’t convince us to stay for something sweet, so we finished with Americano coffees and called for the bill.

In short: Sotano is a decent spot to have a meal at the sea or a pizza snack with sundowners if passing by. But the food lacks a cook’s personal stamp. There are so many great cafes serving awesome food that this one just doesn’t stand out.

Spend: R60 to R90 for light meals or starters. Expect higher prices for more substantial alternatives.

Value: Similar pricing to other city bowl venues, with main courses on the steep side for a café-type venue or wine bar. Wine bars typically don’t offer great value wines, arguing that they provide a varied selection and decent wine glasses. Sotano is no exception.

Flavour rating: Average food, better for sea views.

SOTANO BY CAVEAU , 121 Beach Road, Mouille Point, Cape Town. Tel 021 433 1757. Open daily from breakfast to dinner and in between.