REVIEWS

REVIEW: Groote Post lunch and spring flowers

img_20160904_135918.jpg Spring … It’s one of those seasons that seems to wake up a month or so too late. Or surprises you by literally popping the blossoms out. Most years it is a combination of the two.

Well, spring 2016 scored top marks for last Sunday’s weather. A fabulous sunny day with only a light breeze here and there, lured invitingly at the West Coast National Park gate at 9am. We were there to see the Postberg indigenous flower carpets during the rare August/September period when these private areas of the nature reserve are open to the public.

When to go We’d anticipated the queues and a reliable Landy loaded with seven of us left Cape Town just after 7.30am. What a pleasure to leave the park at midday when a 1.5km queue was barely moving outside the gate.

img_20160904_135740.jpg Our morning in the nature reserve was fabulous. We drove into the Postberg, parked and climbed a hilly section above the lovely Plankiesbaai beach, surrounded by boulders on one side. There were a few brave swimmers, but mostly people setting up their picnics, simple braais and camp chairs with brandy bottles.

Our kids scampered up an easy hilly section that had plenty of yellow, orange and (yay!) occasional pink daisies. The type that you had to bend over close to photograph. And against the rugged West Coast setting with snatches of blue sea or sky above, quite vivid and lovely. As a bonus, we discovered an ostrich nest. No parent birds to be seen.

We’d decided to skip the picnic and do lunch out on the West Coast. But on that coastline there aren’t a lot of options. My limited impressions of Langebaan’s pub-like restaurants? Tourist hell, about two decades too late.

20160904_102041.jpg We settled on Hilda’s Kitchen at Groote Post wine farm, accessed via a dirt road off the R27. I looked for a recent commentary and found a 2014 Eat Out review by my writing colleague Greg Landman, describing “always delicious” cooking and chef Debbie McLaughlin’s eleventh year at the restaurant. Two years on, during a Sunday visit on September 2016, I’d say the venue and culinary highlights have not changed much. Why would they?

20160904_135956.jpg What to eat Off the current menu of about three starters, mains and desserts, we ordered a main Greg had described as “pork belly, slow roasted and served with tangy plum sauce”. Tender and slightly Asian in feel, it was declared delicious. One of our boys requested the signature “old man’s fillet steak roll” (a crumbed chicken burger was the solitary offering for any children in our group, and the crumbed patty seemed to be out of a box). As an adult main, a tasty individual chicken pie containing shredded meat and porcini was served with handcut potato wedges (replacing the menu’s mash) and salad. The lamb main course possibly looked more exciting than it tasted, but our complaint was probably more with the waiter’s description of “medium” than with the fact that it arrived slow-roasted and tender.

For starters we had tried a salad with beetroot, goat’s cheese and pumpkin seeds. A tasty tomato tart surrounded by a delicate pastry (the other starter was sold out) worked a treat with the fresh, guava zing of Groote Post Sauvignon Blanc 2016. All very tasty country fare, made to a trusted recipe in the way that country fare usually is.

20160904_141921.jpg Back to Greg’s “dessert you have to have” white chocolate cheesecake. I can vouch that it was country-size in portion, yet a hungry junior member of our party polished it off. The lemon tarts had a suitably sour tang, encrusted in a delicate homemade pastry base. Decent if not the best I’ve ever eaten – but I covet really distinctive lemon tarts so I’m a tough customer.

In short, pretty decent food really. And definitely the best lunch option for kilometres. Just avoid the plunger coffee – it tastes sluggish and grey.

Who to take? Hilda’s Kitchen is in the old thatched manor house on the property. We reserved an outside table under the trees at the back, so the adults could sip wine while the kids ran around and got dirty. And that they did (a slide down an embankment ruined a couple of pairs of shorts, but kept mischievous faces grinning from ear to ear).

20160904_150445.jpg What to drink Darling beer to quench your thirst, and bottled water too (the farm water is an acquired taste). At R110 the standard Sauvignon Blanc is marked up R30 on the cellar door price. It’s delicious, full of guavas and fun, so a fitting lunchtime partner. In red we tasted the fruity-style Shiraz but ordered a more serious cherry-tinged Pinot Noir 2014 (R235). It may not have made the most sense from a value point of view, but we were enjoying a lovely day in the country and felt like a bit of a splash.

How much? You’ll pay about R75 for starters, R50 - R70 for kids’ main courses, R135 - R145 for adult main courses, and about R50 for desserts.

HILDA’S KITCHEN AT GROOTE POST,
Groote Post Vineyards, Darling. Open Wed to Sun for lunch.
Tel 022-492-2825, Groote Post

REVIEW: Open Door’s outdoor breakfast deck

odjuice.jpg Six of us tried out Open Door’s new breakfast deck on Sunday and had a tastily lazy morning. There are plenty of good breakfast spots in Cape Town but most are indoors. The appeal of Open Door is that you can sit outside and enjoy rural views of a BMX track with lovely mountains behind.

Executive chef Annemarie Steenkamp and pastry chef Christine de Villiers put their heads together to make the cereal and hot options more creative than the usual breakfast fry-up. They’ve both worked at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek at some point, where even the buffet selections pitch way above the average hotel breakfast, and nothing is out of a box. So a similar attention to detail shows at Open Door.

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brioche, citrus hollandaise, marrow, eggs
We had two children under seven that hopefully didn’t annoy too many adults with their running about outside. A plus is a great BMX track within walking distance – they charge R50 a day for kids of all ages. It’s just a little far away to watch your kids from an Open Door breakfast table – now that would be styling. But could become a handy combo with breakfast all the same. We vowed to return with mini bikes to spend some time getting dusty.

odopen_door.jpg What to eat The beetroot yoghurt with homemade nut, seed and coconut granola sounds unusual, but we stuck to hot items. A thick slice of toasted brioche with two poached eggs, tangy citrus hollandaise, chorizo and sweetcorn is the flat-out winner here. Bits of fatty bone marrow are hidden under a velvet coating of sauce. If you’re lusting after comfort food, a baked sausage, poached eggs and spiced tomato sauce dish with melted gruyere cheese is a good alternative. Only a little lacking in chili heat.

Two food-inclined boys were happy with a homemade croissant and scrambled egg (an alternative was boiled eggs with sourdough toast soldiers). The only disappointment was the waffle topped with maple syrup, crispy bacon and two fried eggs. Nothing intrinsically wrong, although a waffle’s ability to soak up syrup and seem dry never helps. It arrived in an old black frying pan and seemed to be more about presentation than a well-matched combination.

When to go Breakfast is only served from 9am to 11am.

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baked eggs, sausage, spicy tomato and gruyere
Who to take Well-behaved families, couples and groups of friends will all enjoy this.

What to drink The juices are made properly. The apple zing (apple, carrot and lots of fresh ginger) gets my vote.

How much? Gourmet granola R68, freshly made juices R38/R45, flat whites/cappuccinos R24, homemade croissants with scrambled egg R42, creative savoury dishes (benedicts, waffles) R72 to R82.

OPEN DOOR, Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia. Monday to Saturday for breakfast. 021-794-3010, Open Door

Also see Open Doors at Constantia’s original Spaanschemat restaurant

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

REVIEW: Culture Club Cheese: yellow and rather mellow

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

REVIEW: one country restaurant that goes the distance

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The Place: Are you also feeling irritable after too many holiday meals where the food was poor and the wait was long? I spent good money in steakhouses eating gristly burgers and cardboard-like chips; endured family restaurants drizzling melted margarine over my fish without prior warning. Winery lunches with portions so tiny we all left hungry. I was after food for the soul.

I’d called The Restaurant at Newton Johnson before Christmas and snagged the first available table in early January – at 2pm. Seasonal demand for two lunch sittings then. After achieving ninth place in Eat Out’s Top 10 within 14 months of opening in touristy Hermanus, could they deliver?

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We arrived to a fast-filling restaurant with beige walls and an open kitchen at one end. Country scenery was the obvious drawcard, large windows and a wind-swept deck showcasing Hemel-en-Aarde vineyard, tree and mountain panoramas. Tiled floors made for poor acoustics, but the holiday mood worked its tricks. Shorts didn’t seem out of place amongst the chatting groups.

The Food: A single-page menu listed 12 dishes, diners choosing between two courses (R240) to six courses (R480). Our three-courser (R310 per person) worked out just right. Some observations. Chef-proprietor Eric Bullpitt was moulded under Stellenbosch restaurateur George Jardine, and like his mentor, Bullpitt is a master with vegetables.

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Take the turnips. I mostly avoid them. But Bullpitt’s lightly pickled turnip slivers stole the show alongside coarse beef tartare. And in a later dish, carrot puree sweetness and kale bitterness cleverly cemented salty-soft pork belly under stand-to-attention crackling, with a garlic-ginger sauce.

I loved the novelty of spice-cured fresh mackerel too, caught as a by-catch in local waters. This fishy starter’s delicate cucumber ‘froths’ liquefied too fast, but with perky cucumber ribbons, crispy onion and citrusy-soy Ponzu dressing it tasted grand.

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Foraged dune lettuce and other unusual greens
Who would guess artichoke-miso puree added a base note to an excellent hake dish? On the same fish, our waiter identified foraged dune lettuces, worm-shaped samphire greens and goosefoot, all scrounged from the countryside or beach (he had collected some of it).

But the basil meringue dessert was the game-changer. Tasting weirdly masculine, it combined savoury basil oils together with sweet, wobbly, unset meringue balls ‘branded’ with the bitter char markings of hot charcoal. Bullpitt said he’d borrowed the charring idea. It was what he did with it that counted.

The Rest: Family-owned Newton-Johnson winery operates alongside Bullpitt’s restaurant. They’re making some of the Cape’s best wines, a plethora of Platter five stars falling on their Pinot Noirs. The whites aren’t shabby either. With small mark-ups, we drank the very seafood-friendly Resonance white blend (R158), and a glass of lighter, second-label Felicité Pinot Noir (R40).

nj_1.jpg The Verdict? Bullpitt used old-fashioned smoking, pickling and open-fire cooking, and his clean plates were appealing to the eye. His knack was purity of flavours, layering of textures and delivering a sophisticated rural take on what sounded like a straightforward plate of meat or vegetables. His waiting team understood his menu and served it swiftly – weak coffee was the only sore point.

You’ll pay good money to dine on repurposed wine-barrel tables at this upmarket restaurant. But I say eat out less often, find a good reason to splurge and then take a drive and make it count.

THE RESTAURANT AT NEWTON JOHNSON, Newton Johnson Winery, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus. Open Tues to Sun for lunch, Friday to Saturday for dinner. Tel 021-200-2148, Newton Johnson

A version of this review appeared in The Times on 28 January 2015.

REVIEW: Vegan delights? Give Plant a chance

plant_2.jpg There’s a new vegan café-restaurant in town, and it’s attracting a steady troop of diners avoiding animal products, and those keen on healthier breakfasts or suppers.

Engineer Adien Aggenbach opened Plant as a tiny café early in 2014, but in December moved to its current, bigger Loop Street corner space. The entirely plant-based menu includes many raw food items.

Aggenbach’s partner Jacqueline Lahoud also introduced craft beer and a decent vegan wine list (Yes there is such a thing. Vegan wines means animal products such as egg whites aren’t used in the production). Labels include Vondeling, Reyneke and Springfield.

plant.jpg At lunch with a vegetarian visitor, a waitress showed off fermented-in-soya tempeh “bacon” and smeary vegan “cheese” based on soya, coconut oil and miso, all made in-house. I thought the vegetarian would be an easy sell, but neither of us were convinced.

plant_wraps.jpg A toddler’s parents tucked into a tortilla and black bean quesadilla as we sipped wholesome red and yellow fruit juices (R32), colour-coded ingredients juiced on site. Bare wood tables, crates fashioned into display shelves, and vertical garden walls added to Plant’s organic feel.

We shared three lunch dishes and liked elements in all. I quite enjoyed chewy tempeh “bacon” in our protein salad (R59), its smokiness giving bland quinoa, chickpeas, sundried tomatoes, nuts, seeds and greens flavour direction.

plant_brownie.jpg The vegetarian preferred the vish burger (R55), a bun topped with salad, homemade “tartar sauce” with raw onion, and tastily textured patties of nori-encrusted potato flakes. Carb-heavy but different.

Two rice wraps stuffed with mushrooms (R63), avo, cashews, soba noodles and pickled ginger hits were tasty, if lacking without their salty Asian dipping sauce.

“There’s so much wholesome, raw food here, I feel too virtuous to order alcohol,” declared the vegetarian, stabbing carrot and cabbage in his spicy peanut quinoa side salad.

Fortunately a gluten-free brownie (R28) provided bittersweet relief. Crumbling under a silky cacao topping and walnuts, it tasted jolly good for a chocolate imposter.

PLANT, Corner of Buiten and Loop Streets, Cape Town. Open Monday to Saturday and Wed to Sat for dinner. Tel 021-422-2737, Plant

A version of this review appeared in The Times on 7 January 2015.

REVIEW: Vibrant and fresh: The Company’s Garden restaurant for breakfast, tea or lunch

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The Place: The Company’s Gardens is a green space where adults sit and reflect under very old oaks, children startle birds settling around sundials, and squirrels beg for nuts from passers-by admiring colourful shrubs. For years Cape Town’s central garden lacked a decent café. A week ago that changed.

The Madame Zingara group is behind the new The Company’s Garden restaurant. They started off calling it Haarlem & Hope, which I thought a catchy name cleverly promoting Cape Town’s historical roots. Dutch ship die Nieuwe Haarlem was wrecked in Table Bay in 1647, its crew waiting a year for a lift. Their gardening efforts inspired Jan van Riebeeck to return five years later and create the Company’s Garden to grow produce. However the restaurant hastily changed its name after a few Capetonians decided it was associated with a colonialist slavery past. Shall we do away with the recreated VOC veggie and fruit garden in the Company’s Gardens too?

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The Company’s Garden numerous shady tables were packed during Sunday lunch. Local designers have contributed to understated furniture and a clean interior: wood-framed seventies-style glass now opens out from the bar counter to overlook Porky Heffer’s hanging nests, carved frogs and child-friendly logs. A giant chess game happens nearby.

The Food: Chef Linda Beuken’s modern, attractively presented café food has Cape Dutch elements here and there. This is feel-good daytime fare, from French toast and omelettes to toasted sandwiches and a selection of cakes. How nice to see scones on offer in a garden venue.

With two glasses of Buiten Blanc (R39), we shared a West Coast mussel pot (R60) in a deliciously unusual wine, lemon juice and creamy sauce, mussels plump with flavour, parsley and a secret twist.

The lunch menu has hearty salads to Karoo lamb chops, but fish and chips (R60) in tasty beer-battered hake made for better summer fare. Perfect golden-brown handcut chips are a good reason to return.

The beef burger looked delicious. Instead we enjoyed Cape Malay elements in a Dhaltjie burger (R65), combining grilled brown mushroom under melted mozzarella, cucumber raita and fresh tomato-coriander salsa zing. But deep-fried dhaltjie balls tasted too much of turmeric for the flavours to all fit together.

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Two children at our table declared their lunch very good. An excellently charred ‘big boy, little kid’ burger (R40) had melted mozzarella and tomato on a toasted sesame bun, and more lovely chips. ‘Fish fingers and fries’ (R38) were actually battered hake strips. Thick milkshakes (R28) were just fine, and full of sprinkles and marshmallows.

The drinks: The wine list is small but sufficient, mostly a mix of uncomplicated Sauvignons, Merlots and blends, plus a few creative labels. Artful garden-facing bar stools looked just right for ordering a craft beer or late-afternoon cocktail.

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The Verdict? The Company’s Garden restaurant was created despite the city’s complicated tendering process, and Zingara founder Richard Griffin wants to use it to change the way South Africans think about red-tape environments. He also wants it to be inclusive of many sectors of the community. I’m not sure the café’s pricing is affordable enough for that, but its extensive menu already caters to a mixed bag of diners.

Order a quality coffee or eat a meal, and mingle with young couples, tourists and families out for lunch, or groups of bridge-playing ladies in floral dresses. Go to The Company’s Garden Restaurant to recreate the nostalgia of Cape Town’s historic green lung – you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to enjoy yourself.

THE COMPANY’S GARDEN RESTAURANT, Company’s Gardens, Queen Victoria Road, Cape Town. Open daily from 7am to 6pm. Tel 021-423-2919, The Company’s Garden Reservations only for six people or more.

A version of this review appeared in The Times on 3 December 2014.

REVIEW: Blue Cafe is all about the neighbourhood

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The Place: Sometimes you meet somebody instantly likeable. You can’t always put your finger on why, but generally charm, good intentions and receptiveness makes you excuse their shortcomings and focus on their possibilities. Visiting The Blue Café in Tamboerskloof is a little like that.

Jeanne and Murray van Hirschberg bought an existing suburban café-deli with an attached house. They’re in business with Jeanne’s mother Lynda Loubser, who oversees the cooking and bakes up a storm. They all live around the corner, although Murray and Jeanne’s involvement in other businesses makes them less visible. ‘We open the café in the morning and close at night,’ says Murray.

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Neighbourliness is what it’s about here. Seated separately at pavement tables with a hedge behind and views of lovely Victorian homes, I’ve discussed live music venues with a female music promoter, and chatted over breakfast to a work-from-home guy from the next street.

The Food: This tiny deli opened at the beginning of November, and serves breakfasts to light suppers, and tea in between. They’re trying to catch their breath, yet customers keep wandering in. The narrow chalkboard menu will be expanded soon.

For now breakfast is fruit salad, homemade granola and yoghurt, or bought-in pastries. This seems like a boiled-egg-and-soldiers sort of place, yet the only advertised cooked option is Paul Daly’s Full Monty (R48), in honour of the previous owner. Croissant (or ciabatta toast) plus scrambled egg heavy with mozzarella and parsley, also had bacon, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes and avocado – tasty but surely overkill? Later, I learnt that a Baby Monty (R28) is also possible.

b3.jpg Tea is Murray’s loose-leaf Enmasse blends brewed in glass pots, while coffee is a dark Italian bean or locally roasted Truth brew. All well made. Lynda’s daily bakes are well worth a detour. Lunch and supper is sandwiches or rolls (Knead ciabatta is for sale), two creative salads, or cheese and meat platters.

I’m glad I returned to lunch on wonderful Dutch meatballs (R45). Two tender beef rounds clasping onion and parsley, in a comfortingly rich broth, with ciabatta toast for mopping up. Simplicity itself. Blue Cafe also does a six-cheese macaroni based on Jeanne’s grandmother’s recipe. An unused pizza oven will soon be reinstated.

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The Rest: This deli’s shelves brim with oils and edible goodies to take home. They include attractively packaged toffees, almond bars, Stanford honey, fudge and savoury snacks. In the chilled section you’ll find Nice ice-cream, Camphill farm yoghurt or frozen homemade chicken pies. Jeanne is a product developer of edible treats who cut her teeth working for Melissa’s. She also creates the ceramic plates and ovals scribbled with witty sayings, used in Blue Café.

The Verdict? If you’re expecting massive food variety, a wine list and snappy service you’ll be disappointed (I’ve heard that people craving a sundowner ask for olives, but that’s probably just neighbourhood gossip). Smallness, creative quirkiness and a sense of community give this cafe street cred. Its owners are moving towards general dealers’ days where goods were bartered and regulars kept accounts. So green-fingered locals are encouraged to exchange home-grown produce in exchange for shop credit. Neighbourhood kids are already bartering basil leaves.

THE BLUE CAFE, 13 Brownlow Road, Tamboerskloof. Open weekdays from 7.30am to 10pm, weekends from 8am – 10pm. Tel 021-426-0250, Blue Cafe

This review appeared in The Times on 26 November 2014.

REVIEW: Oodles of noodles at Downtown Ramen

d_ramen.jpg A bowl of noodles is painted on a dark wall, near a locked staircase. It’s the only clue from the seedy pavement. But then you wind inside past the smoker’s haze of Lefty’s Dive Bar, up rickety stairs, to Downtown Ramen.

People are seated at wooden tables. This is comfortably grungy, urban Cape Town. The spot only opened in July and already carries a hint of CBD grime.

Straightforward food attracts young couples or groups popping out for mid-week suppers. It’s mostly T-shirts and jeans, perhaps a few collared shirts and beanies. Mind you, in this matchbox venue boasting a steaming kitchen and no fans, my advice would be to dress light. A chalkboard lists dishes, and clued-up waiters do the rest. Skip the wine (glasses are stumpy); Japanese or local beers taste better with Asian food.

d_ramen.jpg As the name implies, Downtown Ramen serves uncomplicated noodle broths. But Asian bau (R35) make good snacks, steamed into flatbreads with three fillings. Braised beef short rib partners chilli-cucumber pickle; tender meat top-heavy on salty soya sauce marinade. Char sui pork bau is your best bet: lean, smoky pork with zesty citrus-cucumber pickle.

Asian cultures value noodles. They’re comforting and associated with long lives and health. Capetonians ordering a meat or vegetarian noodle broth (R65) at Downtown Ramen won’t be disappointed. Counter seats offer glimpses of noodles being assembled in voluminous ceramic bowls with lids. The Shoyu pork belly is slow-braised, fattily rich with meaty depth. Delicious vegetarian miso broth is lighter, boasting sesame oil hits and firm, soy-sozzled tofu blocks. Boiled eggs ooze runny yolk, and tasty details include greens, seaweed and sprouts.

The reggae music is all wrong (something happened to the regular playlist) but the experience is pretty solid. As a waiter jokes on bringing the bill: ‘Now you can go home, watch a kung fu movie, and fall asleep on the couch’.

DOWNTOWN RAMEN, 103 Harrington Street, Cape Town. Tel 021 461 0407. Open Mondays to Saturdays from 6pm. No reservations.

This review appeared in The Times on 9 September 2014.

REVIEW: Wild at heart Foliage for eating off the fat of the land

soup.jpg The Place: Generally I find there are three types of high-end restaurant diners. The regulars, indulging in a preferred style of cooking from a favourite chef. The fashionables, most interested in the fuss around a new restaurant. And the true food lovers, enthusiasts cautious of fads who are open to educating experiences, like this one.

Chef Chris Erasmus left the heritage cooking of Pierneef à la Motte restaurant to start his own place. Foliage is his take on forest-to-plate eating. It’s high on wow factor and relatively low on fine-dining prices.

f_chef_chris_erasmus.jpg Despite fire-engine red walls, art and smart leather chairs, there is an organic feel to the décor and Mervyn Gers tableware incorporating pine needles and tree bark. Upmarket Franschhoek locals and tourists eat off bare wooden tables. You’ll see family groups (kids are accommodated) although this menu isn’t pitched at young diners.

The Drinks: Franschhoek dominates a decent list with Reyneke’s organic label as the house wine, and a few treasures from the likes of Sadie. We drank glasses of Two Dogs a Peacock and a Horse Sauvignon Blanc (R35) and Chamonix Cab Franc (R60).

f_beef_curry_krummelpap.jpg The Food: Labelled food always raises eyebrows. I know diners who love Foliage, but find its menus weird. For Erasmus, foraged edible plants and mushrooms are an essential part of beautifying plates, flavouring stocks and reducing food costs on a small, seasonal menu rich in free-range meat and game. Most starters are R65 to R80, mains R115 to R135, and desserts R50 to R60.

With a similar pragmatism applied to finding creative uses for animal bits, Erasmus’s chefs are coached to identify this wild produce – around 70 per cent of Foliage’s fresh greens are foraged from rivers or forests. An open kitchen means Erasmus or well-schooled waiters can also field diners’ queries.

A green soup of frothy broad beans, peas and horseradish root (R70) tasted vibrant with spring freshness and luminosity, against salty, puffy eisbein crackling. Fiddlehead and wild pea shoots alongside were picked outside the kitchen (I saw Erasmus return in boots).

f_beef_shortfib_sorrel_mash_forest.jpg An outstanding salad combining warm sweetbread pieces with smoky, cured warthog rib rounds, potato and moist squid, with soft-cooked red pepper and tomato, and crunchy hazelnuts (R75) had no mass-produced leaf packs from Woolworths. Instead, a riot of flavours and textures in tasty ‘forest greens’ (dandelions, wild watercress, goosefoot, chickweed and sweet lupin) alongside perky beans and broccoli.

More traditionally, a main of velvet-soft Wagyu beef shortrib (R165) all shiny with jus intensity, partnering ‘wood greens’, an open onion crispy-fried, and potato mash spiked with sour wood sorrel stalks and horseradish. Delicious.

You can have fun at Foliage too. A comforting Black Angus beef butter curry (R135) delivered fiery flavour depth on clumpy ‘krummelpap’ fenugreek-infused maize, with hits of preserved lemon.

f_charcoal_pears_acorn_frangipane.jpg Earthiness dominated an al dente charcoal-grilled sliced pear dessert (R50) alongside creamy fennel sabayon. Caramel sweetness from candied walnuts, with nutty, spiced balls of acorn – yes – frangipane cakes.

The Verdict? This is adventurous food that’s also technically skilled, tasty and beautiful. Scan the menu for black pudding to wild game bird terrines, alongside Asian pork belly broths, boerbok shoulder and tongue dishes, or creative tripe and trotter interpretations. Trust the chef and you’ll find plenty to enjoy.

FOLIAGE RESTAURANT, 11 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Closed for Sunday dinner and Tuesdays. Foliage, Tel 021-876-2328.

This review appeared in The Times on 3 September 2014.

REVIEW: Carne on Kloof rates with SA’s best

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The Place: When Giorgio Nava closed Caffé Milano bakery and replaced it with another branch of meat-focused Carne SA this July, I joked to a colleague that perhaps Cape Town’s low-carb-high-fat phase was steering diners away from breads and sweet pastries towards protein-rich steaks sporting fat. The Milanese chef-restaurateur opened the original Carne SA in Cape Town’s Keerom Street legal district in 2009. His point of difference has always been to supply his restaurants with meat from his own Karoo farms.

The new Kloof Street venue has distressed brick walls bearing the same decorative wooden pods found in Carne Keerom Street. Dim lighting makes night dining more enticing but the smaller café interior space easily feels crowded. Street-facing tables are another option. This is more than a steakhouse, and many of Nava’s jet-setting regulars have already congregated. Quite a few are on the upper side of forty, wearing heels and evidence of botox.

The Drinks: Bottled wine value is better value; by the glass starts at R33 for white or R40 for red. You’ll find a fair list of Cap Classique and whites, plus sufficient steak-friendly current and older-vintage reds. We drank Felicité Pinot Noir 2012 (R165).

The Food: The smaller menu looked similar to the original Carne in Keerom. To start, signature ravioli (R80) filled with slow-braised lamb offered savoury simplicity in four perfectly silky pockets, meat juices melding with burnt butter and salty Parmesan. A caprese salad (R80) combined diced tomato, the odd caper and creamy-rich, bouncy burrata mozzarella.

Some of Carne’s game, plus the Dorper lamb and pork, is from Nava’s Karoo farms. But it was grassfed beef from Italian Romagnola crossed with South African Nguni and Afrikaner cows that appealed at our table. Switched on waiters showed off a platter of raw meat specimens; for carnivores there’s no better advertisement. The fat 1.2kg la fiorentina T-bone for two (R400) was sorely tempting. Or for novelty value from the specials, the boneless spider steak from the back of the knee, earning its name from web-like marbled fat streaks (R140 for 250g).

The tender prime rib cut (rib-eye on the bone) didn’t disappoint. Priced from R140 upwards, no sticky bastes diluted meaty flavour on this plump, tender 500g slab (R175) of beef. All Carne grills include sides in the price: mash, spinach, broccoli or salad, otherwise charged at R25 to R30. My thin-cut fries were overcooked, and the mushroom and brandy butter side sauce was small for R20, but that’s where the criticism ends. Cooked to order, a 600g tomahawk (R195) of flavoursome sirloin on a front rib had its bone extended dinosaur-like off an oversized plate.

The Verdict? The obvious question as a diner: were the steaks at Carne on Kloof still hitting the mark? Carne SA’s Keerom HQ dry-ages their prime rib, but other steak cuts are typically wet-aged for 28 days. Carne on Kloof wet-ages all its meat currently, but is introducing dry-ageing space in a couple of months. Although meat’s ageing technicalities are usually relevant, the free-range beef quality was so good here that it wasn’t. Carne on Kloof’s steaks rate with South Africa’s best.

CARNE ON KLOOF, 153 Kloof Street, Tamboerskloof. Tel 021-426-5566. Open Mon to Sat for lunch and dinner. Another Carne SA branch is opening in Constantia in September.

This article appeared in The Times on 20 August 2014.

REVIEW: Dog’s Bollocks for delicious patties served in perky buns

burger.jpg The Place: Look past the uneven floor, corrugated iron ceiling, and menu chalkboards resting on grimy windows of the adjacent auto repair shop. Don’t expect cutlery or fawning waitresses. You’re here for the food. Lampshades hang above wire mesh tables that have seen better days, and the side of Yard accessing the street generally fills with cigarette smoke. Nevertheless Yard attracts families and all sorts. Chalkboards list menus and the rules of ordering with a reminder, in colourful language, to wait until you’re called. Chalk the amount of food and drinks alongside your name, in the appropriate column on the black door.

The Drinks: Write up your order, help yourself to soft drinks or booze in the fridge and, in the evening, hand over cash on the spot. A 600ml Triggerfish pilsner under the Dog’s Bollocks label (R50) is great with burgers or ribs. There is an unlabelled white or red wine blend (R80) too.

The Food: Megan Eloff runs the food side of Yard, and co-owns the business with Nigel Wood. He introduced The Dog’s Bollocks concept in late 2011, with 30 burgers made on a first-come-first-served basis from 5pm, until they run out. Eloff now heads this show, offering 50 burgers, buffalo chicken wings, nachos or ribs.

As of July the burgers include a side order of chips (R85). Of 10 options, newcomers include the Vietnamese bahn mi pulled pork, and pene picada tomato-based sauce with chorizo and roasted peppers, topped with an egg. The novel chicken-fillet Caesar burger looked good on the pass too, with bacon, lettuce and homemade anchovy mayo. There’s a vegan and Noakes option, the latter with lettuce replacing Woodstock Bakery’s glorious stoneground-flour buns.

burger.jpg On a busy Thursday night we escaped the smokers with a table beyond the pass. The Mexican chilli and cheeseburger came with a mince-and-kidney-bean chilli con carne topping, plus a cheese sauce. It was hearty, but heavy on cumin, and I’d like more heat. The 3B (bacon and cheese barbecue burger) was classic and good. A perky bun sandwiched a thick patty dripping in sweet tomato-barbeque sauce, with crispy bacon, cheese, lettuce and trimmings. Messily delicious, these were super-burgers stretching roughly 15cm across, with sides of nicely crispy handcut chips. A slab of excellent barbeque porkbelly ribs (R120) tasted oak-smoked and tender, in the same sticky sauce.

The Verdict? Yard feels a bit like you’re at someone’s student digs party, where the music is loud and you’re expected to help yourself to drinks in the fridge. But as my eating partner said above the din, ‘No digs party I went to ever had food this good.’

Need to know: Cash-only operation. A largely female team transforms quality ingredients and serves it with sass. You’ll need multiple wet wipes once you’ve eaten though. Visit Yard after 5pm for burgers, wings, nachos and ribs at The Dog’s Bollocks (Mon to Sat 5 – 10pm). Or build your own breakfast at Mucky Mary’s Hubcaps (Mon to Fri 7am, Sat 9am – 4pm). At lunchtime order sandwiches or soft tacos with creative fillings (the pulled pork banh mi taco is excellent) from The Bitch’s Tits (Mon to Sat 9am – 4pm).

THE DOG’S BOLLOCKS, Yard, 6 Roodehek Street, Gardens. Tel 082-885-5719.

This review appeared in The Times on 6 August 2014.

REVIEW: Kentucky chicken waffles? You’ve got to be joking

chicken_waffle.jpg It’s known as the chicken waffle, and the combination is as peculiar as it sounds. An otherwise savoury dish drowned in a cloying maple-flavoured syrup, too sweet to make sense. Yet at a grungy Cape Town hole-in-the-wall called Lefty’s, true believers swear the R75 Kentucky chicken waffle is a life-changing experience.

On entering Lefty’s you sniff stale smoke from the bar and pass chairs in chaotic disarray from the revelry of the night before. The dimly lit eating area’s embossed wallpaper and stained-wood panels resembles a fifties dining room, but doesn’t hide the canteen rawness of the adjacent kitchen.

‘You need support, someone cheering you on, if you order one of those,’ warned the waitress on scribbling the waffle order. Fortunately I had a wingman, who settled on a tender, tasty strip of pork ribs for R75.

The chicken waffle arrived. Puffy Belgian pieces made from a craft beer and butter batter. Boneless chicken breasts, marinated in buttermilk, thyme, cayenne pepper and hot sauce overnight, and then deep-fried until crispy in seasoned flour. Back bacon bits for smoky saltiness.

chicken_waffle.jpg ‘The chicken waffle started out as a joke,’ recalls co-owner and chef Ryan McDonagh. ‘I was fascinated by this American thing. We put it on the menu, convinced it wouldn’t stick.’ It did.

‘It’s so over the top that if you’re going to get it, you’re going to get it. It’s quite an abrasive sort of dish – so arrogant and full on – but it works in its own way,’ he adds.

It was a hefty, surprisingly satisfying plate. But after four bites I couldn’t stop airlifting the chicken and bacon clear of the saccharine pool, desperate for salvation. ‘A lot of people just can’t fathom it. That’s why they come,’ shrugs McDonagh. ‘Everybody figures they have to try it just once, to see what the fuss is all about.’

LEFTY’S DIVE BAR, 103 Harrington Street. Tel 021-461-0407. Open Mondays from 4pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11am. Kitchen closes 11pm.

This appeared in The Times on 30 July 2014.

REVIEW: New kid is no Black Sheep

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The Place A skateboarder sailed downhill past a vast window opening to side views of Table Mountain as a folksy singer crooned through the speakers. This was Kloof Road on a Friday, with a smattering of tables post-lunch. I thought Black Sheep sounded like a country pub, when it opened a few months ago. But it’s actually a slick urban eatery with varnished cement floors and seating on two levels, Tom Dixon copper lamps, seventies olive banquettes opposite mismatched old chairs, with vintage trinkets on shelves. Young men in slimfit cardigans lunch near middle-aged ladies, businessmen and couples. In the early evening a bar counter of patchworked wood becomes crowded with cocktail sippers.

The Drinks A good craft beer selection in bottle and on tap. Thought went into a creative, comprehensive wine list stretching to a few pages. A glass of Vondeling Petit Blanc 2013 is R32; Crystallum Peter Max Pinot Noir 2012 costs R360.

The Food Chef Jonathan Japha, most recently cooking at Fork, is in partnership with his Chilean brother in-law, Jorge Silva. The Black Sheep’s name refers to its blackboard menus. This isn’t unusual, but to the owners, chalking up available dishes on a given day without a prescribed menu is a big deal. ‘You could have a good dish tonight that might not be there tomorrow. We feel this is an honest way to go about running restaurants, because you’re only cooking what you have fresh,’ says Japha.

Nevertheless fixing on a lunch starter and main was tricky. Soup seemed too humdrum; salads too chilly. Two of us settled on grilled lamb kidneys wrapped in bacon and sage (R40), served as rich, quite satisfying skewers. Crisped Parma ham partnered warm crispy polenta fingers (R55) with wild rocket, Parmesan shavings and balsamic glaze. Acceptable but not special.

Main courses on offer between R120 and R130 included a roast kingklip dish, pork belly (a neighbouring table’s looked good), vegetarian curry and hangar steak. Braised feather blade beef in onions (R130) sounded fancy for what was a tender stew from a shoulder cut, with carrots on garlic mash, livened by herby salsa verde. Comforting wintry fare. Beer-battered hake (R60) was a little over-fried, but deserving of praise for presentation and pricing in a great-value R60-to-R65 lunch slot alongside a pulled pork sandwich, burger or prego steak sandwich, all with bowls of skinny fries.

A shared sweet almond tart (R50) offered a familiar taste of home in pastry studded with coarse nuts, accompanied by thick cream and stewed quinces. Pavlova and sticky toffee puddings were sweet alternatives.

The Verdict? A beautiful space is inviting to diners spanning a range of ages. The design made it feel more like a bar serving great food and drinks than serious restaurant, yet it’s pitching above a café in concept. Go for solid bistro food offering appealing plates and the odd bit of flair, but mostly delivering solid value in a hip neighbourhood-local sort of way.

BLACK SHEEP, 104 Kloof Street, Cape Town. Closed Sunday and Monday lunch. 021-426-2661.

This review appeared in The Times on 2 July 2014.

REVIEW: La Mouette: Winter with a French twist

screen_shot_2014-07-09-010.jpg In theory winter specials are the Cape’s way of luring diners out to eat during chilly winter months when business isn’t as brisk.

Yet in practice they often disappoint because they’re at little-known eateries craving recognition, or at smarter restaurants trimming their portions or creativity.

Not so at La Mouette, its French name referring to Sea Point’s beachfront seagulls. Here diners can order a la carte, or their popular six-course tasting menu all year round. But in colder months it’s one of the better winter specials, with six taster courses on the June/July winter menu totalling only R195 per head. If you opt for wine pairings it totals R325 each. We drank a versatile white in Mulderbosch Steen op Hout Chenin Blanc (R175) from the one-page list instead.

Opened in 2010 by British chef Henry Vigar, local wife Mari, and business partner Gerrit Bruwer, dining happens in three spaces inside La Mouette’s double-story Tudor building. We were upstairs, near a fireplace. Courses were pleasingly swift on a journey of earthy winter deliciousness.

Mushroom soup started the show with assorted mushroom elements in a bowl: coarse pesto, jelly and pickled mushrooms. Sweet garlic aioli. Crunch from a Parmesan hazelnut crust. A moist cheese and truffle potato croquette. The grainy-creamy soup was poured over afterwards.

Beetroot salad looked like a palette of fuchsia petals with its perky baby beet slivers: one pickled, one cooked, one ‘ravioli’ sandwiching ricotta. Acidic notes from a herby goats’ cheese ball and a hazelnut dressing, candied walnut sweetness, a pureed celeriac smear as a base note.

screen_shot_2014-07-011.jpg There is a trend in Vigar’s cooking. He calls it exploding the ingredient, by deconstructing and interpreting it in a few variations.

So the duck granola course explored a roasted purple miniature carrot, plus carrots pureed, pickled and emulsified. With salty duck parfait blobs, and a raisin and hazelnut granola, they formed an adventurous, earthy combination; freshened by radish slivers. But a single tealight candle on a table annoyed because we couldn’t properly admire the beautiful plates. With this food you eat with your eyes first.

The meat and fish courses were the most restrained. The alternative to the duck granola was a take on fish pie: cured hake with salt-baked potatoes and leek ash, a solitary mussel topped with ‘sea foam’. Black olive syrup, a sweet-salty blob of bitterness, was the high note on a plate holding lamb ragu with lamb shoulder. Its alternative dish was inspired umami brilliance. Crispy Jerusalem artichoke chips on artichoke puree and macaroni cheese, melding with gooey Parmesan and truffle oil, livened by diced tomato in vinaigrette. Loved it.

Vigar is big on sweets, so being served winter vegetables in a pudding wasn’t unappealing. A parsnip sponge improved with honey-and-thyme ice cream, carrot-and-blood-orange puree adding sour tanginess. But the course of petit fours was the meal clincher: chocolate chip biscuits, chocolate milkshake, a chocolate-coated ice cream ball quite unlike commercial Italian Kisses. An intensely bittersweet chocolate macaroon.

This is classic, skilled food with cheffy touches, yet delivering value in a relaxed environment is central to the La Mouette ethos. So smaller portions are ample in a tasting menu format. Go soon for affordable fine dining from a chef who is having some fun.

LA MOUETTE, 78 Regent Road, Sea Point. Tel 021 433 0856, La Mouette

This review appeared in The Times on 18 June 2014.

REVIEW: Street Food on Bree

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When Chefs Warehouse & Canteen opened in Cape Town in February, owner Liam Tomlin’s aim was to create a casual dining space where every square metre ‘worked’. Its location in the new Bree Street food hub was key. The high-end canteen restaurant is attached to a kitchen shop and deli. It does not take bookings and diners share long tables, eating from an ever-changing menu of soup, deli staples and desserts. The main focus is modern tapas, a board of substantial samplers of French, Italian, Asian or Middle Eastern samplers serving two. The food is vibrant and visual, the service swift and unfussy.

Street Food on Bree opened early last month. Utilising those square metres means a small pavement building outside Chefs Warehouse now offers weekday breakfast and lunch on the move. A brick wall has colourful prints of travel snaps. A few stools allow sit-down eating, and a barista from Deluxe mans the coffee hatch. Jason’s bakery supplies pastries but brownies and addictive sweet churros are made inhouse. The main appeal is Asian or Middle Eastern food, sold cold to take away. These colour-coded meals range from R40 to R65. The exception is the Asian noodle broth of the day (yellow: R50) heated via the coffee machine.

My first visit was after the lunch rush, when many noodles, salads and sandwiches were sold out. We tried Thai beef salad (green: R60) and lamb schwarma (orange: R65) and were wowed by multiple, finely sliced ingredients partnering side sauces with zingy notes. Tender, rare spice-dusted beef strips on iceberg, sprouts, green bean, red onion, coriander and basil, with roasted peanuts and buckwheat noodles for company. A sweet Asian vinaigrette boasted julienned carrot, red chilli, mint and spring onion. A strong soy dipping sauce had sesame oil richness. To nit-pick, most Thai cooking favours lighter fish sauce over soy, but the fusion didn’t detract.

dsc_0043.jpg Lamb schwarma had tangy layers and components marching in tune, although I noticed the fridge chill more. Food to go will do that. Lamb strips in herby pita, with cucumber-mint tzatziki, tomato slices, fine red onion and spring onions. Gently spiced butternut puree with a peanut sauce-like leaning, plus a bitter hit of aubergine baba ghanoush. Endearing. Sapporo Japanese beer (R30) and naartjie juice (R26) squeezed onsite made ideal lunch partners.

Claiming a stool a few days later at midday, I had many choices. I fixed on rice noodle wraps (red: R40), carrying a moist mix of sweet barbequed pork, vermicelli noodles, carrot, red onion and fragrant greens. Personally I found sesame-dotted Togarashi mayo (based on a peppery Japanese condiment) pushed creamy elements too far, but cucumber ribbons, red onion, chilli and pickled ginger created sweet lift. Finishing with a quality flat white (R18) impressed.

Of course Dublin-born Tomlin has the credentials to pull this off. His previous top-end restaurant Banc was restaurant of the year in 2001 in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. He also judged South Africa’s top 10 restaurants as an Eat Out guide panellist in 2013. That kick-started the idea of going simpler, to offer consistency and value, serving full-flavoured food people want to eat.

STREET FOOD ON BREE, 92 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel 021-422-0128. Open Monday to Friday 7am – 3pm.

This review appeared in The Times on 4 June 2014.

REVIEW: Good grub and views at The Bakery at Jordan

dsc_0010.jpg I may have found a new country breakfast favourite. The Bakery at Jordan is a café-style deli and bakery on Jordan Winery, which has prime positioning overlooking the dam. There is a buzzy coffee shop atmosphere at tables inside the bakery space, and welcome sunshine for the lucky few that manage to bag tables on the narrow upper deck. The more self-service-orientated lower deck area under the trees is a peaceful option after you’ve tasted some Jordan wines, set further away with more space and a close-up view of the dam.

dsc_0034.jpg George and Louise Jardine are behind the project, serving upmarket lunches and dinners at Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine on the property. Pastry chef-turned-baker Ciska Roussouw mans the baking oven and also oversees the small deli breakfast and lunch menu (but you’ll see chef George about too – the advantages of having a restaurant next door). The two-metre wood-fired baker’s oven with its mosaic flame-patterned door was purpose-built – George reckons the secret is in the layers of insulation. The bakery counter is regularly filled with pastries and breads (R22 to R30) including sourdough, rye and seed loaves as well as ciabatta and honey and spelt baguettes, to take away (the sourdough and ciabatta are both excellent but this baker favours a crisper, slightly blackened outer crust). Also on sale are biscuits, rusks, preserves and savoury sauces (chimichurri and aioli) made on the premises, and gorgeous bunches of roses from a neighbouring farm. The rich chocolate brownie (R25) I bought was still delicious the next day, and true to its name, decadently rich.

dsc_0025.jpg Breakfast options (served between 8.30am and 10.30am) include homemade granola, free-range eggs scrambled, or cooked ‘en cocotte’ and served with a couple of variations. We loved the ‘poach then bake’ (R55) breakfast of poached eggs, ham and spinach on a home-baked English muffin, under a herby hollandaise. Toasted sourdough served with smoked marrow, parsley, confit lemon and creamed spinach (R60) might appeal to those bored by egg-and-bacon combos. The cappuccino and Americano is decently made here and the croissants (R18) are buttery and pliable so worth ordering with cheese and jam. Our junior diner got stuck in and sticky. He also enjoyed watching pastry chef-baker Ciska Roussouw rolling and folding various pastries and breads in the bakery.

dsc_0035.jpg Brunch is served between 10.30am and 3.30pm, and plates sent out looked good. The menu is small so items rotate often, but I hope I’ll be able to return to have the Caesar salad with pancetta lardons (R90) or the salt-crusted baked hake (R105) with crushed minted peas and woodfire-roasted potato wedges. The pork pie with salad that passed me en route to a deck table looked mighty good.

dsc_0027.jpg In short, this is a great spot to linger at a table, or to pop in when in the area to buy freshly prepared supplies (aside from breads, pastries and condiments, salads are available to go). The great part is The Bakery at Jordan is a fairly direct drive along the N2 from Cape Town CBD, so getting there doesn’t take as long as you think.

THE BAKERY AT JORDAN, Jordan Winery, Stellenbosch. Open from 8.30am to 3.30pm Wednesday to Sunday (open daily from January 2014). Tel 021 881 3441, Bakery.

REVIEW: Here we go round the Mulderbosch

dsc_0008.jpg Three couples, four kids under nine. An impromptu summer Saturday reservation for an easy family pizza lunch at Mulderbosch. You know the sort. We’re wearing T-shirts, shorts, suntan cream and an easygoing mood. We’re after their winery tasting area with comfy couches and large umbrellas. The intention: relax, have a few drinks with our kids enjoying the outdoors without annoying others.

First snag on making a reservation: ‘We’ll seat you inside in the lounge. Most of the outdoor area is reserved for a group.’ It happens. But access to jungle gyms, lawns, outdoor couches and boule courts is possible only once your kids go through a door, around the corner and well, out of sight. So an hour and a half after arrival there’s a puzzling reply to our request to take over an empty outdoor table (it’s obvious nobody has pitched). Staff only then call to check the reservation. Most eateries would do that fifteen minutes past the reserved time.

dsc_0004.jpg Second snag: We want to spend our money here and tip for service too. Yet going to the drinks counter seems the only way to guarantee cold beers for our group soon. Australia’s Coopers Pale Ale in assorted styles is brilliant (R30 each). Ideally we’d always like glasses to pour a bottle of Sauvignon into too. We persevere because there are things to like here: wines served with pizzas are at cellar-door prices. Mulderbosch Steen op Hout Chenin 2011 (R59) and Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (R75) are refreshingly good. dsc_0003.jpg But it turns into a bit of a joke later when our bottle of rather delicious Fable Jackal Bird white blend (R175) arrives open with some of its liquid missing. Was it grabbed from the tasting area by mistake?

Third snag: Choosing to be a simpler tasting-room pizzeria instead of stand-alone restaurant is fine but please get it right. The wood-fired oven at Mulderbosch Vineyards churns out tasty thin-based pizzas. You’ll find enough to like in the six different toppings, all priced at R75. There is Portabellini with truffle oil, or a topping of Prosciutto, rocket and Pecorino shavings (things look up when the cloying balsamic drizzle is left off the second order, as requested). dsc_0007.jpg Although we’re traditionalists, the Asian chicken, peppers, sprouts and coriander leaf combo is good enough to warrant a repeat order. Even the biltong, peppadew and avo topping has fans.

But there is a downhill slide with kids’ pizza (R40) orders. ‘We’d like a margherita with bacon.’ None available. ‘Okay then, we’ll have salami.’ Out of salami. Third try after a kitchen consult: ‘Um, do you have ham?’ Yes. Finally relief for hungry kids. There’s a lot of passing traffic, people dropping in for cheese and charcuterie platters or tapas snacks all afternoon (there’s also easy access to a shopping centre with supermarkets about eight kilometres away). So probably the best reply of the day comes hours later. Passing the pizza counter, I’m delighted that the bacon supply seems to have been replenished. ‘Oh no, that’s not bacon. It’s pancetta,’ I’m hastily corrected. And there’s no connection between their flavours or the animals they’re made of that might warrant offering pancetta to customers on pizzas, I suppose?
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Often when a place delivers hit-and-miss service it’s because a team is caught unawares by crowds and rushed off their feet. Interacting with good-natured staff who stumble over ingredient names but genuinely try to oblige, you quickly realise the issue is a lack of training and an absence of management. Mulderbosch Vineyards was purchased by Terroir Capital in the USA and the tasting room area modernised at great expense a few years ago. It’s a very pleasant space to spend a few hours. But you can’t help thinking that their wines deserve a little better.

MULDERBOSCH VINEYARDS, Polkedraai Road, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 881 8140,
Mulderbosch

REVIEW: Paternoster’s best seafood

dsc_0019.jpg I ate my best fishy lunch in years on a recent drive up the West Coast to Paternoster. It was one of those simple meals in a modest environment where expectations were lowered. You know, as a defence mechanism after the previous visit to the area left memories of gusty sea views and emotions bruised by over-oily fish, stodgy chips and a mussel sauce congealed with bad margarine.

I’d heard about Kobus van der Merwe but never imagined the sheer joy his humble seafood could bring. There are food people who know his culinary background very well and I’m not one of them. I can only write about what I tasted and felt, and know I had that switch-on-the-lights culinary moment when your brain realises that you’re experiencing something very special. Oep ve Koep is colloquial Paternoster chatter – open for business. The old fisherman’s cottage shop sells all sorts, and leads to tables in the enclosed garden.

dsc_0005.jpg When I called a few days ahead, Kobus answered the phone and said to please book 24 hours in advance. Something about serving a set menu on Sunday but the restaurant not having sufficient customers to open routinely on a Friday. I can’t imagine why not.

One of my biggest disappointments of Cape Town life has been the limited range of sustainably sea-harvested, affordable fish and seafood. The city is on the Atlantic coastline yet pressure on our oceans means that each year a bountiful supply of fresh local sea gems – to cook or order off a menu – becomes more out of reach. Farmed will soon have to do.

dsc_0007.jpg Oep ve Koep offers a taste of what seems missing. The focus is products from the sea, supplemented by fish farmed in the area. The chef grows herbs and edible flowers, and forages the coastline for seaweeds and dune spinach. It’s what gives his dishes such unusual flavours.

We snacked from a basket of misshaped bread sticks and old-style bread with angelfish pate, farm butter and a lemon rind preserve made from a thick-skinned, old-fashioned variety. Rose geranium and wild sage leaves made it smell beautiful. Large, imperfect salt flakes from KhoiSan in Velddrif, on the table.

dsc_0012.jpg To drink, Groote Post Old Man’s White (R114), the ideal seafood wine with its uncomplicated Sauvignon-Chenin-Semillon blend. Craft beers, Swartland and Darling wineries make up the balance of the small list of mostly modest labels, with Sir Lambert’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc (R180) if you wanted to be posh.

We picked at the delicate flavour of pickled angelfish (R55), fillets lightly treated in lemon juice and white pepper, on a giant textured sea leaf called summer ice plant, with delicate fennel leaves and naartjie segments. The fishy freshness reminded of lemon juice-cured ceviche.

The Saldanha Bay mussel starter (R65). We liked it so much we ordered it again with our main course. Mussels in shells poached gently in olive oil, a dash of cream and wild garlic. Small strips of springbok Carpaccio pre-smoked with rooibos tea leaves curling up in the hot broth, producing a cheekily light yet smoky-frothy-creamy-stocky broth with just the right ratio of each ingredient.

dsc_0015.jpg Die Mogens (R115). Is that Paternoster slang for the morning? I’m not sure, but I liked this main course dish very much. A large fig leaf from the neighbour’s tree, enclosing half a farmed kabeljou fillet-half baked inside a paper bag that had held country-ground flour for the bread. Unusually, a drizzle of black olive oil, dune spinach and a few perky waterblommetjies and nasturtium leaves for greens. The unusual sea and land elements creep up on you, cementing the awareness that you’re eating things of aquatic origin. A comforting neutral canvas in mashed white beans.

We didn’t have dessert. The purity of unadorned sea flavours and feeling full-but-not-weighed-down cancelled other cravings. Paternoster is around 150 kilometres from Cape Town. When I’m next asked for a Cape seafood restaurant recommendation it will be an easy choice. I just hope they’re open.

OEP VE KOEP RESTAURANT, St Augustine Road, Paternoster.
Tel 022 752 2105.

REVIEW: The Restaurant at Newton Johnson and Eric Bullpitt

dsc_0015.jpg I try to follow a few pointers when trying out new restaurants.
1. Give them time to settle and tweak their menus and service.
2. See what other food-lovers are saying to get a feel for what’s good or if a style is developing.

But occasionally I don’t follow my own rules because a good opportunity presents itself. This past September weekend was one of those. A last-minute decision to spend a couple of quiet days in Hermanus, coincided with The Restaurant at Newton Johnson opening its doors in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley on Friday 20 September. A Sunday lunch reservation was hastily secured.

Two of the best impulse decisions made, but then I had a hunch they both would be. I like the deceptively simple food of Chef George Jardine (of Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine in Stellenbosch), and have often been impressed by plates turned out by Eric Bullpitt, who George mentored and then nudged into running the kitchen at Jardine Restaurant in its original Cape Town CBD location. So it makes absolute sense that George and Eric are partners in this venture, Eric behind the stove, with George casting an eye over the pass on a weekly basis. The revamped restaurant on Newton Johnson’s wine farm (Heaven used to operate here) sees an opened up kitchen and dining space. A deck will follow. dsc_0001.jpg

When Eric moved to The Roundhouse, I caught up with him after his six-week stage at Noma in Copenhagen in 2011. Good chefs hone all five senses but Eric returned with his eyes and nose peeled to the pavement in search of edible chickweed. Chatting now from behind his open kitchen counter, Eric says they forage for most wild herbs used at the restaurant. His kitchen crew is getting extra direction from former Noma kitchen colleague Thomas Paulsen, who’s working with Eric for a few weeks (He’s called Tommy Tash but with those long blonde locks and Viking looks ‘Thor’ seems more appropriate).

The menu is compact and confident: four starters, four mains and four desserts. Hand-cut chips or a salad of garden greens with mature Gruyere as side orders. And some diners might want to order them, as the plates aren’t as heaped as people might expect in the country. This is sophisticated rural fare, the sort where each flavour or textural element contributes to the whole and nothing extra distracts from the effect. It’s a single printed page that allows frequent accommodating of new ingredients.

dsc_0019.jpg The valley views make it easy to get side-tracked from what you’re eating, but Eric’s dishes quickly return the focus. George was watching over service too on this particular Sunday, but dressed in a jacket and not chef’s whites. Although I see a lot of George’s style and ingredient influence on Eric’s plates, George says it’s just the two of them having similar ideas about what they like in food.

The starters (R60 to R70) tempted with cured and hot-smoked yellowtail with globe artichokes, or slow-braised beef tongue with celeriac puree. We tried a pea velouté made from peas grown as cover crops between the grapevines, thick and slightly lemony as it was poured on to the plate, crispy pork crackling bits giving a ‘pea and ham soup’ sensation. The lift came in crudités of fresh and pickled wafers of carrot, raddish, patty pan and bulrush, a leek-like white plant growing wild around ponds. Similarly impressive, the confit duck leg was shredded into rillettes, rolled into crunchy fried balls, and offset perfectly by roasted aubergine puree, roasted beetroot and subtle spicy dressing. An inspiring start.

dsc_0025.jpg You’ll find only Newton Johnson and Felicité labels on the wine list, aside from styles the winery doesn’t make (Villiera Tradition Brut takes the bubbly spot). A few are available by the glass – Newton Johnson Sauvignon Blanc 2013 at R36, Full Stop Rock 2010 at R47. We were tempted by the Resonance 2012 white blend at R137 a bottle, but instead splashed out on the latest domaine Pinot vintage – they also make an Elgin version but it wasn’t on the list. Newton Johnson’s Family Pinot Noir 2012 (R320) is tightly wound to go the distance yet vibrant cherry fruit offers amazing accessibility already – it was easy to finish the bottle between two.

The vegetarian main course sounded intriguing, a mix of winter root vegetables creatively partnered with Huguenot cheese and hazelnuts. But we settled on two excellent choices in beef rib-eye (R155) and pork belly (R150). Slow-braised belly: succulent and flavourful without being overly fatty, Granny Smith apples adding subtle notes in purees and stewed cubes doused in wholegrain mustard tangy sauce. Baby cabbage folds for texture. The rib-eye partnered a mini-study of the onion and leek family: pickled, charred, roasted and fried onion rings, spoonfuls of stocky jus pulling it together with still-pink charred meat.

dsc_0013.jpg The Eton mess meringue, berry and cream dessert is one of Eric’s signatures (R50). We were comforted instead by a simple milk panna cotta (R55). Soft-set vanilla custard with a lick of passion fruit, crunchy honeycomb and lavender flowers. To be critical, the walnut and banana cake would’ve been better a day earlier, but its earthy notes worked with roasted banana puree, dots of white chocolate cremeux and delicate caramel ice-cream. The service side also has quirks to iron out as staff become familiar with the menu. Likewise the kitchen will probably tweak dishes as they become more in tune with the regional produce. But there is no doubt that Eric and George have raised Hermanus dining by a few notches. The level of skill means prices are pitched well above a family restaurant, yet it was families and holidaymakers that kept the Sunday dining atmosphere relaxed. The kitchen offered to prepare grilled hake and hand-cut chips (R85) for the junior diner at our table. On request they even produced a sauce jug of tomato sauce.

THE RESTAURANT AT NEWTON JOHNSON, Newton Johnson Winery, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus. Tel 021 200-2148 Newton Johnson.

REVIEW: Delicious highlights of 20 hours in Stellenbosch

dsc_0001.jpg I recently spent about 20 hours in Stellenbosch celebrating a significant anniversary. Our experiences were so enjoyable it seemed a pity not to share the recommendations. The options were simple. A long lunch or dinner, with an overnight stay to eliminate any worries about a long drive back to Cape Town. This had to be a make-it-count meal, with only two options qualifying in that department. As an adult dining experience in a great Winelands environment, you can’t beat Overture at Hidden Valley or Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine. We chose Jardine, deciding that valley views made lunch a better option than dinner.

dsc_0003.jpg Chef George Jardine was in the kitchen, and we were delighted to accept his offer of sending out a surprise menu instead of the usual three-course lunch. It was modelled on the six courses usually served to diners at night. We eat anything but mentioned we were particularly keen on the fish dishes listed on the lunch menu. It was a smart move as our meal included delicate trout, farmed fish and skate in creative forms. Without going into great detail, let’s just say these six courses were a brilliant reminder of why Jardine is one of the cleverest, most intuitive chefs in South Africa. His talent is in combinations of gentler ingredients including the likes of cauliflower and celeriac. He smokes food and adds surprise tiny elements – say a cube of pickled aubergine - for flavour hits. The hot-smoked trout was deceptively simple but surprised with orange reductions and dried bits, alongside the vinegar tartness of pickled aubergine and a menthol kick from flower pollen. How many chefs would think up and manage to pull off that sort of stuff?

The standout dish on the day was the grilled farmed Kabeljou with a smear of herb crust, bits of raw curly kale, on a cauliflower puree, pulled together with the saltiness of capers fried with sage and beurre noisette. Equally impressive, pulling back the kitchen paper “lid” over a round glass bowl to reveal a tasty cream-laced medley of smoked mushrooms with confit garlic and sherry, topped with a “crust” of cauliflower espuma and Parmesan. A perfect slice of brioche on the side. dsc_0020.jpg It’s worth leaving the wine pairings to assistant manager William, who made some superb matches with new and older Jordan wines. For instance, the Jordan barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2008 showed delicious oiliness against the rich Kabeljou dish.

Our accommodation was chosen because of its central location near Dorp and Church Streets, so we could explore a few drinking holes at night, and have the option of walking access to breakfast along the wide oak-lined streets of Stellenbosch. Time was in short supply but we managed a quick cappuccino and hot dish at fabulous De Oude Bank Bakkerij the next morning. Baker Fritz Schoon apparently trained at Il de Pain, and the aroma of his artisan loaves and pastries lure passing traffic inside.

dsc_0022.jpg This small venue shouts creativity and integrity, from the distressed wood dining tables and novel wood and metal chairs to the novel crockery, wide knives and forks. Pricing is very reasonable (most breakfast options are R40-ish) and there are assorted breads, pastei de nata and chocolate sticks to take home. Young families and couples breakfast with a view of the baking action. There is an emphasis on holistic artisan suppliers, from the Spier eggs in the vibrant yellow scramble topping delicious sourdough toast to the smoked bacon.

JORDAN RESTAURANT WITH GEORGE JARDINE, Jordan Winery, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 881 3612. Lunch: two courses at R275 or three courses at R320.A six-course menu is usually served at night (R450 per head. Optional wine pairing at R270).
DE OUDE BANK BAKKERIJ, 7 Church Street, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 883 2187

REVIEW: Heavenly helpings at Mogg’s Country Cookhouse

dsc_0002.jpg There are few things as satisfying as revisiting a restaurant that you remember fondly from years before and finding that the current experience lives up to the memory. A table for five at Mogg’s Country Cookhouse in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley during a January holiday weekend didn’t disappoint. The venue is stuck in a country time warp, complete with a dining room ceiling of pine cones and dated bric a brac. It’s the remote location, valley vistas from the rustic outdoor tables, and the wholesome flavours that gives this spot its specialness.

As has been the case for a while, a small selection of starters, mains and desserts are carted around the restaurant for viewing on a chalkboard. Julia cooks while mother Jenny serves and hosts in the front. In the old days this venue was BYO. Now diners pay small mark-ups on a valley-focused list or a corkage charge. dsc_0005.jpg The wine selection is sensible but somewhat uncreative considering the talented winery neighbours. We drank Beaumont’s uncomplicated blend labelled as Raoul’s White 2012 (R80), which could’ve been better chilled. And by the time we’d splashed out on Creation Syrah Grenache 2011 (R195) with the main course, we realised the chunky glasses didn’t help. But that’s part of the charm of Mogg’s. It’s country food in a country environment, with jugs of homemade lemonade on the menu and a plate of reassuring vegetables on offer at an extra R30. In short, delicious dining favouring a luddite more than a city slicker.

Some highlights include starters such as Gruyere cheese soufflé (while small, it had a lovely salty-Parmesan tanginess) with blended watercress sauce, perky bacon and rocket tossed in a sweet vinaigrette (R65). dsc_0008.jpg A beetroot fritter was unusual, paired with avo, rocket and a creamy wasabi drizzle, topped with a swirl of smoked salmon (R60). The calamari salad (R65) with seeds, homegrown herbs and greens from the property’s veggie garden and a not-so-gentle chilli vinaigrette with Thai or Vietnamese leanings, was declared a must-have for any Asian fans. Main course options were a little more limited in scope, but tasty enough. The duck pie (R 90) was comforting under a round puff crust with a chestnut crumble for crunch, the mild tamarind-dosed seafood curry (R110) vibrantly presented with a papadum and Asian rice.

dsc_0008.jpg We tried desserts too, three tasty scoops of vanilla ice cream (R45) probably still from that popular housewife’s recipe made with condensed milk in home freezers two decades ago, where you’ll find crystals at the end. A phyllo pastry basket of summer berries (R48) had fans, partnering a sweetly-sourish white chocolate sauce.

Child friendly? Very. A menu with tasty calamari strips and pasta kiddies’ options combine with a playground, tractor tires of sand, a chicken hatch (with a hen and cute chicks in tow) and unlimited space to run around.

MOGG’S COUNTRY COOKHOUSE, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Hermanus, Tel 028 312 4321 Mogg’s. Check opening times.

REVIEW: Poolside Elgin eating

dsc_0014.jpg Most restaurants tweak their menus and ease up a little on staff training after they’ve made it through the first few chaotic weeks. The Pool Room at Oak Valley is certainly still in that test run phase, but a very pleasant lunch during one of the Elgin Open Gardens weekends suggests that they’ve got a winning summertime formula for a daytime restaurant and deli. The light-toned eatery is centred around a sparkling swimming pool (no dipping allowed), with cane furniture, tables and umbrellas lining either side. A raised area accommodates more diners.

The Pool Room menu is small and simple, the presentation classy. Everything is focused on what Oak Valley rears, grows or bakes. In other words, grass-fed beef and acorn-fed pork which the Rawbone-Viljoen family has spent years developing on their expansive farm. Vegetables and herbs are also grown behind the restaurant. dsc_0018.jpg There is good bread from ciabatta to baguettes and sourdough. Former Joburg restaurateur Nicole Precoudis has dry-cured a charcuterie range that includes pancetta, saucisson sec and an orange and walnut salami. Precoudis’ excellent Terre Madre MCC-style apple cider is also on the wine list and worth searching out.

Three of us ordered most of the savoury menu, washed down with chilled Oak Valley Sauvignon Blanc (R85). We shared a charcuterie platter, followed by a grilled vegetable salad with chickpeas and goat’s cheese (R55), and a generous portion of two plump acorn-fed pork loin chops (R95) served with a creamy wholegrain mustard cider sauce. ov_gourmet_burger.jpg The accompanying handcut crispy fries are always served with homemade mayonnaise. Fries also accompany the gourmet burger, made from farm free-range beef, served with a mature Huguenot cheese, red onions and pickle - even the bun is homemade. No evidence yet of the pricy marbled Wagyu beef Oak Valley is producing, but I’m told it will be on offer from time to time. Thumbs up for simple and attractively presented dishes with an emphasis on free-range and farm-grown items. Desserts are on offer - homemade apple tart and lemon tart - but we didn’t get that far.

dsc_0013.jpg At this stage more of the charcuterie seems to be available for purchase in the Deli than on the menu – an R85 charcuterie platter included pancetta with items such as rare roast beef, liver terrine, rillettes and cheese. But then it’s near impossible to leave without Deli shopping. Ready-to-cook meats such as pork belly and shank vie with Precoudis’ stylishly bottled strawberry jam and tomato and chili sauces. There are inexpensive sweet bakes and cut flowers (Oak Valley supplies Woolworths). The legendary Christmas cakes made by Elgin neighbour Elizabeth Wood are worth seeking out, and Wood’s Rockhaven extra virgin olive oil is the house oil on diners’ tables.

THE POOL ROOM, Oak Valley Estate, Oak Avenue, Elgin, Tel 021 859 4111 Oak Valley. Check opening times.

REVIEW: Bruce Robertson pushes the boat out

dsc_0015.jpg With his A-type personality, background in creative design and drive that reminds of the Duracell bunny that keeps on going, Bruce Robertson is a chef with a big personality and big ideas. He’s known for dishes you have to sit upright and pay attention to, hence they run the risk of being picked apart by his critics as gimmicky. I recall unexpected ingredients or textures in a dish, from popping candy surprises to dishes with endless sauce options on the side, to gourmet street food bunny chows. He’s worked in high-end game lodges and as executive chef at Cape Grace hotel, but is probably best remembered for the open-kitchen culinary performances he gave at The Showroom restaurant.

Bruce disappeared off the scene for the last few years to lead high-end culinary tours and private chef in luxury African safari lodges for some of the world’s pickier travellers. He still pops off for these cooking stints for short periods. He’s remunerated well. But in February 2012 Bruce put down roots again, using the double-story beach house in Scarborough where he now lives as the venue for his most recent restaurant venture The Boat House. dsc_0004.jpg

What a joy to discover the simpler seafood-focused eating experience Bruce is offering. A series of honest dishes prepared with skill, pared down to flavour and texture essentials – of all his cooking, it’s what I’ve liked best. Bruce flair is there in small doses, but the food isn’t trying to attract a diner’s attention with disco balls and neon signage.

How it works: You eat whatever is being prepared on the day – either three courses or five, depending on how much time you have to kill - and sustainably sourced seafood is the focus. There is a Cape twist to some of the dishes, especially in dessert. The middle course changes on a daily basis – Bruce calls it “the bomb” because it’s always packed with flavour – but the rest of the menu remains largely unchanged.

“I don’t cook for passion any more, I cook for a lifestyle. I buy only what I need, which is why my reservation rule is 24 hours in advance,” he says as diners take their seats. The meal starts with a bang. The Boat House chowder. Homemade gnocchi, fresh mussels and hake bits in a salty, stocky bisque with peas. You’re subtly bombarded by flavour hits: piquant chorizo, lemon juice zing, homemade tomato chutney, fresh courgette rounds, the curried spice of a teaspoon of pickled fish. It’s finished with seaweed ‘confetti’.

dsc_0010.jpg After a welcome drink of delicious Cederburg Brut MCC 2007, three wines are served simultaneously at the start of the meal. The pairings are casual, designed for any of the dishes, in any order. They include offdry Cederburg Bukettraube 2011 alongside the dry Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Rosé 2011 and Cederburg Shiraz 2009.

The middle course is equally impressive: a transparent cup and saucer holds a snoek and hake fishcake in a pickled shark bisque (the only anomaly for a sustainable seafood menu because the shark is in SASSI orange territory). Gentle curried flavour with whole coriander seeds, a mascarpone blob of creaminess, plus spicy crunch from Cajun-spiced cashews. All the while it’s Bruce doing the cooking, wine serving and chatting. A one-man show. “It’s all about the prep. I do that at night with a glass of wine,” he says.

dsc_0017.jpg “I’m allowed to drink and work cause I’m self-employed,” Bruce chirps to the assembled lunch guests, warming up. My husband and I are eating, and nearby a tour guide has brought a casting agent from LA and her son, who works in film in New York. The fact that you’re in somebody’s house encourages conversations between tables. We learn that they’ve eaten their way around a few good international restaurants, and the son “just loves tasting menus”. Notably they leave impressed at the end of this meal.

Seared angelfish fillet from Kalk Bay harbour is served with a piped swirl of olive oil-mashed potato, perky green beans and wilted spinach - the warm Niçoise part of the dish - and a poached quail egg. It’s deceptively simple because flavours dance, thanks to the addition of a chillied tomato and olive chutney, salty caperberry and a lavash biscuit. The genius is in the hot ingredients all pulling together against the cold olive oil-and-lemon-marinated grated fennel bulb salad. Trivia: A strip of nori seaweed has holes cut out with a paper punch (connecting the dots of the seaweed ‘confetti’ on the chowder). Did I mention there are still some Bruce surprises?

Dessert has Cape Malay overtones: Bruce’s ‘melk kos’ boeber jelly incorporates the traditional Cape Malay milky cinnamon-laced boeber pudding set with vermicelli and sago. But it’s fashioned into a tasty panna cotta, topped with crushed meringue and his vanilla “frozen cream” (ice cream to the rest of us). On the same dessert plate, a sherry-stewed fruit samosa, mini Malva pudding with lemon cream and a dash of Nachtmusiek. Tasty and fun. dsc_0001.jpg

The fifth course is a cheese board, served with a dessert wine. The cheeses including a lemon fynbos and an aged cheddar, are sourced locally (Imhoff Cheesery goat’s gouda a mere 12km away). Forget dull crackers, this is served with a chilli bite. Black fig chutney, yoghurt and mint jelly is also part of the plate.

Lunch is drizzled with Bruce-isms. “This is where I live and sleep. I don’t want food critics here.” And [pointing to Spain’s Alinea restaurant cookbook] “It’s beautiful but this for me isn’t food. My food has become real, but there’s still a Bruce twist.” He doesn’t have the assistants required to prepare such intricately complex dishes anyway. Personally I’m relieved. I prefer this matured style.

Go to The Boathouse. It’s a relaxing lunch worth doing, and a beautiful drive.

The deal: Three courses incl glass of Cederberg wine at R325pp.
Five courses incl five tasting glasses of Cederberg wines at R495pp.

THE BOAT HOUSE, 36 Beach Road, Scarborough, Tel 021 780 1789 Boat House. Open for lunch from Mon to Sat. Limited seating so advance reservation essential.

REVIEW: Winter weather-friendly eating at Dornier’s Bodega

dsc_0014.jpg There aren’t a lot of city or Wineland restaurants that offer a solid menu, pleasant outdoor spaces and overhead cover from wet Cape winter weather if it sets in. So with rain being a feature of late April and May 2012, Dornier’s Bodega is an all-weather venue worth remembering.

The restaurant offers an uncomplicated, creative chalkboard menu (any two courses at R190 or any three at R240 per person) and a colourful indoor eating area. Tables fill fast on the covered terrace whenever winter days loose their chill - mountain-flanked views of the Dornier winery and orange-tinged autumn trees are easy on the eye. And for younger family members, the proximity to lawns, dsc_0005.jpg
a sandpit and an impressive boat-shaped jungle gym means parents can relax to some degree.

Our group of four adults struggled to find four different starters and main courses to order, but overall the flavours were delicious and the all-round experience made the venue enjoyable. The restaurant advertises “farm cuisine inspired by fresh ingredients” and that is pretty much what is served. There was evidence of a professional chef in colourful plates that sometimes tried too hard, yet clumsiness in some of the execution. The oxtail main special looked divine and was fall-off-the-bone tender, for instance. But it had sweetness overkill from both the tomato sauce surrounding the oxtail and a sweet carrot mash. The chocolate tart (one of only two desserts) was brittle and tasted of flour, served with quite mediocre maraschino cherry ice cream. We were relieved we only ordered one. dsc_0012.jpg

However we loved a starter of creamed snoek-filled fresh tortellini, vibrant and comforting with a pea, mint risotto, creamy sauce and crispy bacon bits. The slowcooked-to-perfection pork belly was flavour-rich and perky with its butternut risotto, ideal starter morsels on a plate. In main courses the free-range ribeye had a salty tang from anchovy butter and dissolved like velvet under the knife. It was a delight to have the steak partnered by great chips sprinkled with rosemary and salt flakes. All redeeming factors.

The Bodega wine list offers a good selection of Stellenbosch labels – I spotted Waterford’s Kevin Arnold Shiraz at R240 - and a plus is that Dornier wine mark ups on cellar door prices are slight. dsc_0013.jpg We sipped flutes of Villiera Brut Rose (R170 per bottle) when the Cocoa Hill Chenin Blanc was sold out. Later we were talked into trying an unfamiliar Dornier Do-X Cabernet Franc 2008. It’s a wine with delicious plummy elegance I’ll order again. It sells at cellar door at R93, and at a very reasonable R123 on the wine list. Service was good with attentive waiters throughout the meal. We lingered for a while afterwards and never had the feeling that we were in the way of staff going home.

BODEGA AT DORNIER, Dornier Wines, Blaauwklippen Road, Stellenbosch, Tel 021 880 1200 Bodega. Check opening times and specials during winter. Children’s menu available.

REVIEW: Burger-free Clarke’s in Bree Street

dsc_002.jpg Here is my dilemma. It feels like you’re shortchanging a new restaurant if you’re trying to review them on their reputation for producing a great burger, and you weren’t successful. But then we felt more than a little shortchanged on arrival at Clarke’s in Bree Street at 1.45pm for a quick midweek lunch. Only to be told when menus were handed out that the cheeseburgers were all sold out (as was the Caesar salad).

Clarke’s serves other food but offers only one burger (a vegetarian version doesn’t count), the free-range cheeseburger they’ve developed a reputation for. It’s a lot like going to a pizzeria and discovering they’ve run out of dough.

This is a CBD eatery that doesn’t take bookings, is open on Wednesday (the day of our visit) through Friday from 7am “til late”. You would assume that even with a busy lunch crowd, staff would be expecting some customers in the afternoon? They have an interesting menu and good intentions, yet reports I’ve read suggest that Clarke’s has a history of running out of ingredients since opening in December 2011.

In their favour, having no burgers forced us to try two other good items on the menu. The Reuben was a standout sandwich. Soft free-range beef brisket from Bill Riley Meats, unusually but extremely tastily partnered with braised red cabbage, blue cheese dressing and emmental between toasted slices of 66% gourmet rye.

dsc_002.jpg The Pulled Pork Sub delivered subtle slow-cooked pork shoulder flavours, delicious with sauteed Swiss chard and provolone cheese. Pickled cucumber and red onion was on the side. Both sandwiches were R50.

Two friends both had the Cobb salad, a mix of choped iceberg, chicken, boiled eggs, fried bacon, blue cheese and tomato. At R40 apiece, presentable and tasty but on the small side, and not special.

The deal at Clarke’s is about supporting all the artisan suppliers. The food is supposed to taste better, and I’d say, largely does. Bill Riley provides the free-range beef for the burger patties, there are buns from Worcester, ice cream scoops from The Creamery, and so on.

The space is light and airy in that clever-on-a-shoestring-budget way, and it seats more people than you’d think. It’s comfortable without being pretentious, and bar chairs suit single diners at the central counter where tapping into wifi happens at the price of a R16 flat white (Deluxe coffee). A bugbear is the inconsistent service. It would be nice to see better communication between staff in the kitchen and on the floor - for our group of four, only two glasses of water were brought on arrival. Two salads arrived a good twenty minutes before the two sandwiches ordered at the same time. Ahem.

Nevertheless, we will return for the burgers, only to see if they live up to the hype.

CLARKE’S 133 Bree Street, Cape Town CBD. Tel 021 424 7648 Clarke’s

REVIEW: Woodlands Eatery for Sunday comfort and pizza take-aways

dsc_0001.jpg Ever get that feeling that everybody else has cottoned on to something good, yet somehow you’ve completely overlooked what’s in front of you? Woodlands Eatery is a small spot in the city-flanking suburb of Vredehoek, which makes it part of my ‘hood’. It opened in late 2010 but I only heard or read good things about it some nine months later. I’m surprised because it’s super-popular for a spot that on face value is an entrenched neighbourhood local. The food and prices are decent too.

Two visits: Sunday lunch with a booking. And last-minute pizza take-aways last night, after my dilly friend Jane got her wires crossed and cancelled our girl’s-night-out. On both occasions the place was packed to capacity – go figure in recession-ridden Cape Town. The Sunday crowd was a mix of ages and stages. Midweek dinner was full of pretty twenty and thirtysomethings with disposable income and social lives unhindered by young children. Those were the days…

A few observations: the space is divided into the ‘cool’ sun-dappled outdoor smoking section, while the oxygen seekers have to make do with the smaller indoor, darker interior. At night the indoor area is cosier. Appealing décor: mismatched tables, little prints of birds and things, a grouping of decorative lampshades, and an exposed brick bar area. The vibe is casual - families with young children sit alongside trendy couples. A good thing: owner Larry always seems to be around. dsc_0004.jpg

The food? Honest with creative interpretations of classic combinations. Some dishes work better than others but overall the impression is good. The salt-and-pepper squid with garlic aioli (R48) and deepfried minced pork wonton with a fresh Asian-inspired side salad (R45) kicked the meal off to an impressive start, except it lacked a bit of spice heat. The beer-battered hake (R75) to follow needed more seasoning and crisper roast baby potatoes however. Asian noodles (R85) with pork belly and prawns was good, detracted only by its Asian seasonings being slightly out of balance in the salty/bitter/sour/sweet department. Chocolate fondant (R38) was without fault – crispy cake round with a deliciously oozy centre, partnering quality creamy vanilla ice cream. Just right for two sharing after a filling meal. dsc_0010.jpg

We started our meal with very pleasant Darling Brew Slow Beer half draughts (R19), before opening a special bottle we’d brought (corkage R30). But Hermit on the Hill is a very affordable garagiste white and red range by glass (R19 to R24) and bottle (R75 to R95).

The pizzas favour combinations veering away from Italian purist traditions. But they have crispy thin charred bases and don’t overloadl the toppings which I like. A take-away Parma ham pizza (R85) turned out to be a tomato-less pizza bread topped after baking with quality Parma, rocket, crumbled feta and tomato slices. Pleasant enough but the balsamic drizzle was too sweet after a few bites. A three-mushroom pizza (R60) was impressive. A smear of homemade tomato paste with a dash of melted cheese and a topping of uncooked feta, and what appeared to be raw shimeji, shitake and button shrooms with rosemary sprigs. Tangy and delicious.

In short: Woodlands Eatery serves tasty and honestly prepared food, even if some of the Asian saucing isn’t quite spot on in the sweet-to-salty balance. Plenty of vegetarian options, while a limited selection of wines at everyday-drinking prices suit what the venue is trying to be.

Spend: A little under R50 for starters, around R60 to R85 for pizzas, R75 to R85 for mains and a few desserts at under R40. dsc_0005.jpg
Value: Well-priced and uncomplicated food and drinks. Inexpensive yet clever décor pitches this spot at just above a home from home.

Flavour rating: Better-than-good food and a friendly, unintimidating atmosphere.

WOODLANDS EATERY, 2 Deer Park Avenue, Vredehoek. Tel 021 801-5799. Open Tuesday to Thurs dinner, and Fri, Sat and Sunday for lunch and dinner. Take-aways too.

REVIEW: Quick Fri Newlands lunch? Caveau at the Mill

dsc_0004.jpg Looking for potential nanny candidates. It’s a mind-numbing job but has to be done when the nanny you’ve trained takes another job without giving notice. Calls in sick for two days, then switches off her phone until I send her sister over with police, expecting the worst. You do this when people have troubled, complicated personal lives. Eventually I discover that her former employer made her a better offer. Originally laid her off and now recruits her for baby number two. Ethical? Hardly. But they did me a favour as she wasn’t a great fit.

Still, it’s a hassle and you want to lessen the effects on a one-year-old. So I’m doing potential nanny trial days now and again. So far: one good candidate, one with potential, and one that didn’t pitch resulting in a R500 fine at a ‘No Stopping’ sign. In between monitoring skills I’m discovering a lot about South African “madams” who recommend “experienced” nannies deficient in food-making skills. One told me she’d never cooked and pureed meat or chicken because her madam bought toddler meals at Woolies and trained her to heat it in the microwave. Oi!

All this left me in need of stimulating adult conversation and proper chewable food. We took a chance and left our little guy for over an hour, escaping to Caveau at the Mill in Newlands. It was rainy and full of Friday southern suburbs folks, some getting into the mood for the rugby game tonight.

The food? dsc_0007.jpg Pricy but mostly very tasty. Fish and chips – beer-battered kingklip with homemade tartare sauce and chips – at R110. A lamb burger at R98. Great fish in perky batter, crispy Belgium-style thin chips. The burger was less satisfying. Two battered onion rings were fine and I liked the cumin-laced patty but would’ve preferred warning about a humus and tzatziki topping. A Greek meze twist clearly, but I prefer relish.
We drank glasses of Hartenberg Cab/Shiraz 2008 (R30) in red as they were out of Bradgate Syrah 2009 (R27), and Avondale Chenin 2010 (R33) in white. Desserts sounded yummy – bread and butter pud or white chocolate brownies . We settled instead on quick coffees with homemade dark chocolate truffles (R4.50), a clever touch: it’s nice to finish a meal with a tiny taste of sweet.

In short: Caveau at the Mill is still one of the best eating options in an area where gourmet pickings are slim. Wine options are still plentiful. But it’s not cheap. dsc_0002.jpg

Spend: Around R75 for salads, R98 to R110 for burgers, fish or pork belly.

Value: Attention to detail and quality ingredients justifies the price somewhat but prices are above average for what is essentially café or bistro grub. Wine bars typically don’t offer great value drinks, arguing that they provide a varied wine selection and decent glasses. It was good to find by-the-glass options under R30.

Flavour rating: Good food, cosy atmosphere with a leafy view and an indoor fireplace.

CAVEAU AT THE MILL , 13 Boundary Road, Newlands. Tel 021 685-5140. Open Tuesday to Sunday.

REVIEW: Eat. New in my neighbourhood

dsc_001.jpg I’m loving my new hood, particularly when explored on daily walks. Moving to Oranjezicht means leafy streets and parks, friendly families and gorgeous Victorian or Georgian homes.

What a delight to recently discover a brightly-painted space called Eat, up the road from Gardens Shopping Centre. Owner Carolyn Singer has an effective way of luring passersby inside. She offers a nibble of something to taste, and her cooking does the persuading. On my first walk by it was a star-shaped shortbread biscuit; she bakes these daily for serving with coffee. At near closing time when I walked past her son was helping her roll biscuit dough for more.

The purple and fuschia Eat space is filled to the brim with edible goodies, beautifully displayed. Here it’s all in the details. In fact shelves are so full there is barely space for tables and chairs, which explains why there are only a few options on the chalkboard menu. dsc_008.jpg

We returned on Saturday morning to sample one of the chalkboard items. The ‘all-day breakfast’ is a filling portion of scrambled egg with rashers of crispy bacon served with freshly baked rosemary ciabatta-style bread - amazing value. Not mad about the coffee used, Mocambo, but that’s a personal thing. The buffet table lunch spread looked inviting but eating more was impossible so we took home cupcakes (R9) for later. The carrot cupcake was a winner, the chocolate ganache lacking moisture and intensity. Vanilla, or multi-coloured rainbow cupcakes with vibrant multi-coloured piping are other options.

Singer lives in the area and has been a caterer for seven years, relying only on word of mouth. She prepares a selection of cooked savoury dishes and salads for the buffet table every morning, and theses are sold by weight – home-smoked chicken in a lightly curried orange sauce were part of that. The chicken diavalo and fish drizzled with salsa verde looked good alongside spinach quiche, roasted veggies and creative salads. dsc_007.jpg

A convenient option for I-don’t-feel-like-cooking evenings are homemade soups and ready-made meals and desserts sold frozen in small, medium and large sizes. Some are pricier than ready-made meals at Woolies but would likely offer more flavour. Savoury options include smoky pea or pear and courgette soups, to meals such as chilli con carne to chicken pie, tuna lasagne and spaghetti bolognaise. Sweet treats include cheesecake, chocolate mousse and malva pudding, chocolate bread and butter pudding or peppermint crisp dessert.

As people wandered in and out, Singer offered them tastes. It’s how I ended up trying delicate rose water meringues at breakfast. Cherry buttermilk rusks, chocolate salami, chocolate brownies, bags of Greek shortbread balls, and slices of chocolate tart also tempt. And soon as my freezer empties sufficiently to stock ice-cream I’ll return to buy a jar of homemade caramel sauce (R40). Bottled savoury goods are made here too: homemade Egyptian dukha, pesto, harissa, sweet ‘n sour sauce, selling for R30 to R40.

Spend: R40 for an all-day breakfast. Lunch is charged per weight of meats, salads or quiches. Frozen meals: soups from R45, most small frozen savoury meals at R40 for small, R120 for medium, R220 for large. Sweet items start at R25 for small, R45 for medium and R250 for large. Sorbets at R60 per litre.
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Value: Fair pricing considering that everything is homemade.

Flavour rating: Good food, lots to look at and lots to take away. Seating space is limited.

EAT, 31 Breda Street, Gardens, Cape Town. Tel 021 461 6678. Open Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm, Saturday 8am til 3pm.

REVIEW: Winter special lunch at The Foodbarn

dsc_0001.jpg Another Cape Town winter rainy day… a get together of friends… winter specials at The Foodbarn. You connect the dots.

The whole table either orders a la carte or opts for winter specials. No problems there: we all settled on four courses (R185pp) including tasters of excellent Steenberg wines. Just the right amount of food: three courses (R165pp) might have left big eaters slightly hungry; five (R215pp) would’ve seemed piggish.

From a chalkboard of alternatives there were three starters, two main courses and two desserts. Starters sounded so good it left a few of us in a quandary – but hey, eating with friends means sharing theirs… Chunky tuna tartare with a lift of sesame oil and fresh ginger dressing was a perky little dish, served with aioli and salty salmon roe. In wine, racy Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2010. Soothing: crumbly textured wild mushroom ravioli with fontina cheese and truffle sauce with delicious Steenberg Nebbiolo 2009. Delightful kick: Asian kingklip and coriander Chinese dumplings with coconut milk creaminess of Tom Yum sauce and mussels. But presentation went for a loop. Magical match with Steenberg Semillon 2010.

I know it’s a winter special but why is it that menus often dip into average territory with main courses? Nothing you can really put your finger on, but nothing that wows with innovation. Steenberg Catharina 2007 red blend, and tender lamb cutlets accompanied by cardamom jus, with a pastry round of quince tatin. The pumpkin and bacon risotto alternative looked vibrant, topped by a mountain of green leaves. Steenberg Merlot 2009 in wine.

dsc_0008.jpg Warm rhubarb pudding with crème Anglaise custard swirls and vanilla pod ice cream looked like a Franck Dangereux dessert, and had many takers. Tasty and wintry, but criticised for the sponge smothering the rhubarb bits. Pineapple carpaccio slivers with granadilla panna cotta and guava sorbet was tasty enough, but looked like a child had been let loose with red and yellow syryp.

In short: The Foodbarn’s winter specials are satisfying and the space is surprisingly cosy in winter. Dangereux’s plates aren’t as polished and as in his La Colombe days, but he seems to be having fun. A laidback Noordhoek way of life agrees with this chef.

Spend: R165pp for three courses including wine pairings, R185pp for four courses, R215pp for five courses.

Value: Very good.

Flavour rating: Good food, great wines and service that isn’t in your face.

THE FOODBARN, Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Noordhoek. Tel 021 789 1966, Foodbarn . Winter menus only available at lunch or dinner but not on Sundays or public holidays.

See Cape Winter Specials list 20110.

REVIEW: Sunday lunch to Driefontein in Greyton and back

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Ever felt like jumping in the car, driving for an hour or so and having lunch off the beaten track? I’ve often thought about it, then phoned around and found everything fully booked. So a little planning is required, but I’d recommend Driefontein the next time you have the urge to do something different. It’s around 130km from Cape Town, involves some great drive-by scenery and a very comforting atmosphere for Sunday lunch.

Herman de Kock is the fifth generation living on this Greyton farm. He and partner Philip Hugo have day jobs. But come Sunday, they open their somewhat weathered farmhouse to the public and put on a bountiful spread that unfolds over a few hours. They cook for their own enjoyment. dsc_0007.jpg Everybody is expected to take their seats at individual tables by 12.45 sharp, and bring their own wine (only non-alcoholic beverages can be ordered). And then the boys lovingly prepare a nostalgic series of help-yourself courses.

I felt like I was eating dishes out of an eighties cookbook (Fair Lady’s Special Occasions by Annette Kesler on my bookshelf comes to mind), complete with groaning platters and hot bakes. I bumped into a winemaker friend who I know to be a regular, and he warned us against filling up on early courses. We so enjoyed the hearty lentil and lamb soup served with vetkoek served first, we couldn’t resist a top up.

dsc_0031.jpg For later courses we exercised restraint. Had to. There was the Med – assorted cold meze, cold cuts and salads to a hot sort of ‘bomb’ of lemonish Greek chicken in phyllo, plenty of nostalgic Afrikaans favourites, from baked tongue in mustard sauce under a layer of crumbs, pumpkin fritters and sweet potatoes cooked in sweet orange juice sauce. Fall-off-the-bone oxtail. Plus more conventional carvery items – ours a gammon roast with crispy potato wedges, cooked-just-right roasted and steamed veggies. On that point, vegetarians will find plenty in the buffet selection, whether dolmades and spring rolls – a little dull – or the tastily gooey cheese-olive-and-tomato polenta bake, or spinach and ricotta cannelloni.

dsc_0015.jpg There’s a welcome break before the dessert table is brought out. Wander to the outside loo or admire the lemon trees planted below the stoep. It’s also a great time to sip some wine in front of the cosy fire, especially when you realise you’re actually in the owners’ lounge. Basjaan the Basset hound is usually underfoot at this point. Our sweet selection included a stunning Pavlova, old-fashioned runny chocolate mousse, fruit salad, chocolate cake, koeksisters made by a Greyton local, and of course Malva pud. Coffee was served alongside.

In short, this is not fancy cheffy stuff but rather sincere home cooking presented in a show-off way. Buffets aren’t really my thing so I plan my attack with selective eating, and don’t get disappointed. But I thoroughly enjoyed Driefontein and will return. It’s a great day out, the owners are gracious and the dining room is full of family trinkets. The wine glasses aren’t great but taking your own wine means drinking options aplenty. dsc_0033.jpg

Spend: R170 per adult, R70 per child. Says Herman de Kock: “If small children are good I often don’t charge them, but if I’m expected to be their nanny for the day then they definitely pay.”

Value: Very good. It’s hard to see how Driefontein makes a profit with such a spread.

Wine: Unlicenced so BYO essential.

Flavour rating: Top marks for effort. Great flavours particularly in slow-cooked items – lamb and lentil soup and oxtail come to mind. Good puddings too. Vegetarians will be satisfied.

DRIEFONTEIN FARMHOUSE, 1km off N2 in the direction of Greyton. Tel 021 028 881 3612. Open Sunday from 12 onwards to 4.30pm. Reservations essential.

REVIEW: Foodie fuss about Babel?

dsc_0024.jpg Pretentious foodie spot. Silly. Faddish. These thoughts came to mind on reading about designer white spaces and colour-coded salads at Babel restaurant at Babylonstoren farm. But after four of us experienced lunch recently I’ve changed my mind. I like this place and the intentions of those involved. This is why:

The food will satisfy those who enjoy vegetables and fruit in a meal, aside from heartier fare. Freshly picked every morning from the 3.5ha garden, it couldn’t be fresher. It’s creatively presented too. Sure, snacking on halved plums and raw fennel sticks with a garlicky aubergine and pesto dip, sprinkled with roasted macadamia nuts, takes getting used to. But the nutty dip is delicious on slices of farm loaves (unfortunately the bread lacked salt). If your idea of vegetables is tomato sauce on a pizza slice, this isn’t your spot.

I guarantee you’ll try an edible something you’ve never eaten before, or a new spin on an ingredient. Babylonstoren brags about producing over 300 edible plants, nuts, seeds and honey. Our edible find was tiny, hardy spekboom leaves in the chilli glaze over the pork belly main course. The claim: they’re good to combat cholesterol.

dsc_0021.jpg Starters sound faddish on the menu yet taste very good. We shared two salads - the only starter options. A Green salad (R55) was a tasty collaboration of textures and flavours, consisting of salad greens, basil, rocket, apple slices with cucumber ribbons, courgettes in a spiced dressing, and delicious shah-ma rah-spiced lentils (apparently that’s a herby leaf of Iranian origin). A roasted fennel, lemon verbena and yoghurt dressing was drizzled over. The Red salad received the most table votes. Watermelon slices, black olives, beetroot, roasted red peppers and aubergines, raw red cabbage, radish, red salad leaves and bronze basil leaves were served with mint geranium-infused chickpeas with a dressing made of rose geranium, strawberry and pomegranite. Are you getting the picture? Some essential oils and raw edible plants take getting used to, yet you don’t mind because they are creatively combined as a whole dish.

You can shrug off lunch with a lovely stroll through the extensively planted grounds modelled on Cape Town’s original Company Gardens. You might spot basil plants, aubergines covered by leaves and pumpkins cosily packed on the ground. It’s a thoughtfully planned garden that effectively makes the connection to what you’ve just eaten. The gardens are divided into 15 clusters, grown as biologically as possible.

dsc_0028.jpg With so much designer style in the décor and starters the main courses are thankfully conventional poultry, fish and red meat dishes. The menu includes Franschhoek trout with Babylonstoren Viognier grapes or baked aubergine with melting gorgonzola and gremolata. We tucked into nicely marbled and expertly charred rib-eye steak, although the accompanying sauce of soy, sesame, mustard and green apple sauce was too vinegar-acidic. Roasted pork belly fans will find a twist in a prickly pear and ginger glaze, plus a spekboom and smoked chilli dressing; the crackling nicely crisped. Accompanying bowls of hand-cut chips – surely farm potatoes too? - were the best we’ve eaten. And how lovely to be served innovative veggie side orders: pumpkin flowers stuffed with saucy Swiss chard and mushroom, and assorted green and yellow string beans.

Desserts are divided into sweet, bitter, sour and savoury. Clearly foodie consultant Maranda Engelbrecht’s signature style dominates sweet stuff too, expertly executed by exec chef Simoné Rossouw who is having a lot of fun with her food. From the dark chocolate terrine with bitter olives, with walnuts and espresso sabayon, to the refreshingly pleasant table favourite of fresh pineapple carpaccio drizzled with lemongrass and mint syrup, with carrot cake ice cream, candied rhubarb and a shot of Babel lemoncello adding a sour element, desserts are no standard issue. Yet they work.

Co-owner Karen Roos, former Elle Deco editor, is a co-owner. Apparently Engelbrecht is responsible for the restaurant’s pristine white and glass décor in an old farm building. No surprise: it looks ready for a magazine photo shoot and is easy on the eye, with clever decor tricks here and there. I was amused when I looked for a baby’s nappy-changing area in the ladies bathroom and found a black, sleek Gregor Jenkin table. In criticism, cool mist sprays outside are a necessary luxury for outdoor tables but stylish glass walls need air-conditioners for those seated at interior tables on sweltering Paarl days.
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Spend: R55 for salad starters, R85 to R130 for most main meals, R55 for most desserts. Most wines on the board are very well priced and sourced from the immediate Simondium area. Sip a Noble Hill Sauvignon Blanc at R60, or Vrede en Lust Syrah at R130.

Value: Good.

Flavour rating: Top marks for deliciously fresh food with biological leanings. Vegetarians and open-minded carnivores will be satisfied.

BABEL, Babylonstoren farm, Simondium Road off R44, Simondium. Tel 021 863 3852, Babylonstoren Open Wed to Sun 10am to 4pm. R10pp for garden visits but restaurant patrons with a reservation are admitted free.

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.

REVIEW: Italian-inspired breakfast at Caffe Milano

dsc_0004.jpg Restaurateur Giorgio Nava’s new Caffe Milano looked mighty promising on its opening weekend, with brisk breakfast trading and plenty of satisfied departing foodie customers. They included chef Luke Dale-Roberts, happily having a family breakfast adjacent to our table, thankful that he has Sundays free.

Hands-on partner, pastry chef Vanessa Quellec, is looking sleepy-eyed after doing the 2am baker’s starts. But it’s obviously worth it when you set eyes on her beautiful Italian-styled fruit tarts, delicate cream-filled Cannoncino pastry rolls - feather-light – and regional Margheritini round biscuits, a shortbread-like speciality of Stresa that she learnt to bake on her recent working Italian trip.

It’s all in the detail – even at breakfast a slice of seasonal fruit tart (R20) was heavenly and not too cloying, with its cream and pastry cream filling inside an Italian pasta frolla (sweet shortcrust-style) pastry base that tasted as if fashioned by dainty fairies (Slices were available today but the round tarts are usually sold whole). Plum tarts looked appealing too, while miniature fruit tarts – nectarine slivers on puff pastry rounds – were a handy mouthful size. Tempting options for later in the day include Sacher Torte squares - Valrhona chocolate is used for any recipes requiring chocolate - and ‘piccolo’ shot glasses of tiramisu and panna cotta on raspberry jelly.

dsc_0001.jpg The café’s breakfast options are decent, from eggs Benedict on homemade sourdough (R52) to gourmet muesli. Freshly blended juices are R20 to R30 per glass. Worth trying: the cinnamon and pecan brioche French toast (R58) with its gooey, spiced nut segments in the homemade brioche. Served with fried bananas, Canadian maple syrup and whipped cream it was very tasty yet very rich. A bacon side order improved the dish as a whole. In my view a plain brioche option for French toast, sans cream and with bacon optional, would make a good alternative.

dsc_0006.jpg Americano coffees (R11) are courtesy of Lavazza, also responsible for the moody wall mural running the length of one side. For the rest the appealing décor combines caramel tones with chunky ash wood shelving displaying breads and plain pastries, focusing the eye on all the sweeter goodies within the glass display counter.

From a take-away point of view there is lots to tempt. But I’d change the bread sizes to appeal to small city families and couples. I left with a giant perfectly-baked ciabatta (R35) which made a delicious crusty sandwich later. I’d find better value – and less wastefulness - in having the option of buying a medium-sized loaf for less (an equally giant sourdough rye round is R45). All the same, with news that Jardine restaurant and excellent city bakery will be closing soon, it’s nice to have alternatives to find quality fresh loaves.

Spend: Pastries priced from R10 to R20. Breakfast at R45 to R58, lunch salads and hot meals at R60 to R85. Wine list, freshly blended juices and hot beverages.

Value: Similar prices to other city cafes.

Flavour rating: Very good. Calorie-counters should stay away.

CAFFE MILANO Pasticerria & Bar, Upper Kloof Street, Cape Town. Tel 021 426 5566. Open Tues to Sun from 7am to 5pm.

Claremont dim sum with tea anyone?

dsc_0007.jpg News of a new dim sum spot opening in Claremont landed in my inbox this morning. November has flown by in a blur of deadlines, so by the time I’d read the sample menu I’d persuaded my husband we had to juggle our schedules and squeeze in lunch.

Ever since living in Asia I’ve been drawn to dim sum, which the Chinese generally eat with tea for brunch. The thought of dainty pastries and wrappers enclosing flavoursome fillings is impossible for me to resist. And my man now agrees after I introduced him to Hong Kong’s finest dim sum venue, followed by a wild eating adventure in one of the island state’s scruffiest authentic venues during a 2007 trip.

O’ways is situated in the café strip adjacent to Cavendish Square’s pedestrian outdoor area. Lisa Tsai, wife of Mingwei Tsai of Nigiro tea merchants, is behind the venture. She’s roped in chef Marion Kumpf, previously of Aubergine restaurant, and they’re serving breakfast, lunch and takeaways, where some Western items also appear on the menu.

The space looks stylish with rough brick walls and Chinese tea accessories forming most of the decoration. They’ve just opened so teething problems are to be expected. Hence staff were apologetic, but clueless about the types of dim sum on menus; even worse at offering stylistic guidance for the oolong or black or green teas served in beautiful glass pots over burners. dsc_0002.jpg

We ordered a dim sum tasting platter served in six courses (R138), which actually means six dim sum items were combined from the menu. It was a tasty introduction but not filling enough for lunch. Warned we were in a hurry, the kitchen complied and stepped up the pace. Chilled watermelon and wasabi soup was an unusual and refreshing starter, served with a sushi rice ball and watermelon slice.

A small but important point: this is vegetarian dim sum. So there is char siu sou (instead of the more usual pork bau), a little bland with five-spiced tofu, the steamed bun texture a little tight. I didn’t try the steamed har gau dumplings filled with stir-fried oriental mushrooms and spinach. But pot-stickers (crescent-shaped steamed dumplings that are then panfried) were included in the tasting platter, a delicious filling of Chinese cabbage and soy mince partnering basil-litchi sauce. Silky tofu in a sauce was nondescript on lettuce. Mrs Tsai eventually came around, but even she was hesitant to bother the busy chef after wait staff couldn’t confirm a delicious element on the tasting menu – we think it was curried soy mince in an open dim sum wrapper. dsc_0008.jpg

When the bill arrived we were still waiting for course six. It turned out to be turnip cake, eventually arriving hot in a takeaway package. There had been kitchen miscommunication and the chef insisted. I’m glad she did as this savoury “cake” was possibly the tastiest dish. But there was nothing to rival Hong Kong just yet.

Spend: Individual dim sum priced at R23 to R28. Six-item tasting menu at R138. Wide selection of Asian teas at R25 per pot.

Value: Can’t comment on individual items but the tasting menu should offer more for the price.

Flavour rating: Fair. Vegetarians and health-conscious diners will find more to satisfy.

O’WAYS TEACAFE, Shop 2, Heritage House, 20 Dreyer Street, Claremont. Tel 021 671 2850. Open Mon to Sat from 8am to 5pm.

REVIEW: Cape Town breakfast at Rumbullion

dsc_0004.jpg It’s one of Cape Town’s better-kept secrets, even if menu pricing keeps it firmly in a well-heeled eating category. Dinner at The Roundhouse upstairs may be where you put the chef to the test. But at garden tables overlooking Camps Bay it’s the drool-worthy daytime views from The Roundhouse’s casual Rumbullion counterpart that makes it worth paying a little extra for.

Spontaneous summer sundowners watching a pink-rimmed-sky last week - a glass of MCC starts at a pricy R65 for Graham Beck NV - inspired our return for breakfast at outdoor Rumbullion tables. Two crowing resident roosters meandered as dew glistened on the grass.

On the Rumbullion lawns you’re expected to tick off items from the menu with a pencil while sitting at benches under large umbrellas. Picnic baskets dispense cutlery, plates and condiments, while well-trained predominantly Zimbabwean waiters bring everything else.

Eggs Benedict is a good option: two soft-poached eggs served with distinctively smoky bacon and good hollandaise on toasted English muffins. dsc_0009.jpg Creative alternatives include French toast with roasted bananas and toasted pecan nuts, or scrambled eggs and bacon alongside toasted house-baked sourdough and roasted tomatoes.

Many Cape Town venues serve hot breakfasts but few deviate from tasteless supermarket loaves for the toast or bread accompaniments. Here Woolies’ English muffins are used for the Benedict, but the baked items on the rest of the menu really make Rumbullion breakfasts stand out. Baker George produces a mean sourdough, as well as ciabatta, croissants and pastries. I’m not a fan of the coffee brand or blend they use, but a shared giant cinnamon sticky bun with a moist pecan and raisin-filled centre hits the spot. dsc_0018.jpg

FlavourTip: If lunch is more your scene, pizzas are now served at Rumbullion between midday and 8pm on Tuesday to Sunday.

Spend: R45 to R65 for hot breakfast dishes. Pastries from R12 to R18. Hot beverages at R15 to R20. Cold beverages from R14 to R18.

Value: Average pricing for an upmarket breakfast venue. Wines on the steep side.

Flavour rating: Good food, great views.

RUMBULLION and BAKERY AT THE ROUNDHOUSE, Stan’s Holt exit off Kloof Road between the Cableway and Camps Bay, Cape Town. Tel 021 438 4347, The Roundhouse Open for breakfast Fri, Sat and Sun from 9am to 12 midday.

REVIEW: Jardine’s Bullpitt has what it takes

jardine9005.jpg Winter specials are controversial amongst foodies. At upmarket restaurants I’ve noticed a few things tend to happen: a) the special is designed to lure new customers, yet attracts a budget-breaker who isn’t really comfortable with a menu beginning with an amuse bouche, b) it attracts a genuine foodie who feels anxious about targeting value, nervous that the chef may skimp on ingredients and creative flair, or c) the experience is ruined by a waiter doing their best to bypass the special and up-sell to pricier a la carte items.

With recent restaurant closures in Cape Town and Stellenbosch increasingly grabbing the Cape’s fine dining kudos, special-occasion CBD eating venues are hard to find. I’d heard favourable reports about Eric Bullpitt’s cooking at Jardine Restaurant from food-loving colleagues. Chef George Jardine (who Bullpitt trained under before Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine was established in Stellenbosch) also rates his skills highly. We made a last-minute decision to book in July, before Bullpitt’s departure for Denmark (he’s off to do a six week stage at Noma, rated first in Restaurant Magazine’s 2010 list).

A three-course winter special for R150 sounded too good to believe, but the description from our waiter was so enticing that three of our table of five ordered it. How refreshing that we weren’t made to feel that doing so was an injustice to the chef. Wines at Jardine are on the pricy side and we’d ordered drinks beforehand at the bar. Hence the Jardine House White, a Vriesenhof Unwooded Chardonnay (R100), seemed a sensible choice. It was a versatile match for the starters and vegetarian main course. We ordered additional Shiraz by the glass.

The restaurant was worryingly empty for a Saturday night, but it meant our table of four adults and a teenager was given extra attention from the kitchen, and in terms of service. The first culinary delight was a little something from the chef: a cauliflower spoom (I had to think creatively to explain that to the thirteen-year-old). Creamy-tangy, totally delicious mouthfuls on a spicy sauce base received universal approval.

A celeriac tortellini starter was a delight of pasta parcels, nuts, a creamy celeriac smear with smoked Granny Smith acidity in diced cubes, and blobs of apple or prune puree. Confit duck terrine is a starter on the a la carte menu, and formed a fine winter special starter too. A spinach-wrapped duck confit round was “accessorised” with cooked baby turnip segments in orange juice, orange pudding, snowpeas and pistachio crumbs. jardine8938.jpg

Main course highlights included seared springbok loin with coffee, persimmons, parsnips and port – it had thumbs up from someone who shoots these buck himself – and the winter special of sirloin steak, a small serving creatively served with smoked potato puree plus tasty dabs of sauces and creamy vegetables.

I learnt early on that vegetable purees perking up a savoury dish are a speciality of George Jardine, and I’m happy to report that he’s transferred this particular skill to Bullpitt. I felt very satisfied after my vegetarian starter and main course. I do find it hard to get excited about waterblommetjies though, and their addition to my main course hasn’t changed that. Roasted Jerusalem artichokes segments filled with a tasty centre, mushroom vinaigrette, smoked potato puree and a sweet element were a more successful aspect of my plate.
On the sweet side, the winter special ginger cake was light, tasty and just right. The espresso soufflé – flavours change regularly - with flambéed chocolate and cardamom ice-cream was declared a little too rich in its combinations. The citrus crème Catalan with a dark chocolate almond torte with crème fraiche anglaise? A successful study in complementary bittersweet and citrus flavours.

In short, the meal at Jardine was well worth it. Bullpitt’s team will continue in his absence. But I recommend experiencing this chef’s personal stamp on plates - patience is required until his return.

Spend: R150 for a three-course set menu (valid until end of September 2010). Two courses at R240. Three courses at R290. Chef’s tasting menu available if the entire table orders.
Value: Very good, taking winter special into consideration
Flavour rating: Excellent

JARDINE RESTAURANT, Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel 021 424 5640, Jardine on Bree Open for lunch Wed to Fri, dinner Tues to Sat.

REVIEW: Eat local and grit-free at AmaZink

dsc_0031.jpg It’s surely a sign of a nation’s maturity when foodies reject fancy foreign styles to rediscover local home cooking. AmaZink Eatery in Stellenbosch’s friendly Khayamandi township is the latest spot to offer this option, and I hope it catches on. Opening during June 2010 for the World Cup, Overture chef Bertus Basson was roped in as culinary consultant. But it appears that township intrinsics have been left intact so the menu available at lunch or dinner is largely a result of cook and owner Loyiso Mbambo’s inspiration.

What’s instantly noticeable about AmaZink is that hygiene standards are a cut above the average township restaurant or shebeen. The colourful dining space is neat, the kitchen spotless and regularly cleaned, modern loos conform to high standards. The venue is easy to find and feels totally safe - ironically no car guards hustle diners for change here when departing. The premises form part of the Ikhaya Trust, a community centre offering child after-school care, HIV support and business training. It receives local and foreign sponsorship.

AmaZink rents the premises and the name is a play on the typical corrugated iron roofs and walls found in South African townships, although this building features solid cream cement walls under its zink structures. Mbambo is a Khyamandi resident who originally owned a shebeen. After receiving some inhouse training at Spier, he launched a restaurant called Roots on these premises a few years ago. Roots is his childhood soccer nickname, but name clashes with other venues necessitated a fresh start for the AmaZink eatery. dsc_0008.jpg

Mbambo hasn’t done this alone. Other locals have provided funding, know-how or creative input – Stellenbosch company Fanakalo is responsible for painting the funky pine tables in colourful ethnic designs, chairs in primary colours, framed cellphone models on walls, and cleverly colourful tractor tire outdoor seats. Waiting staff seem well trained too, contributing to my hunch that AmaZink could soon become a trendy yuppie hangout while township locals pass by outside on foot.

On to the food. A small printed menu is duplicated cheerily on a hand-written wall section under the ceiling. An order of Roots vegetable and pulses soup with vetkoek (R30) was a wintry bowl of fine veggies and grains. We had to wait for the vetkoek dough to rise, but it was the best I’ve eaten in years. The portion size made us pleased we shared. Waitress Nondi told us an elderly neighbour used to sell vetkoek and pilchard fishcakes to the whole of Khayamandi before she passed on - Loyiso now has the vetkoek and chakalaka prepared by a woman called Nzuki, who seems blessed with similar talents. I was a little surprised to see Greek salad and ciabatta grissini as an alternative starter option. But then Mbambo says the menu includes township staples plus “a few things added that were ideas of my own”.

AmaZink main courses are also substantial. We tucked into a quarter chicken peri-peri with veg (R65), and a portion of wors, pap and chakalaka (R35) respectively. Alternatives were beef stew and samp with spinach (R50). A mixed grill of meats seems to be available when the venue is busy, conforming to the African cultural norm that a meal without meat is a waste of time. dsc_0022.jpg

Although stiff maize pap is moulded into shape and plates are smarter than most, this is not pretty food. Rather hearty, homely grub with tasty gravy or spicy peri-peri sauce. The sausage: mighty tasty, the panfried peri-peri chicken portions perky with bite, although wood flames would bring out more flavour. Both dishes were served with cinnamon-laced butternut, cooked spinach and green beans mushy with potato. The crowning glory was Nzuki’s chakalaka, a delicious Cape Malay curry of cooked vegetables laced with a dab of chilli.

There isn’t much to excite on the wine side – five white and reds respectively - dependable Stellenbosch labels offering good value is the thinking here. The AmaZink house white and red is colourfully packaged in an African label and made by Ernst Gouws – the Gouws Chenin Blanc 2009 selling for R50, his red Devonair Cab Sauv at R60.

After over-indulging in vetkoek earlier we had no capacity for sweet things. But you could finish an AmaZink meal with dessert at R25 apiece. Ice cream and hot chocolate sauce was an option on the printed menu, apple crumble, cream and ice cream mentioned on the wall version. Alternatively why not try ‘ikofi lekker filter at R10. Good times for free.’

dsc_0035.jpg Spend: About R90 to R110 for two to three courses, excluding drinks. Those with moderate appetites might want to share starters or desserts as portions aren’t small.
Value: Fair to Good. Flavour rating: Very good. Few options for vegetarians although a plate of vegetables and pap or samp would probably satisfy.

AMAZINK, 118a Masithandane Street, Khayamandi. Shortly before entering Stellenbosch, exit right from the R304 at Khayamandi centre. Continue right at the circle and follow the road as it snakes towards the restaurant.
Tel 021 889 7536, AmaZink Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sun. Booking essential when sports events are televised.

REVIEW: World cup sausages and Bread & Wine

dsc_0013.jpg As a winter sunny Sunday lunch choice in Franschhoek, few venues beat Bread & Wine restaurant at Môreson winery. It rarely fails to tick the boxes as a restaurant serving flavoursome yet innovative country fare that is free of pretentions. Other pluses include views of orchards from outdoor tables, wine tasting next door on a Sunday, and chef Neil Jewell’s home-cured charcuterie and products at the Farm Grocer to tempt on your way out. dsc_0015.jpg

Our table of ten was a mix of local and visiting adults and children, and there were plenty of similar sized groups around us. Margherita pizzas were ordered for candidates under 12 while the rest focused on starters and mains.

A shared antipasto plate (R105) received plenty of satisfied smiles, farm-cured hams, mortadella, salami and lamb biltong attractively presented on a wooden stand stacked with crostini. Scotch egg segments, olives, yoghurt cheese balls and rocket salad made appropriate flavour friends, and even the Italians present felt the charcuterie was up to scratch. We picked at thin slices of Neil’s signature narrow pizza, a long thin-based version topped with mild Cape Malay-spiced lamb confit, baba ganoush, Alpine cheese, peppadews and fresh herbs (R55).

Being soccer fans, we felt obliged to support Neil’s World Cup of Sausages, a “battle” between eight or 10 sausages or sausage-inspired dishes representing some of the competing soccer nations. Dutch frikadellen sounded interesting, as did England’s pork and oyster terrine. Two shared portions of Greek turi sausage were served with rice-shaped orzo pasta and a tzatziki-inspired feta mould (R55). Sausage flavours seemed a touch too delicate perhaps, but the dish was a fun way to drum up fan fever all the same. dsc_0022.jpg

Main choices worth singling out include a hearty confit of pork belly with cassoulet and Provencal crumbs (R130). Less successful, seared tuna with creamy polenta (R130) was way overcooked. And a triumph, char-grilled octopus that looked as vibrant as it tasted with roast tomatoes on flavoursome risotto with chorizo (R125). A starter portion of potato and fontina cheese gnocchi (R55) with a runny centre hit the spot as a lighter vegetarian option, a smoked mushroom vinaigrette and crisped leek bits adding freshness and crunch to the dish.

We sipped Môreson Pink Brut Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinotage, all with very moderate mark ups. The meal then tipped dangerously into red card territory when a waitress told us the chocolate fondant puddings were all sold out. Dessert alternatives were limited to poached rhubarb and custard, or plates of fudge and sweets. A dejected mood settled over the group.

But manageress Tina Jewell made a brilliant save - three portions of warm chocolate fondant (R50) were available after all! dsc_0028.jpg As with most dishes at Bread & Wine, it had a twist here and there. A salted caramel ice cream and caramel praline combined deliciously with the oozy-centred warm chocolate cake and coffee sauce drizzle. We left happy and full after enjoying the sunshine. The only criticism: there is a creative selection of starters to entice, but Bread & Wine could expand a bit on their main course and dessert options.

Spend: About R230 for three courses, excluding drinks. The fact that many starters can be shared reduces the group per head spend to around R200.

Value: Good. Flavour rating: Very good. Options for vegetarians.

BREAD & WINE, Happy Valley Road, Franschhoek. Tel 021 876 3692, Bread & Wine Open for lunch Mon to Sun.

REVIEW weekday Indian fix at Eastern Food Bazaar

A yummy weekday lunch stop in the CBD made me so pleased I’d bothered. Parking may be tricky, but merely passing through on four wheels means missing out on the bustle and pedestrian vibe of Cape Town’s inner city. dsc_009.jpg

I’ve torn out clippings about Eastern Food Bazaar, determined to try it ever since its 2009 opening. I was under the mistaken impression that it was a smart casual, cosy walled-in space. Not so. The Bazaar’s predecessor Wellington Fruit Growers always fascinated me with its narrow space lined with long shop counters of edible wares, accessed via doors on both streets. The current conversion features two open entrances with a tunnel of food stalls in between. The only attempt at décor is a seating area surrounded by painted walls and a few Indian carved screens.

I felt like I was back in Asia during a lunchtime office break – Eastern Food Bazaar is modelled on those food courts found in Singapore to Thailand, electronic menu boards offering descriptions and prices above cooks manning stainless steel catering counters.

I shared a lunch table with the lovely Vanessa Quellac, who recalls cake recipe quantities and methods in the way most of us remember our telephone numbers. I consider this plucky American to be one of the most talented pastry chefs Cape Town has ever seen. Vanessa was enthusing about her recent time in Germany learning about breadmaking, since leaving The Roundhouse. She is considering various business options - a city bakery and cake shop is on the cards. If you’ve ever tasted her desserts you will so hope it happens…

Lunch at Eastern Food Bazaar is simple. dsc_005.jpg Alongside doner kebabs, Indian snacks and plenty of pre-made curries in sauces in bain maries, there are vegetarian savoury alternatives. Some of it looks dried out or highly coloured, but the volumes of people eating suggest that nothing sits there too long. The majority of items are in the R20 to R30 price range, so you can eat well without much hassle or expense. We split up and collectively ordered and paid for a chicken biriyani (R25), mildly spiced and fried potato wedges called Jira aloo (R20) and a personal favourite, masala dosa (R20). Portions were plentiful.

The biriyani was average, orange-toned chicken pieces on a bed of multi-coloured rice, but the jira potatoes made a tasty extra. However none of it came close to the delicious masala dosa prepared on the spot. If you’ve never had this southern Indian delight, a ground rice and lentil batter is poured on to a heated surface, forming a round, super-thin wafer. When it’s cooked, a mildly spiced potato mixture is plonked in the centre and the dosa circle is folded over. You tear pieces off and dip them in lentil gravy and coriander ‘chutney’ for light-as-a-feather bites.

We didn’t try more spicy options, moving to a dsc_0006.jpg charming old-style café called Bread Milk & Honey for a cappuccino and chocolate ganache cupcake (For Vanessa a meal without something sweet is incomplete). The cupcake frosting was pretty good but the cake mix was dry. I can’t wait for Vanessa to set up that bakery.

Value: Outstanding. Flavour rating: good to great, depending on the Indian dishes you order. Plenty for vegetarians or carnivores with spicy tastes.
EASTERN FOOD BAZAAR, 96 Longmarket Street, Cape Town CBD. Tel (021) 461-2458. Open daily from 11.30am – 10pm.

REVIEW Hout Bay relief in nick of time

Are you also annoyed and irritated, tired of being overcharged for food that under-delivers at mediocre eateries passing as restaurants? Surely I can’t be alone here. After too many recent disappointing experiences, I’ve realised I have three alternatives: one, resist spur-of-the-moment meals at popular places because I can often prepare better results at home with similar ingredients. Two, stop dining out completely (impossible). Or three, eat out less often and frequent only owner-run places for modest meals. And occasionally, spend more but eat better at fancier establishments run by chefs with a proven reputation. I’m opting for three.

You’ve surely had similar dismal meals at neighbourhood eateries, entering after assuming the venues can’t be too bad if routinely packed with people? Try strange sauces concocted from the condiment shelf, ruining grilled calamari and chips, or a prawn and chips dish respectively, at Bravado! in Green Point. Nearby, Doppio Zero delivered a R60 salad with contents out of a catering pack. Did the kitchen staff think diners wouldn’t notice old, soggy leaves partnering underripe avocado segments? The offending salad removed, a gristle-ridden steak roll didn’t do much to improve the mood. Take-away pizzas from Southpole near Milnerton revealed a curious bulk cheddar-dominated mozzarella topping (a kitchen cutting corners?), and a hefty R15 charge for basil leaves with additional rocket leaves curiously charged at R5.

dsc_0001.jpg Rather doubtful of ever finding a modestly-priced culinary pick-me-up, six of us went for Sunday lunch in Hout Bay. And I’m happy to report that a new venue called Wild Woods saved the day. A one-page menu offered enticing options, many ingredients sourced from small-time farmers or artisan producers. I spotted some nostalgic dishes I recall eating as a child, but with a creative twist here and there. A hand-selected wine list ignored boring co-operatives or monopoly wineries with convenient distribution, and instead showcased labels from interesting small-timers such as Adi Badenhorst. Six options came in at under R100 a bottle.

Wild Woods opened in January 2010 on the former site of Comida restaurant, adjacent to Chapmans Peak Hotel. Chef and restaurateur Pete Goffe-Wood hasn’t bothered to alter the previous venue’s décor so the loos look a little tacky. But it means hefty overheads aren’t passed on to diners and menu mark-ups are moderate – he wants locals to return as regulars, and a kids menu will attract families (management specifies ‘restaurant-friendly’ children).

The menu punts artisanal and free-range ingredients where possible, and between us we taste-tested a good range of dishes. A platter of talked up Spanish-style ham from Prince Albert’s Jamon Lucas offered salt-cured tanginess with rocket and shaved Parmesan (R60). Wellington’s artisanal Buffalo Ridge mozzarella was the other pricier starter (R60), equally delicious with miniature tomatoes roasted on the vine and homemade pesto. Most starters are between R40 to R50, ranging from Caesar salad to free-range chicken liver parfait, toast and onion marmalade.

dsc_0007.jpg Bistro favourites dominate main course options too, ranging between R60 and R100. Between us we tried crackling-crisped hunks of pork belly - comfort food if ever there was – in a pool of mustard sauce, mash and roasted fennel bulb. Along similar lines, a deliciously old-time Sunday roast beef included creamed horseradish, perfectly puffed Yorkshire pudding and a glossy gravy. Grilled sirloin was nicely aged and ably matched by Café de Paris butter and crunchy narrow chips. Roasted free-range chicken breast sounded an unusual combination with fresh porcini slices, potatoes and béarnaise, but worked surprisingly well on the plate. If anything lagged behind it was service. Friendly enough, but staff training is obviously a work in progress.

We had the choice of gorging on a chocolate pot with homemade malt ice cream or a grape pannacotta with raspberries. The cheese plate offered a good local selection, with toasted homemade bread and relish. Sorbets of the day made a great lighter option, peach working well with a really refreshing grapefruit and Campari combo. It left a sweet note on an uplifting experience all round. Oh, and don’t expect to try all the dishes I’ve recommended - the menu changes often.

WILD WOODS, adjacent to Chapmans Peak Hotel, Hout Bay. Tel 021 791 1166, wild woods Open for lunch Tues to Sat, dinner Tues to Sun. Series of shared platters for Sun dinner at R135 per head.

REVIEW Cafe Bon Bon is worth a trip

A friend told me a while back about a Franschhoek spot with a divine setting and delectable cakes. A late January Franschhoek visit proved that Café Bon Bon is exactly what its French name suggests: café good, good… dsc_0037.jpg The winding drive to La Petite Dauphine guesthouse is textbook Franschhoek tourist stuff, and the daytime restaurant offers a lovely summer setting with tables outside an old sandstone building on a shaded terrace overlooking a duck pond.

A small printed menu offers fairly limited choices, with starters ranging from R49 to R72. Lots of salads on starter and main menus, presumably the idea being that some are ordered as a meal – a smoked trout and barley salad (R72) with creamy dill dressing appealed. We shared an oak-smoked snoek fishcake with homemade fruit chutney and salad (R49) instead. Pleasant, but I wished I could taste more flavours of the fresh herbs, ginger, garlic and chilli listed on the menu. c_bon_bon.jpg

A lot of Chris Smit’s menu has a creative, somewhat healthy twist. The beef burger (R69), for instance, appeals for its partnering with red pepper hummus, grilled aubergine and butternut wedges. Main courses range from R65 to R125.

Our mains were a chicken wrap and pork belly, both recommended as chef specialities. No regrets on either. If you’re hungry, I reckon the pork belly (R98) has few rivals in the Western Cape. I dare anyone to disagree after looking at my photo. A hefty option for summer lunch, a caramelized layer of crackling and tender-sticky meat, in a pool of intensely flavoured caramelized chilli sauce. Pureed potatoes, wilted spinach and julienned red peppers added flair. Although not as showy, roast chicken breast with cashew nuttiness was tasty yet light in a mild, flavoursome curry filling (the chef makes his own pastes) inside a flour wrap (R68). With freshly dressed salad and tomato salsa, what more could anyone want?

dsc_0045.jpg You may not feel like you have capacity, but the fresh bakes are so worth it (R35 to R42). I couldn’t resist because the cake display tempts whenever you’re en route to the building housing the bathrooms. After a 20-minute break before coffee and a very large slice of lemon meringue, we got lost in feathery white peaks and tangy lemon filling, relieved that we’d had the sense to share one piece. The carrot cake also has a following.

CAFÉ BON BON, La Petite Dauphine, Franschhoek. Tel 021 876 3936 café Bon Bon Open daily for breakfast and lunch. Dinner on Friday only.

See my February Q&A with chef Chris Smit at Chris Smit on a plate

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.

REVIEW Joy at Jardine on Jordan in Stellenbosch

If you’re irritated that your favourite city restaurants are swamped with tourists and December upcountry visitors, then head for the Winelands this month. A casual Friday lunch for two might just hit the spot.

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Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine’s recent opening means there is still no signage at the start of the Stellenbosch Kloof exit to the farm. That’s not to say word isn’t spreading. Overture restaurant at Hidden Valley (booked solid) is happily referring their spill over guests here. A couple of office parties were happening at adjacent tables too, including a girl’s lunch where a woman with booming voice did her best to include remaining diners in her every observation.

George Jardine’s food and reputation needs little introduction, and when you see the unhindered panoramic view of Stellenbosch over a dam from the terrace dining space, it’s easy to see why the lunch service was full. The open kitchen offers a sizeable window to guests outdoors, keeping the mood relaxed.

The Jordan menu changes often to reflect available suppliers’ produce. I struggled to select between only three starters and four main courses because dishes sounded so enticing I wanted to try them all - a good thing. There is a vegetarian starter and main too.

We settled on Stanford trout (smoked inhouse) served on a shallot dressing with seared scallops and miniature greens. The dish offered fresh tastes and textures, but didn’t stand a chance in the flavour stakes against the outstanding steamed Saldanha Bay black mussels out of the shell, served with fresh pea fricassee on a roll of buttered fettucine. I couldn’t figure out the origin of the sauce and the waiter wasn’t any help (training is in progress), but it worked so well as a whole in a tangy, creamy chowder sort of way. The chef surprised by also sending out a 12-hour braised short rib – a little square of velvet – topped with a sliver of foie gras and miniature greens, surrounded by creamy cauliflower mousse in a pool of stock-rich truffle jus. We gobbled it all up, yet had space for more.

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Main courses tend to be wood-roasted in the pizza oven, or grilled where possible. Aged Chalmar beef ribeye had a crumbed marrow crust, celeriac tubes and puree below, charred banana partnering roasted shallot creatively. I rarely order chicken in a restaurant because it’s so often bland or dry. But sections of wood-fired Elgin free-range chicken were so tender under creamy tarragon sauce, with bitter cavolo nero cabbage contrasting sweet turnip puree and a rich stock swirl. Delightful. A yellowtail dish, or a smoked garlic and sorrel risotto with asparagus were other alternatives.

The wine list isn’t overly long or complicated. A plus is that mark-ups seem lower than those at Jardine in Bree Street. The selection by the glass are all Jordan wines, unless it’s a style they don’t make. I’d heard Gary and Kathy Jordan were involved in the wine selection and that rare CWG vintages and a few bottles from France would feature, but didn’t see much evidence. Perhaps there is an extensive list on request.

A rhubarb and honey soufflé looked impressive but didn’t taste properly cooked underneath. But it was a minor glitch. Coffee had a good crema and the dark chocolate torte was delicious bittersweet stuff, offset by mixed berry sorbet. My advice: go soon before everyone discovers this place.

Spend at lunchtime: R200 for two courses, R225 for three courses.
Value: Very good for the style of food. Flavour rating: outstanding.
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JORDAN RESTAURANT WITH GEORGE JARDINE, 6km along Stellenbosch Kloof Road, Stellenbosch. Open for lunch Tues to Sun, dinner on Thurs and Fri. Tel 021 881 3612 Jordan
Did you know? Dinner offerings consist of two tasting menus: for meat/fish eaters and vegetarians respectively.

REVIEW weekend dinner with the Duchess

Gautengers have long been familiar with Teresa Beukes’ cooking style, after frequenting her Sam’s Café and Fino restaurants. Now Capetonians are becoming familiar with her new Sea Point venue called The Duchess of Wisbeach.

Décor in the tiny space is as eclectic as Beukes’ personality is rumoured to be, portraits of Victorian ladies sharing space with gilt mirrors, distressed brick pillars and damask in the dining space. Squeezing into a cramped bar with views of a stuffed cow head and bookshelves, we waited beyond our requested late dinner reservation for a table while camp characters rushed past and a drunk man shouted at a waitress. In the buzzy atmosphere none of it seemed out of place.

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A one-page menu offered creative starter options but we struggled to be lured when it came to main courses. At our table of four, the boys looked past steak tartare and zoomed in on retro prawn cocktail (R53) – queens in a cocktail sauce that lacked zing to make it special. The girls had kingklip fishcake (R56) and fish fingers (R53) respectively. Lovely homemade mayo partnered comforting minced fishcakes. But the highlight was the fish fingers, solid fishy strips jazzed up in spicy crumbs, delicious with onion raita.

Two beef fillets were grilled correctly with creamy pepper sauce (R95), but the handcut chips on the side were disappointingly soggy. A King George burger (R75) was pleasant enough with a homemade patty, toasted bun, pickles and trimmings, but wouldn’t beat a gourmet burger specialist such as Hudson’s. The surprise was the unusual mussel dish (R70), shells arriving in a fragrant vapour of carrot juice, ginger, chilli and coriander. A peculiar combination but it worked.

Wines at the Duchess are limited – the Beukes philosophy is to offer homely, made-from-scratch food with a few fancy tweaks, as though you’re at a dinner party. So it’s unsurprising that she lists only a few wine labels of producer friends instead of trying to be comprehensive. All very well, but the limited white selection meant we struggled to find a food-friendly alternative to Iona Sauvignon Blanc beyond a pricy Chenin Blanc. Forced to switch, De Grendel Shiraz (R139) delivered everything expected of a red.

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It was late so we didn’t venture too far into the sweet section, but nostalgic treats await such as banana split with homemade banana ice-cream or bread and butter pudding. Our shared spoons competed in a serving of Turkish delight and nougat ice-cream (R40). Quite delicious in all its calorific creamy-chewy richness.

Spend: about R185 for three courses, excluding drinks.
Wine: Limited printed list.
Value: Fair. Flavour rating: good but not great. Plenty for vegetarians.

DUCHESS OF WISBEACHBORD KOS 1 Wisbeach Road, Sea Point. Tel (021) 434-1525. Open Mon to Sat for dinner only.

REVIEW African Relish not quite 100% Karoo

I’ve never visited Prince Albert previously, but with good friends choosing this increasingly popular Little Karoo town as their wedding venue, I’ve now had the pleasure. The town is centred around dainty old-fashioned buildings along a long, wide main street that seem to offer more guesthouses and gift stores than houses in parts. Some of the manicured lawns contribute to an ordered attitude that defies the dust and crisp air causing city skins to dry out. PA is surrounded by little koppies with rocky outcrops and scrubby bushes, and dwarfed by the magnificent Swartberg range.

One of the newest arrivals to PA is chef Vanie Padayachee, previously cooking at Le Quartier Français, Grande Provence and fu.shi. African Relish is a modern open-plan space in the main street where the kitchen isn’t separated from the dining area, thanks to clever design elements of cement floors, exposed brick or painted walls. One to five-day cooking classes coordinated or led by Padayachee are the main attraction. But on Friday and Saturday evenings African Relish becomes a small restaurant. It’s an elegantly casual place you’ll want to dress up a little for, and one of the better alternatives in town.

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A small menu: three starters, four mains (including a vegetarian offering) and three desserts. That’s it.

Fittingly the food is quality country-style rather than cheffy, professionalism showing in the plating. The only “formal” aspect of the meal was a delicious amuse bouche of vegetable soup made from broad beans, peas and herbs from the adjacent garden.

A slice of balsamic roasted onion tart hit the spot with lovely chunky bacon lardons in a vinaigrette over lettuce leaves. Alternatives were a butternut and sage fritter with garden salad and bitter chocolate dressing or a spicy chicken spring roll with mint dressing.

Slow-roasted lamb shank sounded heavy, while twice-baked leek and Parma Prince soufflé (a pungent hard cheese from Prince Albert’s Gay’s Dairy) with homemade tomato relish looked delicious going to another table. It’s easy to overcook game and unfortunately the kudu and pork potjie was, its samp and bean accompaniment delightfully creamy with Padayachee’s addition of cream and Parmesan. My Cape Malay chicken casserole was tastily succulent. It was probably spicier than normal with orange glossiness in the sauce, but I’m thankful that the chef’s Indian heritage means her family sends regular spice packages from Durban. Creamy risotto with squares of roasted pumpkin partnered the dish. A very pleasant Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend from local winery Bergwater was priced a little under R100.

African Relish portions are substantial so we shared dessert. Chocolate and fig brownie with white chocolate sauce was ordered, but the waiter brought a slice of moist warm chocolate malva pudding with quality homemade vanilla ice-cream. The mistake wasn’t a problem as the malva was enjoyable. Service wasn’t particularly informed, but then the open kitchen means Padayachee visits tables periodically to fill in the gaps. The African Relish menu has ‘100% Karoo’ stamped on the front page, which might mislead some diners. This chef mixes traditional Karoo favourites with her own style and doesn’t take it too seriously. That shouldn’t be seen as a negative.

Spend: Starters R45. Mains R75 to R95. Desserts R40.
Wine: No printed wine list. Local Bergwater red and white wines are served.
Value: Fair to Good. Flavour rating: High.

AFRICAN RELISH, 34 Church Street, Prince Albert. Tel 023 541 1381

REVIEW Friday lunch at re-opened Dutch

I was thrilled to hear that a favourite vividly orange haunt in De Waterkant has finally re-opened in the Chelsea section of Wynberg. It’s taken a couple of years for Stephan van de Ven to figure out what to do, but good things are usually worth the wait.

Approached by fellow Netherlander Tin Korver (whose businesscard says Chair-Man of Twiice international) to share a space in a renovated Victorian building, Van de Ven didn’t hesitate. His neighbours are a vibrant florist, and a baby boutique selling those overpriced imported and cutely packaged clothing items geared at Bishops Court and Constantia young mothers (I’m not joking, a vest was over R300…).

The new space is fresh and inviting. The small menu has familiar Dutch favourites plus a few new options. It feels like Van de Ven just picked up where he left off. He even recruited his old kitchen and service team, including Marizka du Toit in front. The space feels more upmarket, thanks to dark grey walls, wood shelving details and orange only as accents - the original orange-framed photos are on the new walls. The team already seems very comfortable in the new open-plan kitchen.

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The Merry Muncher was delighted with a new menu addition, a duck and chicken liver parfait (R60) served with nicely caramelised onion marmalade and a quality slice of brioche from Knead. Wild mushroom tart (R65) served on a puffy pastry disc hit the spot, a port-infused creamy mushroom sauce drizzled over, with rocket on the side. The old menu favourite deserves its place here.

Nasi goreng served with chicken satay, peanut sauce and Indonesian prawn crackers (R65) looked good, going to another table. Our shared main of two salmon trout fishcakes (R65) in crumbs was fried past its best, but decent enough with fresh dill mustard sauce. We drank Joostenberg Chenin/Viognier 2009 (R105) which is also served by the glass. The list includes a couple of whites, reds and MCCs, more than acceptable considering that this is more café than restaurant.

Vying with the old apple crumble with custard is a new item: chocolate cake with orange curd (R40). The description of the latter doesn’t do the pudding justice. It was thick, dark-chocolate-ish and chilled a little too firm in a mousse style. Served in a cappucino cup, liquid fresh orange curd on top. Excellent coffees arrived alongside, but then we could see a shiny stainless steel structure at work from our table, so knew they would be.

Tables in Dutch were already buzzing with young ladies in search of a nibble while catching up on gossip. Why they would be is quite understandable.

Noteable features: Patio tables out back facing a garden and picket fences. Trendy yet comfortable vibe with a good supply of current magazines. Child-friendly. Breakfast, lunch or in between. Private dining space for small functions too.

Spend: R39 to R55 for breakfast (uitsmijter to spicy baked beans on toast or pancakes).
R39 to R65 for lunch (uitsmijter to organic beef kroketten on rye to pasta or fishcakes).
Desserts around R40.

Value: Good. Flavour rating: High.

DUTCH, 51 Waterloo Road, Chelsea Village. Tel 021 797 5838. Mon to Fri 8am – 5pm, Sat 9am – 2pm.
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REVIEW Recession-friendly Joostenberg Sunday lunch

We’re all affected by the times, and going out for restaurant meals often seems unnecessarily extravagant. But restaurateurs and talented chefs depend on locals to stay afloat, and many are struggling to keep ticking over during slower, cost-cutting times. I don’t know about other foodies out there, but I need a regular dose of something special on a plate to lift my mood. Preferably food prepared by somebody else. Something that makes me forget weekday routines and sticking to a grocery budget. A culinary stick-it note about how pleasurable simply prepared ingredients, uncomplicated company and country air can be.

A Sunday lunch at Joostenberg Bistro does all that without leaving a bad stamp on the bank balance. This warehouse-style family-run venue won’t score points for décor or flashiness because it’s attached to a deli with a produce section, bakery and pork butchery. But the bistro run by the unpretentious Myburgh family serves a mean plate of food and glasses or bottles of wine at great prices, with unobjectionable service that is family-friendly. The menu is a la carte during the week, but Sunday lunch is the time for lazing and chatting with friends or family over two or three courses at a set price. There isn’t a lot of selection – two or three options per course – but that isn’t the point.

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At an outdoor table overlooking the garden, three out of four of us ordered the warm goats’ cheese and tomato quiche starter. A lovely taste of sunshine delivered in sundried tomatoes with tangy cheese, in a shortcrust pastry tartlet, served with dressed, assorted salad leaves. Alternatives were homemade brawn with caper and gherkin dressing or soup.

When pigs are reared lean and healthy as they are at Joostenberg, you can’t go wrong with roast pork as a main course. Slices of chef Christophe Dehosse’s herb-stuffed pork roll are classically flavoured with fennel seeds, thyme and garlic prominent, with crisped crackling of course. Creamy potato gratin Daphinois and German-style sauerkraut stopped any gravy from escaping over the side. The sizeable portion of homemade tagliatelle was cooked past al dente, but otherwise provided a delightful pasta flavour combination with roasted tomatoes, pork chourizo slices and grated gruyere gratinated on top.

Joostenberg’s wine list mark ups are incredibly moderate, with plenty from Joostenberg’s own label in white, red and by the glass, as well as other brands including interesting extras such as Villiera’s French label Domaine Grier L’Aqueduc 2006 (R140). The Joostenberg Chenin Blanc 2009 (a steal at R61) is tasting deliciously fresh, as Chenin should.

Two shared desserts between four provided a sweet note in a reassuring if unexciting way: warm malva pudding with creamy vanilla sauce, and a runny cream-style ice-cream called nougat glace with in cool berry coulis. A successful meal all round, aside from watery coffees that seemed to have left their crema in the kitchen.

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Spend (Sunday lunch only): R100 for two courses, R130 for three courses.
Value: Very good. Flavour rating: high.
JOOSTENBERG BISTRO, R304 near N1 Stellenbosch exit, Muldersvlei, Stellenbosch. Tel 021 884 4208

Did you know? Christophe and Susan Dehosse are opening their own restaurant in November 2009 in the old skuinshuis in central Stellenbosch. It will be called Christophe’s.

REVIEW Lemon curd, Kalk Bay Sunday and Kassia & Figg

A sunny winter Sunday in Kalk Bay started with a first-time visit to a delightful deli cafe called Kassia & Figg for lunch, followed by an energetic coastal walk to Muizenberg beach.

Kassie Watrobski and her daughter Inge opened this simple sea-facing spot in December 2008. It’s filled with deli items and clever colourful handmade trinkets items for kitchens - knitted pastel tea cosies for instance - and the daily menu consists of papers clothespegged on ‘washing lines’ inside a wooden frame. Cake stands on a central table tempt with daily bakes and iced biscuits. As the wire sign on the wall says, this is slow food.

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Taking a window table opposite the Kalk Bay entrance tidal pool, we ordered a burger, and homemade chicken and mushroom pie with salad respectively. A ciabattaani (oval ciabatta) made of Eureka organic flour from Muizenberg baker La Petite Boulangerie made all the difference. Life is too short to eat bad bread, or burger rolls for that matter.
A free-range beef pattie had garlic mayo for zing, the salad filling complemented by sweet caramelised tanginess of Oded’s Kitchen konfyt of onion (also sold here).

The Merry Muncher’s appetite was sated and satisfied, and we took along wine as the place isn’t licenced. On that note, the water glasses are also the wine glasses.

My homemade pie with salad was delicious in that light, homemade-pastry-kind-of-way, but there was space for a sweet snack as we left for our coastal path walk to Muizenberg. A miniature lemon curd tart with feather-light pastry went too.

Fast forward an hour of brisk walking, after which we stopped in again for a shared buttermilk waffle with cream and syrup. Poor coffee was the day’s only sore point. One Americano had no crema - perhaps it’s because Kassia uses fair trade beans, in line with their social and environmental commitment to supporting organic or artisanal products. It extends to yukky unbleached serviettes and loo paper that disintegrate into shreds on touch.

Spend: R24 to R49 for salads, soups, creative bruschettas with fillings or sandwiches, homemade pies and burgers.
Waffles, brownies and miniature cakes: R18 to R25. Value: Very good. Flavour rating: high.
KASSIA & FIGG artisan deli, 24 Main Road, Kalk Bay. Tel 021 788 3337 website http://www.vanielje.com/kf/

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A wonderful Sunday of eating over? Wishful thinking. I have a friend who is the Cape version of domestic culinary perfection. Arrive in her aromatic kitchen and she’s bound to be in an apron with cookbooks scattered about. While the rest of us work a full day and throw something together, she routinely boasts a stocked fridge, a recipe to be tested and something edible bubbling or baking. The passionate purist had been invited along to Kassia & Figg, as we enjoy communal eating expeditions. But a domestic non-cooking chore beckoned, so we were invited to drop in afterwards.

Inconveniently the message arrived late, after we were suitably stuffed. “But I knocked something up for tea,” she cajoled,“so I’m not taking no for an answer.” A delicate situation indeed, with Merry Muncher nursing the start of a migraine, me on a distinct sugar high. But such culinary enthusiasm is rare amongst friends.

I’m glad we soldiered on. On arrival a cake was being assembled and icing-dusted. Not just any old cake, but a triple lemon curd sponge cake sandwiched with lemon-seeped silky sauce and cream. Did I mention that lemon curd is one of my favourite things? I haven’t had curd in ages, then twice in one day - this runny, oozy version from lemons grown in her garden. Naturally I felt compelled to try a slice… delightful. Even more so the next day. No chance we’d be sent home without teatime take-aways!