Kim Maxwell reviewed restaurants for The Cape Times between 2004 and late 2006 under the heading Do me a Flavour. Since then, some closures, changes of chefs, ownership and prices. Some intrinsics haven’t changed much at all. For a trip down memory lane, reviews of some favourites…

95 Keerom Street, Aubergine, Belthazar, Fork, Greens on Park, Haiku, Harbour House, Ici, Jardine, Joostenberg Bistro, La Colombe, La Perla, Magica Roma, Marc’s Mediterranean, Reuben’s, Shoga Bistro Bar, Terroir, The French Connection, The Showroom, The Wooden Shoe, Vintage India

95 KEEROM STREET
restaurant category Italian, city trendy
Address 95 Keerom Street, Cape Town 021-422-0765
Open Lunch Mon-Fri 12-3pm, dinner Mon-Sat 7-10.30pm
Chef Carl Penn
Wine Local plus Italians, grouped by variety with vintages stated. Champagnes and sparklers too. Corkage R25
Vibe Trendy and educated mature crowd, lounge music to Pavarotti
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Only in enclosed courtyard or bar outside
Wheelchairs Yes, downstairs
Loos Clean, neat
Who ate? 2 adults
When? Busy Sat night
Cards major
Spend Three courses excl drinks, service: R125-R180
Value Average to good

VERDICT
Food 5/6
Wine 4/5
Service 4/5
The rest 3/4
16/20 Exceeds good expectations

If you have regular legal business at the High Court, there’s a good chance you’ve eaten weekday lunch at 95 Keerom Street. Another likely source of dining input are the late-night revellers of hip Rhodes House. Giorgio Nava owns both nightclub and restaurant, but a pedestrian link between the two venues aside, he’s sure the types of clientele are different. I’m not sure I agree, after passing a black-clad young diner sporting a mohican haircut, en route to 95 Keerom’s ladies loo downstairs.

Admittedly other diners in the upstairs eating area are a toned-down mix of educated professor-types, mature Europeans and thirty-somethings. Staff apron-wrapped in black are set against contemporary light wood, cream walls and glass, modern paintings subtly illuminated. Tub-style wooden chairs streaked in light and dark have white vinyl seats, while branches from an olive tree grown bonsai-style reach for the ceiling.

Heritage creeps in downstairs, original slave quarters and stables now forming a cosy bar, sitting area and dining rooms; a separate stylish bar accessed from the courtyard outside. Some 18th century wall murals and plaster have been retained, merging Nava’s ideas with those of Inhouse Brand Architects. Yes, Nava’s personality is stamped on every aspect of 95 Keerom Street. His keep-it-simple Milan perfectionism dominates décor, menu, ingredients and service.

We begin by scanning the menu and wine list, sipping glasses of Pongracz (R24) while nibbling crispy “foccacino” flakes dipped in Morgenster olive oil. Former Meerlust winemaker Giorgio dalla Cia assists with a comprehensive selection of reasonably-priced Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cab and Pinotage, to less usual Pinot Grigio, Sylvaner and Barbera. Italy is also represented, while France’s Champagnes crescendo up to Krug and vintage Dom Perignon.

On previous visits, Nava recited all menu explanations, but on a full Saturday, our waiter expertly enthuses and explains (apparently Nava only recently allowed more experienced staff to help). Specials include asparagus with hollandaise, and freshwater lobster with spaghetti and fresh tomato sauce. Impressively, we’re told the local crustacean is from the marron family.

Carl Penn was head chef at Les Oliviers before Joining 95 Keerom for its January opening. The chef agrees with Nava’s philosophy of a few simple ingredient combinations, keeping plates free of conflicting flavours. It’s likely why some local customers accustomed to heartier spicing and rich sauces, complain flavours are too plain.

Carpacci ‘Scottati’ is something different, where raw fish or meats are lightly cooked, but I select raw kabeljou slivers, with olive oil, zingy lemon juice, plump capers and rocket (R45). Chilled, it wakes up sleepy tastebuds. Rectangular satiny pouches of homemade ravioli slide down, encasing butternut and ricotta (R45). So far, so good.

Main courses. Just-seared or grilled tuna (R72) was tasty previously, so we order swordfish (R69). Grilled pieces are moist and sufficiently seasoned. Nava’s fishing boat goes out regularly and it shows. Glen Carlou Pinot Noir 2003 (R165) is delicious with La Tagliata al rosmarino beef fillet (R80). With slices oiled then flame-cooked on the plate with fresh garlic and rosemary, results are tender and flavourful.

If you skimp somewhere, dessert isn’t the place. Chocolate soufflé comes in the milk version (R36) or milk-and-dark-chocolate duo (R72). Light yet oozy inside, it’s drenched by more Belgian saucy stuff with fresh berries. Frutta Cotta (R32) makes a lovely contrast, sweet berry sauce cutting through not-too-sweet vanilla panna cotta.

The coffee, naturally, is Italian Sega Fredo. It ends an extremely enjoyable dining and service experience, despite a full house. Only finding well-lit, nearby night parking is the challenge.

AUBERGINE
restaurant category smart, city
Address 39 Barnet Street, Gardens. 021 465 4909
Open Set lunch Wed - Fri (two courses R110, three courses R155). Dinner Mon - Sat. Sophisticated snacks served from 5pm.
Chef Harald Bresselschmidt
Wine Sommelier Jörg Pfützner offers an encyclopaedic, interesting selection of top SA and overseas styles that’s easy to navigate. All temperature-controlled, but mark-ups on wine and water are high. Listed by style or variety; local alongside foreign labels in each category. Regions are mentioned; plenty of older vintages. Excellent by-the-glass selection in good stemware. Corkage R50.
Vibe A stylish décor revamp sees Knysna blackwood on bar counters and table finishes, a lot of glass, textured fabrics and light fittings. The dining atmosphere feels formal, but a bistro area adjacent to the bar suits casual snacking. Repeat European tourists join diplomats, business community and foodies.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Yes, in the bar and adjacent bistro area.
Wheelchairs Not in bathrooms
Loos Modern with rolled towels
Who ate? Four adults
When? Fairly busy Thurs dinner
Cards Yes
Spend Three course dinner excl drinks and service: R195 – R299
Value keep it for special occasions

VERDICT
Food 4/7
Wine 4.5/5
Service 3/4
The rest 3.5/4
15/20 Very Good

I’m first in the queue for a simple meal, be it steak with fries, pesto tagliatelli with rocket, or a great wood-fired pizza. But it’s fun to up the ante occasionally and surrender your dinner plate to a highly skilled chef, confident of top-notch service and drinks en route. You’ll certainly blow any respectable budget, but who worries about saving when gastric juices are rumbling?

Aubergine restaurant celebrates 10 years of business with a necessary décor revamp. Gone are the historical church pews that encouraged a ‘dining in Heidi and Pieter’s cabin’ feel. Instead, a modern melange of glass and timber, careful lighting and autumnal fabrics.

Bresselschmidt’s gift for delicate snacky things results in dinner proper with all the trimmings: a butter trio with homemade breads, an amuse bouche of duck parfait in raw cabbage, then crayfish mousse in bouillon. The sorbet before mains sports kiwi and pineapple

For starters, three of us go a la carte. The fourth opts for avocado and salmon sushi pieces livened by mirin vinaigrette, from the good-value three-course menu degustation (R220). A pale disc of sweetbread roulade enclosed by creamy cauliflower mousse is a subtle dish with a mustard dressing kick, with white asparagus salad (R65). White spears come into their own inside three raw tuna rolls with oyster meat, creating a briny sea-infused sensation (R72). It’s delicious even if the promised nuttiness of pumpkin oil vinaigrette seems to have done a runner. A delice of duck and foie gras is pricy at R105, but the combinations don’t disappoint, with graphic pastry rectangles offering creamy mousse below a jelly layer. The sommelier insists on a classic partnership in a glass of Paul Cluver NLH 04 (R39). The others drink Constantia Uitsig’s 04 white blend (R189) and sparkling water (R26).

Main courses roll on magically, service impeccable. The dish of the night: a cabbage-coated roll of rare duck enclosing foie gras, barely heated to delicious wobbliness (R108). Perky potato-dough raviolis at either end enclose slow-cooked giblets; incandescent broad beans dot the duck. Second in line is a leek tart with Karoo lamb in four variations (R104), a diced tomato aubergine confit surrounded by lamb loin, kidney, a chop with creative herby extras, and a spice-infused kofta. Panfried rare ostrich slices with beetroot cubes partners bone marrow inside a brioche - a set menu main that’s pleasant, if conservative. The ‘east meets west’ (R98) offers disappointing textures and bland flavours. Alerting staff would be smart, but we don’t fancy a delay. Two triangular plates: prawns with spinach, ravioli and pineapple relish; the second bearing over-steamed kingklip, stuffed calamari and fennel in too-subtle saffron sauce. The wine? Beaumont Shiraz 03 (R195).

A surprise du Chef (R69) offers five tasty dessert samplers for communal spoons, contrasting hot to cold and fruity (apple strudel) to creamy (white chocolate mousse). We like. The set menu’s poached pear has a marzipan filling and pastry base, with five spice and lemongrass ice-cream. Warm blue cheese samoosas ooze against tangy pineapple relish (R54). The sommelier recommends four different dessert wines by the glass (R32 to R35). Matches are spot-on but we feel rather pressured to accept.

It was similar with the night’s first recommended wine, when an Observatory white blend (R250) was declined by the table repeatedly. While I applaud a restaurant’s efforts to provide informed, passionate wine service, there’s a fine line between gentle prodding and making customers feel they’re being badgered. But it’s a smudge on an otherwise polished performance, and Aubergine deserves its position among Cape Town’s culinary line-up.

BELTHAZAR RESTAURANT AND WINE BAR
restaurant category harbourside, city
Address Ground level, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. 021-421-3753
Open 12 midday to 11pm for meals daily. Two dinner sittings.
Chef Paul Fitchet
Wine Variety can’t be faulted with 600 wine options, accompanied by ratings, older vintages and food matching suggestions. High rollers have high prices, but cheaper labels do exist. Single malts and after-dinner drops too, including 178 wines by the Riedel glass. No BYO.
Vibe No dusty steak and chips franchise-feel here. A sleek industrial interior is cluttered with condiments and cookbooks but balanced by cool glass and steel. A wine bar is a focal point. Outdoor tables have harbour views. Lounge music. No children under 12. Tourists, wine anoraks and locals of all ages.
Vegetarian limited
Smoking Outside tables only
Wheelchairs Yes
Loos stylish and semi-unisex
Who ate? Four adults
When? busy Sat dinner
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R150 – R280
Value average

VERDICT
Food 3.5/6
Wine 4/5
Service 4/5
The rest 2.5/4
14/20 good

Being presented with a menu at Belthazar brings a Robbie Williams song to mind: ‘Let me entertain you’. It’s filled with colourful menu sub-sections, nuggets of information and awards, plus animal diagrams explaining the meat cuts. A section called ‘Shoppertainment’ lures with cookbooks, steak knives and stemware. Showing off the goods is a concept adopted from American steakhouses, and although it all sounds busy enough to turn off the appetite, Belthazar’s interior decor is stylishly appealing at night.

This is no average wine bar. It’s the place for fashionable trendies and anoraks alike; an expensive set-up whereby cool temperatures and a system of replacing oxygen in an open bottle with nitrogen, allows wine preservation. Hence the world’s biggest wine-by-the-glass bar claim, with 178 candidates. Fancy Riedel stemware and a sommelier service also score points, allowing Belthazar some justification for higher wine prices.

We request a sommelier out of curiosity. What relief that he’s charmingly informed, asks about our food and recommends a moderately priced Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2004 (R100) to start. Pricier listed alternatives are Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2002 (R170) or Steenberg Semillon 2003 (R250). By the glass, there’s Saxenberg Vin Blanc (R18) to Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc (R43). In reds, the sommelier’s recommended Guardian Peak SMG 2002 (R250) would correctly suit our fish and meat mix, but we opt for a decent Delheim Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (R160) instead.

Starter options such as peri-peri livers (R48) or deep-fried camembert (R54) don’t excite, so we share a roasted butternut and avocado salad (R52) and sticky pork spare ribs (R55). The salad isn’t special; assorted leaves with avo, boiled egg, olives, cherry tomatoes and hunks of cinnamon-and-garlic-grilled butternut. But five ribs are tastily tender-sweet in BBQ sauce dusted in white sesame seeds, and ideal for communal nibbling.

We’re told the prawns are fabulous, and that Mozambique super tigers (200 – 500g) are specials offered at a hefty R65 per 100g. On the menu, queen prawns start at R25 each. Grilled Mozambique lobster matches those super tigers in price. Thanks, but linefish (R85) sounds good. Nicely seared tuna is dusted with parsley and pink inside, yet bland without its cream-based lemon butter sauce.

Belthazar was SA’s Steakhouse of the Year in 2005 and their grain-fed Karan beef is sourced in Gauteng from SA’s largest premium beef supplier. Fillet, sirloin, rump and rib-eye are all wet-aged for a few weeks, while only cuts on the bone – prime ribs and T-bones - get pricier dry-ageing which increases flavour through meat shrinkage. All steaks are coated in beef stock, house baste or peppercorn coating, plus a starch of choice. A plain 250g fillet is requested (R90) with a green peppercorn sauce (R12); the waitress cheekily double-checking whether that’s 250g, 350g, 450g or the whole cow! A taste-test reveals a satisfactory steak cooked medium-rare, if somewhat dry. From the game line-up including kudu, wildebeest, gemsbok and eland, two Karoo springbok portions (R105) are ordered. Assorted small, tender grilled fillet strips served with a thick stock-infused red wine sauce (R12) are delicious. Creamed spinach, beetroot in sauce and roasted butternut (R18) are homely but nothing more.

Our shared baked sticky toffee pudding (R38) with ice-cream offers a large portion and tag, but little else to excite. An alternative is peppermint crisp tart (R35). And here’s the thing with Belthazar. Service, wines, menu presentation, meats, steak knives, stemware and sauces encapsulate everything a millennium steakhouse should be. Diners have fun eating too. The drawback is starters, veggies and desserts that seem stuck in the mould of the nineties.

BREAD & WINE
restaurant category casual country with views
Address Môreson Wine Farm, Happy Valley Road, Franschhoek. 021 876 3692
Open Daily for lunch, check in winter.
Chef Neil Jewell
Wine Many winery restaurants offer other brands, but Bread & Wine limits wine selections to the winery’s own premium Môreson and lower-tier Pinehurst brands. Five whites, one rosé, nine reds and two bubblies are available by bottle. Many are poured by the glass. Great prices and quality; selection of styles to satisfy. But vintages aren’t listed and no older vintages are offered. Quality stemware and attentive wine service. No BYO.
Vibe Interior tones of beige and cream form a cool backdrop near a kitchen hatch. The warmer outdoors is the popular choice, with lemon orchards and a running stream. Young children can come and go without being bothersome to table diners. Music only inside; children and nature sounds outdoors. An adjacent farm grocer stocks cured meats and bottled produce.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Outdoors with consideration
Wheelchairs No
Loos Messy when venue is busy
Who ate? Three adults
When? Busy Sunday lunch
Cards Yes
Spend Three course dinner excl drinks and service: R139 – R174
Value Very good

VERDICT
Food 5.5/7
Wine 3/5
Service 3.5/4
The rest 3/4
15/20 Very Good

A few hours after a Sunday lunch session with friends, Bread & Wine was included in South Africa’s top 10 restaurants at the Eat Out 2007 awards function. I had a hunch they might do well. Local consumer interest in homemade produce is taking off, and British-trained chef Neil Jewell’s cured meats and sausages - mostly natural and organic pork - rate with the country’s best. Aside from smoked salt and bottled relishes, Jewell’s lamb biltong is a popular eccentricity.

A proximity to lemon orchards is a clue about why families make a beeline for this venue. The restaurant is managed by Le Quartier Français owner Susan Huxter for her brother Richard Friedman, but Jewell controls the menu. Wife and expert bread-maker Christina Jewell has moved to front of house, limiting her current kitchen input to overseeing the popular bread-making classes. At our outdoor table, she started us off with olive oil and a delightful basket of seeded brown and flat focaccia, plus Parmesan and watercress pesto, aubergine and walnut, and red-toned beetroot respectively.

The compact menu was divided into “smaller” and “bigger tastes”. We opted for a trio of duck (R48) featuring cold-smoked pieces with complementary cherry, biltong-like air-dried slivers, and a delicately-textured rillette round under a crouton. Pleasant enough, but coarser shredded duck in its fat would’ve been preferred. Fish dishes drew the first aha. Cheekily fat tuna boerewors, chilli jelly and pap (R38) had coriander seeds dominating a just-undercooked fishy sausage. It bounced cheekily around sweet chilli and runny, cream-infused porridge on the plate. Delicately cured salmon pieces (R45) with vibrant, fresh bursts from a session in salted citrus zest and mint sat perkily under a pastry wafer. With herbs, creamy celeriac and spring onion, a citrus dressing added delightful lift. The wine? Môreson Chenin Blanc (R40).

Under “bigger tastes”, roasted quail with mushroom sausage vied with porcini-dusted wildebeest and smoked beetroot custard. But seared tuna partnered with tortellini (R80) had two takers. Unfortunately both loins were over-salted, the sensation lessened when fishy bites were paired with three squid-ink tortellini stuffed tastily with home-cured chorizo; fennel bulbs alongside. But what was that foam of pungent raw green flavour? Cucumber and burnet, an unusual European herb, explained the waitress. Aha again.

Chardonnay-marinated pork belly (R75) was rolled with apple marmalade to form a hefty round, wrapped in home-cured bacon. Looking like a frothing beer head with its parsley and mustard foam, a crunchy potato rosti caught the spills. Only the wintry “chou croute” Alsatian-style sauerkraut appeared to be season-hopping.

With reasonably priced winery offerings on the list, Môreson and Pinehurst’s labels should satisfy most. The priciest white was Môreson Premium Chardonnay (R70); most premium reds were R85, and Môreson Magia topped the selection at R118. But there’s a missed opportunity to list older vintages. Sticking to farm labels also meant no dessert wines, so flutes of Môreson Brut Rôse (R20) had to do with dessert.

This was wintry warming territory indeed. Aside from ice-creams and sweets, choices were limited to a date and butterscotch bake with homemade vanilla ice-cream (R30), and baked chocolate fondant served with tiny meringues and orange blossom sorbet (R34). Tasty if unspectacular, compared to wittier early courses. Young pastry chef Renate Heyden may be a recent recruit, but we wanted lighter lemon tarts or creatively fashioned summer fruit. Too bad, as Bread & Wine has a country vibe, pleasantly efficient service and ingredients crafted with flair and humour. It’s a very likeable showcase of produce, but the menu could reflect the seasons better.

FORK
restaurant category casual, city
Address 84 Long Street, Cape Town. 021-424-6334
Open Mon - Sat 12pm - 11pm
Chef Stacy Loader
Wine Regions are favoured here, so find reds, whites and rosés listed together under say, an Elgin/Walker Bay heading. The variety appears first, then brand and vintage – for reds and whites. Some may find this unconventional mix confusing, but prices appeal to a range of pockets. Champagnes are listed under ‘France’. A few decent wines by the glass. No BYO.
Vibe Small yet stylishly modern space. A distressed brick wall frames seats and a bar on street level, while enclosed dark wooden booths plus free-standing tables are upstairs. Trendy Long Street attitudes bop to the downstairs beat; a wider local and international audience in a more conventional upstairs area.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking at downstairs tables
Wheelchairs Downstairs by arrangement
Loos grubby. Watch your step on entering.
Who ate? Four adults
When? busy Saturday dinner
Cards Major
Spend 8 - 10 shared courses excl drinks and service: R100 – R150
Value average

VERDICT
Food 4.5/7
Wine 3/5
Service 2.5/4
The rest 3/4
13/20 Worth a return visit

When reducing dining out to its essentials, cutlery is a fairly fundamental part. Dinner forks weren’t common on European tables until the eighteenth century, even though dagger-style knives were around in Medieval times. By the nineteenth century, well-bred Americans were so opposed to peas being eaten off knives that etiquette dispensed with knives entirely in favour of their three-pronged partners. The trend bodes well for tapas-style dishes at Fork restaurant. Each diner has a dishcloth-style serviette and a fork, in preparation for small bites of food.

Our Saturday evening at a cosy booth table begins with only two serviettes between four, and a waiter’s apology for being short. With short, informative pages for food and wine list, we sip Cape Point Stonehaven Sauvignon Blanc (R89) while pondering a ‘While you’re thinking’ menu. Raclette fondue with crostini and chorizo (R35) entices, but is sold out. Vitello Tonnato (R40) isn’t available either. We order smoked salmon rolls of goat’s cheese and dill, with salmon caviar crostini (R40). First, a nibble of complimentary bruschetta snacks with tomato and basil, and tuna drizzled with mayonnaise. Orange fish roe wakes up the eyes and palate with a roll of salmon, creamy cheese and poppy seeds on crunchy toast.

The pace slows as four veggie puff pastry parcels sandwich oven-roasted red and yellow peppers and melted Italian Caprino goat’s cheese, with tender green asparagus (R30). Square vegetable cakes (R25) combine Swiss chard, leeks and Parmesan in a routine way. Then, Pancetta strips crisply enfold four tasty grilled Tiger prawns (R50). There’s a wait for four tough mini duck breast bites (R40) – replacing sold-out ostrich fillet rolls. What a pity: a sticky-sweet port reduction, orange oil and rind on a mashed potato swirl and wilted spinach offer delightful flavours. Impressively, the waiter sends a fresh, improved duck dish after our negative feedback.

De Meye Shiraz 2002 (R88) does nicely from the Stellenbosch/Somerset West category. JD Haasbroek’s wine selection by region is creative, but requires geographical juggling to find a specific label. Krone Borealis from Twee Jonge Gezellen (R115 or R28 by glass) would probably have more traffic in a sparkling wine category than under Tulbagh.

Filled white chicory leaves draws table disapproval for a R30 tag and little substance – baby Cos lettuce, black olive bits and chopped walnuts need more than a hint of gorgonzola dressing provides. Excellent thinly-cut French Fries (R15) fill the wait better. A giant raviolione circle (R35) hides an enchanting surprise: minced beef forms the background to still-runny poached egg yolk; hot melted butter offsetting fresh rosemary aromas with crumbled crisp pancetta. Two tender lamb cutlets (R45) aren’t easy to split, but cumin and creamy coriander sauce makes the effort worthwhile.

We’ve reached the end, yet half the group is peckish. I’m a fan of tapas, but understand why a friend at another table says she’d prefer one plate of food in one go. In contrast, what should be billed a two-man portion of tiramisu (R25) oozes mascarpone over Marsala-laced biscuits, justifying the waiter’s recommendation. Kahlua-doused flourless chocolate cake also surprises when four squares arrive (R25) to partner filter coffee (R10). We’d be stumped with four dessert orders.

Perhaps that’s the issue. An enticing menu is worthless if ingredients are short and staff slowed under pressure. Applause for a genuinely friendly telephone manner, and an enthusiastic management team apologising after an over-subscribed lunch threw dinner service out. Consistent treatment of ingredients and portion sizes would be preferable. Nevertheless we’ll be back for flavours that appeal to all senses.

GREENS ON PARK
restaurant category city, casual café
Address 5 Park Road, Gardens, Cape Town. 021-422-4415
Open Mon 8am to 6pm, Tues to Sun 8am to 11pm
Chef Dhiren Laljith
Wine Creative SA-dominated selection arranged by style with vintages listed. Lots of interesting by-the-glass options too. Champagne, sparkling, dessert wines, ports. Reasonable mark-ups. To allow people to bring special wines, R15 corkage policy applies to every four diners, only on the second bottle opened.
Vibe The new metropolis venue for fashionable types: plenty of young salad-munching women and creative industry movers. Children welcome as young parents frequent over weekends. The green umbrella terrace gets the most traffic although stylish interior décor and a funky bar lend serious night appeal. Classical mornings and Café del Mar til late.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking In bar or on the terrace
Wheelchairs On arrangement with adjacent hotel
Loos modern but sloppy servicing by hotel
Who ate? Two adults
When? busy Wed lunch
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R100 – R145
Value Good

VERDICT
Food 3.5/6
Wine 4/5
Service 2.5/5
The rest 3/4
13/20 Pleasant, worth a return visit

Consider the scenario: two women are seated under an umbrella at a café-style restaurant for lunch. Ladies dominate surrounding tables too, mostly ordering large salads. As a waiter, what might go through your mind?

Experience would suggest these women would be too busy catching up initially to give the menu a glance. After they eventually listen to the specials and order, lunch would likely be punctuated by more chatter. Why? Female groups generally demand flavourful food, but they dine out as much to discuss mutual friends and events in their lives. Ask any boyfriend or husband.

Hence service shouldn’t be overly intimate or super-fast, unless somebody asks for the bill; business lunches being an obvious exception. That’s basic stuff for any waiter who’s clocked up a few shifts, even when it’s busy. Unfortunately this is the opposite of what happens while lunching at Greens on Park. It’s a fresh space in the urban jungle, filled with cheerful outdoor tables and umbrellas; modern stone columns, pressed ceilings and wood veneers inside.

We’re sharing fresh asparagus (R35) – the day’s version featuring steamed green spears under hollandaise, a drizzle of pesto oil and cherry tomatoes. It’s tender and lemony against the rich sauce. We request that a salad of rocket and Parmesan shavings (R39) has avocado slices – no extra charge – and are glad of the addition. The portion is generous, dressed with a basil and lemon vinaigrette. This explains why the chef goes through 1.2kg of rocket and about 20 avos per shift. Two glasses of Beaumont unwooded Chenin Blanc (R19) make a good match.

Greens may be a cafe/restaurant but Mike van der Spuy and Mike Bampfield-Duggan’s collaborations have produced a comprehensive, un-intimidating list with better selections than many upmarket counterparts. Boutique local labels stand alongside Champagnes in a range of prices, with La Siesta Grenache from Signal Hill 2002 (R125), Tamboerskloof Shiraz 2002 (R115), Jacqueson Grand Cru 1995 Champagne (R505) or a glass of Drappier at R69.

But back to service. The first hitch is when the waiter asks if he can bring main courses – halfway through our starters. Panicked appeals increase until it’s explained that our main orders were put through with starters to avoid a kitchen backlog. Oops. Fortunately lunch is saved by an experienced waitress who explains that we have a trainee, and assures that they’ll make our mains from scratch when we’re ready.

From there service settles. Our trainee relaxes into friendly over-enthusiastic mode, although we’re surprised when he claims to have two years of restaurant experience. We order two more glasses of Terra del Cappo Pinot Grigio 2005 (R18), which sells at R75 per bottle.

Calamari chermoula (R60) arrives with crunchy mange tout, broccoli, carrots and rice. We should’ve checked if tubes were possible, because thick calamari steak strips are fried in assorted spices, coriander leaves and cream; the chunky texture unpleasant and flavouring lacking spicy Moroccan zing. Fortunately a Parma ham and rocket pizza (R61) is delightful. In the Californian category because fresh toppings are added afterwards; a wafer-thin wood-fired base is smeared with canned/fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella and dried herbs, and topped with perfect quantities of Parma slivers and rocket.

Apple and blueberry crumble (R23) is recommended as the only dessert baked inhouse. A large square may offer value, but combines too much dry crumble and crust with stewed apple and fresh blueberry filling. It almost passes with ice-cream. Yet despite these glitches, lunch has been enjoyable and there’s enough to like. So yes, we’ll definitely be back.

HAIKU
restaurant category city
Address Burg Street, Cape Town CBD. 021-424-7000
Open Lunch and dinner Mon to Fri; dinner only Sat. Two evening sittings.
Chefs 10 Indian and Chinese specialists
Wine A creative, mostly local selection arranged by varieties and styles, with a brief explanation above each section. Good range of labels, but no vintages listed. Prices are higher than average. Ten wines by the glass. A few MCCs and Champagnes too. No BYO.
Vibe A long, sleek dining area cocooned dramatically in darkness with dim overhead lamps highlighting dishes on dark wooden tables against black granite walls; brighter lights focus on open kitchen activities. With tables close together, prams and young kids aren’t welcome. Trendy diners of mixed ages; tourists and corporates. Music is lounge-style and loud.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking No
Wheelchairs No
Loos very Zen with fresh flowers and towels
Who ate? Four adults
When? busy Thurs night
Cards Major
Spend Compulsory three or four stars, excluding drinks and service: R99 – R198
Value average to poor

VERDICT
Food 6.5/7
Wine 3.5/5
Service 3/4
The rest 3/4
16/20 excellent

Haiku is extremely popular for a restaurant that opened late in 2005. As new spots often slide downhill in the months after opening, I’ve waited for the fizzle to fade before reviewing – a ‘best new restaurant’ national accolade from Eat Out 2005 guide included.

Some Capetonians have been hot under the collar over Haiku happenings. Gripes include two dinner seatings – the earliest from six to nine – with complaints of hurried presentations of bills to early diners, and delayed dining for later ones. Hostesses have upset parents by brusquely stating the venue is impractical for prams, and insisting that everybody conforms to a minimum spend, even young children. All lunch diners must order three stars – a star being R33 – and evening diners four stars per head. Adherence is strict in a venue seating 68. Haiku’s otherwise professional reservations system doesn’t have a waiting list; diners can only phone on the day for possible cancellations. On two occasions I couldn’t be bothered; the third time I persevered and an 8.45pm cancellation was ours.

Haiku is not a place you’d take your granny. We enjoy dim lighting, Chinese screens and stylish decor, but loud lounge music belongs in a nightclub. Acoustics are so poor, half our table can’t hear the waiter’s explanations – but audible snippets demonstrate his menu knowledge. Communal ordering is recommended, and we’re advised that dishes arrive sporadically.

An array of dim sum offers delightful textures and fresh tastes: two steaming baskets of three plump prawns with sliced bamboo shoots in open siu mai wontons (R66); four transparent har gau dumplings filled with Chinese mushrooms (R33), and four fried pot sticker ovals of subtly flavoured minced beef with garlic chives (R33). We dip in soy, tomato/chilli and coriander, or dried chilli. Good lemon sauce doesn’t save bland skewers of crumbed chicken balls (R33), but spicy prawn toast – four deep-fried bread discs topped with minced prawns, dhania and chilli (R66) is a triumph with hot garlic sauce. Equally outstanding, Japanese coal-grilled robata skewers of velvety beef with reconstituted shitakes (R33), plus creamy mustard sesame dip. The robata order is repeated.

Haute Cabriére Chardonnay Pinot Noir (R86 or R29 per glass) from the ‘easy drinking’ section works nicely. We like the price, and the wine’s affinity with Asian food, but it’s hard to find a white or red varietal under R115. Labels include Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc (R116), Glen Carlou Chardonnay (R165), Waterford Cabernet (R181) to Thelema Merlot (R220). Sparkling water at R24 is hefty too.

Wok dishes arrive with complimentary steamed rice. Ginger kingklip is overly subtle in a cornflour sauce with fresh ginger and spring onion (R66). It doesn’t stand a chance against outstanding Peking duck with six crepes (R99). A half bird of tender meat with skin crisped to Asian standards, it’s served with plum sauce, finely sliced spring onions and cucumber as crepe fillings. Also impressive: wok-fried black pepper beef; beef slices in a thick coarse garlic and pepper sauce with chunky onion and green pepper. By chance we’ve satisfied our star quota, leaving space only for Chinese green tea (R14) and coffee (R10).

A branch of Haiku is opening in Mayfair, London. Few Cape Town venues deliver such an array - Japanese sushi, tempura, tepanyaki and robata to Chinese wok and dim sum - at optimal quality. South Africans are discovering that research and sourcing of specialist equipment and chefs has a price. Bukhara’s Sabi Sabharwal and team are packaging Haiku offerings with arrogance, but authentic Asian food this good deserves some leeway.

HARBOUR HOUSE
restaurant category country seafood
Address Kalk Bay harbour, Kalk Bay 021-788-4136
Open Lunch daily 12-4pm, dinner daily 6-10.30pm
Chef Lizaan Nel
Wine Varieties listed together according to sweetness levels, for whites and reds. Some sparklers and dessert wines, limited overall selection. Reasonable mark-ups. Corkage R20.
Vibe Romantic couples, tourists and local groups of mixed ages. Sea sounds by day, background jazz at night.
Vegetarian Minimal offerings
Smoking No
Wheelchairs No
Loos Clean and stylish, but cracked toilet seat in ladies loo.
Who ate? 4 adults
When? Sun lunch
Cards major
Spend Three courses excl drinks and service: R138-R254
Value Prices slightly above-average

VERDICT
Food 4.5/6
Wine 2.5/5
Service 4/5
The rest 3/4
14/20 Good

Locating restaurants that specialise in a variety of really fresh fish in Cape Town is an ongoing challenge. It doesn’t stop tourists and friends from requesting recommendations though. Cape Town is surrounded by coastal waters, yet embarrassingly, our best stuff is exported. They say Gautengers get next shot at our premium trawl.

Yet undaunted, I book a table at Harbour House, upstairs from Kalk Bay’s fishing harbour. After a previous visit three years ago, I’m not expecting more than grilled fish with the ubiquitous lemon or garlic butter.

The revelation, on a busy Sunday lunchtime, begins with a charming enclosed deck. Since renovations a year ago, white window beams and dark wooden floors frame azure ocean views. With waves breaking for acoustics, you’d struggle to find a more effective good-weather fishy-lunch backdrop.

A bar separates the deck from the original restaurant, overlooking fishing boats and a pier dotted with amateur line-casters. Our waitress pours oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping freshly baked ciabatta slices. Mostly-seafood specials include West coast oysters (R14 each), mussels in broth (R36), and fresh crayfish at R140 (West coast rock lobsters). Our spirits lift on hearing the daily catch is secured predominantly from the owner’s boat, but unfortunately the last portions of cob (served two ways) just sold out. Remaining fishy options are kingklip (served two ways) or tuna.

A chilled Buitenverwachting Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (R105) arrives. Other whites include Chardonnays, Rhine Riesling and inexpensive white blends. A small red range (starting at R72), includes fish-friendly Pinot Noir to Shiraz and Merlot. Dessert wine appears to be an afterthought.

The food is not, with attractive plating moving beyond an upmarket fish ‘n chips joint. Chopped tuna tartare (R42) on rocket, is moulded with diced tomato, spring onion, basil and chives, surrounded by lemon juice and a balsamic vinegar reduction. The sushi sandwich (R48) didn’t entice initially, but we’re pleased our waitress was persuasive. A circular rice base gets raw tuna, avocado and a smoked salmon twirl, with pickled ginger, lemon juice and homemade wasabi-and-basil-infused mayo piped around. The chef infuses her own oils.

Three chermoula prawns in shells (R72) merge a strong paprika paste with lemon juice, garlic, cumin and cinnamon. The main portion (R140) is a heftier stack on a saffron-yellow couscous timbale. Kingklip is served plain and grilled, with vegetables, as requested. But options include a Parmesan herb crust, or pan-fried with poppy seeds, plus apple and onion sambal.

We’re persuaded to try cob trimmings with grilled kingklip. Crispy potato wedges and fresh strawberries partner saffron and lime butter (R85). A sauce for brave fish-eaters. Grilled Yellowfin tuna (R85) with garlic mash has the edge, even if cooked beyond the requested pan-seared. Salsa Verdi (basil, parsley, mint, white wine vinegar and anchovies) adds complementary zing.

Most desserts don’t appeal, but we are enticed by a delicate slice of rich dark chocolate mousse terrine (R32), dotted with sponge biscuit and almonds. Gooey fudge sauce and four coffees, finish it off.

The ‘a-ha’ moment arrives when chef Lizaan Nel explains she spent a year of daytime apprenticing in Franck Dangereux’s La Colombe kitchen. It explains the flavour combos and plating. Her skills were transferred to her own staff during night shifts. This passionate cook, who started her career at George airport restaurant, says she is now finding her own way. With nearly six years at Harbour House, she’s definitely one to watch.

iCi RESTAURANT
restaurant category country, casual
Address Le Quartier Français, 16 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek 021-876-2151
Open Daily 12 – 10pm
Chefs Margot Janse and Maritz Jacobs
Wine A user-friendly list of Franschhoek labels grouped by varieties or styles with vintages mentioned. Môreson and Pinehurst wines by the glass. Mark-ups are reasonable. R30 corkage on BYO.
Vibe An open-plan dining area merges plum and cream walls, graphic prints and curly Italian lights with a stylish bar and lounge. Easy tunes and African jazz soothe families and friends who are dining.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking No, except outside on the terrace.
Wheelchairs Yes, by arrangement
Loos neat, Charlotte Rhys soap and lotion
Who ate? 3 adults
When? busy Sun lunch
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R95 – R152
Value good

VERDICT
Food 4/6
Wine 3.5/5
Service 3.5/5
The rest 3/4
14/20 Good

Some girls have book clubs. My female friends use restaurant get-togethers to catch up. Since books seem to be a minor component of the average home-based literary session anyhow, my all-girl dining partners generally skip the pretence and hone in unashamedly on food and beverages.

iCi restaurant is busy on a rainy Franschhoek Sunday. Meaning “here” in French, this casual all-day eatery is tastefully decorated, even if its open-plan table layout feels a little hotel-like and overlays in liquorice allsorts colours detract from crisp linens. The separate Tasting Room is only open at night, offering set menus.

Exec chef Margot Janse was inspired by a back-to-basics philosophy and organic ingredients when she had a wood-fired oven installed. She hired Maritz Jacobs from London Street Brasserie in Redding, England as sous chef, to downsize the fussiness. There are few pretensions on iCi’s one-page menu, where only price and layout differentiate starters, mains, side orders and desserts. It’s modified if new ingredients arrive.

Similarly, a two-page wine selection by Linda Coltart – “ee-SEE” white and reds respectively – offers less serious Franschhoek wines or styles in a concise format; nothing costing over R100. It’s easy to navigate, so we abandon the expanded Tasting Room restaurant list we’re handed as an alternative. With Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Brut (R95) to kick off, we also spot a well-priced Glenwood white blend (R50) and Porcupine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (R80).

The soup scores points for originality – vibrant chlorophyll-tinged nettle leaves pureed with vegetable stock and onion with Parmesan – but lacks gusto after a few spoons (R20). Salads are far more exciting: wood-roasted beetroot pieces, toasted walnuts and miniature salad leaves in a balsamic reduction vinaigrette, plus chunky gruyere cheese bits (R30). The other salad tops miniature leaves with halved baby aubergines grilled with herb and garlic-infused oil and deliciously sweet oven-dried rosa tomatoes. It’s finished with coarse breadcrumbs and the vinegar tang of plump pickled Italian white anchovies (R30).

Miniature salad leaves in vinaigrette are also piled in the Indonesian beef and peanut pot pie (R70). A rectangular plate holds a perfect stack of chunky chips, leaves and a pot topped with homemade puff pastry. We enjoy the homely concept, but the beef, carrots and beans cooked in coconut milk, stock and peanuts, needs more spicy bite to handle the pastry. A simple lamb burger passes with flying colours (R50); a homemade patty charred by the wood oven, sandwiched with avo cream, pickled cucumber and tomato, and topped with rosemary foccacia. Crispy fried sweet and sour pork hock (R70) features three moist rounds of fatty deboned pork leg, stewed in an oriental sauce, then fried in super-light tempura batter. The stewing liquid is dotted with pineapples and Asian veg. It’s courageous peasant food that works. Better explanations from waitstaff would be useful though, because Jacobs confirms that fattier dishes are sometimes returned.

We share delicious caramelised lemon tart, a slice of tart crème brûlée heaven with hard caramel topping; chewy sugared orange rind twists on the side (R25). Panna cotta gets a welcome lean touch with lime and yoghurt replacing cream, the lightness continued with a sweet raspberry-infused broth, Cape gooseberries and an oat crisp for crunch (R25). With three coffees (R7), we’re happy. Service has also picked up as the lunch rush subsides. iCi claims to be hovering near brasserie and simple comfort food, using top ingredients. But with long rectangles and circle-within-circle bowls, the crockery is the first clue that this isn’t mere simple stuff.

JARDINE
restaurant category smart-casual, city
Address 185 Bree Street. 021-424-5640
Open Tues – Sat for a la carte lunch and dinner
Chef George Jardine
Wine Fairly short and uncomplicated, but covers the regions and styles. Most vintages are listed and although predominantly young, a few whites and reds have some bottle age. A fair selection by the glass, plus a little bubbly, port and grappa. Decent stemware, and decanting on request. Corkage R20.
Vibe Casual lounge-style bar and cosy alcoved downstairs tables, with serious eating from an upstairs open kitchen. Wrap-around windows offer a slice of city life. Funky textured walls in downstairs alcoves and loos; eye-catching Scandinavian fabric canvases do the rest. Corporate execs, lawyers and younger social diners. Upstairs acoustics aren’t great when it’s busy.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking no
Wheelchairs no
Loos Stylish, distinctive and clean
Who ate? Four adults
When? busy Fri dinner
Cards No Amex and Mastercard yet
Spend Three course dinner excl drinks and service: R168 – R206
Value good for the style of food

VERDICT
Food 6.5/7
Wine 3/5
Service 2.5/4
The rest 3/4
15/20 Very good

Gordon Ramsay’s mantra to chefs who aren’t technically proficient is to keep it simple and manageable. There’s a reason his TV show (Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, BBC Food) is entertaining: he stands in the kitchens of debt-ridden venues and shouts colourful language about what they’re doing wrong.

Jardine restaurant wouldn’t be one of them. It’s rare to find a chef who grasps flavour and textural combinations so exquisitely that grandiose gimmicks aren’t an option. Who concentrates considerable technical know-how on creating purity on plates instead. Scottish chef George Jardine spent time with Jean Christophe Novelli (including Novelli at the Cellars in Constantia), and in top establishments in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney. He’s now back in Cape Town, running a venue with local partner Wilhelm Kühn.

The a la carte lunch menu is R80 for two; R100 for three courses, but we’re having the dinner menu. Half our group is already seated with Quando Sauvignon Blanc 05 (R85), and manager Grant Wagner suggests we order before a table of 12. He’s surely knowledgeable about Ramsay’s tantrums too, after working two years in his restaurants.

Four entrees are delightful. Steamed tian of mushroom and foie gras with truffle jus (R58) wraps a round of foie gras in a thin crepe, with assorted mushrooms and the satiny results of beefy truffle butter. The emulsion of baked aubergine and extra virgin olive oil with sage fritters (R48) is a frothy soup rich with smoky aubergine flavour, crouton-like crunchiness from the herby fritters. The stars are vegetarian and meaty respectively: a beetroot tart and pork belly. The beetroot and horseradish tart with pickled vegetables and aged balsamic (R55) tops a simple flattened puff pastry square with creamy horseradish and beetroot slivers, then a vinaigrette-fuelled mix of pickled asparagus spears, aubergine, button mushrooms and vinaigrette. Braised pork belly rectangle (R55) partners deboned meat - flattened and succulent - with slow-cooked butternut and basil confit plus crispy crackling; spicy jus working beautifully.

With wines there’s a concerted effort to be food and pocket-friendly with Nitida Semillon 05 (R105) to Bouchard Finlayson Hannibal (R220). Our choice is Jardine Unwooded Chardonnay 05 (R95). The printed description confuses, but the same Jardine wine by Vriesenhof sells at R20 per glass. Jardine’s house Cab Sauvignon 02 (R125 or R25 per glass) is from Le Riche.

Slow roasted double-herbed springbok loin, celeriac and hazelnut purée and braised Savoy cabbage (R95), pairs tender loin rounds and foie gras-filled cabbage balls with the subtler vegetable/nutty element. Steamed and roasted baby chicken (R80) is rolled so distinctive olive tapenade and sage flavour oozes from inside, contrasting roasted green beans and braised quinoa, that textured grain introduced by the Incas. Sirloin with truffled polenta (R90) combines pan-roasted slices with assorted mushrooms and jus on polenta that’s gooey with Parmesan and herbs. In contrast, steamed salmon cannelloni on wilted baby spinach (R85) offers delightful, clean flavours. Its homemade pasta rolled around fish with basil and aubergine edginess finds extra elements in roasted asparagus spears, white tomato juice reduction and truffle foam.

Our shared desserts (all R40) are no let down either: caramelised banana tart with butterscotch sauce, and a nifty number involving almond mousse cleverly framed in espresso jelly, with coconut ice-cream. Four friends eating tasting menus (R250 for seven courses) at a nearby table claim it’s their best recent local meal. We find staff menu knowledge hasn’t matched the food standards yet, but love this venue for being refreshingly free of stuffiness, and priced as dishes of this style should be.

JOOSTENBERG BISTRO
restaurant category casual country
Address Klein Joostenberg farm, R304 near N1, Stellenbosch. 021-884-4208
Open 8.30am to 3pm for meals on Tues to Sun, teas only 3 – 5 pm
Chef Christophe Dehosse
Wine Good value options from Joostenberg winery and neighbouring farms. All Joostenberg labels are available even if wines from the adjacent cellar tasting area are sold out. A small list with a practical focus. Vintages are listed. Joostenberg wines by the glass. BYO at R15.
Vibe Expect a rustic farm feel where a bistro shares a warehouse space with a wine tasting area, excellent pork butchery, bakery and deli. Grape-toned display cases and a fireplace aside, the feel is spartan and there’s no music. Weekend horse rides and lawns for kids. Wine community, locals and off-duty chefs.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Outside tables only
Wheelchairs Yes
Loos neat with baby facilities
Who ate? Four adults
When? busy Sun lunch
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R75 – R100
Value excellent

VERDICT
Food 4/6
Wine 3/5
Service 3.5/5
The rest 2.5/4
13/20 worth a return visit

When French Chef Christophe Dehosse won WINE magazine’s ‘Chenin Blanc Shootout’ in the February 2006 edition, his wine-friendly match was pig’s cheek braised in its own juices. For the competition, two chefs concocted a dish to match a Chenin Blanc wine, and two professionals judged the outcome. While his unusual pork stew appealed, it was Dehosse’s magazine comments that intrigued. He suggests South Africans aren’t adventurous when it comes to eating animals’ fiddlier bits.

The former chef at a two-Michelin star venue in France made his Cape debut at Au Jardin restaurant at The Vineyard hotel with wife Susan Myburgh serving out front. Dehosse says for every 1000 visitors at the couple’s Stellenbosch bistro ordering matured steak and chips or grilled Croque Monsieur sandwiches, a traditional red wine chicken Coq au vin stew on mash will have only 25 takers (R55, R28 and R49 respectively on their a la carte menu). To avoid the TV ‘Fear Factor’ element, their braised pork dish (R39) has the word “cheek” removed. Dehosse is thinking about risking all by serving a salad containing crisply fried deboned pig’s trotter bits!

Their popular Sunday lunch venue is packed, although cosy bistro décor is impossible in a space adjacent to pork butchery fridges. Service drags initially, but just-baked baguette slices with farm butter set lunch off on a high note. With only two- (R75) or three-course (R95) Sunday menus with three options per category, it seems dull to offer two roasted meat main courses. But then prices are excellent.

Fortunately non-dreary starters kick off with a roast Mediterranean vegetable salad, bursting sweet flavour from roasted vegetables with skins off, surrounding an oozing confit tomato. Freshly tasty: a salad of miniature leaves and rosa tomatoes holding three baguette rounds grilled with Boland goat’s cheese. But it’s slow-cooked shoulder ham in parsley aspic that’s an outright winner: flavourful tender meaty chunks with occasional fatty bits cemented with herby jelly. Its origins may be Burgundy, but the local interpretation partners salad plus creamy homemade mayo with Dijon mustard.

Wines offer a good quality/value ratio, so sticking to the Myburgh’s Joostenberg label makes sense. Neighbouring producers extend options somewhat. We order Joostenberg Chenin Blanc Viognier 2005 (R35) and a glass of Shiraz Viognier 2004 (R15). There’s also Simonsig Encore 2000 sparkling wine (R88) and De Meye Chardonnay 2005 (R52), with Starke Shiraz 2002 (R65) or Hartenberg Occasional Merlot 2001 (R87) in reds.

Despite crispy crackling, a wine glaze and apple sauce, roasted deboned pork shoulder doesn’t excite. Roast lamb with a fresh rosemary and bone stock gravy tastes similarly homely. The accompanying potato Dauphinois offers the most interest, baked potato slivers in a cloak of cream, garlic and nutmeg. A Cape Salmon fillet is overcooked, but lifted by a classic white wine and cream sauce with fresh mushrooms. It’s mismatched with bland-tasting turmeric yellow rice though.

Dessert causes an about-take for elegant flavours. A simple peach and almond tart bakes fresh peach halves in a homemade custard/almond cream mix. Its delicate French pastry exceeds any local equivalent, finished with raspberry sauce. The second option, large spoonfuls of dark and white chocolate mousse, offers a dance of bittersweet flavour and airiness. The secret is Callebaut chocolate, although Dehosse admits quantities depend on the batch. Crème anglaise pouring custard adds finesse.

So here’s a plan. Organise a group of fearless foodies and give Dehosse free reign. Shop for groceries as you leave. In between, follow the crowds after safer farmhouse fare with occasional flashes of French lustre.

LA COLOMBE
restaurant category country French, smart casual
Address Constantia Uitsig farm, Spaanschemat River Road, Constantia. 021-794-2390
Open Lunch daily 12.30 – 2.30pm. Dinner daily 7.30 – 10pm in summer, Mon - Sat in winter.
Chef Franck Dangereux
Wine Beverage manager Sean Pypers puts an extensive, creative list together. Although most mark-ups are above average, interesting cheaper labels can be found in all categories. R30 standard corkage; R40 for group bookings.
Vibe Casual French country decor with views of the tranquil garden or the open kitchen’s activities. Dress smart casually to blend in among foreign accents, moneyed old Capetonians and younger fashionables.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking only in the new bar area
Wheelchairs yes
Loos Stylish and new with quality imported toiletries
Who ate? 3 adults
When? busy Sunday lunch
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R230 – R300
Value pricey but no skimping on quality

VERDICT
Food 5/6
Wine 4.5/5
Service 4.5/5
The rest 3/4
17/20 world class

It was all thanks to a rugby bet with an overseas visitor. The winner would choose the restaurant during their stay; the loser would foot the bill. It seems gloating first-timers to South Africa are remarkably adept at scouting out top restaurants, because La Colombe was selected for the victory lunch. And while I wasn’t part of the deal, I was tagging along for the spoils.

A table opposite the kitchen isn’t the best, but does afford views of kitchen action. Vegetable crudités for dipping on the table could be fresher as the mobile specials chalkboard in French – a nod to the chef – is eloquently explained by our waitress in English. We abandon the short menu, and concentrate on remembering complex translations of seasonal starters and main courses, fresh oysters and sorbet options (R15) for between courses.

Graham Beck Brut (R106) kicks off a delightful phyllo disc with lime-basted diced avocado topped with perfectly pink raw tuna slices. It’s surrounded by a vibrant orange salsa of fresh herbs, diced red onion, peppers and tomato (R92.90). Fluffy homemade puff pastry envelopes panfried fresh Cep mushrooms from the Drakensberg on caramelised onions (R79.90). It’s a substantial serving, served with raw garlic cream and a mesclun – young leafy mix – salad with hazelnuts. From the menu, poached green asparagus shoots are also topped with mesclun leaves and Parmesan shavings; deliciously creamy vinaigrette liberally sprinkled with bits of black truffle, that sought-after imported fungus (R98.90).

Groot Constantia Shiraz 2002 makes a fitting main course partner, at a reasonable R145. It’s clear why the wine steward jokes about his “encyclopaedia of wine”. There’s something for everyone in this heavy bound book grouped under cultivars or styles, across a spectrum of prices and vintages. Aside from imported Champagnes and Constantia Uitsig’s own wines, there’s an organic section and an ‘Exciting wines’ selection of rarer finds.

Three Karoo lamb loin pieces are dusted in North African herbs and roasted, intense flavour contrasting a tangy roasted sesame seed and garlic cream, plus aubergine-wrapped goat’s cheese. Giant skinned tomatoes finish it off in petal shapes on top (R118.90). Panfried veal escalopes are delightful, matched with delicate lemon risotto – lemon rind adds zing - with mesclun leaves and a thickish sauce from artichokes and white truffle oil (R109). Comparatively, there are only strong masculine flavours in grilled beef fillet on finely grated potato rosti, an intense stock and Cognac “jus” infused with duck liver and black pepper (R135).

Tables have emptied so we move outside for coffee (R8) and dessert. ‘Noir au noir’ has no contest here (R49.50). A trio of dark chocolate terrine layered with soft biscuit with caramel sauce; an oozy dark chocolate and ground almond mini-pud with separate zesty orange froth, and a coffee-spiked caramel wobbly one. We’re less impressed by the package of meringue discs, homemade almond ice-cream and poached peaches; somehow pale green lemon verbena syrup and cerise morello cherry sauce (R45.90) doesn’t bring it together.

But that’s a minor glitch in an otherwise triumphal experience. By South African standards, La Colombe is pricey. Let’s get that out of the way. But as a special occasion restaurant, mark-ups are almost justified by superior quality local and imported ingredients, laborious techniques (I’ve checked), interesting wines in good glassware and attentive, clued-up service that isn’t stiff. They’re also generous in portions and extras - those complimentary “amuse bouche” tasters before the meal, and sweet “petit fours” after. In essence, an indulgent total package that’s memorable for the right reasons.

LA PERLA
restaurant category Italian, city casual
Address Beach Road, Sea Point. 021-434-2471
Open daily from 11.30am until 11pm
Chef Albert Msuwali
Wine Blue jackets denote the wine stewards; waiters wear white. The owners of Wijnhuis also select this SA label-dominated list. Arranged by variety or style, with vintages, descriptions and awards discreetly listed. Fair wine-by-the-glass selection and average mark-ups. R25 corkage on BYO.
Vibe Linen-cloaked tables with bright lighting are packed with regulars including families and businessmen from surrounding suburbs. Models dine alongside babies in prams. Italian, Spanish and French tunes vie with Cuban and South American above the waiters’ bustle. Terrace tables in good weather.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking In separate popular bar or at terrace tables
Wheelchairs No
Loos Neat marble downstairs bathrooms
Who ate? Three adults
When? busy Saturday dinner
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R110 – R340
Value Good

VERDICT
Food 4/6
Wine 3.5/5
Service 3.5/5
The rest 3/4
14/20 Good

It’s fairly common practice for chefs and foodies to be asked to name their favourite restaurant. I’m never surprised that responses vary widely - a suitable answer depends on the type of occasion, who’s doing the asking, their preferred style of eating and range they’re prepared to pay. Those criteria aside, restaurants can usually be divided into two categories. Those who impress with cutting-edge trends, smart decor and innovative skill. And the ones who resist fads and dish up traditional values and classics, while little changes.

La Perla in Sea Point definitely belongs in the latter category. The restaurant opened in the sixties in Cape Town’s CBD and moved to its current location in 1969; somewhat weathered décor now reflecting that sentiment. Large windows, horizontal beams, ceiling panels and seventies lights now have retro appeal; unfortunately hideous carved chairs and tasselled Italian upholstery have also survived. Orange is a feature colour, with specks dotted inside and out. Art on the walls from the Sandri family’s collection is discernibly more stylish and contemporary. It also changes more regularly than the menu.

Seated at “one of the best” tables on a busy Saturday night, we get the feeling most diners aren’t there because La Perla was flagged by Condé Nast Traveller’s 2004 website as one of Sea Point’s best restaurants. A few waiters in white lab coats look as historic as the venue – three of them did start in the sixties. Hence curt, no-nonsense service is delivered in the style only old hands get away with – we dutifully obey when told the restaurant is busy; orders should be quick with no detailed explanations.

So resisting an enquiry about seafood platter prices, we bypass salads, soups and a springbok bresaola with Gorgonzola (R65). Instead, an order of grilled calamari (R50) is shared three ways, alongside unusual-sounding zucchini carpaccio (R45). Patagonian calamari tubes and tentacles are tender and crisp respectively; in olive oil, chopped fresh garlic and chilli. With a squeeze of lemon, the dish is an ideal contrast to cool, raw zucchini circles in olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning. The carpaccio is completed by rosa tomatoes, pecorino shavings and chopped red pepper.

We’re drinking a moderate quality red, Guardian Peak Shiraz (R101), and similar options include Terra del Capo 2003 Sangiovese (R140) and Delheim Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (R86). The list is creative, but don’t expect wine advice from the blue-coated stewards. More ambitious labels include Kanonkop Cabernet 2001 (R389), Meerlust Rubicon 1994 (R590) and Taittinger NV (R736).

Main courses include pastas, fish, seafood (prawns start at R145) and meat. The spatchcocked baby chicken (R70) roasted in rosemary and garlic with crisp skin is declared delicious. Grilled red roman fillet is a little dry, but fine when doused in lemon juice and a good cream-and-wine-based mustard dipping sauce (R85). All linefish can also be poached or fried. Chips (R10 per bowl) or veggies are extra. Some cooks use fortified Marsala in Veal Saltimbocca (R85), but La Perla’s large flattened pieces are grilled, draped in prosciutto, mozzarella and sage leaves, before being doused in a white wine sauce containing tomato, peppers, mushrooms and onion. The veal is tasty with noodles, but flavours are obscured by the sauce.

Portions are large at La Perla, so there’s little space for dessert. We pick at another Italian classic, panna cotta with berry sauce (R30), but are disappointed by the dense, heavy texture of this cream-based dessert. It’s a small chink in La Perla’s armour however – the characters, comfort value and cooking produce enough redeeming features to keep diners returning.

MAGICA ROMA
restaurant category Casual suburban Italian
Address 8 Central Square, Pinelands 021-531-1489
Open Lunch daily 12-3pm, dinner daily 6-10.30pm
Chef kitchen team
Wine South Africans listed by varieties, good Italian selection by varieties or region. Good total selection with reasonable mark-ups. Corkage R20.
Vibe Couples and families at night, corporate diners and politicians at lunchtime. Italian opera and popular folk music.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Yes
Wheelchairs Yes
Loos Dated but clean
Who ate? 5 adults
When? Busy Fri dinner
Cards major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R83-R140
Value Excellent

VERDICT
Food 3.5/6
Wine 4/5
Service 3/5
The rest 2.5/4
13/20 Pleasant, worth a return visit

Working in Asia and dating an Italian, I learnt a lot about enthusiastic eating. Air-couriered packages of Italian salamis became the signal for noisy gatherings over risotto to discuss football; Sundays for Italian sausages grilled over hot coals. With Italian mammas in short supply, Biaggio took over. Singapore’s only Italian hawker food stall owner had run a bar in Rome previously. His secret was home-cooked food served with attitude, in unembellished surroundings.

If enough Italians requested it, Biaggio made delicious gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce. When he took the day off, Asian staff increased chilli levels in the puttanesca sauce to perspiration-inducing proportions.

Cape Town also has Italian venues where decor takes second place. If you’ve been to Harlequin Restaurant in Parow, Mario’s in Greenpoint, or Pizzeria Napoletana in Sea Point, you’ll recall worn interiors, homely food and Italian proprietors who’ve been around forever. When they’re on form, these characters entertain and their fare is delicious, but they don’t get it right every time.

Magica Roma, on a busy Friday, should be added to that list. This extremely popular suburban Pinelands venue is where young men impress girlfriends, where friends meet over dinner, and where businesspeople return for lunch. The decor is dated and a partially-open kitchen shows a wood-fired oven.

The original owner was a soccer-loving Roman, and current proprietors Ezio de Biaggi (who spent 17 years at La Perla) and Franco Zezia (who worked at Sun City) both attended Italian catering school. De Biaggi says the antipasti, pastas, wood-fired pizzas, veal and fish dishes on the menu are only a guide – regulars routinely request platters and other concoctions that aren’t listed. Unfortunately our waitress doesn’t convey this point well, or stray beyond printed specials.

We share appetisers: quality Italian antipasto nibbles (R45) and tasty grilled red peppers dressed Bagna Cauda-style in chopped anchovies, garlic and olive oil (R25). Fresh green asparagus is dressed in melted butter and Parmesan shavings (R26.50). Somewhat soggy tuna carpaccio disappoints - we like lemon juice and olive oil, but soya sauce eradicates any fresh flavour (R32). A regular diner tips us off about a non-menu item: sautéed calamari tentacles and tubes, grilled wafers of courgette, butternut and red pepper, dotted with creamy chilli sauce (R39.50). Top choice.

Wines offer a creative South African and Italian spectrum that encompasses various styles and budgets. Wine selector Marco Savoia playfully persuades us to try the Erta & China Sangiovese Cabernet Sauvignon blend (R98), and Chianti Renzo Masi (R95). Both easy-going Italians work with our food.

Two pasta orders are declared average – spaghetti a little overcooked for Livornese sauce, combining kabeljou and kingklip chunks with tomato and basil liquid (R45). And Linguine Montanara (R49) of veal strips stewed in a white wine and mushroom sauce. Lamb loin cutlets Bourguignon (R55) are nicely tender, pungent crushed garlic on top. We order veal two ways: extremely rich Saltimbocca with ham, melted mozzarella and creamy mushroom sauce (R59); and far more palatable veal scallops di Vitello Isacco (R56). White wine and lemon juice dominates successfully in a sauce with chopped mushrooms.

Coffee and grappa partners fresh strawberries and ice-cream (R24.50), and Zuccotto (R22.50) split three ways. The curved homemade trifle layers booze-spiked sponge cake with mascarpone, freezing with chocolate and vanilla ice-cream layers, then more cream and chocolate sauce on serving. Phew. Alternatives include homemade sorbets and tiramisu. De Biaggi says he wants diners to trust him enough to feed them intuitively. As so many fans obviously do, I can’t help feeling we missed some of that Roman magic.

MARC’S MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE AND GARDEN
restaurant category European and Lebanese, casual
Address 129 Main street, Paarl. 021-863-3980
Open Lunch daily, dinner 6pm onwards Mon to Sat.
Chefs Thomas Talkner, with Norma Kann as pastry chef
Wine Something to suit all palates and pockets without creativity suffering. Listed by variety or style, with vintages and descriptions. Wines, port and sherries by the glass. Half bottles and magnums too. Good prices, especially imports. Occasional wine promotions with food. Corkage on BYO R25.
Vibe Wooden floors and tables inside are pleasant, but most opt for the paved fountain area alongside the herb garden and lemon trees out back. Checked cloths and umbrellas welcome carnival concertina music to classics and jazz. A mix of winery corporates, farmers, local families and tourists. Children’s menu.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Outside, cigars available.
Wheelchairs Yes
Loos poky space but clean
Who ate? Four adults
When? Quiet Sunday lunch
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R115 – R177
Value excellent wine prices

VERDICT
Food 4/6
Wine 4/5
Service 3/5
The rest 3/4
14/20 Good

The Mediterranean diet is largely based on the food of the Greeks, after somebody discovered they had extraordinary life expectancies. The diet emphasises a high intake of grains, vegetables and fruit, alongside legumes, fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil. Fish and poultry are eaten every so often; meat rarely. Wine is sipped in moderation while animal fats such as butter, cream and lard get taken out by a hit squad.

My modern-day Med image features sunshine, roasted plump tomatoes, garlic-infused fish and old men lazily discussing life at island taverna tables. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine something similar happening in the back garden at Marc’s. The converted building is modelled on rustic French country décor, and breezes are welcome as we drink Windhoek lagers (R12) and assorted breads baked in-house.

Few people would have time to read Marc Friederich’s 10-page introduction to South African wines and wine service – he’s a competition-winning sommelier - but the list itself is a joy. From Beaumont Chenin 2004 (R50) to Fairview Agostinelli red blend (R90), selections are creative and mark-ups low, particularly when it concerns foreign wines, ports and sherries. We order a Spanish Torres Sangre de Torro 2003 red blend (R96) for later, and chill it to below Paarl temperatures, marvelling at its good value.

The Sunday menu is a reduced version of popular a la carte options, plus specials. Marc’s Lebanese wife adds input with mezze, but we share three non-Lebanese starters between four. Roasted asparagus with pastrami salmon drizzled with lemon-infused olive oil (R42) sounds good, and is. Spears on miniature salad leaves and herbs are wrapped in salmon lengths; the “pastrami” bit from cured spices. Unfortunately scallops and scampi (prawns) gratinated in chervil hollandaise (R42) sounds better than it tastes; the seafood unexciting in a buttery sauce. It’s possibly why the chef is taking it off the menu. Salad Niçoise (R 40) is fresh and colourful with new potatoes in tasty herby vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes, eggs, leaves and fresh tuna rectangles – but the fish is overcooked. Answering a query about the tuna later, Thomas Talkner says it should be medium-rare. But Sunday is his day off.

Spaghetti al olio (R42) is a simple triumph, cooked al dente to perfection and tossed in garlic, chilli and cocktail tomatoes with Parmesan shavings; basil pesto drizzled around the plate. Marc’s paella (R75) isn’t as successful despite an assortment of fresh spices and saffron, cooking the rice in wine and fish stock, and generous additions of roasted vegetables and chicken, fresh mussels and assorted fish and seafood. It tastes as if it’s all assembled at the end. Two portions of panfried kingklip (R75) are lifted flavourfully by a barely-cooked cherry tomato topping with fried potato matchsticks for crunch. Crunchy cauliflower and broccoli florets add side appeal in a dukkah spice, sour cream and coriander leaf dressing. Service is efficiently friendly.

Yet it’s dessert where Marc’s really shines. Beautiful glass plates and equally eye-catching berries and syrups complement gorgeous flavours. As the name suggests, Brut de Noir mousse (R40) whisks 64% imported chocolate into a feather-light bittersweet delight, the plate dotted with strawberries. Hazelnut baklava (R35) layers phyllo, nuts and honey; ice-cream and tangy blood orange juice reduction drizzled alongside. Lastly, a summer berry tartlet (R25) fills dainty pastry with firm vanilla custard, topped with fresh blueberries and raspberries. Clearly those Greeks knew what they were talking about when merging flavour with good health. Until it came to dessert. There, I’m sticking firmly in the unwholesome European sweet camp.

REUBEN’S RESTAURANT & BAR
restaurant category Smart-casual country
Address No 19 Huguenot Rd, Franschhoek. 021-876-3772
Open Lunch daily 12 - 3pm, dinner daily 7 -10pm. Closed Tues June to August.
Chefs Reuben Riffel and Willie Malherbe
Wine a selection that holds your interest with a mix of prices, styles, vintages and rarer labels at competitive prices. Only French and local reds list vintages. Corkage R30 - no charge for winemakers who bring their own wines.
Vibe Unhurried sophisticated inside; sunny terrace casual outside. Local families, politicians and winemakers. Jazzy tunes from Norah Jones to Rod Stewart.
Vegetarian Yes. Also a children’s menu.
Smoking only at outdoor tables or inside the separate Gooney bar.
Wheelchairs Yes
Loos Modern and unisex, neat with imported liquid soap and lotion.
Who ate? 5 adults
When? Sunday lunch
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R128 – R188
Value good

VERDICT
Food 5/6
Wine 4/5
Service 3/5
The rest 3/4
15/20 Very good

A relaxed Sunday lunch in Franschhoek was never meant to become a review, but fellow diners persuaded me it should. Getting a national restaurant guide’s accolades for best restaurant and chef puts an establishment on the map. But during its first six months of operation, it also gives an inexperienced team undue performance pressure.

Fortunately, a month from its first birthday, Reuben’s is holding its own.
A hostess seats us at a white table with reddish high-backed seats on one side. Cutlery and stemware are stylish. One wall has a funky take on Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup; another holds a blackboard specials menu. Above tiny “runway” lights set into the rust-toned floor (the gooney bar features an aeroplane wing bar counter), a glass wall offers kitchen glimpses.

Separate classic and contemporary menus are available at dinner, but lunch features a selection from both. Sous chef Willie Malherbe says a smaller menu suits faster lunchtime eating, while specials keep options exciting. Malherbe has obviously earned Reuben Riffel’s trust - he’s running the show while Riffel is overseas for a promotion.

We order delicate mascarpone and blue cheese tart with tomato jam (R39), blue cheese tangy bite contrasting peppery rocket leaves and chilli sweetness in the sauce. Steamed blue Bay mussel laksa (R42) is slightly bland in a coconut-milk broth based on ginger, garlic and chilli, but mussels are nicely plump. Crispy duck salad (R42) tastes deliciously of dark balsamic vinegar-and-honey-chewiness. It’s actually roasted whole with Indonesian sweet soy sauce, then served on mint, coriander and rocket leaves; chilli and lime dressing for lift. If fish cakes sound dull, try these lively smoked salmon trout partners to springy mash and parsley; plus a dainty poached egg plus watercress and zingy lime butter (R38). Chilli salt squid (R42) has salt, dried chilli and black sesame seeds over sliced steak and tentacles, deep-fried till tender with a pickled ginger aioli.

With starters passed triumphantly, our mains are mostly from the specials board. Peppered springbok loin is heavy wintry stuff (R98) with braised red cabbage in sweet spiced red wine sauce; a stock-roasted pear adding fun. Chinese five-spice seasons yummy Asian duck pie, light crème fraiche pastry to cushion; sweetness from sweet potato mash and orange caramel sauce (R58). Fresh stir-fry-style comes from duck breast strips tossed with crunchy Asian greens and Japanese buckwheat noodles (R80). From the menu, deboned Joostenberg pork belly is slow-cooked in Asian stock, then expertly roasted tender in chilli-caramel sauce (R68). Grilled ribeye beef (R72) is brave for a poorer steak cut, but a grain-fed supplier makes the difference. Classic béarnaise works a treat; fries are dusted in rosemary leaves. Here seasonings and extras have purpose.

Wine is no afterthought, Ludwig Maske’s selection getting Rhône input from Reuben’s shareholder and Boekenhoutskloof winemaker Mark Kent. Who else would suggest winemakers have no corkage on wines they’ve made? Listed as Franschhoek plus the “best of the rest”, interesting French vintages feature prominently and most prices are fair. From Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose (R120) and Thelema Sauvignon Blanc (R110) to Eikehof Cabernet Sauvignon (R79), there are also rarities including Ernie Els 2001 (R990).

We’re sated so desserts have few takers. A single lemon/passion fruit tart (R32) of firm, zesty custard has a crème brulee top. It’s small at the price, yet tastily paired with unusual honey-drizzled moskonfyt ice-cream. Service, while efficient, could use some fine-tuning. Waiters reading off specials in parrot-fashion don’t belong at Reuben’s. But we’re confident this conscientious team will iron that out soon.

SHOGA BISTRO BAR
restaurant category Fusion bistro, city
Address Upper floor, 121 Castle Street. 021-426-2369
Open Dinner Mon - Sat 7pm till late
Chefs Mike Bassett and Ferdi Roman
Wine South African focus plus a few Champagnes, listed by varieties or styles. A bar expands cocktail and nightcap options. Corkage R30.
Vibe Trendy bar flies, couples, groups of friends. Fusion of musical styles: mood music to South American and Chill Out.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Yes
Wheelchairs No
Loos Unisex with stained glass and mosaics. Grubby if the bar is busy.
Who ate? 4 adults
When? Thurs dinner
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R115-R180
Value Good

VERDICT
Food 4/6
Wine 3/5
Service 4/5
The rest 3/4
14/20 Good

I’m apprehensive whenever an establishment serves Fusion food. The term has negative connotations, thanks to poorly trained Western cooks who try to merge their style with what they think Asian cuisine should be. No wonder the term “Fusion confusion” has evolved.
Perhaps the best definition of merging east and west on a plate, is a meeting of two philosophies. In formal Western dining rooms where separate plates copy each other, the food mirrors the value we place on individualism. In contrast, many Asian tables are round, aiding the use of chopsticks or a spoon and fork, to share from communal dishes set in the middle. It’s eating I’m fond of.
Shoga serves Fusion bistro food. Fortunately they’ve taken trouble and researched to create a fusion that is theirs, without offending the culinary traditions they’ve borrowed from. Chef and co-owner Mike Bassett travels regularly to Middle and Far Eastern countries, and rather than trying to recreate Japanese or Malaysian replicas, he adopts ingredients, giving them his signature stamp. Spice pastes and sauces are regularly made from dry-roasted, ground spices, then mixed with Asian liquid staples such as mirin, Kikkoman soya sauce, coconut milk or fermented fish sauce.

Taking the communal route and our waiter’s suggestions, we kick off with a scrumptious half dozen of firm, grilled prawns (R65), with a sugar, chilli and lime juice dipping sauce. They’re lifted by a light tempura batter coating. More subtle grilled salmon salad flavours lean towards Vietnam. Moist shredded salmon is marinated, grilled then mixed with basil, mint and coriander leaves, plus red onion, lime, fish sauce, roasted peanuts and fish roe (R45). Pizzas may not combine easily with Asian dishes but if a slice is going, take it - they’re wood-fired and flavourful. The Thai version replaces tomato with Thai green curry paste on a thin rye dough base, boneless tandoori BBQ chicken, coriander leaves and mozzarella on top (R50). Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc (R95) in good stemware, makes a refreshing wine partner. Although red, white and bubbly options are varied, the input going into recipes isn’t replicated on the wine list.

Yes, Basset’s spicing concoctions are a sum of many parts. The open kitchen uses high-pressure wok-frying, tandoori coals or a wood-fired oven. Ferdi Roman adds his flair to a flavourful Cape Salmon special, rubbing it in peanut oil, lime juice, sweet Indonesian soya sauce and two mustards, then blackening it with wood fire (R65). Roasted chilli whitefish wrapped and baked in banana leaf uses the same fish (R65), too-little chilli creating tame results. Lemongrass beef is tasty, rolled in lemongrass, cracked peppercorns and coriander seeds, then skewered in the tandoor (R65), but slightly overcooked. The recommended red duck curry (R65) is excellent. I now know why. Poached in Chinese master stock, wood-burned in Thai BBQ marinade, it’s then sliced into red curry coconut cream. Roasted veggies accompany jasmine rice, potato croquettes or noodles.

Dessert doesn’t feature big in traditional Asian dining, so we struggle to be enticed. Chewy, macadamia-filled brownie topped with creamy chocolate mousse (R35) is a safe choice, which does the trick. Strawberry sorbet with shortbread biscuits and crème fraiche (R35) is delightful, but could lose the walnut soup poured over it. Shoga’s desserts are made in Ginja restaurant downstairs. Some may prefer this more upmarket, smoke-free venue, over Shoga’s darkened loft where a bar dominates the space. But then Shoga was only meant to be a watering hole serving snacks. It just shows what some flavour can do.

TERROIR
restaurant category Smart casual country, gardens and valley views
Address Technopark exist, R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West. 021-880-8167
Open Lunch Tuesday to Sunday 12.30-3pm, dinner Tuesday to Saturday 7-10.30pm
Chefs Michael Broughton and Nic van Wyk
Wine Kleine Zalze and Stellenbosch wines with low mark-ups, grouped under cultivars. Kleine Zalze by the carafe, plus a few bubblies and dessert wines. Corkage on BYO R35.
Vibe service on the smart side of casual, but the mood is easygoing. Local corporates, overseas visitors, friends and families. Birdsong under the oaks, background jazzy tunes inside.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Yes, at outdoor tables only
Wheelchairs Yes, but a tight squeeze
Loos Modern and clean
Who ate? 5 adults
When? Busy Fri dinner
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R119-R164
Value Excellent

VERDICT
Food 5/6
Wine 3.5/5
Service 4.5/5
The rest 3/4
16/20 Exceeds expectations

There are a few clichés in the wine industry: that wine is made in the vineyard, and that good wine originates from good terroir. To understand what terroir refers to, try an estate agent’s payoff line: location, location, location. The French insist there is no English equivalent, so at best ‘terroir’ refers to a merging of soil, topography and climate. That the world’s greatest wines are attributed to their terroir, gives the term extra gravitas.

Terroir is surely an ambitious name for a new restaurant in rural Stellenbosch then. Its location at Kleine Zalze farm, alongside wine and golf estates, has something to do with it. Provencal French cooking – plus the occasional Italian or Spanish dish - explains the rest. Former Sandton chef/restaurateur Michael Broughton has partnered with Nic van Wyk, ex-sous chef at Constantia’s La Colombe. Tables serve “non-intimidating food” alongside cream walls dotted with paintings, or offer garden views from under old oaks.

At an outside table, we sip Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel 2003 (R100) with homemade bread. A waitress politely interrupts, then astounds with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the chalkboard menu. It requires exacting staff training to detail how many tomatoes are in a tart, the three mustards in the lamb’s kidney sauce, or how prawn risotto stock is made from the shells. She knows that and more.

A short seasonal menu is meat-heavy for summer, with peasant cuts alongside classics, but we order four starters to share. The wine list focuses on Stellenbosch labels with a few older vintages, and a selection of neighbouring Kleine Zalze cellar’s wines in bottles or carafes. Our chilled Mooiplaas Sauvignon Blanc 2004 (R67) and Waterford Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (R126) are served in quality glasses.

The prawn risotto (R39) doesn’t disappoint; garlic, onion, Parmesan and creamy rice fusing creamily, in contrast to shell-less prawns and tangy dark orange prawn sauce. It’s popular too - the restaurant buys 40kg of prawns a week. Tomato and brie tart (R36) is delightful; a puff pastry disc topped with one-and-a-half skinned tomatoes and oozy brie, surrounded by light garlic foam. Asparagus spears are wrapped in Franschhoek salmon, then draped in subtle truffle hollandaise (R35). Even simple green salad (R37) of baby cos, cucumber, Parmesan shavings and herbs has flair from a vinaigrette of crushed garlic, coriander roots and palm sugar.

Main courses are small by Wineland standards, but intense sauces fill the gaps. Wood-roasted pork belly with crackling, mash and apple sauce (R69) is a customer favourite, and although I find it rich, our two male eaters are satisfied. It’s marinated in Chinese spices, coriander, chilli and honey. Broughton says duck flies out the kitchen when available, and the confit duck in classic fresh orange and Cointreau sauce (R74) is melt-in-the-mouth from slow-roasting in its fat. Norwegian salmon (R82) wrapped in salty pancetta strips is succulent on mushy peas, with a subtle horseradish cream. Only the venison loin (R75) seems too heavy with its wintry cassis sauce of caramelised honey with mixed berries.

Dessert of chocolate negus (R31) is richly decadent, dark chocolate flavour oozing through a mousse and sponge terrine, pistachio ice-cream perched on a delicate tuille basket. We share it alongside poached peaches (R32), equally impressive on a crunchy almond meringue disc. Topped with confectioner’s custard merged with soft Italian meringue, plus Amoretto ice-cream, it’s a clue to Terroir’s talent. Here décor and plates appear simple, because technical skill, training and passion are a given. Yet dig in and the experience is understatedly classy, yet delivering more than you expected.

THE FRENCH CONNECTION
restaurant category country bistro
Address 38 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek 021-876-4056
Open Lunch daily 12-3pm, dinner daily 6.30-10.30pm, light meals between
Chef Jonathan van Niekerk
Wine Franschhoek focus, grouped by varieties, reasonable mark-ups, some by the glass. More extensive evening list includes French labels. Corkage R20
Vibe Tourists and local families, Edith Piaf to jazzy tunes
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking At terrace tables or at enclosed bar inside
Wheelchairs Yes
Loos Clean, unisex
Who ate? 4 adults
When? Sun lunch
Cards major
Spend Three courses excl drinks, service: R118-R154
Value Excellent

VERDICT
Food 4.5/6
Wine 3.5/5
Service 4/5
The rest 3/4
15/20 Very good

Sir Terence Conran is opening a new English restaurant called the Paternoster Chop House. It bears no relation to our west coast village, but his quote about its style of food, certainly does. Conran told The Independent British plates are either going the “Michelin-star plate fiddles” route, or veering towards “more straightforward, gutsy, happy food”. He’s backing the latter.

South Africa is taking a similar culinary voyage. The more experienced diners are with fiddly food, the more appealing honest, simple fare becomes. Ask any good chef which they’d rather eat on their day off. French Connection is punting an unpretentious food formula based on French bistro classics. They take good ingredients, real stocks and sauces, and deliver service so fuss-freely efficient it teeters on being rushed. Management says lunch customers like that; it certainly gets more feet through the door.

Apparently dinner is more leisurely, with bound menus expanding offerings, but staying familiar in content and prices. More local plus French labels swell the wine list, aided by Franschhoek wine retailer Ludwig Maske.

But it’s Sunday lunch I’m writing about, with a small, laminated menu and no-nonsense wine list. We order Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc (R45), and note the most expensive white is Boekenhoutskloof Semillon (R150). A rural French interior boasts heavy blue-and-cream drapes and country chandeliers, display cabinets and fresh flowers against dark wood panelling and a fireplace.

A waitress introduces the blackboard specials, valiantly outlining chasseur sauce with local warthog sausage (it’s a brown sauce of mushrooms, shallots, tomatoes and white wine), despite being tripped up by French pronunciation. The charcuterie platter fares worse linguistically. Four cold meats include the restaurant’s gammon and rare beef, plus ‘saucissons sec’ red wine-cured pork salami and ‘bezot’ peppered salami (OK, I double-checked the last two with the chef, but full marks for effort).

Three starters amongst four are ample, and West coast mussels in white wine, garlic and cream impresses (R38), especially with three bowls for shells. Then moist, delicate salmon trout and dill fish cakes with a squeeze of lemon, dipped in dill and parsley homemade mayo (R34). Warm, grilled-tender calamari tubes with cold chorizo make an outstanding salad, with paprika cream over colourful marinated red pepper strips and wild rocket (R34). Only our small white-clothed table can’t cope.

‘La vie en rose’ wafts from speakers as crumbed, deep-fried pork schnitzel arrives, with crisply golden fries (R48). The pepper cream accompaniment is tasty but rich. Beef schwarma (R44) is too pita-stodgy and crammed with vegetables and humus, until we find chilli-and-coriander-laced beef chunks tucked inside. Two warthog sausages taste wild and smoked, partnering chasseur sauce, fries and fresh watercress, crunchy veggies on the side (R38). A tender half duck is expertly slow-roasted with crisped skin, sweet raspberry jus enhanced by fresh strawberries and gooseberries (R76).

Protesting our collective fullness, the waitress jokingly advises that dessert is for the “other stomach”. She successfully entices with Belgian chocolate tart, a spongy mix of butter, milk and dark chocolate. The tarte tatin (both deserts R26) is nicely country-size, soft apple chunks on a pastry disc inviting a fight by four spoons for its toffee-like caramel.

The pace has slowed inside, although sunny terrace tables still seat young families. Chef/patron Matthew Gordon isn’t around, but oversees all training. A glass kitchen affords views of waitrons and diligent chefs, and it’s refreshing to see more black than white faces. Senior sous chef Jonathan van Niekerk started in Gordon’s kitchens 12 years ago. Bravo for his current performance.

THE SHOWROOM
restaurant category smart-casual, city
Address Harbour Edge, corner Hospital and Chiappini Streets. 021-421-4682
Open Mon – Fri lunch; Mon - Sat dinner. Secure parking
Chef Bruce Robertson
Wine Jean-Pierre Rossouw’s creative list offers stylistic options from bubbly and pinkish categories to bright, rich, wild and blended whites. Similarly, reds are grouped under silky, big, racy, rich and the like. Punchy descriptions, interesting by-the-glass selections, including ports and stickies. Priced for slim and flush pockets. Decent stemware. Corkage R50 - except on foreign wines and older vintages.
Vibe White chic décor with many transparent surfaces (glass windows overlook a highway and luxury car showroom respectively). The kitchen is the focal point; dining on two levels. Outdoor deck tables at lunch. Stylish and creative locals, monied corporates. Kitchen acoustics block Café del Mar tunes.
Vegetarian Yes, extra care
Smoking deck only
Wheelchairs by arrangement
Loos Modern, distinctive and clean
Who ate? Four adults
When? busy Tues dinner
Cards Yes
Spend Three course dinner excl drinks and service: R136 – R228
Value good

VERDICT
Food 5/7
Wine 4/5
Service 3/4
The rest 3/4
15/20 Very good

If dining is about drama and culinary theatrics, a local chef has deservedly taken the lead. Bruce Robertson’s internal hotwires activate an exuberant personality, wacky chirps and kitchen commands. Going solo with his own venue The Showroom (since May), the former exec chef of one.waterfront restaurant has put himself under pressure. Rent and staff salaries aside, in this space with open kitchen and barstools for chef chats, diners expect a cameo appearance every time.

It’s a sellout show, necessitating reservations well in advance. Comments from industry friends swing from ‘hugely impressive’ to ‘irritated by the concepts’. The latter refers to the menu and dining process. Ours begins at a downstairs table with views of neighbouring car showroom and chef. A waitress explains that Bruce believes in flavour. We’ll notice many side sauces - 19 of them - with main courses - and are encouraged to introduce gradations of flavour this way.

We sip sparkling water (R15) and crisp Bruce Juice Sauvignon Blanc 05 ‘tangy.fresh.juicy’ (R75), packaged jointly by Bruce Robertson and winemaker Bruce Jack. Selections are easy to navigate and descriptions are great. Our next order: Hartenberg Riesling 05 ‘aromatic.bold.off-dry’ (R80). Diners going all out could try Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2002 ‘bold.textured.luxurious’ (R450) under the ‘occasion reds’.

Our two fish-o-tarians are pleased to see vegan options. Dinner gets off to a flying start with excellent roasted tomato and fresh basil soup (R35), and two portions of mussel chowder with clam toast and lemon beignet (R50). The latter offers chunky potato-enhanced satisfaction with citrus zing, oversized croutons and plump West coast mussels. Instead of featherlight fluffiness, mushroom soufflé (R55) is a savoury egg frittata tower with heavily-spiced corn, peas and courgette curls, dotted with Greek pasta rice ovals and whipped cream. Tasty nevertheless.

Mains include veggie breyani to lamb cutlets and pork belly – all suggesting flavours aplenty. I ask for a recommendation for Durban curry (R18), but remain unconvinced that it’ll complement springbok with rooibos polenta, confit baby tomatoes and biltong dust (R80). Indeed the day’s catch (R70) – subtle silverfish – seems the most versatile for sauces including anchovy Bagna Cauda to creamy garlic Aioli to crayfish-and-cognac Américaine. Two grilled silverfish orders have an appealing tumble of chard and peas, mash and subtle saffron-infused fennel. Their eaters are delighted with DIY-style basil pesto, harissa and chermoula (all R16) sauces in silver pestle and mortars. Under-flavoured beef fillet is compensated by delicious deboned velvety oxtail “pate”, roasted butternut and spinach (R85). Meat and truffle-infused Périgueux sauce (R25) is perfect.

Squid stroganoff (R70) is a kid’s sweet shop of diced tastes: tubes stuffed with onion, chouriço, button mushroom, herbs, lime; merging with chard and green pepper risotto of Parmesan and whipped cream. Hungarian paprika – stroganoff, get it? - spices tender prawns. It’s flavourful and complete. And rich, rendering sauce unnecessary. Especially the recommended Champagne velouté of cream, bubbly and scallops at R16. A bowl-within-a-bowl plate wobbles irritatingly when cutting squid or prawn.

We look past honeycomb pannacotta, and order apple tart tatin (R40), with glasses of Axe Hill Port (R20) and Joostenburg NLH (R25). Classic gooey upturned apple centre has an overly hefty pastry collar, but merges nicely with a spun sugar crown and homemade double-fudge ice-cream. Two scoops (R25) – lemongrass and peaches/cream – with vanilla pod sauce satisfies cravings, while a ‘glass fromage’ tile serves three local cheeses with homemade pepper crackers and preserve (R55). Service is informative and efficient. Our verdict: fun and funky, but not everyday stuff. Yes, this is interactive dinner theatre with wittiness. Please be in the mood.

THE WOODEN SHOE
restaurant category continental and Dutch steakhouse, city
Address Corner Main and St John’s Road, Sea Point. 021-439-4435
Open Dinner daily 6 -10.30pm in summer, Wed to Mon in winter.
Chef Willi Reichl
Wine small and inexpensive but uninspired list with brands that have been around a while. Grouped under styles with no vintages mentioned. A good place to pay R15 corkage and BYO.
Vibe Intimate and casual, regulars eat at the bar stools. Visitors and locals from the continent are common. Golden oldie tunes from the sixties, seventies and eighties.
Vegetarian No
Smoking not officially
Wheelchairs not officially
Loos Cramped and small. The towel dispenser is above the toilet in the ladies; girlie pin-ups feature in the men’s.
Who ate? 4 adults
When? busy Sunday dinner
Cards Major
Spend Three courses excluding drinks and service: R108 – R170
Value good

VERDICT
Food 3.5/6
Wine 2.5/5
Service 3.5/5
The rest 3.5/4
13/20 Pleasant, worth a return visit

I’ve driven past the tiny Wooden Shoe often, but have always been too intimidated to venture inside. Window glimpses showed a heavily-set moustached character with muscular arms brandishing knives, who reminded me of the strongman in a Russian circus. As it turns out, those arms belong to Austrian chef/owner Willi Reichl, and you can find them behind the grill most nights. Willi’s one-man show includes shopping, sauce-making, basting and grilling; he even soaks up regulars’ stories as barman. His only help in this 32-seater is a waitress and two ladies running a tiny scullery, salad and chip-making area.

Enter The Wooden Shoe and you’re transported through a time warp to 1961. Despite numerous changes of proprietorship since then, original wooden clogs line cottage-style pine panelling with lights fashioned into red sailing ships. There are dusty fake flowers, Delft plates, postcards from exotic shores and overseas number plates. A log-panelled bar overlooking Willi’s cooking area has a tacky windmill perched on top. Amazingly even the butter is clog-shaped.

The menu is a similarly nostalgic journey to eighties steakhouse standards and artery-clogging extras. Starters are limited to deep-fried or covered in cream. Hence crumbed button mushrooms are tastily-tender, as are calamari rings, both served curiously with tartare sauce (each R23.50). For variety, we try a very ordinary bacon (spelt ‘beacon’) and spinach salad (R28.95), made with cheaper bacon off-cuts, croutons and iceberg under chopped Swiss chard.

Belgian Stella Artois on tap is a nice touch, except that they’re out of stock. Little effort has been put into the wine list, but I suspect the clientele likes it that way. It’s dominated by dated favourites such as Boschendal Blanc de Blanc (R64.50), Bellingham Premier Grand Cru (R53.50) and Nederburg Baronne (R68.50). Service has a similar pared down feel: the job is done without fuss or frills.

It’s main courses where the performance steps up a notch, and red meat is king. Burgers (R38.50), linefish (R84.50) and crumbed chicken breasts (R67.50) are options, but most customers ignore the dated garnishes and eat steaks, stroganoff, goulash or schnitzels. We order a reasonably priced yet sizeable, springy ladies rump (R68.50), a larger men’s sirloin (R72.50), plus an excellent sauce (R13.95) of fresh button mushrooms and cream. Willi says steaks are generally matured three weeks on the carcass.

The crumbed Vienna Schnitzel (R68.50) is recommended over the Hungarian creamy paprika sauce version. We see why with flattened pieces as big as the plate, drenched in fatty flavour but excellent. The pepper steak (R88.50) is another highlight, prepared in the traditional Hollandse biefstuk manner. A thick fillet in ground pepper is panfried, flambéed in red wine, with cream and gravy added. We can’t finish the chips on the table - one bowl is returned for extra frying - and very good homemade spätzle noodles tossed in butter.

We’re left pondering how we ever ate this way in previous decades, as dessert is out of the question. As Roger Whittaker croons, we confirm there are no takers for brandy tart, coupe Othello (ice cream with strawberries), chocolate pancake with ice cream, sundaes or Dom Pedros, all priced at R20. Our coffees take a while to filter through the domestic machine but there’s a convivial atmosphere with bar stools full. It adds to the quirky experience, as do the politically incorrect pin-up girls in the men’s loo. Certainly The Wooden Shoe isn’t somewhere you’d be able to eat at often, but it offers an atmospheric freeze-frame in a frequently franchised world.

VINTAGE INDIA
restaurant category North Indian, casual
Address Gardens Shopping Centre, corner Mill and Buitenkant Streets, Gardens, Cape Town. 021-462-5106
Open Lunch 11am – 3pm daily, dinner 6pm – 10.30pm daily.
Chefs Dhanpatsing Rawat and Vijayfing Sinwal
Wine A formulaic list sponsored by Distell and predominantly running their brands. Listed by variety or style with no vintages mentioned. Very good prices compensate for the lack of creativity, and Indian beers can be ordered. Corkage on BYO R20.
Vibe A vast seating area challenges any attempts at atmosphere despite the traditional decor and Bollywood tunes. Rust and beige tones in pillars, arches and ornate furnishings. Indian and halaal Muslim families and business clients eat alongside locals from Gardens.
Vegetarian Yes
Smoking Only in separate room
Wheelchairs Yes
Loos rather tacky
Who ate? Three adults
When? Quiet Wednesday dinner
Cards Major
Spend Three courses shared communally excluding drinks and service: R96 – R130
Value good, especially wines

VERDICT
Food 3.5/6
Wine 2.5/5
Service 3.5/5
The rest 2.5/4
12/20 Fair, but needs work

Cape Town residents can have a problem when hankering after coriander and masala, or searing vindaloos that strip enamel off teeth. There simply aren’t enough good, reasonably-priced Indian eateries, and I blame that firmly on population distribution. Kwazulu Natal is teeming with South African Indians, yet so few trek down south that many owners of Cape Town eateries originate from India.

Vintage India in Gardens Shopping Centre was opened five years ago by Sudhir Vichare, who also has outlets in Durban and Gauteng. His family lives in India but he spends most of his time in Durban and Mozambique. North Indian dishes made with yoghurt, tomato, cream and butter dominate at his venue, but Goa favourites such as vindaloo or prawns in masala spices and coconut milk can also be ordered.

The Vintage décor is true to its name, where ornate arches, pillars and murals transport unwitting diners back a few decades. Instead of creating atmospheric dining it has the opposite effect though, combined with stadium-strength lighting. Our waiter is pleasant but his Calcutta accent so strong we struggle to understand each other – the first casualty when two glasses of Cola arrive instead of Indian Cobra beers (R15). The mix-up rectified, we pick on complimentary poppadums with sambals of minted yoghurt, pickled lemon atjar and - oddly - Chinese Sechuan sauce.

No friends are won by recommending the most expensive starter, a non-veg mixed grill platter for three to four, comprising chicken tikka, fish tikka, lamb seekh kababs and the like (R113.95). Instead we agree to share a half tandoori chicken (R33.95) and loveable paneer (R38.95). Two skinless chicken pieces are marinated in yoghurt, chilli, cumin and masala and tandoori-grilled, but taste rather dry. We’re more impressed with white-cheese paneer, coated in spices, chilli and garlic; deep-fried and sliced into warm Club-sandwich wedges. Curiously, wilted lettuce and token French Fries garnish both starter plates.

Wines are divided into sparkling, off-dry, semi-sweet, rosé and dry red or whites, although the manager plans to add Rieslings and unwooded Chardonnays. There’s a reasonably-priced choice of Pongràcz (R90), Boschendal Blanc de Blanc (R55), Uitkyk Cabernet Sauvignon (R95) or Zandvliet Shiraz (R110). We opt for an Indian-friendly Gewürztraminer from Paul Cluver (R80), served nicely chilled.

Bollywood tunes have upped the tempo – “from the pictures” says our waiter - as we tuck into excellent lamb rogan josh (R62.95), the medium-heat cubed lamb curry stewed in a spicy tomato-onion runny gravy. Butter chicken (R54.95) doesn’t disappoint in a creamy ground cashew paste, with lingering sweetness and bite. Kingklip chunks in Lasooni fish tomato (R61.95) are tasty in a chopped tomato, onion and coriander leaf sauce but garlic overpowers. On the side, three roti breads cooked in the tandoor (R7.95) and steamed basmati (R9.95).

It could be the wine but it’s more likely the cricket, because the evening improves as a charming Indian-South African dialog begins with the Calcutta waiter about Jonty Rhodes being a hero in India. With plates cleared, we’re advised that one dessert will be sufficient for three. Options include a warm sago-like cardamom and vermicelli Kheer (R14) or a Bombay Crush (R17), described as an Indian rose syrup milkshake. We settle on kulfi (R14), a delicious milky ice-cream blending pistachio, almonds and cardamom seeds. It’s the right choice in just the right quantity, hmmm. But with much of the other food falling on the mediocre side of good, combined with challenged atmosphere and uncomfortable chairs; it’s just not right enough to save the experience.

COPYRIGHT REMAINS WITH KIM MAXWELL 2009.