All posts by Jessica

Park’s Menu Korean Restaurant

This month’s Cracker has been rather delayed, owing to both disorganisation and illness on my part; this may or may not have contributed to the fact that I really felt like something relaxed, low-key and “ethnic” for this month. We ended up trying Park’s Menu, in Durban Rd, Mowbray, at the recommendation of Jo & Stv, who have eaten there a couple of times. This was, it transpires, a genius suggestion that seriously hit the spot, even before the bit with the evening’s special which entailed the cute pirate-chest dicebox and the free bottle of wine. (Snake eyes! our third bottle of wine for the evening, and it’s probably lucky I didn’t roll the free dessert, we’d never have fitted it in).

Although this is a Korean restaurant, the décor is really more English cottage chintzy than anything else – painted wooden furniture, cottagey still lives on the walls, odd bits of Victorian bric-a-brac, floral cushions on the chairs. It has a lovely, relaxed vibe, and the stainless steel stove tables for the hotpot really don’t feel as incongruous as you’d think. The staff are Korean and absolutely lovely – attentive, warm, relaxed. I had the impression that our table guy was (a) probably the owner, (b) probably the chef, and (c) really loved what he was doing. He apparently exports wine as another venture, and it’s entirely possible that Park’s is a sideline he does purely for his own enjoyment. If so, it shows.

I have to digress a moment. They brought us kimchi and bean sprouts as nibbles while we swigged rosé, and I have to say: kimchi? why has no-one ever told me? It’s marvellous stuff. This was quite bitey, but in a really good way, and the bean sprouts had a subtle spice thing going on that was also excellent. I am a new convert to Korean food. Bring it on, preferably instantly.

We stretched this out into three mediumish courses rather than the traditional starter/main, and had dumplings to start with. I adore dumplings, and these were particularly good – we had the steamed chicken and the fried pork ones. The fillings were distinctively spiced, and the fried pork dumplings were excellently crispy. Probably the best dumpling experience I’ve had in Cape Town, actually. I’m wishing I still worked at home, so I could head down the road and have lunch there. Often. I am fast developing a love affair with the Korean spicing.

Phase one of the mains comprised two of their dishes, Galbi and Ssambap, and I have to add in parenthesis that I’d be madly inclined to eat a lot more Korean food not just because the flavours and textures are lovely, but because the names are too. Galbi is an odd concept, beef rib that’s basically been long-stewed so it’s soft and tasty, but served in a broth with a lot of vegetables that have clearly been added at the last minute. You get the best of both worlds – tender, falling-off-the-bone stewed beef with crispy vegetables. Really excellent. The ssambap was probably my favourite, though – a spicy pork/rice thing which you ladle onto lettuce leaves and eat like a wrap, with various spicy sauces. I love self-constructed finger food, and this was a particularly good one, with very much what seems to be the signature Korean thing of lightly-cooked, low fat dishes with interesting spices. The portions are generous, we were starting to be full after two starters and two main courses between the four of us.

Phase 2 of the main course entailed a move to one of the fancy hot-plate tables, for hot-pot. They bring out a stainless steel dish with a sort of off-centre yin-yang curvy partition in it; sweet broth in one side, spicy in the other. Then the nice waiter main struggles out from the back with a giant trolley laden with raw food – mussels, prawns, crab sticks, bok choy, mushrooms, tofu, and a huge plate with carefully-rolled strips of thinly cut pork. The broth simmers on the hotplate; you have chopsticks and a couple of ladles, and you fling the food into the broth and cook it lightly before dipping it in peanut and/or chilli sauce, and noshing like mad. When you have, in defiance of the enormous meal you already ate, polished off the entire contents of the platters, you tip the last of the peanut sauce into your bowl with scoops of broth, and drink it like soup. This was enormously good fun, and I rather fell for both bok choy and tofu prepared thusly (the tofu explodes in a shower of broth when you bite into it), but in comparison to the flavours in the more conventional main courses, I found it a bit bland. (I may also be biased in that I’m not a huge fan of seafood). This will not, however, prevent me from instantly trying to emulate it at home with a fondue pot. Oh, no, indeedy.

It was a lovely evening. I really like this place, and propose to upgrade it instantly to the status of “neighbourhood hang-out”. I also note, with sadness and disapproval, that it was almost empty; it deserves to be popular and bustling and disseminating its culinary happiness to a much wider clientele. I therefore exhort anyone reading this to rush off immediately and eat there. If you don’t it may go under, and I’ll be devastated.

Assessment on the Patent Jo Scale, with a terribly uniformity because I really had a great time:
Atmosphere: 8/ 10 (a warm and distinctly original vibe)
Staff: 8/ 10 (lovely people, attentive and engaged)
Service: 8 / 10 (quick, attentive)
Food: 8 / 10 (large menu, lovely cuisine, nicely prepared)
Value for money: 9 / 10 (good lord, it’s absurdly cheap)

Addis in Cape

We’ve had a fairly high proportion of upmarket choices for Salty Cracker lately – culminating, in fact, in the expensive delights of the Roundhouse, plus a recent Overture visit – and I was very much in the mood for something rather more cosy and informal. We also had a sampling of Addis in Cape’s food as takeout at a friend’s birthday party a month or so ago, and I was still queasy after gastric ‘flu at the time and definitely wanted to revisit the cuisine properly, so Addis in Cape it was. This is Ethiopian food, and it completely hit the spot in terms of the vibe I wanted.

Addis is in Long Street, on the corner of Church, and is a cheery red-painted building on three floors, with a very lovely feel in terms of décor. Sod’s Law, however, naturally dictated that the one time we have to climb two flights of stairs to eat, has to be the month in which Jo has put her knee out and is hobbling around with a crutch. There is, alas, no lift, and I have to say it would probably wreck the vibe if there were. The staff were very concerned and sweet about her slow and epic ascent. It’s a typical old Long Street building, wooden floors and old plaster, and they’ve incorporated the feel into the decoration – bits of the walls have artfully-left patches of bare brick, which goes very nicely with the wooden chairs and basketwork, and the slightly run-down feel gives a very strong sense of African street-market. The colours are all orange and red, warm and slightly smoky with candles, and the restaurant’s habit of burning incense as part of the coffee ceremony means that the whole thing smells slightly exotic, a sensual vibe intensified by the Ethiopian music. I loved the medieval-style artwork on the walls, and the lampshades made from giant, colourful, inverted cloth umbrellas, as well as the curly Ethiopian writing everywhere (there’s a basic phrasebook painted on the bar).

The restaurant doesn’t have tables, it has baskets. Giant, conical baskets with a wide, flat top attached, just the right size for the huge plate which feeds all four of the diners at once, and which you huddle around on the low, cushioned, carved, wooden chairs. The giant plate is simply the base for the giant sourdough pancake which covers it, and onto which the different dishes are tipped in little piles from the small pottery bowls in which they are served. You are given another basket filled with what we inevitably christened “bandages” – strips of pancake rolled neatly into a roll. You tear off a piece about 5-6cm square, and you use it to swoop down on bits of the stew-styled dishes and pop them into your mouth without actually getting any on your fingers. It’s surprisingly intuitive; there’s something hard-wired about eating like this, I found I was doing it automatically without even thinking about it. It’s also very liberating to feel that the eating-with-your-hands thing is not only permitted, it’s the only way = they don’t bring utensils. And they wash your hands for you before and after eating. It makes you realise what an enormously wide range of behaviour is actually covered by the concept of “civilised”.

The food itself is lovely – spicy, occasionally with a bite to it, but with a wonderful and distinctive balance of spices and flavours, heavy on the garlic, ginger, turmeric and cardamom. A lot of the dishes rely on berbere, or on a spicy clarified butter thing called kibe. We went for the set menu, which gives you starter, mains with 8 dishes and dessert with coffee or tea. The format is stew rather than large chunks of meat, and I am very happy to report that the Ethiopian word for stew appears to be wot (a stirfy is tibs). It made a welcome distraction from the inevitable and ongoing attempt not to make lame and offensive jokes about starving Ethiopians.

The starter came on a pancake which seemed to have been spiced and oiled and baked in the oven, so it was crispy – a bit like a cross between a pancake and a pappadom. No bandages with this – you break off chunks of the crispy pancake and dip them in the spicy lentil dip, or the spinach/cheese one. The lentils were the winner here – smooth and bitey and piquant. But I could cheerfully have eaten the pancake without any accompaniment at all. We flattened it, and wiped out the dip bowls with our fingers. (“We” here is Jo and me, who seem to be particularly uninhibited with this sort of thing).

The main course gave us a very spicy beef stew, a very good lamb one, something flavourful with slightly chewy prawns, and an absolute winner of a slow-cooked chicken thing, rich and dark and flavoured with, I think, lime juice as well as the spices. There was another spicy lentil sauce thing, a sort of tomato/onion salady side dish, and a wonderful spinach conglomeration, not to mention the sweetcorn mix and some random carrot/pumpkin bits around the side. Possibly a garnish. We ate it anyway. We also ordered an extra to the set meal, a helping of something called kitfo, which is the Ethiopian equivalent of steak tartare – very finely ground beef with spices and chilli, almost a paste, and incredibly good. I found it easier to eat large quantities of this than I usually do with tartare, which I enjoy but can’t take beyond about three mouthfuls. While we all had favourites here (mine were the chicken and the spinach), they were all good – similar stews in style, but with enough variation of flavour and spicing that they weren’t in any way monotonous. The little bits of pancake with every mouthful also mean that you’re getting a fair whack of carbohydrate, and you end up feeling very full.

Dessert was a bit arbitrary, slightly leathery baklava or berries with ice-cream, and a bit of a let-down in that it didn’t continue the authentic Ethiopian theme (the nice waiter did apologise for this, and inform us that Ethiopian meals don’t really do dessert). But the coffee was presented in a beautiful silver pot with little china handle-less cups, accompanied by the aforementioned incense, and the tea I ordered (I’ve given up on coffee, the heartburn isn’t worth it) was flavoured with cloves and honey and was absolutely wonderful.

The overall vibe and feel here really are great. The staff are also lovely – cheerful and attentive and with a slightly amateur touch which really fits with the ambience. (I think a lot of them are also Ethiopian, which means it’s sometimes a little difficult to understand them through the unfamiliar accent). We brought a bottle of wine (Australian cabernet courtesy of Eckie, perfect for the meat-heavy meal), but the second bottle off the wine list was inexpensive, and there’s a fair choice. It was a lovely evening all round, comfortable and flavourful and a bit different.

On the Famous Jo scale:
Atmosphere: 9 / 10 (even with the stair problem, the vibe is lovely)
Staff: 8 / 10 (very sweet, beaming, warm)
Service:7 / 10 (can be a little slow at times)
Food: 8.5/ 10 (lovely flavours within its slightly limited range)
Value for money: 8.5 / 10 (really not expensive given the experience and the size of the meal)

The Roundhouse

Right, so for the purposes of this review of Eckhard’s choice, the part of Eckhard will be played by Jessica. Please imagine this entire review read in a hammy German accent.

The Roundhouse  is a national monument dating back to the eighteenth century; it’s a quaintly circular building perched up on the hill above Camps Bay, with a spectacular view over the bay, the hillside and the sunset. It’s also the most upmarket and expensive place we’ve eaten yet, which means that this won’t so much be a review as an extended meditation on the nature of Value and Service in the Modern Restaurant. We had a fabulous evening.

It starts well because they reserve parking for their guests, and offer to re-park your car for you if you didn’t stop to enquire about the reserved parking and parked all the way down the hill. There’s a small waiterly phalanx on the front steps, including one of the evening’s hosts: you are welcomed, your reservation confirmed apparently from memory, and are ushered into the rather charming curved-walled, wooden-floored restaurant to be given a table right next to the window and the view. Everything’s white linen and solid silver cutlery, but they’ve left what could quite possibly be several hundred years worth of graffiti scratched into the windows, so the whole thing has an air of slightly raffish character.  Your jackets are hung up for you. (I love that. It’s such a personal touch). They suggest aperitifs, and bring you incredibly tall glasses of gin and tonic, filled with ice. The host introduces himself, and the menu, which is full of fascinating flavour combinations – foie gras and mackerel, quail with artichokes, hake with roasted peppers and fennel.

The service in this place is, quite simply, superb. There’s a very high ratio of waiters to guests, and they seem to stagger the arrivals of the guests deliberately, so each arrival is a bit of a production. They passed the water test with flying colours – it arrives in a lovely old silver jug, and your glasses are filled attentively. If you leave the table, someone folds your napkin. The wait-staff drift around in the middle distance, working in well-coordinated teams to bring everyone’s meal to the table in one fell swoop; they synchronise movements by eyebrow semaphore and, apparently, telepathy. The waiter wanted us to order four courses at once, we wanted to do two first and then the next two; the host was there in seconds to graciously permit the deviation. They are very, very good at reacting positively to exceptions.

The menu is set out in four courses – starter, fish, mains, dessert, with three or four options in each – but you pay for either four or five courses, and can pick from wherever you like. (Jo, predictably, had steak for dessert again, which cracked up the waiter rather gratifyingly). You can also do the wine-pairing option for an additional charge.  The charge is not small: R395 for four courses without wine, R595 for the same with wine. It’s inevitable that we’d compare this with Overture, who still come out ahead – food slightly better, prices lower, and, most importantly, larger portion sizes. The Roundhouse is very nouvelle; when the first course came out, I was conscious of a sinking feeling, looking at the tiny, arty island of food in the middle of the huge plate – it seemed entirely disproportionate given the cost of the evening. The wine portions are likewise small, less than half a glass, although beautifully served in individual glass decanters. It’s a testament to the quality of the food, service and ambience that we ended up leaving feeling absolutely the reverse of taken for a ride.

So, first course stv and I both had the ricotta cannelloni with pickled beets, which was unusual and really excellent – strong beet flavour and creaminess enhanced with a balsamic jelly reduction which was amazing and intense. (The rosé which went with it was perfectly chosen to complement it). Jo and Eckie had the foie gras and smoked mackerel terrine, a slightly bizarre combination which worked absolutely beautifully, and was served with (fairly minute portions of) octopus and toasted brioche, which, yum. The second course was slightly more substantial; my roasted cob with a chorizo and mussel veloute came with mashed potatoes, and was very good and surprisingly like a creamy bouillabaisse in flavour. (Eckhard also had this, as I recollect). Steve had the hake with roasted peppers, which I think was the winner in this course – lovely balance of flavours, the strong peppers very interesting with the more delicate fish. Jo went, I think, for the crayfish with smoked pork trotter and broad bean salad, and I am completely unable to remember what that was like, owing, I suspect, to flavour overload.

For third course, Jo and Eckie tried the lamb’s brain/tongue/cheek combination, daring things that they are. The waiter was not actually significantly helpful with this, suggesting that the lamb’s brain was “chewy”, whereas Jo and Eckie were more inclined to describe it as “not chewy”. The tongue was excellent, though, and the celeriac purée a surprising but apt accompaniment. I had slow-cooked quail with artichokes (yum! I love artichokes, these were tiny and tender and intense) and asparagus, and a rather vivid sherry-based jus. I can’t remember what Steve had – the same? Losing track.

Dessert was good – Eckhard had a baked camembert which he didn’t say much about other than that it was good; Steve’s chocolate fondant with honey ginger ice cream was the clear winner. I had a raspberry soufflé: it’s served all hot from the kitchen, and the waiter cuts a cross in the top and inserts a scoop of pistachio ice-cream. It was very good, moist and fluffy and seriously raspberryish, but a little too sweet for my taste. Should have had the chocolate. Jo had, as aforementioned, beef with a parsnip puré, which I think was good but not spectacular.

I think this could have been a disaster in the legendary mould of Aubergine, except for three things. (Apart from the beautiful setting, which is On Tap courtesy of Cape Town, and thus slightly cheating). One, we were expecting the steep price, and had decided to go for it anyway: we were in the mood to immerse ourselves in that upmarket atmosphere. Their web information and phone booking process are very good at making perfectly explicit exactly what you’re getting into. Two, they really do it very well. Their service is immaculate: attentive, intelligent, alert but not actually too intrusive, and you end up feeling enormously well cared for. The food is beautifully prepared and served, rife with fascinating flavour combinations: the portion size ends up nicely-judged in a four-course meal so you’re satisfied by the end, but not overstuffed. I mean, we have no problem with overstuffed, but occasionally an elegant sufficiency is a nice change. Three, they do it with a refreshing, charming and rather warm-hearted complete lack of pretension. I was struck by the good humour of the staff – they seem to genuinely enjoy working here, and interacting with their clients. There was none of that offended, rather rigid and slightly stultifying thing Aubergine did to us which basically made it an awful evening.

So, on the Patented Jo Scale:
Atmosphere: 9 / 10 (classic high-end dining with a particular warmth, and a really lovely setting)
Staff: 8 / 10 (intelligent, good-humoured, good at their jobs)
Service: 9 / 10 (It’s a whole ethos of service, and it shows)
Food: 7.5/ 10 (Good, interesting, occasionally exciting, slightly variable in quality)
Value for money: 7 / 10 (a heavy blow to the wallet almost completely justified by the experience)

I’d go there again in a heartbeat, supposing I had a lot of money and a really spectacularly important occasion to celebrate. But I think I’d go to Overture first.

Bizerca

Various inflictions and deflections, like illness and overseas trips, have delayed August’s Salty Cracker expedition, which consequently took place on Friday night. I chose Bizerca, lured by the online reviews which praised its warmth, unpretentiousness and good food as well as by the magical combinations of “French”, “fusion” and “bistro”, and wow was it worth the wait. We really like this place. We had a lovely evening, and there was an indecorous level of “oohing” and “aahing” over the food.

I have to say, at first glance it doesn’t look promising; the plastic chairs, glass walls, art deco plastic tables and eye-watering monochrome swirls over the bar all scream “trendoid!”, which in our experience is not often synonomous with good food. However, the potentially plastic ambience is warmed and redeemed by the service , which is headed by the lovely, chatty, arm-patty wife of the cook, and by the little touches – the menu being carried around on giant chalkboards, the fact that they have a cupboard for your coats. The printed menu is tiny, the daily-changing chalkboard one huge, which strikes me as the right balance for seasonal and inventive freshness; the dishes have a high proportion of interesting ingredients and combinations, not your standard nouvelle/fusion stuff. One of those menus where it’s really difficult to choose, and as soon as you’ve ordered you immediately wish you’d ordered something else, because it all looks so good.

We really liked the owner-lady: she explained the specials to us, laughed at the usual Salty Cracker silliness, and was very amenable to the idea that we might suddenly decide to order the special apple tart, which needs a 45-minute lead time, by semaphore. We spent the rest of the evening carefully not raising our hands above shoulder level, just in case dessert arrived as seventeen accidental apple pies we’d then have to eat. The waiters passed the Water Test quite adequately – a slightly raised eyebrow when we eschewed bottled water, but large glasses of tap water were provided as requested, and topped up if requested. (The table was a bit small for a jug, precluding our usual technique of the Large Jug). Our wine glasses were promptly filled. And their bread is simply wonderful – hot, crusty, brown, a light, dense crumb – perfect.

The “wow” started with the starters. I had a venison pâté/duck rilette combo, which was good, solid flavours, nicely prepared, but was raised to sublime levels with a sort of spicy relish thing, with I think cumin seeds in it – perfectly complementary flavours. (I’m kicking myself that I didn’t have a look at their home-made jams). Jo had a seared salami starter with peas, which is quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen on a French fusion menu, and was wonderful and slightly startling. Stv’s raw fish whatever-it-was came as a mould, and was exquisitely flavoured, possibly the winner of the starter courses (what was it, stvil? I can’t remember). Eckhard had the pork belly starter, which was simply evil. In a good way. The starter course was accompanied by a lot of “ooh” and “aah” and swapping of forks – the latter is a standard Salty Cracker practice, to the joy and/or despair of the restaurants, but the enthusiasm was damned well earned.

The starters arrived  very promptly, the mains less so, which was probably our fault for making noises about not wanting the evening to be over too quickly. (Nice owner lady: “You can stay here until 3am as far as I’m concerned. I’ve told the staff to delay your mains a bit.”) Jo and Eckie both had bouillabaise, which looked amazing – a rich creamy sauce rather than the usual clear soup, but intensely flavoured, served with croutons and a garlic aioli. Stv had something game-steaky? (memory goes…) It was excellent, although I can’t remember the trimmings. I had a braised shoulder of veal, amazingly tender, with some kind of incredibly intense reduction whose wonderful flavour I couldn’t identify, and parsnips, which I adore and which far too few restaurants cook.

These are not nouvelle portions, which is not a trivial issue given the richness of the food. We were all pretty much groaning by the end of it, and I was the only one who ventured into dessert, on the strict understanding that Jo ate half, when everyone else had tea and coffee.  Liquid-centred hot chocolate pudding, white chocolate crème brûlée, and a sort of intense berry sorbet thing which was absolutely essential in order to survive the chocolate, which was savage, again in a good way. I need to learn how to make this chocolate thing, it was delectable – rather like an inverted self-saucing pudding, but with very high quality dark chocolate and no restraint whatsoever.

The restaurant was fairly empty when we arrived, but by the time we left – for which read “rolled out the door, groaning” – it had filled up with a very lively, chatty, happy crowd. It’s quite noisy, but not intrusively so – the vibe is actually lovely. The service slows down a bit as the room fills up, understandably enough, but never to the point of being annoying, and the staff are smiley and pleasant. Also, parking is easy, lots around the corner with a car-guard. Which is fortunate, because we were too full to walk far.

It was a lovely evening, we like this place. On the Patent Jo Scale:

Atmosphere: 9 / 10 (unexpectedly warm and cosy given the trendoid tendencies)
Staff: 8 / 10 (Cheerful, attentive, unobtrusive.)
Service: 7 / 10 (a bit variable, slowed down as the place filled up)
Food: 9 / 10 (Yum.)
Value for money: 9 / 10 (really very reasonable prices for such carefully-prepared, creative dishes)

Famous Butcher’s Grill

Let us say, just to start with, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a steakhouse. A steakhouse is a lovesome thing, God wot. This whole Salty Cracker lark started with a steakhouse, the Hussar, and it’s still a favourite haunt. A steakhouse is perfectly capable of offering a superlative experience of its kind, and should be measured not against fancy Frenchy food or nouveau whatsits, but against the Platonic steakhouse ideal, redolent of warmth, informality, substantial food, lack of pretension, a certain speedy facility in the service, and above all, superlative steak as a centrepiece, a kind of religious icon of carnivorous pleasure. Hussar does it in everything except the service. Nelson’s Eye sets new heights to the steak bar and vaults them with ease, rendering its lack of actual side-dish accomplishments moot. I personally eat steak about twice a year, but I thoroughly enjoy it – and the evil chippy trimmings – when I do. The Evil Landord defaults to the steak-ey with his choices, and it’s absolutely OK by me.

All that being said, it remains a tragic truth that the Famous Butcher’s Grill simply doesn’t deliver. It should have rung warning bells when the Evil Landlord had to undertake a mini epic quest just to track one down – the branches in the suburbs seem to have closed down in the last year or so, which does not auger a franchise in the bloom of meaty health. The remaining branch is in the Cape Town Lodge, a hotel in the CBD, and even on a Friday night with live music was not a seething locus of steak-guzzling activity.

The ambiance isn’t bad: it has a reasonable feeling of cosiness, and really quite pervable scrolly brocade designs in the wallpaper and tablecloths. I can’t think that the live music is a plus, though; it’s too small a venue for a guitar dude with the amp cranked up high, and it was frankly intrusive. (He didn’t have a bad voice and the music was recognisable 70s-90s guitar pop, but reinterpretations of Chris Rea do not aid my digestion.) It also helps to be given a small, complimentary bowl of perfectly adequate leek-and-potato soup as a welcome and a talisman against the cold of the evening, which has been a little sharp-tooth-bitey winter recently. The waiter was pleasant, attentive and willing to be amused by the usual Salty Cracker antics; the service is mostly good, and our starters arrived astonishingly quickly. The food, however: the food is … adequate. Okay, shading down into “not up to scratch” in some areas. Mostly as ordered, but in the “serviceable” category rather than even the “good”. Nothing inedible, but nothing really exciting.

I wasn’t blown away by the starter offerings, but most of the usual suspects are there; deep-fried Camembert, calamari, the standard steakhouse fare. (I was deeply amused to see that they advertise a basket-of-blitong starter as “African Sushi”). Often this sort of basic starter off a small menu is done very well at a steakhouse, but my calamari had a rather dry, crumbly breading to it, and wasn’t exciting for flavour or texture. How difficult is it to spice up a breading? Honestly. Stv and the EL had the Camembert, fairly inevitably, which seemed to be OK – sufficiently gloopy on the inside and crunchy on the outside, and Stv managed to polish off the whole thing, which is something of a testament given his tendency to shrivel up and die when overly cheesed. Jo’s Avocado Ritz was a bit odd – piles of lettuce and a seafood mayonnaise pile under which some lonely avocado bits presumably lurked. She’ll have to weigh in on how it actually tasted, but it looked like very 50s cuisine to me.

We all had steak – T-bone, rump, fillet medallions. My medallions were nicely tender, cooked in brandy with a peppercorn sauce which was rather good; the grade of meat itself was excellent, and the specified “rare” actually achieved, although to the bleu end of the spectrum rather than the medium. (And, no, this isn’t because of all the vampire tv lately: I’ve always liked my steak rare. I only have it every six months or so, but when I do I crave it bloody). The only problem was that they don’t actually sear the outside properly, which means it was a sort of grey rather than being grilled to brown; in fact, this seems to have been a feature of all the steaks for the evening, rather a travesty given the “grill” delineation. Also, I seem to have got lucky with the fillet: Jo said her rump was tough, the EL reported his “stringy around the edges”, and Stv’s T-bone wasn’t properly cooked next to the bone despite a request for “medium rare”. The side dishes were perfectly arb as well as perfectly carb – mounds of bland mashed potato, undistinguished chips, the usual butternut/creamed spinach duo in the name of vitamins. (And what’s with that? As the EL pointed out at the time, all steakhouses seem to default to those two vegetables, probably because they’re easy to produce as large vats of glop. Or because there are deep underlying signifiers which one of these fine days I shall deconstruct).

All this being the case, it’s extremely lucky the EL found four hitherto unsuspected remaining bottles of Diemersfontein Pinotage under his bed, and brought two of them along; we polished them off, and it made up for a lot. We ended up full, but curiously unsatisfied; we didn’t bother to stay for dessert.

I fear that, on the Patented SC Scale, the Famous Butcher’s Grill is not that famous. The Judge from Really Bloody Steak awards the following:

Atmosphere: 6 / 10 (pleasant enough setting, points docked for inappropriate loud music)
Staff: 8 / 10 (Cheerful, attentive, vanished a couple of times and had to be extracted with forceps by the desk person.)
Service: 7 / 10 (quick to very quick, needed some prompting for water refills and wine-opening)
Food: 6 / 10 (meh. Could have been worse.)
Value for money: 6 / 10 (really would like to see more bang for my buck)

Yindee’s

For someone with an obsessive-compulsive blogging habit, I forget to blog my Salty Cracker choices way too often. Sigh. Sorry. Yindee’s was a while back now, end of March, which in fact meant the first of April owing to the mad socialising in the previous week. I chose Yindee’s slightly cautiously, because the First Rule of Salty Cracker Club is Good Food By Strict Rotation of Choice, but the Second Rule is Not Thai, because none of it is ever as good as Thai as cooked by Stv. (The Third Rule is They Must Allow Us To Bring Wine. The Fourth Rule is that Whoever Chooses Also Drives, with corollaries (a) my car is too small so sometimes I drive home for someone else, and (b) Jo Will Drink Lots And Hardly Ever Drive). However, I wrung the admission from my fellow members that (a) Yindee’s is fun, and (b) we could do Thai as long as it wasn’t any dish Stv usually cooks. Since this to me means all the crunchy deep-fried starter thingies, for which I cherish an illicit passion without any shame whatsoever, Yindee’s it was.

I also wanted something not too upmarket for this, because we did another Overture run the weekend before, and trying to be upmarket after Overture is always an anticlimax. One needs distance.  Yindee’s had exactly the right vibe – not too expensive, generally relaxed sort of feel, decent food, waiter with a big grin, lots of dark wood in the décor. It all adds up. The major mistake I made, though, was to agree to try out their low-table cushions-on-the-floor room when I booked. It sounded like a fun idea at the time, but I forgot about my knees. It was never quite comfortable, which I found distracted from the experience – I managed not to break any portion of myself, but there was considerable whale-like floundering in getting up and down. We have now Done This, and don’t need to repeat it. Chairs are my new religion.

They have a one-bottle-per-table corkage policy, causing the Evil Landlord to fulminate something ‘orrible, but in the event their wine list is quite extensive and there are sufficient inexpensive options not to be offensive. (Is it just me, or are CT restaurants limiting corkage bottles more and more often? I blame the recession). Also, jo&stv brought a really good white, although I cannot for the life of me remember which. We did the standard oriental food thing, which was to order one dish each, bung them all in the middle of the table and share, culminating in arguments about who gets the last piece of duck. (Usually me).

Starters were good! fish cake thingies nicely flavourful, slightly standard beef satay and sweetcorn fritters, and really good potato strips in a sesame batter, my favourite from this course. Must try this at home. (I try the sweetcorn fritters at home, frequently, and have to say mine are better, mostly because I can’t restrain myself from Bunging Extra Stuff In, usually more chilli). We eschewed tempura on the grounds that it isn’t Thai, although I would have cheerfully suffered the inauthenticity. Deep fried things in batter make me strangely happy.

I chose, of course, duck for mains, crispy deboned duck with a rather delectable tamarind sauce – yum. The Evil Landlord had seared tuna, which was excellent, in a sort of herb crust. I think Jo had fish of some kind in a garlic and pepper stir fry, yes? also very good. I am totally, utterly and completely unable to remember what Stv ordered. It was also good. There were no actual bad choices here: the mains were better than the starters, I thought, with interesting flavours. The portions are reasonably substantial – I could have done with marginally more, and certainly more in the way of veggie components to the dishes, but we were all full enough not to want dessert.

This was a good experience, but not a brilliant one – solid food, nice vibe and setting without being particularly memorable, reasonable service but not outstanding. (Our waiter vanished completely when we wanted to pay him, and had to be summoned from the depths with strange rituals). Yindee’s bills itself as an “authentic” Thai experience, but I fear Stv’s cooking has spoiled us for that. It pretty much lives up to its cost bracket: I’d eat here again cheerfully and with enjoyment, but not to mark any special occasion. It certainly doesn’t trump our benchmark for Mid-Level Eastern Food, which is Jewel Tavern – flavour, quantity, vibe are all trailing behind the Tavern’s delirious high. Besides, a Lazy Susan on the table adds bonus style points which are difficult to overcome.

On the Patented Jo Table, the judge from Eastern Knee Troubles offers the following:

Atmosphere: 8 / 10 (nice try on the low tables, good vibe)
Staff: 8 / 10 (pleasant, cheerful. Too often Cape Town waiters appear to be confirmed misanthropes.)
Service: 7 / 10 (occasionally absent/slow, but passed the Water Test with flying colours)
Food: 7 / 10 (good but not spectacular)
Value for money: 8 / 10 (priced unpretentiously and appropriately)

Savoy Cabbage review

Hitting a restaurant with a definite reputation for The Trendy is always a bit of a mixed experience – one wants to find out what all the fuss is about, and is also slightly braced for it to be mostly about marketing. The Savoy Cabbage seems to carry a lot of reputation baggage, which makes it particularly ironic that the first problem with the evening was finding the damned thing. This was partly my fault – I’d looked up the address, but hadn’t found a map or anything. In the event “Hout St., near Heritage Square” turned out to be a wholly inadequate designation because the bloody restaurant is one of those coy, understated sort of establishments with a small, discreet and rather pretentious twisted wrought-iron plaque rather than an actual sign. We drove straight past it. Then we spent twenty minutes circling the centre of town in an increasingly desperate attempt to navigate the one-way system and the incredible confusion of the Greenmarket Square roadworks, which randomly close off whole roads at whim. (What are they even doing there, anyway? apart from booting the market out just in time for tourist season?). Eventually I phoned the restaurant to get directions, and I have to say the nice man was very kind and only laughed at us a little bit. We arrived eventually, triumphant and slightly giggly.

I rather like the inside of the Cabbage, it’s got that industrial feel – naked brickwork, giant air-con ducts, interesting spaces – which managed to stay just on the right side of pretentious. The vibe is pleasantly relaxed, and there’s a fairly continual trickle of cheerful guests climbing the stairs to the upper-level bar. I’m not entirely sure that the split-level thing works, though, the giant central staircase means that some tables are tucked away, which seems to require the waitstaff to have orienteering badges as much as the guests: we sat at our table for twenty minutes before a waiter actually worked out that we hadn’t been given a menu. (We had, however, been given a complimentary canape, and after ten minutes of wistful panting a passing waiter took pity on us and opened our wine. Memo to self, screw tops in future!).

The see-saw of the experience really got going with the actual arrival of our waiter, who was a gem – one of those intelligent, amusing guys who seemed perfectly happy to plug into the relaxed and slightly scurrilous vibe which Salty Cracker appears to generate. The menu is delectable, really interesting combinations of flavours, unusual vegetables, meats and cuts. There was much debate. When we finally ordered Jo asked the waiter if we’d picked anything that would disappoint us, and he gave his list a deliberately staged and cursory looking-over at arm’s length before saying “No!” firmly. We liked him. He was also thereafter very good with keeping wine glasses and water jugs filled.

We also liked the starters, which were, I think, on the whole better than the main courses. I’d heard good things about the Cabbage’s signature tomato tart, which was, alas, absent from the menu: the butternut/caramelised onion/goat’s milk feta one I had was, however, very good, and I shall definitely do my damndest to recreate the combination at home one of these days. Jo & the Evil Landlord had the beef tartare, which I think is probably the best I’ve ever tasted – full of celery, strangely, which I don’t usually enjoy but which gave it a wonderful bite and texture. I am, however, wishing I’d ordered Steve’s starter, which was definitely the winner – chicken-liver parfait in a sort of fig sauce thing, and more like foie gras than it had any right to be. (And I have to say, I always wonder what restaurants think about the Salty Cracker tendency to pass forkfulls of a dish promiscuously around the table. And to return the plates with nothing left except fingermarks in the sauce. It’s a toss-up as to whether they’re horrified or flattered.)

Things got a bit dodgy with the main course. On the upside: man, they do large portions. This is the nouveau cuisine sort of presentation, but with portions almost twice the size of those at somewhere like Ginja. Steve’s Three Little Pigs thing was very good -three sorts of pork in a cider sauce, lovely stuff. Jo’s great hunk of veal had, interestingly, a bone sticking out of it, but was likewise wonderful, with an incredibly intense mushroomy sort of pâté thing on the side. The Evil Landlord’s warthog chunk was a bit smaller and slightly boringly presented, no really stand-out flavours. My breast of duck, served on a completely wonderful parsnip mash with endive, which I love … was tough. Overcooked, leathery, dry. I am totally spoiled for duck by the French tendency to sear the outside of a duck breast like steak and serve it rare, and I’d fondly hoped that this might be the same, but I suspect they slightly overcooked it in the pan and then kept it warm long enough for it to dry out even further. Jo, fortunately, is less diffident than I am about this sort of thing, and hauled the waiter over to complain: the restaurant thereafter gained serious brownie points by dealing gracefully with the issue, whisking my plate away to re-do it (a bit of a wait, inevitably, made bearable by being fed forkfuls by everyone else, like a baby bird). The second version was indeed rare, although I suspect they went slightly too much in the other direction; nonetheless it was good, if not as tender as it could have been.

We were too full for dessert. This almost never happens. We looked wistfully at the dessert menu, which was fabulous, but couldn’t contemplate forcing anything else down.

So, overall this was a very endive/cider sauce experience – bittersweet. On the upside: attractive, unusual setting and relaxed feel, lovely staff, some amazing food, the ability to handle dissatisfied patrons sending food back to the kitchen with a certain dignity, and without bad vibes resulting. On the downside: some poor staff co-ordination, slightly slow service (we waited a while for the starter) and some definitely dodgy quality control in the kitchen. Also, their prices are about 20% higher than somewhere like Overture or Ginja, and despite the increased portion size, I don’t think the flavour/innovation levels of the food quite justify it. Jo’s famous four-point scale comes out thusly:

  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Staff: 8 (but Service 6)
  • Food: 7
  • Value for money: 6

Myoga review

Our enthusiastic applause for the Ginga experience prompted my choice of Myoga, the larney restaurant at the Vineyard hotel in Claremont. I’d originally wanted to try La Colombe, which was booked solid (apparently two weeks’ lead-in time for a weekend booking is required, ooh la la), so the general plan was up-market. Up-market is certainly what we got.

Myoga has a lovely feel – luxurious, carpeted, highly-designed, all warm and orange and plush – it’s something of an antithesis to Ginja’s we-slapped-the-red-paint-on-the-wall-ourselves aesthetic, but retains at least partly its comfortable feel. The kitchen sits in the middle of the restaurant, so one can watch the controlled chaos of the chefs and catch them rather endearingly sticking sauce spoons into their mouths and then back into the pot. (I always do this, and have hitherto always felt madly guilty about it). The restaurant’s bathrooms rate a special mention for the décor dubbed “futurist nightclub” by Jo – if the joint was ever raided, heaven forfend, by the timecops, the loos could simply fire up their blue lights, rotate a few chrome fittings and glide quietly back to the mother ship. Also, there are screens on the back of the toilet doors which show a live feed to the kitchens, which is curiously disconcerting while communing with one’s bodily functions.

The menu is very similar to Ginja, featuring the same wonderful flavour combinations in a sort of modernist flow-of-consciousness description, and beautifully-sculped piles of strange shapes and colours presented with a flourish in a lonely island in the middle of a giant plate. My smoked duck-breast starter (the quest for Cape Town’s Best Duck continues) featured piquant, vinegary flavours in addition to wanton touches of toasted peanut, pomegranate seed and turkish delight, with foie gras crouton-thingies on the side. It was delectable – complex, playful, unexpected. The dessert chocolate plate was also quite possibly better than sex, with coffee ice-cream, variegated mousses, dense chocolate tart and a molten chocolate death pudding productive of helpless orgasmic noises and a liberal coating of chocolate all over my hands and face. (The second visit to the Ablutions of the Future was necessitated at about this point). Jo’s assiette of desserts included a sort of frozen berry explosion thing that cut the chocolate death very nicely, and a not entirely successful pound cake effort – stodgy, confusing. I was wrapped up enough in my duck that I didn’t really taste anyone else’s starter, but the Evil Landlord seemed to enjoy his scallops, and stv his tuna – I am entirely unable to remember what sort of flavours they came with.

I have somewhat deliberately skipped from starter to dessert because the main course, frankly, disappointed me. The trio of veal is apparently something of a Myoga signature dish, and the flavours were lovely – three medallions each with a separate saucing, including an intense mushroom/truffle thing, lemon and anchovy with aubergine, and a green pepper sauce. The potato croquettes, mashed potato with subtle herbs in a fried crumb crust, were incredible. But the meat was arb, a sort of vague, tasteless carrier for the admittedly vivid and interesting sauces. I’m rather wishing I’d gone with the Evil Landlord’s venison in chocolate sauce with plums, or stv’s incredible beef fillet with duck liver pâté.

That wouldn’t have been too much of a problem, though – the sauces were definitely worth it, and the whole meal thing, at just over R200 for three courses, was not badly priced for the larney experience it is. The problem, and the reason why Myoga isn’t up there with Ginja in my estimation, was the wine. Myoga has a sommelier, which is always a bit touch-and-go with me because it’s not really possible to talk about wine without pretentious language. Jo’s Aubergine rant about little fishes going sploosh and the rrrah! of earthy polar bears is always floating vaguely about my head, and I have to be careful not to catch her eye otherwise unseemly giggling will result. Also, fundamentally, while the idea of an experienced wine-fundi pairing the right wine with your meal is all fine and well, in fact it’s a rotten swizz on many levels – you are gently guided into ordering on recommendation, without recourse to the wine list, and thus disempowered on one quite important level of choice, namely price. The wine cost more than the meal did. The sommelier swore he was guiding us to the cheaper choices, but I don’t personally feel that R300 for a bottle of wine is actually cheap. This was the most expensive Salty Cracker we’ve ever had, and the wine was frankly way overpriced. The recommendations were good and interesting (well, I wasn’t a fan of the pinot noir, found it thin and flat), but they weren’t worth that money. It was a huge pity, because you end up feeling that the meal experience has been devalued, and the devaluation had really nothing to do with the actual food.

So, on Jo’s four-point scale I’d score it thusly:

  • Atmosphere: 8
  • Staff: 7
  • Food: 8
  • Value for money: 5

Bonus points for the lovely garden and the warning signs about the feral tortoise.

The Wild Fig

The club’s over-larnification at Aubergine has led to a snail-like drawing in of horns, and we’re all about the relaxed, mid-range experience at the moment. Wild Fig was perfect for this. For a start, it’s beautiful: quite apart from the piquant detail of being next door to the mental hospital, it has the stunning giant wild fig tree outside, and the restaurant itself is a white-painted house on multiple levels, curled around three sides of a courtyard full of trees. The interior is dark-painted, cosy and eclectic, and very slightly shabby in a way that’s intimate and comforting.

The food is rather a fun combination of nouvelle and pub: intense sauces, interesting flavour combinations, but with the portions approximately twice the size of somewhere like Aubergine, and the main course comes standard with roast potatoes and vegetables. We all overate horribly. Starters were substantial in themselves; I had spring rolls, slightly fatty but tasty, and the EL’s deep-fried camembert was perfectly done, a great improvement on the slightly stringy one we had at the Hussar. (Owing to my somewhat dilatory approach to this reviewing thing I can’t remember what anyone else had, but I’m sure they’ll chip in in the comments).

Main course enabled me to pursue my current goal of trying all the possible versions of duck in Cape Town in search of the perfect one: this was crispy duck in an orange sauce, very flavourful, with the kind of crispy skin that really requires one goes at the bones in one’s fingers. Other main courses at the table included, if I remember correctly, some sort of game in a chilli chocolate sauce, and a giant chunk of lamb shank – the usual ritual of fork-swopping was observed, and it was all very good.

We had to try dessert, despite being full, because the ice-cream offerings were so unusual. I had a brandysnap basket arrangement with berry ice-cream, somewhat delectable, but I think the chilli and honey nut ice-cream sandwich was even better, with wonderful flavour contrasts and a subtle bite.

If I have anything to carp about it was possibly the service, which was pleasant but slightly slow. This didn’t really matter, as it suited our relaxed mood perfectly.