Category Archives: Steve’s choice

Cheyne’s Review

A few Fridays ago, the new (and some might say improved) Crackernaut roster went down into the deep south of (the republic of) Hout Bay for some Pacific Rim cuisine at Cheyne’s (@cheyne_reaction on the Twitters). Trivia factoid: this was only our second Cracker in Hout Bay. (Also: no Jaegers or Kaiju were spotted, in case you were wondering.)

The Yay

The food was excellent all round. The menu is tapas-style and is divided into Sea, Land, Earth, and (erm) Happy Endings. We had a good mix of animals and vegetables, and pretty much every dish was delicious. There was a wide range of flavours and styles and it tickled all my Eastern bells.

2014-11-07 20.45.312014-11-07 20.49.44

The decor is also worth a mention: slightly odd, but very groovy prints of graffiti-as-art cover the walls and give the place an interesting feel. Our table was a nice big, solid, bit of wood, but it did make us feel like we were sitting quite far away from each other.

The service was really good, but we kept having odd not-actual-misunderstandings with our waiter. It often wasn’t clear that he had got what we said and that all was good. But the right food and drinks kept coming out, so we were happy.

The Boo

After a couple of plates we started spotting some patterns. While it was beautifully presented, the food started to look a bit similar. The setting for it, I mean: every dish came in the same style: perched on a black slate tile, with little blobs of Kewpie mayo and little hills of (admittedly nommy) kimchi on. A minor quibble to be sure, but a bit odd.

In summery summary

Next time I’m out that way again, it will definitely be high on my list as somewhere to go, but I suspect I wouldn’t make the trip out just to go and eat there.

The Test Kitchen review

I’ve been meaning to go to The Test Kitchen for a while, having been to and loved Luke Dale-Roberts’ other joint Pot Luck Club, and we finally got around to it last month for my Cracker choice. I was pretty fired up for the experience, having missed my first booking there (I got sent abroad for work stuff), and given that we had to book two months in advance. TL;DR: amazing, but also amazingly expensive.

We went for the Discovery menu. The Gourmand also looked great, but we’ve gone off of long tasting menus: you get taste fatigue by the end. The flavours were fantastic and by and large the combinations of them were too. My only complaint is that some dishes had a few too many flavours fighting for attention. The presentation of every dish was exquisite: beautifully crafted and plated, although I could have done with a few less smears (ahem). The portion size was well judged: we all felt pretty full by the end of the meal, but not stuffed to bursting: something that tasting menus often get wrong.

The staff were friendly and knowledgable but lacked warmth, and the atmosphere was kind of similar. The experience felt professional and high-end, but with a dash of pretentiousness. Kind of how I feel about the Biscuit Mill in general: not quite my kind of space.

One that’s important to mention is the price. Yowzer, it’s not cheap! If you asked me if The Test Kitchen was good value for money, I  think I’d err slightly on the side of not. You do get fantastic food, but for me it wasn’t the leagues ahead of other great places that you’d expect given the large difference in price. Does it deserve its top spot in restaurant lists? Based purely on the food: probably yes. Based on the experience as a whole: probably not.

All in all: stunning food, but I won’t be going back in a rush. The credit card needs to recover a bit. I might head upstairs to Pot Luck Club instead.

Pure Review

Despite being in a hotel (the Hout Bay Manor) I though Pure looked promising: lovely decor, interesting sounding food. Unfortunately, we were a bit disappointed.

As a quick aside: the place is quiet hard to find at night. The road leading up to HBM isn’t signposted; the entrance gate thing is big and labelled, but isn’t lit. So we missed it the first time. Ahem.

Where Pure dropped points was staff and service: most of the waiting staff were polite, but curt with it, and had no warmth. Compare this to somewhere like the Roundhouse (extremely formal and fancy, but also very friendly) or (Crackernaut winningest hearth-throb) Overture and the comparison is quite unfavourable. They also weren’t knowledgable about the food: Jess’s quite tasty pureed beetroot soup with roast garlic was described as “beet soup *frown*”; Jo asked about pasta portion sizes as she wanted one for a starter, was told they were quite large, and got three small ravioli; there was “a misprint” on the menu that meant taking three scoops of the same ice cream as a dish cost more than taking three scoops separately, which they had to discuss with the chef to find out.

Soon after we sat down, we were greeted by the very cheery Food and Beverage Manager (um…) Vincent, who wished us happy eating and told us not to hesitate to give him any feedback. This was nice. Alas, we never saw him again.

We Crackerlngs like to take wine with us to restaurants. It’s not so much that we’re cheap: more that restaurants charge a ridiculous mark up on their wine. We took a pretty fancy bottle of red that we’d been saving and the (grouchy) waitress opened it for us. She came back about five minutes later and told me that they were charging corkage of R80 (burn!). That’s a bit ridiculous compared to other spots in Cape Town, and it would have been better to have told us before they opened the bottle. It’s interesting though that their web site says “As we have a extensive wine list we have a NO Corkage Policy at Pure.

The menu is a bit schizophrenic. It’s part bistro, part steakhouse, but doesn’t quite hit the mark for either. The scores, then.

Gypsy Cafe Review

What with new jobs and overseas trips and product launches and things, arranging a date and venue for this month’s Cracker (October’s, that is) was a bit of a last minute affair. I was struggling to think of somewhere, so when Jo suggested Gypsy Cafe I grabbed it. Jo and I went there a few weeks ago and had a lovely, relaxed, delicious meal. On top of that, I like supporting small businesses (having been one myself for many years), and local businesses. Unfortunately, our Cracker experience there last night was not so great.

The restaurant has a Gypsy theme in its decor and menu: the specials on the menu change regularly, and a pin in a map on the wall shows where they are this week. Last night we were in Germany: one of the starters was a lovely vienna salad, and one of the mains was roast beef with sauerkraut, the other was beef schnitzel. The other starter we had (three of us had the salad) was the chicken livers in a spicy coconut curry-like sauce, which was delicious. For other main courses, we had the Venison (Ostrich), and the Two Tarts.

Here’s a wodge of pictures:

The food was all great, except I wasn’t happy with my ostrich. It came a little too rare for my tastes (I like medium rare, can do rare, but don’t do bleu), and I asked for it to be cooked a bit more. The chef generously, and quickly, brought me a whole new one. Unfortunately, it was pretty much as rare as the first one.

A much bigger problem was the really bad service we had. We arrived at 8 p.m., and the joint was jumping. It took us a little while to get drinks (first rule of restaurant club, people: get people their drinks immediately. Then they’ll be much happier waiting for other stuff.), but the kitchen was so busy that we couldn’t (and not for lack of trying) place our food order until 9.30. By about 9, after several pesterings of the waitress, we asked if we could have some more bread for the table to tide us over. She went away and came back and, apologetically and nicely, told us that the kitchen was too busy to even do that. We were not happy bunnies. When he eventually came over, the chef apologised briefly for the wait, but after waiting an hour and a half, it would have nicer to have a “bigger” apology. The food came out quite quickly after that, but most other guests had eaten and left by then.

We had a nice night out anyway, because we’re four friends who enjoy chatting and drinking, but it was not a great dining experience at all. If there had been another waiter, maybe things would have gone a bit more smoothly. Time for the scores on the doors.

keenwa

Keenwa Review

Quinoa! (Or Keenwa, as you say).

A bit of a branch out, in terms of food geography, for the Crackernauts this month (wherein “this month” is the March Cracker happening in April due to *cough* scheduling conflicts.) as we braved the on-and-off downpours to head into town to Keenwa for some home-style Peruvian cooking. The vibe as you walk in is friendly and candlelight-y, but as you open the menu to check out what’s the what, you realise that it’s dark. As in break-out-the-torch-what-does-that-even-say dark:

Thankfully, the food all sounded interesting and tasty and different, and we squinted our way to making an order.

Starters

I had the Ceviche Keenwa [1], Jo and Eckhard both had papa a la huancaina con anticuchos [2], and Jess had the trio de causas [3]. All were excellent! The portions were definitely on the generous side for starters. The presentation was great, and a lot more fancy than the “home-style cooking” suggests. The flavours in each dish were fresh: a different set of herbs and spices (and the balancing thereof means) that It Can Haz A Flavour that’s different and distinct.

Mains

I had the Tacu tacu [1], Eckhard had the Lomo Saltado [2], Jess the Adi de gallina [3], and Jo the tallarin con salsa huancaina [4].

The portions here were also pretty big, and neither Jo or I managed to finish our meals. I can confirm that our dishes reheat well and make an excellent brunch! Roughly speaking, the food all seemed kind of familiar (fried rice, stir fry, chicken in a creamy sauce), but with a new twist on the flavours. The tastes were also more subtle and delicate than the starters which were quite punchy by comparison. The general concensus was that the mains were good, but the starters were excellent.

Desserts

Eckhard and I both had Picarones [1], Jo had the Alfajores [2].

The Picarones are butternut and sweet potato doughnut-y things, with a sugary syrup sauce and were nummy and super-crunchy. The Alfajores were soft, squishy, dusty, and tasty. We were all a bit stuffed by then!

In conclusion, Your Honour

Interesting, different feeling and tasting, food.
Worth checking out, especially if you go when it’s still light out! (mutter, grumble, where are my reading spectacles, ooh, me back hurts, etc.)

The scores on the doors (remember, I mark harder than my compadres):

063

Thai World Review

I was looking for a homely, family, Mom ‘n’ Pop sort of place, and Thai World did not disappoint.
(There’s a whole thing about how my choosing was a trauma-laden-ridden-filled thingy, but that’s another story)

The inside is quite charming. You quite clearly get the feeling of English husband and Thai wife: he runs the bar in the front room and she runs the kitchen of nummy food (although my familiarity with the cross-cultural set-up may be tinting my glasses on this one.).
There were bits and bobs of Thai ele- and paraphanelia on the walls and tables that add an air of more Thia-ness to the place: I approve!

The food was really good, but not knock my socks off amazing. Tastes and flavours were, to my buds, quite authentic. Tastiness always trumps authenticity, but it’s nice to have both.
The portions sizes, of the main courses especially, were very generous.

As you may expect from a Thai meal, the sauces were excellent.  A great mix of flavours and strength.
Winning dish for the table was the Duck Red Curry (Kaeng Phed Ped Yang on their menu). It was, pardon my language, amazeballs. Jo became somewhat obsessed over the course of the meal with deconstructing the ingredients and preparation method (“Why is my curry not this good?” was the cry. Fret not, your curries are also amazeballs! Um… That felt weird to say.). (Upon more sober reflection, it was (sort of) decided that the WIN was at least partially due to Duck Fat ™)


(Note to self, must take CrackPicting more seriously!)

My only complaint was the speed of the service: a little bit too slow to be called leisurely. We got the impression that a lot of the other clientèle were regulars, and the fact that they were in and out while we were still there gave the impression that they were being favoured over us a bit. To be fair to them, the lady owner did say that our mains took a while longer because of the steamed fish. To be fair to us, if we’d have been told that we would’ve asked stuff to be brought out as it was ready. Not a train smash, but something to bear in mind.

So, these score thingies of which you speak…
(I’m trying to score more harshly than the other Crackstefarians: 5 means average. 10 means OMGBBQ. 1 means killmenow.)

Xiang Yuan Review

Most of my ongoing missions in life involve food. This pleases me.
One of them is to find good Dim Sum places in Cape Town.
My current winner is U-Seng in Table View (which is another story in itself), but Xiang Yuan provides a good local alternative.

The decor inside is that classic “basic but clean” look. Slightly skanky lookin’, to be honest. I have a particular penchant for places that have good food but very simple decor (such as Jewel Tavern when it was in the docks). The other Crackernauts tend to err more of the side of posh, which only encourages me to bring the skank back in. It enhances that “hidden gem” feeling for me.

We often like to get recommendations, and the staff at Xiang Yuan were friendly, helpful, and made excellent suggestions. Alas, it has been a few weeks since we were there, and my memory of individual dishes has faded. We had a mix of Dim Sum from their big and varied menu, and added the much-loved duck and pancakes combo to the table. Everything was excellent, and the prices were good (and very reasonable compared to big names like Simply Asia or Tong Lok).

Atmosphere: 4 / 10 (Not great. TV on in an unavoidable place. Lights kinda bright.)
Staff: 7 / 10 (Friendly, slightly surprised, very helpful with the recommendations.)
Service: 6 / 10 (Good, but not great. Solid, but not shining.)
Food: 7 / 10 (Good Dim Sum (wide selection, all tasty), excellent duck.)
Value for money: 8 / 10 (Competitively priced)

Haiku Review

I was, of course, tempted to write this review in Haiku format.
But I did not.
Be thankful.

Haiku was great. I’ve had my Japanese-Cracker hand forced slightly due to lack of availability (if you know a good Japanese restaurant in Cape Town, please drop it in the comments!), so I’ve expanded my general theme to Asian, preferably Japanese (because i like it), preferably not Thai (because we eat it at home a lot).

The place itself is tres chic. The bar at the front is particularly swish. We’re talking dark furnishings, a few shiny bits, and lots of spotlights (hung from the tall, tall, ceiling to head high (ish)). It felt a little too trendy for me, to be honest, but the staff were welcoming and friendly (and I’m not exactly Mr TrendyPants (as evidenced by me saying Mr TrendyPants)). The back 4/5 of the place is the restaurant, with a strip all the way down one side being the kitchen and the gaggle (pot? susan? broth?) of chefs, all specialists in their various bits.

The menu is big (and missing from their web site – boo). Three pages big, packed with tasty-sounding treats. It’s divided into sections by style more than by country, so you have stir-fried dishes together, tempura stuff together, and so on.
Roughly speaking, we had:

  • veggie tempura (solid, but not amazing. Great sauce, though);
  • soft shell crab tempura (very good. Crunchy!);
  • Chicken and mushroom hotpot (a surprise star. Recommended by the waiter on the grounds of being a lot more interesting than it sounds. He was right!);
  • Dim Sum (lots of dim sum. I think I may have found a place to return to regularly for Dim Sum – is good, me like.);
  • Cheung Fun (chinese canneloni, which I remember first having as chopstick-test by Chinese friends in London.);
  • duck pancakes (of course. Hat tip JT. Good, but not amazing);
  • Beef katsu (breadcrumbed, seared, cow.);
  • Thai salad (the weakest dish of the lot. A bit too fusion, so it lost it Thai character);
  • Sizzling ostrich (juicy and tasty, but not mind-blowing).

Phew! And I’m sure I missed some. We definitely over-ordered. But then, it was Salty Cracker. :)

Service was good, but very slightly patchy. Our waiter was friendly and attentive, except for a short period near the end-game when I was wanting water and to ask for the bill.

Ratings? Ratings.

Atmosphere: 7 / 10 (Very trendy, but still nice for “normal” folk. Ahem.)
Staff: 9 / 10 (Friendly, chatty, excellent knowledge of the menu, very good with recommendations.)
Service: 7 / 10 (No real complaints, but wouldn’t mention it as special.)
Food: 8 / 10 (A wide spread of countries and styles without feeling stretched or that there are any “filler” items (iyswim), and very, very, tasty.)
Value for money: 6 / 10 (Pricey for what is, especially the Dim Sum.)


Addendum: We jetted off to the Jewel Tavern last night for a quick Chinese comparison. It’s a tough call, to be honest. Jewel has a lot more of the classics, and it does them very well, at a good price. Haiku’s Chinese section contains more unusual stuff, but at a higher price point.

Salt Review

(preamble follows. skip to the actual review)
Ahem.
I had a bit of a busy week last week, so I left my Crack Prep a little late. However, by the Wednesday I had fixed a cool sounding place. It didn’t look promising, though: only little bits of scattered info over the web.
I tried calling on Wednesday, but no dice. I tried again on Thursday, but still no dice (not even a D4).
So I went to the actual location on Friday morning.
Outdoor decor still there, but very much Not A Restaurant. More of a student digs laundry. Thing.

So, Friday afternoon I started a new fork of research and settled on the lovely looking, friend-recommended, mostly Thai, Kitima.
They were fully booked. Gah!
Not that surprising, calling at 6pm on a Friday night for a 7pm table, but still: gah!
Research prong three lead to Salt at the Ambassador Hotel., which I booked with no problems.
Disaster averted – huzzah!

The Actual Review

We had a bit of an adventure finding the place (not very clearly marked (at night) from the Camps Bay side, and the GPS thingy had it in the wrong place), but initial impressions were good. Very shiny hotel, and the restaurant was decked out very nicely, and not very hotel-restaurant-like at all (unlike some places, *stares at Myoga*). It felt like a proper restaurant, rather than something tacked on to the hotel.
One wall of the restaurant is floor-to-ceiling windows offering a fantastic view. Alas, not so much for us, since we arrived just past dusk. Note to self: go there for lunch.

The waiter passed the water test with flying colours, although he needed a bit of a nudge for refills.
Bonus points for decanting the bottle of red we had with us: classy.

I had the slightly clever idea of writing stuff down this time, so as not to forget what we all had.

Starters

Steve: partially de boned herb stuffed quail with a fricassee of crayfish, corn & shimeji mushrooms
Jo: terrine game and foie gras with sauce gribiche, apple chutney & toasted Challah
Jess: rillette of pork with apple puree & bagel chip
Eck: rillette of pork with apple puree & bagel chip

All were excellent. That is all. :)

Mains

Steve: springbok loin with creamy white cabbage, confit potato and cherry jus
Jo: selection of cape fish & shellfish with a tomato & saffron broth & rouille toast
Jess: confit duck leg with miso broth, wilted greens and crisp coriander dressed salad
Eck: deboned lamb neck with a herb crust , creamy barley, baby onion & a reduced braising liquid

Every dish was great, but I was particularly fond of my bokkie: perfectly pink.
Jo’s soupy affair was lovely and delicate, and Jess’s Asian-y duck was cracking.

Dessert

A partially shared affair. The table had:
dark chocolate fondant with port syrup & mint ice cream
and
tonka bean tiramisu parfait serve with espresso espuma & tuille.
The choccy managed to be rich and tasty without being thick and hard-going, like dark C desserts can often be, and the mint ice cream was lovely.
Espresso espuma: funny looking, but tasty.

Scores on the doors

Overall, an excellent experience – consistently high quality food in a very pleasant environment.
We like!
I will try to mark “hard.”

Atmosphere: 8 / 10 (Reminded me a bit of Ginja. A bit trendy, but no pretentious with it).
Staff: 7 / 10 (Polite, pleasant, smart)
Service: 6 / 10 (Professional, but a little inattentive)
Food: 9 / 10 (The food was in the nouveau style, but the portions were quite generous – win!)
Value for money: 8 / 10 (On a par with other places with similar offerings, but bigger bang for your buck)

Sushi Master

Yet again, I find myself saying “This is not a review of Kubo’s Little Japan on Riebeek St in town“.
It is however a review of the slightly oddly named Sushi Master on Riebeek St in town, which is what Kubo’s has become. A fine Korean gentleman by the name of Jung has taken over Kubo’s old spot, including (it seems) the menu. This is good since I was aiming for Japanese, not Korean, food.

[Pssst! Looking for the short version? It’s here: “cheap, good, Japanese food, despite the change of hands”]

Boom, Shake, Shake, Shake The Room

The evening did not get off to an auspicious start. The Boom Boom Shakalak bar above was quiet, but not quiet. It was fairly empty (quiet), but they seemed to be testing the maximum volume of their speakers (not quiet). Well, I whine, but it wasn’t exactly deafening. It did make for an interesting “mix” of their boomboom and Kubo / Sushi Master’s selection (of Richard Clayderman, The Magical Sound of the Pan Pipes, and assorted authentic eastern tunes). I felt The Fear that I’d picked a clanger for Cracker. Luckily this was not to be the case.

The decor was classic. Classic in the sense of horrible kitsch that sort of works, a la Minato’s.
We popped open one of our two bottles of vino (R15 corkage, btw. R15! Stick that in your pretentious pipe and smoke it, Aubergine! (Yes, still bitter about that.)) and perused the menu. Cheap! Interesting! Japanese!

And So It Begins…

We shared two plates of mixed tempura (prawns, calamari, veggies) for starters. Tasty! This was definitely Tempura Done Right and made me very happy. Bubbly, light, crispy batter, tasty sauce accompaniment. I could probably have handled another few pieces, but they weren’t stingy portions.

The Mains Event

For mains, we had a veritable 食べ放題 of goodies: beef tataki1 with ponzu sauce; beef teppanyaki2; Chicken Kara-age3; chicken and veggies noodles fry-up; roast salmon belly; chawan mushi4. All the nosh was good, but stars for me were the beef tataki (pink!) and the salmon (pink!). Nom (pink!)!

The Dessert Of The Real

Then, unusually for Cracker, we had dessert. Bar one tempura and ice cream. So crazy it works.
Tasty tiny treat to round off the meal. Eck had his own, the J, J, S threesome shared two.

Conclusions, Thoughts, Comments

The total was R600, including a generous tip, which seems very reasonable given that we ate loads.
Certainly cheaper than lots of previous Crackers.

Alas, I fear that the Master of Sushi may not last. Part of it is that it’s cheap. And small. Both of these I see as plus points as a patron, but it must make it more difficult to make money. A more pertinent part is that we were the only people present. From 7 to 10pm. On a Saturday night. Oh, as they say, dear. I suspect that Kubo’s attracted a very local following that will desert the new look / theme / vibe / owner, given how fickle Cape Town eaters are.

Patented Jo Scores on the Doors

Atmosphere: 3 / 10 (kitschy decor works, but booming music is distracting. We enjoyed our meal despite it (had rather a jolly time, actually), but it would have much better without.)
Staff: 7 / 10 (Nice waitress lady, smiley sushi chef (even though we had none of his wares), very friendly and earnest owner (language barrier made interactions more entertaining / interesting))
Service: 7 / 10 (Not particularly attentive, but easily signal-able given small space, and food came well-paced, as it was ready, piping hot (esp. important for tempura))
Food: 8 / 10 (Me liked. Interesting, new Japanese food. A bit different to other places which generally serve sushi as their Japanese stuff, or some kind of bastard-love-child-fusion thing which, while tasty, is not really Japanese Food.)
Value for money: 9 / 10 (Our final bill was low for Cracker, perhaps still a little high in general, but we had lots of nosh for our cash)

Fellow Crack-ees: what was the other category we wanted to add?

________________________________
1 – basically very rare, sliced beef. Watching this being cooked was awesome. Big chunk of meat, held in tongs, waved at flame of gas hob. Hypnotic.
2 – beef cube stir fry thingy
3 – Japanese style fried chicken
4 – steam egg custardy thing in a tiny bowl. Um… google it!
5 – there is no five, you may have noticed. Except that there is because this is it. This is a secret bit. You may have noticed that we had no sushi. A bit odd when going to a place called Sushi Master. Well, since it’s only really Jo and I who are the sushi monkeys, and that there was so much other interesting stuff to try, and that I’m on a quest for Japanese food that is not sushi, we decided to forgo said raw fish for that night. Jo and I will return by ourselves, or with other sushi monkeys, and try some then. The menu looked shortish, but with interesting animals. We’ll be back!