Eckhard picked a winner in his characteristic “steakhouse” choice category this month. Knife is a fascinating experiment in a not-quite-steakhouse vibe, managing to combine beyond excellent steakhouse fare with a somewhat upmarket and trendy décor, good service and thoughtful design under the slightly vague rubric of “New York loft meets Deep South smokehouse”. It’s one of the best quality and most memorable meals we’ve had in a while. I was a bit surprised at how comparatively empty it was for a Saturday night; the restaurant is a huge space, and really demands more recognition. Perhaps part of the problem is its slightly odd situation, in Century City but tucked away in a block separate from Canal Walk and under a hotel, and thus relying on word-of-mouth rather than walk-ins. I assure you it’s absolutely worth the trek.
The menu is extensive, and the starters and side dishes rise more than somewhat above the usual steakhouse array, both in breadth of choice and in composition: interesting flavours, spices, combinations of ingredients. Two of our table started with the panfried peppered calamari with a bacon vinaigrette (I suspect the bacon vinaigrette sold them), which was delicious; my mother also raved about her Creole mussel curry, in a spicy tomato sauce – excellent. My salad was perhaps the low point of the starters, perfectly adequate, but rather low on the beetroot/goat’s cheese elements which were supposed to define it. Everything in this course, however, was beautifully presented, fresh and tasty.
Our main course choices ended up mostly divided between rump steak and ribs, served with chips; the chips are one of the basic tests of a steakhouse, and Knife does particularly good straw-cut french fries. The rump-eaters were inclined towards the belief that this was the best steak they’d had in Cape Town – excellent quality meat, cooked to perfection and perfectly to order. The choice of sauces included at no extra charge is a nice touch. The rib-orderers were equally happy with the smoked, marinated, barbecued ribs, which I have to agree were tender and flavourful, and moreover left a gratifying pile of bones heaped in the middle of the table. I’m still a bit lacking in appetite after all the medical experiences and wasn’t up to heavy red meat, but my southern fried chicken was wonderful, offering tender meat and crispy, spicy breading. You can order extra side dishes, which are again slightly more interesting than the usual steakhouse creamed-spinach-and/or-mashed-butternut – we had wilted greens and roasted broccoli, both very good.
We couldn’t fit in dessert, which is a pity as I would have loved to continue on my American South kick by trying their key lime pie. Alas. Another time.
This was a truly excellent meal, but beyond the sheer quality of the food, I have to say what made it was the obvious thought that has gone into constructing the restaurant’s spaces and service. Half their tables are booths, which is the best possible dining experience, insulated from the noise of other diners; the tables are generously proportioned, leaving you elbow room to really get at those ribs. The walls are covered with beautifully-carved wooden plaques in a variety of slightly retro shapes, offering meat-enthused slogans with cheery, cheesy goodwill. The menu has a children’s section, and advertises various colouring-in and other activities available for kids. Your napkin is not a napkin, but a checked dishtowel of generous proportions and high absorbency, a thoughtful trend continued in the plastic aprons and, later, moistened towels provided to rib-eaters. We expect, the ambience says, you to be enthusiastic about your food. I was particularly taken with the serving arrangements: your server arrives with your dishes on an absolutely giant round tray capable of holding about five plates without overlapping. To serve, they plonk this down on the handy-dandy folding collapsible table legs they have previously set up next to your table with a flick of the wrist, and proceed to serve you, and afterwards to clear the table, in comfort, efficiency and style.
They passed both the water test (alas, no jugs, the only minor niggle in an otherwise perfect evening), serving tap water by the glass without turning a hair, and likewise remaining calm and pleasant in the face of diners who insist on bringing their own wine. (I forgot to check if they charged corkage, anyone remember?). And the value for money is excellent, considerably cheaper than Nelson’s Eye and possibly even slightly cheaper than Hussar, hitherto our gold standard for happy steakhouse eating. This was all in all a Good Experience, TM. Will definitely go again.
On the Patented Jo Scale: