Oops, we missed the boat on reviewing this one! (he said, dating the post to match the day of the visit)
Very short version: tasty food, big portions, great atmosphere.
Bonus content: heart-warming anecdote.
Oops, we missed the boat on reviewing this one! (he said, dating the post to match the day of the visit)
Very short version: tasty food, big portions, great atmosphere.
Bonus content: heart-warming anecdote.
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.
I had the Ceviche Keenwa , Jo and Eckhard both had papa a la huancaina con anticuchos , and Jess had the trio de causas . 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.
I had the Tacu tacu , Eckhard had the Lomo Saltado , Jess the Adi de gallina , and Jo the tallarin con salsa huancaina .
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.
Eckhard and I both had Picarones , Jo had the Alfajores .
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!
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):
There’s been a Carne menu folded up on my desk for about a week, since our rather late January iteration on Monday night. It’s an A3 sheet of brown card, printed with three columns of food under exciting Italian headings, and liberally stained with the residue of shared forkfuls travelling across the table because it also serves as your place mat. When I asked the waiter if I could take it home, he tried to give me a fresh one without the stains. (I resisted. We earned those stains). This neatly sums up everything about the Carne experience: its generosity, its eccentricity, its air of relaxed permissiveness. It’s clearly equally serious about its food and about its clients’ experience on a far broader scale.
Carne was Eckhard’s choice, which together with the name tells you that it’s all about the meat. I’ve never before eaten anywhere that proudly displays a giant plate of raw cuts before you order, and explains exactly what they are and how their taste and textures differ; I left feeling not only full and happy, but culinarily educated. The carnivorous focus notwithstanding, you could cheerfully and interestingly feed a vegetarian from their six different vegetarian starters and the side dishes. The Italian feeling is very strong, with both the menu sections and the dishes themselves labelled in Italian (and I have to say, “Il Filetto di Gnu” simply looks odd), but the visual feel and ambience are to the warm side of the “trendy” scale. It is, however, one of those places where an initial impression of “ooh dear, crowded, cramped, those trendy plastic chairs look uncomfortable” is almost immediately dispelled and obliterated by the warmth of the welcome and the quality of the food. It’s clearly very popular and was pretty much full throughout the evening, but we dined in our own happy bubble of relaxed gourmandising amid the cheerful noise.
Quite a lot of the success of the experience, of course, came down to the waiter. If my dodgy memory serves me correctly, his name was Warren; he was not only attentive, knowledgeable and skilled, he also demonstrated that perfect waiterly ability to pick up on the vibe of the table and to join in the flow of nonsense in the appropriate idiom and tone. He won us over utterly by his blithe disregard for the corkage guidelines; they allow one bottle per table, we’d brought two and chosen which one to drink, and about an hour into the evening he cheerfully opened the second one, talking loudly all the while about how this Zinfandel, our first bottle of wine, was an excellent choice. (Although not as good as the Zinfandel on their wine list, could he bring us a tasting sample? which he duly did, and we all tasted it, and yup, it was better. But we didn’t have to buy wine at all). The end of the evening was rendered amusing by watching the other wait-staff at the tables around us holding the portable card readers up at arm’s length to catch the apparently dodgy signal, like so many slightly more commercialised Statues of Liberty. Warren didn’t do this, but processed the card with perfect decorum. When Jo asked him why he didn’t do the holding-it-in-the-air thing, he said, with a touch of Jeevesian austerity, “Because I’m not an idiot, ma’am.”
The food was great. Did I mention that the food was great? They had asparagus on the starter menu, which always makes me happy: this was grilled, with a poached (free-range!) egg, and was crunchy and satisfying, with the rocket and parmesan beautifully complimenting the asparagus (needed just a pinch of salt, though). Eckhard’s veal tongue carpaccio was an amazing amalgam of subtle flavours; Jo’s beef carpaccio was more standard fare, but still excellent. Steve had the tartare “Clap-Clap”, which basically means the raw minced beef patty is very quickly seared on each side, clap-clap. It’s served without the usual raw egg, and in terms of flavour was stupendous, probably the best and most interesting tartare I’ve eaten (although only narrowly edging out the lamb with Indian spices Caveau gave us that one time). It was one of those menus where it was difficult to choose because it all looks so good. I totally have to go back there to try out the lamb ravioli starter. And the goat’s cheese terrine.
Mains, of course, were all about the meat. Jo and Steve had rib-eye and rump, I forget which way round, but they swap at half-time anyway. It was excellent, of course, really at the top end of the pure steak scale in terms both of cut and of cooking, and the salsa verde Jo ordered with it was very good. Especially with my lamb. I had “La Coscia di Agnello Marinata”, marinated leg of Karoo free-range dorper lamb, and it was voted the best dish of the course: brilliantly cooked and insanely tender. Eckhard’s wild black wildebeest fillet was also superlative. The dishes we chose all eschewed major sauces or flavourings in order to allow the meat to have prominence, and it really worked; I find myself, though, wanting to go back to try the slightly more elaborate dishes, rib eye in white wine sauce, or lamb shoulder stuffed with spinach, sultanas and pine nuts. I also have to say that the Carne side dishes and sauces are significantly better than those at the other Mecca of the Pure Steak Experience, Nelson’s Eye; the Carne fried chunky potatoes are wonderful, and the side salads interesting and well prepared.
We even had dessert; the dark chocolate hot fondant (me, of course) was really good, and in the perfect portion size (small!) not to overload after the meal. Jo’s berry salad with mascarpone sorbet was also wonderful, although I wasn’t much into Eckhard’s “Zuppa Inglese”, translated as “Italian trifle”: the custard was lovely, but the rest a bit uninspiring. At that stage, however, stuffed as we were with wonderful food, and near delirious with happiness at the whole experience, I don’t think anyone was quibbling.
We like this place. Really, we do. The patented Jo scale shakes down as follows:
Wine: n/a, tasting one Zinfandel does not constitute an assay of the wine menu, and I have no idea if it was extensive and/or well priced. The beautifully-handled corkage thing comes under Service, I think.
I felt like tapas. The Salty Crackerites have a distressing tendency to swap forkfuls from each other’s plates at the slightest provocation (i.e. whenever something looks good, which it usually does), so the tapas experience of multiple tiny bites of any one dish shared between the table is kinda logical. Also, I’m very tired at the moment and didn’t feel like wading through a steak or anything, so one-bite easy eating sounded heavenly. We ended up at Fork because it’s the sister restaurant to Knife, which we loved. I did, however, have some minor doubts: some of the reviews whinged about the portion sizes, and I was faintly afraid that it would end up being too trendoid and snooty and horribly expensive given the tiny portions. In the event, none of these fears were justified; the vibe was great, the bill was smaller than we expected, and we had a great evening.
Fork is in Long Street, one of those long, skinny places behind a small street front. It has face-brick walls and a lot of dark wood, and ends up feeling cosy and warm. There’s a bar downstairs and a really long flight of stairs up to the main dining area, where there are booths along one wall in addition to the normal tables. At 7pm we were a lot earlier than the bulk of diners, and scored a booth, which is absolutely the best environment for eating. Salty Cracker can become a bit loud and hilarious, which is not ideal in posh places, but we fitted in perfectly here; the room filled up to become noisy and cheerful, but the booth means you can still hear yourself conduct noisy, cheerful, weird conversations about non-linear time streams, and economic narrative theory, and vampire symbols in a therapy context. And nanobots. Apparently we’re still with the nanobots.
As with Knife, you get a giant dish towel as a napkin, which is very useful given the amount of finger-eating you do. They suggest eight dishes for four people, and you order them in a giant wodge, after which they trickle them out to your table in twos and threes at appropriate intervals. It’s very nicely judged, and was conducted with cheerful and amused efficiency by our lovely waiter, Jorge. (He’s from Chile. The accent is very sexy, and he responded very well to our characteristic waiter harrassment. Of, I hasten to add, the non-sexual kind. Mostly.) Being what you might call hearty eaters we ordered nine dishes up front, then another four, then three desserts.
This food is really, really good. It’s one of those menus where it’s actually hard to choose because you basically want everything, so it’s lucky that you get to taste anything that anyone orders. Particular standouts: roasted pork belly with a mustard-flavoured crumb crust, which was amazing; the most perfect little puff pastry circles enclosing a mushroom filling, like a tiny hamburger, with a rich parmesan flavour; deep fried goat’s cheese with a sort of crackery thing flavoured with sun-dried tomato; seared salmon with a wasabi flavour; kudu with a beautifully sour citrus reduction on a bitey chilli potato base; chunks of rare fillet of beef with fried onion rings and a delectably dark, rich, red wine and mushroom sauce. The sauces are incredible – we handed back every plate with fingermarks in it, to Jorge’s amusement. There really wasn’t a dish here that wasn’t rich, complex and interesting in flavour and texture. They also do amazing things with ravioli-style food, the one we had having a miraculous poached egg enclosed in it along with the ground beef filling. We noted, in addition, that there are really a lot of veggie-friendly options, which makes this a good recommendation for the non-meat-eating among you.
The perfect thing about tiny bite-sized portions is that you can really fit in dessert. Their flourless chocolate cake is to die for, and the sticky toffee pudding is to commit suspicious acts of desperation for: the slightly gritty butter/sugar topping is horribly moreish. The rest of the table insisted on ordering white chocolate mousse with a raspberry coulis, which was nicely textured but a bit bland and arb in only the way that white chocolate, instrument of the devil, can be. I felt smug.
I also have to mention the wine. One of the drawbacks of Fork is that they don’t allow you to bring your own wine, which is one of Eckie’s pet hatreds, and which triggered (a) a spirited discussion on whether a wine-bar/tapas joint is really about food-as-an-accompaniment-to-booze rather than booze-as-an-accompaniment-to-food and thus is more justified in wanting to make money on the booze bit (I still maintain it is); and (b) a decision to add a new category to the Patent Jo Scale of judgement. The lack of corkage facility is really not an issue, though, because the winelist (slightly eccentrically presented by region rather than type, which is rather fun) contains a plethora of options which are both excellent in quality and reasonably priced. We had a Rickety Bridge rosé, which was lovely – fragrant and slightly cranberryish, and everyone else raved about the Bon Courage shiraz, which I didn’t taste as this stupid Warfarin regime limits me to one glass of wine and I love rosé.
Further to the additional-category innovation, postively for the First! Time! Ever! on Salty Cracker you are seeing (a) pictures, courtesy of Stv, and (b) an assessment on the Patended Jo Scale which was argued over by the whole table at the end of the meal, rather than being plumped on by the writer of the review after the fact. We admitted that generally we score quite highly in our reviews, but that this has a lot to do with the fact that we go to some really good restaurants. All the 8s here are thoroughly deserved. We had a lovely evening.
On the Patented Jo Scale:
I was, of course, tempted to write this review in Haiku format.
But I did not.
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:
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.
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.)
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)
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)
Oh dear, it has been a while. So far back that I only have general impressions left and few specifics. I will do my best, anyway.
The general feeling was positive – good ambiance, good service, good food. However, it was priced like an Overture but really was more of an upmarket Italian/steak place and not quite as inventive as I expected. More detail:
Food: *faint memories*… there was meat, and there was things-with-sauce. The meat was not outstanding – it was good but not brilliant, and not good enough to be the “speciality of the house”. The things-with-sauce – Pork, I think, and was it springbok or osso buco? Or springbok osso buco. It was very very good, in a home-cooked goodness kind of way (large portions, rich sauces), which is slightly out of kilt with the ver’ posh vibe, but that’s no reason for complaint. The carpaccios (which have their own section of the menu) were good, but not amazing, and the steak tartare, which I can’t resist, was not as good as I like it – the balance of condiments was not right.
Service: Excellent if occasionally slightly scarce. The bread basket at start was really interesting with all sorts of different home-baked things. Service highlight: Deliberating over desert, some of the party eventually ordered (yummy) things, and the waiter turned to me. “Nothing for me”, I said, until he turned away and was walking off. “Wait!” I called. “A SPOON.” He nearly keeled over giggling. I like cracking waiters up.
Ambiance: Lovely decor, very pleasant, light and modern. All works together.
Value for money: Slightly too pricey for its offering. Only one bottle of corkage allowed – but communicated nicely so we let it slip.
Altogether: It was nice, but won’t become a regular.
Value for money: 6
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)
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”]
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!
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.
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!)!
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.
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.
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!