Category Archives: City Bowl

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)

Five flies review

Oops, been a while since the actual eatings.

So, http://www.fiveflies.co.za/.
In a very cool, many-roomed, many-bar-ed (although we just went for din-dins), big ole building in the middle of town is Five Flies.
I’ve heard varying things, mostly since going there, about the snootiness of the staff. We had a great experience – our waitress was lovely, and the one or two others who flew around our table were jovial and friendly. The maitre d’ looked a bit offish, but we only exchanged a word or two with him, so no probs there.

The food, you say?

Starters:
me, jess – Smoked salmon and cod fritters with rosti, watercress and garlic aioli;
jo – Pan-fried prawns with chilli, garlic linguini and squid ink lemon butter;
eck – Grilled field mushroom with gorgonzola, caramelized onion and creamy artichoke, truffle sauce.

Mains:
jess, jo – Springbok Wellington with mushroom duxelle, roasted butternut and foie gras, truffle jus;
me – Grilled ostrich fillet with potato gratin, mange tout, sauteed spinach and red wine sauce;
eck – Herb crusted, roasted rack of lamb with creamy garlic potatoes, fine beans and tomato jus.

Dessert:
I seem to remember that we did somehow squeeze it in, but I can’t remember who had what, when, why, or whicheeba.

The food was great. All round good with no duds.
Particular highlights were the ‘strich and Eck’s lamb (informally voted overall winner).

Odd thing to note, but not really a bad thing, was the speed.
They must have an entire team of chef whipping boys / girls because that kitchen can turn stuff around like a professional ice skater, on happy juice, going downhill, blindfold. Fast, I mean. Very fast. We didn’t feel like we were being rushed, but we were surprised when our starters arrived maybe 10 minutes after we ordered them. And the mains maybe 15 minutes after the starters were taken away.
I suppose you could argue that that’s what restaurant kitchens are supposed to be like (you order your food, you get it!), but we’re used to a more leisurely pace of noshing.
I’d quite like to pop back there for lunch to see how the experience compares.

I’m not quite compote menthol (ahem) enough to do proper numbers, so have some pseudo-random ones:
Atmosphere: 6 / 10 (got a bit loud later on, with a bad table across from us)
Staff: 8 / 10 (speedy, smiley, accommodating)
Service: 8 / 10 (extra points for pace, especially when you known about it in advance)
Food: 7 / 10 (good, solid, fare, and some interesting combos)
Value for money: 7 / 10. (Um… how much was it…?)

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

Aubergine Review

site: aubergine.co.za

I’ll keep the link there. For easy reference. To find the bit where they say you can only bring 2 of your own bottles. If you can. .

So, while I’ve been beaten there, no harm in regrouping and starting from the beginning:

The noble cause that is this club takes us to lots of very posh restaurants. It’s the paycheck celebration event, spending money is not the issue – good food, good ambiance with good friends is. We have been doing this for 10 months now, and – as jess said last night – we have either been:

  1. extraordinarily lucky in our choices
  2. living in a city with examplary, wonderful, restaurants where nothing ever goes wrong
  3. been total, easy to please lushes (worry), or
  4. had this coming to us.

d it is.

The first sign of worry was the hushed atmosphere, followed abruptly by the “only 2 bottles of own wine” rule* (not mentioned on their website in any obvious way). The “tap water, please” clearly wrote us off in the minds of our waiters as the “was McDonald’s fully booked, then?” crowd. It’s not just that it’s difficult to get actual tap water (ordered deliberately, for reasons of environmental consciousness – I repeatedly fantasised, over the course of the evening, of having had the foresight to bring a shiny visiting-card sized printed note with me denouncing the bottled water business in order to bring the  waiting staff in line), it’s the clear downgrading in terms of respect in the waiter’s eyes that bothered.

The food, which could have redeemed this all, was not quite there. We invented a bunch of rating factors on our way out, and here are some i can recall, with my proposed scores:

  • Atmosphere: 6
  • Staff: 2
  • Food: 7
  • Value for money: 2

It could appear that we are simply not used to nouvelle-sized and intended portions, but to that i say “Ginja“! Which has been our best eat so far and is in exactly in the same thrust as Aubergine, but scores 10/10/9/8 on the same scale.

So, the food:

Pros:

  • the tiny little cold cucumber soup and the sorbet we got between courses. That was lovely, interesting flavours – the soup had a goats cheese and parma ham floater (better than it sounds) which made the whole thing lovely. The sorbet was apple/mint, which works.
  • The duck. Ask Extemp. That was good, unusual, curried duck. Mmmhm.
  • the Asparagus+tuna+Parma ham starter, which was a good balance of flavours and worked well.
  • Starters, for those interested, come in at R75-R100 each, which means value for money is difficult. They are tiny, but once again – a good place will do tiny but fill you up with intense flavour. This one fell short.

The not-good-enough:

  • the tiny, expensive steak was tough. I will (excuse the terrible focus on money here, but I breathe slowly when scuba diving to save money) pay R165 for a palm-sized steak (see Tokara, for example), but It Was Tough. No redeeming features.
  • The Tiger Prawn starter. R95, because of the rare Dwarf Tiger Prawns they have to catch for it.
    On Mars.
  • I vaguely remember the EL calling his rabbit “anonymous”. Or was it “generic”? Mind, addled.

We forewent deserts, on account of having run out of wine, patience, and the ability to give them any more money.

So, I do think they have a different “experience” planned for us. The key to that seems to be their extensive winelist**, which their ice-queen-sommelier explains to you on a sip-by-sip basis

(literally:

people at the next table: *sip wine*.

sommelier: *run* Can you feel the peachstones? don’t they just taste like summer? on a raft? Can you hear the little fishes?

people: *nod vigorously*

little fishes: *sploosh*

sommelier: *sidles off*

people at next table: *sip wine*

sommelier: *returns triumphant* note how it develops! Those fishes! Gone! Now, with the rising temperature and … global warming, it’s all … nutmeg! and polar bears! taste the bear? Earthy!

Bear: Raaa!

Fishes: *shuffle off*)

i guess we missed out.

______________________
* yes, 3 between 4 people seeeeeeeems like a lot, but who are we kidding? and it’s not about the amount, it’s about the restrictions.

** ooh, they had a transparent wine fridge. Which glowed. In slowly-changing, neon colours. Not redeeming.