Eckie’s choice very often inclines towards steakhouses, which is always interesting. Steakhouses seem to exist on a different planet to other kinds of restaurant – other scales of value, other avenues towards spectacular success or horrendous fail. Where an upmarket nouvelle joint can be dire in the area of pretentious, unexciting or downright annoying, a poor steakhouse can be basic, rote or plain bad. On the other hand, a really good steakhouse has a particularly happy confluence of generous portions of excellent food, an inspired focus on steak, and the sort of warm, relaxed atmosphere which gives a meal a particular glow. Dale’s is in this category. We had a fabulous evening.
Dale’s Black Angus is in Milnerton, in The Paddocks, which is one of those glitzy shopping malls. This is usually not a recommendation in terms of atmosphere, but one is immediately reassured on walking up to the restaurant, which is an open double-storey with white-linened tables spilling out in a slightly café style from its open front wall. There’s a lot of wood panelling and wooden furniture; the slightly over-shiny cocktail bar is sealed off from the main room, and there are booths along two walls. A booth is the best possible restaurant dining configuration, as far as I’m concerned. You are insulated from other people’s noise and free to be less concerned about your own. (Ours can rise sharply about a third of the way through the second bottle of wine).
The place is large, with an upper level, and with a fairly high number of excellently-trained waitstaff scurrying about. This is fast becoming a notable index of restaurant quality – professional trained staff versus part-time student types. Worlds of difference. It’s essentially a warm and welcoming space, with a sort of family feel which is initially suggested by the name, and reinforced by the discovery, from our waiter, that the bar is named after the owner’s son, with whom the waiter went to school. (He was a good waiter. It took him about ten minutes to twig to the usual level of Salty Cracker nonsense, after which his responses were pitch-perfect). The service is quick, and even if it wasn’t, the walls are covered with wooden plaques containing interesting and possibly apocryphal quotes from a variety of Famous People, which you can read while you’re waiting. You can also amuse yourself with the menu, which, apart from the entertaining warning on the front page (“Unattended children will be given a double expresso and a free puppy”), is huge and full of delectable stuff.
The starter course is often the Achilles Heel of a steakhouse, in that you can frequently feel the perfunctory attention given to it while the chefs concentrate on the steak. This, however, wasn’t. It’s not a huge selection of starters and it hits all the usual buttons for steakhouse opening gambits (calamari/crumbed mushrooms/prawn something/deep-fried camembert), the huge and blinding difference being how bloody good they all are. Honestly, the feel is far more fine-dining than perfunctory-steakhouse; interesting ingredients, fascinating flavour combinations, beautifully prepared and served. My crumbed mushrooms were stuffed with bacon and cream cheese; Steve’s deep-fried camembert came with fig preserve and toasted nuts. My memory is going a bit, but I think Jo had some sort of carpaccio thingy which was also excellent.
I was very tired that evening, and didn’t feel up to steak. (I don’t eat a lot of red meat in the large-chunks sense, and need to get a bit of a run-up on steak). I had the duck à l’orange, flambéed with Van Der Hum and served with a marvellous jug full of excellent orange sauce, and it was very good, but not as good as the steak. I should have manned up and had the steak. Dale’s chateaubriand is quite possibly the best steak we’ve had in Cape Town (there was extended debate on this topic), and the Special Reserve is almost as good. Beautifully tender, cooked perfectly, excellent sauce béarnaise on the side – I do approve of the Giant Jugs o’Sauce approach. The nice waiter tried to take ours away before we’d finished, and was properly apologetic once he’d recovered from the yells of outrage.
We were enough in the swing of things that we even had dessert; Jo and I shared an excellent baked cheesecake, Steve had the citrus-infused crême brûlée, which I know I tasted, but which I absolutely could not remember tasting two minutes after the fact. (No blame to the brûlée, but I was tired enough at that stage to be hallucinating slightly). And the three courses, with two bottles of rather good wine (their winelist is rather more than adequate), didn’t actually come to hideously huge amounts (R300 or so per person?); this is very much fine dining at upper-level steakhouse prices.
So, on the Patented Jo Scale, scoring rather high all round:
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Atmosphere: 8.5 / 10 (Warm, comfortable, family vibe)
Staff: 8.5 / 10 (Great! well trained, friendly, both amusing and amused.)
Service: 8 / 10 (Good, only a couple of minor delays in things like water refills)
Food: 8 / 10 (Steakhouse +++, straightforward dishes elevated by flavours and preparation)
Value for money: 8.5 / 10