Category Archives: Rondebosch

Al’s Place review

Eckhard’s Salty Cracker tendencies are clearly unchanged, he’s still (a) looking for unpretentious steak places, and (b) leaving it to me to review them. January’s Cracker was Al’s Place, which is a sort of family-style steakhouse in Station Rd in Rondebosch. Station Rd is an odd little corner of the suburb notable mostly for Cargill’s, which is a tiny and excellent place serving classic French haut cuisine. Al’s, not so much. Al’s Place does pretty much what it says on the box – it’s a warm, relaxed environment, nothing fancy, and on a Friday night was fairly full of warm, relaxed, rather noisy diners. The interior is a bit bright for the classic steakhouse vibe, but cheery and not too crowded.

al's place 1

I didn’t look very hard at the decor, but there are odd, quirky things on the wall which Steve apparently did look at, viz.:

al's place 3

We weren’t too hungry, for some reason, so rather than going the whole hog with starters (and possibly because of the slightly limited and very standard starter menu), we ordered a couple of foccacia breads, one garlic, one feta, and a roasted vegetable salad. The foccaccia was great, very thin and crispy by virtue of the fact that they have a pizza oven; the salad was fine, more than edible but not wildly exciting. The food and the bottles of wine we’d ordered took a while to appear – speedy service is clearly not high on the priority list.

For mains Jo and I had duck, which was deboned and slow-roasted and served with an orange sauce; Danielle had ribs, and Eckie and Steve had steak. Everything fell into the range of “well-cooked and tasty” which indicates solid steakhouse fare without rising to the elevated heights of Knife or Dale’s Black Angus. I enjoyed the duck, which was beautifully crispy on the outside; the orange sauce was good, as were the potato croquettes it was served with. The duck itself was flavourful, but I found it slightly stringy. Then again, with my ongoing quest to eat all the duck in Cape Town, I’ve had it at most of the really posh restaurants in our local area, and may well be a tad jaded. The ribs were excellent, a good barbecue sauce tang and the meat fell off the bones – Danielle’s plate was raided wholesale by the table at large, which is usually a good sign. The steak was also generally good, although Eckie’s larger portion of rump was better, the smaller one was a bit on the medium side of medium rare (caveat: I like my steak bloody, your culinary mileage may vary). Again, the sauce was good – green peppercorn, pleasantly bitey. They make excellent chips, hot and crispy, but for some inexplicable reason flavoured with what tasted like Aromat, which is a bit of a brash flavour to fall over unexpectedly in your restaurant dinner. And the veggies were unfortunately at the lower quality end of standard steakhouse fare – mashed butternut and creamed spinach, both basically glop. Not a bad flavour, mind you, but gloppy. Glop is a tragic thing to happen to an innocent vegetable.

al's place 2

The service was slow throughout – the wine arrived late, and we had to remind the waiter of our lost order. The wine list itself is rather downmarket, with only a couple of good/drinkable wines, all on the cheap end of the scale (under R100). Jo was convinced they offered Tassies, but after a brief and spirited debate about “the one with the spazzy giraffe”, it turned out to be Chateau Libertas. Still, it’s significant that she was making that association.

The servers were keen, pleasant and chatty, but forgetful; Isaac was entertaining, all sass and jokes, but he didn’t, alas, deliver. As someone commented while we twiddled our thumbs waiting for the bill: just bring the damned thing already, you don’t have to cook it. I also noticed a small outbreak of servers with card machines doing Statue of Liberty poses, which is always amusing but hardly impresses one with their calm professionalism.

This was a pleasant evening all round, the staff and space are likeable and the value for money good, but this one is not joining my mental list of “places to go when I’m jonesing for steak”. If I feel the need to eat locally it’ll be the Hussar or Cargill’s. Al’s is fine, but I’m a spoiled Capetonian and want something a little more exciting for an evening out.

A few thoughts on Cargills

Okay, so it wasn’t shortly, and this isn’t really a review, but it needs to be said that Cargills (at dining-out.co.za, at eatout.co.za) was fantastic.

It’s in the distant past now, so I unfortunately can’t remember much detail (that’s my advanced age for you), but the general standard of food was excellent. The waiter was attentive and friendly without being clingy (important in such a small venue) and the chef was pleasingly cheery when he came out to see how the food was going down. Slightly short, slightly round, very smiley. :)

I think there were mussels, Camembert, and mushrooms for starters – nummy!
Main courses were Sole with parsley lemon butter (gentle and subtle and cooked to perfection), Springbok with mixed berry jus (great red flavours to match the red meat), Confit of Duck (Jess, comments, as our resident duckspert?) Beef Fillet Bordelaise (good cow!).

There were five of us, so I’m sure I’m missing some things.
Like the stir fried veggies that are served as sides instead of the standard meh creamed spinach and fries. Very tasty.

Om nom nom!

The Wild Fig

The club’s over-larnification at Aubergine has led to a snail-like drawing in of horns, and we’re all about the relaxed, mid-range experience at the moment. Wild Fig was perfect for this. For a start, it’s beautiful: quite apart from the piquant detail of being next door to the mental hospital, it has the stunning giant wild fig tree outside, and the restaurant itself is a white-painted house on multiple levels, curled around three sides of a courtyard full of trees. The interior is dark-painted, cosy and eclectic, and very slightly shabby in a way that’s intimate and comforting.

The food is rather a fun combination of nouvelle and pub: intense sauces, interesting flavour combinations, but with the portions approximately twice the size of somewhere like Aubergine, and the main course comes standard with roast potatoes and vegetables. We all overate horribly. Starters were substantial in themselves; I had spring rolls, slightly fatty but tasty, and the EL’s deep-fried camembert was perfectly done, a great improvement on the slightly stringy one we had at the Hussar. (Owing to my somewhat dilatory approach to this reviewing thing I can’t remember what anyone else had, but I’m sure they’ll chip in in the comments).

Main course enabled me to pursue my current goal of trying all the possible versions of duck in Cape Town in search of the perfect one: this was crispy duck in an orange sauce, very flavourful, with the kind of crispy skin that really requires one goes at the bones in one’s fingers. Other main courses at the table included, if I remember correctly, some sort of game in a chilli chocolate sauce, and a giant chunk of lamb shank – the usual ritual of fork-swopping was observed, and it was all very good.

We had to try dessert, despite being full, because the ice-cream offerings were so unusual. I had a brandysnap basket arrangement with berry ice-cream, somewhat delectable, but I think the chilli and honey nut ice-cream sandwich was even better, with wonderful flavour contrasts and a subtle bite.

If I have anything to carp about it was possibly the service, which was pleasant but slightly slow. This didn’t really matter, as it suited our relaxed mood perfectly.

Eating in the New Year

Like all right-thinking Capetonians, we S-chewed (oh ho) malls and restaurants as much as we could during the festive season (tourist cooties are the hardest to wash off), which meant we had a gaping void where our December Salty Cracking should be. So, we, along with Jess’s mum, decided to make ourselves a posh, proper three course, dinner thing instead.

Eck supplied the quality bubbles: actual French champagne.
There may have been other bottles too, but it’s all a bit of a blur now…
:-)

Jo made the starter: a whole Camembert each, topped with finely chopped garlic, then a thick layer of honey, then chuck gently place the whole lot into an oven for a bit.
Same basic recipe as A Holiday Brie.
Damn, they were good!
The garlic goes nice and crunchy, and sweetens up.
Definite Nommage of the Om variety, and one to do again.

Jess did the main course: Fillet of Beef Chasseur.
Nummy! The meat was cooked to perfection.
I ate so much that I almost exploded at the table.
(We had the left over meat on sammiches the next day – the overnight marination did good, good, things to the meat.)

Jess also prepped a dessert: crepe suzette.
Unfortunately, we were all too full to have any.
(This worked out well, as it happens: we had them for breakfast the next day!
Also, check it out: crepesuzette.co.za)