Category Archives: Reviews

The table 1

The Table at De Meye

I’m all fascinated by this trend to serve just one meal. We cook it, you eat it. It seems to fit in with my musings on how difficult is must be to run a restaurant with a big menu – how do you know how much of what to buy? How do you know whether everything is still fresh? How do you decide what to order and how sad are you when the other people are eating something tastier? all this makes me warm and fuzzy at the thought of a single, set menu, which is what The Table does. REALLY WELL.

Their system is thus: only open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Devise a mouth-watering menu and publish it on your website a week in advance. Take advance bookings and require a 50% upfront deposit (to discourage last minute cancellations).  When people arrive, feed them wonderful, food served on big help-yourself-there’s-more-in-the-kitchen platters from which the whole table dishes up and stuffs themselves. all ingredients are fresh, locally sourced and everything seems to be made in-house, down to the marmalade and the bread. And for drinking, all the De Meye wines are available at a tiny mark up from cellar prices – lovely and very reasonable.

We booked for Saturday 28 July and turned out to be the only guests there (which seems an unusual thing and appears correlated to the rugbies or whatever sport seems to be happening right now) (in fact it seems that for the next 2 weeks they are not open on Saturday to account for this). We loved being there by ourselves though. The place is beautiful, and the weather was perfect, chill in the air but sunny and bright. Our menu was wonderful – have a look – I absolutely stuffed myself and we didn’t manage to finish everything. It was rich, warm, fresh and delicious winter food. I loved the pork belly and the duck pate, but ended up stuffed on carrots, cabbage and marmalade, they were so good.

After main course, we went for a walk waddle around to create the requisite space for the chocolate cake. We basked in the sun and generally fell about until they asked if we wanted some blankets, and proceeded to serve us desert on the lawn under the trees in sheer bucolic trance. I felt like I was in a Hollywood Indian Summer montage, complete with lens-flares and overexposure. Oh, and the cake was good too.

Heaven. Please go there. Lots.

keenwa

Keenwa Review

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.

Starters

I had the Ceviche Keenwa [1], Jo and Eckhard both had papa a la huancaina con anticuchos [2], and Jess had the trio de causas [3]. 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.

Mains

I had the Tacu tacu [1], Eckhard had the Lomo Saltado [2], Jess the Adi de gallina [3], and Jo the tallarin con salsa huancaina [4].

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.

Desserts

Eckhard and I both had Picarones [1], Jo had the Alfajores [2].

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!

In conclusion, Your Honour

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):

mr chan sign

Mr. Chan Review

photo by stvOh, dear, I keep forgetting to write this review. Not, I hasten to add, because it was a bad experience, but because I’m busy and disorganised, and possibly because a surfeit of duck is detrimental to the will. My choice was Mr. Chan in Sea Point, which was recommended to us by friends, who also waved under my nose the seductive possibility of crispy duck with pancakes, one of my favourite things in the multiverse. It would, I thought, also be an interesting comparison to Jewel Tavern, which is our favourite Chinese hang-out. In the event, Jewel Tavern still has it in the “favourite Chinese food” stakes, but I also don’t think it was an entirely fair comparison.

Mr. Chan has an air and ambience that just nicely balances on the edge of clean/plastic/cheery and warm/idiosyncratic/comfortable. It’s open and light, and some of the notes in the decor – the glittery Eastern-style cherubs on the walls, for example – are amusing. It’s also clearly more successful than Jewel Tavern simply in terms of number of tables filled – not all by a long chalk, it’s a big restaurant, but enough to be reassuring. As we arrived a giant drove of Chinese people were leaving, which suggests that it also passes the test of good ethnic cuisine, i.e. actual people of that culture eat there.

We did the usual thing with starters, which is for everyone to order one which we subsequently share, necessitating a certain amount of bargain and negotiation. Lots of crispy and seafood-flavoured things on the menu; the spring rolls were good, not exceptional – a bit pedestrian, perhaps; the prawn rolls were excellent, the chilli squid and crispy ribs were likewise delectable. A good batch of starters, all in all. But no dim sum buns or dumplings on the menu. Woe. I am fast developing an inelegant fondness for same.

photo by stvThe reason I don’t think we enabled a fair comparison with Jewel Tavern is because I’d pre-ordered the whole crispy duck with pancakes, which is in itself a giant meal and which precluded us trying a wider range of dishes. The duck was wonderful; they bring the whole thing out and dismember it for you, and in a most civilised fashion give you a plate of shredded meat and another plate of bones and bits that Jo and Eckie and I waded into while Stv, who doesn’t like to get his fingers greasy, laughed at us. It was rich and tasty and the skin was properly crispy; they’re very generous with their giant piles of pancakes, and the usual trimmings (spring onion and cucumber shreds, plum sauce) were plentiful and good. We ended up extremely full.

It was a good meal; it wasn’t, though, to my mind an exceptional meal. My overall feeling was that Jewel Tavern’s flavours were more interesting, although, as I say, we didn’t have a chance to compare main courses outside the duck experience. I am also now able to say with authority that I prefer Jewel Tavern’s szechuan crispy duck, which has the breading on the outside, to the non-breaded version. It was, however, a good meal and a pleasant evening, and I would not be at all averse to returning for a non-duck run at their main courses.

On the Jo scale:

photo by stv

Carne Review

photo by stv 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.”

photo by stvThe 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.

photo by stvMains, 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.

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La Boheme Review

Gah. Our visit to La Boheme is receding in the rear-view mirror, with no review to show for it. Bad Salty-Crackerer, no biscuit.

I chose La Boheme because I was looking for that Bistro vibe – friendly, bustling, tasty, generous. La Boheme is all that, and, should I forget to actually say that, heartily recommended: Go There. Eat Things. It will Be Good.

The long time that’s passed in some ways helps bring into focus what stood out the most: the staff. Service with an attitude, a big mouth, a sense of humour and a firm set of opinions. Service with enough chutzpah to keep us with the rowdy cracker bunch, and give us a run for our money. This does not mean it was perfect – I vaguely recall moments when we would have liked to get the waitress to our table but could not find her – but given the large personality and great investment in our meal that we got the rest of the time, this was totally forgiveable.

Another stand out was the wine – it’s a wine bar, so after some deliberation we left our own wines in the car (wine-bars sometimes get a bit huffy about bringing your own). I remember the wine list being large but navigable, and struck on the Satyricon from La Vierge on the grounds that it sounded cool. It’s an extremely lovely blend of strange foreign grapes with a naughty label, and when we got home we phoned our local wine store and bought a case of it, that’s how good it was. It’s drinking extremely well right now, and now, and again just now.

The food is a mixture of tapas, starters and mains, and I believe there was some sort of special combo deal that we probably ignored as usual. The menu is chalkboard and apparently changes often; here is a snap of what we were faced with:

We had the tapas for starters: the chorizo in red wine, the white anchovies, gnocci with roasted tomatos and the honey-glazed little ribs. All absolutely mouth-wateringly good, with the white anchovies (milder than the little black ones, and bigger, lovely flavour) and the gnocci the stand outs. Everything was fresh, rich, and beautifully balanced, excellent start to the meal.

We followed up with mains – unfortunately, these came from a third blackboard (yes, there were more blackboards!) which we got no pic of and which, curse the passage of time and the death of little braincells, I do not remember very much of. I know I had the duck: done in an Asian vibe, with fine noodles and a sweet sauce. It was nice, but I do recall being terribly jealous of everyone else’s food, so there it is: everything else was BETTER than Asian duck. Nums. The portions were extremely generous, it must be noted, and we really felt that we got excellent value for money.

Last note on the atmosphere: La Boheme and Bruxia have essentially merged into what is quite a large restaurant, and on a Friday it hustles and bustles and can get a tad loud. Let’s say the cracker team in full guaffing swing was not stared at by other diners trying to have a quiet meal – quite the reverse, at times. The concensus around the table was “loudish, but not in a bad way” as I recall.

OK, drum roll:

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Thai World Review

I was looking for a homely, family, Mom ‘n’ Pop sort of place, and Thai World did not disappoint.
(There’s a whole thing about how my choosing was a trauma-laden-ridden-filled thingy, but that’s another story)

The inside is quite charming. You quite clearly get the feeling of English husband and Thai wife: he runs the bar in the front room and she runs the kitchen of nummy food (although my familiarity with the cross-cultural set-up may be tinting my glasses on this one.).
There were bits and bobs of Thai ele- and paraphanelia on the walls and tables that add an air of more Thia-ness to the place: I approve!

The food was really good, but not knock my socks off amazing. Tastes and flavours were, to my buds, quite authentic. Tastiness always trumps authenticity, but it’s nice to have both.
The portions sizes, of the main courses especially, were very generous.

As you may expect from a Thai meal, the sauces were excellent.  A great mix of flavours and strength.
Winning dish for the table was the Duck Red Curry (Kaeng Phed Ped Yang on their menu). It was, pardon my language, amazeballs. Jo became somewhat obsessed over the course of the meal with deconstructing the ingredients and preparation method (“Why is my curry not this good?” was the cry. Fret not, your curries are also amazeballs! Um… That felt weird to say.). (Upon more sober reflection, it was (sort of) decided that the WIN was at least partially due to Duck Fat ™)


(Note to self, must take CrackPicting more seriously!)

My only complaint was the speed of the service: a little bit too slow to be called leisurely. We got the impression that a lot of the other clientèle were regulars, and the fact that they were in and out while we were still there gave the impression that they were being favoured over us a bit. To be fair to them, the lady owner did say that our mains took a while longer because of the steamed fish. To be fair to us, if we’d have been told that we would’ve asked stuff to be brought out as it was ready. Not a train smash, but something to bear in mind.

So, these score thingies of which you speak…
(I’m trying to score more harshly than the other Crackstefarians: 5 means average. 10 means OMGBBQ. 1 means killmenow.)

photo by stv

Fork Review

photo by stvI 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.

photo by stv
Pork belly in a mustard and parsley crust
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.

photo by stvI 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.

photo by stv
Kudu on a chilli potato mash
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:

Bistro 1682

Due to a scheduling car-wreck, I ended up with a lunch slot for the August Cracker (it was that or have August Cracker in mid September…). Bistro 1682, where I have only been for breakfast until then, is not open for dinner, so it was the perfect opportunity and there we went.

Bistro 1682 is a beautiful beautiful place, all modern and tall and shiny and splendid. The glass-fruit chandelier in the bar and the awesome “alien creatures grazing” statues on the grounds of the Steenberg estate are notable standouts. It was a sunny day but just a smidgen too cold to actually sit outside, which is a pity as they have great outside – shallow pools and geometry.

Their winelist is quite reasonable is you stick to their own stuff, so we had sparkles to start (as we meant to carry on). The menu is a mix of fine cuisine and lunchtime favourites (the steak roll with fries next to veal sous vide, that sort of thing. Starters I remember in this time-delayed review are Eckhart’s beef tataki, the white risotto, and the fish brandade. The tatake is kind of a signature dish – when they took part in Taste of Cape Town, the recipe was published in a magazine and I have it cut out at home. It is fantastic. I chose the risotto which was delicate but did not quite hit the spot – the trouble was tasting everyone else’s meal and spoiling my palette, I suspect! Jess and Stv had the fish brandade which they enjoyed, as I recall.

I chose the veal sous vide from the impossible menu – so many options, all sounding too good. It was probably the weakest choice. Jess’s pork belly with asian, sweet and sour flavours was brilliant and unusual, Eckie’s steak and chip roll looked divine. Steve’s charcuterie was impressive but the flavours weren’t quite different enough and the truffle sauce had a slightly odd texture, like cold mashed potato.

Either their portions are small (but they really are not) or because it was lunchtime and we stretched the meal out more, we all, for a change, had desert. There was something with a chocolate nemesis and cherry jelly, and another with toffee themed things (that was mine). I found the deserts a little too bitty and nouveau – too many tiny portions of various flavours, rather than an indulgent composition in itself. But desert, so not my thing.

The service was lovely – a waiter with a sense of humour, always good. They did forget to make Steve’s charcuterie which was a problem  it took only 5 minutes to prepare but that’s 5 minutes of him sitting hungry while our food arrived (no, we didn’t wait… we did feed him though!).

Nanobots: 111!!!!eleven/10

Knife

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:

Xiang Yuan Review

Most of my ongoing missions in life involve food. This pleases me.
One of them is to find good Dim Sum places in Cape Town.
My current winner is U-Seng in Table View (which is another story in itself), but Xiang Yuan provides a good local alternative.

The decor inside is that classic “basic but clean” look. Slightly skanky lookin’, to be honest. I have a particular penchant for places that have good food but very simple decor (such as Jewel Tavern when it was in the docks). The other Crackernauts tend to err more of the side of posh, which only encourages me to bring the skank back in. It enhances that “hidden gem” feeling for me.

We often like to get recommendations, and the staff at Xiang Yuan were friendly, helpful, and made excellent suggestions. Alas, it has been a few weeks since we were there, and my memory of individual dishes has faded. We had a mix of Dim Sum from their big and varied menu, and added the much-loved duck and pancakes combo to the table. Everything was excellent, and the prices were good (and very reasonable compared to big names like Simply Asia or Tong Lok).

Atmosphere: 4 / 10 (Not great. TV on in an unavoidable place. Lights kinda bright.)
Staff: 7 / 10 (Friendly, slightly surprised, very helpful with the recommendations.)
Service: 6 / 10 (Good, but not great. Solid, but not shining.)
Food: 7 / 10 (Good Dim Sum (wide selection, all tasty), excellent duck.)
Value for money: 8 / 10 (Competitively priced)