IT’S the deepest irony of our time that giving has become taking. Humanknd’s most gracious trait, the ability to give without expecting something in return, without having an agenda, without there being a catch that will somehow end up benefiting the giver more than the one gifted, has become a thing so rare that when you occasionally see it your breath is taken away.
SEQUELS are bad clones of an original movie, with few exceptions. As a general rule of thumb, if a film title is followed by a “2” and a “:”, like Babe 2: You’re Bacon, run a mile. Which is what most sensible Americans did this week on hearing that two film companies want to make a sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life, the 1946 Frank Capra classic that’s been a Christmas season favourite ever since.
Veal, veal, veal, at the risk of being as offensive as Basil Fawlty was to his German guests in an episode of Fawlty Towers, quite by chance the subject of this week’s column turns out to be a veally, veally good one. But not everyone will share my joy in cooking slivers of the controversial meat.
IF SPICES were cars, vanilla would be a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air with off-white hubcaps, rare yet funky, stylish but not flash. Vanilla doesn’t need to take life too seriously. It’s there for the ice cream at the beach, the woodiness in the wine. Vanilla parks with a view of the ocean, listens to the flap of the gull’s wing, watches dozily as the surfer glides home.
I was given a charming little book about apples by the redoubtable Brian Berkman, he of the formerly impressive girth who now is hard to spot in a can of sardines. Fortunately there is still enough of him left to market certain covetable foodlike things, and numbered among these is the apples put out there by Tru-Cape, whose Buks Nel and Henk Griessel have come up with an informative little tome full of quirky facts.
THERE are always too many, always more than you need or the recipe calls for. A cucumber is always too long for the salad you’re making, and the leftover half more often than not will be left in the crisper just long enough to turn it to jelly. There will always be a few baby roma tomatoes left in the punnet, of which three, when you retrieve them a few days later to fling them in a stew, will have turned furry, so that you fling them out instead of in the pot.
Tuesday was fish and chips day, and I looked forward to supper from the moment I woke up. The days were long and hot in Oranjemund, and sandy if there was wind, the Namib desert never far. Our house was on one corner of the town, the only buildings beyond there being the hydroponics, where a scrawny man grew vegetables in strange watery circumstances, and the cemetery where my big brother Phillip was buried. We went there once a month to stand silently and remember.
It’s one of the first choices you have to make as a growing boy – are you a leg or a breast man? It’s a pity to have to choose, I always thought. Can’t you have the best of both worlds? Do we have to grow up to be so dull that you can either have one or the other, but God help you if you fancy both? And what about the thigh? Does it have to be the entire leg? What if you have a penchant for a nicely turned thigh but couldn’t be bothered with the scrawny lower leg? I mean, face it, there’s not much to recommend the calf, is there? Not much meat on it, nothing to get a grip on.
All of a sudden one day, a few years ago, I woke up like Rumpelstiltskin and looked around to discover that, while I had been sleeping, the world has been transmogrified from a grown-up environment in which grown-ups behaved like grown-ups – give or take – into some strange parallel universe in which the adults were, with worryingly few exceptions, spending half their lives in the kitchen making cupcakes and giving them extravagant toppings.
Slavery belongs in another time. America finally got around to it in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln ordered the emancipation of slaves in Confederate states. Hard to believe, that; 1863 is just the other day on the canvass of history. Just 150 years. That’s three Johnny Depp lives since Lincoln abolished slavery. He’s just turned 50 by the way (I know, I fell over too). On a backdrop of eternity, 150 years would disappear into a black hole sooner than you could say “My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” (Johny Depp said that.)
I know how he felt. Whenever I am in France, and pass a patisserie shop window, I cannot walk by. I stop and stare, transfixed, at the beautiful things inside. You want to have them all, eat them all, just die right there on the spot. But that would be just silly, so you gather all your strength, and walk on.
In the kitchen, pink is what you want in your lamb or beef, not pork or chicken. Pink is what you get if you include beetroot in a pan of vegetables and roast them. Everything else from the potatoes and onions to the carrots and courgettes will have turned a luscious crimson. It’s a worthwhile effect, and needs no fake food colouring.
St George’s Cathedral is the heartbeat of Cape Town. That it represents a particular religion and a particular denomination is beside the point. No matter who we are and what we believe, the cathedral stands there for us all, thanks more than anything else to that man I still want to hug while we still [...]
In the chill of a Yorkshire winter in what was then the West Riding of that large northern English county, where Cathy called for Heathcliff in whipping winds on grim moors, the pretty girl with wide-set cornflower blue eyes would have to hold her hand out to be stuck repeatedly with the back of a hairbrush when the orphanage carers – for want, perhaps, of another word – would deem some wrong to have been done.
If I were the owner of a genuine steakhouse, that well-seasoned beast in which generations of South Africans have grown up, what this tells me is that none of the old-style steakhouses is likely to win one of these gongs if these big boys are allowed in the competition. The bar is set way too high for most of them, so doesn’t that defeat the object?
The Mount Nelson is more than okay… it’s the grandest of all South African hotels, is steeped in colonial history and since it opened its doors in 1899, when a young Winston Churchill was among its first guests, the grand old Pink Lady near the upper end of the Company’s Garden in Cape Town has played host to the world’s rich and famous. ‘The Nellie’ is also where you get the most splendid High tea. Sliver went along to find out what it’s all about.
A banger is a clapped-out, stutter-start old car that knows the next stop is the breakers. A banger is an old rocker, a wizened Keith Richards who can’t see his fans any more but can still find his guitar chords. A banger is a heady cocktail of vodka, Galliano and orange juice, with a maraschino garnish to fool you into believing that a Harvey Wallbanger doesn’t pack a kick.
In the newsroom there is a tradition, as in many workplaces, of the birthday boy or girl bringing in cake. And when my birthday comes around and I plonk down a couple of shop-bought melkterts and carrot cakes, they always ask, “Did you make those?” And I have to slink away with an “um, no, sorry” and make a vow to myself to do so next year.
There would be no fly-by-nights here, and no flavour-of-the-month places that may well not be there by the end of the year. You can never be entirely sure, but if you follow your hunches and know your terrain, you have a reasonable shot at being right. (Visit www.sliver.co.za/?p=2125 for more about who won and how Sliver’s Silvers work.)
I’ve learnt to trust the butcher. Look, the guy has a big, long knife. He knows how to sharpen it, and how to use it. He still has both his hands and all his fingers, which is evidence of his skill and accuracy with the blade. Ergo, never trust a butcher who is missing a finger. Or a hand.
There was a splendid lunch awaiting us at Vergelegen’s new Camphors restaurant, where PJ Vadas, formerly of a very impressive stint at the Roundhouse in the Glen, overlooking Camps Bay, is now ensconced. It is quite clear that by hiring this award-winning chef, Vergelegen intends taking Camphors to the top.
Tony Jackman has announced the first edition of Sliver’s Silvers, bespoke awards for the restaurant industry in Cape Town and the Winelands. The awards were given on Monday March 25, 2013, at an exclusive gourmet lunch at The Conservatory at the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Constantia, where Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef Peter Tempelhoff led a [...]
If I had R10 for every time a well-meaning friend has remarked, “I see Tony’s feeding the army again”, my bank manager wouldn’t be the dribbling wreck she has become. She might even be able to afford a lotion to salve her scalp in an effort to get the patches of hair to grow back that she has pulled out in nervous fits.
When my Karoo friend Elaine Hurford posted a Facebook status about how watermelon pips were the Next Big Thing in food, darlings, alarm bells went off everywhere, in my head, in the lounge, in the washing machine (actually, that might have been the end of the cycle), in the garden, in the street outside.
Rainbow trout, which the Edwardians introduced to South Africa from the northern Pacific about a century ago, is the most beautiful fish, pearly on the outside, sensuously slinky to the touch – it will fly out of your hands of its own accord while you’re washing it under cold running water – and, when you slice into it once it’s cooked, offers you beautifully saffron-tinged flesh that is wonderful to eat.
I enjoy single-malt whisky as much as I don’t enjoy being pushed off the road, and I am prepared to attempt to drink BMW drivers under the counter any day, just as long as it is on their tab. Having said that, obviously I would be ineligible to drink in the hallowed portals of a Beamer Lodge.
Christmas, and then the detritus. Tawdry baubles suddenly looking out of place. Tinsel seeming much tattier than it did yesterday. The tree denuded, a parody of its formerly shiny, glittering self, like a party belle waking next morning with dishevelled ballgown and smudged mascara.
The future of South Africa’s restaurant industry is in safe hands, as Cape Town gourmand-about-town Aubrey Ngcungama informed his Facebook legions during a sunny lunch at the Granger Bay Hotel School Restaurant the other day. It sure is.
ANNOUNCING the first annual Sliver’s Silvers – awards for great restaurants and great food in Cape Town and the Winelands, to be given by www.sliver.co.za. Coming early in the New Year – and featuring some very exciting innovative award designs. More to be revealed in due course.
The humble hamburger is to everyday food what the Volkswagen Beetle is to the motor industry: an old standby that never was all that exciting to begin with but which has become a beloved staple because of its perseverance, its pluck, and in the way that it stands in its own space in its own way, and refuses to die.
This is not just any meal, but six fine courses of the food of the man who in my opinion is the finest chef working at the Cape at the moment. Peter Tempelhoff can put as much flavour in one tiny sliver of food as some chefs cannot quite manage to get in an entire hog on the spit. His modest, softspoken demeanour belies a skill that few chefs possess, even at this level, and quite frankly it was the Dom Pérignon that was having to hold up to the excellence of almost every morsel that was sent out.
This is a Christmas dinner party menu for that’s quick and affordable. I made the starter, a paté, in 25 minutes. The main course is a simple roast that’s been tarted up a little with a shiny coat. And the dessert is a cheat, plain and simple: store-bought vanilla ice-cream that’s been given a cheeky Christmassy lift – and it really does taste like a traditional mince pie. That took five minutes, not including the shopping.
The publishers of the Eat Out magazine have built the title and brand superbly for very many years, and have given us to believe that their awards represent the country, and therefore represent us. Unless they want to risk losing some of that hard-won success and brand recognition, they might want to reconsider a few things.
Laurent and Cyrillia Deslandes have moved Bizerca uptown to Heritage Square, where their premises include the wind-protected courtyard at the square’s heart, and the masterstroke is that, while settling into the new space and giving it their own understated style, they also added something akin to placing a striking centrepriece on a dinner table to provide a talking point: an entire wall of the restaurant interior has been turned into a vertical herb garden.
Fynbos gin is a speck of southern Cape antiquity in a glass. Add it to a homemade syrup and fruit to make a sorbet, and you have in that sweet temptress of a dessert or palate-cleanser a tiny homage to hundreds of generations of humankind and the terrain they roamed, lived on and fed from as long as 100 000 years ago.
We often tend to take the basic ingredients of what we imagine to be an ethnic cuisine, give it a label and add it to our repertoire.Tomatoes, garlic, oregano? Italian. Same trio but add lemon? Greek. Take away the lemon and replace it with anchovy? Provencal.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, after decades of research and years of trials, the manufacturers of whites, blacks, coloureds, coconuts, Indians, plurals, tricamerals, old-style liberals, diehard Nats, Oranians, black diamonds — basically of anyone you know or have ever known — have invented a whole new race which, with immediate effect, replaces all races that have gone before, rendering them null and void.
Should anybody under 25 be reading this, here is the lesson you should of been taught at school, using the title’ve a famous song from My Fair Lady, which as you know came out a year or so before that other great musical, The Sound Have Music.
Pork is the chicken of red meat. Like a blank canvass waiting only for the masterly ministrations of an adept chef, it shares with chicken that ability to take on all manner of flavours, from lemon, fresh herbs, honey or mustard to eastern ingredients from soy to rice wine, star anise to cardamom.
We traversed the entire country, and always the night stop, my sister and I each in our own hotel bedrooms, hearing the dinner gong as a man in a uniform wandered up and down the corridors tinkling a xylophone. I’d have to wear a white shirt, tie and jacket and we’d go down for the first sitting, soup – consommé, cream of tomato or celery – then poached fish with sauce, and more ofen than not roast leg of lamb or beef with three veg and gravy.
It was a “safari” because there were four young winemakers, each of whom had brought along a wine to show off, tell us about and share with us, all the while being matched to a particular dish by executive chef Roland Gorgosilich and his highly skilled team. In effect, we all stayed put at our tables, while four winemakers moved from table to table with each course.
Kudu should be everywhere. As should springbok. The meat of these two magnificent wild beasts is superb to eat, low in fat, high in protein and tender. Both meats take to sweetness and spice, and can stand up to pungent flavours such as a good, stinky blue cheese of the kind that is quite liable to crawl on to the plate of its own accord if you’ve left it to mature for long enough.
Here’s a thought. The debate about whether Heritage Day in South Africa should be called Heritage Day or Braai Day is easily resolved. Let’s just call it National Braai Heritage Day, and all boxes are ticked, and sommer make Jan Braai president for a day while we’re about it.
Animals, says South Africa’s reigning braai guru, Jan Braai, eat grass, leaves and vegetables which they then convert to meat. Now this is a tremendously wise saw, and makes perfect sense. To take this wisdom to its logical conclusion, then, one must urge all vegetarians to adopt a meat diet at once to ensure that they get all that wonderful vegetable nutrition.
The thing about beech-smoked pork loin is that it has a decidedly bacony flavour, if not texture. The texture of the flesh is nothing at all like bacon, and also is not much like a slow-roasted slab of pork belly, which it closely resembles. But it has far less fat than an equivalent sized piece of pork belly, and with the subtle smoking it attains a flavour more reminiscent of your end-of-year hunk of Christmas gammon than it does anything else.
At such gatherings inevitably there will be somebody who insists that a curry should never be salted, and I generally shut up and leave them to drone on about it, while being tempted to say, “Why don’t you just taste the curry you’ve made and your palate will give you the answer?”
There are still millions of people who continue to call sparkling wine Champagne because they really couldn’t be bothered about a silly rule imposed by the Alcoholic Word Police. What are they going to do, arrest them? And who could police it anyway? Shall we tell our already overworked police, “Sersant, just drop that murder you’re rushing to, we’ve got a serious case at a party in Sea Point of a lady offering her guests Champagne when quite clearly what she is pouring for them is South African sparkling wine, and that’s not all – it’s not even a methode Cap Classique, it’s cheap s***. Bring her in.”
Durban has an electric sense of something about to happen. It’s like that feeling in the air before a tropical storm breaks. You can sense it coming, Your forearms tingle. Your back tenses. Your senses sharpen. Come on, admit it: when last did you feel like that in Cape Town?
There’s a white gown and silly white towelling slippers in the locker. I change into them, feeling as foolish as an Earthling who has strolled into an experimental chamber on Battlestar Gallactica by mistake. One wrong move and humanoids will come in, tie me up and inject me with something luminous green that turns me into jelly. I am very grumpy and ready to run.
If your traditional English breakfast comprises two rashers of lean bacon, grilled to drain away the fat, a grilled sausage, a halved tomato cooked in a little olive oil and two poached eggs, how unhealthy is that really? No sugar anywhere in sight, for one thing. So, next time I sit down tobreakfast at the Wimply I’m going to demand the health breakfast, and only two rashers of bacon please, eggs sunny-side up.
It’s called Café Dijon, and you may know the Stellenbosch original. That one is gone, owners Johan (Dup) and Sarah du Plessis (Sarah being in the kitchen while Dup charms you front-of-house) having decided to move business, but not house. So, madly, insanely, they are still living in the Boland and commuting every day and night to their new premises in the (dare I say it) trendiest part of Cape Town.
My search for the best in curries in a country that has very many Indian restaurants but far too few worth writing home about had finally found a place that seriously pressed all the right buttons, even the button that says ‘more please’ because this is the kind of buffet where you can well and truly stuff yourself.
There’s a vivacious, buxom Latina in your glass of pinot noir at Haute Cabriere, and she’ll entice you with fine morsels and tempt you to indulge enough to let your hair down and languish there until you are replete with wine, food and life. That is what Achim von Arnim, owner of all things Cabriere, including the farm and winery, the Pierre Jourdan label and its derivatives and this wonderful restaurant, is all about.
Cabbage is the spotty kid who sits in the corner at the back of the class and waits for the bell to ring, then dawdles out of class slinking into the shadows in the hope that the bullies-in-chief won’t shove his head in the sandpit again.
Cabbage is the quietly talented kid who composes songs in his head but never sings them, knowing – or scared – that if he does, all the other kids will laugh and teacher will frown the frown that says, “That kid write songs? Never.”
Cabbage is the kid who dreads the day in school when you all have to stand up, one by one, and walk to the front of the class to give an oral. Facing the class is the worst thing for Cabbage Kid. They stare at you willing you to mess up, so you do. You compose a clever speech in your head but the brain doesn’t send the right speech to your vocal chords and the one that comes out is some jumbled nonsense verse that you don’t even recognise yourself.
If cabbage were an athlete, it would be the one trailing at the back while the leeks, the broccoli, the organic mangetout and especially the carrots – always, always the carrots – streak ahead and across the finishing line. Cabbage just doesn’t believe in itself. And when you don’t have self-belief, you founder. The rocks call you like wreckers on the Cornish coast flashing their evil lights at night to lure you to the shore. It’s pretty dire to be a cabbage.
Flaky people tend to be more intelligent than the rest. There’s all this stuff going on in your head, all of that creativity jangling together like Tubular Bells. And no one does flake better than the Brits. Okay, maybe the French. Almost. But add a good dollop of eccentricity to a Brit and you have the makings of entertainment drawn in broad, dayglo strokes.
Instead of having Rijk do a jack-in-a-box act and hate every minute of the evening, the speeches were succinct and despatched with while having aperitifs in the foyer before we filed in to the hotel’s The Square restaurant to dine. Thereafter, the only time you heard Rijk’s thoughts on any of his wines, and how they matched the five courses, was when you stopped at his table, or he at yours, for some one-on-one reflections on wine, food and life.
Anyone who writes about food and cooks the occasional beef fillet or writes about ordering one in a restaurant will have encountered this conundrum. You say, aloud, a sentence containing the word fillet, pronouncing it “fill it”, and sure as a downpour follows a warm, clear Cape winter’s day, someone within earshot will pipe up and “correct” you.
This is not the side of food column writing that you normally get to see. You probably imagine it to be all fine dinner parties and genteel patter while cool music wafts in the air and things gently simmer and bubble in gorgeous little pots and the expectant hordes drool imperceptibly into their bibs at the sheer wonder of the impeccable repast shortly to be set before them.
Pickled as French farmers are much of the time, this is understandable. If you are French, it is your duty to make sure that there is at least a glass or two of red wine in you at all times, to ensure that you live a long life and keep the possibility of a heart attack at bay. Or that’s your story anyway.
It’s all Alice’s fault, apparently, or maybe Humpty Dumpty’s. More correctly, we can blame Lewis Carroll, who in Through The Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (150 years ago, in 1872) invented the notion of a portmanteau, which in recent years has sprung into fashionability with the hybridisation of the names of Hollywood stars.
It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that macaroni cheese is popular among Country & Western songwriters. It’s just the thing after a night on stage pouring your heart out to your foot-stompin’, hair-tuggin’, breast-beatin’ fans about how your wife ran off with the handsome cowboy from the neighbouring ranch, the dog died of a broken heart (country singers’ dogs do that if they haven’t already fled to the neighbouring county to get away from all the goddamn caterwauling), or the lowlife yeller bastard you married left you for some tight-jeans-wearin’, over-mascara’d cow(girl) he met at the hoedown.
Woolies recently seemed to take a flyer and stock up on chunky tubs of duck fat, something that I have occasionally asked for over the past couple of years, always to be met with a puzzled frown, as if to say, “Why the hell would anybody want to buy that?”
Winter in Cape Town. Grey. Dank. Soggy ground under your boots. Endless ceiling of thunderous clouds overhead. Stack of umbrellas in a basket at the front door, half of them broken from over-use. Temperatures constantly around 10degrees. On a good day. Right? Have another look at the main picture. I took it in mid-June. In Cape Town.
Nobody could ever forget the day of the great Purple Rain when everyone – parsnips, carrots, cabbages, pears, grapes, even potatoes – was sprayed purple by the water cannon of the aparsnipheid pigs. A great expiation happened as understanding seeped into the national vegetable psyche. We are all one. Even parsnips.
Isn’t life strange? You wait forever for your favourite bands and singers to visit South Africa – and they do. Only they wait 50 years before getting around to it and when they finally get here they’re utterly overshadowed by somebody called Lady Gaga, who (you are told) clads herself in meat and whose only redeeming feature seems to be that she is not Justin Bieber.
Other than Alex, who was elegantly turned out in pink and blue and yellow and oh, I could go on and on, it was easy to tell which ones were the wine judges. They all had teeth stained with the red-black detritis of a thousand wines. It was like being at the closing night dinner of a vampire convention. You flinched if one of them came near.
Halfway through the special winter menu at Haiku, that sizzling hot central Cape Town venue where they serve Asian ‘tapas’ from five mini kitchens, each with specialist chefs, a Chinese master of his craft called Xie Shucong steps out. He has in his hands a large clump of pastry. It has a sheen that you could use to check your hair or adjust your tie, and after pouring a little oil onto a table surface that he has just cleaned, he sets about kneading and stretching the dough, occasionally flicking alkaline water or oil onto it, alternating with flour. It looks like a hell of a workout.
It’s not only that it starts some time in August and slowly builds up a head of steam until it all but mows you down with its cargo of baubles and tinsel and carols and turkey with all the trimmings, all marinating in mulled wine and eggnog. It’s more than that. It takes over theBritish Isles as surely as if it had been conquered by a white-bearded Laplandish dictator in a red and white suit with an army of wild-eyed elves.
There’s this thing that has happened, this rule that has somehow been applied to our cooking and eating lives. Perhaps it was decreed by the Food Police or, more likely, the bejangled Jezebels of Posh Galore, who reign over our culinary lives, chivvying us to eat the thing on the cover of that month’s issue and chiding us when we err and eat spaghetti Bolognese or prawns Marie Rose.
The tomato has been said to be just one chromosome removed from the human being. (I know – I also know some people like that.) This must be very worrying for tomatoes. Looking at the human world around them, they must marvel that they are almost capable (but for a solitary chromosome) of the kind of evils their human cousins are able to indulge in.
As if all that wasn’t enough hard work, you’ve still got to make your sauce Marchand de Vin. I know it’s easier to buy a ready-made sauce at Pick n Pay, Daisy, but this is the stuff of the great French sauces and this amount of effort is a pretty good illustration of why it’s worth saving up to go to a seriously fine restaurant once in a while, and why chefs at that level make such exquisite sauces.
But perhaps the most unique fish of all when it comes to distinctive flavour is salmon. That extraordinary saffron colour is a thing of beauty in its own right, but find a good piece of Norwegian or Scottish salmon and you have one of the finest fishes you can put on a plate. There’s something of the richness and oomph of Beluga caviare about that intense blast of flavour, and yet it can, for all its taste intensity, take a surprisingly subtle sauce by way of accompaniment.
If Camps Bay is diamante and faux fur, Constantia is engraved antique silver and the mink stole gran left you. How to hybridise this odd couple? When you’re as rich and ambitious as Paul Kovensky, you take a 30-year lease on one of the oldest properties in that lush stretch of vineyard and manure, you send in Stefan Antoni interiors to add some faux glitz to the old gilt-framed grandeur, and you sit back to see what the well-heeled Mr and Mrs Constantia make of it all.
Here is a local fishing community, a few dozen houses occupied by families who have been climbing into little boats for generations and disappearing over the horizon, to return at the end of the day with the freshest catch possible. Red roman, yellowtail, kabeljou (cob), Cape salmon (geelbek), musselcracker. All of these fish ply these waters, and they are superb eating fish. And in order to get their catch onto dinner plates in Arniston, they had to open their own restaurant in order to do so.
Ribbetjies. Spare ribs. They’re as manly as food can get. If they were human, they’d be packed with testosterone and as sexist as a bible-thumping Utah polygamist. If ribbetjies had arms and legs, they’d be as muscled as the guy on the cover of Men’s Health, and ripple like a discus thrower at the Olympics whose girlfriend is in the crowd. If ribbetjies could talk, they’d sound like Russell Crowe after a night of drinking neat Jack followed by a good round of throwing things at photographers.
I had ordered perch from the dinner menu without a clue as to what it was like and I was astonished to be presented with a plate of what must have been 20 or so of the little critters, flour-dipped and panfried in butter and then served with parsley and lemon. Crisp, soft and wonderful, they remain one of the most memorable yet simple fish dishes I’ve tasted anywhere.
This is something that Gautengers do not seem able to understand. To many from north of the mighty Vaal, where weather is presumed to be as regular as the daily afternoon thunderstorm, there are thought to be two Cape seasons – one constantly windy, the other constantly wet.
Offal is such an ironic food, if you think about it. It’s the cheapest red meat going, to be found at the bargain bin end of the supermarket or butchery fridge. It’s eaten by the poorest people of the world, and often thought of as “peasant” food, not that we would apply the term in South Africa, although they would and do in France.
RICHARD Carstens is looking very much as though he is on top of his game – on top of the world, in fact. The world’s view from his lair in the mountains above Stellenbosch stretches all the way to False Bay and Table Mountain, but his cuisine journeys far more widely than that, with influences that stretch as far afield as the eyries of culinary genuises like Ferran Adria and Heston Blenthal – who was so delightly misnamed by a contestant in an episode of Come Dine With me as ‘Blumen Heseltine”.
There’s something about a T-bone. (The meat-shy might like to look away at this point.) It’s a quartet of things. The T-shaped bone gives the meat attached to it more flavour. The layer of fat, which must be left on so that the meat near it can absorb its tenderising essences.
I would sooner leap off a cliff backwards singing Climb Every Mountain than lie under a car in Table View on a Saturday afternoon with a rugby commentary plugged into my ears, a spanner in my hand and the knowledge that if the jack dislodges itself, my beer boep will keep the car up. I have more understanding of cooking, because it makes more sense to me, techno-challenged as I am.
By the time I had popped the potatoes into the oven it was too late to go out again and buy more cream, as our guests were about to arrive, so I checked my ingredients and decided I’d have to make a sauce using only butter, sugar, chocolate and Kahlua, that dreamy coffee liqueur that everyone was drinking in the Eighties and which became the second choice for an Irish coffee if you ran out of whisky. And that, if you’re old (or sober) enough to remember, was just before everyone took to drinking Sambucca as if it were an alcoholic’s mother’s milk, but you really don’t want to know about the time a friend and I devoured an entire bottle of it in a series of flaming Sambucca shot dares.
Now Robin and Anushia have resurfaced with a restaurant in their own right, Nush, in Plein Street opposite the old Sars premises. Nush is an abbreviation of Anushia’s name, but also sounds a bit like ‘nosh’ and vaguely munchy, and somehow it makes an appealing name for a restaurant.
There’s something rather Seventies about the décor style, lots of brown broken and geometric shapes, extraordinarily high double-volume ceiling and service that is utterly expemplary. As you’re ushered to your table, cries of “Irrashaimase” are thrown back and forth across the room by the staff. It means “welcome to our house” and is quite sweet, if a little startling at first.
GIORGIO Nava stands out among chefs at the Cape, not only for his distinctly gentlemanly Milanese style and exquisite Italian accent and suave air but for the astonishing level of his visibility when you’re in his restaurant. He’s all over the place, which makes you think that either he doesn’t have his eye on the ball (the ball in the kitchen, that is) or he has his team so expertly trained that he can afford the time to get to know his guests.
The promise is made, and the promise is kept: at the Foodbarn, you can wear shorts and sandals or even walk in with bare, sandy feet, and nobody is going to frown, ask you to sit outside and bring you the burgers and chips menu. There isn’t one of those. Rather, you’ll still enjoy some of the finest fare at the Cape and a soupcon of France, sandy feet and all.
Cape of spice. Cape of fruit. At the Cape, we have an abundance of both, so when faced with neatly trimmed organic pork chops and an empty frying pan, it’s time to raid the spice rack. But don’t get carried away. Pork, despite coming from such a huge beast, has a delicate flavour, and does not benefit from spices being chucked at it with wild abandon.
Pity the poor ostrich. Not the prettiest of old birds to begin with, let’s be honest. The only beautiful thing about you is your feathers, and they pluck them off you to sell to rich Frenchwomen, drag queens, Rio carnival dancers and Lady Gaga. To a human kid, you’re a horse with feathers. You think ‘those kids are biltong’ but mommy and daddy are watching, so you make it look less obvious that you’re trying to throw them off.
I recently rediscovered my flavour shaker. It had been given to me for Christmas several years ago, and then we moved house, and you know how it is – a box gets unpacked, you think ‘where shall I put this’, you shove it in a cupboard, and after three years of complaining that somebody stole the Jamie Oliver flavour shaker you lift up a forgotten implement and there it is.
When you’re curing salmon for a man who makes witblits for fun, you know you have to chuck in something fairly potent. I’m not sure that curing the fish actually IN witblits, a liquor of a proof so high that it may or not be on either this or that side of the law to do so (I may or may not be hedging my bets here), is entirely a good idea (or not, as may or may not be the case). In any event, what we do know, unequivocally, is that it is not illegal to include tequila in a salmon cure, and I’ll drink to that. I think.
What is not okay is arriving in Amsterdam for the first time in your life at the age of 32 and going down to breakfast in your hotel and asking for bacon and eggs. I got some very odd looks. But it was a very long time ago. And the croissants and rolls are good for stuffing in a pocket for a snack later on while you’re gazing at Van Gogh’s sunflowers.
Yet for all that, chef-owner Bertus Basson manages to turn out plates of food worthy of the finest Michelin-star rated restaurants of Europe in an otherwise modest eatery barely 40 minutes drive from central Cape Town, and at prices that make you wonder just how much profit the competition makes. Got to respect that.
Having earlier than that worked with Mike Bassett in the restaurant at the Radisson at the V&A Waterfront, it has taken Pillay a long time to come into his own, but it seems he has found the right sort of niche to show off the enormous amount he has learnt, not only about cooking for a fine dining restaurant, but the nuts-and-bolts aspects of running what is essentially a business.
Raise the subject of peri-peri recipes and you are likely to have a fiery debate on your hands. Everyone who feels passionate about peri-peri will have a firm opinion of how it is or should be made, down to the type of chillies used and how long it should be left to steep so that the flavours will be enriched.
Koppies in all directions. Lowslung mountains with milky purple coats. Verges of tufted fynbos, knobbly Karoo herbs and an occasional scrunched Coke can. Ry-gos interrupt you with an enforced break for a stretch and a waft of the cigarette smoke from the rally dudes in the logo-spangled 4×4 in front. Giant trucks grind past, blowing you back into your car as the blanket-wrapped marshal lady steps out of her booth and moves the Stop sign, waving you to go.
The silliest thing about a braai is the moment when the man with the beer boep and the silly grin cracks open a can of beer and pours it over the flames, while the guests suck in a breath and let out the deep sigh of those who know their dinner is going to be late. And possibly wet.
I saw some rhubarb in a supermarket recently and its alluring red stems played their trick on me. I popped some in the basket as memories of our vegetable garden sandwiched between the mouth of the great Orange River and the lower reaches of the Namib desert jumbled in my head.
Is it its name that makes us think of kingklip as the king of South African fish? Is it like being called Elvis? Is it like being born Michael Jackson with feet that start shufflling to Billie Jean even as the baby’s head appears? You’re alive. You’re a kingklip. And you rule.
My parents had both, as Yorkshire folk, somehow been influenced in the kitchen by their cousins across the channel, and those methods rooted in the humblest kitchens of the French rural peasant were practised in our kitchen in farflung Namibia. I love the deeply reduced, luscious sauces, the deglazing of the pan to capture every last of the essences that have been developing during cooking.
IN the superficial rush to cook with only the finest and most sought-after ingredients, the most dedicated followers of food fashion can be frightfully forgetful. Eagerly pursuing all the latest foodie trends, these latterday descendants of the Carnabytian Army march on from one fad to the next, guided by gurus clothed in white who spew wisdom and profanity in the same breath.
IT WAS a potjie day in Arniston. A potjie day is one where the sun is a little slow to reveal itself, there’s just a tad too much windchill for a braai, but it’s too warm to hang around indoors. It’s a shoulder season thing. Half-warm, half-cool, the Weather Gods dithering about in fence-sitting mode. You put on a jacket, put your back to the breeze coming off the turquoise sea, and think, $#@% it, I’m gonna make me a potjie, crack a bottle of wine and enjoy the view.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that a fish restaurant must be expensive – no more ‘free from the sea’. Far from it. This in a city surrounded, arguably, by two oceans. Glass-half-empty people will say the Indian and Atlantic meet at Cape Agulhas. But I’d sooner align myself with those who fancy savouring what’s still in the glass.
Frangelico is pure, heavenly nectar even when sipped in its virginal essence. It should be fed to anyone whose idea of attaining an afterlife is to follow a random American preacher’s advice, give away all his possessions, foist the cat onto some unsuspecting third cousin, and check into a hotel to wait for the end. One sip and they’d be raptured to a place they’d never been to before. Not heaven though, just a really cool spot in their own heads where mellow people go for an hour or two when they’ve had a few drinks.
WOKE up Sunday morning, yawned, looked out the window. Glorious day. Not a cloud in the sky, head didn’t hurt. Didn’t need an organically-brewed Fair Trade beer for breakfast, never mind one more for dessert. Perfect, just perfect. A perfect day for killing some sacred cows.
A good hamburger is cowboys and rodeo, backslapping, thigh-whipping sustenance for good ole boys to wash down with neat Jack with another Jack for a chaser. A great hamburger screams Fourth of July, it sings the Starspangled Banner. Munch the perfect burger and the best Hollywood movies you’ve ever seen flash before your eyes, the shadow of Uncle Sam caresses your soul, and you know that all is well with the world. The grand old US of A survives and thrives and you can taste its very nectar.
Chicken pie is as Cape as bobotie, waterblommetjiebredie and the Cape Doctor. Made in the old Cape Dutch tradition, it contains sago, diced ham, hardboiled egg, mace, allspice and other flavourings typical of the cuisine. Altogether an odd recipe, if you think about it, but seriously good and a perfect hearty winter meal.
Having bought a piece of pork belly, I decided to throw caution to the winds and approach it from an entirely new persective: foil. The theory was that the foil would become a mini oven within an oven, and any liquids would remain at the bottom of the foil parcel, with the fat near the top, untouched by liquids that could keep the pork soggy.
Chocolate fondant probably started its culinary life as a mistake. What it is, really, is a little chocolate cake that hasn’t cooked all the way through. So this is cooking turned in on itself – that which is strictly to be avoided when making a proper chocolate cake becomes exactly what you try to do, with a high risk of messing it up, when you choose to make a chocolate fondant.
PEOPLE often want to know what my favourite restaurant is, expecting it to be some prissy fine dining palace, all starched and minimalist and where only the freshest of fresh ingredients are served by waiters who like to cadge a bit of a grope while they’re bestowing the damask napkin on your lap.
It takes The Greenhouse at the Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in lush Constantia to cap three years of rediscovering the restaurants of my old home town. Strange how much things change in just a few years. Restaurants come and go, and you find that many have gone. Of those that remain, few are the same. And even at hotelier supreme Lix McGrath’s fine property, I find that much is changed.
Boeber is as ‘Cape Town’ as Cape brandy tart, the Cape Doctor, over-priced fancy-schmancy restaurants and claims that ‘it has never rained like this/blown like this/been so hot at this time of the year before’.
It’s culinary showtime, kitchen kabarett. It’s the chef as artist, the chopping board as palette. Elemental cuisine is about assembling a plate of small things that complement one another but in which each item is an element in its own right. A sliver of something, a jellied something else, perhaps. A curl of a third thing, a swirl of a sauce, a slice of an ingredient that just looks damn pretty with all the rest of the stuff.
Last week I spotted something I had seen once or twice before but never tasted – dragonfruit. They’re bright pink, almost cerise, in hue and have little nobbles on their skins that make them look like little gay dragons. But nothing prepares you for what they look like inside. Beneath that hard pink shell is a second even pinker layer of softer flesh, but within that is a large oval centre of pure white fruit speckled with tiny black seeds. It is too beautiful for speech.
This was the Springbok flank of shanks. Meaty and moist and superbly browned and reeking of exotic flavours, and yes, Butch, it was a ginormous one too. A very manly shank, worthy of fitting the space between a Springbok rugby boot and a bruised knee.
In the mid-20th century decades, when we were young and life stretched to a far horizon, sole was the fish ordered by women on dining room menus. Not solely (sorry). But mostly. We kids were encouraged to try it too. But I don’t remember any dads ordering sole. Especially Sole Bonne Femme. Which is not surprising really. “I’ll have the Sole Bonne Femme” doesn’t have quite the same masculine ring as “Old Man steak please, rare, just slap its bum and send it out”.
The racks had been given a French trim. (Calm yourself, Daisy, it has nothing to do with a Brazilian. It means the bones have been trimmed and excess fat removed.)
IF our national flower is the protea, our national vegetable is you-know-who and our national sport is soccer … I mean rugby (hey, you guys can fight it out, I prefer boules), our national meat has to be lamb. Whether it’s cooked on the braai, on the spit or in a potjie, roasted in the oven, turned into sosaties, into a Durban curry or a Cape Malay breyani, it’s the one meat that unites our dark carnivorous hearts. Lamb was on the menu at two launches I attended recently. One was a new theatre restaurant, the other a regular summer spitbraai on a wine farm.
But writing builds up an appetite for food and wine. You’re immersed from dawn to sunset in words and in the mad things that occupy your mind. Then you put the figurative pen down, look around you, and remember where you are, what day it is … and it hits you like a smack in the face: you need a drink like a condemned man needs a reprieve.
Preserved lemons are just brilliant, and ridiculously versatile. You can use them pulped to enhance a savoury sauce, chop them into a vegetable dish or stirfry, add them to a stuffing for whole-roasted poultry or a roulade, pummel them into a paste with olives and garlic to spread on bruschetta or a pizza, or pop some into a salad dressing.
Akhni is the kind of spice blend that should be celebrating the Cape on at least half of the local restaurant menus, yet I don’t recall ever having seen it outside of a recipe book or a friend’s dinner table. Why is that? The dish screams “Cape cuisine” yet ask all the major chefs cooking for our thronging tourists if they serve akhni on their menus, or even know what it is, and I reckon you’d be met with a sea of blank expressions.
Time has moved on again, and here we are back at the dear old Nellie for another meal in another new restaurant. The Planet bears the same name as the successful Planet Bar adjacent to it. It is in the same space as the Cape Colony, Simon Brady’s mural having been moved into the adjacent function room where delegates and secretaries will think it to be some relic of the hotel’s earlier days. One day, when the old dear has become the Protea Mount Nelson City Resort Hotel & Wellness Centre, they will paint a scene of vines and cherubs over it and put it in the pool room.
History repeats itself. La Colombe had a brilliant chef who grew an international reputation for the Constantia restaurant and earned it a slew of awards. Then he left and started his own, more modest, eatery. La Colombe found a brilliant replacement, who clawed back its international reputation and earned it a slew of awards. But now he too has left and opened his own, more modest, restaurant.
The tide was coming in, Di and Annie moved further up the beach, and we continued gamely with our quest, even though we were now thigh-deep in water and the sun was fast disappearing. Finally, figuring we had enough or at least as many as the rising tide was going to allow us before the sea claimed two more souls to add to the roll call of those who have been sacrificed to the salty brine of Arniston, we gave in.
My best meal in a year of good eating happened unexpectedly. And in great company too. The foodie set were all out for a lunch of note in the warm green garden of Kleine Zalze wine estate, where a vast team sweated in the Terroir kitchen while we langoured with bubbly and canapes.
Best advice to the apostrophically challenged (after being cautioned that it would be best not to attempt any writing outside of a Twitter account) is to suggest that they should never use an apostrophe at all rather than do what most of them do, which is to fling an apostrophe in a sentence wherever they see an “s” at the end of a word. “Prawn’s with olive’s and tomatoe’s”.
A Frenchwoman had set up a stall selling these Moroccan cooking vessels and sundry other pots, all ceramic and beautiful. I bought a blue ceramic tajine and the lady, with whom I had been chatting about Moroccan food and how the conical lid of a tajine works, smiled and gave me two additional pots, medium and small, to fit inside the tajine base like Russian dolls.
My household has been awash in the Christmas spirit for a month now, a task which has been staunchly borne as we have sat through three Christmas dinners on as many consecutive Saturday nights. Finally, with the real, thing almost upon us, we gave ourselves a break from all that – so that I could make a last-minute Christmas cake.
Nuts, fruit and liqueur all scream “Christmas” and this week’s triple-course dinner pushes all those buttons. Start with a pleasingly nutty soup of wild mushrooms and ground walnuts with a dash of sherry, go on to a stuffed loin of pork with crunchy crackling, and end with a deliciously old-fashioned black cherry and maraschino trifle dressed up for the season.
The tang of liquor is as much a part of the Christmas spirit as fruit, nuts and those silly costumes Santa Claus wears. Flame brandy or whisky over a pudding, add a glass to yourself along the way a la Keith Floyd, and the headier side of the yuletide is ignited.
STEP into Christmas – here is the first of three consecutive menus to help those who celebrate Christmas decide what to feed their family and friends this season. On the menu: Smoked Snoek Mousse, Roast Duck with Cranberry and Red Wine Sauce, and Pink Champagne Jellies with Frosted Red Grapes.
Making a good first impression is often the most important moment in a relationship, or even the difference between a relationship and none at all. I remember one of my first dates as a 16-year-old. She was a farm girl from the Northern Cape and I was a fidgety youth who’d been paired with her for her family’s visit to the Douglas agricultural show. Why? I have no idea why. You’re 16, you’re visiting your sister in some cement making town even the people living there have never heard of, and next thing you’re in the back of a car with a plump farm girl who thinks you’re a big city catch, on your way to a whole lot of humiliation.
The seasoned Xtreme Cook of course will have planned meticulously, as I did when planning to cook osso buco. I’d had the foresight (as one does) to order the veal shank cutlets through a chef contact. I thought it would be really “out there” to cook them the contemporary way, but decided to go for the traditional recipe because it tastes better. When you’re about to fling yourself into culinary infinity, such crucial concerns as taste and texture achieve a particular clarity. (Your whole life flashes before you, actually.)
The editors of Posh Galore generally do quite well, and I commend them for their efforts, and we foodie lemmings usually climb on the bandwagon and try using whatever it is in new and unexpected ways in dishes that previously would have managed quite well without the pounded seed of something found growing under a dewy knoll in Zheleznodorozhny and unearthed by a castrated yak. But there’s something they’ve all missed which has potential flavour of the year written all over it. The common, humdrum and very Afrikaans potjie, the three-legged cast-iron pot, is one of the most versatile cooking vessels there is.
Pickled fish is one of those things people almost instinctively turn their noses up at. Sometimes some of the best things in life are just taken for granted. It’s the prophet in his own country syndrome – you know him so well that you just can’t believe he really could be such a clever dude.
Raymond Blanc being very French and very precise, in that stubbornly Gallic way, he insists they be cooked at 85C, which means bringing the dish to that temperature in a 95C oven, which sounds more Irish than French. Whatever – being South African of Yorkshire stock with Irish habits, I cooked it at 100C and kept an eye on it.
How to cook your potatoes for Christmas dinner? Here are some ways… The German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that a diet consisting predominantly of them “leads to the use of liquor”, which would be enough for some of us to stockpile them, just in case.
It was one of those moments when you wake up and realise where you really are. On a soccer field, yes. But no crowd, no glaring stadium lights. Just a modest small-town soccer field on the edge of town, and it’s Sunday morning coming down on a boy’s wild imagination.
Oldtime recipes are sometimes worth bringing back. An earlier generation dined out on prawns or shrimps Marie-Rose, a sauce that is ridiculously easy to stir up – literally – and has a wonderful tang beyond the suggestion of its simplicity. And it makes for a perfect Christmas dinner starter.
The chef came out before a particular course and explained, somewhat nervously, that the kingklip was to be served raw tonight. Riiiiiiight, we muttered, dubious, looking left and right as if wondering where the candid camera was.
This year’s Christmas Eve dinner menu has a vaguely Cape touch: Amarula cream chicken liver pate, miniature roast turkey with a very Christmassy stuffing, and, instead of the obvious (and yummy) Christmas pudding, Cape brandy tart served with brandy butter and maraschino cherries to give it a festive touch.