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.
What is that about? Most of us can manage perfectly well to pick up the napkin, turn it back from a parakeet into something more appropriate for dabbing at your mouth, and place it on our laps while retaining a smidgen of modesty. I quickly grab it as the waiter’s hand approaches it, which earns me a glower every time.
It’s presumed that a ‘critic’ (I do not answer to the word – I loathe the condescension it suggests) is a supremely pretentious twat who lives to have his palate pampered with culinary excellence. The last thing he would want is a lovely, cosy local place full of character and warmth, where a small menu boasts good, solid food served by competent but not overbearing waiters and accompanied by excellent wines that don’t require you to take out a mortgage.
I used to go, many years ago, to a restaurant in Simon’s Town called Bertha’s, but not very often as it was miles from where I lived. On returning to Cape Town three years ago I soon discovered a restaurant that had just moved to the City Bowl from the Waterfront, and popped in to try Societi Bistro. It transpired that this was the new venture by Bertha’s owner Peter Weetman, and we have been regulars there ever since.
So I am a fan of the place, and I have heard of people who have had experiences there not as happy as mine, which happens anywhere. It does depend on what you want from a restaurant, and we are all different. But if you want character as well as style, affordability as well as classy food, and absolute professionalism on every level, Societiticks every box.
The place has two distinct moods. When it’s cool or windy, the customers head indoors into three adjacent dining rooms – two with back-to-back fireplaces and a dining room open-plan to the kitchen where chefs Stef and Kyle serve every dish a la. In warm, still weather, everyone dines out in the large street-side garden.
The menu changes seasonally, and there are daily specials. There is also, for much of the year, a ‘tour through Italy’ and, later, France, which comprises a three-course menu from a region of Italy or France available for a week before it shifts to a new menu and region.
The cosy bar, The Snug, offers snacks and can be booked for a function. Also offered is Kitchen UNconfidential, offering ‘the opportunity to experience a chef’s life (yes, it means getting into the kitchen, by arrangement), and chef’s tables can be arranged. (More details for all of these at http://societi.co.za/#societi_traditions).
The main menu always offers certain Societi classics like the fillet au poivre with a cream sauce of Madagascan green peppercorns and brandy, which is sublime, the steaks always silkily tender; and a fabulous mushroom risotto.
The menu has four sections –starters, mains and desserts, and a section of pasta and risotto which can be ordered as either starters or mains. So you could, if you like, have an entirely Italian experience. Chef Stef, who heads the kitchen, has a wonderful way with pasta and at the moment there’s game papardelle with red wine, bay and Parmesan, cavolo nero tortellini with homemade ricotta, sage butter and parmesan (extremely moreish) and braised beef fettuccine with caramelised onion and Parmesan.
In winter, there’s a gourmand’s delight among the starters – bone marrow in a parsley and caper broth, with charred sourdought. It is very rich but wonderful if you’re feeling strong. New on the starters menu is another winner: a double-baked goat’s cheese souffle with beetroot and rocket.
This time I ordered deboned free range pork neck with apple and sage, mustard cream and buttered mash, a very wintry dish and filling. Happily so. They also do a lovely peasanty lamb shank, there’s always a classy chicken dish (I wish they’d bring back the the chicken ‘flattened with a brick’ (which makes for superb tenderness), game of one kind or another, a prawn dish, a vegetarian option and a ‘Cape fish’ dish which changes daily.
Good straightforward desserts too, including a lemon tart, a very chocolatey ‘nemesis’, ice-cream and sorbets priced by the scoop, and a cheese board, presently talleggio with homemade preserves.
Societi Bistro, 50 Orange Street, Gardens 021 424 2100