Location, location, location, the property fundis like to yell as they corral us into their showhouses where, when we express any reservation at all, they will tell us breezily, “Yes, but if you just knock out that wall, and break through there, and lose that ghastly old fireplace, replace the floorboards, build a pool and put in a desperately needed new kitchen, it will be exACTly what you’re looking for!”.
The “right” location can be the deciding factor in a restaurant’s fortunes, but there are exceptions to this rule, if somehow you can make your eatery a destination venue. If your fame has somehow got out there, it’s possible that they will flock to you regardless of your having sited your restaurant at the end of a quiet city street where there’s scarcely any foot traffic, let alone much to recommend the actual venue itself other than its wonderful food.
This was the dilemma faced by the owners of Bizerca, a bistro which has slogged through a few years of a good deal of success on the Cape Town Foreshore despite its rather odd location and the fact that its interior, while fairly attractive in a minimalist, geometric way, didn’t entirely register on the eye candy chart. At one point they extended the place, and there was a notable improvement in the feel of the interior given that extra space, but still, its location fought against it.
It lacked location, location, location despite its food being so good that it was bestowed laurels as the best bistro in the land, which I thought a tad debatable.
Now owners Laurent and Cyrillia Deslandes – he a Frenchman and she a South African who found their way here from France via a sojourn in Australia – have done the inevitable and wise thing and moved 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. You read that right: vertical. The garden reaches from floor to ceiling, side-on, and as long as the trick continues to work, and the herbs keep growing, it will be talked about by everyone who comes to lunch or dinner. To boot, there’s a second wall of plants outside, but instead of herbs this one gives life to succulents, fynbos and the like. And finally, little pots of herbs growing on each table.
One thing you would have no doubts about if you have eaten at Bistro Bizerca before is that Laurent’s food would be top-drawer French fare where everything is as perfectly sourced as it is sauced. Vegetable ingredients are not only prime examples of what true freshness means, they are expertly peeled, turned, trimmed and presented. Greens remains green, rather than looking dishwater dull, and there’s a crunch to everything that needs a crunch.
There are broad umbrellas to shield you on a hot day if you choose to sit in the courtyard, while the interior is crisp and cool. And Cyrillia says that as well as lunches and dinners, customers are welcome to come during the afternoon between 2pm and 5pm and much later, after 10pm, to sit around with “some bites” and a drink.
Their vision down on the city’s Foreshore “had always been to go outside”, she said, but this had never come to pass, so when the Heritage Square venue came up, “we jumped on it immediately and I don’t think we’ll ever regret this.”
I hope they don’t. Heritage Square has for more than a decade been one of the most pleasant spots in the greater City Bowl, a true architectural veteran of the older part of the city centre which has been brought up to speed with modern tastes without spoiling its innate antiquity. Bistro Bizerca is an excellent addition to its charms and a great counterpoint to that other place next door where there’s no menu and you’re told what to eat. (Steak, steak or steak at the Headquarters.) There’s even a vast parking lot right across the road, even if you do have to share it with people who’re happy to be told what to eat.
So what’s to eat? It’s all scrawled on a blackboard, and it changes all the time as Laurent finds the best ingredients and what he likes the look of.
At a media lunch to show off the new venue, they had got in Allée Blueue winemaker Van Zyl du Toit whose wines were paired with Laurent’s lovely food. Everything was a joy to eat as well as to look at, the only teensy quibbles being that the courses came out very slowly and there was barely any sauce with my meat course, although on request a small jug of extra sauce quickly materialised. To go to all the trouble of making a spectacular sauce only to drizzle a tiny bit on the plate is a shame.
As an amouse bouche, Laurent sent out tartare of yellowtail with avocado, light, fresh and perfect to start a summer’s lunch. Then came the first course of a summer salad of white asparagus, broadbeans, fennel, artichoke, peeled grapes and a pea coulis, which was all sublime.
The interim course was a delectable galette of edamame beans and tempura prawn (Laurent’s pronunciation of ‘tempura’ making the word sound deliciously French) with citrus and a chive beurre blanc.
Pork belly slow-cooked in cabernet sauvignon with roast baby parsnips and pickled baby beetroot tasted even better than it looked, but there was no time to stay for dessert, which would have been watermelon granita with a Champagne cocktail and drunken nectarine.
I love it when another of the better restaurants in town moves closer to my own neck of the woods, but more important, it’s great to see this excellent business get the kind of location it deserves.
Bistro Bizerca, Heritage Square, 98 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town 021 423 8888