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.