Review: The Shortmarket Club

The Proposition

The Shortmarket Club (SC) has settled in and is now a happily reliable option for those who like more sophisticated dining experiences in the city. You can immediately see by the waistcoated staff and the service trolleys and the menu that’s laid out like an exemplar from a classic French bistro that SC aims to offer a more “adult” dining experience while most restaurants in the city take the casual contemporary road. One’s previous dining experiences (and certainly one’s age) play a part in how you’ll react to the “belle époque” ambience. I find it perfectly relaxing and I’d think that anyone who likes attractive spaces and pretty things will enjoy it – any hints of artifice are successfully trumped by the evident commitment to quality.

The bubbly gets Marie Antoinette treatment – when last did you see this?

The Experience

The quality of a SC experience is exemplified by the service, which is professional, knowledgeable and discreet. We asked our waiter a series of questions and all were addressed without a pause.

While far from vegetarian, I do reserve much of my steak-eating to restaurants these days, as I work on the assumption and trust that they will source it well, mature it well and cook it well. It does feel like meat should be treated with far more veneration and respect too, and a well-prepared steak of known provenance in a fine setting certainly feels closer to this goal. The Shortmarket Club seems to share this point of departure, as they have created a box on the menu dedicated to the meats, called “Shortmarket Grill” and with all prices SQ.

The meat trolley is presented at table-side

Our small table was in the mood to share one of the big cuts that was presented from the meat trolley pictured above – an aged ribeye of about 750g – and it seems that SC are also of a view that steak should be venerated and consumed with more respect: this was a R990 treat, with a sauce and side dish.

We roamed the starters more expansively, beginning with fat oysters to accompany those goblets of bubbly, moving to “Tulbagh asparagus” – a classic with buerre noisette, parmesan and hints of truffle. Burnt leeks with stracciatella followed, along with a tuna sambal, and also the SC favourite: Cape Malay crispy octopus powerfully flavoured with atchar and tahini, and garnished with bonito flakes that wave in the radiant heat from the hot seafood.

Tulbagh asparagus
Tuna in Asian guise as “market fish” of the day
Cape Malay octopus with bonito shavings atop

The Verdict

The Shortmarket Club is a very satisfying dining experience on all levels. But it’s clearly not for the parsimonious diner. The cooking is accurate and the flavours are deep and rich. Sometimes the exuberance of flavour can overwhelm the primary ingredient – this was most apparent on the tuna; its natural flavour subsumed by all the zingy herbs and sauce on the plate. And I still feel that the bread, part of a lovely bread service at the start, can be improved. But the sauces with the steak – Café au lait and béarnaise – were bang on, and the steak was expertly grilled. Pair these plates to the superb service and SC equals a high quality option.

The Shortmarket Club

88 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town City Centre

021 447 2874