Certainly one of Cape Town’s longest-standing dining institutions, La Perla opened its doors in 1959. It’s the kind of place your parents probably ate at. It has gathered scrapbooks of famous diners and certain tables are known as “so-and-so’s”. But I struggle to get its mystique – at least by looking at the plate. Then again, by concentrating on the food, I think I’m looking in the wrong place. It’s all about the “face” of it here. Quite literally.
To start, there’s the fantastic position and its sea views, followed by the bold art that has always adorned the interior, and in human turn filled by the “see-and-be-seen” set since the beginning. Then there are the waiters, in their European white tunics, who put on a great show of being proper. They may in fact be the defining element of La Perla’s form of nostalgic food theatre, and some of them (fewer and fewer, it has to be said) have a decades-long tenure here. However, the feeling that there is an element of role-play was bolstered by our waiter, who smoothly enquired after our lunch order by starting with “ladies and gentlemen…” when there were only two men at the table. Continue reading “Classics: La Perla”
As the first in an episodic series on South Africa’s great evergreens, a revisit to The Radium Beerhall on Louis Botha in Jo’burg. Established in 1929, it’s been on the scene, in the same place, for 89 years, and what makes it an essential establishment is its mostly unchanged nature. It comes from a time before today’s “restaurant design”, where almost every food and beverage spot is packaged to within an inch of the definition of what they are meant to be for their specified market. Even worse, so many establishments nowadays default to the “generic” – flytraps to catch all comers – with purposefully little obvious personality, so that no-one baulks or objects. Newer “hipster” joints are possibly the worst culprits, taking counter-culture iconography (café racers, skate) and repurposing it as cute sanitised titillation.
In the 1930s, Italian “Futurist” Filippo Tommaso Marinetti ) probably embodied that era’s version of “avant-garde” (defined as “an intelligentsia that develops new or experimental concepts” by Merriam-Webster) in the dining world, what with his controversial ideas about abolishing the tradition of eating pasta in Italy (as he’s pictured doing below). Amongst other things, he claimed that eating pasta both made people “heavy, brutish … skeptical, slow, pessimistic” and also harmed Italy’s rice industry by supporting the import of the foreign grain crucial to the production of the national staple.
As is becoming ever-better known, we are decimating the wild fish in the ocean. It is now clear that many of the most popular eating fish, most notably including those sushi bar sacrificial “lambs”, salmon and tuna, have declined by 90% in the seas in the last few decades. The ocean does not factor for the market signals of supply and demand when humans send out factory-sized trawlers that harvest at a pace that will continue to collapse entire populations of fish.
The end of this chain of decimation is you and me, the consumer. We need to send the signal back up the line that we know what we are eating and that we choose not to eat fish that has been caught in an unsustainable manner and then put on a menu. (I am looking at Ile Maurice, inter alia.) We all need to install the SASSI (Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative) app on our phones or use the FishMS line (type the name of a fish and send it to 079 499 8795) to identify what is in front of us. And we need to act in supermarkets too, buying sustainable tuna for those sandwiches. Continue reading “Taking sustainable seafood seriously”
One of the most talked about restaurant openings in the U.S. recently has been Vespertine in Culver City, Los Angeles. Self-described as “a gastronomical experiment seeking to disrupt the course of the modern restaurant”, the building it’s housed in (pictured here*) has been described by others as a “crashed spaceship”, and dining there like “eating on Jupiter”. Jonathan Gold, the Pultizer-prize winning critic for the L.A. Timessummarises the experience:
It’s not dinner; it’s Gesamtkunstwerk [German for ‘total work of art’]…“Checking in with valet before dinner is required,’’ says an email sent to you before your dinner, “as this member of our team is integral to your experience.’’ You hand off your keys. You walk past a watery ditch lined with shattered rock whose cracks ooze green light. You are led to an elevator in the rust-colored steel structure, and are let off in the kitchen and a bowing Kahn. You climb stairs to an aerie at the top, settle into low couches, sip at a concoction of white vermouth garnished with a purple passion fruit flower. This is the first of many flowers you will see tonight. You will recognize none of them. … The more you eat of the turnips, the more vinegary the dish becomes, until by the end you are practically coughing at the fumes.Continue reading “Dinner Theatre”
Just as Cape Town gears up to host its very first pizza and pasta festival, it was slightly unnerving to read about a recent pizza festival in Brooklyn, New York, that left attendees feeling rightly cheated of the money they had spent on tickets (up to $69 per person), when instead of an abundance of pies (as they call them over there), they found mostly empty tents and pretty pathetic pizza offerings.