Review: La Boqueria

Ironically, but quite happily so, it transpires, I managed to get to La Boqueria for lunch on the day we were planning to have dinner there, but then didn’t, because my dinner party had concerns over: a) the potential noise levels at La Boqueria (we wanted to catch up over an old-fashioned conversation); and b) reports from a few diners that the food still needed to find its footing.

Well, on both counts, we would have been better off at La Boqueria than at our second option, Café del Sol Tre. At Tre, the jammed-up tables and pumping scene were as noisy as it gets, and the food was uniformly drab and lacking in almost any flavour – the pastas were a world apart from the very good ones I’d recently tasted at Gemelli. Continue reading “Review: La Boqueria”

Review: Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine

“Your soufflé will be ready in five minutes”, I am informed. My main course plate is half-eaten, and I am in the middle of conversation. The waiter is not having a good day. Earlier, my suggested wine pairing with the starter, the Newton Johnson Albarino, was not available by the glass (which makes no sense) but the waiter assured me that I could try a glass of Jordan Riesling as “they are one and the same thing”.

Waiters and the training of wait staff are some of the most difficult components of operating restaurants. Staff turn-over and a modern lack of interest in the job severely test managers – but at the same time what is often lacking is managerial presence to control, smooth things over and create an overall sense of consistency, and hospitality. “Eyes on the floor” is the mantra too many places do not live by. Continue reading “Review: Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine”

Review: Gemelli, Bryanston

Confusion reigned on the floor and by the end of the evening the bathroom looked like an Indonesian airport’s. Gemelli was spinning on a Monday night, barely holding on while trying to cope with the hungry, boisterous patrons, some guests bearing helium balloons and descending on large party tables, other guests looking rather lost amongst the melee at their tables for two.

We were approached by a succession of waiters with no-one managing to take firm hold after a swarming start… on one occasion a replacement bottle of wine arrived and was placed, unopened, on the table, where it stood for ten minutes, waiters rushing by, before I managed to get the cork pulled. How I missed a Swiss army knife then. On another occasion, there was an auction of starters at our table – an unordered antipasti platter that arrived with our calamari. The waiter was convinced we had ordered it. After tasting the calamari, it was so good, we should probably have kept the antipasti plate. Continue reading “Review: Gemelli, Bryanston”

Review: Pierneef à La Motte

The Proposition

The beauty of winter in the Cape is that you can walk into your favourite restaurants without worrying about reservations (though some exceptions apply). The curse is that they may well be closed*, or keeping erratic “off season” hours. It’s a lottery, or a project for organised minds who call ahead (and don’t make the mistake of simply believing Google’s opening hours on the search page… or even the restaurant’s website, for that matter).

So it was that I traversed to Franschhoek one sunny winter’s day to discover that not one but two of the places I was keen to eat at were closed. Franschhoek is an epicentre of Cape wine and food and this says something about the distance we still have to go. Imagine the Napa Valley closed for business on a clear winter’s day? I am not saying there is any lack of will from the operators, I just know there are not the feet to make it worth being open.

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Review: Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia

The Proposition

Chef Ivor Jones, previously head chef at the much-lauded The Test Kitchen, captains this luxury winelands offshoot of Liam Tomlin’s Chefs Warehouse in Cape Town.

When it opened, Chefs Warehouse in Cape Town quickly became a food-hound’s favourite for the sheer quality of the cuisine and the fact that one could enjoy various flavours in miniature through the “tapas for two” option where two diners submit to the pleasures of the kitchen and enjoy a series of dishes. It’s a less fussy version of a tasting menu – albeit pretty far from “tapas” in a true sense of the word as they’re smaller portions of pretty cheffy food. The distinct advantage of this approach is that the kitchen can react to new or seasonal or a whim pretty quickly, and offer an ever-changing menu for those who return often.

While the original Chefs embodies a “no-fuss” environment – the tiny dining space alongside and indeed within a retail space with ingredients and cooking utensils all around – the Beau Constantia edition is considerably more upmarket in feel and very far from being a warehouse in any sense of the word, and more of a showroom. The new Chefs Warehouse does, however, also anchor its menu on the “tapas for two”.

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Review: Coobs, Parkhurst

The Proposition

“Coobs sources their (sic) produce from local suppliers and organic farms to create unique modern bistro-style food. Close to 75% of ingredients come from our organic farm ‘Brightside’ in the Magaliesburg.”

South African restaurants are not big on provenance in an authentic, through-the-line way. Here and there, menus make reference to a few farms but they as often slip in the name of a supplier or a feedlot (e.g. Karan beef) in the qualifier place, as if that’s proof of provenance. Well it is, but it’s a bit like saying they buy their lettuce from Woolies to make you feel like you’re getting the close to origin. It’s not the same as going all the way back to the farmer.

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