Can a restaurant keep its charm in a mall?

From our February 2019 newsletter:

There’s a well-known pizza restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, called Roberta’s. Opened in an old warehouse in 2008 by two friends who bought equipment from a shuttered pizzeria in Italy, it has “a D.I.Y. feel, like a Bushwick loft, The ceilings are high, with beams exposed, and the floor is poured concrete”. And evidently very good pizzas. (It’s also also home to the many excellent food and/or drink-related podcasts recorded by Heritage Radio Network, which is housed in an old shipping container in Roberta’s backyard.) It is, in short, the perfect – authentic! – embodiment of the “Global Brooklyn” trend that seems to be sweeping the world with bare brick walls and naked filament lightbulbs, and the “hipster” crowds that such spaces draw.

Continue reading “Can a restaurant keep its charm in a mall?”

The trouble with celebrity chefs

From our newsletter:

In our last newsletter, we linked to an article questioning whether we are witnessing the “twilight of the celebrity chef”, following the closure of a number of restaurants whose high-profile benefactors apparently weren’t enough to keep their establishments afloat. Last weekend the Financial Times published a profile of Jamie Oliver, whose restaurant empire appears to have been particularly hard hit by a combination of poor management, politics (Brexit!), and other factors one can sometimes be fooled into imagining that rich famous people never have to deal with:

“‘We had simply run out of cash,’ he recalls, as we sit on a vintage sofa at Oliver headquarters in north London nine months later. ‘And we hadn’t expected it. That is just not normal, in any business. You have quarterly meetings. You do board meetings. People supposed to manage that stuff should manage that stuff.’ A surprisingly sharp tone in his voice suggests that someone let him down and he was none too pleased. Oliver was left with no choice but to instruct his bankers to inject £7.5m from his own savings into the restaurants. A further £5.2m of his own money would follow over the next few months. Last year, Oliver was said to be worth £150m. Even so, £12.7m is not the kind of money that slips down the back of a sofa, vintage or otherwise”. Continue reading “The trouble with celebrity chefs”

Review: Overture Restaurant

The Proposition

Chef Bertus Basson has always been a highly charged individual, and of late he has channelled ever-more of this incandescent energy into his food enterprises, opening a number of restaurants and off-shoots to restaurants as well as being featured in a number of local food TV series. The latest restaurant to open is Eike (which will soon be reviewed); joining Bertus Basson at Spice Route, Spek en Bone, De Vrije Burger, The Deck and his very popular catering company.

This latter part of his career, leading to his current position as one of South Africa’s pre-eminent chefs – one could call it his “mature” phase, even though he would probably dislike this – began at Overture on the Hidden Valley wine farm just over 10 years ago. Since Overture was recently re-opened after a renovation, it was a good time to revisit the “mothership” of his current portfolio. Continue reading “Review: Overture Restaurant”

Review: Skotnes at Norval Foundation

The Proposition

As of writing, the Norval Foundation building is so new that they are still snag-fixing, but it is already something to behold, and clearly adds another contemporary jewel to the crown of the Cape’s beautiful art spaces so far populated by the likes of the Zeitz MOCAA and Cavalli. The Norval is a space where creativity is on display in the architecture as much as in the sculpture garden and the exhibits within. The gallery has a strong link to the famed South African artist Cecil Skotnes, hence the name of the restaurant on the premises. So it’s an eatery with plenty of sophistication and high art around it to live up to. Continue reading “Review: Skotnes at Norval Foundation”

What was that you said?

The Washington Post Magazine offered reviews of 30 new restaurants in its Spring dining guide, summarised by reviewer Tom Sietsema. Let’s just pause there, while we in South Africa consider the scale of this – 30 brand new upper-end eateries in one quarter of one year in one city, Washington DC, alone.

The “Smith Island” cake, from the Old Maryland Grill, one of Tom Sietsema’s top 30 new DC eateries. (Image courtesy of the Washington Post.)

Continue reading “What was that you said?”

Classics: La Perla

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”

Review: Terroir at Kleine Zalze

The Proposition

For any reader who has not yet visited this highly recommended Cape Winelands restaurant, the casual “Mediterranean” outdoor seating under the trees is a fine option during the warmer months while the equally casual interior is useful through all seasons. Service has always been a strong suit, with staff that are usually long serving and knowledgeable. The wine list is mainly focussed on their own (very good) selection, with a decent look at other quality bottles. A blackboard offers further vintage options. Continue reading “Review: Terroir at Kleine Zalze”

Classics: The Radium Beerhall

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. 

The bar at Radium. Image courtesy of the Radium website.

Continue reading “Classics: The Radium Beerhall”

What does “avant-garde” mean in the dining world?

From our latest newsletter:

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.

Image courtesy of Estorick Collection

Almost a century later, René Redzepi of noma restaurant in Copenhagen – listed four times as top of the San Pellegrino “50 Best Restaurants in the World” list – might be Marinetti’s modern counterpart, credited with “re-inventing Nordic cuisine” and operating at the “cutting edge of gourmet cuisine, combining an unrelenting creativity and a remarkable level of craftsmanship with an inimitable and innate knowledge of the produce of his Nordic terroir”, thanks in no small part to his insistence on only using “locally sourced, seasonal produce” (no Italian olive oil on these Scandi tables!). Continue reading “What does “avant-garde” mean in the dining world?”

Taking sustainable seafood seriously

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”