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.)

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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.

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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”

Review: Camphors at Vergelegen

The Proposition

Blue-chip Cape estate, spectacular setting, wondrous gardens, superb wines, textbooks of history. Now that is either the most fantastic foundation for a restaurant, or a list of nerve-wracking expectations.*

The Experience

Possibly the only quibble at a recent lunch was the service which lacked the high level of attention to the floor which I’ve experienced in the past, but then again, it was a busy lunch, with many tourists in the house. As for the rest, this account could begin and end with a simple exhortation for you to visit, or revisit, soonest.

A “Summer Harvest” menu offered four courses (with three to four options to choose from for each course), and a “Tour” (degustation) menu with ten courses. Optional wine pairings are available for each. For a while now, Camphors has presented the menus with the innovation of dishes being “graded” according to their flavour and texture “weight”.  Those listed closest to the left margin are “light and delicate”, and each indent to the right describes a move towards the “full and rich”. Here’s what it looked like on a recent visit:

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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. Continue reading “Review: The Shortmarket Club”