2018: A Year in Review by JP Rossouw

The restaurant reviews and Story of a Plate features on this website continue to take on more and more of an indigenous angle as it is my belief that we need to celebrate and thereby develop South African cuisine in all its forms. So this year’s writings have been slanted to those chefs and establishments that carry the flag for cuisine that is expressly rooted in our country. These are the establishments and dishes that in-bound food lovers would not find elsewhere – for is this not what we all want to find and explore when we travel to new places? And for the local food lover, should we not be expecting our best chefs to be diving deeper into our food history and culture? It’s high time South African chefs and diners look inward for inspiration, and not only adopt imported food trends.  Continue reading “2018: A Year in Review by JP Rossouw”

Review: Wolfgat

The Proposition

Look at this picture.

Don’t you instantly wish you were there? There’s a mesmerising quality to natural spaces like this, and Wolfgat perfectly captures the essential nature of this part of the Cape’s West Coast by being housed in a historic fisherman’s cottage (luckily) with wind-protected views – and then having the sensitivity to minimise all else so that you experience, simply, being here. It’s quite remarkable.

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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”

Food from the sea

In 1979, the late Lannice Snyman, a doyenne of South African cookery, published a cookbook called Free from the Sea. Nearly 40 years later, it remains remarkable that this natural wilderness offers us so much food, but I doubt anyone today – writer or publisher – would have the guts to use such a title for a seafood book: the myth of sea as an endless buffet is, one hopes, finally dying.

But it’s a struggle to regulate fisheries thanks to so much open space, so many players, and so few enforceable boundaries. While there have been some successes, the big picture is ever-bleaker. Part of the problem is that, for so long, we’ve viewed seas as discreet spaces, and if we just look after our own stretch, we might be doing alright. But there is, in reality, only one ocean as all seas are linked by winds, currents and migratory patterns. Continue reading “Food from the sea”

Review: Upper Bloem Restaurant

The Proposition

The name of the restaurant is Upper Bloem, which is slightly confusing to any Capetonian since Upper Bloem is a street address in the Bo-Kaap, but the restaurant is located on Main Road in Greenpoint. What the name references are the roots of the menu here – Cape Malay and the Cape in general – as does the interior of the unprepossessing but comfortable space in its “curry” colours. As they explain, the menu speaks of chef Andre Hill’s childhood spent in the Bo-Kaap and they “invite you to (sic) a journey of flavours, spices, tastes, textures and nostalgia”.

The Experience

The caveat to this account is that lunch currently is an “opening special” set menu that is pared-down from the dinner offering, and I am unsure how often they plan to change the menus, so it may differ when you get there. Costs can be very well managed by means of set menus (and certainly are here at R195 per person), but the plates necessarily default to “simpler” and less luxurious ingredients to achieve this value. Not all diners will like the choices either, but I enjoy the exercise of a “pared down” menu, as it forces kitchens to be more creative and less reliant on the obvious “big hit” flavours or hero ingredients. Continue reading “Review: Upper Bloem 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.)

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Artificial Intelligence in the Kitchen

From our May 5 newsletter:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a divisive concept, as partly captured in the idea of whether we should welcome or fear the “robot overlords” (adapted from the 1977 film adaptation of HG Wells’ Empire of the Ants, in which Joan Collins reacts to the threat of giant ants out to take over the world with “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords”).

In the restaurant world, digital innovations designed to make the lives of both diners and staff easier have been around for years already, from being able to order off interactive table surfaces at eateries like Inamo in London, to restaurants in China replacing waitstaff (and noodle makers) with robots, not to mention IBM’s “chef” version of Watson – the “supercomputer” that famously beat human contestants on the TV quiz show Jeopardy in 2011 – which allows both chefs and home cooks to generate innovative recipes based on a database that houses thousands of possible combinations of ingredients that none of us would imagine work, but which are scientifically compatible according to their flavour profiles (Watson has even “authored” a cookbook).

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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”

The World’s “Best Female Chef”

From our May 4 2018 newsletter:

Earlier this week, chef Clare Smyth (who worked with Gordon Ramsay for over a decade) was named elit Vodka‘s (in partnership with The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) “World’s Best Female Chef“, which some critics lauded as a win for Britain (Smyth being the first British chef to be recognised as such, after already being the first British female chef “to hold and retain 3 Michelin stars“), while others lamented what they saw as the condescension of having an award specifically for females (Bourdain’s tweet below, from 2013, indicates that this has been a concern for some time already):

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