Julia Child, the celebrated American food writer and TV chef, once quipped that “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook”.
Well, I couldn’t agree more, and now that the winter is finally upon us, it’s time for smouldering coals, smoky red wine and large cuts of steak slowly charring to perfection.
If you’re going to cook steak over the open fire you’ll achieve far better results if you go for larger cuts of meat: cooking a 1kg piece of meat will produce far more consistent and desirable results than five 200g steaks, and you’ll get a better char on the bigger cut without sacrificing those pink, inner juices (as long as you don’t overcook it!). There are few more glorious slabs of marbled and aged flesh on the fire than an enormous T-bone. Continue reading “Pinch of Salt: Steak, Glorious Steak”
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”
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”
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.
Or should I say, “The Emperor’s recently acquired hand-stitched, interlocking, sustainably, hydroponically and organically grown organic attire”?
Menu speak gone mad!
“48-hour cold smoked organically farmed, hand-reared, pole-caught Monrovian yellowfin tuna, compressed cucumber, sous-vide heirloom tomatoes, air-dried fennel, Kalamata espuma, lemon granita, green bean emulsion, confit of new season’s potatoes, and anchovy soil.”
Salad Niçoise by any other name, but not in today’s uber cool menu speak.
Chefs seem to have lost the plot entirely – whatever happened to simplicity? This kind of nonsense has replaced the old 80s style descriptions when ingredients were “nestled on a bed of …” or “floated in a pool of …”, but I don’t think that we are better off.Continue reading “Pinch of Salt: The Emperor’s New Clothes”
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”
On the menu: Green sunflower, sunchoke, butternut, quince
One of the highlights of a recent visit was an intriguing play on risotto that used sunflower seeds instead of rice. How did you come up with that, and were you intending for it to be “risotto-like”?
Chef Michael Cooke: Yes, we were, and it took roughly nine months of development to create this dish. To give a bit of background, we keep a diary of everything that’s available on the Vergelegen property; we document the season, the exact time of the year each ingredient is available, and the timeline that it’s available for. We do this to keep ahead of the seasons, and to be on track for when something becomes available, so when it is, we’re ready to use it immediately when it’s at its peak, and not waste any valuable time as the timeline of that ingredient slowly withers away. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Sunflower Seed “Risotto” at Camphors”