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”
“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.” Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
Growing up you couldn’t get me to eat vegetables for love or money – the best I could muster was iceberg lettuce (provided it was doused in Thousand Island dressing) or potatoes, but even that was restricted to chips and roasted, mash at a push. I could eat tomatoes that were cooked in a sauce but would rather eat my own hand before a raw one passed my lips. I didn’t even try mushrooms until I was sixteen.
Why, you may ask – my answer would be that I have absolutely no idea – I just didn’t like the idea of vegetables. I was a very fussy eater as a kid and I guess my mother just indulged me. I remember one evening she was away, so my dad had taken on the cooking duties. Having no clue as to what we kids did or didn’t eat, he decided that blackmail was the best course of action and told myself and my two sisters (one of whom, to this day, is still a ridiculously fussy eater) that if we ate everything on our plates he would take us to the Drive-In. I realise that this seriously dates me and any millennials reading this will have to Google search Drive-Ins, but in our household in the 70s this was a serious treat, especially on a school night. Continue reading “Pinch of Salt: Vegetables Are The New Black”
On the menu: Wayfarer smoked trout with guava (part of a tasting menu which changes every night)
We were intrigued by the combination of fish and guava – how did that come about?
Chef Constantijn Hahndiek: Yes, it is an unusual dish, and the reason we went for the guava is because that trout is so unique; it’s got both a strong smokey flavour, and also quite a bit of saltiness from the smoking process.
“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”
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”
I wouldn’t choose to travel overseas with me. It’s not that I’m a cheapskate – actually, no, it’s precisely that I’m a cheapskate. I have ruined more foreign meals than an old man with an accordion wandering from table to table in an Italian restaurant. I sit and scowl at the menu, I purse my lips and make mental conversions into rands, I snarl at wine waiters and start suggesting to my wife that we share the main course. I am well aware that these are not attractive qualities but I can’t help it and it’s too late for me to change.
We were on Sipan island in the Elafiti archipelago, just off the coast of Croatia. The night before we’d been in Dubrovnik and had eaten at a restaurant whose name I have expunged from my memory because when the bill arrived I think I experienced a small stroke. Continue reading “Table Manners: The Joys of Not Needing Supper”
On the menu: Beef cheeks – ragù served on mashed potato*
*As last year’s winner, The Local Grill recently hosted the awards ceremony for the 2017 Steakhunter Championships (which saw Cape Town restaurant Rare Grill take the honours for both overall winner and Newcomer of the Year.) On that occasion we enjoyed a special version of their beef cheeks dish, not as currently described on the menu, but with the extra touches that owner Steve Maresch lets us in on below.
Both the starter, and the story that you told about it, were excellent at the awards ceremony. How did it come about?
Steve: We’ve been operating The Local Grill since 2002, and the whole idea of nose-to-tail – which in the restaurant world really translates into a no-waste philosophy – has always been very important to us. But back in the early days, suppliers found it difficult deliver cuts like beef cheeks, since it was more economically viable for them to sell the whole cow’s head. When we eventually found smaller suppliers who were able to source cheeks for us, we started experimenting with just putting them in the pressure cooker with a bit of star anise, and eventually some vine-ripened baby tomatoes, and just letting those ingredients speak for themselves. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Beef Cheeks at The Local Grill”
In our latest newsletter we explored the issue of fine dining:
There seem to be an abundance of dining “styles” these days, including some new hybrids, like “fast fine” and “fast casual”, and older movements getting modern attention, like “nose-to”tail” and “farm-to-plate”. But what about good old-fashioned “fine dining”?
The website Fine Dining Lovers recently posed the question of what fine dining is to a group of celebrated chefs across the world, and their varied answers point to the fact that there is certainly nothing “old-fashioned” about it – at least not in the sense that there is a strict formula for how to provide it. One chef summed it up as being about “making people feel good”, while another mentioned providing diners with the “best experience” in a way that doesn’t have to be “formal”, “pretentious”, or “elegant”. Chef Mauro Colagreco (chef-patron of the 2 Michelin-starred restaurant Mirazur on the French Riviera) had perhaps the most poetic answer: “For me it’s a big question. It’s a place where you work with memory, with art. I think it’s a place where you find emotions, luxury – but new luxury. Once, to have a garden was common, something everyday, but today to eat something from the garden is a luxury. Luxury has changed.”Continue reading “Plates and places for dining in style”
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.
The waitress stared at me as though she hadn’t fully understood.
“A takeaway,” I said, miming someone wrapping a small parcel and then handing it to another person who nods and smiles and takes it from the first person and sniffs it appreciatively then tucks it under their arm and walks away with it. I am excellent at charades and I don’t know why more people don’t want me on their team. “I think I’m out of time so I’ll have to take it away with me.”
She stared at me some more, her eyes growing wider. This was strange: she seemed to understand basic English when I arrived. She looked around in panic and waved to another guy who came over and they consulted, talking in low, urgent Turkish, throwing me looks of alarm and befuddlement.