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?”

Pinch of Salt: The Emperor’s New Clothes

By Pete Goffe-Wood.

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”

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”

Story of a Plate: Sunflower Seed “Risotto” at Camphors

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”

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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Remembering Paul Bocuse

From our January 2018 newsletter:

Legendary French chef Paul Bocuse passed away in January this year. He was known as one of the first chefs to move away from traditional French “cuisine classique” to the lighter, more modernised “nouvelle cuisine” (a term supposedly first used by a journalist to describe the meal Bocuse and others prepared for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969). He also founded the Bocuse d’Or (often described as the culinary version of the Olympics) in 1987, which remains the most prestigious gastronomic contest in the world. (His private life famously included one wife, two long-term mistresses, and a tattoo of a rooster on his left arm.)


 More than 1500 of the world’s top chefs attended Bocuse’s funeral in Lyon (image courtesy of The Telegraph)
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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”

Facing up to Discrimination in the Hospitality Industry

From our January 2018 newsletter:

Global concerns over the abuse of power by men over women was a sobering theme that not even the cheer of the festive season could shake. In the US restaurant business it was particularly acute, with several well-known American chefs and restaurateurs like Mario Batali (whose restaurant empire will now be headed by women) and Ken Friedman (co-owner of the acclaimed The Spotted Pig in NYC) being exposed as or accused of being complicit in creating and maintaining uncomfortable environments in the establishments they were guardians of (with Batali’s public apology stating “I take full responsibility”, bizarrely followed by a recipe for cinnamon rolls – which someone blogged about making in an entertainingly acerbic post, incidentally). Continue reading “Facing up to Discrimination in the Hospitality Industry”

Story of a Plate: Citrus Cured Seabass at The Pool Room

On the menu: Citrus cured seabass with duck liver parfait, fine herbs, pickled cucumber, red pepper essence

We recently enjoyed the suprising combination of duck liver parfait with cured fish in this very pretty dish. How did you conceive of putting those two together?  

Chef Gordon Manuel: This dish is from our Discovery menu, and while The Pool Room and Oak Valley have always been well-known for their pork and beef, those can get a little bit heavy, so part of my thinking since we took over the operation of the restaurant was to add a bit more finesse, but finesse without being overly finicky – no tweezers and that type of thing. It’s also about balance; adding something to the menu that’s not so meat-heavy, and that works really well. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Citrus Cured Seabass at The Pool Room”