A recent piece in The Guardian tackles the issue of diners who make reservations which they fail to honour, and how an increasing number of restaurants are responding by either requesting a non-refundable deposit on booking, or simply requiring credit card details and then “fining” people for not showing up.
On the one hand, it’s a fairly simple – and understandable – form of insurance on the part of restaurants which may stand to lose significant revenue if the booking sheet promises a bustling evening that instead results in empty seats, wasted ingredients, and a contingent of staff whose time could be better employed – and rewarded! – elsewhere.
We visited La Colombe after their recent refurbishments, and particularly enjoyed this spectacular finale to a very fine lunch. We asked Executive Chef James Gaag to tell us the story behind this unique sweet ending.
Chef James Gaag: The way we do the menu at La Colombe is more of an evolution than changing everything in one go. So this idea actually started a few seasons ago, when we had stumbled across a cork log, which we filled with chocolate soil and plated our petit fours on.
Cooking over hot coals is the measure of a man, making and controlling fire is what has helped us rise above the rest of the animal kingdom, and braaing is what sets men apart from other men. It is an unspoken language in which you are sized up by peers and judged to be an equal or found to be wanting.
We have been cooking over open flames since the dawn of time, and recent archeological discoveries have seen cave paintings that prove unequivocally that South Africans were braaing while others were still trying to walk erect.
In our last newsletter, we linked to an article questioning whether we are witnessing the “twilight of the celebrity chef”, following the closure of a number of restaurants whose high-profile benefactors apparently weren’t enough to keep their establishments afloat. Last weekend the Financial Times published a profile of Jamie Oliver, whose restaurant empire appears to have been particularly hard hit by a combination of poor management, politics (Brexit!), and other factors one can sometimes be fooled into imagining that rich famous people never have to deal with:
“‘We had simply run out of cash,’ he recalls, as we sit on a vintage sofa at Oliver headquarters in north London nine months later. ‘And we hadn’t expected it. That is just not normal, in any business. You have quarterly meetings. You do board meetings. People supposed to manage that stuff should manage that stuff.’ A surprisingly sharp tone in his voice suggests that someone let him down and he was none too pleased. Oliver was left with no choice but to instruct his bankers to inject £7.5m from his own savings into the restaurants. A further £5.2m of his own money would follow over the next few months. Last year, Oliver was said to be worth £150m. Even so, £12.7m is not the kind of money that slips down the back of a sofa, vintage or otherwise”. Continue reading “The trouble with celebrity chefs”
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”
On the menu: Saldanha Bay mussels – spekboom / samphire / parsley oil / sea essence
We asked chef Andre Hill to talk us through his favourite dish on the menu at the newly opened Upper Bloem Restaurant.
Chef Andre Hill: The dish that I enjoy the most – because it reminds me very much of growing up – is the mussels. The dish itself is fairly simple; nothing very complicated in terms of either ingredients or techniques – we make a broth from smoked snoek, which we cook the mussels in, and use again to make the emulsion that goes with them. We then take some leeks, cook them for about seven minutes in a bit of oil, and then char them. So the plate consists of a mussel emulsion, the actual mussels, charred leeks, a bit of parsley oil, and then we finish it off with spekboom. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Saldanha Bay Mussels at Upper Bloem Restaurant”
“Can I have the Caesar Salad without anchovies, please?”
“Sure, while I’m at it why don’t I just remove the nasty smelling lactose-infected Parmesan and those awful gluten-laden croutons and bring you a bowl of f@#%ing lettuce!”
It doesn’t matter how many Stars, Chef’s Hats, Blazons, Grammys, Oscars or Eat Out awards your establishment has garnered; there will always be someone who walks in, sits down and decides they know better. Someone who feels that their years of experience of shopping at Woolworths, watching Food Network and “travelling darling, travelling” give them carte blanche to come in and literally ignore the entire kitchen’s reason for living.
I’m never sure if these people are just picky eaters, attention-seekers or on some egomaniacal power trip, but they always feel they have some God-given right to use the menu as a shopping list rather than a bill of fare: they want a starter portion of the squid with the trout garnish but without the potatoes (they “don’t do” protein and starch), and they also want the sauce from the mussels off the set menu but can it be made without butter and olives instead of capers?
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”
For the size of the city, Cape Town is blessed with an unfair number of fine coffee emporia. In one of those “where the hell did the time go?” moments, I was recently reminded that Origin Coffee Roasting, the epicentre of “Third Wave” coffee in South Africa, was started 12 years ago, in 2006.
In coffee parlance, “Third Wave” represents the point in the evolution of modern coffee culture that the artisan roastery takes a central place after the traditional coffee scene, which is the First Wave. In South Africa the First Wave was “coffee” from chicory granules and weak drip brew in hotels and restaurants (and in the USA it still means weak drip brew). The Second Wave is marked by the arrival of the branded stand-alone coffee chains, which we got a decade before the Third Wave hit, in the form of Mugg & Bean (est. 1996 in the V&A Waterfront) and Seattle Coffee Co. (also 1996, in Cavendish Square). The most famous international chain, Starbucks, only arrived here well after our Third Wave (April 2016, ten years after Origin) – testimony to us being blessed with quality. Continue reading “Waves of Coffee and Truth’s Black Honey”
Everyone has their favourite “food movies” (our guest chef-writer Pete Goffe-Wood rounded up his personal best for his imagined Food Oscars last year), or at least food scenes from movies – *that* scene from When Harry and Sally featuring Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in Katz’s Delicatessen in New York jumps to mind for those of us of a certain age. But of course Meg Ryan’s performance is memorable not for what she’s eating, but rather for the, uhm, uncomfortable position she puts Billy Crystal’s character in while he’s trying to eat a sandwich. Continue reading “Women Eating in Movies”