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 July 2017 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.
The octopus was phenomenal. Would you mind telling us how the dish came together, with the fennel and sea spinach?
Chef Giles Edwards: As with most of the dishes, it’s really about the supplier. Our chicken hearts come from Angus at Spier – they’re amazing, so I think about how I can make them appealing to everyone else. I put a deep-fried potato bake on the plate, and it just works perfectly with the dish, and it becomes an attraction – it’s the same with the octopus. I always cook it the same way; it just comes down to what I pair it with and how I use it. The octopus comes from South Coast Fisheries, who source it from False Bay. It’s Atlantic octopus, and there are not many restaurateurs buying it. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Octopus at La Tête”
If you stop and think about it, it’s interesting that we visit a top-end restaurant, hand over a couple of thousand Rand per head for the pleasure, and then profusely thank the waiter, the manager and the chef for the privilege when we leave.
This gratitude is only elevated the more rare the opportunity, like when we land a table at a place that really is difficult to get into. What this brings into focus is that we are the guests of the restaurant and they are the hosts, and we thank them as we would thank the hosts at a domestic dinner party. We only stop short of bringing them flowers.
On the menu: Part of “Strandveld snacks” at the beginning of lunch
We were intrigued by all your dishes, but especially the bread with bokkom butter, which was like a bagna cauda, but West Coast style. Can you tell us about how that came about?
Kobus van der Merwe: At Oep ve Koep (our previous space which is still run by my family), we used to serve a fried bokkom* fillet in different versions – there was a breakfast-y one with egg, and we did a seared watermelon with bokkom and seaweed. And then everyone in the kitchen always grabbed and dipped their bread in the pan that we fried the bokkom in, because the juices were just ridiculous. We fried them in a little oil, and then we added butter while the bokkoms were heating up, and then, almost as a joke, because it’s the nicest feeling to clean a pan with bread in the kitchen, we started thinking of sending that to the table, and then just refining it a little bit.
For me, manhood meant a place at a table in a restaurant.
When I was very young in Durban my father had a ritual. Once a month on a Monday he would put on a clean white shirt and a tie and a sports jacket and leave the house alone. This was a strange turn of events, because ordinarily my father would never wear a tie or a jacket, and also this was Durban in the 1970s – the only people who wore ties and jackets were waiters and jewel thieves.
He would come home later in the evening, and I would hear his car pull up in the driveway and hear him open the front door and walk through the house, and I can’t remember if I ever asked him where he went in his clean white shirt and his tie and sports jacket, but I know it felt like a tremendous secret, something strange and terrible and not quite fit for the eyes of moms and small kids.