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Grazie, Graze

Oscar Foulkes May 2, 2011 Restaurants No comments

Graze, in Stanford’s main road, is a fabulous little eatery, overflowing with character in a way that makes you want to eat the entire menu. I was there for lunch after a little mountain bike ride, hence my interest in eating was even greater.

As you can see from the picture above, the menu is written on one of the walls. The theme is Italian, with antipasto-type dishes piquing lunch appetites. They aren’t licensed, so we were invited to pick something up from the bottle store across the road (I thoroughly enjoyed the bottle of 2010 Raka Sauvignon Blanc I selected from the limited cold stocks).

The place was quite busy, so a lengthy conversation with the owner, Jero, was not possible. He was wearing a chef’s jacket, but due to a staff shortage he was working front of house. In the kitchen was his wife (or significant other), who goes by the name of Catch (fancy that), according to the embroidery on her chef’s jacket. Unfortunately, we didn’t get around to establishing the story behind the name.

Bresaola with rocket, parmesan shavings and olive oil

My appetite was given even more of a rev by Jero’s descriptions of the dishes; he’s certainly passionate about food!

The meal was most enjoyable. I ordered two starters: a chickpea salad that was topped with gorgeously creamy locally made grilled haloumi, and bresaola with homegrown rocket, all served with fresh focaccia. This was less food than I needed, so it’s a good thing my friend ordered more ambitiously. The Graze antipasti board is a great way of eating; we enjoyed mixing and matching our way through it.

The Graze Board (for two)

Graze is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, which means you have limited opportunities to dine there. Be sure to make a booking the minute you arrive in Stanford.

Planet Restaurant

Oscar Foulkes April 29, 2011 Restaurants No comments

Cured ham with slow-cooked egg at Planet Restaurant

As a young adult, the Grill Room at the Mount Nelson Hotel was high on my list of special occasion outings. With jazzy-type live music (and mini dance floor), plush banquettes and dark wood it pressed all the right buttons.

Most of what happens at the Mount Nelson has remained pretty much the same as it’s been for decades, which is part of the property’s appeal. However, hotel restaurants are an almost-impossible business to operate effectively – ideally they’d be a profit centre, but most of the time they are a cost centre. And, let’s not forget how fickle Cape Town’s dining out crowd is, so there’s an ongoing imperative to keep the offering fresh.

The Mount Nelson’s most recent restaurant update has been the Planet Restaurant, twinning with the hotel’s hugely popular Planet Bar. The marketing person in me isn’t convinced about this as a brand extension, but that’s a separate discussion. What is convincing is Chef Rudi Liebenberg’s food.

The main theme running through the menu is one of sustainability, which as a buzz-word is as hip as the patrons at the Planet Bar. It’s very easy to be cynical of businesses that have jumped onto the sustainability band wagon, however, having got to know Rudi over the years I can tell you that he is 100% sincere – not to mention passionate – about the direction they have taken.

It may be a boy thing, but I also know Rudi to love his kitchen toys. Again, it’s not about waving the flag of the latest fads, it’s about what ends up on the plate. So, sous-vide is a method used with several of the dishes. What this usually entails is putting the item into a vacuumed bag and popping it into water at a specific temperature (could be anything between 60 and 80 degrees) for a fixed length of time. The benefit is that the cooking happens at a temperature which retains the texture and juiciness of the meat (or whatever is being cooked). Accurately determining (and implementing) the cooking temperatures of various foodstuffs is one of the features of molecular gastronomy.

I should add that I have had a somewhat cynical view of sous-vide, mainly because my earliest experiences were of chefs using the latest toys without paying much attention to deliciousness, which surely is the ultimate aim of their ‘alchemic’ activities.

So, on to the meal. I started with what one could lightheartedly call egg and bacon. It comprised an egg poached sous-vide (the white had not denatured to the point where it was a solid white, but had turned to jelly) with locally cured ham and shavings of Gouda cheese. Garnish took the form of delicately tasty pea sprouts. I’m not one of those eaters who needs his eggs cooked to the point of bouncing off the walls, so the concept of conceptually half-cooked – but scientifically fully-cooked – eggs don’t scare me. I loved the dish, which could also stimulate debate about which part of a restaurant bill we regard as fair mark-up.

You see, this starter sells at R85, which is astronomical (what else could one expect from a place called ‘planet’) when related to the cost of the ingredients. Yet, we happily accept it. On the other hand, the mark-up on their wines is much smaller, but still at a level that could raise some diners’ ire (my benchmark, Warwick First Lady, sells for R190).

My main course was pasture-reared chicken on a curried barley ‘risotto’, that was sensational (there may well be something perverse about a meal starting with egg and proceeding with chicken). The breast, which had been cooked sous-vide, had the most fabulous texture, doing an excellent job of demonstrating the benefits of cooking at low temperature. With this was served a grilled drumstick that had been coated in popcorn. I’m not making this up. The popcorn had been cooked with chakkalakka oil, then blitzed in a food processor. The flavour and texture combination was amazing!

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Across the table, the food was no less delicious. I was given a morsel of braised pork cheek that blew me away. From the starter, I had a piece of salmon trout (cooked sous-vide) that had the most unusual texture (neither raw, nor cured, nor cooked).

We couldn’t manage dessert, so mopped up the rest of our wine with a shared cheese board.

As befitting an establishment of this nature, there is a six-course tasting menu, which you can order with matching wines. What sets Planet Restaurant apart – and which proves Rudi’s sustainability ‘cred’ – is the same thing for vegans. Fine dining is usually about expensive protein being used as the mouthpiece for a head chef’s ego.

Vegan cooking is something different altogether, and for traditionally-minded chefs may even qualify as a form of torture. It’s one thing to omit meat or chicken, but working without staples such as dairy or eggs – and creating six sensational courses in the process – is not the kind of cooking challenge that top chefs would normally choose to take on.

So, how successful is this as a rejuvenated restaurant concept for Cape Town’s most traditional of hotels? The whole experience is certainly grand, from décor to service to food. Of necessity, this is matched by the pricing. While costly, it’s fair, given the quality of the offering, but much less accessible than the adjacent Planet Bar. I do wonder how many of the Bar regulars would eat at the sister Restaurant, and this makes me question the marketing side of things. The situation isn’t helped by recessionary times, which have inhibited people’s willingness to splash out on smart meals.

Enough of me with my marketing hat on. The foodie in me was absolutely delighted with the experience. And, I’m about to contradict myself; in these straitened times one occasionally needs a little escapism from enforced austerity. Where better than Planet Restaurant, with its grand, traditional Mount Nelson backdrop to Rudi’s modern food?

A-1 Pork Chop at DW Eleven-13

Oscar Foulkes April 21, 2011 Restaurants No comments

A random Google pork chop

I went through a craving for pork chops a month ago. It started when my golf group went for lunch after our monthly game at De Zalze (lovely course, by the way). Pork chops were on the menu at our chosen lunch venue (so bad I cannot possibly mention it by name), and instantly I was imagining biting into a juicy, tender piece cut from next to the bone.

What arrived, sadly, were unquestionably the worst-prepared pork chops I have ever encountered. For starters, they’d sliced one chop into two – well, that’s what it looked like – with the result that the chops were about 6mm thick.

Mistake number one: chops need to be cut thicker, so that one can cook them for long enough to caramelise the outside, without overcooking the inside. This is especially true of pork chops, which have hardly any fat in the meat (unlike lamb chops), and therefore dry out very quickly.

The most astonishing of all, though, was the way they’d cooked it, and the effect this had on the flavour. I didn’t see the kitchen in operation, but based upon the bitter, charred flavour with hints of gas flame, my guess is that they’d done it on a gas steak griller with the flames on maximum.

A week or two later I cooked pork chops at home, which I won’t describe here at risk of sounding immodest, but they did help to quell my cravings for a bit.

Last week, while in Johannesburg, I went to DW Eleven-13 for dinner. This restaurant had been highly recommended to me by foodie friends, and I even went so far as to research the menu online. By the time I was comfortably ensconsed in my seat, with menu in hand, I already knew what I wanted to eat. Yes, you’re right, the marinated pork chop. To be precise, it’s marinated with olive oil, fennel seeds, basil and chilli, served with bacon, borlotti beans and a rich lemon pork reduction.

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That pork chop was gorgeous. It was more tender and juicy than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams (perhaps cooked sous vide before being finished off under the grill), and oodles of sauce with finely judged flavours. All it needed was mashed potato, which I had to order as an extra, at a stratospheric R35 for two table spoons.

Less heavenly was the texture of the mash. One certainly could never have used words like “fluffy” or “clouds”. In fact, if the wallpaper had unexpectedly started coming away from the wall the mash would have come in handy. You get the picture.

The restaurant dealt with the issue appropriately (profuse apologies and extortionate mash removed from the bill).

I didn’t have dessert, but was hugely impressed by the petit fours – chocolate truffles and turkish delight, both homemade.

By the time one has added the side order of mashed potato, the pork chop at DW Eleven-13 comes to R170, which is really, really expensive. That we’re willing to pay this much for an admittedly excellent dish says a lot about the ineptitude of other establishments.

Cooking a pork chop well is not a difficult thing, and yet so few restaurants get it right.

Eating at DW Eleven-13 is an exercise that requires some prior financial planning, but it’s forgivable, given this level of passion and excellence.

I will, however, have to find alternative ways of dealing with my occasional pork chop cravings!

One Man’s Gnocchi

Oscar Foulkes February 21, 2011 Restaurants No comments

Eleven years ago I attended an intimate performance of Via Dolorosa by John Maytham at Pieter Toerien’s Theatre on the Bay. Nothing I’ve read, nor anything I’ve watched on TV, has done a better job of explaining the Israel-Palestine conflict to me. John was brilliant, as he always is when he puts his radio mic aside once every couple of years to address the world’s great issues in one or other theatre production.

Pieter Toerien – operating without any subsidy or public funds of any kind – has a record of more than 40 years in theatre, which is remarkable. Without any disrespect to John’s Via Dolorosa, he’s been successful because of a keen sense of what shows will put bums in seats. Generally, that involves a whole lot of feel-good, and not too much challenge.

Since early-November, Dish has been operating the restaurant at Theatre on the Bay (I wrote about the wine list here). Apart from any other consideration, the main issue we’ve encountered is the limited time to serve pre-theatre dinner, especially when guests arrive at 7.35 and expect to be served two courses before 7.55 (we advise arrival by 7.00).

By way of a little marketing we invited a selection of theatre and food writers/bloggers last week. I was at home, but as I follow a few of them on Twitter, I made sure to watch the Twitter stream, and was heartened to see the first positive comments from @SamWilson1. Then @RelaxWithDax weighed in with rave about the gnocchi. Sam immediately countered with a comment about order envy. It was like watching the big game on TV, but scary too, because I knew before the chef did whether they enjoyed their meal, or not. As did the thousands of people who follow these tweeters.

On the night there were other raves about the gnocchi, which is served with a little truffle oil, an almond cream, mushrooms, green beans and confit beetroot. I think it’s a great dish.

However, it’s had more send-backs than we’ve had for any other dish on the menu, which I think is a product of the way the gnocchi is cooked. You see, after it’s been blanched we sauté the gnocchi in a pan to give the outsides that lovely golden caramelised finish which is so tasty. It’s admittedly not the mainstream way of serving gnocchi, but it’s certainly out there, and a lot more flavourful than boiled dumplings swimming in a bowl of sauce.

When we had gnocchi – also sautéed – on the menu at Vaudeville we had similar issues. I therefore think it’s time to take a leaf out of Pieter Toerien’s book; future Theatre Bistro menus will attempt to be the culinary equivalent of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals or Defending the Caveman. Sadly, there isn’t room for gnocchi from ‘the fringe’. Having said all the above, the possibility remains that the kitchen messed up, delivering a sub-standard meal, in which case the plates had every right to go flying back to the kitchen.

Of course, how one likes one’s gnocchi is subjective. And, regardless of which side one finds oneself, neither side is right or wrong. So, we’ll accept this as a high-risk zone (also from the perspective of the kitchen producing perfectly fluffy ‘pillows’ of gnocchi) and move onto something else without getting unnecessarily emotional.

One area that does have an empirical basis, however, is the measurement of a glass of wine, which is stated in the wine list as 150ml. I come at this from a wine perspective, so we insist on using proper crystal glasses, which have a bowl size of over 400ml. No amount of explanation, nor measuring devices, can divert guests from their firmly-held view that we’re giving them less wine than they paid for (the glass isn’t full, after all).

At some point in the evening, however, the guests need to go back downstairs, which is when they find themselves wondering why they are not negotiating the stairs so well after two “small” glasses of wine (300ml, after all, is not that far away from half a bottle).

The problem is very easily solved, of course. All we need to do is change to those horrible little clunky glasses that do wine such a disservice and fill them to the brim. What’s standing in the way is principle; that Sidedish Theatre Bistro will not deviate from serving wine in proper glassware.

Which raises the question: if something as trivial as glassware can make someone this intractable, how can there ever be reconciliation between Israel and its Arab neighbours?

Click here for the March 2011 menu.

A Taste of My Own Medicine

Oscar Foulkes October 27, 2010 Restaurants No comments

Life has a great way of dishing out a taste of one’s own medicine.

Take restaurant wine lists. These are guaranteed to get me grumbling, especially if the list has obviously been compiled by one of the wine distributors, without care being taken to put interesting wines onto the list (actually, drinkable would be a good starting point). I get really irritated if there is price gouging (like the Crystal Towers Hotel selling Warwick’s First Lady for R190), or if the restaurant doesn’t make an effort to get enjoyable wines onto the list at around R100 per bottle.

From November, Dish is taking over the restaurant at Theatre on the Bay. I’ve been involved in all aspects of the re-launch, but the one job I definitely wasn’t going to let go of was the wine list.

To simplify my task I restricted the selection to wines that (a) are from wineries that have been clients of Dish, or (b) are produced by family connections, or (c) are connected by friendship. These criteria leave several products that will come under consideration for future lists.

To begin, I selected three wines from Cloof, partly because they are brands I created, but mainly because they offer excellent value. Then I did something very uncharacteristic, in that I selected four wines that fall under the Distell umbrella. This vast producing wholesaler is seen as a monster by the majority of its smaller competitors, and its low-cost export products may well have contributed to price ceilings for South African wines in some markets. However, with the exception of the tobacco industry (yes, I know there may well be ethical considerations there), Distell has been one of Dish’s biggest customers over the years.

The most important issue, though, is that their portfolio extends way beyond the commercial brands. Within the Cape Legends stable (think Lomond, in particular) there are some fabulous wines. And, because their distribution costs are not only in-house, but also amortised across millions of cases of other products, their selling prices in many instances are very reasonable.

Alchemy of Gold is Distell’s campaign for marketing top-end brandy, and we’ll have five of their premium products, some of which will sell for less than the rot-gut tequila that gets sold in nightclubs.

Dish has catered for the nuptials of two Louw siblings at Diemersdal, from whom we have an elegant Pinotage and a Chablis-like unwooded Chardonnay.

The Arabella Shiraz (our house red) is made and marketed by my uncle, Stephen de Wet, and cousins, Jamie and Nicky de Wet.

Then, there are three fabulous wines we already had in stock – Cape Point Vineyards Semillon 2007, Chocolate Block 2007 and the Joostenberg Noble Late Harvest 2005. Mulderbosch Chardonnay gets a wild card ‘friends’ call-up.

We’ve kept the pricing as reasonable as possible, bearing in mind that our overheads have to be covered by one sitting per night only. It truly is quite sobering to spend a little time with the spreadsheets outlining the viability of a restaurant; it’s clear that wine sales are an important component of the mix.

I’m tempted, once we get going, to do a reserve list of a dozen, or so, Sauvignon Blancs. I may not drink that much white wine, but that doesn’t stop me recognising the excellence of this category. And, apart from anything else, pre-theatre diners in summer will be looking out over the ocean as the sun is setting. What better way to toast the end of the day than a glass of refreshing Sauvignon ?

A list of five whites, five reds (three of each available by the 150ml glass) and one champagne-method sparkling wine, is likely to leave some disappointed diners, especially as I haven’t included any ‘comfort-zone’ type products (think Haute Cabriere Chardonnay/Pinot Noir or Beyerskloof Pinotage). While the list is – inevitably – my choice, I hope that the exclusion of such wines isn’t seen as a judgement of individuals’ taste. All I ask is for open minds on the part of diners, who will certainly be paying less for wines that I have no hesitation in recommending.

I look forward to having a taste of my own ‘medicine’ when the Sidedish Theatre Bistro opens!

Download the wine list (PDF)

Gewurztraminer Meets Banana

Oscar Foulkes August 4, 2010 Restaurants, Wines No comments

Often, I think, too much is made of food and wine pairings. Achieving the perfect complement between the flavours of the wine and food (in the midst of myriad subjective factors) is almost impossible, and threatens to distract from the enjoyment of either the food or the wine. Having said that, wine dinners can be an enjoyable way of spending an evening, especially if one is making new discoveries, and if the chef has been sympathetic to the wines.

I attended a Neethlingshof dinner at Sidedish last night, with the winemaker, De Wet Viljoen, presenting the wines. The menu had been compiled by Dish’s head chef, Arno Janse van Rensburg.

I first encountered Neethlingshof wines in 1993, when they supplied several of my Mystery and Eclipse wines. The most notable of these was a Cabernet Franc-dominated blend, called Vivaldi, which won several large panel tastings, out-scoring wines at double the price. Until that point, I don’t think Cabernet Franc featured on their radar screen. They had several vintages in stock (still in tank), so I could blend to my heart’s content. Those were the days!

Neethlingshof, now, is a quite different place. De Wet is clearly passionate about his wines, and it shows. My favourites were the 2005 Shiraz and 2010 Maria (noble late harvest), which were both delicious.

As far as the food pairing was concerned, the surprise of the night was the harmony between the 2009 Gewurztraminer and a dish that comprised fish (hake), fried squid, caramelised banana, guava sorbet, naartjie segments and a kimchee dressing. Fruit and wine are not always a happy combination, but there is so much going on in a mouthful of Gewurztraminer that one can get away with quite a lot. The Neethlingshof release has a fabulous acidity, which makes it a bit challenging to drink on its own. However, it was twice the wine when the sips followed a mouthful of food. Of all the flavours on the plate, perhaps the most surprising complement was with the banana. Wow!

The one rule I do have when it comes to food and wine pairing is one I borrowed from the Hippocratic oath: “Do no harm.” The seared sirloin tartare with lemon atchar and salted apricot purée was delicious, but the lemon and apricot clashed badly with the shiraz that accompanied the course. It says a lot for the wine that it held its own under the circumstances. Based upon cursory online scouting, the Shiraz is available at under R70 per bottle, which I think is extremely good value.

South Africa has a wonderful tradition of various sweet wines, whether botrytis or fortified. The Maria (from Riesling) is fabulous – a wide array of gorgeous fruit flavours held together by rapier-like acidity.

Falling under the umbrella of Distell (through their subsidiary Cape Legends), Neethlingshof is assured excellent distribution throughout South Africa. The wines are not at all ambitiously priced and worth looking out for.

Vaudeville’s July Menu

Oscar Foulkes June 30, 2010 Tags: Restaurants 1 comment

Lobster and linefish with a mild and fragrant curry sauce on basmati rice and greens

It is sensible, when feeding many people off a set menu that offers only three main course options (meat, fish or vegetarian), to stick to the safe, middle-of-the-road options. Any menu items that deviate from the broadest base of acceptance run the risk of creating problems due to the limited number of diners that would find them acceptable. There is a reason why airlines serve “chicken or beef?”

Before getting to some background detail on Vaudeville’s July menu, I need to ask: is it sensible to dangle upside-down several metres above the ground, supported only by some fabric wrapped around one’s ankles? Is it sensible to juggle eggs? And who in their right mind does the hula hoop with a flaming hoop while semi-naked?

In the light of what happens on the Vaudeville stage, the risks we have taken with Vaudeville’s July menu are probably not at all risque.

The first of these is the inclusion of lobster in the fish main course – Lobster and linefish with a mild and fragrant curry sauce on basmati rice and greens. We make the curry sauce without any shellfish stock, and we’re happy to serve the dish without the lobster, but guests that order the full monty can look forward to a delicious combination of flavours. The curry is more fragrant than ‘chilli hot’, which complements the lobster and fish extremely well.

Slow-roasted Springbok shank with roast garlic mash, roasted beetroot & butternut and blanched greens

The meat main course is Springbok shank (one of my all-time favourites, and a dish that is extremely well-suited to Inkspot, the house red), that we serve with roast garlic mashed potato, roasted butternut and beetroot and blanched greens. Being venison, springbok has a very low fat content, and is raised completely organically. This makes it an extremely healthy red meat choice. Springbok shanks are little smaller than lamb shanks, which are sometimes a dauntingly large mound of meat on the plate. Some types of venison have stronger flavour, but springbok is almost as mild as Karoo lamb.

Springbok meat is not Halaal. Upon request, we have Halaal meat available as an alternative.

Vegetarians can look forward to homemade gnocchi, which we toss with wood-roasted rosa tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, pine nuts, parmesan and rocket.

Probably the only sensible things we’ve done relate to the two desserts. Due to popular request, the decadent chocolate torte makes a return. The pavlova with vanilla mascarpone crème and fresh seasonal fruits or berries is not only a light dessert option, but also suitable for wheat intolerant guests.

Inside Vaudeville’s red-draped walls and ceiling, where performers do outrageous things, and guests are invited to escape their day-to-day experiences for a few hours, you may be asked “springbok or lobster?” The waiter who asks this question may be a fishnetted woman, a glitter-lipsticked man, or perhaps even the top-hatted and corsetted Jennifer-trix. Under the circumstances, “chicken or beef?” would just be wrong. We don’t have anything against bovines or birds (even if they have breasts), but the occasion does call on something a bit more adventurous.

You may even find yourself having a jolly good time while not behaving at all sensibly!

Cape Town’s hottest new (old) address

Oscar Foulkes June 19, 2010 Hotels, Restaurants 2 comments

One of my favourite parts of the Cape Town city centre is the top of Adderley Street, where Wale Street joins from the right. If one continues up Wale it cuts right across the city (parallel to what would have been coastline), ending up in the Bo-Kaap, just below the point where the Noon Gun is fired every day.

Leading off towards Table Mountain from the top of Adderley is the avenue that runs through the Company’s Gardens. To the left is the Slave Lodge museum, with St George’s Cathedral occupying the right side of the avenue, which is also the south side of the bottom of Wale Street. The north (sea) side is a collection of historic buildings that most recently housed a financial services business. These buildings have been converted to a five-star Taj hotel. While it was still a construction site I was given a hard hat walkaround by the F&B manager, James Boreland (you can tell that I was trying really hard to get Cloof wines onto the wine list – ultimately to no avail). I was keen to return as a guest, but general busy-ness kept getting in the way.

On our way back from Cape Town station last week we’d stopped at the hotel’s Twankey’s bar, which is on the Adderley/Wale corner, for a drink. On a whim we booked a table at the Bombay Brasserie for dinner last night. I say on a whim, because if it we’d stopped to think about it we’d probably not have done it; the establishment could as easily be called the Bombay Buffalo (it knows how to charge). But then we’d have postponed even further into the future a fabulous experience.

The Bombay Brasserie is an intimate space, seating only 44 diners. Original wood-panelled walls remain, and the space is decorated in a classic style. Huge chandeliers dominate the space above eye-level, but don’t disturb the cosy lighting.

I should also add that during my visit to Mumbai late last year I’d been on a mission to eat cutting-edge Indian food. While it seemed that such restaurants don’t really exist, I was assured that the orginal Taj hotel’s Bombay Brasserie served very sophisticated food. That I didn’t get there during my trip further enhanced my interest in visiting the local establishment.

Yes, it is expensive, let me get that elephant out of the room, but no more than one would spend at any top-end restaurant in South Africa. Last month I was horrified to find Warwick’s First Lady on a wine list (Crystal Towers Hotel) at R190, making the Brasserie’s R160 seem less outrageous. We opted for the 2003 (yes, an aged wine on a Cape Town wine list) Glen Carlou Syrah, at R240, which appeared to be pretty good value, all things considered.

The service was exemplary. The maitre d’, Mafyos, assisted by Phinias, talked us through the menu in the most engaging manner. I’d go so far as to say that this was one of the best tableside presentations I’ve ever experienced.

We ordered four different starters (there were five of us at the table), which were shared. My first mouthful of Galouti Kebab was the most delicate morsel of lamb mince ever. The story goes that the dish was invented for the nobles who didn’t like chewing their food. This one was so soft that I couldn’t determine any trace of meaty texture.

The chicken tikka was juicy, packed with flavour and quite delicious with the mint chutney that accompanied the starters. We were similarly impressed by two vegetarian starters, one based on potato and the other on lentils.

We ordered five main courses – all delicious – but what blew me away was the spinach and roasted garlic side dish. The texture was the most delicate and fluffy puree ever, the colour was a vibrant green, and the flavour just exquisite.

As with the starters, we shared the main courses – Dal Makhani, tandoori fish on spinach and mushrooms, lamb shank, chicken pulao and a prawn curry. These were accompanied by steamed rice and plain naan. All the dishes were spiced – that’s why we were there, after all – but none of them was overly hot (in a chilli sense). I don’t think I’d want to be drinking cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon with this food, but the shiraz was not intimidated by the spiciness of the dishes.

No-one could face dessert, but two of us had coffees. The total bill, including tip, a bottle of white wine and two bottles of red, came to R2350, which doesn’t exactly make the Bombay Brasserie a candidate for one’s local Indian restaurant. However, the entire experience was well worth it. If a so-so restaurant could easily cost R250 per person, I think it’s actually good value to remove the so-so from the list and rather go to an excellent restaurant half as often.

I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot more time at the corner of Adderley and Wale Streets.

A Night of Vaudevillian Pleasure

Oscar Foulkes May 30, 2010 Tags: Restaurants No comments

Before Vaudeville opened, one of the management team was doing a quick mental calculation of the number of people involved in making each evening’s performance happen. I seem to recall a tally in the vicinity of 60 or 70, covering everything from performers to kitchen staff and waiters.

As I have so indulgently reported, my focus has been on the food, which is necessary, because that’s our area of responsibility. However, I’ve never got around to experiencing Vaudeville as a guest, an omission I finally rectified two nights ago.

Over the months I’ve got to know the soundtrack, mostly because of the musical cues, and have become quite Pavlovian in my response to the track that signals five minutes to main course service, but there is a huge difference between a stark stainless steel kitchen and the plush, cocooned escape of the theatre area.

I loved every minute of the experience. It was fabulous; far better than I could have imagined from my post in the kitchen (the food was good, too!). Monsieur Albert, the host, was wonderfully entertaining, and really good in the way that he held together a succession of extraordinary performers.

The show girls offered plenty of eye candy, which makes me think that I’ve spent all my time in the wrong part of the backstage area!

I thought it would be funny, hilarious actually, to make a ridiculous enquiry of our waiter (obviously in on the joke, because I wasn’t exactly incognito) for a main course suitable for a garlic and mushroom allergic vegan who doesn’t eat rice (the vegetarian main course is a mushroom risotto that contains not only cheese, but garlic as well). The Dish head chef, Arno, was running the kitchen, and it was intended as a harmless tease. However, by the time word got back to the kitchen, Arno had already rolled out gnocchi that he’d made on-the-fly.

My main course was delivered with a side order of cold, burnt sausage roll, which continued the culinary banter. Then, to my amazement and enormous admiration, the kitchen also sent out a beautiful (looking and tasting) plate of gnocchi with pea puree, butternut puree and marinated ribbons of courgette. I know how many expletives Arno must have muttered under his breath, or perhaps even more loudly Gordon Ramsay-style, but he nevertheless pulled an amazing meal together. I’m in awe of what he did in the midst of all else that was happening in the kitchen. Respect!

I’m not attempting to deflect attention from the food, so that there is less pressure on us to put delicious food on guests’ plates, but the point of Vaudeville is the show. As I sat there, soaking up the amazing experience, I was struck by the cumulative effort on the part of the performers. They put so much of themselves into every night’s performance that one cannot fail to be swept away.

That observation also left me feeling more than a little guilty about our somewhat self-important attention to the food, which is such a tiny part of the night’s human effort. Relative to the phenomenal feats of trapeze, balance, strength and more, a couple of hundred grams of roast lamb is really quite insignificant.

Arno’s vegan-friendly meal, on the other hand, was on a par with any acrobatic feat performed on (or above) the stage. The difference, of course, is that there are diners who would have sent the impromptu vegan meal back to the kitchen for a variety of reasons related to personal taste.

Vaudeville represents a huge investment of capital on the part of its shareholders, matched by a great deal of skill and passion on the part of the all the people who make the evening happen. It was wonderful, if only for one night, to be on the receiving end of it.

Well done guys, and gals!

Vaudeville’s June Menu

Oscar Foulkes May 18, 2010 Tags: Restaurants 4 comments

It’s hard to believe that more than five months have whizzed by since the opening of Vaudeville. This equates to the service of nearly 25 000 meals, a rather startling realisation (more startling, perhaps, is how long it took me to get there as a guest. Read about my evening here). The total has been arrived at in increments of a few hundred at a time, which is testament to the power of small steps.

Another month, of course, means another menu. The June menu launches on Wednesday 26 May. Thereafter, the new menu will launch on the first Tuesday of every month (or thereabouts).

Mushroom and pea risotto

The vegetarian option – taking into special consideration that we’re now officially in winter – is a mushroom risotto. It seems a shame that this dish should be playing the ‘quota’ role, because its deliciousness cuts across all dietary preferences. OK, perhaps not vegan, because it’s a dish that really does need a generous grating of Parmesan. We also like to fry the onions, garlic and rice in butter at the beginning, so dairy (and, God forbid, garlic) are essential components. Upon request, preferably at the time of booking, we happily cook this dish without the offending components. Our preference is for a drier style of risotto, rather than a more ‘soupy’ consistency.

Salmon-gratinated fish of the day with basmati rice, greens and a dill sauce

We always struggle a little with the fish dish. The main issue is one of consistent availability. Last month we were able to put tuna onto the menu for one week, but its preparation required a temporary change to the menu. Our stop-gap has been Blue Wahoo, a Pacific game fish with delicately-flavoured white flesh. This month we’re doing it with a salmon-impregnated, gratinated crust. Put simply, we blitz salmon, bread crumbs, Parmesan, dill and butter. We roll this out into a thin sheet that we put on top of the fish. We roast the fish at 220-degrees, which releases the flavour from the crust and browns it. I’ve been aching to test the response to Hake (probably our most underrated fish), but have been concerned about public response to a fish that has the perception of belonging in a fish and chips shop. Vast quantities of hake are flown to Spain every week, which says a lot for its desirability. What is it they say about a prophet in his own country?

The salmon-gratinated fish is served with rice, greens and an intensely-flavoured dill sauce. Wheat- and/or lactose-intolerant guests are welcome to order this dish without either crust or sauce.

Old-fashioned individual lamb roast with caramelised potatoes, mushy peas and hearty gravy

The meat dish is also something that requires a great deal of thought and investigation. Everyone has a different idea of how pink (or not) a steak should be, which makes simultaneous preparation of 200 steaks quite challenging. Stews don’t have that problem, but it’s almost impossible to make them look nice on a plate. For the June menu we’ve got our butcher to make up individual lamb roasts. These are taken from the ‘breast’, effectively the forequarter ribs. The meat is then deboned and rolled, with a minced lamb and rosemary stuffing. The rolls are gently braised until tender, and are quite delicious. We serve them with caramelised potatoes, mushy peas and a hearty, reduced jus. The end result is another dish perfectly suited – we believe – to winter eating.

We have a feeling that deboning and rolling several thousand lamb breasts is likely to end what until now has been a good relationship with our butcher, but we think it’s worth the risk.

For dessert, we offer two options. The totally decadent chocolate and orange ganache tart remains (even the shortcrust pastry is sensational). The ‘fruit slot’ is being taken over by a caramelised apple puff tart with crème Anglaise.

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