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.