I stopped trying to update my About page some time ago. Frankly, I don’t know what I’m about really. I’d just about made peace with the fact that I’d be living out of a suitcase and getting by in a kitchen with one coffee mug, no cream and these ridiculous, tiny little floral things the Chinese call plates for the next few years, and a year later I found myself back in my home town, running a driving range (Matt Damon bought a zoo, we bought a driving range) and trying to Skype my husband in China with a connection that keeps freezing the video at the most inopportune times. I think he’s forgotten what I look like without one eye half closed and my mouth pulled like I’m trying to imitate Sly Stallone after a particularly hard hit from that Russian dude. So if you’re confused, know that I’m confused too.
So anyway, I might not know where I am or where I’m going most of the time, but where I’ve been is a little easier to pin down. Vereeniging, Gauteng. A nice place to come from and the location of a lovely little eatery called Anna’s Kitchen. Now I’m not going to lie to you – I went here with my brother and dad, and in an attempt to solve the Middle Eastern crisis, end World Hunger and come to grips with the best way to treat a Dollar Spot outbreak on your greens (I have been taken into the fold) we were on our fourth bottle of wine two hours in and hadn’t really thought about food, so I can’t tell you too much about it with any real authority. And my camera battery died, so I can’t really show you either. Frankly, If I were a journalist, I’d be miming on the street to supplement my income. But what I can tell you is that sitting under the Stinkwood (no actual stink involved) at Villa Anna Sophia on a warm Autumn day will make you feel like you are a thousand miles away from any sort of industrial town – somewhere a vast number of people who live in Vereeniging would often like to be. With the soft trickling of water from the fountains and the stone urns scattered amongst lavender and white roses in the garden, you could be sitting at a chateau in the French countryside or a villa in Italy. (I haven’t actually been to either, but I’ve watched long, drawn out movies of divorced women trying to find themselves in those kinds of places.). Oh and of course, there are Hadedas there to remind you that you’re still in South Africa, just in case the Bobotie and boerewors on the menu didn’t tip you off.
So on to what little I can say of the food. Firstly, it was beautifully presented. We oohed and aahed over every plate that came past before forgetting again to order. Expect to find a little more than the usual fare. I’ll be going back for the crispy potato and haloumi breakfast, and the fresh fig and goats cheese pizza and – brace yourself – the Lindt chocolate orange milkshake. And the Turkish Delight milkshake. And the fig and port milkshake. Other notables Read the rest of this entry
If food is your thing and you don’t normally spend months on end looking for it under a rock, then you probably know who Margot Janse is. This multi award winning gourmet has been named Chef of the Year in the Eat Out DSTV Food Network Restaurant Awards for the second time and – as executive chef at Le Quartier Français in Franschhoek – she has led the The Tasting Room to the number two spot on the list of top restaurants in South Africa – the 11th time that this epicurean institution has ranked among the top 10 under her guidance. One day when I’m all grown up, have put the kids through college and have the kind of settled lifestyle where I can plan my eating experiences months in advance, I too will make it to The Tasting Room. But until then, it’s good to know that we can sample a small part of this phenomenal woman’s genius at The Common Room, Le Quartier Français’s slightly more accessible, but no less remarkable eatery. Don’t let the name fool you – The Common Room is far from plebeian. The decor is lush and rich in plums and reds with quirky chandeliers lighting the vibrant interior. For those who love to people watch there is cafè style seating on Huguenot Street’s ample sidewalk and the back of the restaurant opens up to cool gardens and mountain vistas with comfy couches and a fireplace for the chillier days.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The Common Room offers a menu brimming with extraordinarily original small plates designed to be enjoyed as a snack with a glass of bubbly or wine or to accompany one of their witty cocktails (try the passion fruit based Bow Chicka Wow Wow), or to feature as part of a motley cast of plates that make up the perfect ensemble meal. The menu reflects Margot’s ability to zhush up the most humble of South African flavours with humour, imagination and a touch of the exotic. You won’t find a meatball here – instead tuck into succulent lamb frikadelletjies served with flatkoek and raïta. Battered fish takes the form of pops with chakalaka ketchup and the bitterballen (a nod to Margot’s Dutch heritage and one of my favourite things on the planet ever) is made with wildebeest and served with apple mustard. And who can resist something as simple as French toast when it is paired with Spanish cured ham, preserved lime and a summer tomato party? The chicken & duck liver parfait with salted pear simply melts in your mouth and is the closest thing you’ll get to foie gras without the ethical dilemma you normally face picturing all those fluffy, overfed geese. The quail rillettes with mebos chutney is served in a happy little jar and bursts with flavours of the Cape. (I feel like I’m rambling here, but let me continue!). Organic lamb tongue is given the bacon crumble treatment and will warm your heart on the dreariest of days and the wood baked Dalewood camembert (although not exactly original) is simply perfect in its oozy, creamy, rich simplicity. The only dish I didn’t enjoy was the satay spiced squid, but that’s only because it was meltingly tender and as a middle class South African I’m used to the cheap and chewy variety of calamari we have to settle for while the rest of the world munches on our good stuff. Lastly, hand cut chips are served playfully in paper cones and, amongst other sides, you can also tuck into wood roasted sweetcorn with smoked butter or tempura fine beans with a soya dip.
When you’re ready for something sweet, try a jar of brownies or the dainty pear & almond tartlet with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel (it’ll make you forget your manners and you’ll be licking the plate before you’re done). My absolute favourite dish of the day though was the peanut butter parfait with gooseberry gel. The cold, creamy moreish ice cream is paired perfectly with a crunchy, salty, peanut crumb that hits every spot a dessert should and some you Read the rest of this entry
It turns out that blogging is not like riding a bike. Rather, it is like a gym routine – once you’ve missed a few days, even sorting your sock draw somehow seems to take priority over getting the next post out. And so it is that more than a month has passed since I got back to South Africa and I’ve hardly written a thing. To be fair, I have not touched ground till now. We moved house, saw friends and family and tried to pack in as much of the SA sunshine as we could before hubby headed back to Shanghai without me. But the dust has settled a bit, my sock draw is sorted and there are no more excuses.
Where is the first place you go to eat when you’ve spent a few months away from home and are craving all things South African? Well, apparently my family thinks it’s to a Greek joint. So Mezepoli is where I found myself a few weeks ago the day after I landed back home. I was not expecting to say anything about it here and didn’t even take my camera. The plan was just to catch up with my family. But oh. My. Word. One bite of their decadently thick and creamy tzatziki and I knew I had to spread the word! So I grabbed my phone camera (hence the quality) and started taking notes before the Rosé could go to my head.
Mezepoli is like that guy at school who everyone wants to be like even though he’s only ever in faded jeans and old t-shirts – it is just effortlessly cool. The waitrons are knowledgeable, efficient and attentive without bothering you with too many “Are you okay?”‘s, the decor is simple and fresh and menus are printed onto paper that doubles as your table cloth. This is not the place for a quiet, romantic meal (unless it’s a first date and you’re worried about awkward silences, because there will be none here). Mezepoli is vibey and energetic and brilliant for a big group of friends. All those vague acquaintances you accepted on Facebook? This is why you put up with them! Get together as many people as you can so you can order and taste a bit of everything! Virtually the entire menu consists of meze. Various olives, cheeses and dips and vegetarian, seafood and meat meze can be mixed and matched as you like. You could get stuck here for an entire afternoon working your way through plate after plate. They describe their own dishes as being simple and paired down with unmasked, pure flavours so that matching dishes together is easy. There is even a food pairing suggestion if you just want to have drinks and one plate. Ha! Like you’ll manage to stop after one plate. I am no Mediterranean food expert, but I have never had meze like this! Start at the very beginning and order a bit from each section. Don’t skip the dips just because they might seem pedestrian compared to the rest of the menu. The tzatziki will have your uvula throwing little ceramic plates down and shouting “Opa!”. But if you think that that is expecting a bit much from a bit of yogurt and garlic, then try the melitzanosalata (roasted aubergine blended with garlic) and tirosalata (feta blended with peppers and chili). You’ll be praying for a successful solution to the Greek crisis so your supply never gets cut off. Be sure to mop it all up with lots of their fantastic pitas! Mezepoli is not the place to come if you’re worried about food miles as many of the yummy ingredients on the menu are imported. But I say rather plant a few extra trees and tuck in to the Spanish Jamon Serano ham or Italian prosciutto. And even if you’re lactose intolerant, practice your “it wasn’t me” face, put up with the bloat and have a few of the feta and gruyère cheese croquettes. The calamari grilled with onion and garlic and chicken wings done in delicate peri-peri are two other not-to-be-missed dishes, both bearing testament to the fact that simple, uncluttered flavours are sometimes the best way to go. The bekri meze (beef fillet with peppers and white wine) wasn’t to my taste, but then peppers can be a Read the rest of this entry
This is just a quick post dedicated to bread. Not all bread. Just a bread. But a bread so very, very good I think it deserves its own post. And while I realise that getting your hands on good bread in China is pretty much like the opposite of getting your hands on tea in China, and that that might slightly skew my perception of what actually constitutes good bread as I should be really easy to please, I think you should still trust me on this. After rifling through shelves of sweet Chinese baked goods this morning to find that one elusive savoury bread, the loaf I am longing for is De Oude Bank Bakkerij in Stellenbosch’s coriander honey-rye loaf. Oh. My Gracious. I don’t really like traditional rye, but the subtle use of coriander (the spice, not the herb – yuck), makes it utterly delicious, adding an earthiness that seems to refine the flavour of a bread that could otherwise be a little on the sour side. Owner Fritz Schoon worked under Île de Païn‘s Markus Farbinger, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that meals at this little establishment are dedicated to making bread the star of every dish. Choose a few slices of bread (besides the rye there is also ciabatta, baguette and sourdough, amongst others) and then pair it with as few or as many accompaniments as you want: creamy buffalo mozzarella and other cheeses, olive tapenade, Jamón serrano ham, slow roasted tomatoes, shiitake mushroom pesto and loads more goodies. Simple eating at its best.
Getting there: De Oude Bank Bakkerij is located in the Oude Bank Building, 7 Church Street, Stellenbosch, South Africa, opposite Vida e Cafe at Die Boord.
Tel: +27 21 883 2187
The concept is quite brilliant actually. Label your wines with brightly depicted, buxom blondes, brunettes and redheads and watch the bottles fly off the shelf! (I would certainly judge such a wine by its cover.) And that is exactly what Juno Wines did when they commissioned Tertia du Toit to design their distinctive wine labels, honoring women, art and wine.
The tasting room for this all female winery is also a quirky café and the artist’s studio and gallery in Paarl’s Main Street. From still life’s to saints to scantily clad females, the various rooms in this Cape Dutch house are adorned with bright and beautiful art work. And for those less into art and more into attempts at getting balls over and under cross beams, there is a big screen TV too. The menu is modest and uncomplicated and the food is delicious. Old standbys like omelets, sandwiches, focaccias and baguettes from the bakery jostle with traditional South African fare such as boerewors spears and exotic stir fries. The peanut butter prawns with Asian noodles and savoury mince topped rösti with fried egg were particularly good. All the art work is for sale and if you need further retail therapy there is a small selection of clothing as well as a deli. And, of course, all the Juno wines are available for tasting and purchasing.
The venue caters for all types of functions and would be the perfect setting for a bridal shower for a bride with no self esteem issues.
191 Main Road
Telephone: +27 21 872 0697
website: http://www.cafejuno.co.za/ / http://www.junowines.com/
“Holrug gery” is one of my favourite Afrikaans phrases. It means that a subject has been discussed so many times that, if it were a horse, it would’ve had a back like Paris Hilton’s mattress – worn out and ridden till it’s hollow. Fairview might just be one of those subjects. It almost seems to be ubiquitous in the Cape winelands – you can’t but hit it somewhere along the line on a trip there. But with good reason. With a tasting room, shop and deli, restaurant, beautiful views and shady gardens and lots of room for the kids to play and goats to stare at, it is a great place to take the whole family for an afternoon.
The tasting room at Fairview is beautifully appointed with various “pods” with a dedicated host at each so that guests get loads of personal attention. For R25.00 (US$3) you can taste whatever cheeses they have available on the day plus 6 wines which you may choose from their massive selection. The Beryl Back tasting room is a beautiful, private space where, for R60.00 per person, up to 8 guests can enjoy wines paired with cheeses and olive oil. The estate has vineyards in Paarl, the Swartland, Darling and Stellenbosch, so you can get completely plastered whilst pretending that your copious consumption of all the wines is simply an attempt to compare the various terroirs.
If you are a cheesy person, then Fairview is where you should come to die. The selection on offer is just mind boggling and there are constantly new, innovative cheeses to try. Goats’ milk, cows’ milk, washed rind, white rind, blue cheese, cream cheese. It almost reads like a Dr. Seuss book. There are cheeses flavoured with dukkah, lavender, herbs, spices and everything else you could think of to add to a cheese (and some things you never would’ve thought of). The shop & deli offers a cheese only tasting for R12.00. Six to eight Jersey cows’ and goats’ milk cheeses are available for tasting and the selection varies slightly from day to day. Goatshed artisan breads which are baked daily on site, preserves, sauces and other condiments as well as various olive oils are on sale. The Lemon & Lime as well as Red Pepper jelly from Zest are utterly divine! Read the rest of this entry
There is always one major concern that I think most of us food loving people have when we try a new restaurant in our area.The worry is this: What if they’re good, but they don’t make it? And after a long and lazy lunch at Royal Siam Thai at Milkwood Village in Wilderness, I was very worried indeed. As I have mentioned before, being a restauranteur in the Garden Route takes balls. We are a fickle, lazy, unadventurous bunch and I can just imagine the legion of clientele who would not return because they can’t pronounce half the dishes on the menu. (“Where’s the crumbed calamari starter and steak with mushroom sauce?”.) But if you’re not the type of person who’ll worry about sounding like you’re ordering an overweight exotic prostitute when all you want is Phad Thai, then you will absolutely love this place! The food is utterly delicious. That perfect Thai combination of sour, salty and sweet is zhushed up with the heat intensity of your choice if you like it hot. The menu is extensive with a huge array of starters and I could happily spend an afternoon there just working my way through prawn tempura, springrolls stuffed to bursting with generous portions of duck and fresh veg, satay and crispy, juicy wontons. I forwent the Tom Yum soup as it never particularly appealed to me the few times I’ve had it in other places before, but if you really want a taste of hot and sour the way the Thai’s do it, then this is the dish to have. Predictably, what I really wanted to try was their Phad Thai – you don’t judge a seafood restaurant on the quality of their salad buffet. I became addicted to this most quintessential of noodle dishes in Thailand and attempted it myself one evening for friends with fairly disastrous consequences. If you don’t get the flavour balance just right, then it’s all wrong. Like going off sushi after combining it with too many blue drinks at a roll-your-own dinner party one night, I had managed to completely put myself off something I had previously loved. But the only way Royal Siam’s Phad Thai could’ve tasted any more authentic is if I’d had a lady boy passing me serviettes while (s)he complained about how the heat was making h(er)is mascara run. The balance between sweet, sour and salty combined with the plump prawns and more-ish peanuts was simply sublime. The Thai Red Curry Adam had was beautifully fragrant and was a really silly thing for him to order considering how easy it was for me to just dunk my spoon in there for a taste whenever he looked away. Utterly scrumptious. I was rather devastated when, at the end of the meal, I realised I had eaten so much that there was no place for deep fried ice cream. In fact, I was rather miffed that I didn’t have four stomachs like a cow so I could try more of the dishes on the menu! Massaman curry (traditional curry with coconut milk and peanuts), Phlaa Goong (Thai salad with prawns, lemongrass and mint), Happy Duck and Angry Duck (who wouldn’t want to order these just to see the personality differences?), Garlic Pepper Prawns and How Mok Talay (a steamed seafood curry terrine with sweet basil) are just a few of the many dishes on the menu.
Unlike the unflattering fluorescent lights and plastic chairs that look like they’re made for Lego man proportions that usually accompany any authentic Thai meal, Royal Siam is an opulent blend of warm reds, sensuous blacks and soft lighting. You also don’t have to worry if you can’t use chopsticks – in true Thai fashion, food is eaten with a fork and a spoon. The wine list is small, but reasonably priced (as are all the items on the menu) and there are a few Thai beers like Tiger and Singha. This is definitely the place to take as many of your friends as possible, order one of everything off the menu and eat and share with abandon.
Royal Siam Thai
+27 44 877 8815
So further to my post of a few weeks back decrying the lackluster service we received at Salinas , I am happy to report that we revisited this seaside restaurant last night and were very happy with the service. I have heard from numerous people that they have sorted out their teething problems and this indeed appears to be the case. The service was fast and friendly without being obtrusive and the fare was gorgeous.
La Locanda has long been a favourite amongst our book club members (we read wine labels). George struck it lucky when the Soresi family from Varese, Italy decided to open their restaurant in our little city. As cozy at night indoors as it is inviting under the crab apple outdoors on a summer’s day, it is perfect for Al Fresco dining with a bunch of friends or a romantic evening for two. This is Italian the way someone’s grandmother used to make it. Though probably not yours. Unless your grandmother is Italian.
Dario cures his own authentic Italian style meats and makes handmade mozzarella. The Caprese salad is my favourite dish on the menu – mainly because they are not shy to give the tomatoes a good dose of salt and olive oil. None of this sensible sodium intake rubbish. There is an extensive Chef’s Choice menu that changes all the time to make use of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Expect dishes such as Creamy Papardelle (fresh, of course) with Prawns & Mushrooms, Osso Bucco with Porcini Mushrooms and Beef Fillet on a bed of Asparagus. I very much doubt you’ll get past page 1 before you’ve made your choice, but should you peruse the standard menu there is also a large variety of dishes to choose from. Excellent choices are the Fritto Misto (crumbed and deep fried seafood with homemade aioli), pretty much all the pizzas (the bases are paper thin, slathered with a generous lick of Marinara sauce and topped with all the cured meats and mozzarella that they are famous for), Gamberi vestiti (gorgeous, crispy prawns wrapped in lardo) and the Capocollo di maiale con funghi e panna (pork neck in creamy mushroom sauce).
Service is friendly and you should expect to be called “darling” at least once before the night is out. Most of the waitrons have been with the restaurant for many years, so they really know the ins and outs of the menu. (This also means they know exactly who you are when you walk in there, so best not take your skelmpie.) The wine list isn’t large, but they have a good selection of good South African wines as well as a few special Italian ones.
Address: 124A York Street (behind the Tourism building)
Phone: 044 874 7803
Hours: 11:00 till late, Monday to Friday
18:00 till late, Saturday