I’ve suddenly become aware, and then subsequently paranoid, that people who obsessively talk about cooking (not-so-thinly-veiled-reference-to-myself) are somehow looked at as being anti-restaurant.
It’s this vague notion that just because one is endlessly carrying on about ‘home-cooked this’ and ‘thrown together in the kitchen that’ – that somehow it’s deeply motivated by some Taliban-esque hatred of commercial kitchens fueled by a snobbery that “Oh whatever – I can do that too you know. And in less time. And cheaper. And blindfolded. And while improving my mind by catching up on my Alvin Toffler. ”
Well, it’s not really all that true (except maybe for the Crab Fettuccine at a certain restaurant in Joburg – which I actually do know how to make (and mine is better and cheaper, blindfolded etc, but that also didn’t stop me smashing theirs in and all over my face last night)).
Really. I like good food whenever and wherever I can get it – and I know that’s a stupidly obvious thing to say – but it seems that it needs to be expressed in the face of my current, completely unfounded ‘anti-restaurant’ paranoia, and here’s why. Just about everything thrives when there’s a sense of mystery (ooh aah) involved and food is no exception, and restaurants (good ones) provide that. Like those poxy street magicians: when you finally find out that he’s actually just standing on tippy-toes and not really levitating – it’s not so great anymore and that’s usually when people usually start throwing things. I seriously don’t want to live in a world where I’m not constantly and utterly bedazzled by some of the things that come out of the better commercial and restaurant kitchens. I don’t want to know how The French Connection in Franschhoek makes their completely dumfounding mussels – because that would diminish the special pleasure I get in eating them once a year. There are some things that are beyond the skills, interest and resources of anyone who isn’t a professional chef in a pro-kitchen with access to specialized equipment and secret suppliers and all that crap – and I never want to try and recreate that stuff. I’m perfectly happy for it to be the specialized province of my favourite eating-places, which is why I continue and always will continue to eat out like some sort of permanently starving wind-up toy.
So, I know this is a bit of a sidestep for this blog, but on a recent trip to Cape Town, I was seriously reminded of the power and inventiveness of a couple of the restaurants down in the Cape – and what ridiculous fun it is just to go out and revel in food again in the best possible way. You know… you always read these romantic stories of people who revisit some pokey little French place that they went to when they were tiny and whatever, and how – 20 years later (gasp) everything’s just the same and the Lamb Borfloengeriemanaise tastes just like it did back when no-one had invented the TV yet and we all tied our shoes with straw.
For example – Neighbourhood’s (163 long street, 021 4247260) Chilli-Poppers are seriously special, especially the ones coated in crushed nachos, which briefly made me think I’d been planted face-first into a jalapeno-and-hugs flavoured bag of cream cheese-dolloped Big Korn Bites. A Sunday spent ignoring just about everything except the huge plate of mussels from the Olympia café (134 Main Road Kalk Bay – where you will wait and the waitress will possibly try and assassinate you with her emo-ness and irreverent hairstyle, but it’s okay because it’s worth it, and yes I am totally obsessed with mussels at the moment) was possibly the closest I’ve come to leaning back and burping in someone’s face as some sort of primal signal of “Oh God that was awesome…”.
Lazari (Vredehoek avenue, Vredehoek 021 4619865) really knows the art of a well put-together breakfast and thanks to a lot of nudging in the right direction by a particularly intriguing 6ft blonde girl, I’ve been introduced to their exceptional pink cupcakes (which go down like gangbusters when you’re trying to subdue a hangover with nothing but tea and sarcasm). The tiny Nelson’s Eye (9 Hof Street, Gardens 021 4232601) is seriously the best piece of theatre you’ll ever have associated with eating out – because at some point the volcanically tempered owner is going to have a very loud freakout at someone working in the kitchen that for all intents and purposes might as well be just an extension of your actual table. But if you know its coming, its brilliant rather than alarming, and the steak is monumental, the atmosphere comfortably old-school and reassuringly not up its own ass.
Certainly not for everybody (but a personal favourite of mine) is Panama Jacks (phone 021 4481080 for bookings and directions), lurking in the working part of the Cape Town harbour (i.e. you have to drive past at least three South Korean knife gangs to get there), where the lunch menu slaps down the normally hefty prices and delivers simple seafood grill-type cooking that’s making me spill mouth-fluid on my computer just remembering it.
The final mention in this completely non-definitive and utterly “I just happened to be there and this follows no pattern or form guide” Cape Town guide has to go to the Engen/Woolies combo just off Long street in the City Bowl – mostly because of the 24-hour chicken bonanza that is Barcello’s. Forget any and every fastfood cure to too many tequila shots and know that you’re now in the safe hands of the best thing to happen to late-night munchies since the invention of the late-night Burger Pie: and that’s the Double Delicious. Order it, eat it. Be free.