Taste of Cape Town is part of an international festival of food, run with the same name in cities around the world annually, and is running in Cape Town for the fifth year, at the conveniently located Green Point Cricket Club. The food quality of the dishes prepared in less than ideal conditions by fourteen top restaurants is much improved compared to previous years, when it felt ‘mass produced’, and is excellent this year. It is an inexpensive way to get a taste of what some of the Cape’s best chefs are capable of. Commendable was that the chefs were hands-on and on duty at their stands. We rated Pop-Up stand Tokara tops, when we attended on opening day on Thursday evening.
Parking is an annual nightmare, and if one is not there when the gates open, one has to be prepared to walk quite a distance. The road outside the festival entrance had parking on one side only when we arrived, but had doubled up to the other side of the road on our return. Parking can only get harder to find over the next two days. The lady in the ticket office was unprofessional when selling us the entrance tickets. The entry package is confusing, costing R80 only for entrance and a tasting glass, or R200 for a tasting glass, entrance and 20 crowns (the payment method for food and drinks) but is marked as R120, or R650 for a special package price.
The organisers appear to have struggled to get restaurants to participate, only a handful having committed when Taste of Cape Town 2012 was first announced. We have heard that they had to beg restaurants to participate, the deal being that there is no stand fee payable, and that the organisers and restaurants equally share the crown income. Some high profile restaurants participating in the past (e.g. Le Quartier Français, Pierneef a La Motte, Reuben’s) were visible by their absence. There seemed to be more space allocated for the stands this year, especially the restaurant ones, which allowed them to bring decor elements from their restaurants into the stand. Signal Restaurant of the Cape Grace Hotel (photograph above) was probably the most attractively decorated, but small touches and large photographs of their interior were used by most restaurants to attract attention to their stands. Each restaurant offered a selection of three dishes, which were priced in terms of crowns (1 crown is R5). The average crown price for a main course dish is 6 – 8 crowns, allowing three dishes at most to be bought from one booklet. The stand layout is circular, and one tends to start at the right and make one’s way around. The stands are widely spread over the field, so that one does not feel crowded. The hardest decision is to choose at which restaurant stands to spend one’s crowns. Running parallel to the restaurant stands were wine and beer brand stands, which did not attract as much attention as those of the restaurants, mainly because they were smaller. It took us at least an hour to walk around the field once, with many chat stops along the way, and generous offers of chefs to try their dishes. Chef Henrico Grobbelaar of the Azure Restaurant at the Twelve Apostles Hotel ran out of his makeshift kitchen, and asked us to try his Beef fillet with lentil ragout, almond cream and parmesan crumbs, the steak being beautifully soft.
Tokara Restaurant had taken the Taste Pop-Up stand on Thursday, which will be rotated daily, with Jordan Restaurant with George Jardine hosting it today, and La Mouette tomorrow. Tokara’s stand had by far the most beautiful and sophisticated food of all the stands we tried, and they reflect Chef Richard Carstens’ recently launched winter menu, rich in flavour, and beautiful in colour (left), especially his Bobotie-spiced chicken with eggplant pickle, turmeric crisp and tomato, but his Togarashi beef sashimi tartare, sushi rice, wasabi mayonnaise, ponzu, jalapeno and cashews impressing as well. The Japanese style cheesecake was light as a feather, a lovely medley of tastes of pear, jasmine, green tea, and almonds. The SABC2 Expresso Show was filming Chef Richard when we arrived at the stand.
Chef Bertus Basson shared his Overture stand with partner Craig Cormack of Sofia’s at Morgenster, and their star attraction was one of Bertus’ new projects, being his ‘WORS-ROL’ served with home-made ketchup and ‘wonder-mostert sous‘. Chef Bertus wore the T-shirt as well, and stickers with the fun sub-brand were handed out. Other chefs with stands came to get this special hot dog. The beetroot risotto, beetroot puree, served with beetroot, honey and cumin ice cream looked very striking. River trout pastrami, cocette potatoes, and lemon preserve salad, as well as a Banana split with caramel and peanuts were also served. La Colombe is next to the Pop-up stand, and Chef Scot Kirton served a prawn, coconut and lemongrass velouté, with prawns and chestnut, creatively in an egg shell on a stand. They also offer an Asian style beef carpaccio with shitake mushrooms, sesame crema, avcado and nori puffs. The dessert was a delicious sounding chocolate torte, tobacco caramel, Hennessy marshmallow fluff, coffee meringues and hazelnut crumble. One of the stands with the largest number of food lovers was that of Makaron of Majeka House in Stellenbosch. Chef Tanja Kruger’s Majeka burger is made from Spier pasture-reared beef, in a brioche bun, with foie gras butter, caramelised red onion and crispy coppa. They also offered a prawn laksa with sesame, coconut, basmati rice and sauce; as well as Cauliflower custards, popcorn powder, popped wild rice, truffle caviar, and sweetcorn velouté.
I had an interesting chat with the Food & Beverage Manager of 15 on Orange about whether hotel restaurants can ever reach the standards of independent restaurants. Food & Beverage Manager Andreas van Breda at the Mount Nelson Hotel was at the Planet Restaurant counter, and told me the Titanic dinner had been a great success. Chef Rudi Liebenberg came to say hello, and said that they are running an amended version of the menu until the end of April, at R330. Other restaurant stands were Bistro Sixteen82 with Chef Brad Ball and his team from Steenberg Hotel, Fyndraai Restaurant with chef Shaun Schoeman, the Taj Hotel restaurant collection of Mint and Bombay Brasserie, led by Chef Shyam Langani, Il leone Mastrantonio with Chef Daniel Toledo, 96 Winery Road with Chef Natasha Wray, and The Westin Executive Club Restaurant led by Chef Johann Breedt.
There appeared to be fewer beverage stands this year. Some of the exhibitors included Boston Breweries, De Wetshof, Ernie Els, Gordon’s Gin, Hardenberg Kleiner Keiler Spicy Cherry Liqueur, Hermanuspietersfontein, Idiom, Jägermeister, Neil Joubert, Morgenster, Castle Milk Stout, The Goose, Thelema/Sutherland, Villiera, Vinotria, Warwick, Waterford, Waverley Hills, and Wedderwill. A small market has been set up, as in previous years, and includes Bottega, Buffalo Ridge, Cape Mountain Charcuterie, La Petite France cheeses, ORYX desert salt, Queen of Tarts, Sugar Coated Raindrops with beautiful cupcakes, Yummy Brownies, and lots more. Pick ‘n Pay is a major participant, with a Fresh Living Chef’s Theatre which has demo’s by most of the chefs with stands demonstrating the making of their Taste of Cape Town or other dishes. There is also a Wine and Canapé Experience. Entrance to the Pick ‘n Pay events is free of charge, but is not made clear. There are no announcements about the events prior to their start.
It is impossible to get close to trying all 43 of the dishes offered by the 14 restaurants, and therefore it is advisable to take one’s time to check out the menus of each stand, and then to go back to choose the three most special ones, to buy from one’s booklet of crowns. Eating a top chef’s food with biodegradable cutlery and crockery, ‘mass produced’ under trying conditions is not the best way to appreciate the chefs’ dishes, but Taste of Cape Town 2012 is a good first and inexpensive way to get a bite of what some of our top Cape restaurants have to offer.
Taste of Cape Town 2012, Green Point Cricket Club, Cape Town. 21 April 13h00 – 17h00 and 18h30 – 22h30, and 22 April 12h00 – 17h00. www.tastefestivalssa.co.za Twitter: @TasteofCT
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage