Sunday 12th February 2017 - Posted by Chris von Ulmenstein
On Thursday evening I tried the brand new open-fire cooking Primal Eatery, at the invitation of Capetonian and international restaurateur Brynn Felix. The menu is exciting, with most dishes being unique, prices are reasonable, and the service was excellent.
Brynn kept me company during the dinner, and told me about his career, always in the hospitality industry, Primal Eatery being his 25th restaurant opening. His mentor was the GM of Forrester Arms. From there he moved to Grand West, opening Hanover Street, Roxy Revue Bar, and Jackson Hall nightclub. His next employer was The One, a restaurant group belonging to Wissam al Mana, the husband of Janet Jackson, opening restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait, and Qatar over a period of fifteen years. From there he moved to Norway, joining the Hard Rock Café group, opening its first franchise in Oslo, and opening three restaurants over a period of five years. The Oslo store turnover was the highest in the world. Given his performance in Norway, he was moved to the Bahamas, to turn around a struggling store. He did so well that he was named ‘Top of the Rock’, one of the top five Hard Rock Cafés in the world, and he was named GM of the Year. It was in the Bahamas that he met his wife Kristina, of Greek descent, her influence visible on the menu. A family tragedy brought them back to Cape Town. A short stint at Shimmy Beach Club was followed by Orphanage, and this is where we met for the first time, when I was trying out the downstairs restaurant there with Katie Friedman. He spoke highly of Orphanage owner (and Urban Lime property developer) Johnny Friedman, who has been a role model to Brynn, teaching him to ‘kill with kindness’. A short retirement made him realize that he was bored, and that he wanted to open his own restaurant.
He connected with the former Charcoal owner Roy, who has moved out of cheffing and now renovates residential properties. Brynn took over the property in September, and realized that the space needed a complete overhaul. A smart entrance door was added, tables and chairs (reupholstered) were retained, and the rest was discarded. Inhouse Brand Architects did the interior design, the decor company which has done Burrata, Bocca, Open Door, and Orphanage. Two walls are cream-coloured, one is a distinctive blue, and a fourth is a fresh green. Brynn always wanted a restaurant with the name Primal Eatery, going back to man’s cooking origin, and the logo is prominent on the green wall, having an African feel in its design. The blue wall has lit shelving for the wines stocked. A cream wall has a most unusual set of artwork, being used paint tins in shades of blue and rust, some squashed. Rust features in the decor too, in the colour of the chair upholstery, on seating against the window, and in the staff aprons, perhaps reflecting the rust-ic interior as well as the flames of the fire in the kitchen! Banquettes are upholstered in beige. Napkins are beige. There are no table cloths. Salt and pepper containers are in rose copper, and have a handle, a smart version of salt shakers for popcorn. A candleholder resembling shattered glass is on each table. Cutlery is by Pinti from Italy, and plates and bowls are by ceramicist Mervyn Gers.
A recruitment agent found Chef Phil de Villiers, the first CV she passed on to Brynn, and they connected immediately, despite it being over the phone. Chef Phil was keen to make a lifestyle change with his wife, in moving to Cape Town, and he fits in perfectly at Primal Eatery. It was interesting to hear how hard it is for a Johannesburg chef to find a job in Cape Town. Brynn’s brief was to not do any dishes in the normal manner, challenging Chef Phil to recreate them. Each of the starters and desserts were unique, not having been seen locally. Chef Phil was previously the Executive Chef at 54 on Bath, part of the Tsogo Sun Group.
Sarah Loots was the efficient and knowledgeable waitress, remembering me from Kloof Street House. She wanted to offer me a cocktail, and asked me what my base alcoholic beverage of preference is. I told her water! She returned with a virgin Cucumber Mint Ensemble cocktail! Staff wear grey shirts, and rust-colored aprons with Primal Eatery branding.
Brynn challenged Chef Phil to develop a menu which makes food and classic dishes sexy again, carrying items which are unusual, and have a twist. Brynn had a dream to open a restaurant with the ‘Primal‘ name, going back to man’s early eating habits in cooking with fire, but interpreting this for 2017. They wish to attract regular guests, and have purposely steered clear of fine-dining. Staff training has been a priority, as has the menu development, the opening in October delayed to this month, to make Primal Eatery perfect. The aim is to create a restaurant which is exceptional for Cape Town. Staff need rest, Brynn said, and hence they close on Sundays and Mondays. The restaurant is based on family values, and all staff sit down together as a ‘family’, eating together before Service. Brynn is customer-driven, wanting to create memories for his guests, believing that the profits will follow. My first reaction in reading the menu was that the starters and desserts lists contained items which I had never seen before, as ingredients, or in combination with others. This applied to the main courses too, with the exception of their steaks, but some of the cuts I had not heard of.
Despite protesting about not eating too much for diet reasons, Brynn encouraged me to try whatever I like, and would not entertain the kitchen preparing smaller portions. Sarah introduced the starters to me, and I immediately saw ‘smoked avocado’ and ‘ox–heart tartare‘, not looking any further, but did note ‘grilled watermelon‘ too, which will have to wait for a return visit next month.
The bread board was served with ciabatta (probably the best known item served) and grilled pita, both of which are sourced from Woodstock Bakery. Dips offered on the board are roast red pepper and feta, baba ganoushe, and a moreish boerewors butter! The smoked avocado was in a yellowtail ceviche starter, served with sweet corn, black beans, corn custard, and Tiger’s Milk (the ancho chili having
been excluded for my benefit), the citrus-based marinade which cures the fish in the ceviche (R95). The cold-smoked ox-heart tartare had an interesting lingering taste, which was explained by Chef Phil as a French-imported Pinot Noir mustard! Added to the tartare was a 2-hour cured egg (making it medium cooked), as well as a 24 hour cured egg (giving it a jelly tot texture), it was explained to me. Pickled mushrooms and leek-ash mayonnaise formed part of the tartare dish (R85). Other starter options are charred Kalk Bay octopus (R125), flaming saganaki (a Greek cheese dish) at R80, grilled watermelon (R75), and duck ‘ham‘ and crispy leg (R120).
Brynn is proud of their bespoke cocktails, and his mixologist Chris Ilus (a top nine mixologist in the country) was formerly at Orphanage too. While I am not a cocktail person, Sarah brought two for me to see and taste: a deconstructed Cosmopolitan with citrus-infused vodka, pomegranate juice, lime foam, and a dehydrated slice of orange (R75); and a cocktail I had never heard of before, the Primal Old Fashioned, made with bacon fat-washed Bulleit bourbon, with banana syrup, bitters, purified ice, and almond brittle (R85)! Classic and bespoke cocktails range in price from R60 – R90.
In addition to the ‘Butcher’s Cut of the day’, a section prominently marked on the menu printed on cream A4 good quality board, four meat dishes and a fish dish are offered. I requested to share the lamb shoulder ‘Greek style’, prepared sous vide for four hours, which is served with salted lamb rib, mebos, aubergine, oregano, lemon, broccoli, and apricot, with tender meat falling off the bone, and served with a lamb jus (R195). The ‘market fish’ of the day was Mauritian sea bass, costing R185, the same cost as the pork belly. Primal Spanakopita spinach pie costs R135. Günter Wilhelm steak knives were brought to the table for our meat dishes.
Sarah ran through the Butcher’s Cut of the Day options, and the aging of each (prices of these are not specified on the menu, but are spoken by the waitron, ranging from R185 – R220):
# Free-range Flat Iron steak (I had not heard of this meat cut), cut with the grain from the shoulder, Wikipedia informs. Sarah informed that this is Prime Cut chuck, prepared sous vide. Brynn shared parts of this generously sized steak.
# Texan Barbeque brisket, prepared with Wild Turkey bourbon
# Karoo beef (a term I had not heard of before) sirloin, served rare on or off the bone. Sarah brought this to the table for Brynn and I to share, plated with fried onion rings, pickled onion, onion purée, onion powder, mustard, and pea shoots (photograph on the left).
# 28-day aged fillet
# 35-day aged Rib-eye
# Tomahawk steak, in the shape of an axe, created by the extra rib bone of a rib-eye steak
The wine list is printed on cream board, in A4 size too. Some but not all wines have vintage information. Champagnes stocked are Moët & Chandon NV and Rose NV, at R1300 each, and Dom Perignon at R4500. Boschendal Brut NV and Rosé NV is the local MCC offered, at R65 per glass and R300 per bottle. Brynn’s cousin is linked to Klein Welmoed Foothills wines, and he helped compile the wine list. The Foothills brand features prominently on the list, and is reasonably priced. Four white (R40 – R50) and five red wines (R45 – R60) are offered by the glass. Top brands on the wine list include Hamilton Russell, Creation, Jordan, Cederberg, Steenberg, Paul Cluver, Glen Carlou, and Warwick.
The dessert options are limited to four, and it was hard to choose. From the description I would not have been attracted to the deep-fried Oreos covered in pancake batter, served with the most delicious braaied marshmallow ice cream, meringue, chocolate ganache, peanut butter mousse and powder, and strawberry jelly (R80), but swooned when I tried some of Brynn’s dessert. I tried the deconstructed geranium cheesecake, served with chargrilled strawberry, summer berries, and strawberry sorbet (R85). I had a deja vu moment, seeing purple-colored ribbons in the dessert, made from blueberries, which Chef Phil explained are made with a vegan setting agent – I had seen a dish of squabs covered in a ‘cloth’ made in this fashion at 2-star Michelin restaurant Atera in New York last July. One can also order smoky chocolate pudding (R85) and mango ceviche (R75). My dry cappuccino was perfectly made, and I was told that they had done some homework on my cappuccino preference via my Blog, an impressive plus point! Primal Eatery serves Uber coffees.
An interesting feature of the restaurant is a DJ, who creates music from 20h00 – 24h00, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. DJ Candace Heyns plays music which I had not heard previously, and has to allow diners at the same table and adjoining one to hear each other speak.
Brynn and his team have long-term plans with the Primal Eatery brand, once the restaurant has settled in. On the cards is a streetfood concept, served from containers. This will be followed by a Seven Fire Eatery in Somerset West, with seven fire pits, in which different food types are prepared at different temperatures.
I did not know what to expect when I arrived at Primal Eatery, but was very impressed with the creativity and professionalism that has gone into all aspects of the restaurant, Brynn’s restaurant experience being clearly visible. Despite the restaurant not having opened its doors to the public officially, the restaurant is more than ready to delight Capetonians and visitors to our city with its flaming good open-fire cooking!
POSTSCRIPT 5 March: Lisa Harlow and I had dinner at Primal Eatery last nights and owner Brynn Felix was charming and entertaining. I tried new dishes, the duck ‘ham’ and crispy leaf starter, served with Burrata mozzarella, grilled nectarine, quinoa, and almond -right (R120); as well as the main course of pork belly porchetta-style, served with smoked potato skordalia, fennel, and peaches (R185). Lisa ordered the 400 gram sirloin on the bone, and declared it to be excellent, and correctly prepared for her as just slightly less than rare. Her starter was a showpiece, a flaming saganaki, the kefalotiri cheese flambéed with brandy at our table. One after the other, tables ordered this starter, an unusual one and not seen before.
Our shared desserts were mango ceviche with passion fruit and coconut, most refreshing (R75) – photograph; and smoked chocolate fondant served with dulce de leche, and salted caramel and banana ice cream (R85).
Primal Eatery, 50 New Church Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-3232. www.primaleatery.co.za Twitter: @PrimalEateryCpt Instagram: @primaleatery Dinner Tuesday – Saturday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein