Restaurant Review: Bones Kitchen & Bar old school restauranting, yet totally modern!

Yesterday my Parisian friend and I ate at Bones Kitchen and Bar, in the Palms Design Centre in Woodstock, having read rave reviews about it, and knowing its owner Rudi Minnaar from his co-owned restaurant Morton’s on the Wharf in the Waterfront from the ‘Nineties, long before I started writing reviews. It was a fantastic experience, with superb service, starting from the top with passionate restaurateur Rudi in sharing so much information with us, always fabulous for my writing, guiding us what to eat, and offering surprising value for money. 

Bones opened four months ago, the location in the Palms Design Centre interesting Rudi in that it had been bought by Berman Brothers, operating the Point Centre in Sea Point, for example, and large business and residential developments in a 1 km radius of the Centre in Woodstock nearing completion. The space occupied was previously Wetherley’s. It was eerily quiet in the Centre, it focusing mainly on interior decor outlets. I used to be a regular visitor of the Centre, in the days of the lovely market run there by Isabella Niehaus on Saturday mornings, but this no longer happens, Rudi told us. There was no signage to guide us to the restaurant inside the Centre, and Rudi said that a signage plan is being implemented for all tenants. So we just walked, and saw it at the far end of the Centre, by chance, as there is no branding on the restaurant windows facing the Centre centre, only a blackboard announcing that breakfast is served confirming the restaurant location, off a passage.

It took 18 months to set up the restaurant, paint covering columns having been removed, to give it an industrial informal look, giving the restaurant a ‘good bone structure’, Rudi punned. Rounded wooden structures are in various parts of the restaurants and are mobile, able to block off certain sections for a private group of diners, a clever screening device. More than 100 patrons can be seated. Tables are wood, with chairs bought from a school, upholstered in material at the top, and covered in leather on the seat section. The table has a salt and pepper grinder in an unusual design, sourced from J&B Enterprises. Cutlery is upmarket Pintinox from Italy. Gauze napkins complete the minimalist table decor. Interior decor is sparse, with lamps and the screens softening the restaurant space. 

We were warmly welcomed by Manager Neil de Klerk, whom I had never met, who seemed to know exactly who we were, and guided us to our table. I went off to photograph, and I liked that he took personal care of my notebook and handbag when my friend went to visit the cloakroom. A prominent space is allocated to Elvis the Moose, which first made his appearance at one of Rudi’s earlier restaurants in Johannesburg, the Moosehead. Rudi and I posed with Elvis. 

Rudi told us his journey, since I last saw him as a customer at Morton’s. He studied at the then only Hotel School in the country, in Johannesburg, alongside Neil, and Hugh von Zahn, who was to become his business partner at Moosehead in Johannesburg, and then Morton’s on the Wharf, and subsequent restaurants. He tells the funny story that they wanted to open a restaurant in the then newly developed Waterfront, but were initially rejected because they weren’t from Cape Town! But the Waterfront approached them, and the rest is history, in that they opened 220-seater Morton’s on the Wharf in 1992, the first restaurant in the country to serve Cajun food, reflecting Rudi’s approach of being different in the restaurants he owns. It was bought by Basil O’Hagan, who turned it into O’Hagans in 1998, then it became Shop 221, and now is the McDonalds. Rudi and Hugh opened Beluga in 1999, and thereafter Pastis, with Chef Brad Ball their first Chef, as well as Bertha’s in Simonstown. By 2007 Rudi had had enough of the industry, and he and Hugh sold all their restaurants, and Rudi moved to George, getting involved in a wood board factory. He returned to Cape Town in 2012, working quietly as a restaurant consultant. When he saw that the Palms Design Centre had been bought by Berman Brothers, he realised that restauranting is in his blood, and that he was missing running his own operation. He saw the new Bones space, and he could see and feel a restaurant in it. 

Rudi has come from a restaurant industry which was vastly different, now dominated by Social Media, and every Tom, Dick, and Harry having an opinion, and being a ‘reviewer’. While he commendably upholds old fashioned restaurant values, such as being in his restaurant almost all day, an absolute rarity in our city, his restaurant is thoroughly modern in its Social Media interaction, complimenting me on my photographs, and thanking me for posting on Instagram almost immediately. Wow! A first!

Rudi created the restaurant name himself, saying that bones are the base of many dishes, stock being made from them, and this goes into the making of sauces. The name does not restrict it to meat only, fish having bones too.  He was quick to point out that Bones is not a Steakhouse. He believes in the integrity of the ingredients that goes into his dishes, so sources beef and lamb from a farm in Bredasdorp. Rudi’s mantra is to ‘give more and charge less’, and he stands for truth, simplicity, and accessibility.  His Chefs are Brendan November, who worked for him at Beluga, Pastis, and then at La Colombe, Bistro 1682, and in Kuwait, before returning to join Rudi; and Bella McCleod, previously with Societi Bistro, The Brasserie in Tokai, and Aubergine. 

I must preface this review in sharing my personal journey of transformation, which began with a 45 kg weight loss over a year, in 2017. It is hard to maintain one’s weight as a restaurant writer, so I eat out less but better, and I choose vastly different dishes than I did in the past.  Various factors since my return from walking the Camino mid last year led to a slow weight gain, which I faced from November onwards, and by yesterday morning I had reached my minus 45 kg level again, a four day fast having been the final push. It was therefore hard to go out to eat, but I did not want to miss out on a restaurant that was on my list to review, as well as on my friend’s list of local restaurants to try. 

Rudi told us that his most popular dish is the Parmesan Bon Bons with mushroom ragout (R70), the gnocchi (R60/R110), and beef carpaccio (R90). He wanted me to try these, but I rarely eat meat, and I actually wanted to try the salmon trout mousse (R75), but he was persuasive about the Parmesan Bon Bons, their house speciality, so I succumbed. I loved the mushrooms, but the crumbed Bon Bons were very rich, oozing Parmesan when one cut into them, definitely too fattening for my weight loss journey, yet delicious in taste. Rudi is so passionate about his restaurant and its menu, that he finds it hard to not guide one on what to eat. My friend chose the calamari starter, with chili, garlic, and a touch of anchovy. As a non-chili eater, I found it just mild enough to enjoy a taste of her dish. The calamari starter was accompanied by some slices of uninteresting looking braaied toast, which we did not feel attractive enough to photograph or eat.  I liked the idea of the Rocket Salad, it having Apple, Parmesan and walnuts (unbelievable low price of R45), except that I do not like eating rocket at all. So I chose a warm spinach and bacon salad (R70) without the bacon, but it arrived with Gorgonzola cheese, which I did not want to eat, not a favourite cheese. So I settled for the Rocket Salad on Rudi’s suggestion, and it was superb, the lemon aioli dressing giving it a softness and unusual taste. 

Other starters offered are Tortellini in Brodo broth (R65), mussel velouté with pancetta (R99), Duck livers (R65), and a charcuterie board for two at R160. A Caesar salad costs R60, and a butternut and Gorgonzola salad is charged at R65. Main courses range in price from R105 to R195, with line fish and a king prawn bowl pricing listed as ‘ask’, a fun alternative to SQ! Yesterday’s line Fish was kingklip. Other mains include ‘veggie patch’, described as root vegetables with polenta; pork belly; confit Chicken; cioppino wirh mussels and prawns in a linefish stew; glazed barbecue salmon, and prawn pasta. A variety of steaks is offered, costing R160 for sirloin (260 gram), to R350 for T-Bone (a shared 750 gram). A burger is charged at R115. Pot Bones are dishes made in limited numbers, with beef, chicken or ‘skaap ribbetjie’ based, for dinner only, and to share, price being ASK! ‘Kwaai’ sides cost R35, as do the extra sauces. 

As the restaurant is open all day, one can come in for a special between 16h00 – 19h00, for a ‘Pick-a-Stick’ skewer of chicken, pork, fish, beef, cheese, vegetables, or prawns, at R40 each. 

We did not order mains, and chose desserts instead. It was interesting that my friend’s choice, a Gorgonzola soufflé with chive cream (R65), appeared on this list, and Rudi said that it could equally be ordered as a starter. It was delicious, in tasting my friend’s dish, and its plating was the most special of all her dishes. She was very impressed with the soufflé too. I had seen marshmallow burnt ice cream, offered with waffle on the menu, but I didn’t want the waffle, so Rudi suggested a trio of ice creams, the delicious burnt marshmallow, a very tasty buttermilk, and a praline one, presented with bits of honeycomb, and a more bland tasting piece of burnt marshmallow, more than feeding my sweet tooth, and charged at a ridiculously low price of R40. Ice cream is one of my weaknesses. Other dessert options are lemon tart with buttermilk ice cream, churros and chocolate sauce, chocolate torte, Rooibos Brûlée, and ice cream with honeycomb, costing R 50 – R65 each. ‘Soetes’ sweet wines are cleverly listed underneath the desserts, charged at R50.

The wine list is interesting, in that wines are listed in one grouping, not split into red, white, rosé, and MCC. Rudi has selected wines that cost R50 – R60 but give R90 value. No expensive big name wine brands are on the list, but over time he will offer these on boards. My friend had a glass of Lord Somerset Sauvignon Blanc house wine, made from grapes in Darling, and costing R37. 

Even as I typed this review, I was once again shocked at the low prices of the dishes and wines at Bones. Rudi told us that their prices will be upped a little from March, so I recommend that restaurant lovers get to Bones today or tomorrow, to enjoy this extreme value for money.  What impressed us was the amount of time which Rudi shared with us at our table, sharing his restaurant and life journey, and his recommendations, even though he does not know me as a changed patron compared to 25 plus years ago. Bones stands for restaurant and customer passion, a refreshing new addition to the Cape Town restaurant industry! 

Bones Kitchen & Bar, Palms Design Center, 145 Sir Lowry Road, Woodstock, Cape Town. Tel (021) 286-6207. Instagram: @boneskitchenbar Monday – Saturday Breakfast Lunch and Dinner, and in-Between.

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein

One reply

  1. Christopher Stokes says:

    Thank you for your concise and informative review. As someone who intends to visit Cape Town in the near future I now thoroughly intend to make Bones a port of call and try all the delicious items that you were unable to with your new diet.
    It all sounds absolutely delicious and having an idea of what I will pay also helps immensely (even though you said prices will go up slightly) makes it easier for us to include in our holiday budget.

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