Five Flies restaurant in Cape Town has been around forever, and I had not been there for ages.   When my friend Elisabeth Kretschmer suggested it as a city restaurant for lunch in early June, we decided to make use of the Monday-Wednesday-Friday winter special offer, a 2-course meal at R125 per person and 3 courses at R 150, inclusive of a glass of wine (the normal prices are R 200 for 3 courses, R 230 for 4 courses and R 279 for 5 courses).

The restaurant once was the home of the Dutch Club, and is a Historical Monument.  It has a namesake D’Vijff Vliegen in Amsterdam.  It is located on Keerom Street, home to the city’s lawyers and advocates, and probably gets a lot of business from these learned persons.   The restaurant has not had an update in ages, other than having had the interior painted.   It is a conglomeration of two buildings, with a central courtyard linked to interleading rooms.  We could not sit in the courtyard (it was a summery winter’s day) because it is the smokers’ area.  However, all the doors connecting the courtyard to the other rooms of the restaurant are wide open, contrary to the smoking legislation.  The rooms are smallish, allowing one to book them for private functions.   Elisabeth noticed the beautiful bunch of fresh roses in the entrance, whereas I loved the artwork which brightened the cream walls.  Strangely. no one had  a pricelist for these, because the walls had recently been painted, we were told, and the prices had been removed and lost in the process.   The artworks are rather modern, a contrast to the historic Cape Dutch feel of the restaurant interior with the “riempies”-style chairs.

I arrived to find the hostess in the reception hall rather short and abrupt.   She took me to the end room and mumbled that I could choose any table.  When I chose the one nearest the window, she told me it was already booked, although none of the tables had a “Reserved” sign on them.     Not a welcome start.  I was given the menu/winelist, but not told that it was a Winter Specials price day, given that it was a Friday.  The waitress was quick to offer the price when I asked her.  I wondered if she would have told us and charged us correctly if I had not asked.   The waitresses are dressed in a casual black T-shirt with the Five Flies logo on it.   The hostess seemed out of place, wearing her “civvies”.  The music was blaring, and I had to ask the hostess to turn down the volume.

We each chose two dishes from the menu, and realised what a problem this causes when different dishes are ordered – Elisabeth ordered a salad and a main, and I had a main and a dessert.  Elisabeth loved the bread and could not get enough of it.   I had to wait for Elisabeth to eat her beautifully presented salmon, rocket and dried caper salad, served with shaved parmesan and a red mustard seed dressing, which she loved the taste of, before we both received our mains together.  My sirloin steak was a little chewy, and was served with pumpkin, courgettes, potato gallette, camembert (I did not taste the cheese) and Madeira wine jus. Elisabeth loved her veal escalopes with spinach fettucini, stir-fry vegetables and parmesan cream sauce.   It meant that Elisabeth then had to watch me eat my dessert (delicious layers of meringue and Lindt chocolate, served with pecan nut ice cream and chocolate sauce), a waste of time for both of us working persons, given that it was lunchtime, and that our working day had not yet finished.    I ordered a cappuccino to be served with my dessert, but it arrived when I had almost finished the dessert.

The winelist is short and sweet, and seems to reflect how many cash-strapped restaurant-goers choose their wines, unfortunately white and red wines mixed, in price bands of R115 (e.g. Durbanville Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Leopard’s Leap Shiraz, Groote Post ‘The Old Man’s Blend’), R135, R165, R185, R205, R300, R400, R475, R550 (e.g. Vergelegen White, Cloof Crucible Shiraz, Rupert & Rothschild Baron Edmonde), and R750 (includes Vilafonte Series C, Rudera Cabernet Sauvignon, Rust & Vrede, Sterhuis Astra).  The champagnes and sparkling wines had no prices, and it took some time for the prices of these to be found.   The Moet et Chandon costs R850 and the Louis Roederer Crystal R4500 a bottle.  The Simonsig bubbly costs R180, while the Pongracz Desiderius costs R475.    The free glass of white wine, which is part of the special, was an unwooded chardonnay from Leopard’s Leap, and the red was Peacon Stream Pebble Hill by Waterford.  Surprisingly, one size fits all at Five Flies, in that only one size of wine glass is on the table, irrespective of one drinking white or red wine.

In a clever move to keep one coming back to Five Flies, each guest receives a R 100 voucher towards the next meal (on checking the detail, the voucher is for a table of two, and can only be used in October, November or December this year!).

The Five Flies brochure says: “It’s classic in a contemporary way.  It’s a restaurant but it’s also bars.  It’s got a lot of heritage but it’s very now, and it’s well worth a visit”.  I am not sure if it is still “very now”.  Five Flies is a professional restaurant, where things work functionally, but it lacks warmth, character, care for and interest in its patrons.   No management, other than the pushy hostess, was visible or came to our table in the two hours that we were there.   Yet the food was generally good, well presented, and the winter special package is excellent value-for-money.

Note: The Five Flies special has changed to two main courses for the price of one (the content of this special seems to change regularly, despite its ad in the Weekend Argus of today claiming that this has been the special since July – I have seen it advertised as 50 % off as well, which does not apply if you are a single diner), on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  The special offer was sent by e-mail, but is not featured on the website.

Five Flies, 14 – 16 Keerom Street. Tel 021 424-4442.  www.fiveflies.co.za (Not the most exciting restaurant website, but functionally good detail, with winelist, menu, nice photographs of dishes, but not of those that we had).  Open for lunch Mondays – Fridays, and for dinner from Mondays – Sundays.  Ian Bergh was the Executive Chef, who trained under Franck Dangereux of the Food Barn, but has since left.   (Greg Baverstock is the new chef).

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com