A spontaneous invitation to join Cormac Keane, previous owner of Portofino, for dinner at one of his new favourite restaurants, led to the introduction to Sloppy Sam on Somerset Road in Green Point, Cape Town. While its name may put one off from trying the restaurant, it is anything but sloppy. Sloppy Sam is a most warm and welcoming restaurant. Its business card promises “Simple Food Cooked Well”.
The charming Persian owner and hands-on chef Hooman Saffarian spent time at our table, always a plus when the owner takes the time and trouble to meet his customers. Equally impressive was waiter Bradley, who had the right balance of attentiveness, service, and friendliness, and clearly loves his job. He proudly said that he has worked at the restaurant for a year, and would not easily move, even if he were to be paid more somewhere else.
Sloppy Sam is a Cape Town institution, having been established on Glengariff Road in Sea Point as a milk bar in 1935. In 1984 Saffarian bought the restaurant, only the fourth owner in the 75 year history of the restaurant. He sold the restaurant in 1993, but he and his family missed the restaurant so much that he bought it back. Four years ago the restaurant moved to its current location, previously the home of “The Restaurant”, whose owner Graeme Shapiro emigrated to Australia. Sloppy Sam has a namesake in Rome, we are told.
The first impression of Sloppy Sam on entering is that it is a Greek restaurant, as the music sounds Greek. It has Greek style chairs, in a Greek-blue, and has a homely feel from its cluttered yet neat look – crates of bottled water, wine, and Persian delicacies stand on the floor, and add to the decor. Shelves are filled with imported jams, pomegranate juice, and pickled garlic. A bowl has an attractive collection of red onions, lemons and aubergines. Persian rugs hang over the balcony and on the wall, and they, together with the works of art, are for sale out of the restaurant. Saffarian sells antiques as well, Bradley tells us.
The menu and winelist are in one document, a no-nonsense plastic folder with information. The menu has mediterranean Mazzehs, which include tarama, tzatziki, dolmek, kuftek (meatballs) and bademjan, all at R 35, served with pita bread, a little over-toasted for my liking, making it tough. Feta, olives and humus cost R 38. Spanakopita, sardines and tuna carpaccio cost around R 39, and two salads cost R 47. All main courses have been kept under R 100, at R 99 for the lamb shank, roasted lamb neck and pepper steak, and the lamb ribs,lamb chops, moussaka, beef and chicken kebabs, calamari and tuna are cheaper. The pan-fried calf’s liver is R 75. I love liver, and while it was not as thick-cut as I like it prepared, it was certainly tasty. The potato mash could have been creamier, and not feel as if it was just compressed potato. The tzatziki and humus were excellent. Keane enjoyed his chicken kebabs with a spicy tikka. Desserts cost between R 25 – R 33, for baklava, halva and malva pudding.
Bradley offered me a choice of two wines in dinky bottles – I have not seen these in a restaurant for years! I choose the 2006 Blaauwklippen Cabernet Sauvignon, and was allowed to taste it without asking! The wine list has a small selection of inexpensive wines: Chardonnays range from R 120 for Hartenberg to R 165 for Springfield Wild Yeast; white blends from R 95 for the Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc to R 120 for a Haute Cabriere Chardonnay/Pinot Noir; Rose’s cost R 69 for the Nederburg and R 85 for the Boschendal Blanc de Noir; Fleur du Cap Cabernet Sauvignon costs R 120, while the Springfield Whaleberg costs R 229; Beyerskloof Pinotage is R 99, while the Hartenberg costs R 130; the Villiera Merlot costs R 115, the Bilton costs R 140; the Bellingham Shiraz costs R 120 and the Diemersdal R 135.
The restaurant has the cutest website ever seen (restaurants generally are not well-known for their marketing), which looks like a picture book, and makes a sound when you turn the pages. It opens on the Homepage with a proud shot of Saffarian, with loud middle-Eastern music. It warns one not to expect “blitz cooking” at the restaurant. We will definitely return to Sloppy Sam.
Sloppy Sam, 51a Somerset Road, Green Point, tel 021 419-2921, www.sloppysam.co.za. Open Mondays – Saturdays, evenings only.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com