When Anne Myers invited me to lunch, and asked me to choose a venue in town, I recommended The Odyssey, which I had eaten at about a month ago when Cape Legends hosted a function for its Monis brand, just after the restaurant had re-opened with a new name and new menu, having previously been French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar. It felt familiar, as the restaurant has retained the furniture, minimal interior changes having been made, yet it is lively and new, with a new chef and new menu, no longer just serving tapas in this first local Gastropub.
The staff are youngish and friendly, even indulging our request for the volume of the music to be toned down so that we could hear each other speak. Matt Cowan is the Manager, who was promoted from waiter at Blues, the ‘parent’ restaurant, and has a marketing background, which he applies to the restaurant too. We discussed the surprise news that they are using Spill blog as their ‘PR company‘, and there appears to be some tension already, the relationship not appearing to have got off the ground yet. The biggest surprise of all was the charm of Chef Lapo Magni, who has also moved across from Blues, and is a cousin of Lorenzo Magni, the GM of the new restaurant. Lapo has been in the country for four years, having left his home city Florence to help out at Blues, and he has just stayed on. He is on a high, having just won the Italian RAI TV La Terra dei Cuochi award for best fledgling chef, with a substantial prize tag. His mother runs a cookery school, and encouraged him to enter the TV cooking competition in Rome. It was her chicken liver paté recipe that won him the competition. He is focused on sustainable sourcing, and their goal is to obtain produce within a 100 km radius, where feasible. Warthog is excluded, for example, it coming from the Botswana border, but is something Italians love, and it offers him the opportunity to serve it as a stew with wild berries, or as sausages, he said, also sourcing desert-fed lamb.
The menu is presented on a blackboard at lunchtimes, while the dinner menu is printed on paper, often finalised minutes before service starts. Matt told us that their clientele is 28 – 40 year olds, who enjoy good quality, food, wines, service, and a good vibe. The restaurant does not want to become a fad, and is looking for support from locals. The Odyssey, meaning a first time journey, reflects the new venture of the young partners, who ‘will learn as we go‘, Matt said. Chef Lapo went through the very small Sunday menu with us, all starters costing R45, being beef carpaccio (rolled and stuffed with roasted vegetables and topped with rocket), a Chicken Caesar salad, beetroot tart, and Italian roasted onion soup (the origin of the French onion soup can be traced to Italy, Chef Lapo said). He also had chicken liver paté available, spread on bruschetta and topped with caramelised almonds, and was made with Shiraz, sage, rosemary, garlic, anchovies, capers, and onions. It had a strong rich taste, was dark in colour, and had a coarse texture. We were spoilt by Chef Lapo, the main course portions being massive, Anne having chosen a lamb shank with polenta and I had the very tender pork belly served with apple sauce. Roast diced potatoes, roast butternut with garlic, and a pea stew are side dishes which are served with each of the roast options on Sundays. The pork is sourced from Happy Hog. There is also a roast vegetable and feta salad option. Each of the main courses costs R95, outstanding value. Both Anne and I could not finish the main course dishes, and wanted to keep some space for dessert, so we took our left-overs home.
A number of the dishes on the reasonably short dinner menu is traditional in origin, but is prepared with a twist, saying ‘we try to do everything different’, and they are applying heritage to their menu, Chef Lapo explained. So, for example, the burger is described as an ‘inside out‘ one and is marinaded in beer, Chef Lapo being particularly partial to Weissbier. The pork belly and Chicken Supreme (chicken breast stuffed with spinach, pepperdew, ricotta, and lemon) from the Sunday roast menu are also on the dinner menu, at R95 and R75, respectively. Sirloin with mash costs R95, prawns on basmati rice R80, and BBQ style ribs R80. Nibbles with drinks cost between R20 and R45, for hake goujons, chips, chilli poppers, potato skins and ribs, ideal for the sport viewing downstairs at the fireplace. Desserts cost R45, and include chocolate brownies with pecan nuts, a sticky toffee pudding, which was Anne’s choice, a homemade vodka raspberry, pear mint, or granadilla sorbet, and profiteroles, which I chose, accompanied by a cappuccino.
A small selection of wines is offered at this stage, but we were told that the wine list will be amended, needed as there are a number of brand name errors on the list, and there are no vintages specified. Graham Beck Brut costs R216, and Morena Rose Brut R165. Sauvignon Blancs start at R105 for Welmoed, with Neil Ellis costing R50 per glass and R185 per bottle. Only two Shiraz options are offered, Porcupine Ridge at R35/R145, and Ernst Gouws & Co at R45/R175.
Anne and I were charmed by the young men who looked after us, but it was Chef Lapo who made the biggest impression on us, with his charming Italian personality and generosity, radiant in his passion for cooking. The Gastropub is friendly and offers very good value.
POSTSCRIPT 9/8: I popped in at The Odyssey this evening, and was disappointed that Chef Lapo Magni has left the restaurant. He is setting up The Drunken Tuscan stand at the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill next month. I did meet Paolo Magni, the GM,who will fix the typing errors on the winelist, and saw Steve Magni again. Very good service from Bar Manager Duncan Turner.
The Odyssey Gastropub, 199 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-4084. No website. Facebook. Twitter: @TheOdysseyZA. Tuesday – Saturday 12h00 until late, Sunday 12h00 – 17h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage