I have driven past Proviant Kaapse Tafel & Spens on Paarl’s Main Road many times, but never noticed the restaurant. I went to try out the restaurant this week for two reasons: I had read somewhere that Chef Reuben Riffel had been to eat there, and it was suggested to me when I made a comment about most Paarl restaurants, other than Bosman’s, being closed on Sunday afternoons. It is a flashback to the past, and was described by the co-owner as “Boere Nostalgia”.
My first reaction on arriving at the Victorian style house was one of scepticism – maybe it was the beige paintwork, which did not make the exterior look fresh or inviting to me. I walked into the building, and there was no staff to welcome me. On the left one enters two sections, with names at the entrance to each: “Tant Hetta se Spens” and “Negosiewinkel”. The first section has Wilson’s sweets, apricot balls and other sweets dating back to one’s childhood. This deli section has a display cabinet for home-made pies and their lovely farm breads (it is a surprise that one is not served a slice when eating there), which one can take home to buy. The menu invites one to buy from the deli, but it was very bare, as the pies and breads had not been put out in the 39°C Paarl heat. The second part of the shop had soaps and gift items to sell. Tucked away around the corner was a shelf with preserves, ginger beer, rusks, stoneground flour, and general deli items. Across the passage is Uncle Tiny’s pub, set up in honour of Tiny Neethling, who was a Springbok rugby player in the Sixties and Seventies – his rugby jersey and other memorabilia are displayed in the tiny pub. One can sit outside at the back, with a lovely view onto Paarl Mountain and vineyards adjacent to the Proviant property. It has a canvas roof, and it seemed exceptionally hot there, the heat being trapped underneath the canvas. A fine spray mist is to be introduced, to address this problem. It is a space often used for stork parties, kitchen teas, small weddings and other events. I was offered a table inside with airconditioning, but only saw a lone table from the passage, not seeing the rest of the dining room with a massive fireplace and an ox wagon wheel light, which I saw later when I was shown around by Chef Rob Hahn. The music inside reminds one of Nico Carstens, and was from a CD called ‘Trekklavier Hits’!
I chose to sit outside on the stoep (there are benches lower down too), at a ‘plaas’ wooden table and chairs, very old-fashioned, setting the scene for what was to come. There are no placemats or tablecloth, and a beige material serviette had a set of pedestrian cutlery folded in it. A little plant in a Lucky Star pilchards tin dating back many years, with a little red heart, reminded one of Valentine’s Day the previous day, as did a Boland Cellar Valentine’s Day promotion, offering their wines ranging from R 55 for their Five Climates Chenin Blanc to R78 for their mouthful of a Cappupinoccinotage! I was ignored for a long time, after having been given the menu, a typical staff scenario of one staff member thinking another was taking care of me, it emerged.
The menu holder is a cheap black plastic one, and the inside front cover states that it is sponsored by Haute Cabriere. Yet the page opposite had a full page advertisement for Boland Cellars, to encourage one to order their wines for Valentine’s Day, and I did not see any Haute Cabriere wines on the winelist. The KWV head office is close by, and its logo is visible on a number of the menu pages. The menu introduction refers to the ‘old friends’ bobotie, vetkoek, malva pudding, rusks and ‘boeretroos’ (coffee) one would have enjoyed in “Grandma’s kitchen’, the menu says, which one can expect on the menu at Proviant. Breakfast is served all day, and creative names have been chosen to describe the menu offerings, e.g. the Boland Breakfast consists of bacon, ‘skilpadjies’ (liver in ‘net vet’), sausage, minute steak, farm bread and jam, at R69; a Farmer’s Breakfast is a reduced version of this at R55. Bacon and eggs, and poached eggs cost R38, while scrambled eggs cost R45. A number of light meals are on offer, including various burgers (R45 – R55), vetkoek and curry mince (R42), fishcakes (R45), generous home-made pies (R45), and toasted ‘samies’ (R36). Starters include ‘Farmer’s Caviar”, being marrow bones (R35); bobotie springrolls (R38); a trio of patés (R49); and chicken liver peri peri, crumbed calamari and lamb kidneys, all three costing around R42.
Salads range in price from R35 – R48, and include ‘Kiep-Kiep’, with roast chicken, bacon and egg; ‘Boland Bliss’, with smoked trout, avocado and feta; and ‘B&B’ with biltong, blue cheese and brandied dried fruit. The prices of main courses hover around R100, and are mainly below this price. The list is extensive, and includes oxtail, Chakalaka rump, biltong cheddar rump, spicy lamb bunny chow, vegetarian bobotie, lamb shank, chicken schnitzel, fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, kudu loin, and a popular tourist “South African Plate” of bobotie, lamb curry and oxtail. On the table a menu notice promoted a Friday evening Seafood buffet, costing R120, which includes paella, snoek paté, curry fish, prawns peri peri, calamari, Greek salad, and mussels, and is good value for this special offer, and Proviant generally has excellent prices. In winter the Friday evening special of curries is very popular. On Sundays a 3-course Carvery buffet is served, at R105.
I ordered the crumbed pork chops (R85), and it was the home-made apple sauce that attracted me to this dish, sweetish but delicious. The plate was brought to the table by Chef Rob, and it had two chops, mash, butternut, and broccoli with a cheese sauce, all wonderful. With it was served a really serious steak knife. I had no intention of having a dessert, but when I saw the deep-fried ice cream (R25) on the menu, I had to try it. It was a tasty vanilla ice cream encased in phyllo pastry and fried. The pastry had a chewy texture to it, and was served in a caramel sauce. Other “Scale Busters”, as the menu called them, are peppermint fridge tart, Malva pudding, and Van der Hum créme brulee, also costing an unbelievably low R25. For ‘4 o’clock tea’ muffins, scones or cake are available, at R25.
I was making notes when Nicky Hahn came to me, and asked if I needed help or information, which I declined. She seemed a bit disturbed that I was copying her menu, and I explained to her that I was writing a review. All of a sudden she recognised me, from the time she and her husband Rob ran Rickety Bridge’s restaurant and guest house in Franschhoek. Rob told me that he opened Pearl Valley’s kitchen 21 years ago, and then he was part of the team opening the Park Hyatt in Johannesburg. He was one of six selected chefs leading the team of 80 chefs cooking for Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration, and he proudly showed me the certificate of appreciation which he received. Had I not been recognised, my review would have been very different, as the poor service by the waitresses had been most off-putting. It proved to me once again how important hands-on service by the owners/managers is. Needless to say the service was perfect from this point onwards. Rob and Nicky Hahn are joint owners of Proviant with Marian (Neethling) and Mark Maingard, who now live in Namibia, but are returning to Paarl shortly. Marian was the original owner of Proviant. The very Afrikaans nature of Proviant (e.g. the Afrikaans menu section is before the English one, Afrikaans names for the room sections inside, Afrikaans-only Seafood buffet offer, the waitresses address one in Afrikaans, and Afrikaans bill) is in contrast to the English sounding Rob, but it probably means that he will ensure that they do not alienate their English-speaking customers too much.
The winelist is almost proudly-Paarl. Wines by the glass include a dangerous sounding Masons “Klipkapper” Chenin Blanc at R18/R60, Masons Shiraz (R20), Nederburg Rosé (R20/R73), Protea Chardonnay from Antonij Rupert wines in Franschhoek (R25/R89), and KWV Cuveé Brut (R30/R86). A nostalgia moment was to see a full-page promotion encouraging one to drink KWV’s Roodeberg, which was a treasure many many years ago, only exported or available via farmers who were members of the co-operative. It is sold for R89. Laborie’s Brut (R125) and Shiraz (R85) are also sold.
Proviant will not be to everyone’s taste, South African English-speakers possibly finding it too Afrikaans, and younger restaurant goers finding it too old-fashioned. But it is excellent value for money, and a good plateful of food is served. Chef Rob described Proviant as serving ‘honest food’, and said that it is ‘the modern day Oom Samie se Winkel’ from Dorp Street in Stellenbosch. The bill was brought to the table in a ‘blikbeker’, demonstrating the absolute focus on the theme. The nostalgia got to me when I saw an ad for Sunrise toffees in the menu, taking me right back to my childhood. Rob sent me on my way with a massive potbrood, which he described as their “small one”, given that they sell an even larger size too, and it was a demonstration of the generosity of the ‘olden days’, when visitors were sent on their way with a gift. Proviant is now participating in the Laborie Lazy Days market on Saturdays, and sells its farm bread there.
Proviant Kaapse Tafel & Spens, 54 – 56 Main Road, Paarl. Tel (021) 863-0949. www.proviant.co.za (Website down). Tuesdays until 17h00, Wednesdays – Fridays until ‘late’, Sundays until 17h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage