For my last World Cup viewing I chose The Twankey Bar at the Taj Hotel in Cape Town, a bar I had wanted to visit on a previous occasion, but which was closed for stocktake on that day (the Germany versus England match). Last night it was the 3rd and 4th play-off between Germany and Uruguay, and the five Germans at The Twankey Bar were delighted with their team’s 3-2 win.
I did not know that the Widow Twankey is a well-known character in Alladin. According to Wikipedia, she is a “pantomime dame portrayed as a man” (read more here). The Widow Twankey figurine is a feature outside on the erstwhile Board of Executors building in which The Twankey Bar is housed, and gave the bar its name.
The Twankey Bar has a swanky feel, as you step into it from the corner of Adderley and Wale Streets, in a venue separated from the Taj Hotel. It has beautiful wooden floors, marble table and bar tops, red leather tub chairs (uncomfortably high and very sharp arm rests), bar chairs and some of the other tub chairs are in silver leather, a silver painted pressed steel ceiling, beautiful art deco lamps, and silk-like curtains in a deep red and silver. The silver and red theme is not carried through in the staff uniforms, which are a creme shirt, black cap and black pants, odd given the colourful uniforms the staff wear in Mint and Bombay Brasserie inside the Hotel. A lone black and white photograph of a boat decorates one wall, and echoes the “seafood” theme, probably picked up from the anchor in the Twankey statuette. I would have liked a little more light, especially to read the bill.
We were given the choice of rugby or soccer, as the initial guests in the Bar were not watching any sport. When they left, soccer won, and the volume was turned up. Nothing in The Twankey Bar reflected the world’s largest sport event taking place in the country. With five of us in the Bar during the match, we certainly made the “gees”, but there were not enough customers on the rainy and cold Cape Town night to give it the spirit. But when your team wins, you don’t need other people’s “gees”! It was an exciting match, and kept one holding thumbs and begging Paul the Octopus to make his prediction of a win for Germany come true, his seventh correct prediction!
The menu is a simple yet elegantly designed one, laminated, and I was encouraged by the Manager Leslie Heaven to take it home with me so that I did not have to write it all down. The menu states “Seafood * Champagne * Guinness * Oysters” on the front, and this gives one a feel of its focus immediately. The manager told me it is an Irish pub, due to the Guinness served. The Seafood focus is odd for a pub, but it is only Calamari (R55), Tempura Prawns (R85), and the Tuna Tatiki (R85) that meet this description. On the table were heavily spiced cashew nuts, wasabi peanuts and chilli poppers, encouraging one to drink more beer to get over the spiciness. On the reverse side it refers to its “Tapas Menu”.
Our food and beer were brought quickly after placing the order, with new-looking quality cutlery and very small material serviettes. The Guacamole and spicy tortilla dish (R50) was massive – despite having asked for the least spicy tortillas, they were still pretty hot, and the manager organised some toast instead. The guacamole was spicy too, with a strong taste of onion. I am used to guacamole being smooth – The Twankey Bar’s was chunky. The Quail spring rolls were served with chilli plum sauce, and were an expensive choice at R 65 for four small rolls, but were enjoyable. I liked the Karoo Lamb Samoosas, four small ones costing R 55, not having any spices in them. The serving of four large prawns came with a very diluted soy sauce, but I was brought the real thing when I requested it. Oysters cost R90 for six. Other “Small plates” one can order are Chicken Tikka Wrap served with mint chutney (R55), Tequila Salmon Gravlax (R75) and Jalapeno Poppers (R45). What I liked was that as far as pub food goes, this was the most creative menu of all the pubs I visited during my World Cup journey. What I disliked was the spiciness of almost all the dishes, limiting my choice.
The Menu is dominated by the drinks on offer; including ten Cocktails all costing R40; four non-alcoholic ones (R30 each); two draught beers (Guinness at R 29 and Jack Black at R 20); and bottled beer – Heineken, Peroni and Windhoek are very reasonably priced at R 20, while the Brewers Union Unfiltered, Dark and Stepheiss (sic) all are charged at R 40, the same price at which it is sold at &Union up the road. One can order Moet et Chandon at a precious R 225 per glass, or at R 900 per bottle, and even splurge on a bottle of Dom Perignon Brut Rose at R 8000! Seven of the thirteen Methode Cap Classique wines offered can be ordered by the glass, and seem expensive – Pierre Jourdan Cuvee Brut and the Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel are the cheapest at R 50 per glass, while the Teddy Hall Blanc de Blanc costs R 100 per glass. I was proud to see Melissa Nelsen’s Genevieve Blanc de Blanc listed – what a prestige for the new sparkling wine producer who only launched her brand earlier this year! A small selection of red and white wines is offered, by the glass and per bottle, and commendably the vintages are specified. The prices seemed more reasonable here – for example the 2007 Villiera Merlot costs R 35 by the glass, and the Warwick First Lady Red Blend 2008 costs R40.
I was grateful when the Manager took over looking after our table when our waitress seemed more interested in chatting to her colleague and watching the soccer. She was asked to bring the prawn tempura dish to the table in the halftime, but this did not happen and had to be requested. While the World Cup is history after tonight, it surprised me that, generally speaking, bar staff do not seem to understand that one would like to hear the commentator during a match – a problem I picked up at Harvey’s Bar and Salt Vodka Bar too. It irritated me that they kept coming to ask something and even blocked the TV screen during what was a most exciting match. At one stage we had to ask them to stop the icemaking machine because it made such a noise. It was one of few pubs (also Salt Vodka Bar, and Pure at Hout Bay Manor) in which I saw a manager, and whilst he could have been more assertive with his staff about the disturbances, he was good at reading customer irritations, coming to check with us, and acting upon feedback immediately.
The Twankey Bar is not a food destination in itself, but would be the start or end to a special evening in town. Recently it was decided that The Twankey Bar should stay open until 23h00, as guests were popping in for a late snack. The food is expensive and spiciness dominates, but the drinks are more reasonably priced.
The Twankey Bar, Taj Hotel, corner Wale and Adderley Streets, Cape Town. Tel (021) 819-2000. www.tajhotels.com (The website exaggerates, in my opinion, when it describes The Twankey Bar as a “seafood restaurant”. It also claims to have “sublime jazz”, but we did not experience any music). Open from 11h00 – 23h00, Mondays – Saturdays.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com