*. Despite the Rand exchange rate being at its best ever for international visitors, no surge in tourism bookings is being seen. The after-effect of last year’s Ebola crisis, and the new visa regulations, have affected tourism numbers from China, India, and Brazil in particular. Hotelier Arthur Gillis said that the golden opportunity of the exchange rate was negated by the visa regulations, and said that we ‘shoot ourselves in the foot’.
It was on a visit to Birds’ Café about three months ago that I noticed the papered-up space two doors away, and heard from Birds’ Café that a restaurant was to open. I was lucky to meet Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room owner Lyndall Maunder, who has worked with David Higgs and George Jardine, was ex-Superette chef, and has been an avid visitor of the USA, in the about-to-be renovated restaurant space, which previously housed a motorcycle repair shop. An unbelievable renovation relative to what the space looked like before has created a buzzing and busy American-style hamburger joint on Bree Street, named after Lyndall’s mother’s maiden name.
The restaurant is L-shaped, one entering into a front section with a massive metal-top counter at which one can sit on wooden bar stools and see the three chefs prepare the dishes in rapid succession, and the waitron staff prepare the drinks. Lamps are industrial, funky globes unhidden by any lampshade. One non-descript artwork is too small to make any impact on the large wall, and there is a photograph of the motorcycle mechanics at the entrance. Plants in terracotta pots line the shelves, even in front of the windows of a back section, adding a green touch to an otherwise white interior. On Saturday over lunchtime there was only space available at the counter, and Lyndall had her hands full in preparing all the food with her two assistants, one of them Chef Marcel, not stopping for one minute, not even having time to greet any customers or at least nod in recognition. The busy restaurant is an amazing feat for a city which is quiet on weekend days, and which only really got going a week ago, having closed over the festive days after its early December opening, as business in the city centre was so quiet. Sebastian was the most communicative staff member I spoke to, but appeared to know very little about his boss and the motivation for her American-themed diner, not even being able to obtain this information from his boss! The rest of the restaurant has tile-topped tables with wooden chairs. A paper serviette and Fortis cutlery is pre-set at the tables and on the counter, with bottles of Heinz ketchup, salt cellars, and pepper grinders.
Not American at all is the concept of a ‘Stammtisch’, a German tradition of regular guests having their ‘own’ table, with their name on it, which one can be requested to vacate if the Stammgäste arrive, the menu explains, and requests one not to be offended if this should happen.
As I sat down Sebastian brought a glass of water, without knowing me or asking for it, probably an American touch. The menu is a very simple laminated white sheet, which is easy and cheap to update, even having a space for specials to be written onto it. Unfortunately there are a number of typing errors on the menu. On Wednesdays – Fridays the menu says that the restaurant stays open until ‘late’, which could be as late as 2h00, Sebastian told me, depending on demand. The customer profile to date is a mix of businessmen from nearby, coming in for the all-day breakfast or lunch, or they are ‘poppies coming to be seen’, he said. From the menu one can see that Lyndall is a no-nonsense type of lady, with every menu category having serving times specified, e.g. Breakfasts are served until 17h00, salads and sandwiches from 11h00 – 17h00, burgers and sides from 11h00 until late, wine and beer are served from 10h00 until they close, and hot and cold drinks are served throughout the day and night. The menu also has a ‘note on Clarke’s’, explaining ‘you may pick up from our menu that we’ve got a thing for that lump of land across the pond called the US of A – what with burgers, cheese fries, Reubens, Cobb Salad…They may have cursed us with the atrocities of fast food but the humble beginnings of their cuisine certainly wasn’t ill-intended and they have some cool, tasty as hell stuff that’s a lot of fun. If you do it right and with great produce you can end up having the greatest meal you ever ate’. The suppliers are named, being Bill Riley Meats’ free-range beef, burger buns come from Trevor Daly in Worcester, coffee comes from Deluxe (supplying the machine as well as a full-time barista), breads come from the Bread Company in Muizenberg, Juicebox supply the juices, and from The Creamery comes a selection of four artisanal ice creams. In my experience on Saturday, the last sentence in the welcome and introduction was not evident at Clarke’s: “We love being here and we love having you, so please enjoy your time with us and visit again soon”. I popped in to say hello at Bird’s Café afterwards, and the warm welcome from Chef Leigh Trout was a delight, compared to what I had experienced at Clarke’s.
Breakfast options include a Fruit Cup, and raisin and pecan nut bread with maple butter, costing R20 – R25. Cooked breakfasts range from R40 – R55, and one can order scrambled egg with sausage, mushrooms and a muffin; eggs, bacon, sausage and mushrooms; hashed browns with poached eggs, asparagus and hollandaise; Huevos Rancheros, being refried beans, eggs, and avocado; omelette stuffed with spinach, smoked aubergine and goat’s cheese; and French Toast, sounding absolutely indulgent in consisting of a Nutella and banana-stuffed croissant with bacon, fruit, crème fraiche, bacon, and caramel Turtles, and Mrs Butterworth’s syrup. Sandwiches cost R25 – R45, and include grilled cheese, a pulled pork sub, ‘chicken parm’ sandwich (with tomato ragout and Colby cheddar), a Reuben (brisket, braised cabbage, Emmental, blue cheese dressing), and a pressed vegetable sandwich. For brunch one can have a Caesar or Cobb salad, smoked tomato soup, and macaroni and cheese, costing around R 40. I never eat hamburgers, but decided to order one as I believe this to be the essence of Clarke’s. One can order any type of burger, as long as it is a Cheeseburger or Veggie Burger, at R50, with extra for bacon and fries. The Cheeseburger was served in a big toasted bun, in a papered green plastic basket, with a tiny portion of pickled cucumber and onion relish on the side. I missed a slice of tomato and gherkin. The patty was prepared rare-ish, and one is not asked how one would like it. While one knows that the meat quality is excellent, it seemed expensive for what one got (without chips). For dessert one can order a ‘sweet pie’ of the day, or three scoops of The Creamery ice cream, from a choice of peanut butter, natural, cardamom, and coffee, at R35. No cappuccino is specified on the beverage list, and probably the American equivalent is the Flat White, at R16.
Beer is served in quarts at R28, or at R16 – R20 for Corona, Savanna, Hunter’s Dry, Amstel, Windhoek, Black Label, and Tafel beer. Surprising is that there is no craft beer, given the restaurant’s proximity to AndUnion. The wine selection is disappointingly small for a ‘Bar’, with four options (no vintages specified), but at least each is available by the glass, for Groote Post Old Man’s Blend, Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc, Springfield Life from Stone, and Fat Bastard Shiraz, in a range of R 25/R95 – R 40/R150.
Clarke’s is a great new addition for the city centre for a drink, a bite to eat, or a coffee, given its excellent opening hours and easy-to-park convenience after hours and on weekends. Owner Lyndall can be a caring person, as experienced at Superette, but needs to let go as chef and take on the role of owner, to connect with her customers, so that she can build relationships with them, to ensure that they return.
Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room, 133 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 424-7648. www.clarkesdining.co.za Twitter: @ClarkesDining. Monday – Tuesday 7h00 – 18h00, Wednesday – Friday 7h00 – late, Saturday 8h00 – 15h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
I recently received a call from Ian Halfon, co-owner of the Waterfront-based Belthazar Restaurant and Wine Bar (and Balducci), telling me about their new Alfresco Value Lunch, which is available every lunchtime. It is an amazingly affordable offering of good value dishes, and even some wines, from a restaurant that has been known for excellent but expensive steak in the past.
The full menu and winelist is still available, but the Alfresco Value Lunch menu was brought to the table when I asked for it. It is an A4 page, in the same design style as the larger standard menu, and is divided into Starters, Burgers, Wet and Dry Aged Beef, Salads, Fish, Desserts and the Value Wines. The menu also refers to the new “Instore Biltong Bar”, beef, ostrich, kudu and “other rare South African game” biltong being available for sale at the Reception desk inside the restaurant.
Co-owner Doron Duveen came to say hello, and told me what a difficult year it has been for business across the board, and how clients are trading down in terms of food and wines, and cutting out starters and desserts. Their response has been the recent introduction of the Alfresco Value Lunch, with a good number of options to choose from. Initially I declined Doron’s offer to have a glass of wine, but his sommelier-in-training Luke Ericson was better able to twist my arm to have a small taste of a wonderful 2006 Rijk’s Shiraz. The glass was served with a tag, denoting the name of the wine, the variety, and its vintage.
I chose to sit outside, under the Nederburg branded umbrellas, surrounded by tourists. The staff look smart, with a white branded Belthazar shirt, black pants and white apron, and a smart-looking black bow-tie. All staff smile, and check regularly if all is in order. The Belthazar staff have always impressed me with their professionalism, and those with attitude do not seem to work there anymore! The bread plate, consisting of a large roll, butter hygienically protected with a branded paper cover, and a pork and beef sausage in a Napolitana-style sauce, was brought to the table, whether one orders from the standard or the Alfresco Value Lunch menu, a mini-meal in itself. A standard as well as a steak knife is automatically set on each table, with a material serviette. Even though I only used the fork for the bread and sausage, the whole sideplate and its cutlery was replaced in preparation for the main course. No fish knife was offered for my choice of main course.
While I associate Belthazar with steak, I chose to have calamari served in a pan – usually it is served with chilli and garlic, but I asked for the former to be removed – and with chips or a baked potato, which the waitress was willing to have changed to rice. The pan looked brand new and shiny, and came with Patagonian calamari tubes, the rice, and a generous lemon-half, excellent value at R89, and surpassing my benchmark of the best calamari which I usually have at Willoughby’s. Linefish costs R99; Burgers cost R65 for a classic pure beef burger, up to R85 for a “Double Whopper Beef Burger”, served with two patties; Steak Roll and chips costs R89; a 200 gram sirloin and chips costs R99; and salads range from R55 for the Alfresco Salad to R85 for a Smoked Tuna Salad. For Starters one can order Biltong (R75) or Droëwors (R 65) – the weight served is not specified; a cured meat platter with olives and bread for two costs R120; and Smoked tuna carpaccio costs R 85. A Value Seafood platter filled with linefish, calamari, prawns, and mussels served with rice or chips and a sauce costs R265 for two persons to share. Three desserts are offered, ice cream or sorbet at R40, and Ice Cream Sundae and Malva Pudding at R49 each. I had a lovely frothy Illy cappuccino, costing R20.
Three wines are offered as Value Wines: Koelenbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2010, South Hill Rosé, and Morgenhof Fantail Pinotage 2008, all three costing R99 a bottle.
I will come back to Belthazar for a lunch stop when at the Waterfront, knowing what a nice selection of light lunch options they now serve at affordable prices.
Belthazar Restaurant and Wine Bar, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. Tel (021) 421-3753. www.belthazar.co.za (The website is functional, with the standard menu, Alfresco Value Lunch menu and winelist, but few food photographs). Monday – Sunday lunch 12h00 – 16h00 for the Alfresco Value Lunch, standard menu available lunches and dinners, seven days a week.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.comTwitter: @WhaleCottage
Crust Cafe’ is a new-ish no-nonsense coffee shop, take-away and food delivery service operating in the Cape Town city centre, just off Buitensingel on Bree Street. Its name is catchy and the clean white-painted tables and benches outside, with umbrellas, attract attention as one drives past. It has a good selection of breakfast and lunch options, at extremely low prices.
Crust Cafe’s all-day breakfast options include fresh fruit salad at R 20, and R 25 if muesli and yogurt are added. Oats and banana cost R 24. A full English breakfast with all the bells and whistles (sausages, bacon, tomato and toast) costs R 33, an omelette with a choice of two fillings costs R 30, and if you want it plain, eggs on toast cost R 20.
For lunch or in-between snacks, toasted sandwiches are available (ranging between R 18 – R 22); gourmet sandwiches on ciabatta, rye or rolls range from R 28 for ham and salad or smoked chicken and avocado, to R R 32 for roast chicken. Wraps cost R 34, and two combinations are offered. Two salads and a soup of the day are also available. A 100 % pure organic coffee by TRiBeCa is sold in packets of beans, or in a variety of prepared coffee styles.
Hot meals served include chicken and beef burgers (R 28 – R 35), hot dogs (R 16 – R 23), and chips. Every day they offer a different special meal of the day – on 11 March this was lasagne and salad at R 35, beef curry and rice at R 32, and cream of celery soup and a roll at R 20. One can barely prepare a meal at home at such a low cost. All food is prepared fresh every day. Should any food be left over, it is disposed of at the end of the day.
What makes Crust Cafe’ attractive is its delivery service to office blocks nearby, even for breakfasts. I observed businesspersons coming in to Crust Cafe’, to collect a quick bite to eat, probably to take back to the office.
Phil and Andrew opened Crust Cafe’ six months ago, two British Capetonians who have settled here because they love the climate and the people of Cape Town. They are absolutely hands-on owners.
Crust Cafe’, 243 Bree Street, corner Buitensingel Street, tel 021 422 2222, www.crust.co.za (still under construction). Mondays – Fridays, 7h30 – 15h30.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com
An unusual menu size of A5, the menu looks like a magazine when one pages through it, with pages of menu items, categorised into antipasta/starters, insalata/salds, sushi, pizzas, gnocchi/pasta, pesce/seafood, carne/meat, secondi piatti/second course, dolce/desserts and fromaggi/cheese.
In relaunching the restaurant and its menu, owner Ian Halfon of the Slick Restaurant Group has focussed more strongly on the Italian origin of the Balducci name. The front cover has a bold “Italian Chic” statement on it. Underneath the restaurant name, it says “Ristorante Pizza Seafood Bar”, to define what Balducci’s stands for.
Unusual for a menu, it has ads Interspersed throughout, for Giani Jewellers, La Vie waters, Lindt chocolates, Amarula, Finders Keepers, Illy coffee and Evian water. The menu also contains the wine list, and wines advertised are Noble Hill, Morgenster, Pongracz, Veuve Clicquot, Dornier, Ataraxia, De Wetshof, Mooiplaas, Hartenberg, Fleur du Cap, Wedderwill, Doolhoof, Nederberg, Waterkloof, and Steenberg.
To continue the magazine feel, the menu is priced at R 100, and has a bar code. It even has a tag, in case one would think of leaving the restaurant with it.
Balducci’s seems to have lost the socialite following it had in its earlier days, but the owners may see this as a good thing, as this is a fickle customer group, moving from trendy to next trendy location.
What is impressive is its dedication to the environment, in that the menu is printed on recyclable (!) paper, and “Balducci supports alien clearing by using alien wood types in our pizza ovens”. The menu also states that the restaurant serves seasonal vegetables and fruit, as well as “superb quality procured meat â€¦and fish.” No frozen chicken is used, only Karan beef is used, as is award-winning Morgenster olive oil (which the menu claims is “imported”).
Interesting little notes are spread throughout the menu, for example gluten free pizza bases are offered, at an additional R 25.
The winelist section is introduced by a detailed description of the South African wine regions, districts and wards. Each wine stocked has a vintage stated, even though a disclaimer states that vintages may run out. Good tasting notes are provided per wine, and some wines are available by the glass.
Somewhat of a contradiction relative to its strong Italian positioning is the separate Balducci Burger Menu, an affordable selection of burgers made from ostrich, beef, chicken and lamb. Very affordable wines, at R 22 per glass of Balducci House white and R 25 for the House red are served, while the bottle price of the house wines is under R 100.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com