Talk of the town as far as new restaurants go is Giorgio Nava’s newly opened Down South Food Bar in the less savoury southern end of Long Street, near the Long Street Baths. Compared to his 95 Keerom Street and Carne, you won’t find Nava at Down South, the restaurant being far more casual, more friendly, non-Italian, and offering a small selection of good food and beverages, at excellent value for money.
We were told that the restaurant name comes from the restaurant concept of food that comes from the American south, such as gumbo, jambalaya, and cajun fish, something Morton’s did in the Waterfront when the shopping center first opened. Down South does it in a far more casual way, bringing the simple home-style American deep south classics to Cape Town in a tasty and affordable way. It is good as a relaxed place to have a beer, to watch a game with the boys, and to eat inexpensive and tasty food to soak up the drinks, so don’t expect ‘fine’ food here.
Carl Penn is the chef at Down South, having worked with Nava as his right hand man at 95 Keerom Street and Carne. The staff are very friendly and laid back. They wear black pants and T-shirts, strongly Southern Comfort branded.
The restaurant has a narrow front to the street, but extends deep into the space. Light wooden tables are functional, with brushed aluminium chairs and uncomfortable wooden benches providing seating. One wall is wood panelled, another painted cream. The dominant colour scheme is brown. A bar counter has bar stools made in the same brushed aluminium design. Free wi-fi is available. An eclectic mix of music is played, including Coldplay and Moby. The TV is set on sport. Cutlery is cheap and cheerful, with paper serviettes.
The Menu has some stars and typing errors, is made to look old Down South, and is divided into Starters, Ribs, Sandwiches and Prawns, to which is added Sides and Dessert. Having only opened a few days ago, the advertised Daily Specials (Gumbo on Mondays, Jambalaya on Tuesdays, BBQ Brisket on Wednesdays, Best Burger on Thursdays, Cajun fish on Fridays and Fried Chicken on Saturdays) are not yet available, neither were the cheesy grits and coleslaw. Starters cost between R40 – R45, and include prawn cocktail, thick cut bacon, caesar salad, buffalo chicken wings, and 8 of the most wonderful crispy batter fried prawn tails served with a delicious red pepper rÃ©moulade. Ribs are ‘dry spice rubbed and twice baked, basted in Down South BBQ sauce”, and the two racks were sweet and spicy, an extremely tender and generous portion at R 65, which includes one side dish (‘whipped potatoes’, home fries, chopped salad or corn bread). “Po’ Boys” sandwiches (poor boy sandwich originating from Louisiana, usually a submarine sandwich made with meat or seafood) cost R50 – R55, served with pork, prawns or BBQ brisket, while the “Muffaletta” sandwich (originates from New Orleans) costs R45, and contains mortadella, salami, white cheddar, tomato and olive pickle. Butterflied prawns, grilled with olive oil, cost R70, including one side dish too. Desserts cost R35, and the choice is pie – apple, pecan or Mississippi – or baked cheesecake.
The winelist is uncomplicated and simple, the prices being unbelievably affordable, with three categories: Cheap (Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc, Mooiplaas Chenin Blanc, Villiera Down to Earth Red, Wolftrap, Mount Rozier Red Blend, all at R25 a glass and R100 a bottle); Decent (Villiera GewÃ¼rztraminer, Hartenberg Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, and Helderberg Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, all at about R 32 a glass/R120 per bottle); and Good (Fat Bastard Chardonnay, Iona Sophie Terblanche Sauvignon Blanc, Thelema Red and Villiera Merlot, at about R34 per glass/R135 per bottle); and a separate mention for RosÃ© (Kleine Zalze at R20/R80), as well as for “Bubbles” (Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel at R30/R125). Beers cost R18 (Heineken), R17 (Amstel, Windhoek) and R21 for 500 ml of Jack Black Draught. A cocktail list features eight options, all with American South names, most costing a very affordable R35. The cocktail menu carries the branding of Southern Comfort, Jack Daniel’s and Frangelico.
One hopes that Nava does not overextend himself in his opening of new restaurants – he has also just opened the Mozarella Bar in lower Kloof Street (opposite the Vida e CaffÃª), and also plans to open a Down South Sandwich Bar.
Down South Food Bar, 267 Long Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-1155. www.downsouthfoodbar.com (website under construction). Monday – Saturday, “10am – late”.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage