Tag Archives: Steenberg 1682

Restaurant Review: Kitima full of spirit, Elsa’s Table has pride of place!

I was invited by Katie and Jonny Friedman to dinner at Kitima in Hout Bay, an icon of Asian cuisine in Cape Town, and winner of the Best Asian restaurant in South Africa in the Eat Out Restaurant Awards in November. It was a most interesting evening, not only experiencing the good value food, but also hearing the story about Elsa’s Table, named in honour of one of Hout Bay’s longest standing ‘residents’!

The Friedmans own Orphanage on Bree Street, and we got to know each other at their cocktail emporium when it opened earlier this year. They have done so well with Orphanage that they are linking it to a double story behind the existing building, with an entrance on Orphan Street, adding another bar downstairs, and creating the Orphanage Club upstairs in which 1920’s style jazz, blues, and other music will be performed live. Reservations must be made, and it is planned to serve canapés with the drinks, served by the bottle in this venue. The Friedmans live in Llandudno, and love Kitima, usually eating there once a week.  They were surprised that I had never been, and wanted to share one of their favourite restaurants with me.

Kitima is close to the Imizamo Yethu township in Hout Bay, but one feels very secure, as one is guided into the parking by their security staff, and shown the entrance to the building.  The old Cape Dutch building, originating from 1670 when it was a manor house on the first farm in Hout Bay, and having been a National Monument for more than 50 years, is called The Kronendal, and is a tasteful marriage of its untouched historic Dutch origin with Thai decor touches added. The building relives the history of the Cape via the Dutch East India Company, which connected Europe, the Cape, and Siam (now Thailand).  There are two generous bars, with lounge seating at one, and bar seating at the other, serving fresh ‘Thai and Western cocktails’ , which are prepared by mixologists.  I had a taste of Katie’s Strawberry Rose Martini, a delicious cocktail with a minute rose, and it was actress Halle Berry’s favourite when she ate there while filming in Cape Town two years ago. It was amusing that my simple request for a medium cream sherry appeared a more exotic order than the martinis which Katie and Jonny ordered.  There are three rooms (Bangkok, Boat, Temple) and the VIP Room, in which the restaurant patrons sit, up to 160 in winter and about 220 in summer, when they can expand outside.  Tables are placed quite close to each other, yet one does not hear the other patrons. Tables have white tablecloths, and the chairs are upholstered in a black and grey/silver fabric.

Waiting for the Friedmans to arrive, I was shown around the restaurant by host Stian, and our first stop was at Elsa’s Table in the entrance hall, the only table in this large space, and which attracted my attention with its plates of food on the table, with a glass each of red and white wine, and a vase with red roses.  It looked like a table at which a very special event was about to be celebrated, one assuming that the couple had temporarily vacated the table to go to the bar.  It was quickly explained that this is Elsa’s Table, Elsa having been the daughter of one of the first Dutch owners of the building, Sir Abraham Josias Cloete, who lived there with his family between 1835 – 1849. Elsa fell in love with a British soldier. Their union was not sanctioned by her parents, so he committed suicide at the oak tree outside the restaurant building. It is said that Elsa died of a broken heart.  Since then her ghost has regularly been seen in the building on moonlit nights, and her existence felt inside the building.  In accordance with Thai culture, the table laid for Elsa and her soldier is a blessing, and has been prepared in honour of the spirits.  Since Kitima has opened and dedicated the table to her, there has been minimal activity and no more sightings of her ghost, I was told. Our waiter was kind enough to check which dishes were served at Elsa’s Table that evening, and his list was Pad Pak Rum (seasonal vegetables wok-fried with a garlic and oyster sauce), Pla Neng Ma Nao (steamed kingklip), steamed rice, and Crêpe Suzette. The dishes served at Elsa’s Table are changed daily. The red wine was a Barista Pinotage, but the white wine was an artificial liquid, he said, and the roses plastic.  I was reprimanded for putting my handbag on one of the chairs to make a note about a piece of information, reflecting how serious the restaurant is in honouring its previous resident.

The restaurant is named after its owner Kitima Sukonpongpao, who arrived in Cape Town from Thailand ten years ago. She opened Kitima five years ago, specialising in Asian cuisine, including Japanese, Chinese, and Thai.  Ten ‘5-star Thai chefs’ run the kitchen. Chef Kent came to the table, telling us that he had just returned from Thailand, but that he was teaching students at the University of Thailand about restaurant service and food preparation, an honour to do this for the King of Thailand, only seeing his mother for two days, and barely having a break. Thai cooking is characterised by its use of herbs, and lemongrass in particular, I was told, but its true recipe to success is its service, making it unique, and therefore better than Nobu and Haiku, said the restaurant host. The restaurant is so popular that one must book ahead.  The website introduces the philosophy of the restaurant: ‘Only passions, great passions, elevate the soul to great things’.

The brown covered menu is the largest I have seen, even more extensive than that of Haiku.  It is neatly organised into Appetisers, Soups, Salads, Sushi and Sashimi, Dim Sum, Soup, Salads, Seafood, Duck and Chicken, Beef, Pork and Ostrich, Curries, Vegetables, Rice, and Noodles, each section offering a large selection of options.  The first observation was how inexpensive Kitima is, when compared to Haiku, Nobu, and Willoughby’s, for example.  The waiter told us immediately that most of the Dim Sum was not yet available, needing a few days to be prepared after the restaurant re-opened from its winter break.  When Katie wanted to order the tuna, she was told that it was out of stock too.  One is served a spoon and fork, and chopsticks, and I asked for a knife for both the starter and main course. I ordered Ebi (R40), which is a prawn, avocado and Japanese mayonnaise handroll, as a starter, beautifully presented on a stand. Appetisers include oysters (R15 each), a number of spring roll options, including duck, cheese, vegetable, and prawn, and prawn cakes cost R45 for three. The sushi selection is extensive, tuna and salmon sashimi, and prawn, tuna and salmon Nigiri costing about R15 each. Platters of eight pieces of sushi range from R38 – R55, a number of handroll and fashion sandwiches are offered, and salmon roses cost R52 for four.  Dum Sum is defined as ‘little treasures’, and include a number of ingredient combinations, including prawns, pork, shiitake mushrooms, chicken, ginger, and chives, at a price range of R33 – R40.  The well-known Thai Tom Yum Goong prawn soup with mushrooms, galangal, lemongrass and coconut milk, topped with fresh coriander (R39), and traditional Japanese Miso soup with tofu and spring onion (R25), are included in the soup list.  Numerous salad options are available, including beef, prawn, chicken, duck, fish, seared tuna, and vermicilli, costing between R50 – R70.

For the main course I tried my Haiku favourite, being Duck à L’Orange. Katie told me that the duck comes from Thailand, as they were not happy with the quality that they source locally.  The duck dishes cost R105 – R125, while the chicken dishes cost around R65.  Seafood main course options are dominated by prawns, including a prawn basket, and sweet and sour prawn.  Kingklip, salmon, and Bluenose (not on the SASSI list) can be ordered, steamed, fried with batter, or wok-fried.  All the beef, pork, and ostrich dishes are wok-fried, and cost about R75, with the exception of the ostrich, which is a little more expensive.  Red and green chicken and seafood curries, chicken and beef peanut curries, and lychee duck curry are some of the curry options. For vegetarians there are a selection of choices, including a green or red vegetable curry, costing about R55. Steamed rice costs R12, but one can also order egg fried, vegetable fried, or prawn fried (R49) rice.  Noodle dishes are served with chicken, prawns or vegetables.

For dessert Katie and I shared Crepe Suzette, which was served with ice cream (R45), and I had a cappuccino (R18) with it. The other dessert options are more Western, including Crème Brûlée, Bread and Butter pudding, deep fried bananas, chocolate or fruit spring rolls, lychees, sorbets, and ice creams, inexpensive at R28 – R45.

The Waterford Kevin Arnold Shiraz (R270) was decanted, and was a good choice for our meal.  The winelist recommends the pairing of Riesling for medium-spiced and steamed dishes; Sauvignon Blanc for chicken, fish, and seafood; Chardonnay for milder dishes and sushi; Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for pork, duck, and spicy beef dishes; and Pinot Noir for more subtle-flavoured beef dishes.  The rules are quite strict, with corkage costing R35 for local wines and R50 for champagne.  However, one may not bring any brands that are on the restaurant’s winelist.  Disappointing is that no vintage information is provided, and that there are typing errors, unforgivable for a restaurant that has invested in an extensive wine, spirit, and liqueur offering. A list of 13 champagnes is offered, ranging from R110/R660 per glass/bottle of Guy Charbaut Selection Brut to R3200 for Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1998.  Other champagne brands include Bollinger, Ayala, Veuve Clicquot, Dom Pérignon, and Billecart Salmon.  Only seven MCCs are available, starting at R35/R140 per glass/bottle of Beyerskloof Pinotage Brut Rosé, peaking at R 490 for Steenberg 1682 Pinot Noir Brut.  A wide selection of varieties is offered.  The Shiraz prices start at R33/R90 for Arabella by glass/bottle, and include the excellent Andreas, as well as Holden Manz.

For a first time visitor Kitima feels overwhelming, both in terms of its size, and its extensive winelist and menu.  One could go back week after week, as the Friedmans do, and try something different each time, the variety offered being so extensive.  The prices are unbelievably good for having received the Eat Out accolade of the best Asian restaurant in South Africa.  Service is very attentive, polite and correct, starting when one parks on the property, and one is guided by attendants. A nice touch was the chef’s visit to the table.  I will certainly be back, to try more of the menu.  I loved the story of Elsa’s Table, and the respect that is paid to this spirit.

Kitima, 140 Main Road,  Hout Bay. Tel (021) 790-8004.  www.kitima.co.za. Twitter:@_Kitima. Tuesday to Saturday dinner, Sunday buffet lunch. Booking recommended.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

The Grand Café in Plett is no longer grand!

I have loved the Grand Café and Rooms from the time it opened in Plettenberg Bay four years ago, and I stayed in it whilst I was having the building renovated that has become my Whale Cottage Plettenberg Bay.  It has had its ups and downs over this period, but seems to have lost its edge since it was taken over by new owner Sue Main, and who subsequently added the Camps Bay and Granger Bay branches in Cape Town.   We were most disappointed with our last visit a week ago.

But to start at the beginning of The Grand Café and Rooms.   Enterprising entrepreneur (Homework clothing) Gail Behr opened this unusual pink-painted 8-bedroom boutique hotel and restaurant in Plett.  It was at the time that I travelled to Plett once a month to oversee the renovations to what was to become our newest guest house.   The Grand became my home from home for a year of travelling, and I was well looked after by the friendly staff, including Steven, Sydney, Robert and Eric.   The room decor is unusual, extravagant in its use of red velvet, extra-ordinarily high beds with bedside stools, and generous baths.   But it was the Café part of The Grand that we loved especially, and the music collection played boldly throughout the day via an iPod compiled by Behr’s son Steven Whiteman was amazing – Mozart for breakfast, opera for late morning, light jazz during the day, Sinatra for the early evening, more jazz at night.  It gave the restaurant the most wonderful atmosphere at any time of the day, and a character which I have never experienced before.   To add to the charm created by the music is the Café deck, with a wonderful view over the Plett lagoon, from which one can see amazing moon rises.  In early days The Grand was a meeting point of all Behr’s friends from Cape Town, Johannesburg and other corners of the world.  It took a long time to meet Gail, and I was quite intimated by her initially, given quite a stern sounding set of house rules.  But she was much nicer than the rules made her sound when we did finally meet. 

All good things come to an end, and Behr decided to move into the hotel, and only use the top four rooms for guests, and she lived downstairs.  The Café was no longer open to the public, falling into Behr’s private space, and guests were served a very restricted breakfast relative to what we were used to, in a non-view courtyard.  The building was painted white, and it lost its charm.   Then The Grand Café and Rooms was sold to Main, who built on the success of this brand to open first in Camps Bay (buying the building for about R40 million), and then The Grand on the Beach a year ago.   It was odd to see The Grand crockery in other restaurants, such as Nguni, before it was sold to Main.   One welcome change Main made was to have the building repainted its landmark pinky colour.  Admirably she changed little about the decor, which also reflects Behr’s initial lush red velvet look.  Main even used Adam Whiteman, another Behr son, who is an interior decorator, to decorate the Camps Bay restaurant.

One comfortable thing about The Grand Café is that its menu has not changed much over the four years, and that the prices seem to have largely remained the same too.   The first problem we encountered with the nice branded maroon menu folder is that the starter and main course/dessert  pages were swopped around in it.  The menu does not resemble the A3 “newspaper” feel of those in the Cape Town restaurants.  Our order was taken, before we were asked if we had been told about the specials by Sybil, who seemed to be in charge and who has been at The Grand from the time it opened. She sent another waiter, but he too struggled to tell us the specials, which will be on the new menu introduced this week, but that had been available to order for the past week already.  Before we could not even reconsider our order, given the specials, our food was served!

The tempura prawn starter (R70) is absolutely mouthwatering, and is a signature dish.  None of the other The Grand branches can prepare it like the Plett branch can, Camps Bay using shrimps which just do not match the wonderful Plett prawns.  The slice of Caesar has also been a standard, costing R60 for the iceberg served with bacon, croutons and parmesan, and R80 with chicken added.  The Waldorf salad costs R 55; tuna (R45) and vegetable (R35) spring rolls; salmon naan (R 75); and calamari rings cost R40 as a starter and R65 as a main.   One of the problems with a menu is that restaurants take them away when one has placed the order.   Only when leaving did I recheck the menu, and realise that our served calamari (crumbed calamari tubes) were not as described on the menu at all – they were not “tender” nor “rings”!   Mussels and chips cost R 75, a prego roll R60/R65 for beef chicken/beef fillet.   There are only five main courses, including fish and chips (R70); line fish (R95); fillet “Bernaise” (R115); and Durban lamb curry (R115), which my colleagues ordered, with super poppadoms, basmati rice and sambals of yoghurt, bananas, tomato and cucumber, and chutney.   Desserts have not changed in five years, being Afagato (R35), Phina Afagato (R45), and Cake of the day (R34).

The new menu was e-mailed to me, and a new addition is pizzas, ranging in price from R70 for the Grand “Margerita” to the blockbuster Grand Seafood Pizza at R220!   Sugared Salmon (R100), an old standard, is back.   Oysters and cold crayfish (both SQ) have been added as starters.

The winelist has a small selection of wines per variety, but vintages are not specified.  The (unspecified) house wines are offered in white, Rosé, red, sparkling, and sparkling Rosé, ranging from R35 per glass/R195 per bottle.  Suzette Champagne costs R150 for 375 ml.  Sparkling wines cost R 220 for Steenberg 1682, “Pierre Jordaan (sic) Belle Rose NV” R275, and Bramon Brut R265, a local Plettenberg Bay bubbly.  Billecart-Salmon Rose costs R900, Moet & Chandon R800 and Dom Perignon R 2800.   Sauvignon Blancs range from R95 for Glenwood, to R180 for Springfield Life from Stone.   Kevin Arnold Shiraz costs R340.

The Grand Café bubble has burst in Plettenberg Bay.  While it is commendable to see it still operating, given how depressed Plettenberg Bay is, the service was shocking, a regular complaint about The Grand on the Beach, but for all the wrong reasons – there were only three of four tables eating in total, and both waiters were very new and poorly trained, and one of them came with attitude too.  Our calamari served was completely different to what the menu described. The trademark magical music is gone.  Sadly, The Grand Café in Plettenberg Bay is no longer grand!  

The Grand Café and Rooms,  27 Main Road, Plettenberg Bay.  Tel (044) 533-3301.  www.thegrand.co.za   (the website is minimalist, quite contrary to the lush interiors, and is shared across the three Grand restaurants.  Surprisingly, no menu, winelist, nor any food photographs are in the Gallery of any of the three website sections).   Open for lunch and dinner Monday – Sunday for the season.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:   www.whalecottage.com

Restaurant Review: French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar also serves …. French Toast!

French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar opened about ten days ago, and is a homely cosy wine lounge that has been created in what was previously a warehouse in Bree Street.   It is the type of place that one would pop in to for a drink before or after a function, and have a bite to eat.  It has one of the largest collections of wines-by-the-glass in Cape Town, with over 108 choices of local and international wines.   It is not cheap to eat and drink there, and portions are small, but it does offer a good selection of price options.

French Toast has a heavyweight management.   Owner John Harrison was a stockbroker on the Paris Bourse, and told me that the French bug bit him there, hence the French feel through the name and the café style music that is played.  John was the CEO of the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company for many years, and built up its business and introduced the new cable cars during his management of the company.  He was a client of my then-PR company many moons ago.   He spoke passionately about his new project, and how they renovated the double story building in an unbelievable three months, being hands-on in the renovation.   Raw brick walls give it a warm feeling, blackboards communicate the wine and food specials, and windows have been built to add light upstairs. There is a bar counter upstairs and downstairs, and the downstairs one will probably be the more popular one in winter, with its massive fireplace.  The upstairs section is huge, with seating for at least 80-100 persons.  A small boardroom downstairs can host meetings and functions of up to 10 persons, Shane told us.   The decor is upmarket, but the food is not fine dining, with an emphasis on wines, explained Shane.   The cutlery is shiny and new, the glassware is good, but only paper serviettes are supplied.

Karen Visser is a partner in French Toast with John, was a bio-kineticist, and is a passionate golfer and winelover, studying at the Cape Wine Academy.   She compiled the winelist in the main, and has no previous restaurant experience.  GM of the new wine lounge is Gidi Caetano, who was the GM of Salt Restaurant at the Ambassador Hotel, and also oversaw the opening of Salt Deli and Salt Vodka Bar until recently.   She also worked at The Showroom and was a hospitality trainer.   The Manager Shane has an interesting undefinable accent, having grown up in Hawaii, and lived in the UK before moving to South Africa.  He previously worked at the Protea Hotel Victoria Junction, the Devon Valley Hotel, and the 0932 Belgian restaurant in Green Point, which has since closed down.  Chef Jannie Mellis owned East London’s best restaurant, he says, the Two Dogs Bistro, and was at Bushmanskloof Lodge prior to that.  He said he came back to Cape Town “to get into the hub of food again”, a nice compliment for Cape Town. The staff are smartly dressed in black shirts and pants, a French Toast branded apron, and a turquoise tie.

We found it terribly chilly upstairs, but Shane assured me that the airconditioning was not on.  When we moved from table to table, to find the warmest spot, we discovered that a sliding door had been left wide open.  When it had been closed, all was fine.   The music was rather loud when we arrived, but seemed to have been turned down a little while we were there.  

The wines are closed with a wine preservation system Le Verre du Vin, being special rubber wine and sparkling wine bottle stoppers, allowing opened wines to be kept for up to three months.  I chose the same glass of wine I had a week ago, the Mullineux Shiraz 2008, at R83 for a 150ml glass.  The wine has the characteristic of an old-fashioned smoky shiraz, my favourite, but the very chilled serving, at 13°C, was too cold to my liking.  Four Cap Classiques are available, ranging from R44/R195 for Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel to R 81/R380 for Graham Beck Blanc de Blanc.   Seven champagnes can be ordered, Le Mesnil Blanc de Blanc costing R135/R650, and the most pricey is Dom Perignon, sold by bottle only, at R3000.   They also stock Veuve Cliquot, Billecart Salmon Rose and Guy Charbaut.  Seven Sauvignon Blancs are stocked, that of La Motte costing R31/R130, and the Cape Point Vineyard Reserve is the most expensive, at R57/R260.   Seven Shiraz/Syrah wines are served, starting with Rickety Bridge at R35/R165, and Haskell Vineyards is the most expensive at R111/R530.   Imported wines from France, Italy and Germany are also available, and range from R33/R142 – R153/R740.   The branded winelist provides information about the vintage and origin of each wine, but has no descriptions of the wines or the varieties.

The menu, on a laminated sheet without any branding, is broken down into Snacks, Tapas, Charcuterie, Cheese Platters and Desserts, and has a Mediterranean feel to it.   Snacks include olives, almonds, chillies (R30 each) and oysters (R10 each).    The Tapas selection of 16 dishes range in price from R30 – R50, with empanadas, prawns, smoked salmon trout, caprese skewers and more.   The charcuterie platter allows one to select three of a choice of imported meats, including chorizo, parma ham, salami and jamon serano, for R50.  Similarly, one can choose three cheeses for R55, from a selection of six.  Breads come from Jardine Bakery, a few meters away, and sometimes from Knead.   Chef Jannie makes his own preserves and pasta.

There is not much attention paid to the presentation of the dishes, I felt, being functionally presented on white plates.   I had the calamari and lemon (R38), and asked Chef Jannie not to add the chilli.   My (student) son had the delicious herb and pecorini croquettes (R35), as well as the parma ham and mozzarella aroncini fried stuffed rice balls (R45), but was still starving after the two tapas dishes, and therefore ordered patatas bravas with a homemade spicy tomato sauce (R45), which he proclaimed to be excellent.  I had to have the French Toast, after which the restaurant is named, one of the three desserts on the menu (R40), two tiny baguette slices served with not-so-nice almond ice cream. The cappuccino (R16) made from Origin coffee was excellent.   The specials board advertised white anchovies, Pisto bruschetta, and cheddar and rice balls.   Chef Jannie said that from the feedback received to his dishes since opening, he will be amending his menu next week. 

In general the tapas portions are small, and therefore French Toast is not the place to have a meal, but rather a glass of wine with a tapas snack.  We paid R385 for five tapas dishes and two glasses of red wine. 

POSTSCRIPT 15/1:  I have returned to French Toast a few times since I wrote the review two months ago.  Every time I have been warmly received by the management team.   Today I returned for a late Saturday afternoon cappuccino, and was impressed with the new summer menu.   My eye caught the asparagus tapas, at R35, crispy and crunchy, simply served with lemon, the best asparagus I have tasted.   Then I saw a Seafood salad advertised on a Specials board, for R55, and had to have it, when the Manager Gidi explained that it contained steamed prawns and crayfish, with bisque aïoli, beautifully presented, which had been a criticism I had expressed previously.  I felt that Chef Jannie has progressed by leaps and bounds, not only in terms of his menu selection, food preparation, but also in terms of the food presentation.  On the wine side an innovate wine trio 50 ml flight is offered for Sauvignon Blanc (Delaire, Hillcrest and Reyneke Organic), at R40 for the three wines;  the Sparkling wine flight is Steenberg 1682, Teddy Hall,  and Sterhuis, at R65, or R100 if served with a trio of oysters; and the Shiraz flight is from Eagle’s Nest, Haskell Aeon, and La Motte Shiraz Viognier, costing R80.

French Toast Wine & Tapas Bar, 199 Bree Street, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 422-3839. www.frenchtoastwine.com (website still under construction).  Twitter @FrenchToastWine. Monday – Saturday 12h00 – 23h00.  No BYO allowed, the winelist says.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage

Restaurant Review: Brio 1893 is beautiful and brio!

One of the most beautiful restaurant interiors in Cape Town is the newly opened Brio 1893 jazz restaurant on Adderley Street, one half of the previous Riboville Restaurant that closed down more than a year ago, and close to The Taj Twankey Bar. “Brio” is a musical term, meaning lively and spirited, and that is what this restaurant embodies.

The German owner of the 1893-built ABC Building, in which the restaurant is housed, invited Skippy and Lauren Shaked to check out the building, despite both having sworn that they would not open another restaurant.  “It was love at first sight”, beams Skippy, despite the original interior having been a mess, only the beautiful wooden floor and original lamps still in the space when they saw it. 

Skippy and I have been Camps Bay “colleagues” for twelve years (he is the owner of Codfather, and ex-owner of Summerville).  I accepted an invitation to try out the restaurant, shared with Clare and Eamon from Spill blog, after I had popped in for a coffee and a drink about ten days before. 

Lovingly Lauren and Skippy have created a most beautiful restaurant, with a lovely ambiance.  Near the bar counter a cosy lounge area has gilded chairs with a lovely purple fabric.  A separate smoking lounge with its own fireplace also is beautifully decorated, and feels homely.  Another dining section can be cordoned off for a private dinner for 30 guests.  Soon the downstairs vault will be turned into a function venue.

Beautiful chandeliers hang over the bar area, whilst modern small chandelier-style lights light up the passage to the bathrooms, a good blend of old and new.  In the bathrooms the lighting is very modern, with a lighting panel above changing colour.  The original marble walls of what was once a Standard Bank add an unusual decor touch.  Lauren was in charge of the decor, and has an amazingly simple touch, a less is more approach, and it says CLASS.   It is not surprising to hear that she had a decor shop in Hout Bay.

The lower restaurant level has retained the beautifully restored wooden floors, whilst the raised section has my favourite black and white tiles.   One is separated from other diners by classical brown leather benches, with modern black chairs on the other side of the tables.   From the band stand in the middle of the lower floor we were entertained by Skippy’s pianist and guitarist, with soloist Robin.  The highlight was when Skippie took the microphone – he is a singer of note, singing with passion such standards as ‘Georgia’ and ‘Georgie Porgie’.  There is no cover charge for the music, and a couple danced, making this good value for a romantic evening out, celebrating a special birthday (with Skippy singing for a birthday girl the night we were there), an anniversary and even an engagement.  Compared to other restaurants with live music, Brio has the benefit that one can carry on a conversation whilst the live music is performed.   

Arlene, our medical student waitress, was exceptional, one of the best I have experienced.   She brought us the gold covered menu and winelist.  The menu is restricted, making it easy to choose.  We received cheese coated bread sticks and a peppadew dip to start with, and we felt that the breadsticks would have been better served warm, and without the dip, but may have been superfluous anyway, given that the starters arrived almost immediately.  I had the deep fried camembert with caramelized nuts and figs, the camembert having a lovely soft centre contrasted with the crispy crumbed exterior (R 62).  Clare enjoyed her oysters, at R15 each, beautifully presented.  Eamon was happy with his grilled calamari (R49).  Other starters offered are roquefort snails (R59) and springbok carpaccio (R88). 

The signature main course is the peppered fillet (R130), which both Clare and Eamon had, prepared perfectly medium-rare, as requested.  I found my grilled calamari (R96) too sharp in taste, making my eyes water, and Skippy explained that it has a sprinkling of cajun spice, which is not mentioned in the menu.  He immediately replaced it with an unspiced plateful, which was served with basmati rice.  Other mains range from the Brio Burger at R79, to a seafood platter at R420.  One can also order carpetbagger steak (have not seen this on a menu for years!), oxtail, steamed mussels (temporarily not available due to the red tide), linefish and crayfish thermidor.   Starches, vegetables and sauces cost extra, between R18 – R 25.   Side salads cost about R50.

Two desserts offered (malva pudding at R45 and creme brulee at R39) is too restrictive a dessert choice, in my opinion.  Clare’s creme brulee was a generous portion, and was perfectly prepared.  I enjoyed my cheese platter (R89).

The winelist offers about ten choices per variety, but does not contain vintages.   Champagnes range in price from  R1 100 (Moet et Chandon Epernay NV) to R3660 for the Dom Perignon Epernay).  Cap Classiques cost around R250, for Simonsig, Steenberg 1682, Pongracz and Graham Beck.   Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc costs R118, and Klein Constantia R238.  Chardonnays start at R116 for Brampton, with Hamilton-Russell the most expensive at R649.  Guardian Peak’s shiraz is reasonable at R138, and Ernie Els’ the most expensive at R484.  Fleur du Cap’s Pinotage costs R128, while the Guardian Peak Lapa costs R468.  Eamon was kind to me, knowing my preference for shiraz, and ordered a Neil Ellis for us and I was surprised that the 2008 bottle came with a screw top.   It costs R222.

We loved the evening at Brio – the beautiful decor, the ambiance, the friendliness of the staff, the generosity of Skippy and Lauren, the live music (Skippy’s singing in particular), the reasonable prices and the good food.  We will definitely be back. 

Brio 1893, ABC Building, 130 Adderley Street, Cape Town.  tel 021 422 0654.  www.brio1893.com (website under construction).  Open Mondays – Saturdays.   Dinners only.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com

Restaurant Review: Pizza Club fastest pizzas in Cape Town

The best value for money and fastest pizzas served in Cape Town must be those from the Pizza Club in Hout Bay, which are 30 cm in size and have a very thin base.  One is offered the unusual ability to order a “duo” or a “trio” pizza, with two or three topping combinations out of the list of 23 choices offered.

Celebrating its first anniversary in Hout Bay, the Pizza Club formerly traded in the south-west of France.  Wife Tracy from the United Kingdom and Italian husband Massimo Orione met in an internet chatroom, Tracy tells us and laughs.   Both worked in the UK at that time 12 years ago, and they fell in love, moved to France to start the Pizza Club there, and moved to South Africa after a life-changing holiday.  

The Pizza Club is next door to the Spar at the Oakhurst Farm Park, and for those who have not been there before, the entrance is not easy to find.  We walked past the restaurant, expecting the entrance to be at the back end of the building.  Tracy saw us taking the wrong turn, and called us to guide us.   We sat outside on a lovely Cape summer evening, next to the kids’ jungle gym, overlooking the mountain.   The kids’ screeching was irritating initially, but they were mercifully taken home soon thereafter. 

The menu and winelist is printed on brown paper, to give a pizza look, and is laminated.  It is immediately evident that the PizzaClub is a no-nonsense pizza place with “two non-celebrity pizza designers”, as tweeted by Massimo recently.   The 23 pizza choices include two sweet ones, banana and ricotta cheese, and one served with chocolate spread.   A basic Margarita pizza costs R 44, and the most expensive R 79.  A board advertised four further special topping combinations at R 89 each.   A daily salad costs R24 as a side serving, and the salad of the day was a butternut, spring onion and soy honey sauce one.  Two “bulk” deals are offered: the Pizza Festival offers 6 persons or more an unlimited pizza and side salad for R 98 per person, while the full Italian Experience at R 140 per head for a minimum of 10 persons offers antipasti, unlimited pizza, side salad, dessert and lemoncello.

The menu welcomes one “in our home, and we’ll treat you as such”.  It lays a few ground rules: no doggy bags for their Pizza Festival or Italian Experience, and one is not allowed to bring one’s own food or beverages.

Unbelievably the pizzas were served within 5 minutes of placing our order, and such generosity of ingredients on the pizza has never been seen before – one could not see the pizza base at all, only on the outer edge.  The pizzas are large, larger than a dinner plate.  The pizzas cooled quickly, being so large, so that the last bitefuls are cold by the time one gets to them.  

The dessert choice costs R 32, and was a chocolate mousse and tiramisu, and the latter was made the real Italian way, and pronounced delicious.  Generously Massimo brought a glass each of lemoncello and chocolate liqueur served in a chocolate cup once he had identified the writer as a fellow Twitterer!    Kim Maxwell, a food writer and winetaster, was also at the restaurant.  On its menu the Pizza Club proudly refers to its good reviews on Rossouws’ Restaurants, Eat Out and Relax with Dax websites, and requests patrons to add comments to these websites if they are happy, or to feed back to the owners any dissatisfaction.   The website also reflects the good feedback the Pizza Club has received, and cleverly gives the Italian feel on its homepage, with basil, mozarella and tomatoes representing the colours of the Italian flag. 

The winelist offers Bianco, Roso and Rossato at an unbelievably economical R 18 by the glass.  White wines start at R 65 (Welgemoed Sauvignon Blanc and Perdeberg Chenin Blanc) and the Jordan Chardonnay is the most expensive at R 165.   The price range for the red wines is from R 65 (Rietvallei John Cabernet Sauvignon/Tinta Barrocca) to R 170 for the Warwick Three Cape Ladies.   Three sparkling wines are on the winelist, and range from R 70 for an unknown Vendaye to R 180 for the Steenberg 1682 Brut.

Pizza Club, Oakhurst Farm Park, off Main Road, Hout Bay.  Open Wednesdays – Sundays, from 17h30 onwards.  Tel 021 790 7906, or sms the word “pizza” to 073 390 1373 so that they can return your call. www.pizzaclub.co.za  Twitter: @pizzaclub_hb

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com