My friend Gary Peterson invited me to choose a restaurant at which to celebrate my December birthday. I was eager to try Cabo Beach Club, the former Shimmy, in the Waterfront, as I needed a sounding board as I was not expecting much in respect of its food offering, despite knowing that Chef Ryan Cole of Salsify at the Roundhouse is in charge of the restaurants at Cabo. I had a feeling that this restaurant visit might become similar to the one to the renovated The Winchester Hotel and its disappointing Shoreditch Restaurant, a previous outing with Gary.
Cabo Beach Club is similar to Shimmy in its layout, but different in many other respects.
We were lucky to have chosen a beautiful weather day, and that both of us had late afternoon commitments after the lunch, so there was no time pressure to enjoy the birthday lunch.
Cabo Beach Club belongs to the Waterfront, and is leased to Ray Mordt, a former Springbok rugby player, who also owns the lease on The Roundhouse site, with Salsify and The Lawns restaurants. Initially Chef Luke Dale Roberts leased Salsify at the Roundhouse, with Chef Ryan Cole in the kitchen, but very silently Chef Luke withdrew from The Roundhouse, the start of him winding down his restaurant portfolio in Cape Town, to only two, his iconic The Test Kitchen having closed down in September 2021. It was at a lunch at Salsify that it was confirmed that it was not Chef Luke that was opening the restaurant at the renovated Shimmy, but that it was Chef Ryan. None of this was made public. Salsify is an Eat Out Top 10 restaurant of 2019, the last year in which Eat Out presented its awards, due to the Corona Lockdown.
The notorious Mark Liffman was associated with Shimmy, not a good association with his link to the underworld. I have heard that when Shimmy closed down as a result of the Corona Lockdown, every piece of decor and lighting was ripped out of the building, leaving only an empty shell.
What feels familiar about Cabo is that two heavy weight security staff stood at the entrance, but their task was to make sure that we wore a mask, and to welcome us. One enters a reception area, with a desk, but the staff were busy, so I did not interact with them. On the right is the weirdest seating area, with couches which had a cushion over them so that one could not sit on them. Along the wall is a massive wall unit, barely filled, looking unfinished.
I took a left turn, walked into what I remember as the Shimmy restaurant, still with a bar counter on the left, and saw no one in this area. I walked outside and saw Gary at a table on the beach sand. The whole area outside the indoor restaurant is filled with tables and chairs on beach sand, all coveted with umbrellas, a little like the Grand Café on the Beach. We were told that 450 persons can sit here at full capacity. The swimming pool has been rebuilt to the side of the indoor restaurant, barely visible to diners sitting at the outside tables. The outdoor stage for concerts was also removed after performances by Goldfish and other musicians during the Festive season. The arch over the stage remains. At the water’s edge separate seating is available, the prime seats in the house, but they are so far back that one does not see it on arrival. the chairs sink into the sand, making it uncomfortable to get up. Cutlery is good quality St Tropez, and the crockery a modern Fortis Hotelware.
We were offered a drink, and I drank water, due to my later client meeting. A number of waiters came by, to chat, answered my questions, and to take our order. We learnt that Chef Ryan was not in be house, and that Chef Peter du Preez was heading up the kitchen in that day, Previously working at Chefs Warehouse Maison and at La Petite Ferme.
It took us some time to catch up from when last we saw each other, and to try and understand the very disappointing menu, offering Sushi, pizza, main courses of which four were Burgers and the balance incredibly expensive sharing platters of up to R1200! I was concerned about Gary’s wallet after this restaurant visit, the prices being unreasonably high.
We decided to start with a Starter, Gary ordering a Burrata Salad (a total rip-off at R199), more green leaves and a few grapes than mozzarella, which had been chopped up into little bits! I was happier with my Salt & Pepper squid (R180, the price equally outrageous), but had to request the exclusion of chili and Bonita flakes, and requested additional aioli as the little dots if it on the plate was not enough to dip the eight calamari tubes into. I received a reasonable portion of it, making the very dry battered squid much more palatable.
As we had not met any staff on entering the outside area, we were not told that there was a second restaurant at Cabo called Violet, and that it has its own menu. A gentle Deputy GM Gary Bateman (on the Royal Caribbean for many years) visited our table regularly, and told us about Violet Restaurant, described as ‘fine-dining’, a horrid thought given the restaurant size and the horrid brown faux velvet chairs, wooden top tables, and no interior design style other than a purple V neon light. We were not allowed to order Violet dishes in the sand section, he said. One had to sit on the terrace of Violet, maybe ten steps away, or go inside the restaurant, a space seating 150 persons, with no one inside, and not quite ready after a very busy Festive season, he told us. We could not find anything else on the Cabo menu which we wanted to order, so we were delighted when Gary returned with the news that they would make an exception and allow us to eat from Violet where we were seated on the sand.
The Violet Menu is unusual, a sheet of ordinary A4 paper, folded and sealed with a gold branded wax stamp. Violet’s logo is an ostrich being ridden by a female, a bizarre representation of the restaurant, not linked to anything in the restaurant. The menu is divided into Ocean, Produce, Pasture, and Sweet Treats sections, with 3 – 7 dishes per section. Gary and I both chose a main course from the Pasture section, Gary ordering Slow-cooked Lamb rack, with burnt honey, mint chermoula, and artichokes, at R180. It was a small portion, at an acceptable price, given generally how expensive everything is at Cabo. I felt guilty ordering the mere four slices of pan-seared Duck Breast with apricot and chamomile, almond chukka, and potato dauphine, at R240, the most expensive of the five courses in this section of the menu. Other dishes in the Pasture section are Beef Tataki, Pork Belly, and Beef Fillet, starting from R150.
The Violet Ocean section offers Sashimi (R140), Yellowfin Tuna, Troit, Salt & Pepper Squid (R155), , steamed mussels, whole fish (R270), and crayfish thermidor (R350). The Produce section offers Vegetarian and Vegan dishes, including Bo-Kaap Tofu, broccoli, Labneh, and Burrata, starting at R90. In total Violet offers 21 dishes, hardly fine-dining!
We returned to the Cabo Menu, I having spotted the Churros offered, served with burnt vanilla anglaise at R110, and they were fabulous, five large light fluffy sugar-coated pastries, Gary and I sharing the dessert. As a spoil, without it being motivated, we were also served the Strawberry Eton Mess (incorrectly spelt on the menu) dessert from the Violet Menu, looking very messy in that it was served in a glass which was overfull, and some of the contents running down the side, the most unusual looking Eton Mess I have experienced. But it was delicious, with Crème Diplomat, raspberry, toasted pistachios, vanilla sponge cake, and topped with dried rose petals, mini rose meringues, fresh strawberries, and gel, looking beautiful from the top, a dessert costing R90, reasonably priced. The two other Violet desserts are Triple Chocolate Tart (R120), and Goats Cheese and Biscuit (R110).
As if two menus were confusing enough, there is a third menu, which probably comes with the rule that one must sit in the Bar, but we did not consider it, because there were so many choices on the Cabo menu when we first sat down. The Oyster & Caviar Bar also offers Sushi, with prices from R90, California Rolls (from R90), Caviar (from R2700), oysters at R38 each or R360 for 12, with a host of variations to choose from, the names being very difficult to read.
With two waiters serving us, one only having started on that day, and Gary regularly visiting our table, the service we received was good, other than not having been told about Violet when we sat down. The pressure on the kitchen in serving up to 600 guests must be enormous, and will make itself felt in the food preparation and service, not a restaurant size I would frequent, even if Chef Ryan Cole is somewhere in the background! One needs a very big wallet to dine at Cabo Beach Club and its Restaurants!
Cabo Beach Club, 12 S Arm Road, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town. Tel 021 137-5401. www.cabobeachclub.co.za No Under 21s for Dinner. Book at @Dineplan_App.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whaletalesblog.com www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein, My Cape Town Guide/Mein Kapstadt Guide Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein @MyCapeTownGuide