Cape Town has a plethora of interesting places to amble through whilst engaging the senses.
There are the ubiquitous Cape Town views, shops, art galleries, local musicians performing on street corners and of course there is the food.
The food scene here is incredibly varied and vibrant, much more so than in most of the UK, possibly because the laws on trading, hygiene and sales tax are more favourable (no sales tax on restaurant meals). Dining out is an event that is within the means of most locals with all budgets catered for one way or another.
Sundays are particularly popular across the city for the phenomena which is “the food market.”
Many districts and malls have their own little “pop up” area where a variety of food purveyors come together to offer food and drink to imbibe there and then or to take away. On my last visit to Cape Town I saw local olives, honey, cheese, sausages and hams being sold alongside dim sum, sushi, Belgian Waffles, Korean barbecue and steak sandwiches with homemade relishes. Fixtures and fittings are usually simple with the effort being put into quality of food rather than ambiance. One place which intrigued me was offering cappuccinos and teas to customers seated on hessian sacks. It has certainly given me some ideas for the way forward for St Helena’s gastronomic future as it proves what quality can be achieved with so little cost
The past six weeks has been the busiest for 2onMAIN so far.
The word has got out that we are a good choice of restaurant on the island and that individual celebrations are well looked after.
We have been astounded by the popularity of the restaurant across all ages and social groups on the island (who could ask for more?).
This has included a number of birthday festivities for young Saints including young Katie Williams who celebrated her 9th birthday one Friday evening.
Valentines night was booked up three weeks ahead and not just with couples which was a pleasant change.
Over here Valentines is a night to enjoy the company of friends and loved ones so we were pleased to take two tables of 6 and two tables of 4 amongst the couples. The ambiance in the restaurant was all the better for it as there was a real buzz to the place.
Noteworthy visitors to St Helena and to 2onMAIN over the past month included the key decision makers of two hotel
companies who are thinking of investing on the island. They were Mantis and Protea Hotel groups, both of South African decent; although Mantis has properties worldwide. The feedback on food and service from both parties was very positive which was incredibly motivating for the team here. We are looking forward to future visits from both companies and closer working relations especially as my
trainees will their employees of the
We opened the restaurant facility on the 19th of December, only a week behind schedule (Three Phase installation was more challenging than perceived). The decor has been enhanced by a set of fabulous oil paintings of the local endemic Ebony plant. These have been loaned to us by Michel Martineau and his partner JJ who also gave advice on the colour scheme and how to make something look fantaistic with minimal resources!
We have signed up around 25 trainees of all ages and requirements. Some will go the full term and start a formal qualification as soon as we can get one off the ground, others are looking to top up their skills and learn food and beverage skills from a Five Star Perspective.
The numbers so far are above our predictions which is fantastic, there have also been approaches from local businesses and the hospital to ask whether they could hook up to some of our training sessions.
Our menu is simple and relies on best quality ingredients, preferably local, which are paired with other ingredients in order to enhance the overall dish. It changes with availability of items although at the moment
we are doing pretty well with lovely local beans, beetroot and tomatoes.
Here is an example:
Hummus with crudités
Tomato and local Thyme Soup
Smooth Chicken Liver Pate
Pan fried Rump Steak with creamy mash, beans and carrots
Local Tuna with Sauce Vierge and Cauliflower puree
Butternut Pilaf with black beans and Avocado
Fudgy Chocolate Cake
Rice Pudding with nectarines
Passion Fruit trifle
Julia training up table settings
As the trainees become more confident (and more equipment arrives from the UK) so we will increase the number of choices on the menu and guests in the restaurant (at the moment we are taking around 18 persons a night). We have only been open for five nights so far and have received excellent feedback, not only from the
customers but from our trainees.
Long may this continue!
My arrival in October seems many moons ago; in fact it has been only two months!
In that short time we have been setting the foundations for the upskilling of Saints who want to work in the hospitality industry.
This has been done by the creation of a small training restaurant which will pave the way for a larger more permanent training centre.
It was fortunate that a number of offices in Jamestown were being vacated in early November and one of them was perfect for a temporary training centre. The idea has always been to create a centre as a place to inspire people to work in the hospitality sector. This is because not only is it a great industry to work in for those with the need for full time work or a career. Many staff who work in the many hotels, bars and restaurants world over are part time and these are the folk who sometimes miss out on appropriate training.
With that in mind we set about planning the physical aspects of the building, setting up the format for the restaurant,
recruiting trainees and managing the many other aspects of starting up a new business.
Front room of the restaurant showing entrance
The journey from then to now has not always been a smooth one as the logistics of getting things onto an island 1500 miles from anywhere were just one part of the jigsaw.
Other snags included:
· Not enough paint of the right colour on the island for the restaurant walls…we mixed some up!
· Not having any decent halogen light fittings on the island, so carpenter Mark made some out of MDF
· Not having a safe staircase down into the basement of the building, again thanks to Mark who made a great staircase in less than a week!
· Sourcing tables, chairs, crockery & cutlery locally, many, many thanks to Hazel at the Consulate Hotel who has loaned us much of the equipment to get started and to all who have helped get this show on the road
· Getting enough refrigeration to hold food for the times between the ship’s visits
· Having to install a hot water system into the building and other plumbing nightmares, thanks to Dave Marr from Scarborough!
· Getting a cooker from Johannesburg to Cape Town in time for the RMS to carry it over here and getting it through the door once it arrived!
· Parts for the Three Phase Electric only available on Ascension Island 700 miles away
· Getting the cooker connected with permission from the authorities BEFORE CHRISTMAS!
When I look back on all this I cannot believe that we have gone from office to functioning restaurant in 8weeks!
Perhaps the pictures tell the story better.
Week one back on island has been terrific for so many reasons.
My welcoming committee on dry land made me feel like I was returning home which was truly humbling. The short walk from the wharf into town took more than 15 minutes owing to the number of people who came over to say hello and to ask how long I am staying! One of my welcoming committee could also go by the title of social secretary! Gay Marr had a list of the local events mapped out for me over the forthcoming month, one being a meal at Ann’s Place which is one of the local eateries.
Fish is obviously one of the most popular items on the menu and at this time of year there are two varieties of lobster (or crayfish as the Saints call them) in season. One is the stumpy which is a small rock lobster and the other one is more akin the UK lobster except it doesn’t have the massive pincers. On the menu at £12.00 for a whole one, which is enough for two they are a real bargain. The photo shows the half grilled lobster I had and as you can see it was falling off the plate. The sweet white tail meat must have weighed in at 300g and that was just half the beast, I’ll certainly be back for more.
Whilst on one of my food shopping sorties I spied Tesco long grain rice in 2Kg bags for 70p! Bargain I thought, must be the sell by date. When I got back to my apartment I discovered the reason for the good deal. The rice was full of Weevils, turning my white rice into a speckled moving mass! Now having lived in Dubai I am familiar with these little critters, the size of thunder bugs and loving anything starchy. I thought I could kill them off by putting the rice in the freezer which is what I did…the next morning there was still movement so back in the freezer went my rice. One of my colleagues at work when I told her gave me a far better remedy which I will certainly use next time……..weevils hate the light so spread the rice on a tray and the weevils will disappear! Wish I had received that information before as I now have dead weevils in my rice, I am hoping they float away when I boil it, if not I guess its extra protein and not as bad as the cockroach I found in rice on my previous visit here!
Good Friday on St Helena and in fact Sunday and Monday are some of the quietest days of the year in Jamestown. The locals head for the hills with their families and go camping for the weekend. Friday is the day everyone on island eats fish with most of the local men spending Thursday evening perched on a rock somewhere catching it. These traditions remind us of a way of life long gone in the UK where the bank holidays are some of the busiest in the year for the stores, whether in towns or online. I know which I prefer!
Work has taken off at full pelt with much to do and little time to do it in. Easter obviously has an impact on getting things done as will the arrival in a week or so of the biggest cruise ship of the year, the MS Arcadia 2400 people are potentially vising the island for one day, this is only 500 folk short of the whole population of the island so it will be an interesting day to observe how things develop.
Hujis Haerlem, my bed and breakfast with bougainvillea by the pool
Heading back to St Helena for the next tranche of preparation for the arrival of the airport in 2015 I am once again passing through Cape Town.
My previous visit coincided with winter here, which is far more benign than that of the UK but nonetheless wet and windy with a few good days dotted about here and there. Rainy days were taken up with visits to well-known restaurants and the customary female habit of appraising the local stores for items as mundane as Woolite hand washing liquid (three varieties over here) and looking for a 6x magnifying mirror (didn’t find one). Sunny days were warm and comfortable enabling me to cover plenty of ground.
As a first visit to Cape Town, the motive to visit anything on the must see (and photograph) list of this well documented city was pretty high. I managed to do this fairly easily as temperatures allowed me to spend a full day out and about with my ever faithful 12kg of camera equipment at my side!
Good job too as I must profess on this visit I have been here for two days now and the camera shutter has yet to be released! ITS TOO HOT! Temperatures during the day have hit between 30 and 35degrees C. I ventured out to the Adderley Street flower market yesterday morning with camera and tripod eager to take some more pictures of the fabulous array of local blooms. The camera didn’t leave its bag, even the flowers looked tired, although I must say that it was a Monday and having spoken to some of the ladies who sell the flowers I am a week too early. Next week being Easter is going to bring in the bumper crop of the current season’s flowers and I will be in St Helena by then!
So it was back to my lovely bed and breakfast where a pot of fresh coffee under the bougainvillea gazebo by the pool made me wonder why I had set out for town in the first place.
Today's lunch was taken perched on a hill above the district known as Bo Kaap. I was lucky to be taken out by an ex colleague who now lives here as to walk up the hill to this place would have finished me off! This area is the home to the Cape Malay people who live in multicoloured houses and who cook in a way which is true fusion cuisine! Asia, Europe and Africa are represented with spices and cooking style. Restaurants are Halal with no alcohol served and are family run.
Bo Kaap Kombuis has the advantage of fine views and a terrace to admire the city from, Looking at the menu I could understand some of the items but had never come across items such as: Denning Vleis, Sosati and Geel rys so in for a penny we ordered Denning Vleis and a Sugar bean curry.
The Denning Vleis was excellent, leg of lamb which had the texture of Confit of duck and the taste of a sticky barbecued meat, almost treacle in colour the main flavours were tamarind and pepper. Surprisingly the accompanyments to the dish were a piped duchesse potato with sprinklings of something akin to Garam Masala over it, a salad topped with a glow in the dark marachino cherry, cubes of roasted aubergine and courgette and a mound of white rice. What a variety! Although I dont think they would have won masterchef the meat was fantastic with only a very slight glow of heat to it. I have tamarind in my fridge at home and I am now committed to getting to know this flavoursome item and its magical tangy acidity.
The bright yellow Sugar Bean Curry was interesting and well made with loads of tumeric in it and chunks of lamb on the bone floating amongst the beans. The beans looked like jelly beans in shape although all cream coloured, with a nice texture, a bit like black eye peas. The accompanying Roti (Flat Bread) was a highlight with a buttery smokey flavour and texture of a thick crepe. My only disappointment was that my dish lacked the glow in the dark cherry which had rekindled memories of snowballs, knickerbocker glories and sweet martinis! Maybe I'll get some on the ship!
I don’t know about others but when going on a journey; (or adventure as this is!) the day before leaving becomes entrenched with packing and other essential but unexciting diversions. This was the case yesterday. By noon I was ready to escape.
I hadn’t really done the world famous Kirstenbosch gardens justice when I visited on the Cape of Good Hope tour. 45 minutes to see these gardens is almost an insult! The gardens are nestled on the backside of Table Mountain and are supposed to have more species of plant life in them than the whole of the British Isles!
Now I am not a botanist but I am a lover of colour, formation and anything that looks good in the viewfinder of my camera. The weather wasn’t that great, windy and grey with a spattering of rain every now and then. I managed a good three hours walking around. The proteas are just starting to bloom. These flowers you sometimes see in expensive bouquets in the UK but they certainly won’t grow over there. They come in a myriad of colours and sizes and all look fantastic.
My body clock was telling me it was time for lunch (3.30pm yes it was!) so I headed to the Kirstenbosch tea rooms. And what a delight that was. The young man who served me was articulate, very pleasant and had voice that could have been put to use doing the trailers for blockbuster movies........”she was scared, she was alone, she had nothing. Then it happened!” When I asked him what the Rump steak was like he said “DIVINE” in a deep baritone voice.......now that’s not a word I hear often to describe a meal of any sort and with my aversion to overpromising and underdelivering I was on my guard! However I had been so impressed with the beef over here that I ordered the steak. It truly was DIVINE! Chargrilled and tender with a variety of vegetables chips and salad! It was just what I needed on this grey day. The tearooms certainly do the gardens proud and as mentioned staff here are very pleasant and customer focused which is fantastic
The Kabab Mahal marketing speak goes like this: “At Kabab Mahal you discover the finer nuances of the bygone era through the extensive display of dishes. The dining concept is unique in terms of its simplicity yet mysterious as the mystic aroma of its delightful kababs and curries. The welcome at the door is as warm and inviting as the fragrant aroma of spices that envelope you when you enter this intimate restaurant”
Well if all that is the case then why does the restaurant look like it’s in need of some TLC in the decor department and the staff appearance? The whole impression comes across as a tired and “seen better days” type restaurant. This appears to be an example of over promising and under delivering.
The menu prides itself on the variety of kebabs on offer as well as the list of usual curries and biryanis, pricing is a little above average (my meal of kebab, lentils, naan and a drink came to R150 or £13.00) for this part of Cape Town so my expectations were high. The person who took my order could hardly string a sentence together let alone discuss the menu with me. When asking for a glass of cider with ice no lemon it appeared with lemon and no ice! The meal was edible but disappointing as the palak paneer (spinach and cheese) wasn’t available, the lentils ordered were tepid and the naan bread was lacking any element of pillow like puffiness. My warm kebab could have benefitted from another three or four minutes in the oven as there was no colouring to it and it was watery.
Enough said, we know what to do......we just don’t go back.
La Boheme Menu
By contrast (thank goodness) just a stone’s throw down the road is La Boheme where I visited earlier in the week and vowed terminator style to return!
Second time around was just as good if not better. The girls & boys looking after the tables were on the ball with food and wine recommendations for all and even welcomed me back when they recognised me. The prices knock Mr Kabab into a cocked hat with a two course meal and drink for R113 or £10.00.
The meal this time comprised of fish, corn and chilli spring rolls with soy dip and from the other side of the world beef schnitzels with creamy parmesan potato wedges. The main arrived looking like a whole meal and then came along a dish of beets, lentils and corn on the cob! I ate the lot.........it was terrific.
Walking back that evening it was no surprise to me to see the difference in these two businesses. La Boheme had a good few folk dining or having drinks in the place, candles lit and a general aura of warmth and welcome. Kabab Mahal had one table with people sitting at it, and they were the staff.
www.eatout.co.za congratulate themselves as being the only restaurant guide you’ll ever need! Well I think that may be the case in South Africa but it wouldn’t be much good on the streets of London or New York so let’s just say it’s the only restaurant guide you’ll ever need in South Africa! Their annual best places to eat list is a comprehensive testimony to the diverse culinary talents across this country and lists 1000 eateries with the bests ones getting full page coverage and interviews with the chefs. Many of the best restaurants are to be found (as in France and the USA) in the wine producing areas and therefore inaccessible to me on this trip (no car).
At number 7 on the list is Aubergine. Familiar with the restaurant of the same name in London I contemplated whether this Aubergine was named after the London Aubergine or vice versa? I decided to Google – “Aubergine Restaurant” to see whether I could find out. Interestingly there seems to be an Aubergine Restaurant in every major city of the world, in fact Google came up with 3.5 million suggestions for the name, too many for me to trawl through so perhaps I will never know.
Aubergine can be found tucked away in a small side street near the Mount Nelson Hotel, considered to be Cape Town’s favourite hotel. Aubergine's restaurant is modern looking with much wood and glass. A courtyard to one side offers diners an al fresco experience although on my visit it was far too cold to consider.
At R180 (£16.00) for a two course lunch I was surprised to be the ONLY diner that lunchtime. Having recently bought a small Toblerone and pack of ginger biscuits at the local supermarket for R52 (£4.50), it was even more baffling. The very pleasant and professional Maitre D’ said that the restaurant filled most evenings but lunch was always more of a lottery. “Same in most places” I thought to myself. Veal Kidneys with balsamic braised lentils and morel foam caught my eye, as did the fish of the day with waterblommetjies and braised tomato with crustacean sauce. “What are waterblommetjies?” I hear you ask. They are a cape delicacy and only found around here at this time of year. They are the shoots of an edible water lily and can be compared to crunchy watercress with less pepper I guess. Great for adding texture to a dish without adding calories!
The meal was certainly above average with kidneys and fish both in tip top condition and readiness for the table. Either my taste buds are on the wane or it just wasn’t there but I didn’t get any of the promised morel foam flavour on my starter. Perhaps they aren’t as strong as the European morel?
I didn’t take wine although the wine list looks fabulous, including some interesting dessert wines, (my favourites), and by the glass which is always a bonus to smaller parties such as my own!
Would I return to Aubergine? Yes I would. I thought it unpretentious, excellent value for money and meeting the expectations of being one of the best restaurants in South Africa. Whether it deserves the No 7 spot I won't know as on this trip there will be no going around benchmarking the other top restaurants in this massive country.
Maybe next time?