Go early. Go late. Just don’t go on time. At lunch-time, that is. For Karen Dudley’s ‘little’ Kitchen is jam-packed Monday to Friday. Okay if you grew up in Hong Kong the jostle for food and a perch won’t bother you. If it was a Boland farm it might. But it will also remind you of crisp produce straight from the fields and cooked meals from an old wood-burning oven.
+27 (0)21 462 2201
111 Sir Lowry Rd
As you order, platters of pan-fried mushrooms, olive-decorated endive leaves, and chocolate squares continue to pile up on a counter top already crammed with dishes. Indeed there is nothing minimalist about Kitchen despite the prevalence of advertising industry hipsters that get paid to sell us “less is more”. Tiered cupcake platters, racks of servers, a riot of outydse prints and a wall of display shelves crowd the place.
While I’ve eaten the pick your own ingredients “love sandwiches” at the Biscuit Mill market* (the other scene in lower Woodstock) I’ve been blissfully unaware that stall is part of the same operation. Today is my first visit to the ‘formal’ store. I’m so behind the curve (even the New York Times has written about it). But it wasn’t the foreign foodies that were here first. For years chefs and serious foodies from Cape Town have been visiting the wholesale catering equipment suppliers, such as Banks and Western Cape Catering, alongside this spot. Banks was established up the drag in District Six in 1939, moving here decades ago.
The black board menu is a little chaotic to my visually illiterate eye but from what I gather sarmies and salads are mostly either R40 or R50, with some a tad below and above. I ask for lamb but there’s none today and also no sign of beef. This might irritate some old farts but just use your eyes and see what is on the counter and behind the display cabinet.
I select a grilled chicken breast ciabatta roll with other goodies (in part relying on the suggestions of an apparently experienced server). Now the breast is one of the trickiest poultry joints to get right. Slightly overcooked results in a dry and tough bird. Undercooked it’s gagging-raw and we ain’t snacking chicken sushi yet (or are we?).
Just as my roll is handed to me the butter chicken comes out. Damn. Even though it is only just after mid-day I select the last available street-facing bar stool.
The ’just-right’ grilled chicken combines with the hint of sour in squishy brinjals, the right side of oily cut by the sharpness of raw red onion, a dab of sweet from the red pesto and best of all the grainy batter and soft centre of deep-fried cauliflower In a cliché that not even a copywriter would dare: a perfect balance of flavours and textures.
A flat white coffee is good and I order a salad combination takeout home as part of my supper.
The salad combo spends the afternoon in my car (admittedly it’s a cold day and I have chosen grains and starch rather than salad greens), yet retains its brightness. There is atchar on sticky peeled potatoes; honey, mint and coriander in the couscous; and crunchy celery and apple in barley that appears to be held together by yoghurt. A healthy starter to keep hunger at bay while my pot of braised (pot roasted) pork neck (from the butcher Raith) with mustard and stock slowly bubbles away in the oven.
Back in the Kitchen. The spot offers an excellent selection for vegetarians. Portions are substantial. I have had honey-mustard pork sausages before from the market stall. I don’t care for them though they are not a poor product – just too sweet for me.
While this café may be rather small with limited sit-down and take away the kitchen at the back may be much larger for Dudley started the operation as an outside catering business and continues to do so. I have no opinion of this side of the operation, a totally different game.
4/5 stars. Remember it’s just a salad and sandwich bar.
The lower Woodstock precinct’s unlikely march to gentrification appears to know no bounds, helped by location close to the Ogilvy ad agency. Across the road from Kitchen I have noticed The Deli goodfoodandahood (a very un-street name), where the seating arrangements may make for a better business meeting spot.
Earlier in the week I had lunch in the attractive wood and face brick interior of La Bottega dello spuntino. Dello spuntino means little neighbourhood place and as you would expect from the pay-off line the menu promises the predictable rather than the exotic. But there is one exception to the usual pastas and pizzas: the piadina (or piada). Flat breads beyond traditional pizza are all the rage: pissaladiere at the short-lived Café De May, flammkuchen at Piroschka. The piadina, which like a roti is cooked on a stove, I have not come across before.
Back to the piadina. The competition for thin pizzas is so strong now that soon they will be gossamer-thin. Well Bottega’s really are thin folded with ingredients inside not stodgy like a calzone. Ingredients of tangy ham they call “Parma Loin”, creamy mozzarella fior di latte, and fresh tomatoes made for a lovely light lunch. A simple salad of shredded lettuce, tomato and celery failed to excite.
La Bottega is entered through one of those permanent Bedouin inspired marquees. They’re ugly as all hell, you can’t look out but no doubt offer good protection against wind and rain. (You can sit on the deck next to it if it’s warm.)
Art galleries in the hood include Michael Stevenson and Blank Space.
* Saturday Neighbourgoods Market at Biscuit Mill. The wait can be long and from what I recall the choice more limited than at the shop. In the week there is a scene at Superette.
Posted September 3, 2010