It’s Car Free Friday but despite my promise to skaterboy to walk to the office I completely forgot so to redeem myself I embark on the punishing stroll up Long Street to Societi Bistro to do my second review of the place. Skaterboy often commutes to work on his downhill board, modified to negotiate traffic, and when he isn’t working roars down Sir Lowry’s Pass. (I lie he picks quieter passes). He has the scars to prove it.
|Rick’s Café Américain
+27 (0)21 424 1100
2 Park Rd
As I arrive at Societi I see the depressing sign on their garden gate: Closed for private function. Depressing because this may be one of the best value-for-money posh nosh restaurants in town. While the food is posh, the vibe is relaxed (cosy with fireplaces in winter) and sunny outside in summer (when the Cape Doctor is on strike).
I say Societi may have one of the highest taste per rand ratios in town only because I have yet to dine at Luke Dale-Roberts’ The Test Kitchen (it is already so popular it’s tough to get in). Dale-Roberts tweeted the other day that he was “working on a Chinese style lamb tongue with sticky sauce, elephant garlic and maple cream”. Now I’ve heard that the balls of a bull ellie are considered a delicacy but not even my mate Julian Assange knows what elephant garlic* is. And while I say it is depressing for me that Societi is fully booked for a function, it is great that at last restaurants are now busier with all the silly season lunches going on.
So “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world”, I have to walk into Ricks Café Américain as it is the only place within walking distance worth trying out. You might think this odd, for as lovely as the bar at Rick’s is, the meals I’ve eaten there long ago were generally awful. There was a time where I found one of their burgers the only safe thing on the menu (admittedly I never tried all the dishes, including the many that are Moroccan as you would expect) but then eventually even the burger fell off the list. For this reason it is worth checking out if they have “stepped up to the plate”, the only phrase our sports stars seem to know.
It is just warm enough to sit outside to watch the passing street trade (the roof bar has sundowner mountain views). Two well-to-do German swallows, who seem to be reveling in their retirement, are tucking into battered fish so I enquire how it is.
“Very good we order it every time,” is the answer so I decide to plump for it.
On the other side of me is a friendly trio of scarfed Muslim tannies.
First up it is a Parma Ham Salad with a generous dose of asparagus, crunchy walnuts on a mattress of good greens and a crescent of raspberry dressing. The ham is edible but a little dry and lacking the sweetness of that sold by Woolworths. If the Serrano Ham at French Toast is anything to go by this new joint’s Parma may be good too. I do not like sugary berries in my vinaigrette but thankfully the chef has been parsimonious to the point of it being inoffensive.
Because I am doing a little ladylike multi-tasking after the first course the friendly waiter asks when I would like the kitchen to start on my battered hake, a nice little touch you don’t find at many smarter places.
The batter is a thick and tasty dark brown and the fish appetising enough but is penalized by its mushiness. Slim chips are fine but the Germans’ fries looked crispier. The tartar sauce is not good but then I’m not a fan unless it is brilliantly prepared.
Currently lunch specials from R39. Minute steak special with asparagus and Hollandaise Sauce (R69) is tempting; as is a seafood linguini with tomato and cream sauce, Parmesan and a touch of North African heat in harissa at the same price.
“Moroccan Memories” on the menu include a lamb tagine of on the bone knuckle, apricots, almonds, walnuts with couscous (R98); a Marrakech chicken version of the same but this time with preserved lemons (all the rage at the mo) for R89, saffron, cumin, olives and roasted garlic; and a starter of chicken brochettes (kebabs to us, R46) marinated in lime with olives, dhania, mint yoghurt and a chickpea-tomato salsa. Also unsurprisingly from just across the Med there are several Spanish tapas. Presumably the Moorish rule of Spain influenced Spanish cuisine and ideas spread back to North Africa too. Four veggie mains.
My salad is R68 and the fish the same price.
A large glass (250 ml) of a half-sweet Vergelegen Vin de Florence R32. Wines by the glass and 500 ml carafes (dominated by Zonnebloem) from R27. Rest of wine list populated by bigger producers from varied appellations, including some that are either have top wine makers, or possibly are just good at building brands.
Doesn’t look like the Swartland Revolution has reached here yet. The influential and ethical Financial Times Weekend** wine critic Jancis Robinson punted the whites of this region in her Christmas drinking guide last year.
According to reports truly independent SA wine crits are as rare as rum babas in Riebeek Kasteel, or even Franschhoek for that matter. Riebeek does have another kind of baa baa though, as in Bar Bar Black Sheep, who do innovative boerekos and seafood influenced by the nearby Weskus. Presumably they use the tender grass grazing sheep from the region that are almost as good as the herbier Karoo Lambs. I’ve heard they do heart occasionally (unsure whether it is beef or lamb).
Back at Rick’s there is Jack Black on tap on special: R15 for 330 ml and R25 for half a litre (Monday to Saturday between 11 am and 7 pm).
Service good and friendly as befits a casual restaurant. If you thinking from a pub perspective, one of the classiest bars around with a Victorian fireplace and top barmen.
Then in a rare sight these days as the bill arrives the Germans end off their meal with a dinky of herby Underberg bitters.
The after work drinks crowd here are half-pleasing on the eye but Hooray Humphrey just don’t expect to bump in Ingrid Bergman.
3/5 stars over lunch, much improved. Probably better just to go and drink their wines.
* according to the other Wiki, Wikipedia, elephant garlic is not garlic at all but a close relative of the leek
** The Pink Paper, The Financial Times Weekend, is the best newspaper available in SA. Worth every penny of the R37 cover price for extensive coverage of food, wine, culture, and politics. For those that find economics and company news a bore just don’t buy it in the week.
Posted December 9, 2010