Sitting among two of the ugliest new buildings in the City Bowl is this Georgian designed island of sanity. Perched on the Mount Nelson Hotel side of the Labia Theatre is the worst of them: The Orangerie. Why the developers elected not to hire an architect God only knows. There is hardly a shortage of them. Instead we have a jarring block of zig-zags trying to poke you in the eye. The marginally better version of modern design is the shiny black thing (15 on Orange Hotel) next to the historic Michaelis art school. The first student majoring in graffiti to spray paint it wins a free lunch.
That most developers are scum is a well documented fact. That is why we have a city authority to rein them in. Have the planning approval department disappeared from the scene along with the talented opposition leader Helen Zille? Modern design can blend in to a heritage precinct or it can even successfully take this piss out of it. These builder boys do neither.
So we scuttle from Orange Street into the al fresco dining area of Societi on a bright, if a little chilly, summer’s eve (blankets are provided). Cheek-by-jowl dining can create a buzz but if you are in the mood for more space the outdoor option suits. In winter fireplaces make inside eating cosy.
Tonight it’s a battle of the mussels. First up cooked in apple and cider. A fine clean taste with only a deft touch of the apple. Sometimes these Cape types can let the fruit get a little out of hand in their traditional savoury dishes. On a visit to Upington in the Northern Cape* lamb cooked in an orchard of apricots two nights in a row was a bit much (the alternatives were ghastly).
Back to the battle of the sea shells. Next up it’s the Malaysian chowder version which unfortunately tastes like tinned food. Is it the canned coconut milk?
The hands down winner is the apple one, enjoyed with a bottle of Klein Constantia Sauvignon Blanc (at a reasonable R90).
The steak in the filet poivre is good, if cooked a too safe rare. The sauce of Madagascan green pepper, brandy and cream really makes it soar.
A yellowtail is a meaty success, all the more striking because this is not the most desired fish. Consequently it is plentiful and can be eaten in good conscience. A previous experience eating a more obscure and boney species didn’t work. A little too experimental.
A vegetarian gnocchi with peas, spinach and broccoli is prepared by searing the outside of the potato pasta, injecting a bit of a burnt zing.
Then it is the battle of the chocolates. First up is a squishy (the only way to eat it) flourless chocolate tart off the menu. Then it is the Nemesis Cake, off the specials board. The crunch of pistachio and espresso ice cream puts the Nemesis ahead by a nose. There are no losers.
Societi is darn good value-for-money chow when fine dining is a stretch and you really don’t feel like going to the neighbourhood pizza joint again.
* For top writer Helen Walne’s take on Northern Cape hospitality click here
January 6, 2010
Tags: 15 on Orange Hotel, apples, architect, Cape Town restaurant reviews, Cape Town restaurants, chocolate, chowder, cider, City Bowl, coconut milk, design, filet poivre, fish, gnocchi, Helen Walne, Helen Zille, heritage, Klein Constantia, Labia Theatre, lamb in apricots, Madagascan green pepper, Malaysian, Michaelis art, Mount Nelson Hotel, mussels, Northern Cape, pistachio, planning department, Societi Bistro, Societi Restaurant, The Orangerie, Upington, yellowtail