Toilets and eating, though intimately connected, never combine to whet the appetite and seldom go together in a restaurant review, save for sometimes brief commentary at the end on an untidy loo.
All the same it is said to be good luck if a bird dropping lands on you. Today a pigeon at this casual café passes water on the copy of Edward Behr’s lovingly compiled The Art of Eating* I’m paging through (from the attached Kalk Bay Books). The soiled edition, titled The Fair of the Fattened Ox in Carru, confirms that a stream of dung from the Piemontese breed’s rear end is similarly fortuitous.
Today there is no argument with superstition for there are not one but two unsold editions of this magazine, which in this country is as rare as hens’ teeth. The Art of Eating is extraordinary in another sense: it takes no advertising. I don’t just mean ads from food suppliers, catering equipment makers or restaurant chains. None, finished and klaar. All presumably in a quest to be independent. The no ads policy also serves to avoid distraction from a lovely read.
Anachronistically the content is unavailable online for they prefer to surprise you as you turn the page (and presumably can’t afford to give anything away). And if you think this is an old fashioned throwback about to go the same way as Gourmet** magazine of the US, think again.
Indeed the content of AoE, which started as a newsletter in 1986, is hardly dated. In the second edition I buy they report in depth on the rise of a new breed of French chefs.
France’s most talented young cooks are forsaking the stuffiness of Michelin stars for affordable bistro food with a twist, in what are now known as neo-bistros. While the poshest French restaurants are unaffordable even to most South Africans travelling abroad, prices at the new variety of bistros compare favourably with our mid-market options.
In part these bistros are able to survive through limited menu options, resulting in minimal wastage. Luxury ingredients are forsaken but no expense is spared on the simpler fresh produce. The best bistros are packed every day, enabling them to thrive.
But if it is a blast from the past you are looking for don’t worry AoE do this brilliantly too, documenting the histories of cuisines and their evolution.
In the Fair of the Fattened Ox they report on the bollo misto (mixed boiled meats) made from the Piemontese breed, including spellings and names in the regional dialect, not just bog standard Italian (which is quite enough of a challenge for me). It is this meticulous approach that has seen the AoE gain raving reviews in the quality press, resulting in its global print run to grow to about 10 000 (not bad for a fanatic’s uber-niched passion).
But today we are very far from either Paris or Piedmont and are in the lovely Kalk Bay, a ‘village’ that inexplicably manages to retain much of its charm despite its reliance on the tourism trade.
The Annex is a venture of Kalk Bay Books, which along with the Book Lounge in the city, is one of the best book stores in the country. Both sell not only the ubiquitous recipe books but also retain small sections on food writing, books where you may find no tips on how to impress dinner party guests but rather discover real stories on food and how it intersects with our lives.
The café sits behind Main Road’s Kalk Bay Books. It includes an indoor area with wooden ceilings and a fine fireplace for those not-too-far-off winter afternoons. For the dry summer it includes a courtyard as well as a raised terrace with three rickety steps that some may struggle with.
We are seated on the terrace under what I believe to be a cedar tree (perch of the offending pigeon) on one of the first misty days of the falling season. The gentrified Majestic, once a hotel, is the backdrop on the mountain side. There is a limited chalk board menu of about a dozen mostly light items. Only two strike one as fully-blown mains: the geelbek (Cape Salmon) with beurre blanc sauce and crushed potatoes (R105); and a penne caponata (R58).
Now the geelbek is a fish that really swims for its supper, not a species that gently bobs about on a reef like a rock cod. This athletic hunting habit gives it a robust nature, some might even say tough. But chef Chris Hoffman understands this well, turning what might be its greatest liability into an asset. It is given a blast of high heat resulting in just a bit of yummy burn on the outside that would scorch a more fragile fish.
The highlight of the dish is the elegant film of beurre blanc sauce covering the plate, offering all the creamy delicate attributes missing from this species of fish. A lip-licking combination of Rich Man, Poor Man.
A friend tucks into the penne caponata. This vegetarian dish from Sicily is all sweet tomatoes, grounded by a tart trace of earthy brinjal (aubergine).
As the eating draws to a close there’s one more blessing from the pigeon: the mist over the sea starts to lift, bathing us in precious sunshine. Teenage boys jump from the sea wall into the glassy fishing harbour. This is a time to linger and chat with another glass of the grassy Groote Post Sauvignon Blanc 2009.
Service starts off friendly and efficient but gently fades away with the afternoon. Today it doesn’t really matter.
Light menu options today include a butternut and feta salad; chicken salad; bacon lettuce and tomato (BLT) croissant (R36); and a BLAT, which has avo added (R38). Croissant lacks light flaky texture. “Too much like bread,” says my girlfriend.
Unlicensed so bring your own booze. The branch of Blue Bottle Liquors next to the fish braai spot has an acceptable range of wines to a lightweight critic such as myself. No corkage. The Annex is open daily for breakfast, lunch and supper. Also tea and cake.
For another Kalk Bay dining option see the Olympia Café review.
* While the Art of Eating content is not online they do have an information website. Click here. Cost at Kalk Bay Books is R100 (they carry only limited stock). Cost in the US $12.50. No advertising necessitates the high cover price.
** Gourmet magazine, despite steady sales of close to one million, closed during the recession on account of plummeting advertising revenue.
March 25, 2010
+27 (0)21 788 2453
Kalk Bay Books
124 Main Rd
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