Stepping into this new little bistro, I am swept up by a warm fuzzy glow radiating from parties big and small. There is a family celebration, a table of businessmen and more intimate tables of girls with their BFF’s. Will this neighbourhood joint in Deer Park be as successful as capturing the girl’s night out crowd at the rowdier nearby Carlyles on Derry Street?
|The Woodlands Eatery
+27 (0)21 801 5799
2 Deer Park Ave West
Deer Park is a bit of an urban forest as far as the City Bowl goes and there is a bit of raw looking wood on the ceiling which may have inspired the name. Across one wall is a padded bench illuminated by a bevy of outydse lampshades. Oranjezicht’s very own Sarah Palin groupie remarked that despite the small space tables are set far apart enough to have a private, or romantic, chat while seated at the pastel chairs. The décor has got an agreeable balance between modern New York minimalism and busy. Bare bricks give texture while another wall is crowded with traditional paintings of birds and flowers. There is pleasant outdoor seating under a rietdak ceiling but remember this is Vredehoek and the wind can howl in summer.
Then there is the shocking menu.
Main courses start from R40 (for a chickpea and lentil) burger and a glass of Polkadraai white is only R17.50. Larry’s lean mince Cheese Burger and roasted potatoes R55. Don’t recall any mains on the day being over R100 (on another day rib of veal advertised at R130). Fillet with Béarnaise Sauce (with the luxuriant herb tarragon) R90. Pizzas from R55 to R75. This is no Costaplenty, more like the soulful Michelle Shocked than a nasty surprise. While there is no doubt that there some other restaurants with similarly low price points, nine times out of ten the dishes at them aren’t worth the menus they are written on.
The menu prices are not described as opening specials unlike the next door D’Angelos where they had half-price pizzas for the first month. Nevertheless it will be interesting to see if Woodlands Eatery stick to them.
A charmingly efficient waitress delivers a huge bowl of pickled artichoke and brinjal salad perched on a bed of the crunchiest greens. There are toasted pine nuts for Africa and loads of avo. (Can you harvest these nuts from the nearby Stone Pines?) Only complaint is that the pairing of the vinegary artichoke and the gentle but appealing astringency from the brinjal is battling to win over my taste buds. It may be better to have one or t’other but not both. Even the best of us sometimes need a marriage counselor to smoothe out our differences.
A fat chunk of deep water blue nose fish* is as fresh tasting and honest as you’ll ever find for what is not one of the most popular dining species. It is a fish we may see more regularly on our tables as we denude the tastiest species. Unusually for fish, the power of rosemary is the most prominent of herbs but no complaints there – it works. It is all seated on Parmesan mash potato but the cheese is barely discernable which may have been the plan for this potent cheese would kill the delicate flavour of the fish. Then there is plenty more avo but by now I’ve more than had my fill from the salad.
A friend seated nearby is thrilled by her thin-crust pizza. An enticing starter option is an in-season gooseberry and goat cheese salad with roasted cherry tomatoes, spring onions a pine nuts (R55). For dessert there is a rare plum pie (R30); chocolate fondant (don’t know if this is the sauce or icing version) on ice cream (R35); and if you too stuffed for a whole pud a little truffle (presumably chocolate-based) of the day for only R10.
Is Woodlands Eatery one of the new affordable bistros offering limited choices of the best but not most expensive ingredients with innovative flavour combinations? It certainly is honest with some of the brightest ingredients on any Cape table but I’m not sure there is enough of a twist to make the menu unique. Only time will tell.
Larry the chef-owner (I have no idea what his surname is) is promising simple seasonal bistro dishes and according to my sources ran a good shop at the previous venture where he was a part-owner – Emily Moon in Plettenberg Bay.
4/5 stars for a neighbourhood restaurant offering great value-for-money on the night.
* I can’t find blue nose, also known as black butterfish but not to be confused with oily butterfish on the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (Sassi) list. According to Paul Joubert of Southern Cross Seafood Deli would most likely have been frozen on a trawler at sea immediately after being caught, meaning it was professionally frozen. Joubert believes it is a relatively plentiful species and describes the flakey fish as similar in taste to mussel cracker. Sassi did not respond to my enquiry at the time of going to press.
Posted December 2, 2010