Twankey Oyster Bar, take your own crowd and it’s your private club

Twankey Oyster and Champagne Bar at the Taj hotel represents the über-chic city Cape Town wants to be but isn’t yet, and may never be.  The real big money (old and new) from the ancient capitals and the new oligarchs hasn’t arrived while locals suffer from the sub-par emerging country growth rates seen in Asia and Brazil.  While the city may not be in the global top ten for this super-prime market, it certainly is up there for another crowd.

Twankey Seafood, Champagne and Oyster Bar
+27 (0)21 819 2000 
The Taj Cape Town
Corner Wale St & Adderley
Central Cape Town

This market is the younger, and less well-heeled, ‘street-scene’, represented by my visit to tiny Deluxe afterwards, where 20-somethings spill-out out on to narrow Kerkstraat for their aroma-rich coffees (R10 for any coffee including a double espresso).

While this market have disposable income (no children) and like to (over)spend on trendy entertainment they don’t buy French champagne.   And the hip service at Deluxe is better than at Twankey.  This crowd may have traditionally copied Europe as illustrated by the gentrification of the CBD.  But increasingly it is finding its own semi-African niche*, as exemplified by the Design Indaba.  This has been assisted by planning pioneers such as Andrew Boraine and on the design side by Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo.  Maybe the Zille-machine** should concentrate on marketing the city to this global market – and everything in between – rather than the five-star traveler?

Back to Twankey.   As I enter I am informed the oysters are Namibian wild oysters therefore they will be R120 for six, as opposed to the R90 advertised on the menu.  Another option includes “oysters and pearls”.  I have no idea what this means and can only think it means if you bring your best three girlfriends dressed in twin-sets they will each leave with a set of pearls.  And you will get very lucky.

Over Friday lunch it is quiet.  One other snacker and his companion arrive half-way through my meal.  On a previous Wednesday night with wotsforlunch blogger Nicola George, a woman who knows the difference between a macaron and a macaroon, and social media-software guru Richard Wooding, we were the only guests.

Twankey faces St Georges Cathedral and a corner of parliament.  The one institution, the church, was the epicentre of the fight for freedom and the other, parliament, one of oppression.  Then they both (too briefly) became centres for liberty.  Now it is back to the same old story as parliament moves to legislate the Secrecy Bill, though it may back-pedal a bit.

Through the open door Jan Smuts stares at you from across the road.  What would this man, who had a split personality on human rights (butchering poor people in the then South-West Africa and helping to write the preamble to the United Nations Charter) think of today’s state of play?

The plush interior of Twankey is a combo of dark wood tones and grey flocked wallpaper.  Comfortable armchairs seat you beneath a fine pressed ceiling.

My first two oysters are milky but good enough given that it is the wrong season.  One is downright poo and the other three lovely and best enjoyed with the red onion vinaigrette.  I try two with Tabasco, usually my favourite, and one straight-up to test.  The old-fashioned pepper grinder is the one you wish for your home – it purrs as it grinds out the freshest specks of black pepper.

Served with the oysters is a perfect neutral foil for the sea – plain brown bread (with the crusts cut off) and butter.  The bone-dry Methodé Cap Classique (MCC, champagne-style) Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel 2008 is an exceptional accompaniment.

The “small plate”, for there are no big ones, of calamari with “chilli wild pepper” is delicious.  A couple of stripes of wickedly rich mayonnaise combine well with it even though I prefer my calamari lean and fiery.  I glug the fruitier Môreson Blanc de Blanc Brut NV (Non-Vintage) but prefer the Simonsig on account of my personal predilection for dry bubbles.

The service is well-meaning but not as professional as at the next door Bombay Brasserie.  Staff aren’t aware of the oyster sin I am committing by eating them in a month that has an R in it (the opposite to the Northern Hemisphere).  Asked if the calamari is battered, the reply is “yes it is cooked in butter”.  This is possibly a language barrier so I try again.  Is it battered like KFC?  “No,” is the answer.  It is.  I don’t like it battered but today it’s so good it works.

A manager (possibly responsible for more than just the bar), who should know better, asks if everything is okay just as I poised to (inelegantly) shovel an oyster into my mouth.  At a seafood shack this would be fine but at a five-star hotel it is not.

As befits a champagne bar, there are more champagne-style bottles than still wines.  An astounding 13 MCC’s versus 12 ‘wines’.  On top of that there are five champagnes.  Wines by the glass start from R35 for Sophie Te’Blanche Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Cederberg Sustainable Rosé 2009 and Villiera Merlot 2007.   

Four non-alcoholic cocktails, plenty more alcoholic ones (all a reasonable R40) including duck soup, described as “Especial rum, chocolate liqueur, apricot jam, chilli syrup, fresh lime, cardamom”.  Beers from R20, including Jack Black.

Other tapas include quail spring rolls with chilli plum sauce (R75); tuna tatiki with soya shallot dressing (R85); Karoo Lamb samoosas with mango relish (R60); guacamole with spicy tortillas (R55); and even the humble, if over-rated jalapeno poppers (R55).  A single oyster advertised at R18.

In winter when oysters are at their best I will do the Irish combination with Guinness stout, one I haven’t tried before.

The bill for the two food items and two glasses is as you would expect expensive (at R280) for a light lunch.  But then this is not an everyday meal and I don’t leave hungry.  Despite the perception of exclusivity that many of our five-star hotels bars have, if you drink cleverly (turning your nose up at the Dom Perignon Brut Rosé 1998 at R8 000), they are affordable to most that dine out.

Coffee and pastries available from mid-morning.

3/5 stars snacking over lunch.  Remember no main courses.

* I still genuinely believe creative industries (advertising agencies) need to employ more darkies because it is the right thing to do and not because ANC youth leader Julius Malema may one day turn his gaze on King James (though he may).

** Helen Zille, former mayor of Cape Town and now premier of the Western Cape

Tom Robbins
Posted November 3, 2010

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Twankey Oyster Bar, take your own crowd and it’s your private club”

  1. Lovely detailed review and ‘story’ Tom – well done.

    Expect a detailed response, longer than your revew, from management!


Leave a Reply