Eating in Kalk Bay, a Postcard from the Edge and fixing ceviche

Quaint and neighbourly but by turns weathered and over-familiar.  Nothing wrong there.  Simply the reality of a village wedged between mountain and sea.  Looking out from the old fishermen’s quarter the stifling feeling is heightened minutes before the sun rises over the now orange-silhouetted Hottentots Holland Mountains across False Bay.  The smarter houses to the immediate left on the Kalk Bay Mountain are still cloaked in darkness against the night sky.  Then suddenly the sun bursts out, bathing them in light.  A silver sea in between.

Kalk Bay
Southern Peninsula
Cape Town

Kalk Bay is many things.  A picturesque small harbour, boho high-street stores with faded facades, drunks, retired ex-druggies, child-beggars, artists, yuppies.  But it is also something else.  A holiday at home for Cape Town’s food lovers and tourists from Gauteng to Germany.

I arrive for a week of house sitting on a grey afternoon with a hole in my gut, heading straight for the fishing harbour.  The battered hake and chips at Lucky Fish takeaway are piping hot and among the best in the Cape.  With a warm belly it’s off to the next door Polana restaurant for a quick drink beside the picture window on the rocks.  The best way to take in the ocean without getting cold.  So close once a wave smashed the glass to smithereens… well actually into safety glass marbles.  On another night sea otters cautiously poked their beige heads above a boulder before scuttling out of the spotlight.

For supper it’s to Olympia Café, one of the most established restaurants on the Peninsula, for a plate of plump Lüderitz oysters.  These bivalves are viewed as a summery appetizer to schlurrp with bubbly but are best eaten in winter.  (In summer they are amorous, making them milky.)  In spite of the dirty-looking kitchen, Olympia is a locals’ favourite.  It is not hard to see why they grin and bear it – it is the finest fish restaurant in Cape Town.  Even the salads are worthwhile and a small meal on their own.  A pasta vongole is full of the richness of the sea.

On another night at Olympia I eat my first seared longfin tuna, a relatively plentiful fish.  It is a curiously white tuna but has the same chunky-robust texture as its red meat cousin.  An olive, bay leaf, green pepper and peppadew sauce with a strong piccalilli taste from mustard seeds brings it to life.

The next day’s breakfast is taken at C’est La Vie bakery.  Tucked away off the high street there is a board indicating the lane (Rosmead Road) to stroll up.  This unpretentious boulangerie has made the best baguettes I have ever eaten, the tapered ends a crunchy delight.  Sitting outside in the sun they are a little doughy today but the concentrated flavours of the runny scrambled eggs more than compensate.  Proof that fresh eggs make all the difference.  The bacon is crispy rind-on too.

Scrambled eggs later in the week at the slick-looking Tribeca Bakery are the final nail in the bad oeuf point.   No fancy decor can fix a bland uniform of over-cooked pale yellow egg.  Here it strikes me that Kalk Bay doesn’t wear smart very well.  (With the possible exception of Harbour House fish restaurant, which has some local fans.)  This is not to say the ongoing process of gentrification in Kalk Bay doesn’t have advantages but rather that too sartorial an outfit will ruin its character, best summed up by the some-time slogan of Olympia: “Home of the Odds.” 

Back at C’est La Vie.  Ingredients used at this café for the simple lunch sandwiches are top notch.  For those with a sweet tooth, the little friands are a spongy lemon thrill.  Residents meet here for the local equivalent of the power brunch though you may prefer to call it a flower lunch.  Both C’est La Vie and Olympia sell baked goods for home consumption if you are holidaying here.

Preparing Ceviche

Then it’s off to top fishmonger Paul Joubert at Southern Cross Seafood Deli in the nearby Westlake Lifestyle Centre to see what’s good today.  The service is knowledgeable with fresh and frozen options pointed out.  Longfin tuna and blue nose are recommended for cooking but I have other ideas.  After waxing lyrical about the cured Latin American dish ceviche like a Peruvian gastronome I better check that I am able to prepare it.  Two cheap white fish, hake and angelfish, are suggested.  I walk out the door with just over 200 grams of angel fish after forking out as little as R12.85.  No limes are available for curing at either the Pick n Pay or Woolworths in Fish Hoek, just down the Peninsula from Kalk Bay.  So lemons it must be.

With online help from those more knowledgeable than me, cookbook author Sonia Cabano and Joburg journalist Georgina Guedes, I set about my task while gazing out at the harbour below.  Apparently any citrus will do but when limes are low it helps to add an acidic sweet fruit, such as the naartjie, to the lemon.  Or just use grapefruit.

The basics are:

  1. Chop the fish into small pieces.  Cure the fish in lime juice with sea salt for around eight minutes.  Then squeeze out the juices with your hands.
  2. Add grated ginger, finely chopped chillies, spring onions and fresh coriander.

Voila, you now have refreshing and healthy summery starter.  Play around with the marinating time and herb combinations that suit your palate.  Invite friends over for a lunch party and instruct them to each make their own ceviche combos.  You’ll be the talk of your circle.

I only used about a third of the angel fish and fried the rest in butter for a main course (for one).  The upshot – you don’t need an expensive fish to prepare ceviche.  Like cheese soufflé it is luxury nosh for very little dosh.

Posh or poor, small towns can be nosey and gossipy.  Privacy can be a distant luxury.  So while it’s lovely for couples to know their neighbours well, it’s not a good idea to get to know them too intimately.  This is couldn’t be truer than in Greyton, the Overberg village of roses, fertile soil and grannies peeking through lace curtains.  And the unforgiven.  Kalk Bay is more tolerant.  If you get it on with the antique dealer or the artist it, while it may be easier to leave town, you will not be driven out by the stares of the Pringle Cardigan Cartel.

In general residents are friendly, though like any town invaded by holidaymakers over the summer, it does to some extent split into two camps: tourist traps and local hidey-holes, such as the upstairs Cabin Bar at the otherwise touristy Brass Bell.

Some with expensive taste find Kalk Bay a little tatty.  Sure there is litter in parts, there are beggars and the municipality could maintain the public spaces better.  Poverty in the fishing community could be eradicated.  Nothing will change anytime soon.  A retired white gentleman affectionately pats a black hobo peer on the back as he ambles past the bottle store.  It is reciprocated with a smile.  They share this space.  

It may not suit every Swiss Miss but Kalk Bay is a great food destination, and it doesn’t even have a proper supermarket.  This success might be because it doesn’t have chain store or in spite of it.  Analysts may just coldly say the population is too small to support one.  The less grocery chains and restaurants the better for retaining the village’s unique vibe.

Debonair former Woolworths chief executive Simon Susman once said his food stores should have “the mind of a supermarket and the soul of a deli”.  Kalk Bay still has “the mind of a deli and the soul of a crackpot”.  Don’t let that change.

Notes on eating and drinking in Kalk Bay

There is a grocer in Kalk Bay that sells basics.  For top ingredients use the bakeries or look out for trawlers coming into the harbour with fresh fish.

If you do need a supermarket you could venture to next door to Fish Hoek but it isn’t recommended.  Fish Hoek is a bit like the Mid-West By-The-Sea.  Rather travel towards Cape Town for your supermarket food shopping.  There is also a market in Albertyn Road, Muizenberg, from 3 pm on Fridays.  I haven’t tried it out.

The Brass Bell is Kalk Bay’s most famous drinking spot on the sea (sans windows).  It can be very busy and touristy.  If you want to avoid foodies go here.

The Annex café next to Kalk Bay Books is generally very good for food.  I have eaten here often.  Only once was it poor.  The store has well chosen food books, magazines and quality beach novels that would be lost on the Clifton crowd.

There is a very big party at Polana on Sunday, starting from early evening.  Residents of all ages get stuck in.

Even further down the Peninsula in Simonstown I have eaten delicious choux pastry at The Sweetest Thing Patisserie.

C’est La Vie is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Staying in Camps Bay can be expensive in season but it also makes for a lovely day trip.  If you are staying with friends in the City Bowl or in a backpacker on Long Street catch the new My Citi bus from Gardens Centre to the Civic Centre/Cape Town Station.  From here take the train, for the scenic rail trip along False Bay.  For bus routes click here and go to the Gardens section.

How to Eat Seafood Responsibly

With a new report out this week that many seafood species could become extinct in a generation you can check the sustainability of species on menus at the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative website.  Or text: 079 499 8795.  Ask your waitress if it is threatened.  Check where it is from and how it was caught.  Kob, or kabeljou, the best fish in the Cape, is on the red list but if it is farmed on land it is classified green.

Tom Robbins
Posted July 24, 2011

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One Response to “Eating in Kalk Bay, a Postcard from the Edge and fixing ceviche”

  1. Alfred says:

    Thanks for the Ceviche recipe Tom. It really was one of the highlights the other night at El Burro. I’m definitely going to make it – I’ll let you know!

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