Societi Bistro, not another bloody public holiday, head here in the City Bowl

You’ve hidden, found and eaten a nest of Easter Eggs the size of the Ivory Coast.  Your children have given you tinnitus with their shrill sugar-fuelled screams.  You’ve kissed overly affectionate scratchy-whiskered aunts and seen enough of friends from near and far at braais and wine-fuelled sundowners in your home.  On May Day you celebrated the death of socialism.  Cabin fever is reaching a murderous level and the weather has eventually turned for the worse so there is no question of beach or mountain.

Societi Bistro
3/5 stars
+27 (0)21 4242 100
50 Orange St
Cape Town

Even if it were sunny and still, it’s the umpteenth public holiday of the autumn and there is no whoopee left in your soul.  Call in that over-eager aunt and give her the undivided attention of your kids.  At her flat.  Grab your (by now ragged) other by the hand and take her to this bistro-nest for a bit of cocooning.  Walk if you can to this white-washed Georgian house.  Make sure you are seated next to one of the glowing fires.

Over a late lunch at Societi a shared salad starter of butternut and sweet potato, pungent feta and rocket is a pleasant surprise.  Butternut I’ve overdosed on from my lentil-lapping days in the veggie-feminist 80’s, aggravated a decade later by a café I owned that served this squash soup.  It was the epoch of the butternut.  Sweet potato, on the other hand, is too sugary unless drowned in a meaty gravy.  Dining alone I would never have ordered the dish at Societi but somehow the heat applied to these sturdy winter’s afternoon vegetables hasn’t over-caramelised them.  The flavour is delicate, likely helped by the tartness of balsamic vinegar.

The slow-cooked lamb shank casserole is comforting but nothing you couldn’t have left bubbling in your oven while you lazed around your house on a public holiday.  There is nothing more rewarding than the gentle opulence of a braising joint, stock, celery and onion filling the house.  (I can even smell it wafting under my front door when I arrive at home after popping out to the shops.)  Here at Societi it tastes and looks as if a tea spoon of tomato paste has been added too.

The mushroom flavour in my companion’s risotto is a concentrated delight of ‘meat’ for Meat-Free-Mondays.  The appearance is mushy, which bothers me not a jot, but the risotto rice is overcooked or cooked too quickly so lacks that hint of exterior crunch that is so hard to consistently get right.

A more challenging might be the special of fish pie, a dish rarely found on our menus.  I don’t think I’ve eaten a creamy fish pie since I was 12 but I remember it to be a wonderful way to prepare some of our less palatable fresh water fish, such as bass.  Deboned, and the fishiness subdued by dairy, it is a fine winter food.

Today our waitress works for us (and consequently her pocket).  It is an opinionated approach, advising what’s hot today and what might be a little less so.  Portion advice flows freely too: “If you are hungry order this and if you aren’t order that.”

This service approach may not work in a more ‘corporate’ restaurant but in this homely spot it works for the restaurant owners too.

Coffee and grappa are taken in the The Snug bar, filled with a selection of retro-porn unusually selected to entertain all sexual persuasions and genders.

Walk your beloved home and don’t collect the kids until the last embers are extinguished.  Praise to old aunts.  Societi is open this Mother’s Day (booking advisable) and they do late lunches.  Usually closed on Sundays but they are open every public holiday.  The next one is election day on Wednesday May 18.  Vote first, otherwise you will get the politicians you deserve.

The French and Italian inspired specials menu changes frequently.  Staples from the main menu change with the season with many vegetarian options.  Starters include ox tongue with potato bake, parsley and caper cream (R38); and beetroot with horseradish mayo and feta (R32).  Mains: a South African take on a salsiccia (sausage) pasta with boerewors, tomato and cream (R48 large, R74 small); aubergine fettuccine with baked ricotta, fennel seed, chilli and cherry tomato (R56, R82); a vegan lentil curry with aubergine and roti (R47); and venison bourguignon with bacon, mushroom, pearl onion, red wine and mash (R118).

Desserts basic standards from crème brûlée; and chocolate nemesis; to ice cream and sorbet.  Most dishes well below tourist trap prices.

Decent but limited wine list with plenty by the glass and a knowledgeable waitress today.

My new foodie neighbours love going to the Snug for a post-restaurant drink or coffee.  Canapés and cheese available here too.

A top experience but some dishes a let down today.  Ratings are based primarily on the food.

3/5 stars over lunch.

For a previous review read here

Tom Robbins
Posted May 6, 2011

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