August 29th, 2012 § § permalink
I never wanted advertisers on my blog. Not because of lofty journalistic principles or concerns about credibility. It’s just all those colours and fonts. Things get so busy busy busy. I just didn’t feel like it. Plus little windows popping up where you don’t need them. And it smells of added admin. But then Frank emailed me. And for a split-second, well, I thought, just maybe it could work. Then again, maybe not:
My blog is about food writing from a very personal perspective. I wouldn’t know what to say about the online bingo industry, except maybe to take the piss. The few readers that I have (I’m pregnant and more interested in grazing indiscriminately than blogging) also won’t buy a thinly veiled attempt at punting online bingo. I may lose the shred of credibility and 3.7 readers I have left. Unless I actually try it, love it, and ideally could win some money. Then we’re in business! Other than that my blog may not be the ideal advertising platform for you. But please do send me a link to give the bingo thing a bash. Who knows. I convert easily. Especially when there’s yelling involved!
Thank you kindly for your interest.
On Wed, 29 Aug 2012 16:53:52 +0100, email@example.com> wrote:
Thank you for getting back to me.
After reviewing your website, we think that a new blog post would be the
best and least intrusive option for you. You are free to come up with the
content of the article or blog post, but we do ask that it is in some way
relevant to our client in the online bingo industry and is composed of
roughly 300 words.
We’ll pay $ 120 as an annual upfront payment and we will endeavour to make
sure that you are paid within two working days, using PayPal or
Please let me know if you’re interested, so I can have your site assessed
by our Technical team. I can then send the advert details and client
Alternatively, if you have any more questions about this advert type, then
please do let me know.
Hey Frank, will this do? It’s 390 words and technically 169 of them are yours but it’s related to bingo. Do we have a deal?
June 14th, 2012 § § permalink
Spain is revered as the home of modernist gastronomy, having liberated fine dining from the clingy hold of French butter and cream with sultry oils and a fearless approach to technique. The thing about Spain is, they cook. Every city block has at least three restaurants, often feet apart. For every aspiring elBulli or Cellar de Can Roca out there, there are at least 1000 greasy tapas bars. You have to be selective. If, like me, you like fresh food or an element of freshness in your food, consider yourself slightly screwed. Oil and salt are constants in this flavour landscape. But let’s look at the good stuff, shall we?
From absolutely bloody brilliant to better than average
Tickets Bar: Ferran and Albert Adria’s brilliant take on tapas. I’ve tried other gastro tapas bars and nothing comes close to this. The Adria’s might be slumming it compared to the gravitas of elBulli but Tickets, for all it’s playfulness, serves little morsels of genius. The best tapas in the world. Reservations via their website only and they’re booked out three months in advance. Read my review of Tickets and 41 Degrees here. If you are intrigued by elBulli, do go to the elBulli exhibition at Palau Robert on paseo de Gracia.
41 Degrees: The disco sister of Tickets, also owned by the Adria brothers. Recently blinged-out with an installation of 20 000 crystals that manipulate light and sound, 41 Degrees is hailed as the ‘baby elBulli’. It’s a 16 seater that serves a mind-fluffing 41-course menu. The same tricky online reservation system applies. I’m going end of July and can’t wait to experience the sparkly new 41 Degrees. Watch this space.
Dos Pallilos: A sensual synergy of food savvy. Exquisite Japanese food served tapas-style. After 11 years as elBulli’s headchef Albert Raurich – inspired by his Japanese wife – opened this übercool eatery next to the trendy Camper Hotel in the Ramblas. Good luck getting a table at short notice. Read my review here.
Gresca: Creative, contemporary fine dining in an informal, chic space.One of the really good restaurants where you might get a table at short notice. Details here.
Alkimia: Modernist gastronomy with strong Catalan roots. Set menus offer a well curated overview of the best this area has to offer. Reserve online.
Dos Cielos: Comes highly recommended. The website gives a clear idea of what to expect and how to get a reservation for this sensory joy ride, engineered by handsome twin brothers Sergio and Javier Torres. I might have to go soon.
Rias de Galicia: For the best seafood in town. Enough said.
Of course, the most sought-after table to be had in all of Spain would be Celler de Can Roca. Rated second in the world after Rene Redzepi’s Noma and just an hour’s drive from Barcelona in Girona, this would be well worth the effort if you’re serious about sampling the best.
La Boqueria: Barcelona and probably the world’s best fresh produce market. On las Ramblas, the city’s main tourist drag, the market offers freshly pressed juices popping with colour and flavour. Choose from guava and coconut, kiwi and pineapple – the list is near endless. I start every market visit with a different flavour. Buy fresh produce or wait your turn for a seat at one of the popular tapas bars in the market. Or just eat with your eyes. It’s a visual orgasm.
Las Ramblas has tourist trap written all over it but you have to see it. Eating there is perhaps not such a great idea. Except for Bar Lobo. As you wander down Las Ramblas, turn right on Pintor Fortuny and first left onto a charming square. Surprisingly authentic and accessible considering the location. A clever menu that offers tapas but also heartier meals, catering to a global palate whilst retaining some Spanish flavour. Good value for money and no reservation required. With a bit of luck and patience, I’ve always managed an outdoor table after a few minutes’ wait.
El Born is a great barrio to stroll through. Ancient, bohemian, bustling. Get lost in the narrow lanes but keep an eye open for Cal Pep on Placa de les Olles. Tiny tapas bar, always jam-packed with desperadoes queuing at the door.
Everyone will confirm that Spain’s North is the holy food grail. Specifically San Sebastian. Famous for having more Michelin stars per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world, and for pintxos. Basically tapas of the North. Generally served on a slice of baguette, impaled with a toothpick. If you’re not going North and want to experience pintxos, el Born is also home to Sagardi Euskal Taberna at Carrer de l’Argenteria, 62. Grab a plate, pile it high and hang on to those toothpicks. That’s how they keep track of how much you’ve eaten…
Sick of tapas and fancy a hamburger the size of a toddler’s head, made American style – because burgers here are often served without a roll, lettuce and tomato – with everything? Pim Pam burger on carrer del Sabaret is considered the best in town. Sadly I can’t say the same for their hot dogs.
If you think the Spanish like chili, think again. They managed to colonize most of South and central America for centuries without succumbing to the charms of this hot little fruit. In search of a fix, I suffered some bad Mexican until I found Tlaxcal, also in el Born at 27 Calle Comerc. Classic Mexican, cleanly presented. Best nachos ever and do try the taco soup.
Barcelona has a lot of beach and many beach bars. The best paella is to be had at El Xiringuito de Escriba, by the famous Escriba family. The paella from the sea and the mountain (rabbit and seafood) is the best. Check out the fabulous Escriba website for info on Xiringuito as well as their two pastry shops. A must if you love confectionery. Candy rings, fantastical chocolate sculptures and some of the best pastry Spain has to offer. There’s a small Escriba pastry shop a few meters down from la Boqueria. Enjoy…
Barceloneta is riddled with groovy beach bars. If the food isn’t that great at most of them, the cocktails, views and people-watching will more than make up for it. Lying on the beach, you can’t miss Hotel Bella to your right, which looks like it’s about to strut into the sea. Also home to Michelin-star chef Carles Abellan’s Bravo 24 terrace restaurant. Much of what we ate here arrived with smoky grill flavours. I absolutely loved the lettuce, drizzled with chicken stock and cooked on the grill. A suave elevated seaside option with spectacular Mediterranean views. Abellan also owns Tapas 24 in the city center, close to paseo de Gracia. The poor man’s Tickets and a great place to get to grips with tapas without burning up your pocket.
‘What do Spanish people REALLY eat, besides bread and tapas, what is real Catalan food?’ That was the question after my first few months here. Fancy restaurants are great but with all that reinvention you need a set of tweezers to separate the traditional from the showstopper. I’d say the jury is still out on that one. But I do like Casa Paloma for several reasons. The interior is an unfussy blend of old world and contemporary sophistication. Much like the menu. Good Catalan food for discerning locals. Their daily specials offer comfort classics. And brace yourself, the steaks can be overwhelming in size.
Fancy a Catalan barbeque? Head for the hills and get your hands dirty at Casa Juaco, a truly rustic Catalan grill restaurant. One of my very best food experiences here. You’re given large plastic gloves (thin versions of the type normally used for cow insemination…) and a bib because it gets messy. Old terracotta roof tiles are plonked down, piled high with leeks charred over an open grill. It’s dirty work releasing the sweet center but very rewarding. This was my favourite part of the meal. Tiles of charred seasonal veg with aioli and romesco dipping sauces. Jugs of sangria and beer served in spouted glass vessels encourage communal drinking. Followed by a main of grilled meat (sausage and chops) and traditional creme Catalan for dessert. Go for the view, the vibe and the charred vegetables. Totally off the beaten track, it doesn’t get more traditional than this.
Rambla de la Catalunya is a great street to stroll down. Parallel to paseo de Gracia (Barcelona’s highest of high streets) but with less traffic and more trees, ambient cafes and interesting little shops. Close to the corner of Rambla de la Catalunya and Majorca you’ll find Cerveceria, an above average tapas bar. Also home to the best hot dogs I’ve had here, albeit in tapas form so you have to order about 8 portions to get your footlong in… whatever it takes, right?
Hotel Ohla offers a 1 star Michelin restaurant, gastro tapas bar, chic cocktail bar and roof terrace. Impressive tapas of the not-so-pedestrian kind on the edge of the Old City.
All Italian food is comfort food to me. And sometimes when you travel you just want a big bowl of pasta or a pizza that doesn’t talk back when you chew on it. Considering our proximity to Italy, this city is not inundated with great Italian fare. The only one that’s given me joy is La Bella Napoli. Try the pasta in a parmesan basket.
Spain doesn’t have much of a breakfast culture. Generally a baguette with cheese or ham and a coffee will do. It took five months to find eggs Benedict in this town but I did. At a charming French bistro Cafe Emma at 142 Paul Claris in the city center. Good value for money lunch and dinner set menus make it a popular choice, which is why the service is somewhat disappointing. Open all day, every day.
I’m in my fifth month in Barcelona and there is still so much to discover. Areas like el Born and Gracia are riddled with little neighbourhood bars and restaurants and my advice would be, if the locals are having a good time, give it a bash. Vegetarians tend to have a hard time here in the heart of ham country but this link might provide some relief. For the rest, bear these pointers in mind when choosing an eatery.
1. Don’t eat anywhere with picture boards. Especially if the photos are sun-faded to a generic pulp. Because the food very well may be too.
2. Eat at tapas bars owned by Spanish folk. By the same token, Chinese restaurants should be owned by Chinese. You follow.
3. This one is global. The Michelin Guide said it best on Twitter “Why is it that the dining rooms with the best views serve food that rarely matches the optics? Location, location, frustration.” Couldn’t agree more. Am actually starting to think tourism is detrimental to food quality. So if your feet can carry you further, don’t eat right next to that atmospheric Gothic cathedral.
4. Aaah… la vida tapas! The world has truly gone tapas berserk. Like repeating your own name fast, I hardly know what it means anymore. Here, portions can be ample so eating tapas on your own doesn’t really work. You’ll end up eating a hell of a lot of one thing. A few roasted padron peppers are nice but you don’t want three fists full. Most dishes are either deep-fried or perched in a puddle of oil. Order in waves to avoid bombing yourself with too much of the same thing. When tapas is good, it’s wonderful. Back in the seventies in the Eastern Cape, my mom used to call it pick-n-mix. The best way to eat.
5. Plato del dia or meal of the day, available from most restaurants at lunchtime. Generally a 3-course meal with a drink or coffee included for around 12 Euros. Great value but don’t expect to be blown away. It’s simply a feeding so you can carry on with the business of having a good time.
6. “Hablas Ingles?” Shocker. In a city riddled with tourists, you’re lucky to encounter a poco English from the hosts. Without Google translate I might have starved in my first months or suffered death-by-tortilla (though, when in doubt a slab of potato omelet is a good filler). The bitch about Barcelona is it has two languages. Spanish (Castillano) and Catalan. Restaurants in touristy areas usually have an English menu but not always. Ask for carta Ingles. I’ve had to rely on my cellphone a lot and it helps if you know whether you’re dealing with Spanish or Catalan. Look for the word ‘with’. Can’t write a menu without it. In Spanish it’s ‘con’ and in Catalan ‘amb’… so, now you know what language you’re dealing with, order forth! And let me know if you find the good stuff.
This post may be subjected to updates and revisions. Follow me @kitchenvixenSA on Twitter for bite-by-bite updates.
And on a non-food note, don’t forget to always look up at all the gorgeous buildings. There’s much more to Barcelona than Gaudi… although he is the most crazy beautiful of the lot.
March 24th, 2012 § § permalink
The best experiences in life are often unplanned. As was the case with my meal at Nerua, the Michelin-star establishment at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I’m not shy to admit it was my first meal at a Michelin restaurant. We have none in South Africa. Now that I’ve experienced the attention to detail that this accolade requires, I understand why.
God is in the detail
I snapped this photo in the service area and my expectations were instantly a-tingle. The glove did it for me. Nerua’s philosophy can be summed up as clean, delicate, light, balanced and fresh. Both in decor and food. The delicate simplicity of the dishes belie an intense and rigorous design process, with a dedicated space where five chefs focus solely on innovating and perfecting. Appetizers were served at a counter with a view of the kitchen. And the best beer I’ve ever tasted.
Crisped cod skin with pimenton dust
I love craft beer and Il Baladin Wayan from Piozzo in the heart of Piemonte’s wine country was a taste revelation. Creator Teo Musso, son of an Italian wine-making family, decided to go with the grain and focus his blending skills on beer. An apprenticeship with Belgian brew masters followed. Wayan is a multigrain organically brewed beer with the flavour complexity, balance and vital freshness of an award-winning wine. We loved it so much that we chose to enjoy our first few courses – normally paired with white wines – with this brew.
Mecca for craft pilgrims
We moved to the dining room which is completely unadorned so as not to detract from the main act: the food.
The stage is set. Not decorated
Most importantly, the chairs are perfectly comfortable. So many establishments get this wrong. And as far as I’m concerned it’s a near inexcusable misappropriation of priorities. But before I morph into Miss Rottenmeier, let’s move on to the good stuff….
The team under the direction of head chef Josean Alija served an 11 course product-driven tasting menu. First up, 30 month-matured Parmesan curd with truffle tears, mini bread sticks and shiso.
After six weeks in Spain my Spanish is…. pequeño, almost nada, so I didn’t quite understand that it was a curd until I tried it. In spite of the Parmesan being mature, the flavours were subtle and beautifully balanced.
Cry me a truffle river
Next up was leeks on egg rice with a sheaf of dried Iberian pork juice. A very clean dish with low intensity flavours but not as profoundly so as its parmesan predecessor. To create a symphony, not every note should ring out. And this dish was more of a pause than an accent. If I hadn’t know the sheaf was dried pork juice I would have guessed it was a lick of Bovril. Meaty and salty.
A clean green interlude
The borage with grass broth, clams and coastal garlic had more personality. I love clear soups and this one tasted of crisp new growth tempered with a bit of marine minerality. But the dish really worked its magic when each spoonful was accompanied by a shred of borage. The immense thought and restraint present in each composition dawned on me
Borage, clear grass broth and clams
Nerua’s cuisine is ‘rooted in Basque culture but open to the world’ and as demonstrated by the following, also capable of tongue in cheek trickery. Bilbao is famous for its salted cod or bacalao, prepared al pil pil. A classic consisting of four ingredients: cod, olive oil, garlic and green peppers and the ‘pil pil’ refers to the twisting motion of the pan to emulsify the oil and cod proteins.
You've been punked!
A humble white onion with a cod skin coat and a puddle of green pepper sauce passes itself off as that classic of Basque cooking… bacalao al pil pil. Very clever indeed. Onion layers masquerading as flaky cod. The señor was extremely impressed with this dish. And he has serious culinary chops so I acquiesce to his superior knowledge… but, dear friends, an onion is an onion and soft fish skin does not rank high on the list of things I love to eat. So once the novelty of the concept wore off, I let most of the onion pass me by. I include a photo (poached from the net) of the real deal.
The real bacalao al pil pil
According to Google Translate our next dish consisted of ‘grilled hedgehog-bottom algae’. I’m ever so glad Google is wrong. We had sea urchins. In a theatrical dish.
Where did you say you studied drama again?
The variety of seafood in Spain, compared to what I’m used to in South Africa, is quite staggering. I hope they leave some in the oceans for the 50′s. Like the 2050′s. Sea urchins have a slightly funky aftertaste that does not appeal to me but more than that, I struggle with the texture. Soft. Slimy when it’s raw and spongy when it’s cooked. It looks like a little tongue, complete with mini buds.
Sea urchin in algae broth
The dish was perfectly executed but I am incapable of ‘letting go’ and enjoying urchin. We’d finally progressed from the delicious Wayan beer to a vino tinto and with a two-sips-to-one-urchin ratio I made it through most of the dish.
A pleasing wine
The little crab balls with slivers of sweet potato, white bean broth and sea lettuce was a favourite at the table. The natural sweetness of the crab was complemented by the sweet potato and the subtle earthy broth. Most delicious.
Medley of delicate natural sweetness
With the mackerel, grilled onions and green olives, I suffered a bout of appetite failure. This invariably happens after three appetizers and 6 courses. For the life of me I can’t remember if it was slightly smoked, or pickled. I think the latter. But I do remember that the flavours were surprisingly subtle and more enjoyable than expected. Funny how appetite failure and information overload tend to hang out together…
Finally it was Iberian pork time! With the tiniest of carrots and an artichoke emulsion. Cooked to perfection. They managed to crisp up the sides whilst leaving the meat juicy. Great taste, although the dish was served a tad cold.
HRH prince Cerdo, ruler of Spanish cuisine
The first dessert course consisted of avocado, coconut ice cream and grapefruit tears. Very interesting flavours and textures. Creamy, almost not sweet avocado mousse with coconut ice cream and crunchy tart and salty grapefruit ‘tears’ that popped and vaporised on the tongue. Definitely one of those dishes where your eyes widen as you try to discern flavour components, but not uncomfortably so.
Avocado, coconut ice cream and grapefruit tears
I’m not a huge fan of dessert but the next dish was my favourite of the entire menu. I like pumpkin and I love bergamot and beer so this combo absolutely rocked.
I could have licked my plate
Subtly rich and earthy pumpkin mousse with hints of bergamot, a chewy biscuit by chef Enkir and beer ice cream. Such clean and gratifying flavours, delicate and robust, so damn delicious I dreaded seeing the bottom of the plate. We had one more course to go but to me, this was the highlight and full stop of my meal. My attention wandered to the monstrous 30ft high, 33ft wide bronze spider on the other side of the window. Created by French artist Louise Bourgeois as a tribute to her mother, Maman is a wicked piece of sculpture to dine with. It was a misty day but the Guggenheim adds further drama to Maman’s display by releasing clouds of fog from a nearby bridge that envelope the spider at times. You don’t need to be haute on Italian craft beer to fall for her creepy charms…
Before you think Louise had serious issues, here’s why she immortalised her mother-love in such a way: “The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”
Why do I digress? Because the point is, Nerua is part of the Guggenheim museum. And what a special place that is. Surrounded by some of the best art ever, the Nerua team goes all out to create a multi-dimensional sensory memory. It’s not just the food. There’s the individually wrapped toothbrushes in the bathroom (I was too shy to take my camera to the loo) the service team’s gorgeous three-piece suits in thick weave, the gloves, the heated cutlery and napkins… the attention to detail that makes that little star twinkle so brightly. And that’s why Nerua in all probability won’t remain a lone star establishment for long.
But not to be rude… the last course:
Thousand leaves of potato, apple and lime
Potato, apple and lime piped and layered with wafers. Interesting as you can clearly taste the potato, tempered with apple and with lime to add zing. The quirky end to an 11-course journey into the essence of ingredients. I’ve used the word ‘delicate’ too many times already and I can’t quite bring myself to construct a sentence with ‘sensitive exploration’ but, I think you get the picture?
A layered experience
When we finished the museum had closed. Pity, but I wouldn’t change anything about our day in Bilbao. And as far as I’m concerned, food of this caliber is art. Gracias señor for my first taste of the North. I hope it’s not my last. I do need to actually go inside the museum… I leave you with another piece of exterior art. Puppy, the 12.4 meter topiary dog by Jeff Koons. Do you see him there? At the end of the road, guarding the Guggenheim with the green hills of Bilbao in the background?
Hasta la vista Puppy
For more info on Nerua or the Guggenheim click on the names to visit their respective websites.
As always, click on images to enlarge.
July 19th, 2011 § § permalink
Yip, the great Ferran Adria is serving his last supper at the world’s most famous restaurant, El Bulli, on Saturday 30 July and to celebrate his massive contribution to modern cuisine, our own Richard Carstens will be hosting a tribute dinner at Tokara restaurant on the very same night. I’ll be there! And I won’t say a word about foams and skidmarks and blobs cause it’s going to be SPECTACULAR. Book now.
Am I the only one that thinks El Bulli is Tickets is funny? Ferran is closing El Bulli and he’s already opened a molecularly inclined cocktail and tapas bar in Barcelona called Tickets. Riiight?! Maybe all that safety dancing at the 80′s party I crashed last night has caused a humour regression of sorts… right back to about 1986. Any event, I’ll be visiting Tickets when I hit up Barcelona in September. My friend Guy sent me this pic of their dessert plate.
Ferran slumming it at Tickets
Richard Carstens, fresh from Hong Kong
Richard is buzzing after a two-week cooking stint in Hong Kong. He says the veins of influence between the East and Ferran’s wizardry run deep. So expect to be blown away by his tribute dinner. From where I sit, I can see little tufts of smoke rising from his lair above the Tokara kitchen… inspiration distillation in progress.
I’m reviewing Tokara and my epic ten-course meal on Expresso Show next Wednesday 27 July. Or click here for the blog review.
Also on the 30th of this month, yet on a slightly less accomplished note, I’ll be doing a food demonstration (my first) at the Stellenbosch Wine Festival (massive culinary events colliding, I know – El Bulli closing, my demo, the Tokara tribute – aeish!) to an audience of about 80 unsuspecting folk. I’ve chosen food and wine pairing as a topic and am marrying duck and Pinot Noir shotgun-style. Which is why I spent my weekend boiling wine to make jelly. I hate wasting good juice but I have to get it just right. My first attempt resembled chopped liver.
Check out the Festival website here.
July 12th, 2011 § § permalink
I love freshness. In everything. Wine, food, people. The opposite of stodgy and staid and stuck in a rut. With food, it’s about more than the newness of the produce. That elusive fresh element has to do with a balance of flavours and a certain zing most commonly defined as acidity. Don’t let the word put you off. It’s when food hits your tongue and your mouth waters for more.
Chef supreme Luke Dale-Roberts talks about umami. That elusive fifth taste that fuses flavour to create a mouthfeel greater than the sum of its parts. It’s like a natural MSG that leads to unbridled plate scraping. And my meal at The Test Kitchen in Woodstock’s Biscuit Mill was laced with it. In The Test Kitchen, Luke has created the perfect playground for his imaginative East-meets-West flavour combinations to shine.
Keeping it tight - LDR and his team
I’m a sucker for cheese and tomato combos. From the humble braaibroodjie to this: home dried tomato, pickled tomato, miso cream cheese, wood fired aubergine dressing and jalapeno and apple puree…
Did I mention the parmesan crispy thingies?
It was incredible. Saliva inducing flavour bursts, with every item distinct yet in perfect harmony. You just want more. Conceived to make fine dining more accessible, The Test Kitchen is small, informal and very trendy. Beautiful hand-stitched chairs by Casamento next to metal-topped tables with felt lamps overhead. The lunch menu is compact with starters in the Asian flavour range and mains leaning towards Euro cuisine. I opted for the wood fired pork belly, coco bean and bay leaf jus, TK kim chi and pak choi.
Pork belly with asian greens
I noticed a neighbour’s perfect vegetables popping with colour. All done sous-vide at 85 degrees for 50 minutes, thereby retaining just-plucked colour and texture.
Bags of goodness, sous-viding away
Confession time – my lunch made one thing very clear. I have to return for the 11 course gourmand tasting menu – The Fantastic Eben, Adi and Luke Show – served evenings only. Luke goes all out to knock your flavour socks off, with wines by Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhorst of Swartland fame. Like the foie gras, red cabbage and fig ‘mi-cuit’ (semi cooked), rabbit ham, braised chestnuts and gently pickled quince paired with Sequillo White Port 2010. Eben Sadie has been called the Baby Jesus of the wine industry (he can do no wrong) and Adi as the Elvis Presley (cause he rocks) and together with the King of Zing, this is probably the most profound food experience to be had in this country. And it belongs on every foodie’s bucket list.
The Fantastic Eben, Adi and Luke Show
Time magazine agrees. Read about it here. Or visit The Test Kitchen’s website for full menus and images. Or catch my review on SABC3 Expresso Show tomorrow morning at about 7.40am’ish, give or take a few minutes.
I daresay, I think I’m back in the fine-dining saddle… thanks Luke. I needed to be reminded. And I’ll be back for the big show.
June 28th, 2011 § § permalink
Poor me landed at Dear Me’s doorstep after months of gorging myself on rich, over-faffed food, feeling like a foie gras duck minutes before the slaughter. With a bit of bronchitis thrown in to drive the point home that I was bent out of shape and desperately needed to recalculate. My inner GPS was free-wheeling through Lardville. And Dear Me was just the place to remind me of my true food self.
Yes, you deserve a medal
‘Green is the colour of true love’ some hippie whispered through a bong haze in my distant past and it also happens to be my favourite colour. And Dear Me is all about the love. Or just being good and kind to yourself and the planet. But there’s none of that neurotic wheatgerm gleam in the eye that some health stores get off on. This place was a long time in the making and it shows in every inch of bespoke, conscious quality. From the slinky green Thyla chairs to the Deep Heat infusion (ginger, lemon, chili and apple) that manager Ronel suggested for my beleaguered bronchi, smart sensibility prevails. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to your health and the planet’s, being kind means being clever. In the long run.
So pretty to me
Deep Heat infusion
Call me feeble but glass teapots really excite me. Dear Me has juices, teas and smoothies down to a fine art. The menu changes constantly but if ever you’re there and the warm cauliflower & cheddar tart is available, it is God’s way of telling you to have it. I know foams, emulsions, reductions and sous vide sakkies don’t come easy (or cheap) and they have their place in this world but to me, a bite of this tart is the milk of human kindness made edible. So simple, yet so delicious. The cauliflower held its own and for once, unadorned by a whole team of flavours, displayed depths and nuances beyond its humble reputation* and of course the cheddar, in line with Dear Me’s superb provenance philosophy, was of the kick-ass, tongue-puckering kind.
Perhaps it was my lucky day but they just happened to have some of my favourite flavours on the menu. Like horseradish and celeriac… nothing new-fangled and technique-driven, just the cleanest, most thoughtful combinations, mindful of tried and tested flavour relationships. Sensibly, most dishes are available in two portion sizes and prices are extremely fair. Chef Vanessa Marx is ex-Caveau Newlands, if that adds to the picture.
Beetroot-cured trout gravadlax, fresh horseradish cream, pickled carrots, dill, lumpfish caviar
No blobs or puddles, just seared kudu, celeriac remoulade, red onion & rocket
I’m a graduate of the skidmarks-belong-on-tarmac school of dining and though flexible, it was a truly heart-warming experience to find a restuarant that so met my true food needs. I could throw endless adjectives at it but I’ll leave you with real, true & beautiful.
Cape Town has many great eateries but every few years, a place opens that raises the bar in terms of capturing Deep Cape Cool and I daresay, Dear Me is that. Owner Ilse Koekemoer and her team have added much needed freshness to the CBD. But it gets better. Just above Dear Me is Tjing-Tjing Bar. Tjing-Tjing opens when Dear Me closes, at around four. The same kitchen team provides light meals for the trendy bar crowd. Tjing-Tjing is retro fab gorgeous.
Painting in the stairwell leading from Dear Me to Tjing-Tjing
And I’m going there tonight. So, dear friends, if I seem a bit slow on the uptake at 7.30 am on SABC3 Expresso Show tomorrow – when I will be reviewing Dear Me - you’ll know why…
PS – Dear Me serves filtered tap water – still and sparkling – for free. Restaurants, take note…
*proof that the frequent reading of wine writing leads to ebullient poncification of inanimate and blameless entities
June 6th, 2011 § § permalink
‘Dis daai ou wat amazing goed met bokkoms doen,’ was how Kobus van der Merwe was first described to me. Truth be told, ek skrik vir vis… fish funk – that whiff of pungent sea-dweller – shrivels my appetite. And I’ve always considered the potent little bokkom an oddity peculiar to the West Coast, like a smelly type of mobile … I remember visiting Paternoster as a teenager and being quite horrified that people actually ate them. Until I read Kobus’s blog and then it was just a matter of time.
Uber talented Kobus van der Merwe
First corner on the left as you drive into town, Die Winkel op Paternoster and Oep ve Koep Bistro
Charming time warp
Owned by his folks, Die Winkel is a retro sensory overload of pickles and preserves jamming with jammerlappies and doilies, while Kobus goes about his business resuscitating the culinary heritage of the West Coast from his tiny kitchen at the back.
Exterior decorating, the best kind
I was downright excited about my first bokkom encounter. And a bit nervous because what if I didn’t like it? And him being Mr Bokkom and all. But when the Sandveld bean dumplings arrived I knew I was in excellent hands. Kobus is ICA trained and it shows in how he incorporates near-forgotten dune plants with fine-dining flair, plated in sharp focus yet with every element justified in the overall flavour-scheme. Nothing is there for the sake of being pretty and though some ingredients could be called rustic, the end result is always sophisticated and downright gorgeous.
A taster portion of the delicious Sandveld bean dumplings
He uses maasbanker bokkoms and due to short supply, recently started drying and salting his own… a necessary step in the evolution of the gourmet bokkom.
Bokkom se kind
The bokkoms are marinated to soften them up and in so doing, that sharp bokkom edge becomes less pronounced. Breaded Bokkom consists of a round slice of bread, halved, with slivers of green apple and bokkom, fried in a pan and served with beurre blanc, a poached egg and garnished with samphire or seekoraal as it is called in Afrikaans - en wat ‘n mooi naam is dit nie? It resembles delicate asparagus and tastes pleasantly…. green. But it’s the contrast of crisp apple and salty bokkom that provides the X factor here.
The gourmet Breaded Bokkom
Have no fear... just go for it
I polished my plate. The menu is small – about six dishes per day – and changes daily. Some form of bokkom is pretty much a given and well worth the journey. Kobus harvests dune plants that used to be West Coast staples but have fallen out of favour. Now people simply no longer know about them. For a main I had to choose between old fashioned chicken pie and calamari bobotie. Much as I love old fashioned chicken pie it was a no-brainer, really.
Heritage fusion food
Bland by nature, calamari perks up nicely as bobotie. The sides here were masterful and I loved how the beetroot bled around the edges. This dish is on par with anything I’ve had in one of our top fine dining restaurants and at R70 it is mind-blowing value. And that sentence really could do with an expletive or two. I’m being far too ordentlik…
Oep ve Koep Bistro is one of a kind. And Kobus is a national treasure. His commitment to raising the kontreikos bar adds heart and authenticity to the local food scene. I was most impressed that someone as young and talented as Kobus was toiling away in a tiny kitchen on the West Coast, digging deep to honour his food roots. Hy maak kosbare bydraes tot ons koserfenis.
Baie te koep
Kobus, dankie vir ‘n heerlike kuier, die lekker vars brood en die tip oor moskonfyt. Ek gebruik dit nou ook om ‘n bietjie Bolandse umami by my kos in te werk!
If you’re looking for that typical Weskus bokkom aan ‘n toutjie vibe, Paternoster se Padstal down the road has them strung up and for the more iffy-at-heart, there’s the vacuum-packed sort that won’t honk up the car.
Not so larney bokkoms
Paternoster has blossomed into a soul food destination with so many restaurants, you need at least a weekend to sample the best of them. Maar dis ‘n ander dag se storie daai.
Oep ve Koep was reviewed on SABC3 Expresso Show on 31 May. All my restaurant reviews are in the process of being uploaded to the Expresso website.
May 27th, 2011 § § permalink
Why am I speaking Japanese to Richard Carstens? We first met as students in the great bad old days when – on the cusp of a new order – one could imagine that Stellenbosch’s Rooi Plein alluded to hip lefty undercurrents, rather than the maxed-out credit ratings of the present.
Heady days indeed. Change was pungent in the air. And out popped a new kind of restaurant on Dorp Street called Le Chameleon. With ex law student Richard in the kitchen. I remember how chuffed I was as a teen when my mom made her first ratatouille. It was the start of my aubergine thing. And at Le Chameleon, Richard sealed the deal with a wonderful melanzane parmigiano. It was all I ever ate there. Aubergine, baked to an ooze, with mozzarella slotted into slits across the top, surrounded by a moat of absurdly divine tomato reduction. It’s the stuff of dreams. And enduring memories. I left Stellenbosch and for many years ordered melanzane parmigiano but nothing came close.
Twenty years on and I’m so happy to hear that he’s joined Tokara, just up the road from me. A suitably impressive establishment for one of South Africa’s most committed culinary pioneers. It was high on my to-eat list when Richard and I connected on Twitter. ‘I still haven’t found a better melanzane parmigiana than the one you used to make in Dorp Street,’ was my immediate response. There’s been a lot of food under the bridge for both of us. Richard has distinguished himself as one of South Africa’s edgiest bright sparks, always pushing food boundaries, and I… well, I’ve dealt with a lot of food. Plus I’ve been quite vocal about my position as proud founder and lifetime president of the FF Alliance (second F standing for Foam). I was a tad apprehensive that this food reunion wouldn’t pan out, what with me being too boring and into plain kos. Up for a retro challenge, Richard offered to create a new wave version of the beloved old melanzane. Thrilled, I rocked up for a 10-course chefs menu with the melanzane cheekily positioned at the 6-course mark. This was going to be an exercise in restraint… and endurance.
The Modernist, Richard Carstens
Not to digress but Tokara has breathtaking views of the Stellenbosch valley. The weather permitted a stoep lunch.
Big open dining
Richard was one of the first local chefs to pick up on the Spanish wave that revolutionized fine dining, driven by the brothers Adria and their scientific deconstruction of ingredients, only to reconstruct flavours and textures in surprising combinations. He made his first savoury gorgonzola ice cream in 1999 and with all the sci-fi tricks bagged and at his disposal, has moved on to what he calls modernist cooking, with flavour being the holy grail.
'Sashimi', cob wasabi yoghurt, green tea, rice & seaweed
The first course posed a challenge: identify the origin of the red slivers, pictured bottom right. It was silky and meaty in texture – incredibly so – and after a few seconds in my mouth I thought ‘Egad, I’m eating rabbit carpaccio!’ I so convinced myself it was raw rabbit that I couldn’t finish it. Turned out to be watermelon, cooked whole at a low temperature, overnight, then cut, drained of juice, deseeded, compressed, vacuum-frozen and finally, sliced very finely. I was much relieved to be wrong. And impressed. It really was very… meaty. The rest of the dish was a subtle oceanic flavour-interlude.
Calamari, squid ink brioche, lemon veloute, garlic, parsley and rice crisp
His current food philosophy is tech-emotional: capturing and reworking the influence of memory on food appreciation. South Africans love calamari and his take on this standard is layered with light lemony flavours.
Roasted beetroot, yellow pepper emulsion, fennel, pear, gorgonzola and hazelnut streusel
This was a favourite. Clean earthy notes with punchy gorgonzola. Given his attention to detail and precision-plating, people assume he’s spent time in Japan. Not so. Richard is largely self-taught and driven to expand his own horizons, even if it means translating a Spanish recipe word for word, dictionary in hand.
A Carstens classic - baked alaska of rainbow trout, citrus salsa, cucumber, ginger, soya, mirin and smoked salmon ice cream
At this point I started fretting. Would my appetite stick around for the funked-up 21st century version of the melanzane? I had a tiny taste of the next course.
A very fetching fossilized parsnip, mushroom soil, hazelnut honeycomb with miso and truffle
Fossilized to perfection. By now I was edging my seat, rifling through the taste bud library for that old favourite flavour memory. I crashed the kitchen to see how my melanzane parmigiana – post molecular gastronomy and with the benefit of tech-emo gestalt – was coming on.
Hello stranger! After 20 years she's had a bit of work done... but the bones are still good
Finally, the great reveal.
TADAA! Crumbed aubergine and mozzarella, parmesan veloute, tomato gazpacho, roast cherry tomato sorbet
One hell of a makeover but quite incredibly the little melanzane, that long-lost object of my affection, tasted EXACTLY as it did twenty years ago. Awesome! What a joyous reunion. The aubergine was melt-in-the-mouth delicious but it’s all about the tomato (I’ll refrain from calling it ‘sauce’). Reduced for hours to release amazing flavour. Thank you Richard for this much appreciated indulgence down memory lane!
Sesame linefish, ginger sake parsnips with citrus emulsion
Given my happy reunion with old missus melanzane, the following didn’t stand a chance. Plus I mistook the citrus emulsion for common old foam and we know how that doesn’t go down.
Peppered springbok, parsnip puree, beetroot, croquettes and hibiscus jus
A yummy dish, especially the Tretchikoffy puddles of jus. My appetite was waning fast but knowing that Richard’s latest passion was dessert, I’d spotted a deconstructed malva pudding on their five-course winter menu and thought… if ten, then why not eleven?
Lemon, mascarpone mousse, white chocolate sorbet, meringue and almond financier
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth (except for Malva pudding and the odd shard of Lindt) but this was so light I pretty much inhaled it. A kind of amuse bouche to clear the way for the deconstructed malva. How utterly wicked!
Precious Malva - Mach 2
A veritable odyssey. My first and possibly last 11 course meal. I usually get food hangovers from tasting menus. Yet, even after 11 courses (I didn’t photograph the sorbet palate cleanser, nor do I recall eating it and that can only be a good thing cause maybe it didn’t happen), I didn’t have that awful over-stuffed, liverish feeling. Although busy with colour and flavour, his food is clean and not loaded with starch and cheap-thrill fats. It’s what fellow blogger and chef Kobus van der Merwe of Oep-ve-Koep in Paternoster calls ‘happy food’. Considering the tremendous focus and intent concentrated in every effort, the end result is surprisingly light. And playful. And cheeky.
Me thinks Richard-san is styling in his ayrie. I just wish some patron of the culinary arts would send this man to Japan for a bit. The inspiration overflow will ripple through the industry. For years to come.
Tokara, for years home to Bonthuys The Saucerer, now hosting the tech-emo Wizard of oz.
This new food memory was enabled by Twitter, cause that’s how mr Carstens and I reconnected after many years. So follow me @kitchenvixenSA and him @richardcarstens and also @Tokara. And you’ll see why I call him the Samurai of Sweet. He’s just rolling them out. OK, enough with the Suzuki-speak now.
May 23rd, 2011 § § permalink
Without knowing that Assaggi was Italian for ‘to taste, try a little, or to peck at’, that’s exactly what I did when I was lucky enough to eat there. Owner Mario Guerini and chef Luca Toni graciously trimmed down the portions so that I could absorb as much of the menu as possible. I’d heard the food was brilliant and a girl has her limitations.
I’d also heard that the restaurant itself was not the greatest looker. And in particular that the setting was kind of juxtapositional to the food, which greatly appealed to me. It was day two of my Joburg trip and Mrs Garmin and I had finally started bonding so when she ordered me to park here, I did just that:
An unassuming little centre in Illovo, Sandton
I prefer my Italian restaurants family-run, with huge pride in quality and a pragmatic approach to decor. And such is the case at Assaggi.
Part walk-way, part restaurant
Not a Philippe Starck Ghost Chair in sight - YAY!
I’ll refrain from name dropping but during lunch I recognised quite a few VIPs… artists, ex-politicians, famously famous people… apparently Brett Kebble used to host his Monday night supper club here (if you’ve read the Kebble book the name should ring a bell) and may I add, with bloody good reason. Assaggi puts many a bastardized Italian joint to shame.
I’m inclined to gauge a restaurant by how they manage the simple things, like a little salad, plus I felt the need for a palate cleanser of sorts. So my first dish was a tomato and red onion salad. As simple as can be.
Why do I not eat this every day?
We spend so much time devising wayward combos and fusion-funk, when one could always have a humble tomato and red onion salad. Chances are you’ll be happier. This was an absolute stunner and I took note that the tomatoes were peeled. When next I make this at home, I’ll go that extra mile. Not that my guests should expect tomato roses any time soon.
Luganica con bruschetta
The gents at the next table had heaps of deep-fried zucchini ribbons that looked delicious, so I got a wee bruschetta with a grilled Italian sausage and lightly-battered zucchini worms as an inbetweener. The zucchini ribbons were rich enough to be lip-smacking, yet light and very much still vegetable.
Lasagna with fresh asparagus and brie cheese
I couldn’t resist their signature dish, a lasagna with fresh asparagus and brie. Thank you Luca for this downright dainty little portion. It was sublime. I have every intention of recreating this one at home… and in fact was planning on doing so tomorrow but asparagus out of season is hard to come by and shockingly expensive. It is a deceptively simple dish with hints of nutmeg and earthy asparagus in layers of fresh pasta and subtle cheese. A strong contender for best comfort food ever.
Sirloin of veal marinated in garlic, olive oil and rosemary
Their food is phenomenal and if I was going to have just one course, or perhaps two, I might not have chosen the veal marinated in garlic, olive oil and rosemary, served with roasted potatoes and tomatoes. But on this day I felt like clean flavours. Plus I’m a sucker for roast tomatoes. The marinated veal requires only a quick searing, so have it as per the chef’s recommendation.
No! she cried. How to resist a teeny taste of their most popular dessert – for the life of me I can’t remember the name – light and creamy with nuts and crunchy bits of biscuit drenched in a delicious liquor.
The final act
I enjoyed my meal with a glass of their house red, the Assaggi Private Bin 07. A blend of pinot noir and shiraz. Have you ever? I LOVE pinot noir (especially in summer as I’m not big on white wine) and shiraz is my standard go-to in winter, so this seemed like an interesting all-weather solution.
Assaggi Private Bin 07 (R125)
Lighter than a typical red – in the Italian easy-drinking way – yet more robust than a Pinot. I was very happy.
Chef Luca and owner Mario
Assaggi prides itself on quality ingredients prepared according to classic, traditional Italian recipes. Mario is friendly yet unyielding when he states that they refuse to South Africanize recipes to suit customer whim. And therein lies the beauty of Assaggi. By sticking to the classics, they’ve become one.
I’m reviewing Assaggi on SABC3 Expresso Show tomorrow morning at approximately 6.50 am.
May 18th, 2011 § § permalink
These days, pork belly is on every fine dining menu. Almost without fail. Mostly infused with Asian flavour and preferably with crisp crackling. I’ve been less than impressed with some of the offerings, either due to blubbery skin or dried-out meat. Which left the impression that pork belly was somehow difficult to prepare. Fear set in. Could little old me do this, at home? So when I bought half a pork belly from Joostenberg Deli, the occasion demanded that rarest of rare kitchen vixen occurrences: a recipe!
By process of elimination (time & ingredient availability) I decided on Marcus Wareing’s Blackened chili belly of pork on page 106 of Nutmeg & Custard.
Left: the end. Right: the means
It is a basic recipe that I was determined to follow to the letter. If anyone, Marcus could take the blame. The only exceptional instruction was to rub the skin with salt and let stand for two hours. Why? He didn’t say but salt always draws moisture so that might have something to do with it (I’m just following orders here, right). Finely chop and mix together the following: salt, red chillies, soy sauce, a really big knob of ginger, demerara sugar, cloves garlic and maple syrup. My Eerste Kookboek couldn’t be simpler. Rinse the pork, pat dry and coat with the soy mixture.
Not to be mistaken for a festive ham
I must admit, I had two people coming for dinner (one of them my rather hard to please cousin) and things just weren’t going my way. I slashed the tip off my ring finger whilst chopping. I know! The bloody ring finger – what’s the knife doing over there in the first place? Waaay off course… Plus I have a rather basic gas stove sans grill. Under 180 degrees you have to guess the temperature by the size of a little blue flame down below… so I free-styled the belly at a random low temperature for two and a half hours.
I needed an easy side so decided on sweet potato mash with spring onions. A brief boil, then mashed with a dash of coconut milk, a hand full of spring onions and a pinch of salt. And butter, of course. It is mash after all. What a lovely, clean-tasting dish. Perfect with an Asian-style meat main. I had fancy ideas of carrot and courgette ribbons steamed and flashed in sesame oil, lime and coriander but after the detipping of the ring finger I didn’t have the nerve to use a mandolin so settled on courgettes, steamed and flashed with a few rosa tomatoes, lime, sesame oil and coriander.
In mash I trust
With the meat roasting away at a mystery temperature I started fretting, until cousin J reminded me that I had a meat thermometer (thanks Weber) and a quick google search revealed that pork is done at 71 degrees. The thick ginger and chili coating meant this belly was never going to crackle. I had to make do with the little grill in my microwave to blacken the pork and lo-and-behold, when I took it out cousin J said the magic words: ‘It looks exactly like the picture’. Waves of relief I tell you… and at 76 degrees it was perfectly done.
I deviated from the recipe only once – by adding half a bottle of cider – to keep the soy sauce from burning. Permissible, I’d say. Cousin J and Hermien loved it, with cousin even pronouncing the belly to be ‘a bloody marvelous piece of meat’. Although the skin wasn’t crisp, the blackened ginger and chili crust saved it from having that blubbery look, plus the flavour was amazing. It takes about three hours from start to plate (excluding time spent resting with salt) and provided you get going in time, there really isn’t much to it. Let the improvisation begin. Next, I’ll go the bay leaf and fennel seed route…