Sudden decisions to go out to dinner start becoming less plausible in Cape Town as summer and the tourist season gather force. When I and an old friend (not to mention lebensgefarhte) arranged on Saturday morning to do dinner somewhere that night it wasn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped, even before the advent of December.
Mind you, I think that 95 Keerom Street is often booked up. That is where the aforementioned old pal always wants to go – for the sheer elegant effortlessness of the dining experience, along with the first-rate ingredients, simply and expertly prepared. I sigh only a little at the prospect of going to Keerom again because I know that the menu will still be more or less as it has been for the past decade….
Anyway, Keerom was full, so I decided to do my own lazy default – the tasty pleasures of another Italian, A Tavola, in Claremont, which has the great advantage of being withing walking, or staggering, distance. Only an answering service on Saturday morning, so I left my request – which was only dealt with mid-afternoon, by which stage I’d already decided to book at the Foodbarn, the Noordhoek restaurant of that great chef, Franck Dangereux. Sitting away from the main restaurant space, upstairs in the loft immediately under the thatch – which was fine.
In fact the only not-fine thing about it all was the rather languid unsmilingness of the young woman who received us, and the lack of anyone to usher us out when we left some hours later – somehow, it’s nicely conclusive to say goodnight to someone when you leave their shelter (and to have them say “enjoy the rest of your evening”, as though you’re a youngster headed for the clubs rather than an oldster destined for bed). Service was adequate by South Africa’s modest standards.
Franck’s food was predictably delicious, subtle – and very rich (my rather austere partner gulped a little at all the butter involved, and thought longingly for a moment of 95 Keerom Street, but then enjoyed his mushroom ravioli and rare tuna very much). I started with “De-shelled prawns fritters served on a confied [is that really an acceptable word? confited?] tomato, aubergine and avo tian, finished with a chili & red pepper syrup and basil salsa”. It cost R78. A lovely, interesting combo, with a range of textures and flavours, but all harmonious, the chili perfectly poised. The richly sauced rack of lamb (R158) was also good (perhaps, sticking to my comparison, not quite up to the meat standard of Giogio Nava at 95 Keerom and Carne).
Having just returned from London, where I looked longingly and aghast at many menus displayed outside restaurants, I reflected, as so many others have done, just how well we can eat out here on middle-class incomes. I’m sure this quality of dining would have cost three times as much in London.
In fact, taking into account wine, the differential would have been vastly greater. I was very impressed by the Foodbarn’s intelligent, varied winelist – including a reasonable selection of foreign wines, and all at remarkably modest mark-ups. We started with a carafe each of Nitida Semillon 2013 (I’m a great admirer of Nitida’s white wines). That’s two very decent glassfuls each, at, if I recall correctly, under R50 per carafe. There are not too many wines available by the glass (or carafe, rather), but bottles are correspondingly winningly priced.
I’d brought along a bottle of red myself, however – another huge privilege, very rare in London and sadly getting a little rarer here too: of course, I’d prefer to keep the possibility of paying a BYO fee and encouraging restaurateurs to start charging more for their food if necessary. Beaucastel 2001 it was, and a superb bottle. Full of glorious plummy fruit, rich but with countrified refinement, and with the dryness of finish that comparatively few big South African reds can boast of (especially cabernet-based wines; shiraz seems able to do the trick a bit better).
I no longer seem to buy big wines like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but I’m immensely pleased that I still have a little stash of mature bottles like this. And I’d be more than happy to partner some of them with what the Foodbarn has to offer.