Slightly blurred reminiscences of food and wine

Some irritated restaurateur could tell me, no doubt, with a punch in the eye or nearest equivalent – but I think I’d still wonder why they can’t get it absolutely right more often. Some do very well indeed, some get close – but, really, you’d think more would do better with wine. I seem to have been eating and drinking out rather often of late, and the experience with either food or wine has too often been less than perfect.

vladimir-nabokov-writing-in-bed(Tonight eating and drinking at home, alone on my sofa – the way Vladimir Nabokov most liked eating, I believe; he had even more trouble with restaurants than I do and an equal penchant for eating lying down; here’s a pic of him writing in bed, which is clearly related. The food and wine chez moi were fine – Woolworths venison burgers and salad, then assorted bits of cheese; an interesting glass of Silvervis chenin (see here if you’re curious) then the last dregs of a wonderful 30-year-old Lustau Palo Cortado sherry, then just a drop or two of Oude Meester Demant brandy, my current near-obsession, with Yirgacheffe coffee and just a few – ahem – almond biscotti. Oh dear, I sound immensely greedy, and probably a little drunk.)

Back to restaurants. Recently in Johannesburg, a family dinner in Bryanston at a very pleasant Italian-ish place called La Campagnola. Food was at the better end of South African-Italian: the pasta slightly overcooked, the pasta serving too large and with too much sauce, for example; altogether very tasty, if not quite alta cucina. The Cape Town equivalent would be, perhaps, A Tavola – but the Claremont venue is not a patch on the Sandton one as a space and a place. Nor is the winelist comparable. La Campagnola’s is excellent. I ordered the wine but wasn’t paying, so was careful with the pricing: Secateurs chenin blend, then the 2003 Lourens River red from Morgenster, which was drinking most attractively. The prices at La Campagnola are extremely good. What a pity there is a downside, which is the clunky glasses, which are filled rather too full.

Back in Cape Town. Wonderful food at Aubergine, well served, as always. I was a guest of Takis Soldatos, a delightful and very interesting Greek who lives in Sweden and imports to there something over ten percent of the South African wine harvest. I think. I’m bad at remembering such figures, but they were certainly very impressive. Apart from all this lesser-level importing, Takis and a couple of top-class Greek winemakers are also involved in a grander Cape wine label called Escapades, which I hope will become more available here soon. Resident winemaker – also contracted to work at Takis’s Italian winery – is Kiwi Chris Kelly, now firmly settled in the Cape, when he’s not in Puglia. The Escapades wines are good – especially the whites from sauvignon and semillon. This story deserves more space and I’ll give it, soon.

No complaints at Aubergine, then, apart from the prices (but of course I was happily not paying). A few evenings later, dinner à deux at Societi Bistro near the heart of Cape Town, where I was (paying, that is). Primarily chosen because it is so wonderful to dine outside in summer and ridiculously few restaurants give one the opportunity to do so. The food is fine, though I wouldn’t mind a bit more of a menu change now and then – and the same applies perhaps even more at 95 Keerom Street where I also had a recent meal (and also paid for it) – predictable in every respect, including the good quality (an Italian restaurant of a different type altogether from the aforementioned pair).

Giorgio Nava’s winelist at Keerom Street is pretty good, and that is vastly more than can be said for Societi Bistro’s, where the only advantage is the reasonable mark-up. I took along a bottle of white (old-fashioned German riesling to soften the evening’s alcohol intake), but bought a bottle of red. Our first choice off the list was, out of interest, the Terra del Capo Sangiovese – but it proved not available. Bad marks to Societi Bistro. Second choice, and fortunately available, was Joubert-Tradauw Syrah, which was as pleasant as I expected it to be – except that it was served about ten degrees too warm. This is even an more unacceptable thing than Societi Bistro’s rather pathetic winelist itself (short, unimaginative and humdrum). It’s clearly a successful restaurant, and generally a great pleasure to visit – why these real inadequacies?

I hazily recall eating out elsewhere recently (oh yes, for example, lunch at Bizerca at its newish venue in Heritage Square in central Cape Town – all the food I and my partner had was disappointing, especially in that it was over-dressed and over-flavoured generally and over-vinegared in particular; and a great function for Christian Eedes’s ten-year-old wines competition at The Greenhouse in Constantia, where the food was superb, as was some of the decade-old wine – watch this space for some more comment soon).

But I think that’s enough semi-grumpy, slightly sozzled and rather spoilt (in the sense of over-privileged) reminiscences of self-indulgence for now.

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