Good value for money is a true rarity in Cape Town. For three months of the year, when the winter deluge sends the city’s residents into a state of sleepy hibernation, and the tourist flood slows to a trickle, many top restaurants swing into specials mode, adapting their outlandish pricing structure to survive the fickle temperament of the city. But, as the south-easter blows her way back into town, and the temperatures creep steadily up, so too do the prices, and the dining landscape once again becomes the exclusive playground of the rich, fabulous and foreign.
For all you Capetonians worrying about the imminent return to normalcy, when you’ll be forced to restrict your eating out to Spur and KFC, there is hope. Good value is very much alive and well in our fair city – you just have to look for it.
Watson Street, a non-descript back alley between Loop and Bree streets, is a good place to start. It is home to What’s On Eatery (Watson – What’s On, get it?!), a relatively new addition to the Cape Town food scene. On the surface it’s everything one would expect from a stylish new venue – chic, eye-catching décor, awe-inspiring mountain views and a sophisticated sense of charm. In short, it has “I won’t be able to step foot in this place come October unless I sell off my vital organs” written all over it. But all is not as it appears at What’s On Eatery…
I had the pleasure of visiting What’s On last week, under the pretense of a ‘working lunch’. Let it just be said that I have the most wonderful colleagues, and before long, serious business talk had been replaced by a flurry of g&t’s and some of the finest food to have traipsed its way down my ravenous gullet in quite some time. An initial scan of the menu had me foaming at the mouth with excitement, not only because of the vast and varied bounty on offer, but due to the outrageously reasonable pricing structure which is – and this is the best part – not season specific.
Encouraged by the prospect of returning home to relatively unscathed bank accounts, we set about attacking the menu with relish, commencing with a simple but heavenly stuffed calamari starter. Aside from the odd groan of satisfaction, this little show stopper reduced our usually loud table to complete silence, as we relished the subtle flavours of soft feta and peppadew, stuffed inside perfectly seared calamari tubes. Professionalism was a long forgotten concept as we scraped every last morsel off our plates, desperately clinging for one last hit of goodness. Served with a herb salad, this bad boy set us each back a grand total of R39, and let me tell you it was worth every penny.
Having been given a hint of what was to come, we wasted little time with chit chat and got heavily involved with the main course options. My colleagues decided on an oxtail risotto, which I barely had time to photograph before it went sailing down their pie holes with gusto. I obviously insisted on sampling (you know, for purposes of official review), and, from the small token helping I was allocated, I can tell you that this was just as spectacular as its preceding course. Beautifully presented, and swimming in meaty goodness, this was the risotto of my dreams – a perfect combination of tender, flavourful meat (generously allocated) and creamy, flawlessly prepared rice.
Luckily my order envy was assuaged by the enormous spectacle that arrived on my plate – a toasted ciabatta, filled with beautifully cooked lamb, caramelised onions and feta, served with the world’s most delicious onion rings and wedges. The experience of wolfing this down ranks high on my list of culinary adventures to date, and sent the level of ecstatic groaning into somewhat uncomfortable territory. (Let’s just say work the next day was awkward, very awkward). An exercise in simply constructed perfection, all for the whopping price of R42 – yes you read right. You’d probably pay more for a Nando’s meal and feel infinitely less satisfied.
Unable to stop ourselves from continuing our relentless surge through the menu, we dove in for our last dose of decadence. Now I’m really not a dessert person. My mother never fed us dessert and, as such, I don’t think I ever acquired the taste. That having being said, I could write endless sonnets about what arrived next – a hazelnut and dark chocolate fondant, served with amarula ice cream and butterscotch sauce, delicious enough to ignite anyone’s sweet tooth. The fondant was like a dark, heavenly volcano, oozing chocolate from its core and smothering the plate in a rich, inexorable sea of indulgence. Combined with the heavenly butterscotch sauce, and the rich amarula flavour of the ice cream, this was truly a divine experience – I could practically hear the chorus of angels singing above me as I knocked it back. And all this for just 40 South African ronts.
Stuffed, ashamed and covered in chocolate, we hurriedly paid our (very small) bill and headed in our separate directions, painfully aware that we’d possibly seen and shared too much. We’ll always remember our day at What’s On Eatery as a time when business met, and was then trampled upon by, pleasure.
I can’t recommend What’s On Eatery highly enough – the food is unbelievable, the setting sublime and the damage inflicted on your bank account will be minimal. However, I might suggest that you go with people you know well, who won’t judge you when they catch you licking your plate like a possessed maniac.
What’s On Eatery’s restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 18:00 – 23:00. The downstairs deli, which serves a variety of sumptuous breakfasts and lunches, is open Monday to Friday from 07:30 – 16:00. R39 weekday lunch specials are also available daily. For bookings, call (021) 422 5652. Do it NOW!