A Dire Day in Lambert’s Bay

The kind of image the tourist handbooks extoll

According to its tourism website, Lambert’s Bay is known as the diamond of the West Coast, and the crayfish capital of South Africa. Whilst I don’t have enough crustacean-related expertise to assess the second point, I can guarantee you that diamond is a word that could not be accurately bestowed upon this bizarre little town.

Tourist brochures had me envisioning some sort of culinary utopia, complete with long, leisurely sunsets, spent sipping wine and munching on all manner of marine goodness, but, sadly, the Cederberg marketing department has a slightly tenuous handle on reality. Some of the more dubious honours they failed to mention in their marketing collateral were the existence of two giant potato processing plants, which cast unseemly shadows over the unspoilt beaches, and the omnipresent stench of gannet poo, which permeates the town with a pungency that has to be experienced to be believed.

The real Lambert's Bay

Nonetheless, I was quite optimistic about Lambert’s Bay’s dining options, having heard tales of the legendary Muisbosskerm and believing, like all Capetonians, that small towns should be overrun with charming little restaurants and coffee shops, gagging to provide out-of-towners with an authentic local experience. Rookie error.

The reality of the culinary landscape, revealed rather harshly in a short and slightly frightening walk around the town, is that Lambert’s Bay’s population is, in fact, most partial to bar food and hard liquor, with the town’s many MANY sports bars filled to capacity with a rather dire selection of humanity, all sporting varying levels of balance control.

Did I mention that it's a strange town?

Unnerved by the prospect of travelling the 238km back to Cape Town with a brandy hangover and a belly full of what I could have acquired at a local Snoekies (no disrespect to them, but that’s a seriously long drive), I ducked into the local KwikSpar, another hotbed of iniquity, practically pleading at this point for some culinary guidance.

Salvation

I was directed to Die Kreefhuis, a small, aptly named seafood jaunt that boasts a distinct country house charm and sweeping sea views – I could practically hear the hallelujah choirs singing as I walked through the door. Die Kreefhuis was the first restaurant in the area to serve whole crayfish, and must have been what inspired the mystical moniker of ‘crayfish mecca’ that is so enthusiastically reinforced throughout the town’s tourist literature.

A bright shining beacon of hope in what was becoming a bit of a dire day, Die Kreefhuis was everything I was looking for and more, with exceptionally friendly staff, who traipsed around the restaurant armed with smiles and heaped platters of mouth-watering seafood. I ordered one of said platters, complete with a healthy portion of grilled linefish, a handful of calamari and a simmering pot of cheesy garlic mussels.

Hallelujah!

The food was exceptional across the board – the Cape Salmon fillet was cooked to perfection, the calamari oscillated beautifully between crispy and chewy, and the mussels – ah the mussels – were a cheesy mound of heavenly goodness. Honestly, if I had drowned in a vat of that mussel sauce I would have died a happy man.

All of this loveliness for well under 100 ront! So much loveliness, in fact, that dessert was simply not an option, with my stomach now a veritable aquarium of delicious former residents of the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

The day in the bay was saved by the wonderful service and delectable fare at Die Kreefhuis. If you’re ever thinking of visiting Lambert’s Bay (and I highly recommend that you don’t), you’d be well advised to visit this little gem, that truly is a rose amongst the thorns.

(In other news, I have heard that Muisbosskerm, just outside of Lambert’s Bay, is absolutely and utterly incredible, but I feel one has to be in a special kind of mood to be able to knock back ten courses of food).

Die Kreefhuis has not yet made its way onto the World Wide Web, but if you’d like to make a booking, you can contact them via electronic mail on kreefhuis@wam.co.za

Some of the chief offenders in Lambert's Bay

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Making Magic With A Masterchef – Heloise Smit

Whilst I’m a firm believer in the fact that there’s nothing more spiritually fulfilling in this world than a perfectly cooked, impeccably flavoured meal, I don’t consider myself in any way capable of actually generating such a thing. My approach to cooking has generally been that if food is underflavoured/overcooked/generally inedible, I’d simply drown it in an ocean of cheese and power through it. I also make a mean roast, which I tend to whip out when I need to impress, but I don’t exactly have enough friends for this to have any sort of sustained novelty value.

Training Young Jedi

Training Young Jedi

As a result, I set off in pursuit of greener culinary pastures, and one of Cape Town’s very best was kind enough to allow me to join her in the kitchen to try to mould my limited skill set into something slightly more socially acceptable. Heloise Smit, head chef at Dutch Manor Hotel, is a gourmet goddess – her food is imaginative and exciting, and she doesn’t believe in skimping on the good stuff – cream/butter/cheese/bacon etc. Consequently I felt our food philosophies were rather well-aligned, the only difference being that she actually knows how to make this shit, whilst I really only know how to eat it.

After getting suitably liquored up (I felt it was only fair that the burden of my culinary education shouldn’t be a task undertaken 100% sober), we set to work on a menu. My brief was fairly simple – I wanted to learn to make something cheap, easy and deceptively impressive – a meal that created the illusion of intense labour and thoughtfulness.

Starter – Chilli Poppers

The 'Before' Shot

The 'Before' Shot

“Treat food like a lover,” Heloise tells me, after spotting me manhandling a jalapeno pepper like a street thug, “it needs a more gentle touch.” Whilst I don’t believe this can be universally applied to lovemaking, I’m happy to accept its validity in the context of food – Heloise’s hands are like a piano player’s, deftly handling ingredients with equal parts purpose and poise. It’s really quite awesome to behold. My clunky paws are somewhat less graceful, but, reined in under her expert guidance, work effectively to produce a rather awe-inspiring, and fiery result.

Under her tutelage, I was able to take a smattering of ingredients (5 in total), and transform them into a heavenly, cheesy platter of yumminess, complete with a requisite chilli bite. (May I just say, for the record, that we used Mediterranean Delicacies’ Jalapeno chillis, and I found there to be nothing delicate, or indeed Mediterranean about them whatsoever. I just thought that needed to be pointed out – don’t believe labels!). Turns out they were, in fact, too hot for my sous-chef – a winning result as it meant more for me – I think this is going to be a GREAT relationship!

The 'After' Shot

The 'After' Shot

 

Main Course – Gourmet Wraps

Hat's Off

Hat's Off

Now I know that wraps aren’t traditionally viewed as exceptionally impressive – they’re like upmarket hot dogs and generally sneered upon by the higher echelons of society. But wait til you see what we did with these bad boys! The first step in our gourmet wrap extravaganza was to create a delicate cheese accompaniment (the cheese will obviously need to be French, as cheddar and Tussers don’t really scream class).  We chose a beautiful camembert, selected based on very specific criteria (price), and set about dressing it up to the nines. Off came the top, and in went Willow Creek’s amazing extra virgin olive oil, and a smattering of rosemary. Into the oven for 20 minutes and onto the next step.

Heloise worked her magical skill into some of my other favourite food groups – bacon, chicken and avocado – until we were left with a spread fit for a king! We shoved all the ingredients (delicately of course) into a beautifully toasted wrap, along with some assorted greens (a touch I didn’t feel was entirely necessary, but had to concede that it added aesthetic appeal) and drizzled the now melted, heavenly camembert concoction here, there and everywhere. The result was utterly splendid, and I defy any of my future guests to heap scorn upon this delight of a meal.

Voila!

Voila!

I’m incredibly grateful to Heloise for giving up her time to teach a philistine like me the tricks of the trade, and look forward to picking her brain and eating her overly spicy leftovers in the very near future.

To sample Heloise’s ample skill set, make a booking at Dutch Manor Antique Hotel’s newly opened private dining venue, and prepare to be amazed. www.dutchmanor.co.za

 

RECIPES

Chilli Poppers:

Ingredients:

 

Filthy Lies

Filthy Lies

6 x Jalapeno Chillies (stay away from Mediterranean Delicacies if you don’t want to have your head blown off and your sinuses spring cleaned)

250g Danish (or other soft) Feta Cheese

1 x Egg

250ml Flour

200g Bread Crumbs

Slice the chillies vertically, being careful to remove all seeds (we may not have done this entirely correctly). Fill the resulting crevices with liberal helpings of soft feta – not too much that you can’t close them up mind you. Dip the chillies first in flour, then in raw egg, before burying them in the breadcrumbs. Toss the chilli between your palms to get rid of excess crumbage. Then repeat the crumbing process – this is KEY to your success.

Once your chillies are nicely coated, drop them in a pot of boiling oil (any old cooking oil will do) for about 30 seconds or so (you just want to give them some colour). Then transfer them to a baking tray, and bake for about 8 minutes on 180 degree heat.

Serve with sweet chilli sauce. Enjoy!

Too Hot To Handle
Too Hot To Handle

Cheesy Heaven

Cheesy Heaven

Gourmet Wraps

Ingredients:

4 x Rashers Bacon (streaky works best)

300g chicken breast fillets

1 x Avocado

1 x Camembert wheel

Handful of Rosemary

Crispy Bacon

Keeping it crispy - bacon lovin'

Extra virgin olive oil

Assorted salad stuffs (not my area, so you pick – what difference does it really make?!)

 

First cut the top off the cheese wheel, and drizzle some olive oil across the exposed top. Then add a sprinkling of fresh rosemary. Place the cheese on a foiled baking tray, and bake for 20 minutes.

Place bacon rashers on a foil sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and fold the foil over the bacon. Make sure this is placed flat on a baking tray, not allowing any of the juices to escape. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until crisp.

Brown sliced chicken fillets (thinly sliced works best) in a pan until they are nicely coloured. Make sure to add olive oil and spices to the chicken prior to frying, so as to seal in flavour. Then bake for a further 10 minutes or so until cooked.

Slice the avocado by spooning it out and cutting into fine slices.

Once all the ingredients are ready, toast your wraps lightly in a dry pan, and you’re ready to go. Add ingredients to the wrap as you see fit, and then spoon the melted camembert mixture across the top.

Delicious!

That's A Wrap

That's A Wrap

 

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Making Paula Proud – Down South

Let it just be stated for the record that I am an enormous fan of good ol’ southern-fried goodness. Paula from the Food Network is my absolute hero, and I can be entertained for hours watching her deep fry, batter and crumb the shit out of just about everything she makes. I’ve gotta hand it to the woman, she makes fat look like a whole lot of fun. So it was with great excitement that I trotted down to Long Street to try out Down South, a little slice of New Orleans in the centre of Cape Town’s party district.

Paula Dean

She's excited, I'm excited

Whilst the venue is more New York chic than Mississippi steamboat swag, the menu is a treasure trove of all the things you might imagine eating after a long day of crawfishing in a swamp full of alligators.Particularly noteworthy is the inclusion of bacon on the menu (yes, just bacon, all on its lonesome), which, whilst probably not endearing itself to a rather large selection of religious groups, is sheer awesomeness. For those scandalised by such a notion, think of it as a Caesar salad – you know but without the chicken, cheese and, well, salad stuff. But did you really want to eat that crap anyway? Bacon is always going to be the king of whatever’s on my plate, so I appreciate the fact that it’s now been appropriately honoured by the folks at Down South.

The rest of the menu is equally impressive, if somewhat more traditional, with an array of options ranging from exquisite, sticky ribs (served in two sizes) to delicious, butterflied prawns – all able to be mixed and matched with a variety of interesting side dishes that would make Paula proud as punch. The home fries, whipped potatoes and corn bread will quite possibly send you into a carbohydrate-induced coma, but it’ll be so worth it.

Down South - Apple Pie

Heaven in a Jar

Once you’ve given your main course a good seeing-to, you may as well try one of Down South’s legendary desserts. I mean you’ve probably exceeded your recommended daily calorie intake by about 200% at this point, so what’s a little more damage? Add an extra half hour to your gym session tomorrow if you really have to, but do not, I repeat DO NOT, leave without treating yourself to a slice, or, more accurately, a jar of apple pie. It’s dreamy (I mean that literally, I have had dreams about it) and seemingly never ending – a symphony of rich, cinnamon-infused apples and delicate crumbly goodness, served with ice cream – in a jar. The unique serving method actually enhances the whole experience, making it feel like an archaeological excavation, that reveals its secrets as you dig deeper.

All in all, a very satisfying substitute to my as-yet unforthcoming invite to Paula’s party. Go hungry and get stuck in! If you leave Down South without food all over your face, you’re doing it wrong.

 

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A Marathon in Miniature – La Mouette

La Mouette - Course 1

Blood Mary Starter

One of the things I love most in this world is the concept of small foods. Not food that is meant to be small, but proper meals that have been reconstituted into doll-like portions. I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that it somehow makes eating more acceptable (‘I ate 6 burgers’ would not, for instance, be an acceptable social norm were they of regular size), or the fact that it allows for more variety within the scope of the meal. Either way, it was with great anticipation that I headed to La Mouette in Sea Point to try out their six course taster menu special, which incorporated another two of my great loves – large quantities and discounts. Six small courses for half the price – heaven!

We arrived on a rather chilly Cape Town evening and took our seats next to a roaring fireplace – a welcome antidote to the Mother City’s notoriously tetchy winter climate. We were welcomed with a huge helping of some of the finest free bread the city has to offer – warm, fresh and absolutely delicious. If you’re on a very tight budget, I’d recommend you hit La Mouette, order some water, enjoy the never-ending stream of bready awesomeness that comes your way in euphoric waves, and then do a runner. You’ll be more than satisfied with your meal, I promise. However, if you have the means, or if you’re dining with someone else who does, you’ll be well advised to stay and enjoy the experience that follows.

After filling up on bread, largely due to panic induced by having been told by a friend that taster portions are ridonkulously small, our first course arrived.

La Mouette - Course 2

Cheese & Truffle Croquettes

The ‘Bloody Mary’ starter, described as consisting of spiced tomato jelly, celery, tomato espuma and black pepper, really just amounted to a rather tart, red, gelatinous blob. If you’re a fan of jelly-esque savoury food, this might be just up your alley, but I found it to be upsetting, texture-wise, and resented being confused by the word ‘espuma’, which is a Spanish word used to describe a foam or froth (thank you Wikipedia!).

By the second course, we were back on track, and I quickly realised that my savage overindulgence in bread might have been a mistake. Glorious cheese and truffle croquettes (a good hearty helping of five!) served in a tomato and basil dressing arrived, and to describe them as heavenly would be an understatement. I’m easily won over by cheese, and feel that it can be used to make just about any meal, but these were delicate and textured, with the subtle flavour of truffle oil infusing the whole operation with a hint of class. Disposed of in a rapid three or so minutes…NEXT!

Course 3 was a dreamy butternut soup, complete with another espuma, this time one constituted from gorgonzola, sage and onion. My previous prejudice toward the whole espuma concept faded rapidly, as I tasted the gorgeous tangy flavour (and nice big blobs of cheese), that perfectly off-set the sweet butternut taste. A really interesting spin on an old favourite. And a fairly sizeable portion it must be said. Bread grumbling angrily in the pit of my stomach at this point…

 

La Mouette - Course 3

Dreamy Butternut & Gorgonzola Soup

 

La Mouette - Course 4

Fish Course

Next up was a series of small main courses (this is the bit that really excites me – it should be so much bigger! Amazing!), starting with Roasted Linefish (Angelfish in this instance), served on crushed potatoes (pretty much mashed potatoes but no complaints), baby spinach and sauce vierge (another trip to Wikipedia reveals that this is a sauce made from olive oil, lemon juice chopped tomato and basil. It’s literal translation is ‘virgin sauce’, so I am willing to overlook this dalliance into francais). The fish was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented, and a welcome relief from the heavier, cheesier preceding courses. Tasty but not overpowering, intriguingly small but not undersized, this was a most welcome stop in this marathon of gastronomic excess. Pace now slowing, but enthusiasm levels still high…we can do this!

 

 

 

La Mouette - Course 5

Course 5

Course 5. At this point it becomes a little harder to assess with any sense of accuracy, as we were by now 2 bottles of wine down and focused largely on surviving without giving birth to some sort of alien food baby. (A child made of cheese would be amazing though, I feel). The confit lamb shoulder arrived, served with cassoulet, basil pesto and persillade. For those of you English speakers among us, this means (loosely): Lamb, immersed in a flavouring agent, served with bean stew and pesto, in a seasoning mix of parsley, garlic, herbs, oil and vinegar. At the time, my phone had run out of battery so I couldn’t wikipedia these things, so I pretty much understood that I was eating lamb with assorted bean stuff, tinged with a pesto flavour. In this case, knowledge was not power, as I enjoyed the rich flavour combinations in spite of my ignorance. The lamb was cooked to perfection, and the beans added a welcome foreign element to the mix. Highly recommended.

The marathon ended with a splendid coffee ice cream, topped with milk foam and accompanied by warm French doughnuts. We crawled across the finish line like wounded athletes, too tired even to pose the questions, ‘What makes this doughnut French?” or ‘How many kilometres am I going to have to run to work THIS off?”. Instead we just embraced the moment, and, in a haze of calorie-infused confusion, dug in one last time. What a glorious finish it was! Rich ice cream, soft, sweet doughnuts (which bore remarkable similarity to their American counterparts, although perhaps slightly less sweet), and the requisite foam combined to form a real treat, and this for someone who really has no strong feelings about dessert.

All in all a fantastic evening. For just R240 (R120 per head) we experienced a wide variety of the finest French cuisine, learnt a bunch of new words and realised that we actually are, unbelievably, bigger pigs than we even knew.

La Mouette - Course 6

Cappuccino Ice Cream avec doughnuts français

 

La Mouette’s 2 for 1 taster special has been extended for the entire winter period, and you’d be well advised to check it out. The venue is beautiful and cosy, the staff incredibly attentive and the food magnifique! Just beware of the damn bread!

 

 

 

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About Me

I’m a food lover, but far from a ‘foodie’. The word ‘foodie’ conjures up hideous images of stuffy silver service dining, small portions and pretentious prattlings about ambience and the like. It also seems to involve a lot of French words for some reason, where English would suffice rather nicely. In my world, good food is just that, whether it’s served on the finest china plate or extracted in savage fashion from a KFC bucket. Beyond that, it’s a fantastic backdrop for great times spent with wonderful, entertaining people, all of whom are able to relate on some level to the visceral thrill of the perfect palate pleaser (except for vegetarians that is, I mean what IS that all about?!).

We’re blessed in the Western Cape to be surrounded by a plethora of fantastic eateries, all boasting their own unique flavours and specialities. The goal of this blog is to bring you an everyman’s perspective of the Cape’s vast array of cuisine – from cheap dives to five star finery – so that you can take advantage of living in this little slice of culinary heaven, without rendering yourself bankrupt, or worse, fat.

So join me on my adventure as I bring you my Tales from the Table…Bon Appetit (Last time I use French I promise!)

 

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