I’ve learnt a few things over the last few years with my involvement in the food scene in Cape Town. The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that restaurants are a bit like boats. You want your mates to own them but you don’t want your own. That way you get to go and hang out, eat some awesome food, drink some good booze and then head home while they finish off the 18 hour shift they kicked the day off with.
Let’s be honest; we’ve got most of our bases covered in this city. Because the place is so small, most independent eateries form part of an informal club where everybody supports each other by trying to stick it to the big corporates. As a result, there’s a pretty cool overlap amongst the little guys. But I’m not quite satisfied yet. Sure, I’ve got my bakery. My beer bar. My Mexican hangout. My cocktail spot of choice. I know where to head if I want a burger, or a pizza. But I want more dammit. Here are some things I think the city is crying out for. And here are the people that I wish had the time to open them.
A wine bar. Can someone tell me why Cape Town doesn’t have a proper wine bar? I’m talking about a tiny little corner shop where you can buy delicious AND INTERESTING wines by the glass. Small tumbler glasses being filled with varietals that we don’t see that often. Someone who can actually talk you through them with a bit of knowledge. Maybe some charcuterie boards and good bread. It’s not rocket science. Who should be manning this shop? I’m thinking it’s The Alphabetical boys, David Cope and Si Wibberley. If they’re looking for some help, Harry Reginald would thrive here. Stock check may be a problem though…
A curry and beer house. What do people dig to drink with a good curry? Yup, a good beer. I’m seeing a long bar with a few taps and a small kitchen. With the range of options available locally nowadays, matching beers with different flavour profiles of various curries would be pretty cool. Beer is no longer just beer. A Devil’s Peak Saison and the All Day IPA from Brewers&Union are radically different. They should be treated as such, and showcased. For this little venture, I’d love Pete Goffe-Wood to get stuck in. Sure, he’s a bit busy with little projects like Masterchef SA, but I want a curry dammit. Having tasted one or two of his curries at The Kitchen Cowboys Canteen, he’s the man for this job. Trust me.
BBQ joint. Dudes, I’ve got something to say about this. I know we as South Africans think we know our way around an open flame, but the Americans have taken it to another level. We can braai, sure. But they can cook. If you see what guys like Adam Perry-Lang are doing over there it’s phenomenal. And plenty of other former Michelin-star chefs are packing in their fine-dining kitchens to cook meat on fire. So who is the perfect fit for this locally? Bertus Basson ticks all the boxes for me. Currently one of the head judges on Ultimate Braai Master, he’s the guy who could introduce us to the simple pleasures of smoked brisket, pulled pork sandwiches, through-the-night-ribs, burnt-end baked beans, spatchcock chicken and spicy wings. Shit, how good would that be?
Tapas bar. I can’t figure this one out either. Tapas can be the best form of food around. You buy the best produce you can, you stick literally one or two ingredients on a plate and you create a cool, fun room with plenty of noise. So why is there not an inner-city tapas bar somewhere? The challenge here is on flavour combinations. Sure, you have to be prepared to go the extra mile with sourcing the best produce, but you also need to know what to do with it. If there are only two or three things on a tiny plate there’s nowhere to hide. You also need bloody good bread for a lot of tapas dishes. So…are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yup. Jason Lilley. He’s our guy for this. With a fondness for Spanish flavours, and an even bigger fondness for massive hunks of cured pork, he fits the bill. Very nicely actually.
An oyster shop. Sure, people have tried to open oyster and “champagne” bars in Cape Town before. But where is it written in the Restaurateur Wannabe Handbook that they have to be bright white, with sharp geometric lines and shiny silver fittings? What I’m after is a cool, relaxed room. Oysters don’t have to be pretentious. A long bar with communal seating. Giant zinc baths filled with oysters that are shucked in front of you. A couple of simple dressings and maybe one or two baked versions. Simple stuff. Oh, and of course there’s the option to take a couple of freshly shucked oysters home too. This is my dream, remember? So who is pushing and prepping these beauties in my ideal scenario? Considering a lot of these oysters might be sourced from the West Coast, Kobus Van Der Merwe could be our man for the job. His ability to forage for things like dune spinach might translate into some interesting condiments/toppings/dressings.
Nose-to-tail meat heaven. It’s no secret I love eating the less fancied parts of an animal. Offal is a glorious and misunderstood thing but it needs to be prepared by someone who loves eating it as much as they love cooking it. This place would see items like confit and deep fried pig ears, crispy pig tails, pickled lamb tongue, grilled ox heart etc. For this, we look no further than Chris Erasmus. Having spent some time learning from Fergus Henderson – the Godfather of nose-to-tail – Chris would definitely convert a few skeptics.
A steakhouse. “But Cape Town already has steakhouses!” Relax. I know they do. But what I’m talking about is one serving interesting cuts from grass-fed animals. And literally a menu with a handful of items. Hanger steak. Bone-in ribeye. T bone. Flank. That’s it. Wooden boards with big-ass knives. Cooked by people who know their stuff. And served to you by hot chicks with tattoos. What do you mean that’s off the topic? Head chef at this imaginary establishment? PJ Vadas. Here’s a chef who loves sustainable, ethical meat. It’s not often you find a guy who enjoys serving a giant pork chop as much as dainty tapioca wafers with edible flowers. (I ate both of these items at his restaurant Camphors recently by the way) but in my head he belongs in town serving the best steak in the country.
A Ramen noodle bar. Do I need to go on? Rich, deep flavours with broths so good you don’t know whether to drink them or sprinkle them on newborn babies. And the ramen sitting nice and comfy with beef short rib, chunks of pork or just a big whack of shiitakes and spring onions. WHY IS NO ONE MAKING RAMEN NOODLES IN THIS CITY?! I’m looking at Richard Carstens or Cheyne Morrisby for this one. I haven’t met too many chefs with better understanding(s) of Asian flavours.
The gastropub. Gastropubs in this country are a joke. Forries? No thanks. I want to sit at a place where I can choose from a number of craft beers AND CIDERS, check out a small but well thought out winelist and tuck into things like scotch eggs, fish pie, calamari with aioli made from scratch, pork scratchings, sausages and gravy, fish soup etc. I want a wooden board full of cured meats, pickles and cold pork pies. I want a whole chicken to share with my wife while we drink wine by a fireplace. And that must come with gravy. In other words, I want someone to open a proper pub. One you’d find in the English Countryside. I want Cathy Marston to open this pub. (She once had a spot called The Nose in a previous life but I never got to go there and this is my fantasy food world, so she’s the woman for the job here for sure.)
A waffle house. Can someone just go ahead and open a Milky Lane for adults? Thick waffles with their deep grids loaded with crispy bacon and maple syrup. Rich ice cream maybe. Proper shakes on the side. Who do I have in mind? Well, obviously The Creamery ladies. They are opening a retail store though, so let’s hold thumbs that this might actually be the one item on this list that comes true.
A charcuterie bar. Picture it: a place that has a conveyor belt in the middle of the room. You sit facing it, but – instead of sushi – you get to pick from various cured meats and pickles as they cruise by. So essentially it’s a sushi bar. But meat instead of fish. That’s it really. Step up Neil Jewell or Richard Bosman. Make it happen.
Liam Tomlin’s restaurant. Look, I’ve left this one completey blank because – quite frankly – I don’t care what Liam opens. In a dream world…in my dream world…he has a restaurant. He can serve me whatever he wants.
Cape Town is a pretty special place. We’re spoilt for choice. But imagine a world with all of the above. That’s a world I want to live in. Is there anything I’m forgetting?
Go forth and eat,