Monday 30 May 2011

My South Africa

This my love letter to South Africa. Love letters can be sad. But they are still love letters.

I sometimes fear that loving South Africa will break my heart. But I remain helpless in the face of this fear, as I suppose one remains helpless in the face of any fear. But yet I choose to live here. Here, in my South Africa. Here in the land of my birth. And I do so with hope and faith. Fear. Faith. Hope. A staccato rhythm that beats in my chest; fear –faith-hope. Fear-faith-hope. And I taste it in my mouth; this bitter-sweet taste of fear-faith-hope.

My South Africa is the spicy bite of pickled fish, the saltiness of bokkoms, the distinctive taste of smoorsnoek, the vinegary comfort of a parcel of hake and slap chips.

On my morning walks through my neighbourhood I always look out for Josef, the sad-eyed man of indeterminate age with the beautiful smile. He wears long-sleeves and a knitted cap pulled down low over his forehead, trying to show as little skin as possible. But his hands belie his prison past, they have the bruised-blue tracings of prison tattoos. And underneath his eyes, trailing over his sunken cheekbones are the tattooed tears of a man who has seen too much, done too much. He always playfully rubs my dog’s ears and calls him ‘Oubaas se honne’. While me, despite my protestations, he calls ‘Nonnatjie.’ One morning he tells me that he is ashamed of his markings. I tell him that they are but skin deep. But in my South Africa, skin deep has always been the problem. He tells me he lives alone, distanced from his old friends. Far away from the old habits. That he mostly keeps to himself. That he believes in a compassionate God. As do I. Perhaps we are not so different after all. Fear-faith-hope.

My South Africa is a cheesy braaibroodjie seasoned with white pepper. It is boerewors and Mrs Balls chutney. Karoo lamb. Waterblommetjiebredie. Pap and fiery chakalaka.

Recently while rushing to deliver some documents, I passed through several security check-points in a building in the city. It was hot and I was late and irritable. It was nobody’s fault but my own. In my haste, I hooked my handbag on the turnstile causing me to falter and angrily swear under my breath. ‘Easy now, Sisi’, the security guard gently admonished me. And I was shamed by my own unnecessary annoyance. ‘Sister’, this man has called me, thus implying an intimacy our shared history had previously denied. And then he smiled. And I did too. Because we are closer to one another than we could ever have dreamed of. Fear-faith-hope.

My South Africa is the taste of cinnamon melkkos, custardy milk tart, of Cape Malay koesisters. Of sweet, luridly-coloured Bashews cooldrink. Of milky Frisco and sweet rooibos tea. Of Wicky-Wax and Chappies bubble gum. Red jelly and Ultramel. Canned fruit and Ideal Milk

Down the road from where we live, there is a ramshackle urban farm with chickens, and geese, and sheep and pigs. The ladies who lunch and recycle drop their old vegetable and fruit peels off there. This is where Andre and his extended family live. He is soft-spoken, wears kakis, goes barefoot and sports a long beard. He has kind blue eyes. He looks like a farmer. The forgotten children find their way to him. ‘God knows,’ he will tell you, ‘I never chose to do this, but they came my way and someone must take care of them.’ ‘So you take care of street children?’ I ask, to be sure. ‘No’, he denied emphatically, ‘these are not street children. They once lived on the streets, but they are not street children.’ And then a little girl runs up to him, laughing happily, for a quick hug before darting off to go and play again. Her dark skin and bright eyes are a sharp contrast to his weathered face and caring eyes. ‘The damaged souls take care of one another.’ He says after a while, apropos of nothing, while cradling a small newly hatched chick gently in his large hand. Fear-faith-hope.

My South Africa is the mince samoosa, the bunny chow, the prego roll. Samp and beans. Dried apricots.

These are the flavours that define me. These are the moments that both heal and break my heart. Fear-faith-hope.


Saturday 28 May 2011

That Heston Blumenthal Magic

(The signage at The Fat Duck entrance)

(Sound of The Sea)

(The Not-So-Full-English-Breakfast)

(Taffety Tart - from a recipe dating back to 1660)

(The 'BFG' Black Forest Gateau)

There appears to be an awful lot of Heston love in the Cape Town air. I could have predicted this, having a thing for bald men who wear fabulous spectacles myself. But it’s more than the look. Heston Blumenthal is the Rock Star for Food Nerds. So there he was delivering lectures (did you really expect the whole liquid nitrogen, painstaking detailed cookery demonstration?) at the Good Food and Wine Show this past weekend. Which may I add was horribly crowded and really should be relooked and revamped. If Cape Town is a culinary destination, we should really glam things up a bit more, surely? And also, how about a decent auditorium for speakers where the noise of the main show or backstage don’t annoy the speakers or those who have paid a substantial amount to hear him/her. But I don’t want to appear ungrateful, because our tickets were a much appreciated gift, and it was wonderful to hear one of the greatest chefs in the world explain the thinking behind some of his creations. Heston Blumenthal is a passionate scientist/historian/sociologist/therapist who uses food to communicate beautifully.

In January this year Jacques and I had an incredible meal at The Fat Duck in Bray, I wrote about this experience for the May edition of Taste magazine, but just a few, more thoughts, anyway…

If I could swallow the sea...

Sound of the Sea is served alongside an iPod hidden in a large seashell, which when listened to plays the sounds of the ocean - crashing waves and screeching seagulls. Slivers of fish, sea kelp, foam – so totally appropriate in this dish - and salty ‘sea sand’ made of a particular type of tapioca flour were so deliciously realistic in both appearance and taste that I imagined I was sitting with my bare feet in a rock pool on the West Coast with the sun beating down on my bare neck and that I was scooping up and swallowing mouthfuls of seawater and sea creatures, with the exception that on this occasion it tasted as beautiful as it looked.

A Snail Tale...

And what of the legendary Snail Porridge? Unbelievably wonderful. The bright green parsley and fennel infused porridge oats and garlicky snails was so delicious I could have eaten another huge bowl full. But I will never look at garden snails in quite the same way again.

What’s for Breakfast...

The Not-So-Full English Breakfast with nitro-scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream? Well it looked like an egg, and it was indeed a proper egg that was broken into a pan filled with liquid nitrogen, and the contents were scrambled at our table, and had the look and texture of softly scrambled eggs, except when you tasted it, it was ice-cold, as ice cream should be, and tasted sweetly-smokily of bacon. Confused perfection.

A giant gateau, of sorts...

The BFG – Black Forest Gateau, but also a literary reference to Roald Dahl’s book by the same referring to the big friendly giant, was magnificent in taste (and I usually don’t like black forest gateau) but also in appearance – the chocolate column was flocked (as in the appearance of flocked wallpaper) a process referred to as flocage. And upon being brought to your table the waiter spritzes a fine mist of kirsch around your head, so scenting the air with cherries.

I scream for ice-cream...

Equally wonderful were the Savoury Lollies. A trio of small lollies and ice-creams reminiscent of those found in an ice cream van. The first one was shaped like a 3-coloured ice-lolly and had all the taste of a Waldorf salad, the second was a cylindrical Salmon Twister, and the last one was a foie gras version resembling a small Magnum ice cream.

On Sweets and small spaces...

Before heading off and snooping around in the tiniest restaurant kitchen I have ever seen, (there are about 2 other small ones across the road, and a makeshift area in the back parking lot, as well as a small cupboard-like pantry area where the after-dinner sweets are made. In these areas 50 chefs work tirelessly to serve 42 diners for lunch and dinner. Mind blowing), we ended off our meal with Whisk(e)y Wine Gums. Five tiny golden gummy bottles, stuck to a glass map of whisk(e)y producing regions, that dissolve in your month and then fill it with the very distinctive smoky tastes of various whiskeys. And then the pink and white striped bag of candies arrived containing, amongst other things, the Apple Pie Caramel with its edible ‘cellophane’ wrapper, or the Queen of Hearts chocolate card which tasted of jam, and the coconut tabacco and eating it I felt exactly Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop. As Heston Blumenthal intended. In a single afternoon, I had gone back in time; my inner-child had come out to play. And my adult-self will be forever grateful

And the websites to end all websites...

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Dangereux-ly Delicious at The Foodbarn

(A good a mantra as any to live by - as seen on the walls of The Foodbarn Restaurant)

This time last week, (Voting Day), I met up with my friends Jilly, and Stephie. For a Girls's Night. Ostensibly also our version of a book club, except that we're more likely to talk about Sex and Sauvignon Blanc rather than Sense and Sensibility. I got to know them when we worked together in Cape Town in our early 20s and we all ended up in London in our late 20s. Stephie was (and still is) happily married. And Jilly and I were mostly single, although she had infinitely more fun than I did, but I lived vicariously through her many romantic adventures. She is the funniest (self-deprecating) story teller I know. Her razer sharp wit and fragile features make up a wonderfully delightful package. And she's single, (but by no means desperate), so if you know of (or are someone) worthy of her, you can contact me. But know that we may giggle at your application (if it's weird) as we did at the Time Out personal ads during those grey wet Fulham winters.
So Jilly is, as I may have mentioned, wonderfully fabulous. She does, however, have one fault. She is, sadly, rather puritanical when it comes to butter and cream.
Steph and I both saw her wince at the liberal way in which Franck Dangereux's uses both during his Wednesday night cooking demonstrations at The Foodbarn Restaurant which is where we spent the evening enjoying one another's company and the Steenberg Menu which is part of the winter special offered by The Foodbarn. I went al la carte, because I am a creature of habit and wanted the deep fried curried baby calamari served in a phyllo cop on top of an avo tower finished with aioli, olive oil and soy sauce, which I always have and which is incredibly rich and delicious. But having seen what Steph and Jill were having, I realised I should have gone with the Steenberg Menu, but I'll do that next time, because the calamari and prawn gratin with chervil cream, as demonstrated by Franck earlier in the evening was sublime and I really wanted to taste the lemon panna cotta and thyme meringue with berry sauce for dessert.
For those of you who may not know, Franck is the award-winning chef who once made diners at La Colombe so happy. And who is now thrilling diners at The Foodbarn in Noordhoek. At a fraction of the price. The Foodbarn is a stylishly simple venue where children (with gourmet tastes), pets (relatively well-behaved) and casual attire are welcome. It's a wonderful place offering some of the finest food in Cape Town, ok, it's in Noordhoek, but well worth the schlepp out there, even in the dark.
The Man, the Dog and I usually go there for weekend lunches (if we've remembered to book, do book, it's popular), and treat ourselves a beautiful lunch after having walked Max on Noordhoek beach. But the last time we did this, Max stole the bread off the table. Thankfully we were sitting outside, and only a few people noticed. 'It's very good bread', I tried to excuse his bad behaviour rather pathetically, before vowing that his fine dining days, unlike mine, were over.

So what you must know about The Foodbarn is this:
1. You simply have to go.
2. Franck gives great cooking demonstrations on Wednesday evenings during the winter months from 6.30pm to about 7.30 pm. It's all very professional, interesting and amusing. And the wine supplied rather nice way to start the night. There is no charge, but you are expected to stay for dinner. Which really is no hardship. And any case why would you want to watch the master at work, and then not partake of his food?
3. The Winter specials they're offering are insane. During the months of May, June and July you can enjoy the Steenberg Menu which is a set menu (with options) paired with various Steenberg wines. Pricing goes like this:
3 courses paired with 2 Steenberg wines for R165
4 courses paired with 3 Steenberg wines for R185
5 courses paired with 4 Steenberg wines for R215
4. During the semi-winter months August, September and October there will be a Ntida Menu. Which of course I will be trying out, and I'll let you know about that then.
5. The Steenberg Menu (and I assume that it will be the same for the Ntida Menu) is not available on Sundays

The Foodbarn Restaurant and Deli (and yes the deli across the green is great if you're looking to go even more casual, but I'm always lured by the restaurant)
Noordhoek Farm Village
Village Lane
Telephone: 021 789 1390

Lunch: Monday to Sunday 12 - 3pm
Dinner: Tuesdays to Saturday 7-9.30pm

Tuesday 17 May 2011

On Exes, Marriage and Nobu

(Interior shot of Nobu - looking sleekly empty, so was obviously taken during the day when they are closed. At night, however, it's busy and buzzing and best you have a reservation.)

This morning I received an early morning wake-up call from my husband who was already at work. 'Morning love, 'he said, a smile in his voice, 'And best you tell **** ****** (insert name of ex-boyfriend) he can fuck right off.' You see, I'd left my gmail account open on his Blackberry, where the last email was from an old school (ok perhaps I'd kissed him at university as well) boyfriend. Now, to put that in context, that was almost 22 years ago ( If I take the university kiss into account), but I was secretly thrilled, not because Jacques is jealous, because in all honesty I know he's not, but because any reminder of any ex boyfriend, reminds you of who you used to be. In my case, inexperienced, insecure but slim.

It's been a week of remembering ex-boyfriends.

We had dinner with friends on Friday night. It was their 11 year wedding anniversary. And since we've taken to spending Christmas's and Old Year's Eve's with them, it seemed only right that we gatecrash their anniversary as well. So there we were with the divine Mr & Mrs M, having the most decadent dinner without a single simple carbohydrate passing our lips (wine and dessert don't count), at Nobu at the One & Only Cape Town .

Now the first time I went to Nobu was about 13 years ago while I was living in London and sort-of-dating an extremely unsuitable man. He was an older, very jaded, rather cruel man. But I was strangely attracted to him. Thankfully it didn't last long and I came to realize that there are two important things to look for in a partner. 1. Are they kind? 2. Do they make you laugh?
But anyway, getting back to Nobu at the Metropolitan Hotel, the Bullfrog -who-didn't-turn-into-a-prince, 1998 and me. As an aside, this all happened a couple of few years before Boris Becker immortalized that particular Nobu, by cosying up to a Russian model in a broom cupboard and being slapped by a paternity suit a while later. So the Bullfrog and I sat at the bar drinking sake, flirting outrageously (him) and pretending to be terribly sophisticated and worldly (me). But I cannot remember what we ate. Not for the life of me can I remember what we ate, but I can remember the bite of the wasabi and eating sushi for the first time and how out of place I felt. For I was neither a model and nor was I wearing black. It was a memorable evening for all the wrong reasons.

Whereas Friday night was memorable for all the right ones. Fine food, friendship and fidelity. I believe in marriage. I like being married. I like it when others people can find someone with whom they'd like to share the rest of their lives. I like celebrating the love and the laughter. And so we did. With glorious (South African, of course) bubbly, interesting wines and incredible food. Fresh beautiful sashimi, slightly seared new style sashimi, Peruvian-style beef skewers, a prawn tempura which boasted a featherlight batter and was surpassed only by the crab leg tempura with ama ponzu. A leafy lobster salad with the most delicate of lemon dressings. Chocolate fondant with green tea ice cream and a South African Malva pudding served with calpis (a Japanese uncarbonated soft drink, and no, I didn't know this before I googled the name) and pineapple ice-cream. The names of the rest of the dishes (and there were many) escape me, but not the tastes. I woke up the next morning, desperately wondering how soon our budget would allow us to go and dine there again.

Master chef Nobuyuki 'Nobu' Matsahisa's unique brand of restaurant is equally well suited to Cape Town as it is to any of the other world culinary capitals. Born in Japan, but having lived and worked in Peru, Nobu began to incorporate Southern American ingredients into traditional Japanese dishes so creating an individual style of cuisine; classical Japanese cuisine with a contemporary Peruvian twist. Diners at the various Nobu's dotted around the world have come to expect the same high standard of innovative Japanese cuisine with the addition of specific local flavours. And it works, it really does. While it is a high-end restaurant and can work out to be hugely expensive if you're not sensibly frugal with your selection - which of course we weren't on Anniversary Night, it really is something special.

And so as I sat in one of Nobu's booths in the company of those I loved, I spared a thought for the insecure 20-something girl that I once was. I wished I could have whispered in her ear that night, wished I could have told her that one cold Friday night in her future she's be sitting at another Nobu in another part of the world, surrounded by love. That she would be happy within herself, that she would be (relatively) comfortable in her own skin, that she would have a career that inspired her and that in that moment the dinner at Nobu with the exciting-but-unsuitable-older-man would serve as a reminder as to how far she'd come, and how blessed she's been.

Now the great news is that Nobu at the One & Only are offering a fabulous winter special, specially for us Frugalista's. A Five Course Set Menu for R299 which includes the likes of new style sashimi, their amazing rock shrimp, beef toban and the sushi roll of the day. Dessert is a choice of three options which thankfully includes the chocolate bento box. This offer is valid from the month the month of May right through till the end of August 2011.

Nobu at the One & Only Cape Town
Telephone: 021 431 4511