French Toast Wine Bar (Revisited)

There’s something to be said about a restaurant that offers consistency. And at French Toast, you’ll certainly find that in its fantastic wine list, lovely decor and the smug feeling that, by being here, you’re just that little bit cooler than anyone who isn’t. Unfortunately, that consistency also remains true to the shoddy organization and slow service encountered on our last visit.

Tonight, G and I are here for a friend’s birthday (a party of ten). We arrive, only to find that our massive table has been given away to two very pretty, very charming young men. The birthday girl is an easy-going honey and some of our party haven’t arrived, so she’s more than happy to share the table. It’s a beautiful beast of solid oak that stretches across the heart of the upstairs section, surrounded by the trendy diners, bottles of open bubbly and designer chandeliers.

We order our drinks (which we’re forced to do in drips and drabs because our very sweet but rather invisible waitress keeps disappearing to do goodness knows what). This means, of course, that the drinks arrive in similar intervals and half the table sits dry for a good fifteen minutes. Luckily, the lovely boys to our right let me shamelessly sweet talk my way to a small glass of the Willi Schaefer riesling, which I’ve been dying to try since my last visit. And it’s good… as only the best authentic rieslings can be – bursting with mouthwatering fruit, honey and a sweetness that is supported flawlessly by its solid acidity.

The French Toast menu is small but well-balanced with tapas-only choices ranging from cold to hot. There’s a variety of dishes to cover simple choices – like olives, potato wedges or mushroom and thyme bruschetta, as well as the more complicated choices (see the deboned lamb short rib – yum!) and you can order a selection of fine cheese and cold meats from the charcuterie section of the menu.

Maybe its a feature of getting on in life. I realise that I’m yet to hit the thirty-mark, but some of our party have settled into the business of being grown-ups and the pricing of certain items on the menu begins to get some of the guys a little worked up. G’s buddy to our right is locked in a heated debate with the pretty boys about why, when a bottle of wine costs thirty rand from the estate, the restaurant can have the balls to charge more than that per glass. He’s fighting a losing battle – I think we can all accept the fact that restaurants make their bread and butter from markups. But another friend, miniature chicken pie in hand, makes a point when he (rather horrifiedly) realises that each of his 3cmx3cm pies is costing him twenty bucks.

Would you like a ten rand bite?” He asks. I do, and it’s sublime. Perhaps even worth it.

I suppose the thing with tapas is to not get too worked up about what you’re being charged when your tiny portions of zucchini fries and bite sized bruschetta arrive – together costing more than a full-sized rump at some restaurants. The point, I suppose is the opportunity to savor as many great tastes as you can – and so we do.

The fries are a very smart idea, battered, fried and dusted with salt and cheese. The bruschetta is delicious, as is the bite of pork lion with apple puree and mustard sauce I get to sample. Unfortunately, the kitchen is horribly co-ordinated and there’s about a half an hour wait between the arrival of our little bowl of fries and the last round of short ribs (rolled in sinew and deliciously tender – credit where credit is due). The consequence of this, of course, is that no matter how divine the food, the restaurant is left with half a table of irritable people with nothing on their table while the others tuck in to their own meagre portions. And at the end of the evening, it’s a whopper of a bill that arrives and leaves everyone feeling a little hungry and a little hard done by.

Thank heavens for the 24-hour Woolies at the Engen garage, where G runs in for a cheese and mushroom burger and a pack of honey mustard chicken fillets.

Sadly, they’re the best and most satisfying meal of the night.

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Home Restaurant & Bar, Harfield Village

Ah date night.

As G and I near the 5th year anniversary of our bumping uglies, I’ve begun to notice a slow, downhill slide from three-course dinners at the latest greatest steak spot (accompanied by pre-dinner glasses of bubbly and two bottles of something fat, red and juicy) to a bottle of plonk drunk standing in the kitchen while we re-heat something that was thrown into the deep freeze God-knows-when.

Which is why I’m absolutely thrilled when he suggests a visit to Myoga to check out the new winter tasting menu. The date night dress is chosen. The heels come out of the cupboard. The resturant… is fully booked. Bless his socks, my G, but planning ahead is not exactly a part of his vocabulary.

So it’s lucky there are restaurants like Home Restaurant & Bar in Harflield villiage that are tried and tested in their delivery of yummy goodness and most-often likely to squeeze you in on a freezing winter’s night.

It’s a warm, cozy spot with muted lighting, candles galore and the bustle of regulars and settled Southern Suburbs types who sit at the bar and have a good chat. The tables are crammed together in the tiny dining space (so much so that it feels like we’re sitting at the same table as the diners to our right), but the food is stuff of legend.

We squeeze into our tiny two seater to a glass of Old Brown Sherry and have a good look at the lumo-orange menu mounted on the wall above us. It’s your usual assortment of chicken livers, calamari, soup and salad starters and the mains range from butternut and goats cheese ravioli to their legendary lamb or springbok shanks. G is torn between the butter chicken enchilada or the rump steak espetada but decides on the latter while I order the creamy brandy & mushroom chicken. (Their seared tuna, sadly is not in stock). Most mains come with a choice of rice, thick cut chips or fluffy mashed potatoes – perfect comfort food filler on this most chilly of nights.

Wine is well-priced too, although the small menu is a little lacking. We order the Guardian Peak Shiraz, but are disappointed by its rather thin, overly sweet taste. Ho hum.

G’s rump comes smothered in fat chips and seasonal veggies, stir fried in a sticky sweet soy sauce. Yum. The kitchen’s botched up his order, though, and instead of arriving rare, it comes closer to medium and is a little too chewy to really impress. My chicken is gorgeous; drenched in sauce with a mound of tasty mash and sweet butternut.

G is in the mood to gorge, and debates ordering the enchilada anyway, but settles on the creme brulee (divine) and chocolate pot with ice cream, which oozes with steamy dark chocolate.

The service is a little abrupt, but always competent and the value for money is pretty hard to beat. So maybe it’s not a white-table, silver service kind of place, and maybe my Aldo heels don’t make it past the bedroom door. But when you want more-ish, delicious, hearty food and a night to chill and chat with someone special, Home is always a safe option.

Open for dinner: 6.30pm – 11pm, Monday – Saturday
(021) 683 6066

53 2nd Avenue, Harfield Village, Cape Town

Tsuyo Japanese Restaurant

If ever there was a puzzle akin to the riddle of the sphinx, it’s ‘where do you go for good Sushi on a Sunday?’ If you know the answer, I’d love to be enlightened. Last Sunday’s sushi mission to Tsuyo certainly didn’t shed any light on the matter.

After devouring a very yummy pack of R19.99 Pick ‘n Pay Salmon Fashion Sandwiches for lunch, G’s sushi appetite is fired up and so begin our search for a sushi spot on a Sunday evening through the usual channels. But Fugu is closed and Mr Delivery isn’t much help; Sawadee is closed and Saigon isn’t serving Sushi this evening. And then we remember Benkei in Greenpoint. Great fish, good pricing and a super wasabi that will knock your panties off.

And so off we go to Greenpoint main road, only to find that our trusted Sushi spot has been replaced by something of a doppleganger: Tsuyo Japanese Restaurant. Nothing much has changed in the way of the decor – simple rosy-wooden tables, bright lights and asian paraphernalia covering the walls – so we think, ‘How bad can it be?’

Pretty bad, is the answer. The wine list is severely lacking in whine by the glass options and offers ‘red, dry white and semi sweet.’ Since I already have a few glasses of the sublime Steenberg 1682 Pinot Noir MCC in my belly from lunch, I order a lime and soda and we decide to share a few delicious-sounding old faithfuls: Prawn Fashion Sandwiches, Rainbow Rolls, a ten piece portion of Seared Tuna Sashimi and their Tekka platter which consists of two pieces of Tuna Sashimi, two Seared Tuna Nigiri, four Tuna Maki Rolls, two Spicy Tuna California Rolls and two Salmon Roses.

We get a linefishy-stir-fry taster on the house, which is a nice touch, but requires lashing of soy sauce to make it palatable. The food begins to arrive immediately, which is impressive until I realise that they’re bringing it out as it comes, and not all together as one would usually want. The Prawn Fashion Sandwiches arrive first and are so lacking in Prawns that they may as well be called Rice Fashion Sandwiches. The Rainbow Rolls are next, but come without any tuna as the dish promises. When the platter does arrive, it’s a very sad looking assortment with old-tasting Maki, watery, fishy Sashimi and Seared Tuna Nigiri with its fish resembling old biltong in both appearance and taste.

The Roses and Spicy Californian Rolls aren’t bad, but they’re not enough to make up for the sub-standard offers that have preceded them.

When our Sashimi doesn’t arrive, we glance at the biltong-esque Nigiri in front of us and feel relief. But we’re charged for it anyway. When we ask the waiter to take if off the bill, he seems sure that he did bring it and has to run off and check with the manager and chef. The manager is very sweet and apologetic, promising to bring it right away – No thanks!  Bill please!

So all in all, a bit of a kak one. I leave feeling a little queasy and wishing I’d opted for something else entirely. After all, if Pick ‘n Pay can make fresh, totally chow-able sushi on a Sunday, Tsoyo should be able to do better.

Tsuyo is open Tuesday – Sunday. Lunch: 11:30 – 15:00, Dinner: 17:00 – 22:00
(021) 439 491, 05 Main Road Green Point

Constantia Fresh Festival: Sauvignon Blanc and Food Pairing

It’s a sweltering Saturday afternoon in Cape Town as the wine-drinking-aristocracy of the southern suburbs roll out onto the Buitenverwachting picnic lawns for the Constantia Fresh Festival Sauvignon Blanc tasting. The event, organised by German sommelier and outrageous flirt, Jörg Pfützner of Fine Wine Events, celebrates the Sauv. Blanc grape and all of the fantastic things it can do. Fresh, acidic Sauvignon Blancs. Wooded Sauvignon Blancs. Flippin’ old Sauvignon Blancs (I tasted a 1990 from Steenberg… truly wacky) And, of course, the gorgeous blends that are achieved by combining today’s poster-grape with other white varietals like Semillon and Viognier.

There’s a steady trickle of canapes prepared by premier chefs such as Peter Tempelhof (The Greenhouse of Cellars-Hohenort), Bertus Basson (Overture), Clayton Bell (Constantia Uitsig), Roland Gorgosilich (Grande Roche’s Bosman’s) and Edgar Osojnik (Buitenverwachting) which are paired with the wines on offer at the tasting.

The staff who ferry them around the lawn, however, never quite seem to make it in my direction and I only manage to get my hands on one dish – a tenderised tuna-like dark meat in a potato and leek kind of soup. So truly, I have no idea what I’m eating but It’s fantastic all the same. Chocolatey treats, fine cheeses and artisanal coffees are also on offer and the live music in the background keeps a swing in your step as you move around the green. The layout of the festival works along the same lines as most single-venue festivals with one going from table to table, organised according to region. The difference is, of course, that the tables are set up on the estate’s beautifully manicured lawns beside the classic colonial architecture and blue, blue sky. Grateful for our factor 30 sun block, G and I make the rounds and uncover some pretty serious gems along the way. 

One favourite of the day is the Tierhoek ’08 with its cloudy apple character and beautifully balanced acidity. The wines of Quoin Rock are another firm favourite and we try the Cape Agulhas Sauvignon Blanc 2009, which smacks of gorgeous black cherries and rooibos tea (the 2010 vintage has been, rather horrifyingly, eaten by baboons). Their Niccobar also impresses but it’s the Oculus, a gorgeous and subtly oaked blend of Sauv. Blanc and Viognier which truly stands out with its citrus, floral notes and hints of honey and butter.

G and I are getting our second taster of the Oculus when I look around me and realise that there is a serious dress-code that us Vredehoek-hicks are ignorant of. While the invite reads ‘elegant-casual’, it seems to have translated into all-white with straw panama hats for everyone! And it’s rather wonderfully riduculous to behold.

 We drink about as much Sauvignon Blanc as any sensible person can. But the problem with a tasting like this is that, unless you’re gaga over this particular grape, the fresh-grass-asparagus-green-pepper-cat-pee flavours can get a little overwhelming. Luckily, as the sun begins to set and a delicious buffet-braai (or sorry, grill) is started, the Constantia region stands begin to uncork their reds. Sadly, I don’t remember any that really stand out. I barely remember my own name. But the braai is delicious with an assortment of salads, bakes, fish, beef burgers and chicken sausages. Tummy happy. But head the next morning… Not so.

For more information about the rest of the festival, visit their website at:

http://www.constantiafresh.com/home.htm

Under the Influence of Great Whites

Wine Tastings are a little like men. There are the Wine Magazine Tastings which, like a rather stuffy guy from private school, you date because they dress nicely, open the car door and pay for dinner: Good on paper, but dreadfully dull. There are the wine clubs at your favourite restaurant (Carlyle’s Wine Club being my staple), where you cram your jegging’d bottom onto a barstool while a roguish lad makes you laugh like a banshee, pours tequila down your throat and gets you hammered. And then there the tastings like Under the Influence. They’re gorgeous, smart, easygoing and, above all else, fun. It’s at tastings like these that you get to drink fantastic wine, enjoy beautiful views, meet interesting people and maybe even learn a little in the process.

Hosted at the Roundhouse Restaurant in Camps Bay (with other tastings in Somerset West and Joberg), The Under the Influence team offers themed tastings pretty much year-round and tonight, myself and some girlfriends find ourselves at Under the Influence of Great Whites which, as the name suggests, will offer us a taste of both pure varietal and blended whites.

The tasting takes place on the rolling grassy hills outside the restaurant while hens, their chicks and two baby piglets (named Prosciutto and Crackling), play at your feet as the sun sets over the Twelve Apostles. Heaven. We begin with a teaser taster of a pretty damn delicious white blend while we wait for the tasting to start. It’s soft, creamy and fragrant with hints of white peach. Viognier, I guess? With a little Chenin? Or is it Chardonnay?

It turns out, this little gem is Bouchard Finlayson’s Blanc de Mer (or “White of the Sea”) ’09 – first created because the farm had no grapes and had to buy in whatever they could get their hands on so that they could actually make wine. And boy, did they. With an eclectic mix of Viognier, Riesling, Chenin, Chardonnay and a touch of Semillon, this so-called entry-level wine was named ‘Best New World White Wine’ by Decanter in 2009.

Our tasting officially kicks off with the Sauvignon Blanc flight, comprised of the Steenberg HMS Rattlesnake ‘09, Lismore ’09 and Elgin Heights ’09 (I don’t think we’re supposed to read the labels as they pour, but I’m an awful cheat and I do). What I love about this flight is the vast difference in the nose and flavour of each wine. The HMS Rattlesnake is somewhat flinty of the nose with characteristic hints of green pepper and a crisp, lingering palate while the Lismore has almost botrytis apricot notes and an earthy, fruity taste. The Elgin Heights baffles me until I realize that the rubbery pungent nose reminds me exactly of G’s armpit after a particularly sweaty game of touch Rugby. While this may be attractive to me, I doubt it would be to anyone else. Luckly, a wine afficianado across the table overhears hears my comment and assures me that ripe grapefruit can smell suspicially like wet armpit… and anyway, the wine soon settles and is just as delicious as its counterparts.

As the second flight arrives, we are treated to ciabatta with butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We’ve also been given the option of ordering pizzas at the start of the tasting and our Margarita (at a very reasonable R40) is crispy-based, cheesy heaven with fresh basil.

Our second flight is one of my favourite varietals: Viognier. We sample the Creation Viognier which bursts with floral notes, rosewater and jasmine but is sadly lacking in acidity. It’s followed by the Spice Route (Fairview) Viognier, which soon becomes the table favourite with its flavours of jasmine, honeysuckle and the butteryness that comes from subtle oaking.

The second flight winds down. The wine aficionado has taken to scoring the wines out loud (how he manages to score colour in the pitch dark eludes me), but the girls and I have given ourselves over to the irrepressible urge to tickle the piglet’s bellies and smoke obscene quantities of menthol ciggies.

The third flight continues to impress as we move onto Chenin or blends dominated by Chenin. The Raats Original Chenin ‘09 is shy on the nose and, while satisfyingly consistent, it’s put to shame by its successor: the sublime Lammershoek Roulette Blanc ’09. When asked what we smell, one of my girlfriends pipes up, “Heaven.” And she’s right. It’s a beautiful, beautiful wine, made from a blend of Chenin, Viognier, Claret Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Chardonnay and has gone on to win the coveted 5-star rating in the Platters Guide.

Finally, with our third and final white, the Under the Influence team pulls out something really quite interesting: The Library White from a secret location in Swaartland. (The aficionado and I guess Eben Sadie but, much like the meaning of life, I guess we’ll never know for sure). A sip of this wine is like drinking liquid velvet with a finish that seems to linger on indefinitely.

Chris, our host of the evening, describes it perfectly: “Take a sip, sit back, and think about life and where you want to go.”

My friend and I, both starving teachers, go halvies on a case before we call a cab and head back to Greenpoint. As I put myself to bed on my friend’s couch, I can’t help but hear the Jaws-like theme tune of the Great White hangover closing in. And so it does. But I guess I saw that one coming.

Tastings are priced at R120 per person (including the bread). For details on upcoming tastings in your area or more information on their fantastic wine specials and mixed cases, go to www.undertheinfluence.co.za

For another take on the evening’s proceedings, check out the awesome reviewbar.wordpress.com

French Toast Wine Bar

The closing down of ‘The Nose’ wine bar in the original Cape Quarter left a sad little hole in my heart. It was warm and unpretentious with a great selection of wines available by the glass and ever-changing wines-of-the-month. So when I saw an article in Taste magazine about a new wine bar opening in town – in Bree Street (right on my doorstep, no less) – I was pleased as punch.

It’s a balmy Friday night as we pull up alongside the fairy-lit, bustling wine and tapas bar and, from the first few moments, I can feel that there is something special about this place. There’s a lovely buzz in the air, people are friendly and the rustic décor – smooth concrete flooring, enormous wooden dinner tables and exposed brick walls – make one feel right at home. French Toast is hosting a private party this evening and the upstairs section and bar are chocabloc full. So G and I grab a seat at the downstairs bar where the bartender sweats through the dinner rush solo. And that’s where things start to go awry.

It’s not that the service is bad. It’s just that it’s not very good either. Our barman (who is single-handedly running the whole downstairs section) is friendly and polite but he’s missing the ‘fire-beneath-his-bottom’ energy that a waiter needs when handling that kind of pressure. We sit for ten minutes or so without menus, watching the relaxed chaos and order a bubbly flight and glass of Willi Schaefer Mosel Riesling when the menus do come. I’m thrilled about the by-the-glass offer of real German Riesling (many other international wines and styles are on offer by the glass as well) – except that the wine isn’t in stock. I ask what MCC’s are included in the bubbly flight, but our barman has no idea and I’m left to read it off the wooden board when the flight arrives.

The pouring are fantastic – 100ml each at least – but the problem is that the bubbly gets warm very quickly and much of the flavour is lost. G orders the Lammersoek Roulette Blanc which arrives ten minutes later, after our barman has checked the order – twice  

Him: “The what? Sorry?”

Me: “It’s a white blend.

Him: “Is it a red?”

Me: “No. White. Blend.”

(moments later)

Him: “A red blend?”

Seriously.

But we enjoy our wines immensely. We chat for hours. We meet one of the owners, a social gent, who tells us a little more about the place and makes us feel like part of the furniture. By now, we’ve moved onto one of our favourite reds – the Andreas Shiraz from Wellington – and are each well into our second glasses.

And so here’s what I realise. If the restaurant has a good enough vibe, the company is great and the wine that goes into my glass (albeit rather slowly) is delish enough, uneducated and average service doesn’t really matter. I, for one, can’t wait to head back on a quieter night and tuck into a glass of Bordeaux. Like, actually from Bordeaux. Love it.

French Toast (199 Bree Street) is open for lunch from 12 noon – 11:00pm, Monday to Saturday and dinner from 12 noon – 11:00pm, Monday to Saturday.

021-4223839
http://www.frenchtoastwine.com

Guardian Peak Restaurant, Stellenbosch

Of all the places in the Cape that I like to sit and make doe eyes at my lovely boyfriend, Guardian Peak Restaurant in Stellenbosch is my favouritest of favourites. So much so that G and I have made it our tradition to have my birthday lunch there every year, which is exactly what we did when I turned 28 a few weeks ago. Situated along Annandale road and set against the most beautiful backdrop of mountain and sky, this fantastic spot serves up truly epic food faultlessly, time and time again.

The Restaurant’s interior is fairly predictable in its decor. Large prints of Ernie Els swinging his clubs pay homage to the estate’s ex-proprietor and the wooden shelves are stocked with with t-shirts, corkscrews and other wine paraphernalia for unsuspecting tourists. There’s a den-like couch set up near the fireplace which is perfect for Winter wine tastings and the indoor tables are great for a lunch in miserable weather. (Although I’ve sat outside in miserable weather, braving gale-force winds, holding onto my seared tuna for dear life and it was still fantastic) In summer, however, you don’t want to be anywhere else than on the deck, seated at the rustic-yet-classy outdoor tables, gazing out at the most breathtaking of views.

The menu is small but inspired and each course is paired with a complimentary goblet (very generous pours all around) of their fantastic estate wine. Along with this, an ever-changing chalkboard is home to the day’s yummy specials. We start, as the menu suggests, with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc ’10 and their Rose – the Guardian Pink (how cute is that?). Both are clean, fresh and typical of these varietals in their green-pepper-citrus and strawberry characters respectively.

G orders the Peppered Springbok Carpaccio with oak smoked salt & melon shavings while I make my pick off today’s specials board and try a salad with basic micro leaves, shaved cucumber, fresh mushrooms, creamy ripe avo, mixed nuts and tiny nibbles of gorgonzola drizzled in a homemade honey and mustard dressing. It’s absolutely sublime and I all but lick my plate clean.

My main comes with the Merlot, but I opt to pair it with their Frontier ’09, a blend of Cab, Shiraz and Merlot with a flirty nose of chocolate and ripe berries on the palate. G’s meal is paired with their legendary SMG – one of the first wines I ever fell madly in love with. A Rhone-style blend of Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Grenache (hence the name), this wine is fat and juicy with berries and ripe plums on the palate and a long, elegant finish.

Right on cue, our scrumptious main courses arrive. True to form, G has ordered the Grilled Beef Sirloin with gaufrette potatoes, soft poached egg and mushroom jus. It’s good. So good, in fact, that I keep making a ‘feed me’ baby bird face long after my belly is full and my plate is clean. I’ve gone with the Grilled Chicken Breast which is stuffed with brie, fig and chives and served with sweet potato soufflé & pesto dressing.  The tender chicken is cooked perfectly and I absolutely love the coarseness of the fresh fig in the stuffing.

Although the desserts are wonderful, we finish with double espressos and a sneaky glass of their beautiful Lapa Cabernet Sauvignon. We sip our wine. We contemplate the sky. We smooch across the table. Life is good.

Guardian Peak is open for lunch six days a week (Closed Mondays)
Annandale Rd, Stellenbosch

(021) 881 3899

 

Five Flies Restaurant & Bars

I haven’t been to Five Flies in years – not since I was a size 6 who ate salad for every meal and secretly believed that butter was synonymous with poison. But this week, when G and my courtship turned a whole four years old, a friend reminded me about the romantic and delicious spot that is the Five Flies Restaurant in Keerom Street.

Five Flies, despite its generous square-meterage, manages to remain intimate because its divided into several cozy dining areas. The entrance hall, much like the rest of the restaurant, is floored with charming checked tiles and a grand staircase to the upstairs dining area and plush-sofa’d whiskey & cigar lounge. Through the cobbled courtyard, another dining room and the rustic wine bar, which is furnished with old wood and pictures of 1900’s Cape Town.

But tonight, we’re lead through the courtyard and dining room and seated inside the wine cellar which is filled with scattered rose-petals, glowing soft candles and has had a single table placed inside – just for us.

“Happy Anniversary,” grins the host, who seats us, hands us our menus and skips out of the room feeling, I hope, inordinately proud of himself.

The menu is pretty unique, in the sense that food is priced according to courses (one course for R135, two courses for R185… all the way to five courses for R325) and wine divided into price categories – meaning you either score or get seriously stiffed on resturant mark-up depending on which bottle you order.

In response to the biblical Cape Town heat we go with the always delicious Raats Chenin, which smacks of sweet melon and citrus. (And makes a rather scrumptious spritzer, we discover, when G accidently refills wine into my water glass).

For starters, I decide to skip the delicious-sounding salads and order the Roasted field mushroom with caramelized onion, gorgonzola and creamy artichoke & truffle sauce. It’s absolutely scrumptious and, for once, G (who’s ordered his staple Beef Carpaccio – always a winner) is the one with food envy. Every main course on the menu looks amazing, but I settle on the Linefish, a red snapper with sweet pepper puree and fresh asparagus, paired with generous scoops of gorgeous roasted and mashed pumpkin from G’s plate. True to man-form, he orders the Tournedos of beef fillet, with roast pumpkin, rosemary spiked potato chips and béarnaise sauce. It’s not the most amazing fillet of all time, but the accompaniments are fantastic and our setting is so lovely as to make up for any imperfection.

The dessert menu is absolutely sublime and, despite my pressing desire for stretchy pants and a couch somewhere cool, I find myself seduced by the fresh strawberries, hazelnut meringue and white chocolate custard with berry foam and shortbread. It’s pavlova in a glass, only better. G orders the Caramelized banana with vanilla cream, ginger crumbs, banana ice cream and chocolate tuille, which is so heavenly I don’t know whose plate to attack first.

Our waiter is attentive and charming for most of the evening and food arrives right on time, every time – until the restaurant fills up. But, to be fair, we are a little out of his line of sight and, as long as there’s wine in our glasses, we’re happy to be left alone.

Five Flies Restaurant & Bars is open for Lunch, Monday to Friday: 12H00 – 15H00 and Dinner, Monday to Sunday: 18H00 to 23H00

14-16 Keerom Street, Cape Town

(021) 424 4442

Montrose Petit Jeanne & Chili Chocolate Steak get their Groove on in my Tummy.

I missed G’s birthday this year, having to work a 15 hour day that culminated in a long, up it’s own behind, compulsory carol service. I got parked in. I threw a (minor) tantrum in front of Grade 8 whose elderly, sleeping relative had parked me in. Once free, I drove like a demon back to Vredehoek, nearly bashed into another car (several times) and made it home by 10:30… Just in time to kiss the three course romantic dinner I had been planning goodbye.

So I vow to make it up to him the first evening we both have completely free and select the most incredible looking recipe for Coffee-rubbed Fillet with Chili Chocolate Sauce. (Thank you Women’s Health). But with so much energy invested, and focussed through the lens of my perfect-moment-syndrome neurosis, I know that the evening’s wine choice has to be perfect.

So it’s off to my cellar (that’s right, the dark shoe cupboard in the spare room) to visit my babies: wines of absolute beauty that make me mildly giddy at the prospect of opening them and, like goldilocks, struggle to make up my mind.

This one’s not special enough.

That one’s almost too special, but seemingly sacrilegious to open so young.

And then I see it. Bottom row centre, between the Meerlust Rubicon 03 and the Warrick Trilogy ’05 – The Montrose Petit Jeanne 2004.

The Mont what? – Was exactly what I asked when a regular at Carlyles sold it to me, years back in my apron-toting youth. I was absolutely clueless about wine and thought that all I’d ever need to know was that red was red-coloured and

white was, well, you get the idea. He got a fantastic deal for me, assuring me that it was worth three times what I was paying and I’d be mad not to snap it up immediately. And so I did, and dutifully stored it away in a drawer somewhere.

Cut to five years later and I decide to crack open the first bottle of wine I ever bought. And so I re-read the label – my eyes lighting up like a Christmas Tree. ‘Hand-crafted by the Wine Studio (ding!), aged for twelve months in French barrels (ding!), matured in the De Toren cellar ‘ (ding, ding ding!!!) ‘and forged in the fires of Mount Doom…’ (Suddenly, I can’t help it, I hear Gandalf’s voice in my head.)

The wine is simply heavenly, savory at first whiff with a slightly earthy nose. A sip reveals smoky flavours, ripe red berries, subtle pepper and a long bitter-sweet, almost caramel finish. The Petit Jeanne is smooth, Sean Connery smooth, with velvet tannins and a lovely soft mouthfeel.

And boy oh boy, does it go beautifully with the beef fillet (500g), which I coat with olive oil and NOMU Coffee Rub and sear for about three minutes per side. The sauce is simple but gorgeous, and here’s what you’ll need:

125ml good quality beef stock (I used NOMU concentrate)
65ml red wine
1 small chili, finely chopped
70g god quality dark chocolate (Thanks, Lindt)
40ml reduced-fat cream
15 ml chopped rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

Throw the red wine, stock and chili into a saucepan and simmer until reduced by half. Then add the chocolate, being sure to test for poison by sampling a good bite yourself, and whisk until the sauce thickens. Add the rosemary, cream and salt & pepper to taste.

The fillet is goooood. Cut from the blessed crop of the Woolworths butcher, I suppose its hard to get wrong… but that doesn’t stop my chest from puffing out in kitchen-wench pride. And while the sauce packs a serious bite, a few more ladles of low fat (low guilt) cream works wonders on its little fangs.

Okay, so when everyone right now is thinking Roast Gammon and Nathaniel’s Tuducken, this dish isn’t exactly Christmas-sy. But drink enough good red wine and an evening can be as festive as it gets.

Mezzaluna

It’s finally date night and I’ve been looking forward to dinner at Mezzaluna for weeks. This cozy spot in Loop Street ticks all the right boxes for authentic Italian fare with its chalkboard specials, checked tablecloths and larger-than-life proprietor Jimmy Fiore.

We’re seated near one of the large windows, facing the blinking red sign of the local Adult World… which somewhat reduces the romantic Italian ambiance.  But all is more than made up for by the warmth of our host and the sheer culinary yumminess that is to follow.

Keen to do things right this evening, I’ve come armed with an elasticized waistband and a bottle of Italian vino that G brought over from his trip to Italy. I’ve heard stories of Jimmy’s habit of sampling any corkage that crosses his path and so the overachiever in me is crushed when he labels it as ‘not bad’. He quickly elaborates, however, declaring that South African wine is far nicer than anything Italy has to offer. And I couldn’t agree more.

We salivate over the menu and decide to start with the pasta course (you have to love a country that encourages you to devour vast quantities of pasta as your first course). G orders the Mushroom Ravioli with creamy parmesan cheese and I (true to my Butternut addiction) order the Panzerotti with pumpkin, sage, butter and black pepper. The pasta, which is home-made on site, is cooked to al-dente perfection and both meals are truly and simply sublime.

Still starving, G orders the veal which is served on the bone with simple but perfectly fluffy mashed potatoes on the side. It’s a little bland but I figure, after the previous course, what wouldn’t be?

I’m completely stuffed but, egged on by G’s food lust, I order the smoked tuna carpaccio. It’s gorgeous and so soft – bathed in olive oil and lemon juice. I manage a few delicious bites and hand the rest to G, who happily cleans my plate.

The service at Mezzaluna is a little awkward as this is our waiter’s first shift. But any rough edges are quickly smoothed by the personal attention of our host, who makes us feel like we’re the only table in the restaurant.

I leave, inspired to master the art of real Italian cooking at home but suspect I’ll never be able to match what the chef at Mezzaluna can do. And I for one can’t wait to drop in soon and let them do it all over again.

Mezza Luna is located at 6 Loop Street, Cape Town 8001, South Africa

(021) 421 6391

Breakfast: 7.30am – 4pm, Monday to Friday

Lunch: 7.30am – 4pm, Monday to Friday

Dinner: 7pm – 11pm, Tuesday – Saturday