Our trip in South Africa continues, it was difficult to bid farewell to the safari at Pilanesberg and head south to Cape Town, the second most populous city after Johannesburg. Cape Town is one of the most multicultural cities in the world and with a population of 3.5 million, I can’t wait to dig in to and explore the food scene in this “City Bowl”.
We check into Taj hotel upon arrival in Cape Town. The hotel is situated right bang in city centre, only a few streets hop from Long Street, the main street where all the actions take place. Trust luxury hotel accommodation group to know how to spoil their guests, the room itself is invitingly homely and comfortable, that offers a breathtaking view over the city skyline with the majestic Table Mountain standing tall as the backdrop, it absolutely takes my breath away.
When you think it could not get any better, how about a “Pillow Menu” that offers 10 different pillow options for you to choose from, which includes Contoured Cervical Pillow, Aromatherapy Latex Pillow, Body Pillow also known as Pregnancy Pillow, Cuddle Up Pillow, Buckwheat Pillow and Boomerang Pillow just to name a few.
Planet Restaurant at Mount Nelson Hotel
Our dinner this evening will be hosted at Planet Restaurant at Mount Nelson Hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels in Cape Town. All rooms are elegantly decorated to retain the Victorian charm, staying in one of the deluxe rooms will set you back at US$500 per night and goes up from there for the suites. Then there is the Planet Restaurant with crystal balls grace the entrance and the most impressive custom made one-piece carpet, a mirror image of the galaxy taken from the NASA satellite is now under your feet. It gives ‘dining under (or perhaps above) the stars’ a whole new meaning.
South African renowned chef Rudi Liebenberg with his food philosophy of featuring local and seasonal ingredients has designed a modern contemporary menu by taking you on a journey of gastronomic discovery. As punchy as it may sound, we are indeed taking “The Journey”, a six-course tasting menu with matching wine paired by the sommelier.
The ‘journey’ starts with delightful amuse bouche of zucchini and lemon thyme mousse, salmon roll, springbok tartare and chakalaka springroll. Each little morsel brings a unique touch to South African food, particularly loving the raw springbok tartare served with chakalaka, a spicy pickled vegetable relish.
Chef Rudi has a whole food philosophy revolves around the humble tomato, it makes all perfect sense when a complimentary of “tomato dish” arrives at our table. The tomato is served in its purest and simplest form, a terrine of confit tomato and slivers of avocado resonates ‘umami’ on every bite.
Next course is spice cured salmon trout served with silky smooth cauliflower panna cotta, sour cream adds zing. A couple of us opt for the vegetarian menu which gives us a glimpse of the alternative option where the second course is replaced with marinated mushroom terrine beautifully plated on a wooden block recycled from an old wine barrel.
The next course takes us to somewhere a little more daring and adventurous, thinly shaved smoked crocodile meat is served with artichoke mayonnaise and tiny baby gem lettuce leaves. The crocodile is tender than chicken, but sadly the saltiness has killed the delicate flavours. I soon realised that food in this country are generally over salted for no particular reason.
The broad bean risotto is cooked to perfection, the rice is al dante with a bite coated in herbacious broad bean puree, but it is the soft creamy sweetbreads and smoked oyster swoon me over.
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Last savoury course is red meat but not beef, instead we are treated to beetroot glazed springbok fillet that is incredibly tender with a sweet delicate flavour not as strong as venison. Once again, paired with spicy chakalaka to cut the richness of the meat.
Our desserts are paired De Krans, a local Cape Tawny Port from Gamka River valley near Calitzdorp. A few go for the onion tart with blue cheese creme for dessert seem like a brave choice, whereas the strawberry 3-ways in sorbet, jelly and macerated is a light treat to cap the night off.
The “Chocolate……” wins the most votes at our table. This decadent multi textured of chocolate construction is a stairway to heaven, a quenelle of salted caramel and a scoop of peanut butter ice cream just makes you want to stay in heaven a little longer, in a good way.
Being on a Saturday, all the shops are actually closed and the city is literally dead. Long Street will only come to life at night time but we’ve been warned not to walk alone on the street at night and definitely not to venture into any dark alleys to avoid getting mugged or even more worse unimaginable scenarios.
We catch a cab and head to Long Street and dance the night away at a bar called Aces and Spades. The South Africans are definitely a passionate bunch, they greet us with the warmest smiles, the tightest hugs, the firmest handshakes and the sexiest bodies with the highest alcohol tolerance that puts Australians to shame. After a few too many Springbok shots were shared, I totally own the floor and claim the title of “The only Asian in the bar who groove”. I could be fabricating it, but the pulsating headache the very next morning is a good enough evidence.
Pit Stop – Table Mountain & Signal Hill Lookout
The weather doesn’t shout “cheer me up” today, it is overcast and foggy, the ‘Table’ is also now has white cloth draped over it, the money shot is no longer. But the view from the top looking back down is a whole different story.
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Table Mountain is towering over 3558ft above sea level, which was voted to be one of the new7wonders of the world, it is truly a remarkable sight to behold.
We arrive at the base of Table Mountain, a great vantage point that offers panoramic view over Cape Town. From here, you can also choose one of the many tracks to hike up to the top of the mountain, or better still, take the cable cars. Well, obviously it is not going to happen today especially with zero visibility from the top, we retreat and head to Signal Hills instead, another vantage point near Lion’s Head.
The view from this side of the mountain is just as spectacular, overlooking the coastal suburbs like Waterfront, Seapoint, Greenpoint, Camps Bay and also the Cape Town Stadium where FIFA World Cup 2010 was held.
Life drawing of the Lion’s Head at Signal Hills park.
Around the corner is the affluent suburb Camps Bay, an upmarket area which is renowned for its white sandy beaches and also restaurants.
Long Street and Kloof Street
The Long Street looks totally different during the day time on a weekday compares to the night before. This bustling street comes to life, tourists and locals alike are either shopping and dining at the shops along the street. If you are looking for Africans’s handmade souvenir, then you simply can’t go past the Pan African Market, a one-stop-shop for traditional African crafts sprawl over five floors. If you still can’t find an item to take home from here, then you can also go to Green Market Square, an open door market selling similar souvenirs.
Walking up Long Street towards the mountain will lead you to Kloof Street, a more trendy shopping strip just like Paddington in Sydney. Designer labels, concept stores, popular eateries are all here.
Cafe Paradiso on Kloof Street
Some says Table Mountain should be admired from afar, and the best spot to take in such grand view is sitting outside at Cafe Paradiso while sipping a cup of latte. Another food joint worths checking out is Hudson’s Burger Joint, renowned to serve one of the best burgers in town.
From one burger joint to another burger joint, we cross from the trendy Kloof Street to the hippest Bree Street for lunch at Clarke’s. Clarke’s is run by a young funky group of which I can safely used this word, “hispters”. Here they serve which I can also safely use this word, American style “dude food”, from pulled pork, huevos rancheros, to mac n cheese and of course, burgers. But customers come here mostly for the burgers.
The burger here is rather unique and one of its kind that I’ve seen and tasted. Keep it simple and the humble cheeseburger is all you need to really taste the flavoursome beefy pattie from Bill Riley Meats, sandwiched in a brioche bun that looks like a layered pastry but is soft and puffy like a cloud. Apparently the buns are specially made for Clarke’s at a small quantity, so only a limited number of burgers will be made daily.
If there isn’t enough cheese, we also order the cheese fries for a cheesy party. The American style soft chips are smothered in a spicy tomato sauce before covering with a blanket of melted cheddar.
Just around the corner from Clarke’s is Honest Chocolate, a small artisanal chocolate company where all chocolates are hand crafted in small batches, but I particularly love their packaging using artwork from local artists. Founder Michael has turned experiments into an upcoming business, teamed with 3 others.
The difference of Honest Chocolate is they are actually made organic, raw cacao ethically sourced from Ecuador. By using raw cocoa which has higher antioxidants therefore even better than regular dark chocolate. And the chocolate comes in a range of 72% nibs, 72% Maca which is a root from Peru which gives the chocolate a subtle malty flavour, 72% Coffe, 72% Kalahari Desert Salt, 72% orange and the bitter 88% pure cacao.
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
The rest of my afternoon is spent at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, or simply Waterfront. In my opinion, it is the “Darling Harbour” of Cape Town, a popular shopping and entertainment quarter frequented by tourists and locals.
I manage to squeeze in a coffee pit stop at Vovo Telo just outside the shopping mall. It is a franchise started in Johannesburg, and finally opened its first Cape Town branch few months ago. It feels homely and cozy inside, quirky artwork painted on walls and sweet sticky pastries in the glass cabinet welcome you as soon as you walk in. And the best selling point here at Vovo Telo is you can assure that everything is made in house, as I am lucky enough to grab a seat right next to the open kitchen bench as two staffs are busy rolling out fresh pasta. The chocolate brownie that I ordered is decadently rich, a perfect sweet match to a great up of coffee. Also, I rather surprised to find “flat white” on the menu too.
The weather is miserable, so as my day turns sour. As I attempt to get some cash out from the nearby ATM machine, a guy comes around pretending to try to help me. Anyway, to cut the long story short, my debit card is stolen in a flash by the conman and disappeared. Luckily the security guards at the mall are already onto him and end up with a car chase and a crash. The conman is arrested and my card is retrieved among few other cards.
It turns out to be a stressful day and spending the rest of the evening at the police station filing the case. I am just glad that I got my card back and no money was stolen. The Waterfront is generally a very safe place, I guess I was just at the wrong place and at the wrong time, unfortunately being picked as the victim. You’d have thought me being 6ft2 would have scared them off, obviously not the case. So piece of advice, be alert and vigilant at all times, and don’t let anyone to offer you help, and try to use ATM machines inside the mall rather than the one on the street.
Azure Restaurant at 12 Apostles Hotel
A dinner with two menus to choose from, even though I do not grasp the concept, but why not?
Azure Restaurant at 12 apostles hotel is run by two chefs, executive cheef Henrico Grobbelaar, and President of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, chef Beatrice Tollman. Each has his/her own menu which makes ordering food rather challenging. Each menu showcases the fresh seafood that Cape Town has to offer.
House made butter balls and a great variety of bread to choose from.
After a small amuse bouche of salmon terrine to whet the appetite, we kick start the meal with entree. For entree, Bea Tollman’s famous chicken noodle soup with homemade broth is just as comforting as mum’s cooking, served with a cute mini chicken pie on the side topped with flakey pastry.
From Henrico’s menu, the scallops are recommended to us; they are grilled to perfection with crispy edges, nicely plated with cauliflower puree, saffron sofrito, lemon tomato and Ras el Hanout praline. Crayfish and Prawn cocktail is also highly recommended from Enrico’s menu, served in a tall glass, succulent crayfish and Queen prawns are swimming in fresh lettuce, rocket, avocado and lime, then dressed with a piquant Marie rose sauce.
I’ve had some good oysters at the Sun City and decided to have oysters again, au natural of course. These freshly shucked West Coast oysters are smaller, but they are seriously creamy and full of sea brine flavour. Despite it comes with condiments of lemon wedge, cracked black pepper with mignonette salsa, seriously you don’t need it.
A palate cleanser is served between entree and main, everyone receives a spoonful of refreshing pineapple sorbet whisked by using liquid nitrogen. We are more thrilled when the sorbet is served with white fog flowing down the plate from dry ice.
Seafood, seafood and more seafood. For main, the prawn stroganoff on Bea’s menu is a class and loved by many. Bea’s spin on the classic creamy dish is hearty piled with plump prawns, and served with steamed basmatic rice to soak up all the rich creamy sauce.
Henrico goes for the Norwegian Salmon, a huge salmon fillet is confit then grilled for the crispy skin, nicely paired with horseradish gel, smoked potato and fennel beetroot salad.
The pan seared abalone on the menu has definitely caught my eyes. The fresh Abalone presented on this menu has been purchased in terms of Section 13 of the Marine Living Resources Act, 1998, and is in keeping with ‘Live Aquaculture’ Abalone harvesting.
Abalone is notoriously hard to be prepared, and quite often they are way too tough and chewy to be consumed. The abalone here is thickly sliced than pan seared possibly no more than few seconds, the flesh is firm with a bite, but I won’t say is as tender as I’d hoped for. The abalone also has very subtle flavour, accompanied with a super simple salad and home made potato wedges. I do crave for some sauce with this dish.
Sometimes the simplest is the best, the pot roasted sole not only looks good but taste just as fantastic in white wine dressing, with baby potatoes, sauteed mushrooms and fine beans.
At least we are safe that there is no seafood on the dessert menu. All desserts are beautifully plated with sensational flavours to boast. Mocha Mousse is a rich coffee chocolate parfait, with cubes of hazelnut cake, nut crumble dacquoise and Aramrula custard.
The cheese board is a sight to behold. Half a meter long of wooden plank is covered with a great selection of South African cheeses from blue, camembert, chevre to brie.
Simple named ‘Apple’, the dessert is a two hour confit granny smith galette, served with a puffy smoked brioche, pecans and the unusual szechuan peppercorn caramel with a little hint of spice.
The vanilla creme brulee is a riot served in a very long and thin bowl, just to see how far you can work your way through this rich and creamy custard.
When you can decide what to choose like me, then why not go for the Quartet of Desserts to try a little bit of everything? Don’t judge me. The platter comes with four of Azure’s signature treats which consists of Bea’s rice pudding with salted caramel and caramelised nuts which turns out to be my favourite, mousse mocha, hazelnut cake and a fruit salad.
Next time, I will just order the rice pudding instead, and not sharing.
[A Table For Two has travelled to South Africa as a guest of South Africa Tourism. Meals at Cafe Paradiso, Clarke’s, Honest Chocolate and Vovo Telo are paid at own expense.]