Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Anthony's Golden Cup, Cape Town

On a photo-taking expedition with a friend, I discovered Anthony's Golden Cup, an unsuspecting coffee shop on Loop Street in Cape Town. If you're a fan of good coffee, but tired of the overpriced pretense of some of Cape Town's famed coffee spots; Anthony is your guy. I spent some weeks contemplating whether or not to blog about this little gem, given that it is this kind of act that sends little corner cafes to the dark side. So here's my request: try it out; take a friend, but don't tell everyone you know. Let's keep this our little secret.

Anthony prides himself in having worked with coffee for over 45 years. He told us he had worked in a coffee factory many years ago, before moving on to open his own coffee shop. One might not expect it from a little dark-horse cafe such as this, but his experience certainly comes through in the coffee itself, which quietly and humbly challenges the likes of Cape Town's best. There is an overwhelming variety of coffee to choose from, with origins all across Africa and South America and blends such as French Vanilla, English Toffee, Hazelnut and even Amarula, to mention but a few. The beans are ground in front of your eyes and your chosen coffee lovingly brewed by the friendly Anthony himself, who if you ask, will happily tell you his heartwarming story. The interior of this special place speaks simultaneously to its owner's humble disposition and his glowing pride. It's definitely worth a visit.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Cafe Paradiso, Cape Town

A big fan of the Madame Zingara restaurant group, I had to try the famed Cafe Paradiso on Kloof Street. This rustic, neighbourhood restaurant is set back from the street by a lovely outdoor area with braziers and water features, dotted with tables. Inside, there is not a great deal of space, but in usual Zingarian style, the higgledy-piggledy nature of the interior works to create cosiness from chaos, and this feeling is enhanced by the ever-kooky wait-staff.

The menu sports a decent number of vegetarian options, including a risotto, a few pasta dishes, some salads and an antipasti platter. As usual, there are also always a few specials on offer too. To start, my friend and I shared the pan fried halloumi salad with fattoush salad. The salty halloumi was the perfect balance between oozy and firm, and was well contrasted by the freshness of the tomato, cucumber and herb salad. It comes served on a long wooden board, and is a great starter to share. For mains I had a stuffed zucchini flower salad. The zucchini flowers had been stuffed with cream cheese, lightly battered and deep fried. They were great fun, but were served with marinated and roasted strips of zucchini and rocket leaves, which were drenched in a very vinegary dressing. As a dish, it was far too vinegary and green, and would have benefitted from less dressing, a wider selection of salad leaves, and perhaps a few cherry tomatoes. My friend had spinach and ricotta filled ravioli coated in sage butter and topped with cherry tomatoes. The pasta was great, but, having been advertised as having cherry tomatoes, these were incredibly sparse.

Although the food could have done with a few tweaks here and there, the Zingarian experience is always fabulous, and the atmosphere and service makes up for the odd shortfall in the food. Again, there are a number of vegetarian dishes on the menu, and I'd say this one is definitely worth a try. I'll certainly be going back.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Skinny Legs & All, Cape Town

Skinny Legs & All is a luxury cafe on Loop Street, opened by two young ladies with a passion for food. The menu is smorgasbord of deliciousness, sporting the likes of gourmet salads and sandwiches, breakfasts and hot meals. Proportionally, the vegetarian selection is great, and there are always daily specials to keep you interested. I had one of these; a quinoa salad, flavoured with cinnamon and sultanas, and sporting avocado, brinjal, rocket and almonds. It was spectacularly wholesome and delicious at the same time, and the proportions of the ingredients were considered and subtle. I paired it with a ginger tea, served with fresh slices of ginger and a little bowl of honey.

My housemates, with whom I was dining, chose the mushroom parcel and an open sandwich respectively. The mushroom parcel, chosen by housemate 1, was gorgeously presented in a paper parcel tied up lovingly with a piece of string, and accompanied by some brown rice. An assortment of wild mushrooms created much interest and texture, complementing the fluffy brown rice perfectly.

Housemate 2 has boldly declared that this is the best sandwich she has ever eaten (this was in fact her second time eating at Skinny Legs and All, having returned solely for this sandwich). Fresh rye bread is smothered in a homemade basil pesto, and then lavishly decorated with blushing slow roasted tomatoes, the cutest little buffalo mozzarella balls, rocket and micro greens (grown in the restaurant). The simplest ingredients come together on this single slice of bread to make the most delectable sandwich imaginable. It's what simple food is all about.

Despite neither of them having any formal training, these two girls make really good food. It is clear that their enthusiasm and perfectionism leads them to do almost everything themselves, resulting in a wonderful dishes. However, this also means the service is considerably slow; something that would be very easy to remedy. The decor is not yet quite established. Though the interior has great potential for a chic feel, incongruent, brash artworks adorn the walls and contrast with the delicate hanging dancers that are tucked away at the back of the restaurant. The food is quite pricey, but the girls score extra points for using only free-range milk and eggs and for making all of their own sauces, pestos and preserves. All in all, this is a great spot to sneak off to on payday to remind you that there are cafes out there that cater specifically to the vegetarian and pay attention to the source of their ingredients. Indeed, this is a cafe suitable for vegetarians.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Planet Restaurant, Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town

On a special occasion, Boyfriend and I decided to book somewhere fancy. We chose The Planet Restaurant at the Mount Nelson Hotel. We were treated with an appropriate level of enthusiasm, and served a complementary glass of sparkling wine. The staff have clearly been well trained, but missed one crucial point. Soon after being seated we received a platter of truly South African appetisers, including mini mince-stuffed vetkoeks, and other meaty not-treats, for two vegetarians. So that part was understandable, considering we hadn't yet had a chance to tell them we were vegetarians. However, even after explaining to them why we had not eaten the canapes, we were presented with a complementary braised beef and cauliflower soup. This start to the evening was rather surprising, really, especially considering The Planet offers a vegan set menu. I have to admit though, once we got it across that we were vegetarians, we were brought a newly made soup sans braised beef, and my was it incredible? It was light and fluffy, fully flavoured and very cauliflower. Delicious.

For mains I had ordered a wild mushroom risotto. Where to start. It was oily and rich and topped with an incongruent and unexplained green mouse of some description. I think it may have been a matter of too much parmesan cheese, but I was literally separating off the rice and mushrooms from the oil by tilting my plate at an angle. I didn't finish it. Boyfriend had a butternut ravioli, which was technically a better dish, but its filing was very sweet and over-infused with a citrus flavour. All in all, neither of us much enjoyed our mains, and moved bravely on to dessert.

I had the lemon chiboust with a strawberry salad. This redeemed my dining experience. It was light and subtle, garnished intricately with burn sugar and the most delightful strawberry salad. The salad presented strawberries in a multitude of forms: dried, , candied, fresh (and so thinly sliced). Boyfriend had the fresh fruit terrine sorbet, which was an assortment of home made sorbets, that really hit the spot.

Nonetheless, it is not worth getting carried away on good desserts when the rest of the experience was not up to scratch. For an upmarket restaurant, with considerably high prices, we were not satisfied. The decor is another story. Located in the grand old Mount Nelson Hotel, right next to the elegant and grandiose Garden Room, The Planet has been redecorated to a modern style which some may not appreciate. The galaxy-patterned carpets, glittery menus and light fittings, and glass planet ball-balls really contrast with the fine linen and and vaulted ceilings that speak to the colonial decor featured throughout the rest of the hotel. It was not our taste.

If you're vegan, it might be worth trying the vegan journey menu, considering the scarcity of vegan fine-dinging restaurants in South Africa, but as a vegetarian, I think you can do much better!

La Mouette, Cape Town

My dad and I were recommended this restaurant by my restaurant-snob-cousin, who raved about their spring tasting menu. So off we went to La Mouette on his stern advice. This is probably one of the most enjoyable fine-dining restaurants I have been to in Cape Town, at the most reasonable price, and with a menu suitable for vegetarians. We dove straight into the tasting menu, which has vegetarian alternatives for all of the meat and fish dishes, so you are really made to feel welcome. This six course tasting menu, at only R120, blew our minds. We enjoyed it with a wine pairing too, which comes at an additional cost, but is well worth the experience if you enjoy your wine and are interested in appropriate pairings.

We were started off with onion bhaji and potato samosas on a yogurt and coriander dipping sauce. This dish transported these indian favourites from the fast-food takeaway corner shop to the fine-cuisine dining table. Served in an offset bowl, which invites you most adorably to try these little treats, this was a great way to start the meal. The second dish was a butternut soup. I wasn't too excited about a butternut soup. These days, lazy restaurants serve "creamy butternut soup" everyday as their daily soup, and it is almost always simply pureed butternut and potato, sometimes overpowered by sugar or citrus, allowing the chef to feel like she made it really special for you. Boring! But this butternut soup was utterly delectable. Light in viscosity and delicate in flavour, this teacupful of butternut soup was topped with a pumpkin and cumin seed oil, allowing it to transcend its tarnished title and remain firmly in my mind the most delicious soup I've had all year.

Next came a grilled angelfish and asparagus salad, with cherry tomatoes and baby green leaves. The angelfish was perfectly grilled and its saltiness contrasted beautifully with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the subtlety of the asparagus. There was a vegetarian alternative to this dish, of course, but I chose to try the fish. The thing about tasting menus is that if you like something as much as I liked this dish, you're always left wanting more. Until the next course comes along, of course, and takes your tasting experience to the next level. And next up was a sweetcorn risotto, with cherry tomatoes, topped with a few greens. I was a little disappointed with this dish, to be honest. Being someone who cooks a lot of risottos myself, I found the rice to be slightly undercooked. On the other hand, it retained the most gooey ooziness, and was uplifted by the fresh, light flavour of the sweetcorn.

After this, we were served a little dessert called Sunny Side Up (click here for recipe), which is an apricot and yogurt delight that is designed to look just like a fried egg. The centre is an apricot jelly, made from fresh apricots, and the white is a yogurt espuma. It was surprisingly delicious and refreshing: the perfect interlude between savoury and sweet. Last up was an ice-cream cheesecake: a scoop of homemade cheesecake flavoured ice-cream balanced on a bed of crumbled biscuit base and accompanied by decorative cubes of pink jelly and sliced marshmallows. This was a fun, cheeky dessert to top off an exciting and stimulating dining experience.

Having raved about the food, I'm now going to rave, unwaveringly, about the rest of the experience. The service was unbelievably quick, with dishes coming out almost as soon as the last had been taken away. The wait staff were very well trained and happily knowledgable about both the food and wines. Management was present and friendly, the owner herself visiting our table for a chat during our meal and indulging us with some of the details of the restaurant's story. The chef is her husband, and, having done some cooking in Europe, he recognises the trend toward making good food at a reasonable price using local, seasonal ingredients that, with a little creativity, bring together simplicity and flavour. I can't recommend this restaurant more. Especially because it allows vegetarians to dine alongside their meat-eating friends without dragging them to restaurants they don't want to eat at, or having to ask the chef specially to make something they can eat. The restaurant is in a big, beautiful old home on Regent Street and the decor is equally grand and tasteful. With brilliant food and superb service, this is my number one restaurant for 2011.

Blue Waters Cafe, Port Elizabeth

This week I had a little one night rendezvous with my boyfriend in Port Elizabeth. Why PE, I'm sure you're asking? The closest airport to Grahamstown, where said boyfriend is studying, is the PE "International" airport. We stayed in a hotel across the road from Blue Waters Cafe, and decided to head over the road for dinner, the advantage being that we could try a few cocktails, have a glass of wine or two, and stumble home.

Situated right above the water's edge in Summerstrand, Blue Waters Cafe has a beautiful view of the sea and the pier. This is a good start. Friendly and efficient waitstaff attended to our cocktails and orders as we browsed the somewhat tackily presented menu, sporting random Jamie Oliver quotes about big mammas rolling pasta, and unrelated facts about herbs. The pickings are slim for the vegetarian. Other than a few light meals, the choice of two penne dishes, or a vegetarian platter did not really impress us. The idea of a plate of every non-meat item in the kitchen, all on one plate, usually in measly proportions, is never appealing. We decided, since we were at the seaside, to have fish.

Said boyfriend ordered the blackened Kingklip with chips and veg. A decent sized piece of fish it was, but I'm not sure I was such a fan of the cajun flavours with seafood. Slightly dry, but certainly fresh, this dish didn't impress us much. I ordered a fried hake and grilled calamari combo, which was a luckier pick. The hake was beautifully tender and moist, and the calamari was soft and delicately seasoned. I ordered these with surprisingly lovely savoury rice and veggies, and really enjoyed the whole meal.

Boyfriend and I are big on our baked cheesecake, so for dessert, we opted to give theirs a try. Though somewhat skimpy on the base, it was a pretty good version. It had good flavour, but it did seem as though they had used chunky cream cheese rather than smooth, which made it somewhat lumpy. Nonetheless, still a great way to end what turned out to be not a bad meal all 'round.

I wouldn't recommend this restaurant for the discerning vegetarian who likes variety, but it's pretty good as far as seafood goes. What this restaurant lacks in edge on the food front, it makes up for in location, service and ambiance, and for Port Elizabeth, we thought it was pretty good.

The Sidewalk Cafe, Cape Town

I begin with an old favourite. The Sidewalk Cafe in Vredehoek, Cape Town is an intimate, quirky spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The restaurant really is on a street corner, giving the interior a remarkably cosmopolitan feel. Tables on the street side are great during the day, and blankets will keep the breeze off on a summer's eve. The decor is cute and somewhat tongue in cheek, with painted white kitchen utensils hanging from the ceiling and mismatched tablecloths complementing the kitch aprons worn by delightfully funky wait staff.

As for the food, there is something for everyone on the menu, which changes from time to time, while old favourites are always available. Veggie friendly breakfasts, salads, sandwiches and soups satisfy the day-bug. For dinner, the creamy red coconut curry is deliciously spicy and peanutty, and never fails to impress. The chef is happy to alter dishes slightly on request, and I've twice enjoyed the leek, pea and mint risotto with goats cheese balls sans the pancetta. This dish is slightly rich, so it's great if you're ordering it as one of a few things to share. Daily specials sometimes include the odd vegetarian dish, so do ask about those. The only dish I've had off this menu that I wouldn't recommend is the Portabella mushroom stuffed with sundried tomato pesto and mozzarella. I thought this was really just a big, poorly seasoned mushroom smothered in far too much pesto. Not only is this uncreative, it is not very filling.

If you're a fish fan, that's one thing Sidewalk really does well. Ask about the linefish of the day - I'm always impressed with the way the chef gets his fish perfectly succulent and complements it with something interesting, like wasabi mash. I've had great Cape Salmon here. The fish and chips are another must. Chunky, strips of hake fillet battered in the lightest and crispiest crunch come in a delightful little bucket, accompanied by potato wedges and homemade tatare sauce.

All in all, this is a great little restaurant that offers just enough for the vegetarian to keep you coming back until you've tried everything on the menu, and then again and again to repeat your old favourites. The service is impecable and fun, and the food is reliably delicious. Don't forget to book, because it's a busy little street corner, and you don't want to hit peak traffic unprepared.