JUST KEEP TO THE STEAK IN A STEAKHOUSE

Smoked salman trout on deep fried rosti.

Smoked salman trout on deep fried rosti.

Cattle Baron
Umhlanga Pearls
7 Mc Causland Cres, Umhlanga.
Call 031 561 9011

I fear for the future of chef-owned restaurants. With the the high cost of running a restaurant is it only franchise operations that can survive? And are they serving the cause of fine food? 

There are around 23 Cattle Baron franchise restaurants in South Africa. Most of them in the Cape. Their first in KwaZulu Natal, has just opened in the Pearls in Umhlanga.
How depressing.
Depressing because Umhlanga is becoming wall-to-wall franchise restaurants and it seems there is less and less room for the individually-owned eatery. Probably due to exorbitant rents and running costs. How can a one-man operation compete against the might of the Spur Corporation, Famous Brands, and Taste Holdings, all major players in the restaurant industry.
Depressing because the whole concept of franchises is to keep costs down and profits high and the only way to do this is to compromise on food. It’s strict portion control, pre-coooking and cooking by numbers. Little inspiration here.
Depressing because the last three mediocre meals I ordered recently have been in franchise restaurants.
But Cattle Baron is the one that convinced me. If you eat at a steakhouse, eat steak. That’s common sense. The seafood, chicken and vegetarian options are concessions to those who, unwillingly, find themselves at steakhouses. Like a work colleague’s farewell or a friend’s birthday celebration.

A LOVE AFFAIR WITH HEIRLOOM TOMATOES

Heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes

A Black Crim (Crimea) tomato. Steve rtes this the tastiest slicing tomato there is.

A Black Crim (Crimea) tomato. Steve rates this the tastiest slicing tomato there is

By day STEVE HASKINS  is a businessman. After hours he fulfils his passion for growing heirloom tomatoes on an allotment in Assagay. Here he explains his love of  good coffee, food and the appeal of heirloom tomatoes. Once tasted… never forgotten.

I arrived in South Africa from Europe in the mid 70’s after having fled rightwing warmongering America. Ironic to end up in South Africa you say. Well, there is one thing worse than fascist fanatics waging never ending war, and that is a European winter. The allure of the “endless summer” brought me to South Africa in spite of the perils and politics of the time. Having arrived in Johannesburg in June it was like summer compared to what I had been through in Europe. Then, after arriving in Durban in July and going for a dip in the 23C water, I decided I was going to stay and try to survive. Avocados were R1 a dozen! I will try to survive.
One of my early experiences in Durban was to go to a well-known Italian restaurant on West Street called Aldos. I had spent a year in Italy and it was there I first experienced fine dining and true coffee. Being American I had been exposed to what was referred to as “Joe” – percolator coffee served in mugs in an endless cycle of refills. It was black and watery and it was all we knew.
In Italy I first experienced traditional Italian cooking and real coffee made in a simple stainless steel espresso pot. Chalk and cheese. The bars and cafes had pressurised espresso machines, but for home the simple espresso pot was the norm.
So going out to an “authentic” family Italian restaurant in Durban I naturally was looking forward to real Italian coffee, but was  shocked to be served the standard of the time, a Frisco-type coffee substitute. Disappointed, I politely called over the owner, one of Aldo’s son’s and asked him why they didn’t serve proper Italian coffee. His reply was, “we did at first but the South Africans complained and turned up their noses. So we gave them what they wanted.”
So now 40 years later South Africans have changed their tastes and few choose the chicory that was then the prefered norm.
So what does this have to do with heirloom tomatoes you ask? Well, it’s about going back to a food’s origins and discovering authentic flavours.

CAFE LA PLAGE: DINING ON THRONES

Frank's prawn risotto

Frank’s prawn risotto starter

A dorado to remember

A dorado to remember

Cafe la Plage (the beach), a new restaurant in The Pearls in Umhlanga,  is making waves.  

Cafe La Plage Restaurant & Bar
Shop D1 Pearl Walk,  Pearls of Umhlanga,
McCausland Crescent,  Umhlanga,
Call 031 561 9999

Cafe la Plage is one restaurant you are unlikely to forget. Ever. For several reasons, some good and some not so good. Firstly the decor. The furniture is baroque-like with a distressed paint finish, the flooring looks like retro lino, but is in fact tiles, long metal beams line the low ceiling over the large bar area, the lighting is purple, and two gilded thrones take pride of place in the lounge area. The overall effect is startling. It’s a look I can only describe it as Housewives of Hollywood meet Housewives of Bollywood.  But it’s not quite as startling as the gold plastic thrones (toilets) in the bathrooms, which are generating serious chat on social media.
The decor looked as if it had been conceptualised by a committee of Kazakhstan designers. On the other hand, reviewers on Trip Advisor described it variously as “well-designed”, “very upmarket” and “elegant” . So, perhaps it’s a matter of taste. Borat would approve, though.
On the positive side was our food, which ranged from pleasant and just a hair’s breath away from being very good to superb. Some tweaking was needed here. Another positive is the efficient service. – and friendly vibe.

ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS

kettle-1

Affordable (mostly) gifts for Christmas for the foodie in your life.

My heart has long yearned for an Alessi electric cordless kettle, but its R4 599 price tag has put it far out of my reach – and no one seems prepared to buy it for me for Christmas. Boo hoo. (The  kettle featured above is the stove kettle; the cordless kettle looks the same except it has a base.)
But there are many other kitchen gadgets that are as quirky as the bird kettle, but considerably cheaper. Happily. And they would make great Christmas gifts. I browsed through www.yuppiechef.co.za to come up up with a selection of potential gifts that won’t make a hole in your pocket. Below this are also suggestions sourced from the Live’In store in La Lucia.

A TALL STORY

Marinated chicken breast

Marinated chicken breast

Deconstructed caprese salad

Deconstructed caprese salad

It’s refreshing to see a creative chef confident and competent enough to tell stories through his food, but someone should do some editing.   

STORY
3 Lumsden Crescent, Morningside, Durban
031 827 8679

It’s rare that I’m left gobsmacked by a dish, but it happened to me at Story, a new fine dining restaurant in upper Morningside. More about that later
I hope I don’t sound like some rancid foodie who’s heard it all; who believes there are no new stories left to tell about food and restaurants. There are. The restaurant world is constantly evolving.  Think of Ferran Adria’s elBulli and molecular gastronomy. Or Noma in Copenhagen which is redefining what’s edible each time it serves “Moss and Cep” – a snack of crispy deer lichen dusted with “cep” mushrooms resting on a bed of bright green moss. Or the world’s top restaurant for 2016, Osteria Franciscan, which presents quirky dishes like “five stages of Parmigiano Reggiani”, and “eel swimming up the Po river”. They have helped make chef Massimo Bottura’s tiny venue in Modena one of Italy’s most popular eateries.
Now they have success stories to tell. But the problem with Damian Beneruso, executive chef of Story, it’s not clear what story he’s telling. And he’s no Massimo Bottura. Yet.