PIERRE BROUARD VISTS SMITHFIELD’S ARTS FESTIVAL, SAMPLES THE FOOD AND ARTS ….AND RUNS INTO SOME FAMILIAR FACES
Is Smithfield the town that time forgot or is it finding its feet? Thanks to the Platteland Preview – a boutique arts festival the weekend before the Grahamstown Festival – it might just have turned a corner. On the food front, there are glimmers of hope too.
We were a mixed bunch that drove into town last Friday. Four of us came from Gauteng and two from Durban and we met in what must be the middle of South Africa, or the middle of nowhere, depending on your outlook. Two years of road works that all but crippled the town are now over and there is hope it will take off as a weekend destination for the Bloem crowd looking for an alternative to Clarens.
A veritable feast was laid out by the locals for the opening night – homemade breads, wonderful dips, local delicacies and gluhwein warmed us up for the risqué delights of Jemma Kahn’s “We didn’t come to hell for the croissants”, who ended her performance by baring her breasts and tossing her tassels.
After performances like these you want to go out and have some fun, but Smithfield has not quite got this bit right. Yet. We did hear there was a shebeen that was pumping but we didn’t make it. Maybe next year.
What we did try were three venues in town. The Laughing Likkewaan offers a set three-course menu for lunch and supper. It’s ideally placed next to an excellent bookshop (think literary classics, Africana and coffee tables treasures) and a small gallery, and run by ex-Durbanite, Greg May. Greg has something of a greying Orson Welles about him as he solemnly intones the menu. The butternut soup lacked a bit of voomah as did the bobotie and lamb stew, but they were welcomingly warm for this cold time of the year. We enjoyed the home-made ice creams very much and the wine we brought along was delicious!
D’Vine Smithfield is a cute little deli and coffee shop and it was packed throughout the festival. Durban visitor Meleney Cunniffe was delighted to discover Afrikaner specialities like skaap stertjies and the mince jaffles (that was a throwback to the past), muffins and pies were tasty and fresh. We hung out there a lot through the festival – in that weather you have to eat and drink your way to warmth.
Nick’s Place was our last find and it was worth the wait. Our host, Fabrice, came to South Africa with Holiday on Ice and stayed in Durban originally. For a cook he was enviably slim, clearly having kept his skater’s figure, and his charming hospitality added to the pleasure of the lunch we had there. Rillettes (or potted pork to the rest of us), creamy liver pate and soup (butternut or fresh tomato) were greatly enjoyed starters and the mains were pronounced delicious too. Battered and fried hake and chips, a hearty fish pie and mash, and venison pie were met with overwhelming approval. This was unpretentious country food with a sophisticated edge.
A long walk later that day showed just how derelict parts of the town are: an empty backpackers’ lodge and a swimming pool long dry told a story of what Smithfield once was. It could get back there. It’s a quirky little place with a story to tell. From a food point of view, the story has already started.