Do I look bloggered?

December 7th, 2011 § 15 comments § permalink

I haven’t blogged for so long I damn near forgot my password. So I went to Barcelona, ate at some fine restaurants, did the write-ups and stepped away from the machine. I could say it’s because I discovered I was totally iron-deficient and only ate liver, spinach, steak and almonds for a month. Or that I was hopelessly in love for the first time in centuries and turned into the oldest teenager on the block. Or maybe it’s just that I had the one under-whelming restaurant experience after the other.

How pretentious. Go overseas, eat at a couple of great restaurants and now nothing here is good enough? Not quite. It’s just that when I started this blog, restaurant reviews weren’t really going to feature. Due to my involvement with the Expresso Show on SABC3 that changed. The blog became restaurant review-driven. But successive mediocre over-priced meals started chipping away at my initial resolve to not bitch about other people’s efforts.

Now I feel like a cheap vacuum cleaner stuck in a corner. The following must be said.

I am totally gatvol of pseudo fine dining. It’s like a hologram of the real thing. Except for the prices. They are very real. An assemblage of decor, verbose menus, flavourless and overly engineered plated ‘elements’ that add jazz-hands visual appeal with no integrity. I feel so cheated when I eat this crap. It’s the food equivalent of Hong Kong Vuitton. And I don’t even like Vuitton. I know the South African public is gullible and tourists go far far away soon after they’ve been ripped off…

But enough of that. Unlike the predictable big five list of usual suspects that feature on too many mains menus. Hmm…. let me guess: duck, pork belly, springbok, linefish and steak. What do they do with the rest of that pig because everyone is so stuck on pork belly these days. With star anise and five spice? Now where have I seen that before….  EVERYWHERE!

Why is this getting to me now? Am I eating out too much? Probably. Which accounts for most of the bitterbek food critics out there. They’re just not hungry enough. For the record, I’m very happy with simple food, done well. The key is honesty. Walk your talk. Which brings me to my next point. Talk. I know food is bigger than sex these days and chefs are the new rock stars but try and be more like a drummer than a lead guitarist, okay. Just a thought. You never know when humble pie is served again.

Am I done, am I done? No. Dammit. It’s almost too easy to take potshots at waiters in this country but this deserves a mention. I recently ordered shrimp cakes with an avocado salad as a main. Cakes. That’s plural, right? Shrimp. Undefined multitude, maybe? I received one large family-sized viskoek. Shrimp are small, I know. And they come frozen and devoid of mega flavour. But they’re cheap so given the price of the koek (R95) I expected it to be packed tighter than a bulimic’s tuck box.

The koek consisted of kingklip and mashed potato with max 5 fingernail-sized shrimp. I was disappointed. When I inquired as to the whereabouts of the shrimp in my shrimp cake, I was told by a slow and overly-familiar waitress that I should be grateful for the abundance of fresh kingklip in my cake. This pearl of eschewed logic was delivered as she spun her weighty self around on challenged ankles. To illustrate how silly I am? THIS IS NOT A GAME OF WHOTHEFUCKAREYOU I felt like shouting at her. Bring the shrimp.


Exhibit A: half a cake splayed open to reveal its shrimp content


Another attempt at shaming her into admitting that the dish was a farce resulted in an explanation that the shrimp was chopped finely to ‘spread the flavour’. Micro-science is alive and well in Seapoint. No, I don’t want a complimentary dessert. Bring me a drink.

I first coined the term food fraud in Stellenbosch in the mid-nineties when I ordered a toasted baguette with mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and basil and got a floppy supermarket hot dog roll with cheddar cheese and tomato, microwaved to a radio-active pulp and then artfully wrapped in tin foil to resemble a giant metal sweetie.

I hate it when pretty words pimp nasty food.

Like a dessert I had at an otherwise nice establishment in Constantia recently. Don’t you think ‘Thyme brioche with lemon cream, blood orange jelly and meringue’ sounds nice? I did. An interesting departure from the usual dessert line-up which always includes some death-by-chocolate tart or fondant, pannacotta and/or crème brûlée and a berry mess.


Exhibit B: Trifle with borderline personality disorder


In the words of the late great Amy Winehouse, what kind of fuckery is this? Scatterlings of dry left-over breakfast brioche with not a hint of thyme, instant pudding-like custard with a limey twang, rock hard segments of blood orange jelly and the inexplicable addition of micro greens as garnish. Bwegh. As mentioned, this is an otherwise nice establishment so one can only hope this colourfast flavour-conundrum soon finds its way to the recipes-never-to-be-repeated file.

Does it feel good to get my bitch on? Not really. I’d rather have good food. I stopped blogging at about the same time Another Damned Food Blog appeared. It’s hilarious. An anonymous author rips into everything that’s fake, faddy and fraudulent in the food industry. No, it’s not me. I’ve been asked a few times and though flattered (bitch can write) I would never use the word fuck so much. Because I know like…you know, lots of words, like, adjectives and shit.


O where was I where was I… am I done? NO!!! How could I forget?! Cookbooks. Dear Lord! Please save us from the tsunami of mediocre google-cut-and-paste easy-as-microwave-pie bullshit books hitting the shelves roundabout now to fill the Christmas stockings of unsuspecting folk that really don’t need another potato bake recipe. I recently looked at a food author’s work and got the sneaky feeling a brief sleuth session on google would deliver most of her recipes, with minor adjustments. I didn’t bother. I did however bother to make a dish from a recently launched cookbook by one of our very own celebrity chefs. Much like Anthony Bourdain’s most recent literary offering Medium Rare, I got the feeling this chef was prompted by his handlers to produce a cookbook because it would be the money-savvy thing to do, rather than the expression of a soul brimming with culinary inspiration. I made a lamb knuckle dish that asks for 100g sugar to 600g of knuckle. What the… protein rich malva pudding? All I’m saying is people are gonna wise up. So surf this wave of indiscriminate consumption but just keep an eye on the rapidly approaching shoreline.

Funny how the guys at the top – apart from being really good because they are simply propelled to care more, try harder – usually don’t indulge add-on fuckery. Thanks David Higgs for creating a truly delicious and well-priced menu at your new joint in Joburg, thanks Bertus Basson for keeping it rock and roll real, thanks George Jardine for your individualistic flavour profile, thanks Richard Carstens for being the bravest food dreamer, thanks Luke Dale Roberts for spinning the funk into fine dining (your gourmand menu remains top of my bucket list), thanks Kobus van der Merwe for your articulate take on our orphaned food history, thanks to the Italian family who own Asta la Pasta because I eat there more than anywhere else, thanks Toerie from Umami for the best lunches in town, thanks Baker family from Wild Peacock for being real time food heroes, thanks Margot Janse for being the only woman to have truly given the boys a run for their money. There are many more… especially cooks rather than chefs, that feed us nicely.

Cheers to you


Your ever-lovin Kitchen Vixen





King of Zing at The Test Kitchen

July 12th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

I love freshness. In everything. Wine, food, people. The opposite of stodgy and staid and stuck in a rut. With food, it’s about more than the newness of the produce. That elusive fresh element has to do with a balance of flavours and a certain zing most commonly defined as acidity. Don’t let the word put you off. It’s when food hits your tongue and your mouth waters for more.

Chef supreme Luke Dale-Roberts talks about umami. That elusive fifth taste that fuses flavour to create a mouthfeel greater than the sum of its parts. It’s like a natural MSG that leads to unbridled plate scraping. And my meal at The Test Kitchen in Woodstock’s Biscuit Mill was laced with it. In The Test Kitchen, Luke has created the perfect playground for his imaginative East-meets-West flavour combinations to shine.


Keeping it tight - LDR and his team


I’m a sucker for cheese and tomato combos. From the humble braaibroodjie to this: home dried tomato, pickled tomato, miso cream cheese, wood fired aubergine dressing and jalapeno and apple puree…


Did I mention the parmesan crispy thingies?


It was incredible. Saliva inducing flavour bursts, with every item distinct yet in perfect harmony. You just want more. Conceived to make fine dining more accessible, The Test Kitchen is small, informal and very trendy. Beautiful hand-stitched chairs by Casamento next to metal-topped tables with felt lamps overhead. The lunch menu is compact with starters in the Asian flavour range and mains leaning towards Euro cuisine. I opted for the wood fired pork belly, coco bean and bay leaf jus, TK kim chi and pak choi.


Pork belly with asian greens


I noticed a neighbour’s perfect vegetables popping with colour. All done sous-vide at 85 degrees for 50 minutes, thereby retaining just-plucked colour and texture.


Bags of goodness, sous-viding away


Confession time – my lunch made one thing very clear. I have to return for the 11 course gourmand tasting menu – The Fantastic Eben, Adi and Luke Show – served evenings only. Luke goes all out to knock your flavour socks off, with wines by Eben Sadie and Adi Badenhorst of Swartland fame. Like the foie gras, red cabbage and fig ‘mi-cuit’ (semi cooked), rabbit ham, braised chestnuts and gently pickled quince paired with Sequillo White Port 2010. Eben Sadie has been called the Baby Jesus of the wine industry (he can do no wrong) and Adi as the Elvis Presley (cause he rocks) and together with the King of Zing, this is probably the most profound food experience to be had in this country. And it belongs on every foodie’s bucket list.


The Fantastic Eben, Adi and Luke Show


Time magazine agrees. Read about it here. Or visit The Test Kitchen’s website for full menus and images. Or catch my review on SABC3 Expresso Show tomorrow morning at about 7.40am’ish, give or take a few minutes.

I daresay, I think I’m back in the fine-dining saddle… thanks Luke. I needed to be reminded. And I’ll be back for the big show.