Sea Point back on the menu

Back in the day, Sea Point probably had more restaurants than the rest of Cape Town put together. The country’s first vegetarian-only restaurant, the Granary, opened here; the rich and famous hung out at La Perla and went dancing over the sea at the Carousel; the snazzy Ritz revolving restaurant was still a sensation; there were the four-hour breakfasts at Riese’s, Cape Town’s only genuine continental delicatessen; and at the upmarket Europa, paella nights on Sundays. Eventually steak ranches, pizzerias, Italian, Chinese and Indian eateries stood cheek by jowl.

Then in the 1990s, with the opening of the V&A Waterfront, Sea Point lost its monopoly. The seamy side, which held some attraction when it was all strictly verboten under apartheid, was no longer a thrill. Reliable dagga peddlers were replaced by violent drug pushers; busty sex workers started stalking passersby; the rent boys seemed to go to seed quickly; the risqué nightclubs turned into nasty strip clubs; moving out of the wings, various fraternities of developing world mafia hoped to divide up the cake. Property values foundered uncertainly. Vacant shop fronts became commonplace. Franchises and fast food outlets went on to dominate Main Road.

Now their grip might be loosening. For some time, locals have been falling out of love with the Waterfront. It may be the nicest tourist dragnet in the world, but if you can choose between schlepping down to the V&A or going somewhere pleasant close by, the neighbourhood wins hands down.

Two brave, young gastronomic entrepreneurs, Anna Rasclosa and Faisal Khakoo, were prepared to go where angels waivered. They have now practically joined their abutting establishments, winterised with heaters, and put up an awning that conjoins their pavement seating. I prefer sitting inside cosy La Bruixa (the espresso and tapas bar) and ordering from La Boheme (the bistro and wine bar) next door. La bruja means witch in Spanish and little dolls on broomsticks hover in the windows. A two-course meal costs R90 and a three-course R110; in addition are blackboard specials (ordered à la carte). About 60 wines are available by the glass and priced fairly.

The food is generally good, rarely disappointing, never disastrous. The kitchen is good with meat but struggles with pastry. The spanakopita triangles are a nifty way to package chorizo and the accompanying hummus works unexpectedly well with it. The tomato tart is more like a mini-pizza. The ravioli can be over sauced. They’re better at salads, such as the rocket salad with ripe, roasted tomatoes and parma ham rolled with mozzarella. The thinly sliced seared beef with cherry tomatoes, rocket and blueberry sauce works, but I wasn’t convinced by the addition of olives.

Most mains are served with veggies on the side—corncob, sliced beetroot, butternut. They claim to use fillet in the beef bourguignon, but the sauce is the star here and the mash is pleasantly light. The tagliatelle with ostrich meatballs is clearly still experimental; the meat is sweetish and the balls mealy. I ate less than half and was surprised the waitress didn’t inquire.
There aren’t many vegetarian options and pork plays a big role on the menu. Their signature dish is probably the popular pork belly with mustard sauce.
The cheesecake is like bread and the crème brûlée too heavy. Recommended among the desserts are a delicious gooseberry, pear and apple tart, with pastry closer to cake, and the croissant pudding (a fancy version of bread-and-butter pudding), à la Nigella Lawson, but with ice-cream on top.

Joining the new Sea Point buzz is the recently opened Duchess of Wisbeach. It, too, is full every night and turning tables.
The front window has old, pub-style lettering proclaiming “Bord Kos” under the name.

It is seldom that one gets a restaurant in one take. Usually you have to eat through the menu to find the chef’s strengths (and suffer the weaknesses) but chef-owner Theresa Beukes (of Fino’s in Parktown North and Sam’s Café in Melville) knows what she does well and she has judiciously identified the preferences of her clientele. The menu is short but adequate—a list of simple South African favourites: soup of day (R48), a flavoursome, local-style French onion soup on the day I ordered; mozzarella salad; spicy, fish fingers; fresh mussels in carrot juice and ginger; grilled calamari tubes with tamarind sauce, soya sauce and rocket (R62).

For mains: line fish of the day; fillet with béarnaise sauce and chips; fish cakes; roasted peri-peri baby chicken with green salad. The fish and chips (R85) has the fish fillet in a crisp shell of batter, the chips are a bit “slap” and the mayonnaise a little thin on taste. The lamb curry (R95) is in the milder Cape style and is served with a bottle of Mrs Balls. Another popular entrée is “Ou meide onder die komberse”—lamb meat balls wrapped in cabbage leaves.

The side orders of veggies deserve special mention: butternut with nutmeg coming through; spinach with parmesan, though at R35 a portion perhaps a little pricey.

The crisp, white interior, which the urbane Craig Kaplan, an architect and designer, had a hand in, is elegant, playful and pleasantly camp: paintings far too large for the room, ornate French mirrors, an enormous cow’s head over the entrance bar and on every table small porcelain and china dogs of various breed. Real dogs are present, too, a resident Jack Russel, someone’s golden retriever and a Maltese poodle (also known as Sea Point sheep) were charming on the night I dined.

The only real detraction is the noise level. The small space, open kitchen and the inaudible music that simply contributes more din, undid the experience for me; I nearly skipped dessert. Choices were bread-and-butter pudding, hot chocolate brownies (R55) or ice-cream with an old fashioned waifer biscuit (R45). Sea Point is definitely back on the menu.

The Duchess of Wisbeach, 3 Wisbeach Road, Sea Point. Tel: 021 434 1525
La Boheme and La Bruxia, 341 Main Road, Sea Point. Tel: 021 434 8797

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