Parreirinha: Good food behind bars

Ties with the past: ­Parreirinha is situated in a former police station in south Jo’burg.  (Oupa Nkosi)

Ties with the past: ­Parreirinha is situated in a former police station in south Jo’burg. (Oupa Nkosi)

I’m led through to the courtyard, which now has corrugated plastic roofing that casts, at least at lunchtime, an eldritch light over the room. The floor is rough concrete, which adds to the ambience, and no one seems to mind if you grind a cigarette out under your heel. There’s a smoky bar off to one side, with even smokier looking patrons.

A man with a lined face sitting at the next table is setting about a plate of 12 queen prawns with chips, enthusiastically sucking the juices from the heads, and works his way through the whole plate in five ­minutes.

The waiter offered to show me an uncooked mock-up of the seafood platter (R299) and came back from the kitchen with a large metal plate with four queen prawns, one king giant (the largest prawn I have ever seen — as long and as wide as my hand), a small lobster, a langoustine, a fillet of kingklip, a pile of calamari and clams.
There was a small space left over in the centre for the rice and chips.

To start, I ordered a small prawn cake, or rissole, with a crispy crust and filled with a rather stiff brown sauce of, among other things, tomato, onion and chopped prawns. There is chilli sauce on the table that attacks the back of the throat, the tongue and then the sides of the mouth.

I ordered the monkfish, but the waiter vaguely tried to persuade me to have the kingklip instead, which he said was better. I persevered, as it’s not every day you find monkfish on the menu. It’s an ugly fish, and also on the orange “think twice before eating” list of the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative.

The fillet arrived with perfectly boiled potatoes and comforting boiled green beans and slices of carrot. The monkfish was dense and succulent but slightly stringy and bony in the middle, but that’s just the fish. It also came with a bowl of chopped onion, with white wine vinegar, parsley and a lot of olive oil.

In the front dining room at one table 20 bankers were in high spirits and ordered one king giant each. Others also ordered the espatada — cubes of rump on a suspended metal skewer.

They also do bacalhau — dried salted cod that is soaked before it is cooked on the braai.

There are thousands of neckties, now a little faded and stained by over three decades of smoke, hanging from the roof in the courtyard area. It’s an astonishing, slightly creepy, collection, added to by countless inebriated businessmen. A comforting thought — when they feel like real Southern African Portuguese cuisine they can visit their old ties again.

9 Sixth Street, La Rochelle, Johannesburg. Phone 011 435 3809

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