Category Archives: Food & Drink

Small Town Girl in London

Everybody knows that I’m a Small Town Girl, despite the fact that I live in the biggest city in South Africa. (This actually came as news to me when I did a quick search on that … Cape Town is the biggest, population-wise, followed by Durban, and then only Jozi! As Joe always used to say Ex Africa semper aliquid novi.) Anyway, back to the point … my Small Townism and its view on London.

Well, my view on London is this: it is an incredible city with the most enormous number of things to do, places to see, people to meet, and my The Weatherman was so kind to me and kept the sky blue and the sun shining, yet my African blood gets nervous and my African heart gets claustrophobic and I find myself thinking that everybody on those streets of London is just having such a hard time of keeping up and it makes me sad and leaves me feeling entirely drained.

Cue: my friends. So many of them that live and love in London, and love it and thrive, which is why on day two in that bustling city I met a bunch of them in Greenwich at The Old Brewery (perfect accessibility), watched over by the huge trees (another thing that will keep me loving London) of the park and side-eyed by the Cutty Sark, and it was wonderful.

Friends from forever ago and friends from more recently and even some new friends, a beautiful hound called Paloma and a surprise pop-in by wonderful family friends made for a day so filled with joy and loveliness and love, that I felt entirely refreshed. Oh, and I met a knight – Sir Ian McKellan, or Gandalf, as I like to think of him – which was pretty bloody marvellous. He was just lovely. Also marvellous – being able to hop on a bus (the right way around, this time) and get home safely and easily.

Gandalf and me, London

The next day we braaied under the hot London sky (yip!) and frolicked in the ‘hot tub’ – set on cool due to extreme heat – with one of my oldest friends (and hostess with the mostest) and her lovely neighbour. Perfect, lazy, Sunday. Then Gogglebox … GOGGLEBOX! It’s brilliant. Voyeurism to the max.

Travelling stories and pics will resume with the next blog – to Sicily we go!

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Hot and Heavy in London

We arrived early on Friday morning, mid-June, our pilot cheerily informing us that the day was forecast to be hot in London. I’m from Africa, so I sniggered to myself. Hot. In London. As the great doors of the BA plane were opened, a rush of warm air replaced the stale, over-breathed, sneeze-and-cough-filled air of the 12 hour flight from Cape Town. This pilot wasn’t having us on. My snigger wilted and left.

Leaving on a Jet Plane, Cape Town Airport

A frustrating no-show of the booked-and-paid-for shuttle and we were in a black cab*, heading through the centre of London during Friday morning rush hour. I’d forgotten about the chattiness of London cabbies. For the two-and-a-half-hour trip (eek!) he kept up a running commentary, and now I know his entire history, and all about his daughter’s relationship dramas. And his best friend, Clive’s. And their medical histories. In infinite detail. (Note to self: don’t mention you’re a pharmacist.) He also drinks down the pub with the terrorist attack hero dude that shouted ‘I’m Millwall’.

Past Buckingham Palace, along Pall Mall as she dressed up for the parade the next day, winding through green parks, the terraced buildings of the story books of my childhood interspersed with areas of barricaded shops, broken windows and graffiti, the streets filled with people of every nationality. London is nothing if not diverse. Yet oh-so-British.

 

Flat to Let, London

Finally reaching Aimee’s house, we threw our cases down and headed to the bus stop to go to central London, where I had two appointments. Ah, London, and your accessibility. A ramp from the bus to the pavement, a place to sit (first facing the wrong direction, resulting in some fairly hairy stops – especially with the driver of the 10:37 89 bus to Lewisham Station, who could give Cape Town taxi drivers a run for their money – until we worked it out, turned me around, and got me stable). Admittedly, we looked a bit like Idiots Abroad for a while there.

Big Ben and a Bus, London

The air is thick with heat and city bustle as we drive into the city on this bus with an ever-changing population and a soundtrack of the pinging bell for stops and almost-indecipherable teenage conversations of who’s hot and what’s happening this weekend. I am reminded that teen pregnancy is alive and well and living in London. One baby is called Chicken and her mum is proudly telling her sister that she’s just received her first dole payment. (Chicken may or may not have been a term of endearment.)

Tower Bridge from London Bridge, London

Stuck behind Friday afternoon traffic over London Bridge I watch the hundreds of handwritten notes to the previous week’s terrorist victims flapping lazily in the hot breeze that is doing nothing to cool the concrete walkways and buildings of the inner city. On the bridge, tourists take grim pictures of the flowers at the site. Here the air is humid and heavy with sadness as the muddy Thames rushes under the bridge, heading away away to the sea, seeking coolth and solace.

Ancients Dwarfed by Youngsters, London

The ancients mix in with the young there in the city. I’m talking buildings, because, weirdly, there are almost no ancient people in the city. Except us.  We make the two appointments by the skin of our teeth, stopping on street corners to marvel at the ancients and watch the people. The appointments are dull, the city not. It seems that here, work ends at lunchtime on Fridays … the pubs are spilling out onto the streets, cold beer, icy white wine in the hands of the suits.

Leadenhall Market, London

We pop in to Leadenhall Market, a glass-domed Victorian market built in the 14th Century. It is gorgeous, intricate and heaving with Friday afternoon revellers. We stand beneath the main dome, enthralled, until our stomachs start shouting. It’s been a long time since the stiff old eggs on the plane at 5 am. Leadenhall Market is too full, we want an olde pub. Twenty minutes of walking about, we find one next to the monument. It too is heaving, and the one bar man disappears, presumably terrified by the mass of thirsty customers demanding his attention.

Hangry, we head over the street, past the Monument to the Great Fire of London (you can go nowhere in London without passing something amazing) and find The Hydrant, which has the friendliest waitress. A cold beer for GM – London Pride because London – and a cold glass of wine for me, the biggest Scotch Egg with Black Pudding I’ve ever seen (the chickens in the UK must be ginormous!), Potato and Leek Croquettes and Hummus, Tzatziki, Babaganoush and Pitas. We guzzle, it’s good, and our personalities reappear.

It’s time to get back on the bus to head back to Woolwich, to old friends and comfy beds.

*Accessibility in London

Transport is a breeze on buses and in black cabs. They all have ramps that go into them and space for you to be, remaining in the wheelchair.

Havoc Beer

Everybody knows how much I adore The Weatherman. On occassion, he likes to show off, and I love it. Using wind and precipitation, and a little magic – you know, the things at his disposal – he makes cloud formations in front of a golden sun that defy description they’re so pretty. Last Friday afternoon was one of those times, as we sat up in the Hillcrest Quarry looking over toward the Atlantic in the distance. What a lovely man The Weatherman is.


We were at the launch of Havoc Beer, which seems apt. Brewer, Graeme Reed, previously winemaker, and before that, marine biologist, has, like The Weatherman, using hops and barley (all carefully chosen and mixed with scientific precision), and a little magic – you know, the things at his disposal – made an equally spectacular range of beers. And he, too, is such a lovely man.

What a treat to watch the sun set over the sea while tasting four newcomers to the beer scene, and chatting to the brewer and making new friends and meeting old friends in the flesh who were previously only a name on Facebook.

Testimony to how beer brings people together. Sorry, that’s so schmaltzy I should be in advertising, but it’s true!

Don’t mind if I do, Darling

img_0742As I’ve said on numerous occasions, I’m a small town girl and being in the city (even though I live in it and love it) for too long creates all sorts of claustrophobia that makes me Not Very Nice. It is because of this that it’s a good thing for the world in general, that I make regular trips away from the clogged roads and peopleness of the cities.

Thanks to my occasional blogging for What’s On In Cape Town (see my piece here), the perfect opportunity came up – a little jaunt to Darling, for the inaugural Darling Summer Beer Festival at the ‘new’ Darling Beer Tasteroom and Brewery. I say ‘new’, because it was also the first anniversary of their new premises. And what a celebration it was.

So off we went, packing the newest member of The House in the Middle of the Street – Tinks, the labrador – and us into The Silver-Winged Unicorn, stopping first to show Tinks the sea for the first time (what joy!) and bump into a lovely old friend walking with her just-as-lovely Mum and sweet baby. Once cooled by the sea and sustained by some delicious tapas at Damhuis in Melkbos we ambled along the road to Darling.

Darling is a quaint town, with an even-more-quaint name, and the Darling Brewery – just over the train tracks and down a dust road in the ‘industrial’ part of town – gives added dimension to a town that offers an incredible number of things to do, despite having a population of only 10 000.

After meeting up with one of my oldest friends, SJ, we dropped our things at The Granary and off we headed to the brewery.

Saturday was hot and blue-skied and the summer wind was howling, blowing up the dust from the road leading to the brewery and almost blowing us over getting out of the car. It was perfect beer drinking weather. In the grounds of the brewery there was plenty of shade and shelter in the form of two Bedouin tents, all set about with hay bale seating and pallet tables. There’s a kid’s jungle gym in the garden of the brewery that’ll ellicit squeals of happiness from every and any child.

Felix, the fabulous brewer who we’d met on our previous visit, decked out in lederhosen, welcomed us and introduced us to his two friends visiting from Germany, and so an afternoon of chilled beer, relaxed vibes and great company began.

It being a beer festival, there was plenty of beer to be had. Served icy cold, all of Darling Brewery’s favourites were available – the Bone Crusher, Sun Gazer and Gypsey Mask, to name just three – and also their new lager, the Blood Serpent, Africa’s first carbon neutral beer, how fabulous! To get into the festive spirit, a glass of the seasonal Red Goblin was just the ticket. Inspired by the Samango monkey, it has subtle overtones of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger.

There were guest brewers and bands playing and food being cooked and eaten (including some of the best spare ribs I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately I forgot to take note of the name of the stall. Fall-off-the-bone, juicy marinade, lip-smacking stuff). [Edit: I’ve been informed the rib spectacularity was from The Flying Pig. Look out for them and, if you’re lucky enough to be near them … eat their ribs!] I liked the ‘braaibroodjies with a twist’ idea, too. And the best thing about it was the wonderfully mixed crowd of both locals and visitors to Darling. City pretension had not been allowed through the gates, and it made my heart soar.

An entire paragraph must be dedicated to Darling Sweet’s toffees. Orange and pomegranate toffee. It’s the stuff of dreams. Dreams, I tell you. You have to stop and be still when you eat it, because it’s a taste explosion that I’d imagine Willie Wonka would’ve made, had he made toffees and not chocolate. Sublime.

After making friends with a local farmer’s wife who, it turned out, is the cousin of one of my neighbours and one of my favourite people in Nieu Bethesda (how small the world is) and a wonderful young guy who explained the process of bottling with a passion I’ve not seen often in people about their careers, we headed off to sit on our stoep and watch the spectacular sunset and quaff wine while talking Saturday Sundowner Talk.

Perfect small town soothing for a city-dwelling small town girl, thanks Darling.

Ten Things I Have Learnt in Small Town, South Africa(n Bars)

 

lutzville

There cannot be anything better, after a long, hot day in the car travelling the (often dust) back roads of South Africa, than an ice cold beer at the end of the day. We spent the best part (and I mean that both literally and figuratively) of six months doing such travelling and, therefore, saw many small town bars.

I learnt a few things:

  1. The Pofadder Hotel bar has the coldest beer in South Africa. And it’s served in iced glasses. It’s also full of gorgeous Spanish engineers, who’re building the sun farms.
  2. Small town bars are still very much man’s territory. In many, if not most, we were the only women present. However, as a woman in said bar, you’re welcomed and (almost always, but not quite) you can join in on conversations on building sun farms, installing fire extinguishers, laying piping and, well, rugby. (Yes, my eyes glazed over there.)
  3. Jägermeister has excellent marketing and is in every bar, everywhere. Branded, emblazoned, Jägermeister-induced shenanigans regaled. However, Klippies still takes pride of place, like the wise old grandpa of drinks.
  4. The bar man’s name is always Boetie. Always. Even if his real name is Alexander.
  5. Crocs – both the snappy animals and the crappy shoes – are alive and well in Small Town South Africa.
  6. The Lutzville Hotel bar is the only place I’ve ever seen an L-shaped pool table. The young dudes playing on it told us they either play the one end, or the other, not around the bend. ‘Dis te moeilik, tannie.
  7. Anybody under the age of 25 will call anybody over the age of 35, tannie. What happens in those ten years between is a mystery.
  8. All small town bars have collections on their walls: business cards, caps, number plates, flags, beer bottle caps… the list is endless. And often bizarre.
  9. There’s always one guy who should be avoided. He’s easy to spot but often not so easy to avoid. Make friends with the bar man (Boetie) as soon as you enter the bar. He will save you from said guy.
  10. People are nice. No, really, they are. The humans that occupy small towns (and their bars) have big hearts.

I’ve always been a fan of small towns and dodgy bars. I think I may have to make it my mission to visit them all. The towns and the bars. I feel I still have many Boeties to meet.

Little Mowbray

Plebs

The old guy with a friendly face, a peacock feather tattoo and a slightly crumpled t-shirt sits at the bar sipping slowly on his half-pint. The TV is on university rugby and him and the bar man are discussing the plumbing of the draft beer that a beautiful Congolese man is sorting out. Or the rugby. I can’t be sure, the noise of the 5 o’clock traffic on Durban Road makes eavesdropping difficult.

It’s Monday night in Little Mowbray and we just got harassed by the beggar at the robots as we tried to cross. As you do. It seems that the last R5 he was given was spent promptly at the bottle store on the corner. It hasn’t made him very nice.

I had no intention of writing about craft beer so soon again, but it was one of those Mondays that deserved a beer after work and a little explore of somewhere I’d not been in years. Durban Road is on my way home and I’d been wanting to go to Bruegel’s Pizza Studio for ages. It was the perfect plan. We stumbled on the craft beer place by pure serendipity.

The fact that I finish work at 4:30 meant that we got there at 4:47 (give or take a minute) – a little too early for Bruegel’s (and dinner), so we ambled down the road, past the vinyl shop and Chai Yo and got to a place I’d not noticed before, with signs made of A4 pieces of paper, each with a letter on it, sticky-taped on it’s beautiful old wood-framed shop windows: CRAFT BEER R20, PIZZA X2 R99, they shouted rather higgeldy-piggeledly.

And so we found ourselves with the old guy at the bar, in a place that looked like it was still being moved into. Perhaps it was just post weekend – a pub/live music venue’s version of a hangover. ‘It needs a woman’s touch,’ I said to G. She nodded as she put down the two beers (R20! For craft beer! Win!) she’d got from the nice bar man.

I have since done some fraternising with the Google gods. The place is called Plebs, it’s been there for ages, and they have live music most nights. The beer was great. Craft beer without any pretences at a place that feels slightly shabby, but in a comfortable couch kind of shabby way. I like it. Apparently the beer is made by a father and son team – it’s a Dutch ale and it’s delicious.

We finished our beers and headed up to Bruegel’s, marvelling at the beautiful view of the back side of Devil’s Peak as the sky turned orange and then that deep, dusky blue that is my favourite colour on earth. Bruegel’s have a Monday night special – R50 for lasagna and salad. I love lasagne. Did you see the different spellings? I Google godded that, too… apparently it’s one lasagna, many lasagne, who knew? It, too, was delicious.

With a glass of wine with dinner, my whole Monday evening’s entertainment cost less than R100 (and I’ve got leftovers in the fridge for lunch which, today, will be at 10:30, because I can hear it calling me, despite the fridge being two office’s down), before waitress and car-guard tipping.

Monday, you rocked yesterday.

Bruegels

City Craft Beer Project

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With Cape Town having put on her best late summer frock (read: bloody boiling hot), it was the perfect day for beer drinking. Set in a rather hot concrete (parking) lot behind The River Club in Obz, it was relief to get into the (relative) cool of the shade under the huge Bedouin tent that contained what we were there for: the beer and its brewers.

It was the City Craft Beer Project, brought to us by the fabulous boys of The Craft Beer Project – fifteen breweries in one place with the to-be-expected plethora of bearded hipsters looking hotly cool in their skinny pants next to their other hipster friends wearing shorter pants to show off the tattoos on their calves. This, it seems, is the latest in hipster cool.

Hipsters aside, it was a good, diverse crowd with a sprinkling of young families and granny and grandpa-types amongst it. At R80 in, it’s a certain ‘kind’ that come to these things. While I’m on the pricing, let me have my one little whinge: paying for tastings. For R80 entrance, and presumably the aim of increasing the ever-expanding  craft beer following, paying for a beer tasting is pushing it. Charge for full (or even half) glasses, sure, but for a tasting? That’s just not cricket (not that I should mention cricket at this point in South Africa. Sniff.) Whinge over.

The beer was great and it’s always fun to be able to taste a whole bunch of different beers in one place while people-watching and listening to some fabulous live music, Natasha Meister playing a perfect soundtrack for an afternoon’s beer drinking.

First stop was Savage Beer, where I tasted the Berliner Weiss. For some reason they squirted some red syrup – I’m assuming grenadine, but the guy wasn’t particularly forthcoming, and I, uncharacteristically, got shy, so didn’t ask – into the glass before pouring the tasting in. This made it sickly sweet and not terribly nice. [Edit: See comment from the brewer, below, in the replies. Pity I didn’t taste both versions. Silly me. Will let you know the verdict when I taste it alone…] The Savage Black, however, was dark and rich and delicious.

I was tempted by the cider at Everson’s – the boys behind the bar looked like they were having such fun (take note, brewers, your bar people at these things can hugely influence your exposure.) I resisted, because I’ve tasted it before and wanted to keep ‘space’ for some newbies.

And then I found my new favourite: Red Sky’s Tweetybird (see pic above). I’ve never claimed to be a craft beer guru, as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m a Castle Lite fan (shock! horror!), but that won’t stop me from developing my craft beer taste-buds. I’ve come a long way since that first introduction. I even know what IPA stands for now, and its history.

I will freely admit that it was the name of this beer that attracted me. I’m a sucker for names or, words, really. Same applies to Wild Clover’s fabulously named Blind Mole, which I also missed this time, due to having tried it before. I stray. The Tweetybird – beautifully deep orange colour and refreshing as a summer beer should be. Delicious.

I forced myself not to just get a full Tweetybird and retire to one of the long tables to people-watch and continued on to Riot, with its terribly cool, terribly lovely people behind the bar. I wasn’t sure of the fruitiness of their beers, but the people were so nice that they’re on my ‘Breweries to Visit’ list. Their beers deserve some further tasting.

And on to Brewdog, where we tasted the Punk IPA. It was a hoppy experience.  Like a punk in a mosh-pit. See what I did there? They were also offering Fuller’s London Pride which, according to the dude there, sells like hot cakes here. I should’ve asked more questions – it seems perhaps their beers are all imported from the UK. Despite a fairly rigorous (okay, Sunday morning sort of rigorous) web search, I still am unsure. Their Stalkbook ‘About’ says little, and their website link shows a blank WordPress site. As I said, I was silly, I should’ve chatted some more. I’m a fan of supporting local, the source is important.

I was hoping to taste Devil’s Peak’s cherry beer – brought out on Valentine’s Day and called My Bloody Valentine – but they didn’t have any. I’ll have to go and check if there’s any left at The Taproom. Don’t tell me it’s finished, please, even though I’m sure it is. Any excuse to go there and I’m happy.

At this point we became overcome by heat and had to retire to a table with friends we’d bumped into – one showcasing this fantastic footwear (below). He has a pair of ‘leopard print Adidas’ too. There’s two words I never expected to hear used next to each other: Adidas and leopard. I sat enjoying my full Tweetybird, watching the crowd and listening to the buzz of a happy beer crowd.FullSizeRender[1]