Category Archives: Food & Drink

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]

Mexico Nights

Zapata is our local. It’s not a run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant. It’s that one’s older, more sophisticated sister. It’s quirky too, with great décor. Depending on where you sit, you may be watched over by a corseted and mono-browed Frida Khalo, or Zapata himself – a key figure in the Mexican Revolution, who famously declared “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”

Situated on Harfield Village’s vibrant restaurant strip in Second Avenue, Zapata has rapidly become a neighbourhood favourite. Not only that, it’s now attracting people from all over Cape Town and drawing them into the Southern Suburbs – lured by the delicious smells of enchiladas, burritos and the promise of a really good margarita.

The restaurant seats about 90, with an outdoor courtyard for hot summer nights and a couple of tables on the front patio from where you can watch the goings-on of Second Avenue. If you know what you’re looking at, it could be confused with an episode of Sewende Laan, but with more hipsters.

It’s noisy and busy and it’s the kind of place you should go to if you want a loud, delicious, laid-back Mexican experience. Nothing is rushed here, despite it getting very full and occasionally quite raucous.

The menu has everything that you would expect from a Mexican restaurant, from starters of chilli poppers, corn fritters, nachos and spicy tomato soup with meatballs (R 40 to R 60) to mains covering the spectrum of burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas or tacos (if you want to make your own) and chimichingas (a deep-fried filled tortilla).  Filling choices are steak, spicy chicken, chilli con carne or seasonal Mexican vegetables.

For those wanting something a little less ‘exotic’, there is also the option of calamari, steak, burgers and salads.  Served in tin plates, with a side plate of small tin mugs containing combinations (depending on what you order) of tomato salsa, guacamole, sour cream, refried beans and grated cheese, it’s best to come hungry.  Zapata is not shy with its portions, despite mains prices being under R 100 per head.

On the drinks side, Zapata has the expected frozen margaritas – by the glass or jug – in strawberry, lime, or a mix. It’s the perfect icy summer’s drink.  There are also shaken margaritas, if slushy is not your style, and the cocktail menu is the kind that would make other cocktail menus seek therapy. Gems such as a Chocolate Chilli & Hibiscus Margarita hang out with Orange & Vanilla Tequila Tonics. Need I say more?

Yes, I need. Because we haven’t yet touched on the tequila range. It’s the good stuff – el Jimador – and beside the usual gold (Repasado) and silver (Blanco), there’s chilli chocolate, caramel and – I had to read this one twice – chocolate cookie tequila.

I opted to start with a portion of Zapata chilli poppers,  a tongue-warming chilli pepper oozing with cottage cheese, all snuggled in a bacon blanket and served with a sweet chilli mayonnaise. If it were legal, I’d marry one of them. My friend ordered the chicken wings – sticky and sweet with a good chilli bite to them. The frozen lime margarita, with a sour worm on the top, provided us with the required mouth-cooling.

Chicken nachos for mains proved to be a mountain of crispy corn nachos topped with an avalanche of chicken, creamy guacamole, tomato and onion salsa, sour cream and cheese, baked to perfection. So often nachos can be a bit soggy. Not at Zapata.

My friend ordered a beef burger (they do chicken too) which was served with half an avo and a ginormous crispy onion ring on top, and a side order of potato fries with a creamy, spicy jalapeno mushroom sauce. The fries are the kind mom used to make before you could buy frozen chips in a bag – round, thinly sliced and crisp as crisp can be.

While I can normally always find space for pudding, there was no way after this feast.  Instead I made do with a chocolate tequila to satisfy my sweet tooth.  This may be unrevolutionary of me, but I’d be happy to live on my knees for more of those.

This piece originally appeared on Whats On In Cape Town

Tuning the Vine

Looking for the ‘legs’, gently sniffing while swirling, smelling hints of violets or freshly mown lawn… This is the land of sommeliers, wine connoisseurs and other French-derived words that I struggle to pronounce and that leave me fearfully shaking in a corner at the pressure. Sure, I can see if a wine is red, white, or pink, but telling you the year of its birth after a couple of sniffs and a sip? Hell, no.

And this is exactly why Tuning the Vine is the perfect kind of wine festival for a philistine like me, and I was thrilled to go to their media event. The festival is held at The Lookout at the Waterfront and the idea is to remove the perceived snobbery and make wine tasting, wine drinking, and wine making fun and accessible. It does it well.

Firstly, the venue. The Lookout is aptly named. With a deck that is basically on the sea, and a view across Table Bay, it’s gorgeous. Inside, it’s light and airy and was set up – with a fun circus-theme – with a stage at one end and the Tasting Theatre on the other. More on those later. Scattered around the edges and down the middle were wine stands, craft beer stands, cocktail stands and a small cordoned off section in the middle for the ‘rockstars’.

Outside, a huge Bedouin tent provided ample shade and places to sit. Food trucks – a necessity for making sure that you keep those stomachs lined – surrounded this area. Friday was a little windy, so we opted for inside. Very helpful staff are everywhere, always a win. After our – circus-themed – guide showed us through, we were served champagne on the deck by a lovely young thing kitted out in feathers, netting and a wire skirt made out of glasses.

From there we headed into the Taste Theatre for a journey into red wine. Separated from the rest of the room by scarlet curtains, we sat at long tables, each set with six wines and six little bowls of food. Higgo Jacobs, master sommelier, led us through the wines, from inexpensive to more expensive, all interesting. Then we tasted the dishes – from goose liver pate to a chocolate brownie directly from heaven – and were challenged to make our own pairings.

With no pressure to smell the right things or see the right legs, it was a great experience and I learnt a whole lot about, well, wine! Stand out comment of the afternoon: after tasting the Audacia Merlot 2013 (which is exposed to rooibos wood during maturation, and you can definitely taste it), the woman next to me said: “At last, a wine you can drink for breakfast. No more having to even wait for the kettle to boil!” Touché.

Heading out to listen to Neil Patterson chatting about his wines, we stopped first to pick up our charcuterie platter and bottle of wine to take home (I love a party pack) from Blaauwklippen.  A fabulous mix of meats, cheeses, olives and bread, it was a perfect snack to accompany the wine tasting (no added sulphites!) and Neil’s friendly and informative talk. There’s something lovely about listening to someone who is so passionate about the craft.

For those of us with friends who are anti-wine – they do exist, in very small pockets – there were craft beer stands and cocktail stands. Who can resist Wild Clover’s Double Owl English Brown Ale? After an amble around to check out, and chat to, the winemakers at the various stalls, we settled on the deck as the sun set over Table Bay. Idyllic, really.

As it darkened outside and inside filled up with all manner of costumed creatures – it was Hallowe’en or, as it was called at Tuning the Vine, Hello Wine – Mr Cat & the Jackal took to the stage and started the party with their fabulously fun music.

I’ll be back next year, for sure.

An edited version of this piece appears at Whats on in Cape Town.

Of Brothels

I like a place with a story. Add to that great craft beer, a fabulous, knowledgeable and friendly guy showing us around and sausages (I love sausages, especially proper German ones, with mustard), and you’ve got me. The Weinhaus & Biergarten (formerly &Union, on Bree Street), therefore, had me, when I went to visit. They have ‘Sausage Fest’ on the menu! Sausage fest!

This beer writing gig has opened up a whole new world to me, and taught me much, not least of all, the value of a good proprietor or – can I bear to say it? – face of a brand. Simon Wibberley, operational partner, is just that. We had only just walked through the door when he came over, introduced himself, and then sat with us, telling us their story, talking us through a tasting and explaining all the intricacies of craft beer.

When I was asked to write about craft beer, my first thoughts were to go to &Union. They seemed, in my mind, to be the go-to guys when it came to craft beer in Cape Town. It just seems to me that craft beer and &Union were synonymous, and I’m not far wrong. Brewers & Union were really the guys who pushed the craft beer ‘mentality’ in our little city and they’ve been going strong for five years.

I was wrong, too, about all things beer-related, when it comes to Brewers & Union beers. I had assumed that the cosy little bar in Bree Street was just the front of the brewery. A bit silly, now that I think about it – it’s tiny. No, the beers are brewed in Germany and Belgium, in order to use the finest ingredients (ours are swallowed up by the big guys i.e. SAB) and get the best product. Sad from a local economy point-of-view, but there you have it. I’m seriously thinking of exploring growing hops in that lovely little valley in the Karoo that holds my heart. I kid you not, I just Googled ‘growing hops.’

So, here’s the story that I love. The tiny bar is under one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town, on Riebeeck Square. Built in 1801 as The African Theatre, often attended by Lady Anne Barnard, it is now St Stephens NGK, which still functions as a church. The cellar, which houses the bar, is rumoured to have had many functions through the years, some a little shadier than others. Think red lights.

Whether these are rumour or fact, the place has history and its stone walls whisper and watch still, as crowds of people move within it, coming in from the large street-side courtyard with big companionable tables to order their drinks and food from the bar. I wondered what those old stone walls were thinking of the woman sitting just down from us, tapping her scarlet fingernails on the counter as she fiddled with her phone, her face looking slightly blue in its cellular glare?

As you know, if you’ve read any of my previous beer wittering, I’m a Castle Lite girl, looking for a craft beer that isn’t too heavy, isn’t trying too hard. I’m teaching my palate to discern between hoppiness and maltiness and all the other lovely beer descriptors. And I’m getting there, if a little slowly.

Brewers & Union has a large range – well, large in craft beer terms – and we tasted the ones they had on tap and a couple of others. Firstly, I like their labels – simple, eye-catching, bright. Secondly, I like their Sunday Easy IPA most. Beside its fabulous label, which reads Sun Day, it’s golden and light, with a refreshing citrusy zing. Very drinkable.

We tasted in wine glasses. This is a good idea. It gives you a much better sniffing experience. Seriously, the aromas all gather in the glass, and you can smell the hops, the smokiness, the fresh grass. Wine-tasting and beer-tasting are not that different! Incidentally, there was a wine-tasting going on the other corner while we were there, a weekly occurrence. This place is not just for beer lovers.

After Simon had taken us through the tasting and gone to help out with the wine-tasting, we tried a Beast of the Deep (love that name, too), which was a bit like a pudding beer. Taste it, you’ll understand what I mean.

We then tried the Unfiltered Dark. I was never a fan of dark beers or stout, despite one of my university boyfriends trying very hard to introduce me to their delights (I was a staunch Black Label fan in those, not-so-long-ago, ahem, days.) I am developing a love for them, though, and this one, with its seductive dark colour and creamy head definitely took my fancy. With the wind becoming chillier and autumn starting to show her colours, this beer, with its roasted, dark chocolate undertones is very appealing.

Then the food –ordered from the bar you get a sticker with a number which you stick somewhere visible and the food comes to you. Very efficient. It’s bar food. And includes sausages. Did I mention that already? Sausages! We shared a sausage fest, which consisted of two weisswurst and two kӓesewurst with little bowls of fresh chilli, gherkins and, of course, mustard. Yum. I watched a couple of other meals going by – burgers, sandwiches and pregos – all looked delicious.

And the hipsters, who I keep going on about? I’d always called this place Hipster Central. I wasn’t far wrong. They were there, in full, ironic, force. But they weren’t, by any means, claiming the place as their own. There were plenty of others, of all ages, enjoying after work drinks, a wine-tasting, and some delicious dinner.

I’ll be back. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But not.

 This piece was written for Land ‘n Sand.