Winter warmer with service to match

2011-04-22 09:58

The season to dine at ­restaurants that spill onto pavements to facilitate people-watching is done. The nasty nip in the air heralds the coming winter, so I went in search of somewhere a little ­warmer.

While I am no great fan of eating in shopping mall restaurants, sometimes they are so well ­appointed that they lose that ­eating-in-a-thoroughfare feel.

One such place is Pigalle in Sandton. Dressed in warm browns and golden flourishes, it is plush and offers a view of Sandton’s bustle.

One of a quartet of restaurants owned by the same folk – the original’s in Cape Town, there’s another in Bedfordview and another in Melrose Arch – this eatery tucked away in the Michaelangelo Towers is worth seeking out.

Most importantly, the staff are impeccably trained. Our waiter not only knew the specials, he described them as if he had actually eaten them, not as if he’d learned them by rote to recite when needed.

As for his knowledge of the wine list, that too went beyond what is required by many – he knew his vineyards, winemakers and cultivars – and again, he recommended wine based on his own experience.

What a pleasure to be served with such attention to detail instead of the usual half-baked service that is even evident in ­places that charge a small fortune for their fare.

Pigalle has its roots in a blend of Portuguese, French and Mozambican cuisine and the homemade peri-peri sauce – a family recipe dating back three decades – is so good it’s worth a visit on its own.

The creamy sauce with an ­eye-watering kick is served with bread while you check out the menu.

As the place specialises in seafood (procured according to SASSI principles) my dining companion and I decided on a seafood platter. A good bit more expensive – about R150 more – than a seafood platter would be at Adega, it was a good deal better too.

We decided against starters – though the menu included Portuguese favourites such as chicken livers and trinchado – and we had to resist the Bouillabaise, a seafood soup that I adore, but which is ­seldom to be found on menus.

All this in a valiant effort to save space for pudding.

The platter that arrived was a sight to behold – prawns, calamari, mussels, langoustines and lobster.

The kingklip was a little over done, but then the fish is never the star of any seafood patter – the crustaceans are, and all were cooked to flesh-melting perfection. It was served with two homemade sauces – lemon butter and garlic butter. Both sublime and the sole reason I ate far too many of the chips that came with the platter.

As we groaned and clutched our stomachs, so full were we, our ­waiter let us into a little secret. He said, at any meal, avoid the starch lest it surreptitiously steals your space for dessert.

Good advice, but a little late, and impossible to ­follow if, like me, you are a sauce glutton.
 
To give our digestions a chance to recover sufficiently to get that pudding in, we drank the rest of the delicious bottle of Constantia Glen Sauvignon Blanc our waiter had recommended with our lunch.

Fresh and crisp, it was the perfect counterpoint to the richness of our meal – as promised.

A little while later, we felt able to do something sweet justice. I ­ordered my standard crème brûlée, a pudding that shows up any lack in a restaurant kitchen, while my companion settled for what our waiter described as the chocolate volcano – how could she say no?

The brûlée was perfect – the ­caramelised sugar topping was ­wafer thin and didn’t require a jackhammer to crack, which is ­always a really bad sign. The ­custard was creamy, rich and ­delicately ­flavoured with vanilla – as it should be.

My companion’s chocolate ­pudding was far too rich to finish, even for the most dedicated ­dessert ­lover. With a dark chocolate crust, as she pushed her spoon into it a river of molten chocolate oozed out of the middle. A chocoholics delight indeed.

A delicious seafood lunch with wine and pudding was about R1?000 with a tip, but the service and the food were worth it.

The starters are priced between R45 and R65, as are the salads and soups. The main courses vary greatly with the seafood being the dearest.

The chicken and meat dishes range from R95 to R130, while the seafood dishes begin at R130 with the ­Mozambican prawn curry, and the seafood platter is R495.
 
The wine list is comparable to most upmarket restaurants. Though the first couple of pages feature heart-stoppingly priced imported French wines that cost laughable amounts (Petrus, the world’s most famous Merlot, is a hilarious R48 000).

» 011 884 8899 to book or visit www.pigallerestaurants.co.za

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