Comfort food at the ‘Club’

2009-12-05 00:00

I’VE spent the last year travelling up and down from Durban to the midlands looking for good places to eat in, and I’ve got to say it’s shocking how some restaurants have the nerve to serve up some of the filth I’ve tasted, let alone charge for it. Ineptness, greed, arrogance — whatever you call it, it’s a disgrace. Show-off food and show-off prices don’t tempt me. Why not keep things simple, seasonal and local?

The Woodlander club in Allandale reflects this philosophy, winning customers and members with well-cooked, old-fashioned comfort dishes they are familiar with.

The Woodlander has a special place in the history of Pietermaritzburg. It was founded 51 years ago under a tree in Edendale for and by ex-pupils of the Woodlands Indian High School. This school has a history of high academic standards and fine teaching and many students having become leading and influential figures in Maritzburg life. The “Club” boasts a cross- section of patrons, from high court judges to bottle-washers like me. Without snootiness or stuffiness, the club exudes old values, charm and serenity. It’s a haven in the hot and busy city. The essence of a civilised existence.

Legendary founders Dan Deeplaul and the late “Caps” Govender navigated the Woodlander to its present position. Ten years ago, the kitchen cooked 15 to 20 meals a day; now it’s a hundred, with many customers driving up from Durban for its famous mutton curry (R30). Woodlander head chef Mike Frank cooks classics like trotters ’n beans (R30) every Wednesday; fish curry (R45) on Fridays, and kebabs and roti over weekends.

I chose to sample their version of the humble fish cake (R7,50). I’m not a fan of neat, perfectly round disc-like fish patties, much preferring the more homely unprofessional Woodlander variety. Something fragile and moist with a light crust, not an armour plating of commercial bread crumbs. If the fish cake is easy to lift out of the pan on the end of a palette knife then it’s probably not worth eating.

The club is open to members and nonmembers alike. It is air-conditioned and has the cleanest loos in KwaZulu-Natal.

 

Dan Evans is an English cook living and working in KZN. The Woodlander can be found at 110 Allandale Drive, tel. 033 387 2180.

My quick, quick recipe for Thai fish cakes

Fish cakes are comfort food at its best and I have my own “Thai” version that I favour. Thai fishcakes demand (perhaps) a little more shopping than usual but the method if you’ve got a food processor is very easy. To make a stab at authenticity, lemon grass, tiny hot chillies and coriander are essential and readily available. What really makes these fishcakes shout is this sassy little sauce, spicy and hot for dipping the cakes into. It’s made of soy, sugar and rice vinegar boiled to a syrup, then spiked with chilli and coriander.

Fishcakes

•450 gms skinned, boned hake.

•2 tablespoons of green curry paste

•1 egg

•1 tablespoon bottle fish sauce.

•6 lime leaves, finely shredded and chopped

•100 gms of peeled prawns (optional)

•Oil for frying

METHOD:

•Put all these ingredients except the oil in a food blender, whizz briefly on pulse to mix, shape into little cakes about seven centimetres in diameter.•Dust very lightly in flour and fry until golden.

 

Dipping sauce

•Boil together 100 ml rice vinegar, and 90g white sugar until it goes syrupy (about 5 minutes).

•Remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of dark soy, a small carrot (very finely chopped), a finely chopped, medium-sized red chilli and a tablespoon of chopped coriander seeds.

•Leave to cool before serving in little dishes.

 

 

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