Restaurant roulette

2009-11-21 00:00

I RECENTLY made the mistake of going to a restaurant in a well-heeled suburb just off what is known as the Highway area — “Highway” conjuring up images of an evangelical bible belt or the “badlands” — I’m undecided which.

It billed itself as “true dining”, but it wasn’t. On closer inspection it was tatty, dirty and outside the air-conditioner leaked on to the pavement below.

The kitchen assembles rather than cooks, opening industrial packets of pasta and tinned tuna.

The menu boasts comments like: “our famous” and “delicious” and puts much emphasis on gilding indescribably bad food with gunk from squeezy bottles. This seems to hold lasting appeal for the platinum card-holding indiscriminates or simply the gullible.

It is “run” by a raging tryrannical tattooed manager (TTM) dressed like a child. On our visit he looked half domesticated and constantly threatened his staff with dismissal. There is something incongruous about serving a lumpy mattress of butternut mugged by sugar and cinnamon and and following it up with fake and persistent Uriah Heepish inquiries about the level of one’s enjoyment. I couldn’t wait to leave.

Fast forward to some time later. After reading Rayda Jacobs’ Confessions of a Gambler with its descriptions of the hypnotised and compulsive addicts urgently feeding slots and the neon intensity of a place where time of day has no relevance, I headed for the Suncoast Casino looking for something better than “fun dining”.

The Art Deco lemon, lime and baby blue exterior is worth a detour. Shame you can’t eat it.

Inside, though, you can “eat as much as you like” from one food franchise and have middle of the road cooking at inflated prices from any of the others.

Crowded with people gaping at various screens, the genius of the place is that it replicates the way that most people eat at home. Normally I gravitate towards anyone wearing Chelsea F.C. colours, but on this occasion I left the football shirts and tracksuit bottoms and continued on to the Oyster Box 10 minutes away in Umhlanga Rocks.

Modern, neat and yet a little grand with stylish wicker furniture under tiled ceilings, slow whirring fans and staff in colourful “Raj” uniforms, the Oyster Box sets itself apart.

Overlooking the outside terrace (closed due to the weather) and a dark and swelling sea, I sat down for a late lunch, eating from their fashionably retro menu. Fish ’n chips, bangers and mash, grilled liver with onions, chicken satay with a sesame and chilli “paste” (brilliant). I’m going to just have to go back for more. It was real fun dining.

My son Tiger finished with ice-cream and brandy snaps. They were the real thing and he loves them, so much so that he now demands I make these snappy biscuits at home. Here’s the recipe. The Oyster Box can be reached at 031 514 5000.

Brandy snaps

100 grams castor sugar

100 grams butter

4 tablespoons golden syrup

1 teaspoon brandy

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

100 grams plain flour, sifted.

1. Set oven to 190 degrees C. Lightly oil baking sheet.

2. Put sugar, butter and syrup in heavy pan and melt over a low leat. Just as mixture starts to bubble, add brandy, lemon juice, ginger and flour, stir until any lumps have disappeared and the mixture is smooth, but not runny.

3. Placed heaped teaspoons of mixture on oiled baking sheet, about four at a time. They spread considerably. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and leave for a couple minutes. Don’t let them harden or you won’t get them off the tray. When they have cooled, but are still soft, with the help of a palette knife rest each snap over a bottle or a rolling pin, to roll and curl, leave for a further two or 3 minutes, slide them off and place carefully on a cooling rack.

Brandy snaps are a forgotten classic. They demand a delicate hand and watchful eye.

They can be tricky to lift off the baking sheet and impossibly fragile when cooled, but hey, as they say — cooking is fun.

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