THE CRITIC | Dias Tavern, Caledon Street, Cape Town

(Illustration: Getty Images)
(Illustration: Getty Images)

RESTAURANT: Dias Tavern. Caledon Street, Cape Town. Tel. (021) 465 7547

I was wet and chilly during an unseasonal cool Cape summer, reminded of the fact that cold wetness brings hunger and appetite to men. Fortunately, I was happy. Because, despite being wet and cold and with appetite, I was in the city of Cape Town.

Looking up at the mountain, before turning around and walking into Dias Tavern, one of the city's most long-lived eateries with a loyal following of the well-fed, dogged variety.

Dias Tavern is Portuguese and run by some fellows from Madeira. They are fine fellows and run a good place that has been an institution for some years now. Being an institution for some years means a hungry man with appetite can go to the place, and it will still be there.

This cold day was also growing dark. I headed up the stairs. It is a big place. It is brashly decorated and sparsely furnished. Plastic chairs and beer posters. Maps of the island of Madeira that look as if they were painted by an infant with a nervous twitch. It is not a posh place, but a real place for receiving sustenance.

Dias was, as usual, full and warm, and inviting.

The Actress was waiting for me, and she was impatient because it was her last day in Cape Town before returning to London where the film will be edited. She had been recognised and got tired of signing napkins. I felt sorry for her because she wanted to be alone, except with me. So, we found a cosy dark corner where she would not be bothered. And could eat in peace.

The menu consists of a list of reasonably priced Portuguese/Madeiran/Mozambican dishes. Squid in all shapes and sizes, crumbed and not. Beef cubes drifting in a heartily fragrant Trinchado sauce. The ubiquitous showy Espetada. Chicken peri-peri. Fish and chips. Prawns. Portuguese steak. Prego rolls. On Fridays, tripe-and-beans to die for, just so you know.

I did the ordering, because I could.

We had a bottle of icy cold Casal Carcia, that green wine of Portugal. This came before the starters, which were squid head-and-tentacles, fried crispy and golden, a sliced chorizo sausage and a bowl of chicken livers peri-peri.

The wine braced our stomachs, and we ate well. The tentacles crunched under The Actress's ice-white teeth. The chicken livers were more inner-flesh in flavour than fire and richly sauced, and I took my fresh rolls and ripped pieces from the rolls, dunking them in the sauce and eating it, which was good.

The Actress and I finished the green wine quickly, because it is made to be consumed in big hearty mouthfuls, which we did. I had, however, brought along a bottle of The Pepper Pot, a wine from David Finlayson's Edgebaston Winery in Stellenbosch.

I poured the wine and smelt it, and it smelt of spice and shiraz; tannat and berries.

For our main courses, The Actress chose Espetada and I the chicken peri-peri.

Now, one thing one has to say is that Dias Tavern makes the best chips in Cape Town. They are big and golden, made from floury potatoes and freshly fried to golden perfection, unlike the industrial pre-cooked stuff so many restaurants ship-in.

The Espetada is, essentially, a kebab hanging perpendicular to the plate and resembles a religious medieval torture instrument from a Dan Brown novel. The meat is chunks of grilled rump steak, and it hangs above a bowl of golden chips, allowing the sauce from the meat to drip onto the chips, which makes eating them an unctuous experience and it made The Actress emit a sigh of satisfaction.

My chicken was a small, good chicken that had been flattened in the Portuguese way. The bird had been boiled to retain its juiciness, before being, grilled with lashings of peri-peri sauce.

The sauce was very tasty. It was hot, but not too hot. Spicy, but not overpowering. Wine, lemon juice, bay leaf, chilli….these were some of the flavours I found, complementing the juice and perfectly cooked chicken, which was young and small and good.

I also had chips, which were brilliantly hearty when combined with peri-peri sauce and slurps of The Pepper Pot wine.

The food is large and hot, and aromatic and satisfying. It is also very cheap, without looking or tasting cheap.

I ate all my chicken and The Actress devoured her Espetada to the last cube, so we were too full to take dessert, which is not always a bad thing. So, we had coffee and port, and then some more, and spoke about London in the rain, which was, sometimes, just like Cape Town in the rain, except that it was in London.

We looked happy, until she left, which only left one.

All reviews are unannounced and paid-for in full.

Note from the editor: This article has been updated for clarity.

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