SA’s top restaurants: Posh nosh to shisa nyama

No one believes me when I say my job is hard work, but it really is.

As editor of the 2015 Diner’s Club Rossouw’s SA Restaurant Guide, I am paid to eat, think and write about food in the country’s finest restaurants.

With the pleasure of the meals comes a significant responsibility.

Chefs work long hours at highly skilled, stressful and often low-paid tasks. They deserve to have their labour treated with respect and care.

Similarly, diners who spend their hard-earned cash on eating out are entitled to accurate and insightful commentary to guide their choices.

Historically, guides have tended to find endless synonyms for ‘lovely’. This is not helpful. If a restaurant has faults, diners and chefs need to know.

We can tell it like it is because at Rossouw we pay for all our meals in full. There are several reasons that people eat out.

Date-night dining is different from a breakfast or brunch with the boss or Sunday lunch with kids.

Whether a reader wants dumplings, posh nosh tasting menus, shisa nyama or French bistro fare, there is something in this guide to suit every palate and wallet.

The book will be launched this week, but what follows is a sneak personal preview of where I would eat depending on what money I had in my purse.

R50

If I had R50 in my pocket, I would head for the Snack Bar at the Spice Emporium in Durban (031?332?5888), reviewed in #Trending last week, or Café Zorina in central Cape Town (021?424?9301).

The walls of this Cape Malay takeaway and restaurant are lined with sepia photographs of the Sallie family, who have run the establishment for more than 50 years.

Sallie senior’s great-granddaughters cook and serve with a pleasant, but slightly bored, demeanour. The food is far from boring – mutton, chicken or sugar bean curries (with plump, saucy potato chunks) are served with delicate, flaky Cape-style rotis – the perfect curry delivery mechanism.

The accompanying onion salad is wonderfully sweet and tangy.

Other cheap and delicious eats include:

»?707 Panyaza (White City, Jabavu, Diepkloof, Soweto, 083?712?5862). Shisa nyama with great steak and superb people-watching potential

»?Dumpling Shop (Cyrildene, Joburg, no phone). The name says it all – steamed and fried dumplings served with sesame oil, black vinegar and chilli. No English spoken but pointing at the dumplings does the trick

»?Lefty’s (Central Cape Town, 021?461?0407). Hipster fried chicken at its finest

»?Captain Fine’s Fish Factory (Ballito, KZN, 032?946?3933). Traditional fish and chips. Flaky white fish in a thin, bouffant crispy batter with fat chips served hot enough to melt the salt and drink up lashings of vinegar

R150

With R150 in my pocket I would head for Alfie’s (Hazelwood Drive, Hazelwood, Pretoria, 012?346?7873).

Chef-patron Alfredo Fiaschetti hails from Umbria, Italy. His is one of a few Italian eateries in South Africa that resembles a trattoria in Italy rather than that nostalgic ye olde Nonna’s kitchen nonsense.

Alfie’s has light-grey walls, screed flooring and a long, narrow, bar counter. A few tables outside allow for alfresco dining.

A small, focused, authentic menu (with a blackboard for specials) follows the antipasto, primo, secondo and dolce format with four or five offerings under each section.

The techniques and flavours are generally classic Italian (Fiorentina T-bone steak served medium rare, perfectly seasoned with good caramelisation of the fat), but there are contemporary dishes too. Zucchini carpaccio with lime dressing is a pleasant addition to the classic beef version.

Finish with zabaglione custard truffles and superb espresso – the beautiful, thick crema holds the sugar momentarily before it gently melts into the coffee.

Alternatively, I might try:

»?Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen (Central Cape Town, 021?422?0128). Predominantly tapas-style treats. High on skill and low on fuss

»?Ottoman Palace (Nizamiye Turkish Mosque, Midrand, Gauteng, 079?422?8168). Authentic Turkish food inside a mosque complex that is resplendent with golden domes and towering minarets. Great flatbreads. Lamb baked in clay pots falls off the bone

R500

If money was no object, Kyoto Garden Sushi in Tamboerskloof, Cape Town (021?422?2001), would be my dining destination. Quiet refinement is everywhere.

Meals start with a sea salt sprinkled amuse-bouche of warm edamame, which allows patrons time to examine a menu replete with saké steamed clams, miso broth with fresh oysters and vegetable tempura served with freshly grated daikon.

And, of course, superb sushi – expect the likes of salmon roe sushi topped with a quail egg yolk and wasabi grated at the table.

Tables are set with bespoke ceramics, chopsticks and high-end glassware. Portions are dainty but not ridiculously so. The wine list is small but well-suited to the genre.

Rieslings, Methodé Cap Classique and champagne predominate, with many wines available by the glass. There are also cocktails, Japanese beer and saké. Service divides customers.

Those who love the establishment say the intense attention to detail makes them feel special, while others report some discomfort at what they regard as the “OCD” attentions of staff (the owner has been known to insist on realigning benches for the purposes of feng shui before diners sit down).

Other pricy special treats include:

»?Qunu Grill (Saxon Hotel, Sandhurst, Joburg, 011?292?6000) Subtle saxophonist and pianist. Exquisite stemware and service and magnificent wine list. Menus change regularly, but the offering is always classic. Expect Caesar salad, Filet Rossini and tender confit pork with crackling and creamy mash

»?Jeera, Suncoast Towers Hotel, Durban (031?314?7878). For those who like their Durban-style curries in a smart setting. Great, eye-wateringly hot, crab curry and Champagne to wash it down

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