La Vie en Rose (Illovo, Johannesburg, ZA)

Ratings:

Food:  We will rock you ****

Wine list: We don’t really know, but they have interesting teas J

Service: Bohemian Rhapsody ***** (with the proviso that the owner know our birthday girl)

Decor: We will rock you **** (suits the target audience of the restaurant)

Ambience (incl music): The show must go on ***

Value for money: We will rock you **** (Keeping in mind the restaurant is in Illovo)

Pepper: So a week ago I was invited to a real girly Sunday brunch for one of my friends 30th birthday party and since one of our avid fans, who will be known as Long Island Ice Tea for this review, was with me we decided to do a review for all the ladies out there. So I will let my guest reviewer tell you a little more about herself…

Long Island Ice Tea: I am by no means a restaurateur, nor am I a Michelin-star chef. But, as you can tell from my pseudonym, I am an avid cocktail drinker! I live by the adage, “will try anything once”. So while Pepper might be concentrating on the food, I’ll tell you all about the champagne part of the “Champagne Breakfast”. So, Pepper where do we start?

Pepper: At the beginning. First impressions?

Long Island Ice Tea: Well, I guess we should ask first impression after actually finding the place. Although there is a board, it is not very prominently placed (on a wall). I drove right past the place and had to back track.  But once you arrive…fashionistas beware! If you get there late, and need to park far away, DO NOT WEAR high heels…can anybody say “Gravel trap”?

Pepper: Very true and well spotted. The décor and lay out fits the name perfectly. For those of you not into French jazz, La Vie en Rose is one of Edith Piaf’s most famous songs.

Long Island Ice Tea: I never knew that! You learn something new every day.

Pepper: A restaurant review and a little music education all in one. So you can understand my shock and horror when I heard more than one Michael Buble song during our brunch and maybe one Edith Piaf. Luckily, the birthday girl openly declared her love for Michael so I guess to each his (or her) own.

Long Island Ice Tea: In keeping with the French theme it has to be said that they did play Celine Dion.

Pepper: So more French Canadian theme then?? Anyway, enough about the music. The restaurant is in old house with more than one business on the property (Long Island Ice Tea: So don’t be alarmed when you see women with foil in their hair coming down the stairs towards you.) The restaurant open ups into a lovely garden (think English garden more than French Provincial) with as could be expected a lot of rose bushes. Which actually translates to the menu, since every dish is named after a rose e.g. I had the magic medley which is a pink blend rose cultivated in 1995. Of course there are some exceptions to the rule as I have never heard of a rose called “Anchovy Toast”.

Long Island Ice tea: In amongst the breakfast favorites, like your salmon and scrambled eggs, and omelettes, there was some variety. I ordered something called a Spanish Rhapsody (in keeping with the theme, this is a Pink blend cultivated in 1984). First time I’d seen something like this on a menu…although I have to ask myself if spinach for breakfast is actually a good idea…being a bacon and eggs kinda girl myself. But I tried to be zhoosh and go for something different. The dish is a lot of spinach and rosa tomatoes, covered in eggs and mozzarella cheese and baked in an oven. I suppose its meant to resemble a baked pasta…but for breakies that was a bit much for me. It does come with toast on the side…and like Pepper said, they do take their toast seriously! It was like biting into a rock…not a hard rock but a crumbly rock. What it missed for me was the ultimate companion to spinach, which for me is feta. And yes I am a true believer that you cannot have too much cheese…so feta and mozzarella would have been fine with me!

Pepper: My kinda girl!! Cheese is French and both feta and mozzarella come from the Mediterranean so it would not have been that bizarre. I had to be different, what’s new, and ordered a light lunch for breakfast. The magic medley is three phyllo pastry parcels with different goodies inside. When my plate came I saw a few disguised looks of jealousy cast my way from the more conservative scrambled eggs and salmon brigade, but if you don’t dare you don’t win. The first parcel had butternut, potato and tomato inside and after the first bite I was wondering if I shouldn’t have joined the scrambled egg brigade as the filling needed seasoning and tasted pretty much like butternut, potato and tomato…

Long Island Ice Tea: What else were you expecting?

Pepper: A herb of some form would have been nice or even just a little bit more salt. Or cheese… since it seems to be the secondary theme of this review. Which actually brings me to the second of our magic medley. Blue cheese, onion and mushrooms. YUM! I was glad that I did not let the butternut stop me as the parcel was punched full of flavor. The last parcel was a basic creamed spinach filling which was very nice and a little bit calming after the strong flavor of the blue cheese parcel. I wonder if it would be possible to pick which filling you would like, so I can let the butternut go and have an extra blue cheese instead…

Long Island Ice Tea:  So even though the scrambled egg brigade looked over with jealousy in their eyes, I’m sure they would stick to their choice. They reported that the eggs were really well done…and let’s face it, scrambled eggs and salmon is a winner 9 times out of 10. I mean, how can you get that wrong…right?

Pepper: I agree 100%. One of our brunch companions also mentioned that she loved the fact that the food was served very hot, as sometimes, with bigger tables some of the food gets to the table a little cold. And for the boys that might be dragged along to La Vie en Rose the portions are huge. I don’t think anyone finished their whole meal except one member of our party who opted for the anchovy toast.

Long Island Ice Tea: Drinks! (my favourite part) I know Pepper is a believer in freshly-squeezed fruit juice…and I tend to agree…to a certain degree. Our champagne was served with freshly-squeezed orange juice…which is not a bad thing except if it has all the pulp still in it. I did not fancy that at all! I guess I don’t like wading through obstructions in my alcohol!

Pepper: Then you should have manned up and skipped the mimosa option and had your Pongraz straight up!

Long Island Ice Tea: But see I come from the other side of the “boerewors gordyn” and still had a long drive home…not to mention a Formula 1 GP to watch!

Pepper: They also have a lovely selection of teas and the cappuccinos are also nice and not too small. So all and all an interesting menu, beautiful venue and a great place to meet the girls for a spot of brunch or a coffee and a chat.

Long Island Ice Tea: As my last word, THANK YOU to Pepper for inviting me to do this review. I thoroughly enjoyed it…maybe we’ll do this over coffee next time J

Pepper: You’re on!

SUCCULENT CAFE (Northcliff, JHB, ZA)

Ratings:

Food:  We will rock you ****

Wine list: N/A

Service: Bohemian rhapsody *****

Decor: We will rock you ****

Ambience (incl music): Bohemian rhapsody *****

Value for money: We will rock you ****

Salt: After church on Sunday morning we decided to go for an early lunch to broaden our horizons from the greater Sandton area and settled on Eat in Northcliff, a restaurant we both remember from before. Alas Eat was fully booked for Sunday lunch (note to self) so we looked around the centre and stumbled upon Succulent Cafe sort of by accident.

Pepper: I actually spotted Succulent as we were walking towards Eat from the parking lot and was definitely intrigued, so I wasn’t  too disappointed when Eat was fully booked (although we promise to go back to do a review on Eat in the near future). Succulent is one of those funky, arty, interesting coffee shops that have sprung up all around the country in the last 10 years. The decor is very interesting and everywhere you turn there is something else to discover. 

Needless to say, I took a lot of pics, but we can only show you a few here. In fact while Salt was walking around trying his hand at some interesting photos the owner came over to me and started talking to me. She was extremely friendly and engaging and we had a chat about the café and she told me that there was a sister shop in Pretoria Woodlands that has a decor shop attached.  After she left the waitress bought our drinks (Salt will later elaborate). We wanted to start off with one of their wood-fired pizza and although you can only start ordering pizza and lunch items from 12:00, the pizza chef heard me speak to the waitress and nodded that he was ready for us so we ordered the Magriet, mozzarella and basil, a nice simple pizza to test the quality.

 

Salt: Because Succulent is a coffee shop the drinks options weren’t that varied and I ended up having a (what I later learned was) virgin mojito together with Pepper’s rock shandy.  It was obviously all light and refreshing but I’m biased, virgin anything is about as blasphemous as decaf or nicotine-free.  Oh wait, I’m a non-smoker now – scrap that last one. The pizza was great! The crust was thin but not dry and brittle and the tomato sauce tasted freshly made (Pepper: It reminded me of the sauce that Lombardi’s in NYC used). I wouldn’t quite go that far but for a coffee shop in Joburg it was really good.  I would have liked more basil leaves on the pizza. It is listed as an ingredient, not a garnish.

Pepper: I agree. One basil leave per slice should be the minimum. I was craving something more, so asked the owner for some fresh chilli. Now most pizza places serve the trinity (parmesan, garlic and chilli) on the side, but this chilli was different. They only used green chillies which made it spicy, but not so hot that you couldn’t taste anything else. I actually would love to get the recipe…

Salt: The fresh chilli really made the pizza.  In fact, it was so good I secretly considered knocking mains and ordering another pizza for another round.  Lucky for me, on recommendation of the owner I was coaxed into a main dish and went for the fillet fettuccine.  It’s always a good thing if a restaurant has a few signature dishes that they can fire off the hip and they didn’t disappoint. Good stuff – I thought the pesto was too little but the chunky feta on top with the Napolitano sauce was yummy.  Interestingly the fillet did not rock my world but Pepper (always the ultimate judge of beef texture) thought it was succulent (see what I did there). So either she got a really juicy strip or I’m losing my touch with meat.

Pepper: I ordered the tin mug chicken pie, which true to its name was a lovely creamy chicken and veggies stew in a tin mug covered with puff pastry and baked. It was served on a tin plate with roasted veggies which had aubergine in which always makes my heart happy. The puff pastry was a little disappointing. It was baked too long and didn’t quite taste homemade. The filling was fantastic though. Contessa’s in Rivonia (watch this space for a review) makes a very similar chicken pie and I mentioned to Salt that if I could have Succulent’s filling with Contessa’s pastry it would make the perfect chicken pot pie. As Salt mentioned I also had a taste of his pasta and it was amazing. I can definitely recommend both mains as good comfort food.

Salt: Definitely a cozy, snug lunch spot.  And although they’re light on alcohol Succulent is heavy on flavor and variety.

Pepper: While we were finishing off a table with about six little girls (below the ages of 9) came in for lunch and they were all given a seat at the bar counter surrounding the area where the pizza was made and cooked in the oven. They each got a small pizza base with tomato sauce on and plates with ingredients ranging from cheese, to pineapple and ham so that they could create their own pizzas. What a clever idea! Salt asked the owner if adults could also build their own the pizza and she answered: “Of course”. So note to self when I need a nice lazy lunch with the girls and we need to keep the kids (and Salt obviously) busy Succulent Café will be a good option.

YAMATO (Illovo, Johannesburg, ZA)

Ratings:

Food: Bohemian rhapsody *****

Wine list & cocktails: The show must go on ***

Service: We will rock you ****

Decor: The show must go on ***

Ambience (incl music): The show must go on ***

Value for money: We will rock you ****

Salt: My original plan was to talk in a weird Japanese voice while doing this review – Ah, welcome to real people guide – but with a knowing look containing much warning Pepper got me off that idea.  Luckily I’m not uneducated enough to have suggested the “Confucius says” approach…

Pepper: I think it is pretty obvious from the statement above that this was Salt’s first visit to a “proper” Japanese restaurant. We have had take aways from your
normal Japanese inspired chains like Teriyaki, but Salt was about to get his
Japanese on and he didn’t even know it. From the menu I could already spy that
this was a serious Japanese restaurant and that no concoctions to satisfy
Western palates would be tolerated.

Salt: Like two real Melrose coo girls we started off with a bottle of wine on empty stomachs at 11:30 in the morning and I decided on a Dombeya Sav Blanc, a local brand from Stellenbosch. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake, the wine was very heavy and very yellow like a chardonnay, none of the amazing flavours that the label promised.  The only eastern flavour on the wine list was Japanese sake; we probably should have gone that route.

Pepper: But I was not to be deterred, because the menu was making promises of tastes that I miss from my Taiwan days. So we kicked off with three starters: chicken gyoza, agedashi dofu, and veg and prawn fresh spring rolls. We were the first customers for Sunday lunch and after we placed our order for the starters a
lovely young Japanese couple walked in, always a good sign for an Asian restaurant. Now our followers will know that we have been searching for real, cheap dim sum in Joburg for a while now and the gyoza was five pieces for R35, so I was holding thumbs. And I was not disappointed, real proper pot stickers (fried dumplings), yum! Next time around we will have to try the beef and pork as well. Hope springs eternal and I had great hope for the tofu as well. The menu
promises deep fried tofu with spring onion in a tempura sauce. And that’s what
we got. Unfortunately, there were also some dried bonito flakes on top which I know is the traditional way to serve the dish, but my Western tongue has not gotten used to them yet.

Salt: As part of my Japanese education day (which, apart from the wine, was going brilliantly well) I tried the tofu.  I don’t get it, I really don’t.  Sure, I
could learn to eat it as part of a balanced, healthy life style but it doesn’t
have much taste.  As for the bonito flakes it reminded me of bokkom – and if you don’t know what that is, count yourself lucky.  I really liked the spring rolls though. It was a surprising and fresh experience, the peanut sauce really made it (Pepper: Note that Salt thought the peanut sauce was for the gyoza and another bit of education was necessary at this point). As for the gyoza – I’m not forgetting Pepper’s home-made dumplings (which has gone to a whole new level, but that’s a different and very tasty story) but for restaurant dumplings it was awesome.

Pepper: I, of course, loved the tofu. It was exactly the way I remembered it and I will definitely go back for more. I am still searching for a restaurant that serves
the little deep fried tofu cubes with basil that I use to have from street vendors in Taiwan. If anyone knows of a place, PLEASE let me know. In regards to the spring rolls, I can’t wait for a hot summer day to go back and order them again in all the flavours and to try out the cold noodles. Now for those of you who have never experienced Japanese cold noodles wait for the sun to come out again and then go and try it. It is basically cold noodles with delicious sauces and shredded vegetables that you mix together and enjoy as a light lunch. Watch this space in Sep / Oct as I will definitely be going back to Yamato to try out theirs.

Salt: After licking the starter plates clean it was on to sushi and the Yamato’s
chefs did not disappoint.  I ordered salmon rose that rocked out (nice going with a proper portion of caviar on top and not too much mayo) and salmon rainbow rolls.  I have to get over this misconception that I can tolerate tuna – I can’t.  The colour is gross and I can’t get over it, I need to stop ordering anything with tuna
in.  The texture of the sushi was naturally perfect, next time I’m just having roses. But I was not the brave one during the sushi round…

Pepper: As much as I love Asian food, I sometimes feel like a bit of a traitor when it comes to sushi as I love some of the more westernised versions you get at Asian restaurants in South Africa. So I was very happy to spot one of my favs on
Yamato’s menu (which has to mean that it is more traditional than I thought):
tempura prawn maki! It was absolutely delicious! I also wanted to be a bit adventurous since up to now in the meal Salt was the only one trying out new
things, so I ordered the pumpkin tempura and avo maki. I could see on Salt’s
face that he was wondering what the hell I was thinking. But I forced him to
taste…

Salt: I’m the sushi purist in this duo and prefer the nigiri and sashimi variety so I was very guarded when confronted with the pumpkin sushi.  Very surprsising – it’s like avo with no intrusive taste, just good vegetarian sushi.  Who knew? Going into the sushi round we were still in it for the long haul and were planning to go all out with noodle mains and dessert but after the sushi we had to admit that we had come the end of the road but swore to return and finish my learning.

Pepper: So although my tummy was happy I did leave with a bit of sadness in my heart since I missed out on the green tea ice cream… one of my favourites and not that easy to come by in SA. I even asked the waitress if they sold green tea powder, with the hope that I could reinvent the green tea lattes that Starbucks sell in Taiwan, but to no avail. What did impress me though was the fact that our African waitress was well versed on the menu and on Japanese cuisine in general and you don’t find that at all Asian restaurants. She was friendly and quick and left a very good impression.

Salt: So our lunch was done and we walked away feeling quite good about ourselves thinking that we had just stumbled onto a real gem of a restaurant.
Unfortunately, at home Pepper flipped open the Sandton magazine and discovered that Yamoto is in fact a household name under the true Joburg foodies.

Pepper: Which we are obviously not…🙂 But exploration will take you far and we are obviously one step closer to knowing where the food hot spots are in Joburg and the rest of the country. So in conclusion, Yamato is everything you want in your local Japanese restaurant, great authentic menu, fantastic food and quick and friendly service. Yes, the decor in the restaurant is nothing to write home about and there is not a lot of ambience, but that is not why people flock to Yamato… it’s for the food, that glorious Japanese food…

 

 

E.A.T CAFE (Upper East Side, New York, USA)

Ratings:

Food: We will rock you ****

Service: We will rock you ****

Decor: We will rock you ****

Ambience (incl music): The show must go on ***

Value for money: The show must go on ***

Pepper: So the eating journey in New York continues. Dining out in New York for cash strapped South African tourist is normally kept to Hot Dogs and sandwiches from delis, but in the spirit of this blog we choose a few places to splash on. Lombardi’s was the first and on our way to the Metropolitan Museum of art we decided to treat ourselves to an Upper East Side breakfast. After walking around for a while we decided at Eat Cafe. Eat cafe on Madison Avenue is part of the Eli Zabar’s Gourmet food business (well-known for Zabar’s food market on the Upper West Side). What attracted us was the little bakery that forms one part of the shop and we were pleasantly surprised when we found a cafe on the other side of the bakery. So to be quite honest we didn’t know that this little cafe was actually a Manhattan institution.

Salt:  The service was great and the lady (seeing that we were tourists) seated us at a cosy table right next to the window where we could see that Manhattan people going about their business early in the morning. I started off with a pot of fresh brewed coffee and after considering all the options I decided to take a bit of risk and went for the cheese & ham croissant. Not enough filling and overcooked this oily croissant left me completely unsatisfied.  Luckily I had the coffee to wash down with.

Pepper: Now since we got to New York I have been craving scrambled eggs and lox (smoked salmon) since it is also one of my favourite breakfast items in South Africa and I was not disappointed.  Everything was delicious and I really enjoyed the little side salad that the eggs were served with, something I have never seen in SA, as it brought a wonderful freshness to the dish. I also received a little bread basket with different types of toast with my meal that were all obviously freshly baked at the bakery.

Salt: At this stage I was having a serious case of food envy and even after Pepper offered me an amicable bite of her amazing breakfast I annexed her bread basket.  This did justice to the bakery section of the cafe.

Pepper:  While enjoying every forkful of my breakfast we had some time to do some people watching inside the cafe and it seems that it is really a local spot. There were a table of 4 ladies who were obviously of the “ladies who lunch” variety and a few single guests who came in with a newspaper or a book to enjoy a good cup of coffee and scrumptous breakfast. I could definitely see myself living in New York as a housewife and coming to E.A.T every morning for some quality time with myself and the New York Times. I also visited the website when we got back to SA and saw that they offer picnic baskets. On our next visit to New York we will have to make sure that it is summer so that we can order one of these baskets and go and while away the hours in central park. Oh, what a life…

Salt: Eat Cafe is definitely a life style and to fully enjoy the Cafe’s power follow Pepper and the ladies who lunch’s example and stick to the scrambled eggs & lox with a good coffee. It seems this breakfast is a signature dish of Eat cafe and I think of the 8 people having breakfast the same time as we did I was the only sot not in on this secret.

PS – You can’t do the Met in one day, do yourself a favour and either book 2 days or weed out want you want to see.  My tired and blistered feet already hurt on your behalf…

DIY DIM SUM

Pepper:  So I knew this day would come and here it is. This post is not a restaurant review. It is a little comment I wanted to make on our Wafu post that has now turned into a post of its own. After my little tirade in our last post about how overpriced dim sum was in South Africa and on top of that how hard it was to find, I decided to follow the DIY route.

Now I have tried to make dumplings at home before (after my return from Taiwan), but was very disappointed in the quality of frozen dumplings that most Chinese Supermarkets carry. So in an effort to try and dodge that complication I tried searching for dumpling (or won ton) recipes on line, but three little words broke my spirit every time: “won ton wrappers” and then the next four words would make me seriously consider throwing my teacup across the room: “available at most supermarkets”. Not in South Africa, Buster!!

Now you would think the fact that won ton wrappers seem to be freely available in countries from the UK to Uruguay would make Mr Woolies and Mr Pick n Pay sit up and think: “Now wouldn’t that be a good idea” but no. Up until this week’s experience buying won ton wrappers in South Africa still felt to me like buying illegal drugs. You get in your car with one sole purpose in mind. You drive to a neighbourhood that you would never go to for any other reason. You get out and make sure that the car is locked, twice. Not so much because the neighbourhood is dodgy, but because you feel like you shouldn’t be there and what if one of the natives notices. You run into the store get what you came for give money to a person who speaks in short cut off English phrases that makes it sound as if they only arrived in SA yesterday. You wrap the packet up, run to your car, get in and drive off, smiling to yourself, because you did it. You got the goods.

Luckily we live pretty close to Rivonia which for some reason seems to have its fair share of Chinese supermarkets. So in between buying my monthly supplies at the body shop and going to fetch my new bank card I skipped across the road to the Chinese Supermarket I just happen to spot and went straight to their chest freezer with baited breath. And there it was… dumplings in 4 different flavours, 6 flavours of spring rolls, 4 flavours of bau and some other more interesting specimens like Siew Mai. And I sighed as I tried to hold back the tears for right in the corner of the crowded freezer I found it, the Holy Grail: three different sizes of won ton wrappers. With one bag of pork and cabbage dumplings, one packet of won ton wrappers, my new double size bamboo steamer, and some proper Chinese dumpling sauce I went to the till where the elderly Chinese lady pointed to the till and asked me for R207. I thought that her math had to be wrong but she just smiled took my money packed up my treasure and out I went into the morning sunlight. So if the quality was good a new world of dim sum had opened up to us.

I had a brain wave once I got home and instead of making my own chicken filling (there are some really nice recipes online) I used my ingenuity and used the meat from Woolies spinach and feta chicken sausages. I have to admit that the won ton wrappers were a little dried out around the sides and I had to cut some of it away, but although my dumplings weren’t nearly as pretty as restaurant dim sum I was on my way. So I waited for Salt to get home…

Salt: As always Pepper is way too critical of anything she attempts.  The dumplings were yummy – the dry edges are the wrappers’ own fault and I’m sure we’ll find some way around it as the dim sum steaming skills improve.  As for the meat ala Woolworths, it was spiced better and was tastier than some restaurant dim sum.  So as with the devil being in the detail the only difference between restaurant dim sum and DIY dim sum could be the labour and the price and based on the overall bill of R207 for everything including a steamer this comparison was not going to be pretty.

After deducting the capital investment of the equipment and the dumpling sauce we calculated that each piece of dim sum came to R1. R1 dim sum compared to at least R10 per piece in most places!  And remember you’ll eat at least 10 – 15 pieces if you make a meal of it at a restaurant. So it’s completely ridiculous if you further take into account that you pack the steamer and steam for like 20 minutes without turning or anything. The only thing that the restaurants possibly still have over DIY is the rice flour dim sum that we will have to attempt to make by hand from a googled recipe. 

But bow your head in shame restaurant dim sum, your pricing is unacceptable.  Dim sum is easy to make, relatively easy to buy(if you’re Pepper with a bit of bootlegging skills), fun (I can see big dim sum home parties with a lot of alcohol) and cheap. For the moment I’ll live without rice flour, but I guarantee you Pepper can get it right without much trouble. Tsk tsk…

WAFU (Greenpoint, Cape Town, ZA)

Ratings:

Food:  We will rock you ****

Wine list: We will rock you **** (Very cool cocktails)

Service: We will rock you ****

Decor: Bohemian Rhapsody ***** (Awesome view and decks)

 

Ambience (incl music): We will rock you ****

Value for money: The Show must go on *** (Sushi as a whole and the emerging Dim sum market is still way over-priced on a per-piece basis)

Salt: I realize that treasure hunting might be a children’s game and you think you have outgrown it but restaurant reviewers will do what needs to be done to find the treasure and share their tale of high adventure. And good food.  We were in Cape Town for a dear friend’s wedding and since our brunch date fell through we had a long discussion on the many Cape Town culinary options. 

Pepper:  It was a beautiful Sunday and we were in the mood for a lazy lunch somewhere with a nice view.  So the next question was what kind of food we were lusting after. Now, since I came back from Taiwan (where I lived for two years) I have been looking for a good dim sum restaurant in South Africa and finally found one in Constantia by accident. Wasabi is in a little suburban shopping centre and although the dim sum has more than a strong Western flavor it still offers the excitement of picking a few dishes off the menu and then waiting for those little steam baskets to be delivered to your table. And then the adventure begins… unpacking them one for one to see what each one holds… ah, I love dim sum. But as stated above we were looking for a nice view, so Salt turned to all restaurant finders’ best friend, Mr Google…

Salt: After checking out a few sites, reading menus and a review or two we decided to brave horizons in search of Wafu.  Website directions in hand we set off, mouths already watering a little after reading the menu.  Actually finding Wafu turned out to be a bit of a nightmare and it took us a good 45mins up and down beach road (including stopping and going onto Ovi maps twice) to realize that what they said on their website was a left turn was in fact a right turn.  Then after finding the place and a parking space (an entire adventure on its own) we still had to navigate a few staircases and walk through a different restaurant to get there.  At this point I was very irritated and immediately ordered a cocktail.  Wafu was really going to have to impress.

Pepper:  The view from our table already made Salt calm down a bit. There are only a few restaurants (even in Cape Town) that can offer a view of the sea and the mountains (Table Mountain in this case) but Wafu did it with ease. When I went out a little later to have a smoke I was very impressed with the deck, an open area with comfy coaches and an even better view of Table Bay. People were sitting around drinking wine and cocktails and snacking on sushi looking ridiculously chilled and funky and it dawned on me once again that places like Wafu is what the Cape Town lifestyle is all about. But back to the alcohol… Salt ordered his favorite long island ice tea and I ordered a Pimms no 1. I make my Pimms at home with mint and cucumber and always feel a little let down when I see two lonely mint leaves floating in my glass when I order it at a restaurant. But not this time… a fruit extravaganza arrived at our table. A tall glass filled with fresh cucumber, pineapple and orange slices. It was good, so good that it only took me about 15 mins before I ordered the next one and only noticed that there was no mint in my first one when the second one arrived with all the first one’s ingredients and mint leaves and cherries at the bottom! Salt also really enjoyed his long island ice tea although it tasted like medicine to me and was seriously considering having a second one, but realized that he still had to drive our rental car to the airport and deliver it back in one piece.

Salt: The good kind of medicine. That takes all the pain away.  We decided to go for sushi starters and then dim sum it up for mains. Although sushi is a widely served dish it’s still hard to find really awesome sushi.  Everybody seems to be on the level of making fine/ nice/ [insert any polite adjective here] sushi and no one can afford the fish-poisoning lawsuit so everyone tries very hard.  But apart from Driftwoods in Langebaan and Yasuqui in Paulshof, Johannesburg sushi is sushi is sushi.  But enter Wafu to quickly join my ranks as a top 3 sushi experience.  The textures were perfect and it still had that authentic eastern taste that only eastern sushi chefs seem to get right. My rainbow rolls, for example, had tuna and salmon on the outside, prawn, cucumber and avo on the inside and mayo topped with caviar on top.   It was like a little fishy carnival in my mouth.

Pepper: Now I am not a big Mayo in or on sushi fan, but this mayo was different. It was creamier and less tangy than the normal (and I think cheaper) versions that you find on my most sushi. My tempura rolls (tempura prawns and avo) had a spicy mayo streak under the sushi that made a good companion to the sushi. I even enjoyed the mayo on Salt’s rainbow rolls and although the sushi was quite pricey (R79 – R88 for eight pieces) it was very good quality. I would like to go back to Wafu one day and just try all the items on their gourmet sushi menu. So sushi was good and the anticipation for good dim sum was growing. Although I immediately picked eight dim sum options that I wanted to try, I was already feeling a little full after the sushi so we started with four. The prawn, coriander and cheese spring rolls came on a separate plate with a dash of coriander paste on the side. It was also served with a sweet and sour sauce that I did not enjoy although I think I know how they made it. My Taiwanese friend Lily told me over a meal at her house one day that sweet and sour sauce was the easiest thing in the world to make. You take some ketchup (tomato sauce) add a little sugar and vinegar and viola! you have sweet and sour sauce. But I still don’t like it.

Salt: But the spring rolls were still amazing, although it wasn’t as cheesy as Wasabi’s it was crispy and tasty and cheesy pastry heaven.

Pepper: Let’s be honest, how wrong can you really go with melted cheese in pastry? And then you add a few prawns and a coriander leave or two (or a stalk of coriander in my case…) and it is going to taste good. Our first steamed dish was the smiling roasted lamb pau (also known as bau) and the name really made me smile. What exactly is a smiling roasted lamb? I still don’t know, but I can tell you that it tastes delicious and the pau had just enough dough as they can sometimes be out of balance with too much dough and too little filling.

Salt: A word to the wise – you need education when it comes to dim sum, trust me.  Befriend someone who either knows the whole Hong Kong dim sum cart scene or (like Pepper) the Chinese tea house experience.  It will make your life much easier if you can catch on that there are specific names for specific dim sum (i.e. pot sticker, dumpling and won ton) and even different sauces for specific dim sums like the  sauce for red meat that still looks exactly like chocolate pudding to me every time I see it. This is not a self-study course, (Pepper: you might end up with a few unwanted eating experiences) get educated, you won’t regret it. So , as less of a novice, I thought the steamed ginger chicken dumpling was OK and I would have thought it was great if Koi in Sandton didn’t make it so much better.

Pepper: On the topics of dim sum in Joburg. Where do you find it?? We tracked down Koi and although the ginger chicken dumplings were really good they did not offer a big range of dim sum and was (as always) very overpriced. Oriental Fusion in Sunninghill imported a real Chinese dim sum chef in 2009 and we got to enjoy dim sum like I used to have in Taiwan once before he got deported… I’m not kidding… the man was a dim sum genius, surely our laws should allow for this?? And Salt made a very interesting point during lunch. Woolies has just brought out a range of dim sum that you can pop in the microwave or heat in the oven, but most Asian restaurants in Joburg still do not have dim sum on their menus. I am left dumbfounded… But I still have something to say about Wafu’s beef pot stickers. Fried dumplings were one of my staple foods in Taiwan and I have to admit that I prefer the Taiwanese pork and spring onion version more than the beef ones at Wafu. But then again, I am not a big beef fan in general.

Salt: As a beef lover I thought the beef potstickers were fine but I remember this pork version Pepper mentioned and I have to admit, it would have been fantastic if we could have had that option. We ended up having such a good meal on the Wafu dim sum that we had to take a break in between before ordering more (Pepper: Damn you, small stomach!).  After our break and another round of drinks it was the turn of deep-fried chicken wontons and fried spicy prawn dumplings.  Ironically, after getting 2 or 3 portions of each of the previous dishes we thought this round wouldn’t be so much but ended up getting 6 portion baskets.  These were very good, especially the chicken, so I didn’t complain about the quantity.  Another novice warning – dim sum is served quickly after the steaming/ frying process and the basket is lined with tin foil.  Beware the first big bite, it’s hotter than you think it is…

Pepper: So with full tummies it was time to pay the enormous bill (R627) and head to the airport. Wafu has made an impression on me and I think I will break with bad room service the next time I travel to Cape Town and go and grab some take always instead. It will be expensive, but then the nice thing about traveling for work is that I get a per diem! It’s a pity we don’t live in Cape Town as I would definitely have chosen Wafu as my birthday party venue for 2011! So head up Beach Road over the weekend and pop in for delicious food, good drinks and a wonderful view… basically some chill time… Cape Town style…

LOMBARDI’S (Little Italy, New York, USA)

Ratings:

Food: Bohemian Rhapsody *****

Wine list & cocktails: We didn’t get round to drinking, refer above

Service: We will rock you ****

Decor: We will rock you ****

Ambience (incl music): The show must go on ***

Value for money: We will rock you **** (Matching quality to price tag was impressive)

Pepper: Now it has never come up before in one of our reviews, but I am completely addicted to pizza! I am not too fazed in which form it comes. From thin proper traditional Italian pizza (ala Col’Cacchio) to thick base take away pizza (ala Scooters). I will eat them all. The only pizza that I do not eat anymore is Debonair’s which is quite strange since Debonair’s started in my hometown of Pietermaritzburg (I think) and was my staple high school and varsity food. So I was shocked and horrified to find out that in all my pre-New York research I did not pick up anything about Lombardi’s which is officially the first pizzeria in the US. But fate will always feed my addiction and while walking around on our first proper day out on a recent trip to New York we just happen to pass Lombardi’s and of course we had to stop for lunch.

Salt: One thing that I did notice in America is that stores and restaurants are not big on the advertising and signage, but luckily Lombardi’s had a Mona Lisa murial (which was the main thing that caught our eye) and it was only after taking an extremely touristy photo that Pepper saw the official sign and it was love at first read.

Pepper: The tourist couple that took our photo in front of Mona Lisa went in for lunch, but we decided to walk around a bit first as we had a late breakfast. When we came back the pre-mentioned couple was just coming out and their feedback was not positive. Tourist guy: “It was different. It is not completely covered in cheese, only little round spots here and there.” Pepper: “So proper Italian pizza?” Tourist guy: “… uhmmm…. Sure”.

Salt: Even after this academic and critical “review”, we went in at our own “peril” for this “different” pizza. We got seated close to the kitchen in what seemed like a little corridor. All South Africans boys beware, New York restaurants are crammed and you will probably, like me, feel like your sharing your romantic meal with more people than you invited.

Pepper: The restaurant was very, very busy over Sunday lunch, but you could see that they were used to this as we got seated almost immediately and the bus boy was there with water almost before we could take off our coats. This took Salt a little by surprise and I could see the words “we didn’t order this” forming in his mind. I quickly explained that this was just the way it was done here and that you didn’t have to order a glass of water like in South Africa, it was assumed you would want one while you look at the menu.

Salt: Apart from this bottomless water glass I found it very interesting that almost the entire menu consist on a build your own pizza section. There were one or two salads you could order, but no desserts (Pepper: we didn’t ask so we are assuming here).  They followed through with the quick seating by also taking our order very quickly and the pizza was there in a flash. But let’s not bore you with minor details, the ambience, decor and setting are all fine but the place doesn’t have much going for it except for the amazing pizza.  And now, with “ode to the perfect pizza”, I present Ms Pepper:

Pepper: Oh, the pizza. Lombard’s pizza has a thin Italian crust but with quite doughy sides (Salt: like pizza love handles) with a Napolitana sauce that was better than some I have tasted on pasta in South Africa.  Time to drag out the soap box.  Pizza places in South Africa do not take their tomato base seriously enough.  The creepy tourist guy was correct in saying that there were only a few round mozzarella slices on the pizza (Salt: something that I was secretly also worried about) BUT if the Napolitana sauce is this good the cheese is an extra blessing, not something to be used excessively to hide the horrible tomato taste.

We went for the following toppings: meat balls, pepperoni, Italian sausage and olives.  The only topping that let me down a little was the Italian sausage because it wasn’t as good as the other meat toppings.  I love a good spaghetti & meat balls but tend to make it myself in South Africa because the meat balls never meet my standards.  The meat balls on this pizza made me wish that they had spaghetti and meat balls that I could come and eat the next day. They even focused on the small details by adding shredded fresh basil on the pizza.  Fresh herbs on pizza seem to be something that most Italian restaurants in South Africa never think of. So before I completely lose control, it was the best pizza I have ever had, (keeping in mind that I have not been to Italy. Yet…) and that says a lot.

Salt: Even with the entire culinary scene of New York within reach Lombardi’s was always on the cards for a return visit, I remember a serious contemplation at 22:30 one evening if we shouldn’t have jumped on the subway and try our luck.  One thing though, it does come with a price tag, even by New York standards.

Pepper: But you get what you pay for and I would have paid more, had they asked me.

Salt: Do not fail to put Lombardi’s on your travel plans for New York, you will not regret it.  You might perhaps regret how plain other pizza now tastes…