Jan Cats. Jan 25, 2006

Some meals are feasts, some are failures. Some aren’t even worth calling meals at all. In the spirit of documentation, I record this entry, but it comes with a warning: do not attempt this yourself.

As a restaurant reviewer, the luxury of choosing where and when to eat is one that I frequently do not have. Andre and I don’t have time for a lunch, so we’ll meet for a quick course. I suggest a decent fish place in Stellenbosch, where the fare is basic but always fresh and he says he’ll join me after his “first” lunch. But then, on the streets, I see a place that has been around for yonks, but is not in my guide. It has a few of the hallmarks of the tourist trap, like big green signs that proclaim the “special” dishes – you know them, seafood platters, alleged local specialities… nevertheless, I feel the tugs of obligation. So when the reply to my SMS to tell Andre where I am is “why?” I feel a flicker of agitation.

I know what he is implying, that the place is a “no go zone”, not worthy of a visit. But I have to subject myself, perhaps the wine list will offer some succour? And it does, a glass of Delheim Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (a classically-styled, savoury wine). The menu is a dangerous place. Aside from their gleeful specialisation in seafoods (at handsome prices) they also focus on game. Now, as we know, game has a season. Winter. It’s now mid-summer. The meat will not be fresh.

But they do carry the ark. Springbok, gemsbok, eland, wildebeest, warthog. Even the zebra gets served with roast potatoes and some boiled veg here. The place is in a historic building in the centre of a historic town. The table to the left have their Lonely Planet alongside their bottled water. To the right, two businessmen are telling a third of their credentials. The fact that the two are wearing shades throughout does not seem to concern the third, who seems to have connections in political circles. The business of business is business.

I’ve eaten some calamari, fried, only because this was the only fishy thing before the meat I have chosen for my main, some wildebeest. Let’s see. Let’s not talk about the calamari, a strange subject in the lore of menus. So when Andre asks what he can try for the cause, I suggest the Cajun spiced chicken salad.

A bite or two. “There’s no Cajun here. I am eating the leaves because they are supposed to be good for me. The tomatoes are floury and unripe. The chicken. It’s a mess, battery-farmed, tasteless, probably a bacterial affair. I shouldn’t eat this. I’ve just had some good, wholesome food at Greengate, I don’t need to pollute my body with this. I won’t eat it.” And he pushes the plate aside. I taste. He’s not been unkind.

When the waitress comes to clear the plate, she does ask whether “everything was not to his satisfaction”. “Is anything wrong with the salad?” “There’s lots wrong,” he tells her, “I can’t begin to tell you.” She doesn’t press for detail. Andre leaves shortly thereafter, I have to wait for my wildebeest steak, “medium or well-done sir?”

Here’s the plate. A hunk of nondescript meat, roast potatoes, cauliflower in white sauce, steamed squash. I take a bite, then eat the all the veg and hurry the bill.

“Why?” indeed. In the words of Creedence Clearwater Revival: “not to do what I have done.”