10 November 2016

88 Shortmarket Street (City Bowl – 25 minutes’ walk, 10 minutes by car)

The latest addition to the Luke Dale Roberts empire, self-described as “the type of place where we want people to linger, have fun; where lunch turns into drinks at the bar, or an after-work get-together turns into a languid dinner.”

It takes us three months since the opening to organise a booking using the online booking system, but we eventually make it with visitors from France on a Thursday evening. It’s a chic and interesting space, old style green leather banquettes juxtaposed with quirky touches like a paper butterfly display on the wall and otherwise somewhat urban industrial feel.

The main dining area is spacious, open and high-ceilinged; we are seated at a cosy round table on a raised dais toward the back of the restaurant: it offers a bird’s-eye view of the restaurant, but the chairs backing to the restaurant come precariously close to the edge of the platform a few times during the meal – would not recommend having a glass of wine too many on these seats and leaning back . . .

The menu is enticingly limited, only 4-5 items per course–something I generally admire in a restaurant. It’s mostly classic European/South African menu items described by main ingredient with some sort of twist: the poussin is roasted with chestnuts and local fynbos; the trout tataki is “burnt on rooikrans” – in all, an exciting and intriguing menu, hard to choose from. (Click here for the menu.)

Choices are competently (if dispassionately) explained by our server — curiously attired in a stiff-looking white lab coat reminiscent of a German butcher. However, for a restaurant inviting you to advise of any food allergies or issues, the server and kitchen are peculiarly unable to offer our hepatitis-recovering guest any options which do not involve oil – not even grill items (which apparently are ALL brushed with olive oil and cannot be prepared otherwise). Ultimately, ceviche and the vegetarian entrée—artichoke—are deemed the only possibilities. While proving beautiful, creative and appetising, his very limited choice left our guest feeling slightly short-changed.

Cauliflower soup poured at the table from a teapot is velvety, if unremarkable (and not quite enough); the crispy octopus is unanimously the standout among our starters–atchar, a tamarind dressing and bonito flakes creating a flavour fusion of note.

Mains are mixed: braised artichoke pronounced robust and flavourful by both takers, including the enforced vegetarian. Pork belly with crackling was moist, rich and satisfying – and the duck-fat roasted potatoes out of this world. But the lamb rump with fennel fondant and leeks was a disappointment: no flavour sensation here, and the meat strangely somewhat dry, as though left in the oven too long.

We finish with the intriguingly-named Rhubarb mess – a tongue-teasing concoction involving scented rhubarb and meringue shards, and lemon tart (my personal challenge to every chef I encounter ). Wesley Randle’s version is acceptable, tart and tangy, good textures, but not the best I have ever had (that’s you, Anthony Bourdain!).

The service is good throughout, but perhaps somewhat wanting in a few basics that one expects in a restaurant of this calibre and repute: the wine we initially order is not available, reported only after the order is placed. Servers lean over us to serve rather than making a trip around . . . All seem slightly detached: a server passionate about his food always infects me with enthusiasm and anticipation. I missed it here. We wait 45 minutes for the main course. As ambience and company are good, we don’t complain and nobody remarks on the long wait.

We depart having settled a bill of around ZAR 800.00 per person, content, but uninspired. I will choose Pot Luck next time I’m hungry for an LDR experience – but might come back for breakfast: menu sounds appealing. Although do I want to breakfast in this space with little or no natural light on a sunny Cape Town summer’s morning? Hmmm . . . maybe I wait for winter.

The good:
The ambience: cool, modern space, welcoming and comfortable
The bread!! Nirvana: a crusty French-style Batard wrapped in hessian, served with creamy butter – this disappeared in no time.

Booking info:
Online booking system, but they say they keep a percentage of tables for walk-ins: “Walk-ins Welcome”

Online Bookings: www.theshortmarketclub.co.za/
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 447 28 74

Monday- Saturday
Breakfast: 08:00 – 11:00
Lunch: 12:30 – 14:30
Dinner: 19:00- 11:00

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