The perils of restaurant dining

Since we got back from Wonderful Copenhagen (17 days ago), I have cooked a meal only once. ONCE! It was a coq au vin, the kind of thing this African winter weather requires, and as far as I can remember, it was alright – not quite fantastic, but good enough on the night. Not good enough, though, to represent half the meals cooked in this kitchen in the course of almost three weeks (the philosophe grilled lamb chops one night, and they were very very good).

So what’s up? In part, we had some socialising to catch up on when we got back, and in the early post-travel days, doing that outside the hearth was simply easier. In bigger part, it’s because we’ve been on the job, helping to review restaurants for an upcoming guide. I used to think the life of a restaurant reviewer must be the coolest thing. But that’s in la-la-land, where all restaurant meals are actually good. There have been some good experiences, which I would surely not have had if it weren’t for the pressure of ‘the job’, such as finally getting to the Top of the Ritz, that time-warped restaurant on the 21st floor in Sea Point that revolves 360 degrees as you eat. The food is what you’d expect (think classic “haute”, chateaubriand and crepe suzettes, with the downside of modern classic “haute”: thick sauces and overcooked cauliflower, though my gemsbok with apple-cider sauce was pretty lovely), but it’s really the view that clinches this place, and even excuses the (— live!!) Richard Clayderman.

The next night I found myself at Nyoni’s Kraal, the kind of restaurant I would never normally set foot in (I have a deep suspicion of any “African” restaurants in Cape Town, which happens to be in Africa, but obviously not the Africa tourists are looking for). But first impressions were good: there were plenty of locals there, for one, and no signs of the faux-African spectacles you find at other places with tour busses parked outside. “Vuka Afrika”, their Friday night special, turned out to be a marimba band that was fortunately not right next to our table, so we had access to both decent music, and to head space for conversation. They bake good bread there (served with a great chilli-butter), and offer plenty of wierd things, like mopane worms (someone at our table had them; I did not) and the famous smiley (which fortunately no one at the table had since we didn’t feel like beholding the sight of half a sheep’s head). Beyond that, nothing special, except that now I can say I’ve been there.

The real problem with day after day of restaurants is not only the mediocre food – something you’d think would inspire you to go home and produce something ten times better – it’s the fact that what you end up wanting most on a day “off” is non-cooked and simple. So this weekend, which I looked forward to because it involved no restaurants, I’ve subsisted pretty much on apples and rice cakes (also some of the only food you can conjure without giving up the hot water bottle). Or have all the restaurants just made me lazy?

Let’s hope not. I still have lots of ribs to cook. And next time, a superb coq au vin. Etcetera.

So, I’ll surely get over it. But take heed, nevertheless: just look at the man who recently disappeared after his dinner at El Bulli. They call him the (disappearing) ‘Michelin man‘: he was on a tour of Michelin-starred restaurants when he suddenly vanished. Apparently he’s done this kind of Houdini thing before, though evidence suggests this time is a little different (he had a number of other restaurant bookings, but failed to show up for any of them). That’s pretty scary. Did he get swallowed up by Adria’s foam? Or did he go on a desperate search for a humble rice cake? You can’t blame the man; he had eaten in something like 40 Michelin restaurants in a month.

That’ll remind to stop complaining. (And to start cooking).