Portuguese Taverna, Section Street, Paarden Island. Tel: ,(021…
It was the French that had me discover this joint. Seeing that my French-made Citro?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦-ún C4 spends more time in the service centre than on the road, I have been spending a lot of listless hours in Paarden Island, the industrial centre outside Cape Town that must be the ugliest coastal real estate in the world.
Since discovering the Portuguese Taverna, however, my hours in Paarden Island have not been so listless. Although it is rather difficult to find a lunch partner willing to meet you in an area where whoring, drug-dealing and armed robbery count among the nicer recreational activities.
The place is set on the first floor of an ugly building, just above a Portuguese caf+¬, and is about the size of a modest suburban lounge. I reckon that, at a push, you can squeeze about 35 people into the room ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ forty if you don’t mind a retrenched Portuguese bacalhau saleswoman sitting on your lap.
What is reassuring about this place is that nothing is hidden from the diner. The lack of nooks and crannies allow you to see who is sharing your dining space. You can have a full squizz of the bar to ensure your circular bottle of Portuguese vinho verde is not fraudulently filled with Graca. Just past the bar, one has great view of the kitchen and can check out the goings on with admiration. I saw a pot big enough to christen a teenager in, and a lot of garlic cloves.
The fare is hearty and typical: calamari tentacles, sardines, chicken gizzards and salads for starters. Prawns, linefish, prego rolls, Portuguese steak, trinchado, espetada and chicken peri-peri for mains. Oh yes, and bacalhau, the traditional Portuguese salt cod.
I had a meal there last week which kind of typified the experience.
Joaquim Sa, local MD of Amorim Cork, had just that very morning returned from London “the worst place to eat in the world”, according to him. He needed to be fed, decently. We teamed up with the Motorcycle Kid, the kind of dining partner you need in a place like the Portuguese Taverna: he’ll eat anything, and if the rough stuff starts out in Paarden Island, the Kid’s the kind of street-fighter you want on your side.
We started out with Castles from the bottle ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ no keg containing draft beer has hit this place yet, and would some kind SAB chap stop watching cricket and do something about it? A Portuguese eatery without draft beer is like a sushi bar with a one-armed sushi chef.
For starters we spread the table with chicken gizzards, two fat, red chourico and some squid tentacles. The gizzards tasted as if they had been frozen since the last time Portugal had won a major soccer tournament. But the rest of the spread was fantastic. The chourico were scored whole instead of being sliced as seems to be the usual practice. It was full of fatty pork and aromatic paprika, with a zip of chilli. Home-baked, airy Portuguese rolls to mop up the sauces.
The tentacles were crisply battered and succulent, without the usual oily residue similar interpretations of this dish have a fondness of showing.
By this time we had ordered a bottle of Gatao, a run-of-the mill vinho verde. It was cold and green, and raw-tasting. Having travelled from Portugal it had lost its slight fizzy tang, but was extremely agreeable.
The main course we wanted was a special, scrawled on the black-board. Pork and beans as in feijoada, one of the Portuguese staples. When I asked him he was going to order feijoada, Joaquim gave me a look that said: “Is the Pope Catholic?”. “Are the Kennedy’s gun-shy?” Are you crazy? Of course!
Problem was, the Motorcycle Kid and I also wanted to try the same thing. So we settled for: A bowl of feijoada the size of a rugby players head and one chicken peri-peri.
The pork and bean stew was fantastic: odd cuts of fatty pork and a good dollop of beans in a thick, murky sauce tasting of garlic, bay-leaf and the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Heart Surgery Ward. The chicken was cut into six pieces and was freshly cooked and moist, with the slightest tingle of peri-peri. More of this could be had from a huge bottle of red peri-peri sauce being passed around the place.
I just had to order a plate of chips and French fries. Any restaurant not making its chips on its own premises should lose its trading licence. Those generic pre-cooked pieces of tasteless stodge used by far too many restaurants and sold as “chips” must be banned. If the Portuguese Taverna uses these things, a promising experience would have been wasted.
The concern was premature. A plate of golden chips – home-made, cut and fried in used oil was presented.
We were home.
The meal was robust, and the ambience even more so. Some Portuguese aunt sitting at one of the tables started crapping on two of the other diners, and a vicious argument ensued. Unfortunately for the Motorcycle Kid, who was unbuttoning his leather jacket, no blood was to be shed.
This being the Portuguese Taverna, oil, wine and peri-peri was the only liquid that is every going to flow.
Miss this place at your peril.
E Louw Joubert