Bukhara Restaurant, Stellenbosch.,Tel 021 882 9133
It was with a sense of foreboding normally reserved for a visit to the doctor that I finally went to Bukhara in Stellenbosch, after self-imposed exile of about half a decade. It was a matter of principle that I would not return to a place which was renowned for being severely overpriced and whose staff displayed more attitude than attention to detail. At least, I thought, if my suspicions were confirmed, I could console myself that it was not my suggestion to go there.
Let us start with the objection which is most often heard, namely that Bukhara is expensive. This is unfortunately still true of the wine., The list may be extensive and well-chosen, but there is barely a red under R120, and the mark-up appears to be at least 120%.
Whether the food represented value for money had to be determined by Bruwer’s first law: the total of the bill equals the number of units ordered multiplied by the price of the units ordered (TB = nu x pu). Main courses are generally R109. A bit much, one would think, for chunks of chicken or lamb in a spicy sauce. But read the fine print. For an extra R24 you can “supersize” and get three extra units, namely two side dishes and rice. This adds up to R131 for a very substantial main course.
Bearing this in mind, we ordered three “supersized” main courses (two pepper lamb and one butter chicken), the allotted number of side dishes (some diced potatoes with cumin, an aubergine dip, and raitas with garlic and cucumber), and one naan to be shared by three adults and a teenager. There was a slight gasp at the table as the waiter arrived with a monstrous tray containing a multitude of bowls, and had to assemble a side table to accommodate the overflow. You really do not have to order starters, and if you are really in an economizing mood, your dessert can be an ice cream at the Italian place round the corner (it cannot seriously be disputed that the Italians are better at these things, especially in the opinion of teenagers, than their (Northern) Indian counterparts).
But let us return to the main course. Quantity is one thing and quality another. We were not disappointed. The meats in both dishes were wonderfully tender, and the sauces well-integrated, with considerable depth of flavour. One point of criticism is that the butter chicken was not as mild as one would expect, – when we pointed this out to the waiter he told us that the “ouens” in the kitchen can have a bit of a loose hand with the spices. But there are limits to such benign experimentation, especially when ordering for children – the teenager was decent enough not to complain at the beginning, but her cheeks became visibly rosier as the meal progressed. At least a delicately flavoured mango lassi came to the rescue.
First prize, though, goes to the service, which was quite outstanding. With one exception, though, which brings us to Bruwer’s second law: there is a direct and inverse correlation between the size of the tip and the number of times a waiter (especially a strapping lad of about 20) refers to any female patron under 40 as “Tannie” or Aunt (TT =, k/x.) where TT is the total tip, k is the non-zero constant, and x is the number of times the expression is used). I know its use is well-meant, as a sign of respect. But principles can be dear. As I now know for not having lifted the self-imposed exile from the Stellenbosch Bukhara long ago. How unforgiving we can be in life in general, but in our judgments on restaurants in particular.
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