Those more accustomed to City Bowl life may not appreciate the excitement of heading to Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs after dark. To put it mildly, the pace is a bit slower. The vibe more calmed down and the atmosphere a tad less edgy. Here even the car-guards are upright, clean men with bright teeth who wouldn’t think of offering you drugs and try as hard as you like, they absolutely refuse to scratch your car’s paintwork upon being give a substandard tip.
There are a few so-so eateries in the Rondebosch-Claremont-Mowbray area, but I recently decided to see what all the renovating at the Wijnhuis in Newlands had been in aid of. The way they were smashing and plastering and building one would not have been blamed for thinking that some Nkandla contractors were honing their skills on this veritable establishment.
Once inside, however, the changes were as obvious as a throaty cry of ?+¦?+º?+¦bingo?+¦?+º?+æ at the Rosebank Pensioners Club. Walls, nooks and crannies had been opened up leading to an airier, spacious feel. Everything was new and spic, apart from the quaint wooden wine boxes lying about for a veil of vinous authenticity. A long bar had been installed, as well as a couple of ubiquitous flat-screen TV’s on which are able to follow the Border Collie Trials, Knitting Nightly or the riveting monthly Grand Croquet Show Down.
On the eating and drinking side of this wine-bar/grill/Italian joint, things are, however, a bit confusing. The wine list is about 200 times more detailed than the menu which is disappointingly sparse and lonely-looking.
But then again, the Wijnhuis is king of the pay-as-you-play wine-list meaning that wineries wishing a listing need to cough a monthly fee for the privilege. Listing fee plus mark-up? Who said there ain’t bucks in the wine business.
Besides its sparseness, the food menu is freakishly unbalanced.
The Wijnhuis has, for one, decided to wipe its slate clean of pizza, not one of which remains on the menu. Neither the lavish list of pasta concoctions that had always been so pleasing. Instead, seven carpaccios take-up the bulk of the carte. Kudu with mustard mayonnaise. Beef with Venetian dressing capers. Even beetroot carpaccio. As they say in the twitter classics, WTF?
When salad and carpaccio dominate the menu, it either means the Tim Noakes Diet has more influence in these suburbs than we are aware of, or the restaurant is taking electricity conservation to new heights.
And of course, carpaccio is a margin-savvy restaurateur’s wet dream. For example, said Beef with Venetian is yours for R85 while the total meat content can be fitted into a table-spoon. Plus, carpaccio does not require the dubious cooking talents or salary perks of a township griller or Silwood Kitchen drop-out.
On the real food side of things there are a handful of uninspired pasta dishes, some chicken, seafood and a couple of steaks. Cheaper Paninis and a Wijnhuis Burger were also on offer, and checking out the wine mark-ups I could see why.
After a Peroni draft for me and a glass of MCC for the other side of the table, an order was forwarded to a reticent waitron. A Wijnhuis salad to start, with my guest opting for grilled kingklip while I went for broke by ordering away from the menu, namely veal limone which was advertised as a special.
I would have loved to report on the Wijnhuis salad promises of lettuce, carrot, cucumber, egg, olives – but aforementioned waitron forgot to put the order through. This forgetfulness is characteristic of the Wijnhuis Stellenbosch where the waiting staff are made up of hung-over students with attention deficit disorder and must have been imported to Newlands as a party trick.
The main courses managed to make it to the table intact, however, with extra portions of veggies on the side.
The veal was like the tip I was planning for the waitron small, but beautifully presented. A couple of slices of youngish beef tenderised to hell and gone, but with a perky sauce on top. Good fries, though. My dining partner, a self-confessed culinary ignoramus, was not offended by the fish which appeared flaky white and good.
Vegetables were, surprinsingly, the star of the show. Delicious fresh spinach cooked to just before the stage of self-implosion, tasty blanched broccoli and melt-in-your mouth cubes of sweet potato.
The uninvitingly empty menu does not do much to whet the appetite for dessert, so after a couple of coffees, that was that. Got to be careful driving around the Burbs with all that caffeine in the system.