The Wild Fig was, once, a Cape Town eatery of note. But then again, up until recently you could trust the cute Arab guy wearing the padded vest sitting next to you on the Paris Metro.
Nestled in a bit of sparse, desolate no-man’s land next to Observatory’s Black River and adjacent to the Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital, the Wild Fig Restaurant’s mysterious location lends the restaurant an air of “best kept secret”, “tucked away” and “off the beaten track”. Having dined there a few times over the past few months for reasons unknown to me, the restaurant’s situation is far too accessible and exposed. The Sinai Desert, Kathmandu or Devil’s Island would be a better place for the fig to hang.
Last week’s occasion did, unbelievably, outdo previous excursions in terms of substandard-ness. So I better get this down before another visit is had and I don’t manage to get out of there alive.
It was a warm, breezy evening, and the Wild Fig was packed. We were rushed to our table by a nervous, perspiring waiter who immediately enthused about the cock-up among the service staff, a few waiters not having arrived for duty, “so I’m run off my feet”. Nothing like a bit of over-sharing to make one feel at home – I was dreading information about his mid-morning bowel movement, but fortunately he quickly scarpered to another table after throwing down some menus.
The bottle of Richard Kershaw Chardonnay 2014 I had dragged along was opened, and there is just nothing to give one an idea of things only going to get better than gorgeous glass of Chardonnay. Citrus. Nuts. Unsalted butter.
Unfortunately things did not improve.
The first courses were butternut soup for the host and duck liver for me. The soup was announced as “alright”, as can be expected due to the fact that not even Jenny Morris’s dog food nutritionist can stuff-up a bit of butternut broth.
My duck livers were another story. In appearance, well, I wished that the restaurant’s dim interior lighting had been dimmer. The organs in my bowl had me wondering if they had been procured from Valkenberg’s lobotomy out-takes. These truly nasty-looking bits of grey matter, beaded with fatty tears, were swimming in a liquid of a foreboding gruel-like texture. I listlessly dropped a piece of toasted ciabatta into the mess and I swear I heard the bread die a long, distressed and agonising death.
To the mouth, the liver tasted of irony old pennies that had been lying in the jacket of a dead, venereal-diseased soldier buried on a corpse-riddled battlefield. They were ugly pieces of food, too, a length of sinew connecting two particularly unappetising pieces.
Chardonnay had never tasted so good in washing down the few pieces I did manage to eat, wondering whether the psychiatric hospital next door did stomach pumps.
For the mains I ventured into the seemingly simple territory of snoek fish-cakes, while diner number two opted for a charcuterie platter.
My fish-cakes arrived, me eager for the sharp, savoury richness of snoek. Instead I cut into a patty made from salmon, the 4-eyed farmed Norwegian variety which live in each other’s piss in those densely overpopulated Scandinavian fish-pens. The taste is unforgettably muddy, bland and chlorinated.
I ventured to ask the waiter, who was by now in need of both counselling and medication, that this fish was not snoek, but salmon.
Heading for total breakdown, I was informed that “I just work here a few nights a week and don’t really know what is going on”.
No problem, I said, just tell the chef he ain’t pulling a quick-one on a fish-savvy, snoek-catching Capetonian like me.
The host’s charcuterie was tucked into after she had asked me to smell a piece of prosciutto which, to her olfactory senses, seemed “strange”. Enough said.
A restaurant hostess appeared at my table to sort out the snoek-salmon debacle. Easy on the eye, the hostess could not help but raise speculation as to whether she might be a Valkenberg patient undergoing treatment for suppressed nymphomania.
I was told that, yes, my supremely talented taste-buds had been correct in identifying the fish as salmon as opposed to snoek. Thing is, salmon fish-cakes were tonight’s special. So when Waitron Burn-out had ordered “fish-cakes”, the chef did not ask which ones but assumed the salmon special would do.
No sweat, I said, not taking up the invitation to get a snoek fish-cake thrown-in “on the house”.
Foregoing dessert, we ordered Irish coffees which took a long time to arrive as they had to be made in the bar. They arrived, eventually, in an accurate state. When all else fails, coffee and whiskey tends to set the world right, in an insane sort of way.
- Emile Joubert
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