The first time I met Roberto De Carvalho he was cooking bobotie with wild herbs picked from some mountain out west. This was at zooty resort Bushman’s Kloof, a sister-joint to the 12 Apostles Hotel in Cape Town where Roberto was the chef-in-residence.
Roll on to 2011, and Roberto has gone back to his Portuguese roots by opening his own spot in Cape Town’s Long Street. Called Roberto’s, it aims to carve a niche among the current herd of eateries appealing to those in for a spot of Porra cuisine,
The current Cape Town offering of aforementioned cooking is two-pronged. At the one end of the spectrum there is the legendary Dias Tavern in the city centre and the cult-like Vasco da Gama in Green Point. These taverns offer hearty, no-nonsense fare from the land of the Big Bacalhau, infused with a smattering of exotic influence from Mozambique.
Both Dias and Vasco subsist on the kindness of throngs of regulars, a diverse bunch comprising publishers, Vespa repairmen, advertising suits and Croatian Animal Rights Activists.
On the other end of the Portuguese offering one finds a few ghastly chains with names like Braza and Adega. These are essentially theme parks appealing to suburban-types who dream of being taken away from their ordinary daily lives on a cloud of fake trinchado and a bed of peri-peri,
Roberto’s ups the ante with a vibe that can be described as bistro Portuguese by those Porras who don’t mind a bit of French thrown in. No, we are not talking sardine bouillabaisse or frog-leg peri-peri. The atmosphere and the d+¬cor of Roberto’s is just a bit classier and stylish than the grainy photographs of Benfica FC and Super Bock advertisements adorning other Porra establishments.
The interior ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ how I hate that phoney word “space” ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ is clean and austere, but not sparsely so, as the vibe of Long Street flows in through the large glass windows.
I took my resident Portuguese culinary expert Joaquim Sa to Roberto’s the other day for a bite of lunch to celebrate the birth of Christiano Ronaldo’s babysitter’s sister Dolores, as well as to get a handle on the restaurant’s authenticity.
It was quite strange paging through a Portuguese menu without chunks of half-eaten squid tentacles sticking to the pages. And all the usual suspects were on show: Soups and chicken livers; bifana rolls and trinchado; calamari and fish; prawns by the bucket-load and crayfish. Showing an inclusive approach ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ as well as the probable fear of pissing off the Italian-loving Capetonians ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ some pasta dishes are also on the menu.
The first order, as usual, was a chilled bottle of Casal Garcia to get the stomach juices working in preparation of things to come. It arrived with a basket of sliced bread, beautifully crusted and creamily textured.
Good bread, a cold Spring day and soup is what you want. And seeing as caldo verde – the national Portuguese soup – was on display, this was the order.
The soup was brought to the table in large clay bowls and we instantly saw it to be the real deal: the green kale cabbage infusing a silky broth of potato, onion and olive oil. Chunks of chorizo. Steam wafting on the surface.
Flavours were extremely satisfying and the texture was as comforting as the embrace of a Portuguese mamma on hearing that FC Oporto had qualified for the Champion’s League.
Actually, the best caldo verde I have ever had outside Portugal, although some blonde acquaintance stopped by to tell me hers was better. (The pick-up lines used these days, I tell you.)
As it tends to do, the Casal Garcia was stimulating the appetite so we weren’t going to hold back on the mains.
Baby chicken peri-peri for Joaquim, while I settled for the Portuguese steak. You know, the one with the egg on top.
The chicken looked great, especially as it was actually a real baby chicken, unlike the flat turkeys some places fob-off on you. It was grilled to perfection, falling from the bone with tenderness and lightly basted in a golden-coloured sauce.
The bird was eaten with relish and gusto as the sauce was apparently not registering on the Richter scale.
My steak was a yummer. The meat had been matured in red wine. It was as soft as a baby’s throat, literally falling away at the sight of a knife even if the meat was still medium rare. The flavour of the beef was broadened by the hearty red wine sauce, and the round flat fried potatoes rounded-off things perfectly.
Two coffees and ports closed the deal, Roberto himself stopping by to inform us that bacalhau is available if ordered prior to the next visit, which is around the corner.
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