A visit to a seaside hotel to devour dead squid is a holistic experience affecting diverse senses of the physical and spiritual kind. Especially if said hotel is the famous Chapmans Peak one at the end of Hout Bay, a congenial building offering an atmosphere that is both cosy and airy. As well as having a tremendous view over the blue bay onto that vast tilted rock that looks like an Afro-Centric and bulkier version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
To get there from Cape Town requires a 12 minute drive along the Atlantic Seaboard, the expansive turquoise ocean on the right and some virginal fynbos covered mountain-side leftwards. On a clear, blue day the view goes on forever, the brilliance of which is only diminished by some doughnut-shaped objects in lycra stomping bicycle pedals, as well as the unsightly architectural molestation occurring above the beach of Llandudno.
Through the quaint village of Hout Bay one goes, dodging bare-footed water-bearers, piles of horse-dung and spent sunscreen tubes as the Chapmans Peak Hotel beckons on the other side of town.
Once seated on the terrace, inhaling that vast maritime view, smelling the ocean-side scent of salt, kelp, sardine guts and discarded fishing bait boxes, the fact that one lives at the Tavern of the Seas, a place ruled by tides, waves and ocean currents, sinks in.
On a fresh Sunday morning the hotel terrace is just over half-full with patrons varying between couples corralling fresh air energised toddlers, middle-aged couples involved in conversation-less eating and tables of chirpy Sunday lunchers.
Service staff move with graceful efficiency, features that will be required once the joint starts truly pumping, in about an hour from now.
Amigo and I order cool draught beers while briskly screening the menu offering oysters, fish, prawns, meat, things peri-peri and – of course – calamari. Chapmans Peak is as inextricably linked to cooked squid as Julius Malema is to Breitling time-ware and tokolosh-inspired twitter activity. If you are at a table at Chapmans Peak, someone is having calamari.
For starters I opt for chicken livers peri-peri, while the Amigo requests a Portuguese surf-and-turf combo, namely calamari tubes and slices of chouriço. Not quite as brilliant as that nation’s partnering of pork with clams, but about as tasty a twosome as the last movie featuring Uma Thurman and Kim Basinger.
The chicken livers peri-peri are presented in a manner far removed from the yokel taverns of Dias and Da Gama. Beautifully arranged and quaintly sauced, the dish looks as if it is awaiting adjudication from an Eat Out judge or was prepared for a cover shoot in Vogue Food – The Porra Issue. The livers are accurately cooked to a firmness that gives way at the first indication of dental pressure, leaving a flavour of that is savoury and slightly bloody. The sauce is creamy, perky and alert instead of volcanic and sweat-inducing.
Across the table, we are enjoying pearly white calamari tubes and chouriço of a bright orangey red. It is a fine combination, the spice of the sausage broadened out and softened in the mouth with the gentle, tender flavour of baby squid. The sauce is white wine and olive oil, tasty after being mopped with bread.
Wine beckons, this being a Newton Johnson Albarinho 2018 from Hemel-en-Aarde and a variety known to accompany seafood the way Cyril Ramaphosa latches onto an opportunistic selfie with a street-vendor in Mamelodi.
Calamari for Amigo and I, and now the Chapmans Peak is filling-up faster than a team of hipsters at an organic Grenache-tasting. The wine comes, ice-cold and with peachy lime notes. And then, pans of calamari.
The squid has been cut into rings, lightly battered and flash-fried in oil. On the side, a small bowl of good-looking golden French fries and a container of thick, chunky tartare sauce.
Eating squid is about texture as much as flavour. Here the slight coat of crisp batter gives way to delectable slithers of smooth and solicitous marine creature, the gentle simple taste revealing a pulse of ocean. It is eaten with gusto, washed down with the refreshing citrus and oyster-shell flavour of cool Albarinho. The potato chips are crisp and crackling on the outside, the interior a comforting hot space where potato lives. And it is home.
By now, the space is full and on the loud side, but the bay is tranquil, the colour of emerald splashed with Indian blue ink. A seabird sits in silence across the road, looking at the sun.
Espressos and grappa round-off a meal-time that has stood still in pleasant goodness. For on days like these, this is what life is.
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