My editor is a Dias Tavern disciple, monotonously so, but when it comes to Portuguese joints in Cape Town, I am rooting for Toni’s. It’s in the chicken, and the spirit-sustaining comfort of its feijoada, a dish of pig and beans and rice.
I head to the veranda overlooking the Jan van Riebeeck High School and the colourful passers-by on busy Kloof Street. The evening is cool, with a salty tang to the air and a damp, broad promise of rain. This is good eating weather, the slight chill sharpening the appetite.
A Super Bock draught beer, cold and long, is downed without touching sides, and a friendly waitress appears to take orders. Starting with rissoles and caldo verde and chicken livers. Plus, too, a bottle of Portuguese baptizing water, also known as Vinho Verde Casal Garcia.
Caldo verde, here, has a hot shot in making it onto the list of the best in country. The green soup has kale swimming in a broth of potato and stock, with slivers of smoky chouriço rounding off the satisfying goodness of it all. Everything about this dish is as authentically Portuguese as a clay cock in a tourist shop in the Algarve.
Rissoles present soft pastry pillows filled with moistly minced prawns flavoured with sage and garlic. Fun to eat, and playfully messy as the uninitiated rissoles eater bites into the case causing a lava-hot spurt of prawn liquid to ooze all over his and her fingers, dripping onto the skirt of the girl next door. The chicken livers are delicately and accurately cooked, tender enough to release the earthy, bloody and truffle scent of organ and perfectly complemented by a peri-peri sauce more savoury and tomato than mouth-scorching chilli heat. Sauce is soaked into fresh rolls with a soul-enriching crisp crust.
The Casal Carcia washes the stuff down, well and good and true. Another bottle appears as mains are ordered.
One chicken peri-peri, and a feijoada. God knows what the other people are having, but it’s fine by me.
Toni’s chicken peri-peri is unique and original to this restaurant. It is the Michelin Star of Portuguese chicken. The Grand Cru. The Veritas Double Gold and the Absa Top 10.
In the raw material, a few of the bird’s bones are removed with surgical precision, leaving the chicken flat and spread-eagled for consistent and evenly spaced cooking. This is done on order over a grill, constant basting with a secret colourless liquor taking place during the procedure of 30 minutes.
The chicken arrives at the table looking like Brigitte Bardot in her younger days on St Tropez: golden-brown, moist and all spread-open. Golden chips and lemon wedges complete the plate.
Flavour is chicken, salt and citrus with a slight kick of heat. But Toni’s home-made and bottled peri-peri does not stand on the table for ornamental purposes. I splosh this over the chicken, adding a scalp-tingling spiciness and crotch-warming heat to the beautiful freshly cooked chicken.
Between bites of bird, the feijoada is attacked with relish. Thumbnail-size portions of stewed pork lying amidst beans, tender and comforting. Sage, garlic and wine forms the basis of this stew whose flavour has me seeing fleeting images of fado singers, the vine-clad slopes of the Douro and Lisbon’s life-threatening trams bearing down on one in the heat of a summer’s day.
This, all, happens time-and-time again, over-and-over with each visit to Toni’s. Consistent as a Ronaldo cross-kick, as accurate as a Portuguese fishing vessel tracking a shoal of sardines. This place delivers. The gift that keeps on giving.
- Earl Dexter
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