Bar Bar Black Sheep, have you any food?

Date July 12, 2011

[A guest review by my good friend Bar Bar Blake Sheep]

Last Saturday, some friends and I visited the much acclaimed Bar Bar BlackSheep in Riebeeck Kasteel for a birthday lunch. We booked in advance, and were really looking forward to our meal after reading some great reviews online. On arrival, the setting and atmosphere were great, and we were seated at a long table in a shaft of afternoon sunlight.

We started with a bottle of champagne, which arrived slightly warm and in need of an ice bucket. Easily remedied. In high spirits, we started to deliberate over the mouth-watering descriptions of meals on the menu. It took us a while to decide on what we wanted, but while placing our orders we sadly were informed that 4 of the dishes we wanted were not available (including the much-recommended lamb burger and fishcakes). Slightly disappointed, we placed orders for our second (or, in some cases, third) options.

Our anticipation built over the hour and a half it took to prepare our food, and by the time it arrived we were ravenous. After much deliberation I had decided to order the pumpkin pie – ‘sold’ by the description of the accompanying mash and gravy, and a red onion relish of some description. Neither the gravy nor the relish arrived, and when I questioned the waiter he returned with about 2 tablespoons of cold, congealed gravy in the bottom of a small cup, informing me that the red onions were “in the gravy”. Right. I’m normally not one to complain, but for R95 I figured I could at least ask for the gravy to be warmed to a pourable consistency. When the waiter returned he gave me some sort of lamb gravy in a different cup. Fortunately, I am not a devout vegetarian. Gravy aside, the pie and the mash were pretty flavourless and a bit on the cold side, but the meal had taken so long to prepare and I was so hungry at this point that complaining didn’t seem a viable option.

Besides the company, the setting and the battered onion rings, my Ba Ba Blacksheep experience was unspectacular. I couldn’t help thinking that I could have bought a tastier Woolies pie for a tenth of the price, and would have got better service from the Spur. After the hype, I was thoroughly disappointed with my meal, and a number of my fellow diners expressed dissatisfaction with theirs -  particularly the birthday girl who ordered a butternut salad and received a plain salad (due to an ‘unforeseen’ butternut shortage).

The whole experience lacked polish, and I got the distinct impression that the manager had better things to do than ensure we had a great experience deserving of the hefty price tag.  The only apology we received was from the waiter for the movie-length wait for the food, and for this he deducted the cost of the bottle of white wine we ordered (which, coincidentally, also arrived warm). I don’t know if the manager had taken the afternoon off to watch the rugby, or whether this is all part of the ‘laid back’ vibe, but for that kind of money I really expected something special… or average at the very least.

In addition to Blake’s review, I’d like to add a small critique of my own.

The positives:

  1. The Lamb Hearts were delicious
  2. The wine list is local and lekker - and reasonably priced
  3. The white chocolate cheesecake was excellent
  4. The atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant
  5. The decor is very cool

The negatives:

  1. Every single bottle of wine we ordered arrived warm and needed 20mins in an ice bucket - this seemed to be the case for the rest of the diners too. Apprently the fridge wasn’t working properly - I don’t think that is a good enough excuse - cold beverages are a basic requirement.
  2. The calamari, while full of flavour, was rubbery.
  3. The pork pie didn’t have any quinces, had a bone in it and arrived with no gravy and crushed potatoes rather than the advertised creamy mash. (the selling point of both the pie’s is the “Gravy Revolution” - come on man!)
  4. The butternut risotto had about 4 cubes of butternut - they probably ran out of the key ingredient.
  5. Promote slow food all you want but 1.5 hrs to deliver it is just too long - especially when the wine is warm.
  6. The coffee was too strong and arrived with no milk.
  7. &Union beer is displayed but not served at the restaurant - that’s just cruel!

After all the hype I was incredibly disappointed - I also got the feeling that the head honcho was not in the building. The menu sounds great but under delivers; the staff, while really friendly, were just stretched too far on the day. The only saving grace was the occasion, the company and that cheesecake!

Quick Fix: deliver what’s on the menu, ensure you have enough ingredients (at least for the signature dishes), staff up on weekends and get a fridge that works.

l

Win 2 Tickets to the Under the Influence Pinot Noir tasting next week!

Date July 8, 2011

It’s a hard grape to grow. As you know. Right? It’s, uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and thrive even when it’s neglected. No, pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And, in fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked-away corners of the world. And only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression.” - Miles, Sideways.

If you’re a wine nut and have watched the incredible film Sideways - you will know that the lead character Miles absolutely loves Pinot Noir. In fact his obsession created a little bit of a cult craze for the varietal. He is right though - it’s difficult to grow and master in the bottle.

The incredible team at Under the Influence will give us the opportunity to taste some of South Africa’s best expressions of the grape next week Wednesday at What’s On eatery. Luckily they have also agreed to let me give away two tickets to the tasting!

Details for the evening are as follows:

Date: Wednesday 13 July

Venue: What’s On Eatery

Time: 6 for 6:30pm

Wines: Ernst Gouws & Co, Creation, Paradyskloof, Paul Cluver, Sutherland, Newton Johnson, Bouchard Finlayson and Hamilton Russell.

To Book: click here to get hold Mida at Under the Influence

Right so to win the 2 free tickets answer the following question in the comments section:

What grape varietal does Miles hate in the movie Sideways?

[I'll give you a hint his name and the grape name start with the same letter]

Good luck everyone and see you there!

Cathy’s Wine Course is back again – in duplicate!

Date June 30, 2011

Whether you’re a beginner or a wine fundi - this is a great course to attend - you will drink great wine and I guarantee that you will learn something cool about wine. Plus it’s an excuse to get together with your friends once a week on cold winter nights to drink wine - no brainer.

Now into its eighth year, join Cathy for a relaxed, informal and enjoyable course which will answer all the questions you never knew you had about wine, get you tasting some of the finest wines in South Africa and meeting many of the winemakers and other movers and shakers of the winemaking industry.

The Cape Town Course

Nigel and Tania are still going to be our hosts in Cape Town at the wonderful Wine @ the Mill in the Old Biscuit Mill.

This course starts on Tuesday 26th July and will run for SEVEN weeks (because the 9th is a public holiday).

The Stellenbosch Course

In addition, we are starting at another venue in the Winelands. This will be held at new restaurant, bar and function venue De Huguenot Estate which is almost equidistant from Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl.

This course will start Thursday 4th August and will run for 6 weeks.

The Food with Wine

For the first time, we will also have a dish of the day at Wine @ the Mill as we’ve teamed up with Elize Goffe-Wood from Kitchen Cowboys Canteen who will be offering a hearty, home-cooked dish which you can enjoy over a bottle of wine after the course. More details to follow. De Huguenot offers fabulous tapas-style snacks in its bar, Harry Q, and there will be a series of special dishes over the 6 weeks of the course to encourage you to stay and enjoy a glass of wine afterwards.

The Important Stuff

We will provide:

· All tuition

· Tasting of at least 6 wines per week

· Tasting sheets

· Water biscuits

The Dates

Cape Town – Tuesday 26th July and will finish 6th September (there will be no session 9th August due to the public holiday).

Stellenbosch - Thursday 4th August 2011 and will finish on Thursday 8th September 2011.

(If you can’t make one of the weeks on either course, you are more than welcome to send a substitute drinker in your place.)

The Time

Cape Town & Stellenbosch - 6.30pm start for approximately 1-1 ½ hrs depending on how much you all chat.

The Place

Cape Town – Wine @ the Mill, Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock.

Stellenbosch - De Huguenot Estate Restaurant, Pniel, Helshoogte Pass.

There is ample, safe parking onsite at both venues.

The Cost

Cape Town & Stellenbosch - R600 per person per course. Places are very limited and will be allocated strictly on a first come/first served basis.

How To Book?

Please go to www.cathymarston.co.za and fill in the form there.

**Remember to indicate which course you would like to attend**

Fresh Fish in Cape Town

Date June 21, 2011

[Guest post by my brother and food addict - Craig Shaw ]

I enjoy my food immensely and fish is among my top contenders. I have lived in Cape Town for 6 years and have never bought anything from any of the fish markets we may have here in Cape Town.

Having spent hours watching BBC Food and watching just about every chef visit some fish market in either Asia, Australia and countless others, I have always wanted to explore the warehouses of these markets and grab the freshest of the fresh for that days feast.

I’ve imagined myself questioning the fisherman/fishmonger to ensure ethical fishing was paramount in getting me the finest catch of the day just like Jamie Oliver would do in one of his shows. (But really all I do is go all out on all-you-can-eat-sushi deals and carve my way through some serious weight in tuna).

My point though is that I have been mostly useless at finding out about the fish market scene here in Cape Town and want to find out more. I have heard of Kalk Bay and Hout Bay and maybe somewhere at the Waterfront.

If you know of or have been to one of the markets in Cape Town, please let me know in the comments area. I want to know exactly where they are and when they are open. Or even better what days are best to grab the good stuff!

Serious Brandy - without the ‘eish’

Date June 10, 2011

Lets face it - when you ask any South African about brandy - they immediately think “ah met eish ja” - ‘Klippies and coke’. That’s how powerful that advert has been - perhaps too powerful for Klipdrift as the fine end of the brandy market begins to develop.

I have heard that South Africa produces great brandy at the finer end of the market and offers exceptional value. In truth though, I’ve never actually thought about buying a bottle to enjoy at home like a single malt whisky. That has now changed.

A week or so ago I was kindly invited by a good friend of mine to attend a Klipdrift Gold tasting at Blake’s Bar on a cold winters evening. I must first say that I really enjoyed the new and cosy vibe of Blake’s Bar - an improvement on Relish I believe. The snacks served were really good and the staff seemed very attentive.

Back to the brandy - because I was immediately converted. I couldn’t believe how smooth, deeply warming and sophisticated the drink was when served neat with a dash of water. I was also struck by the different layers of flavours and levels of appreciation one can delve into - something I just would not have associated with brandy at all.

The Klipdrift Gold we tasted for the evening had distinct notes of toasted nuts, milk chocolate, toffee and apricots. It had a long finish that warmed the tips of your toes too.

It was a first introduction to the finer end of the brandy market for me and I think I’m going to explore it a bit further. At R200 odd for a bottle - Klipdrift Gold it’s pretty good value I think.