Lunch #23: The Best Lunch in Cape Town, if not the Entire Universe

Today I was rather Down in the Dumps, until my fabulous friend The Yummy Mummy, who is more fabulous than a unicorn, griffin and phoenix rolled into one, invited me for a stroll down Long Street.

It’s been a long time since I last loitered in Long Street, but many of the old lunch spots are still there: Ravelas Fisheries, Bob’s Bar (now The Home of the R12 Shooter, such is inflation), Mountain View and Masala Dosa.

Being fun, fearless and, above all, frugal females, we stopped at most of the shops along the way and absolutely definitely did not spend any money on cute little jersey jackets or awesome afro keyrings.

The Yummy Mummy displays one of the items we somehow managed NOT to buy.

The Yummy Mummy displays one of the 10,000 items we somehow managed NOT to buy.

Our saunter past the antique stalls on Church Street was brought to an abrupt halt by this sign:

IMG_4786

We were peckish, the waiter was friendly, the buffet, which we went inside to inspect, looked pretty darned fine:

This buffet for R35? It had to be a trap, so I took a closer look...

All this for R35? It had to be a trap, so I took a closer look…

IMG_4785

If anything, tt looked even better close up.

We took our seats at a table outside, which came equipped with soft fleecy blankies for our behinds and a handbag chair. (Restaurants, take note: you should always have an extra chair at every table for ladies’ handbags.)

The friendly waiter came and told us three things, after which I accused him of trying to blow our minds:

1. Our R35 lunch buffet came with a free glass of Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc.

2. Far from being considered rude to pile your plate high, the most bulging plate would win a free tequila.

3. If we wouldn’t mind sitting a moment, he’d bring us some soup to start.

R35!!!!

Susan and I started giggling in a way that was probably alarming in women of our relatively dignified age.

The soup came (hearty), the wine came (more than drinkable), we piled our plates high with beef curry, salads, the most delicious thin-sliced grilled brinjal, roast sweet potatoes, cauliflower cheese pasta, olives, feta, etc etc.

The Yummy Mummy, looking Somewhat Pleased

The Yummy Mummy, looking Somewhat Pleased. Note level of wine in glass. I told you it was drinkable.

The Yummy Mummy won the free tequila, according to the waiter, but she ordered another glass of wine instead. Our waiter actually asked us (he asked us!) if we’d like chilled mint-infused water to drink too. After that we drank latte and shared a piece of warm homemade shortbread (not included in buffet).

And then The Gangsta Muffins arrived and started playing Summertime

As the Yummy Mummy observed when she saw the plastic thing being pulled out: "It's going to be awesome." It was.

As the Yummy Mummy observed when she saw the blue plastic thing being pulled out: “This is going to be amazing.” It was.

It’s midwinter in Cape Town and if life had worked out the way I’d planned, I’d be in Thailand right now. But thanks to a fabulous friend, a wonderful waiter and a funny old musician who uses his own head as a drum, I’ve remembered that this is, after all, The Best City In The World – and I’ve just had the best lunch in it.

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Lunch #22: Bunless Burger at The Long Street Café with Mr Malaprop

Today a complete stranger thought I was planning to propose to him after I’d known him for roughly 50 minutes.

Or, at least that’s what he told the waitress.

The waitress being told the good news.

I’m not sure how this happened, but I’ll try to explain. I recently took up CouchSurfing. For those of you who have not yet signed up for the site with the blue couch surmounted by the confusing blob, which turns out on close inspection not to be a Rodin sculpture (the Thinker, I believe) kissing a Brancusi (I’m not sure exactly which), but actually a map of the globe tastefully portrayed in orange with white outer glow… Oh dear, I’ve written a sentence too confusing to complete.

Right. As I was saying. Couchsurfing.org is the Facebook of travel. The difference being that you actually have to have met someone before they can become your friend on CouchSurfing. You don’t have to go anywhere near a couch, or even know how to surf one. In fact, couches have figured very little in my CouchSurfing experiences so far.

This is what they have been:

CouchSurfing Experience #1: Had lunch at Mr Pickwick’s with an Extremely Intelligent Fellow from Berlin who has the misfortune to think JM Coetzee is The Greatest Living Writer and is writing a book about him. EIF told me he has never met Coetzee and doesn’t want to, just in case Coetzee has to go to the loo, thereby demonstrating that he is human and not, in fact, a god.

CouchSurfing Experience #2: Invited a Brazilian Network Engineer from Minneapolis to come to my friend’s farewell party. BNEFM had spent the last week installing facial recognition networks all over Cape Town for the government, but fortunately everyone else at the party was a geek too. The BNEFM chatted up a pretty blonde geekette and seemed to enjoy himself very much.

CouchSurfing Experience #3: A South African tour operator spotted my profile on CouchSurfing and recognised me as a Former Getaway Journalist (although, like everyone else, he’s never actually read anything I’ve written). He wanted to buy me coffee so we could talk about travel. Very kindly he bought me coffee AND a burger.

I lied. The burger came with a bun. But I’m still avoiding all carbohydrates besides wine, cake, chocolate and macarons, so I removed the bun and ignored the chips. Still, not bad for R35.

I’m still unsure how he thought I could be useful enough to earn my lunch, but we did at least succeed in entertaining each other and freaking out the waitress. CouchSurfer #3 has an endearing way of using words inaccurately, incorrectly or just plain indecorously. His friends call this phenomenon ‘Mikeopropisms’.

Lulled into a false sense of security by his pronunciation of the word ‘facade’, I told Mr Malaprop all sorts of ridiculous stories about my life, cricket scores, and the family trees of people he may or may not have met. By the end of lunch, he was suggesting psychiatric treatment and scaring the waitress with the possibility of an impending proposal on her shift.

But, as I informed Mr Malaprop, I have already met Someone Rather Delicious* and proposed to him. (Although I’m pretty sure he didn’t notice.)

* As it happens, Someone Rather Delicious proposed to Someone Else not long afterwards. Oh well.

The Long Street Café. Interesting things happen here. But not proposals.

Lunch #21: Fish ’n Chips with the Personal Pirate

Once upon a time* I went to lunch with a pirate. Not just any pirate. My Personal Pirate.

Everyone should have a Personal Pirate. They are more interesting than Personal Financial Advisors, more fun than Personal Trainers and certainly more useful than either. Take note that when choosing a Personal Pirate, he (or indeed she – piracy is an equal opportunity field these days) should have some background in the legal profession. It has no impact on their piratical skill, but it does add a delicious hint of irony.

I am lucky to have a particularly good Personal Pirate who brings swags of loot to all our lunches. The fictional lunch I write about here took place on a hypothetical Friday, so since the PP is Catholic, I thought it would be appropriate to eat fish.

There is a lovely little chippie on Long Street that is distinguished by four things: red-and-white checked cloths on the tables, lemons in the windows, an ancient till on the counter, and an ‘original wood-fired stove’ (complete with indoor wood-pile). All of which make it an eminently suitable place to host a pirate. Or in my case, to be hosted by a pirate.

Because, as usual, I forgot to bring cash. Arrrrrrrrrgh.

Personal Pirate

This, in my land-lubber opinion, is the best fried fish on Long Street. You can also have chips if, like the PP, you still believe in carbohydrates.

It’s important to have lots of lemons in the window of a chippie. And old tills. And red-checked table cloths. Otherwise, it’s just not a proper chippie, is it?

*Legal notice: The characters, places** and events described in this post are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. So there.

** If the chippie actually did exist, it would be called Revelas, and it would have a sign that looked like this:

Pure sign-making genius.

Lunch #20: Cape Town’s best Mutton Salome at Mountain View Café

Today I played bountiful hostess to a most esteemed fellow writer, The Man Who Catches Many Planes.

The Man Who Catches Many Planes is the only person I have ever met who manages to make a proper living as a freelance travel writer. He even has a wife and child who don’t have to support him by standing at busy intersections. TMWCMP has agreed to tell a roomful of Avid Students how he does this as part of the travel writing course I’m giving (again) at UCT. His only condition was that I take him on a Long Street Lunch.

I had, in fact, agreed to take him on a lunch last year, the first time he spoke to Avid Students for me. But TMWCMP was too busy catching flights to exotic destinations to meet me for noodles at Bamboo. So today when he arrived (probably fresh off an Airbus), I gave him two options for lunch: Bamboo, or this lovely new spot I’ve been eyeing with interest for the last few weeks…

As well as this beautiful mural, Kilimanjaro Restaurant offers African food, beer and pool, and is underneath Long Street’s most complained-about landmark: Senator Park

Since TMWCMP had noticed a large number of what he tactfully referred to as ‘mice’ on his last visit to Bamboo, and Kilimanjaro Restaurant was almost as dark inside as it was empty when we peered through the bead curtain, we chose the wildcard lunch-location instead. This involves strolling down Long Street looking for somewhere interesting and obviously cheap. And this is what we saw…

In case you were in any doubt, it is called Mountain View Take-Aways. (But I still got it wrong.)

Now, any good travel writer knows that a busy lunch spot is a good lunch spot, and TMWCMP is a very good travel writer indeed, so he dragged us both inside. We were fortunate enough to arrive during a brief lull in business, because as we were to discover, Mountain View Take-Aways is possibly the most popular lunch spot in Long Street.

We ordered food: a mutton salome for me, a chicken and cheese burger for TMWCMP. To drink, I had a cheeky can of Coke Zero while he selected a Stoney. I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a Mountain Dew at Mountain View, but TMWCMP says it hasn’t been available in Cape Town for at least 20 years. I insisted on paying the bill of R76. (Nobody can say that I don’t reward favours generously.)

For starters, TMWCMP treated us each to a R3 samoosa. Hot, crunchy and delicious as they were, I was unprepared for the magnificence of my mutton salome when it arrived.

As usual, I’ve managed to make my food look like a Halloween prank, but take my word for it, this salome was well worth breaking the No Carb All Fat diet for. It was flaky, crispy and bulging with tasty mutton and potatoes. (Note eminent travel writer’s hand clutching burger bun in background.)

I now understood exactly why Mountain View was packed. Where else could you get such a perfect meal for R35 in a matter of minutes?

I could only love Mountain View even more when I saw what they’ve put in place of a tip jar. The lady behind the jars is lovely and friendly, but apparently my portraits are as good as my food photography.

On the other hand, the view from our table wasn’t quite as advertised:

I know all about poetic license, but this is taking it a bit far.

As we walked back sharing a warm, juicy, R3 cinamon doughnut – me to my desk and TMWCMP probably to the airport – I pointed out, in a profound sort of way, that the Mountain View Take Away is exactly the type of place that makes Cape Town so surprising and fun, even for such seasoned travellers as TMWCMP and me.

P.S. You can follow TMWCMP on Twitter @onanotherplane. I do.

Lunch #15: Tibs from Timbuktu with The Great Dane, The Yummy Mummy and The Woman With No Face

This is actually two lunches, which both took place a while ago, but I’m writing about them today because otherwise I would have to spend my entire lunchbreak following the #JessicaLeandra thread on Twitter. Her magnificent demonstration of How To End Your Career With Just One Tweet (she made it two, just to be very sure) was most edifying. In fact, I guarantee you can learn more from her than from me today. But if you’d prefer to waste your time less productively, read on.

Just before this year’s opening of Parliament, the NSYP, who I won’t bother mentioning again on this blog, asked me to meet him at the Pan African Market to help him choose a suitably smart West African shirt for the occasion. The NSYP has no more relation to West Africa than a cocktail sausage, but wearing West African shirts is his way of avoiding wearing a tie when it would otherwise be absolutely necessary. (He can’t wear Mandela shirts, since he’s in the wrong party. Shirts are very political.)

The Pan-African Market is far enough down Long Street to remind me why it’s called Long Street. My reward for walking so far was lunch at the restaurant on the balcony. It’s called Timbuktu, but serves Ethiopian food. I know it’s Ethiopian – and not Malian as the name suggests – because Ethiopian menus are very distinctive. They are a source of great delight to me and no other people in the world could imitate them. I ordered the Tibs – ‘Tender tip pieces of marinated’. I have always wanted to try marinated.

Gored Gored was also tempting

Unfortunately, I only had time to swallow a couple of mouthfuls of my tender tip pieces before running all the way back up Long Street to disarm my desk (which I have been led to believe will explode if I am not at it at precisely 2pm). So a couple of weeks later, following a sequence of events too impossibly complex to describe, The Great Dane chauffeured The Yummy Mummy, The Woman With No Face and me back to Timbuktu so that I could finish my Tibs and lecture them all on The Art Of Ethiopian Menu-Writing.

Here is why you too should go to Timbuktu:

1. The menus

If, like The Woman With No Face, you lack physiognomy, you can use the menu instead.

2. The decor

This rather amusing little fellow watches you wash your hands.

3. The food

I can recommend the Tibs (bottom right), which taste authentically Ethiopian (even if the rocket, feta and cherry tomatoes on top of them don’t). Such a pity we can’t get teff here, as I do prefer my injera to be the right shade of putty grey…

Amaseghinalehu!

(That’s ‘thank you’ in Amharic. It’s the only word I know.)

Lunch #14: Singularly Unsatisfactory Sushi from The Eastern Palace Sushi Thaifood Noodle Bar

Yesterday I was in a Not Very Good Mood. I woke up in a Not Very Good Mood, which wasn’t improved when I couldn’t figure out what to wear even though I needed to put some clothes on in a hurry if I wasn’t going to be late for work or ride through the streets of Cape Town in my underwear. To top it all, it was Monday and nothing interesting was happening.

So when lunchtime rolled around, I picked up my Not Very Good Mood and took it for a walk. I hoped that if I fed and walked my mood, it might unNot itself and all would be well. It was a perfect day. Sunny, but not hot. Breezy, but not gusting. The roses were in full bloom. The children were feeding squirrels. The tourists were taking photos. I plodded past them like Eeyore on ineffective antidepressants.

As I trudged down Long Street, something caught my eye on the opposite side of the road.

Typical. Just as I try to photograph something a car drives past and covers it up.

Here it is again:

There. See it now? A 50% off sushi special and a R39 lunch box deal.

With slightly lifted spirits, I scurried across the road, through the revolving doors, into the wrong restaurant, back out again, up the stairs and into the Eastern Palace Sushi Thaifood Noodle Bar. Whereupon my spirits sat back down, crossed their arms and pouted.

A scene from Dante’s Third Circle of Hell: Melancholic Sushi-Eaters Stuck In An Eternal Lunch Hour

It was too late to retreat as a waitress had already spotted me and ushered me into a seat at the sushi bar. On examination of the flyer, the R39 lunch box was about as exciting as something they’d serve in a school cafeteria in Blackpool, and the seared tuna option wasn’t available. Without daring to examine the rotating sushi too closely, I opted for that instead.

Usually I am an economical sushi eater for the simple reason that sushi makes me feel full. One eight-piece roll and I’m done. However, it took three plates of four pieces each before I gave up yesterday. Not that I was replete. Rather, I realised that eating a small bowl of Tastic sprinkled with wasabi, ginger and soy sauce would have been tastier and more satisfying. It would almost certainly have been cheaper too.

Sad Stack: At R45, my three plates of sushi weren’t even worth the half-price price.

The moral of the story: If you’re in a Not Very Good Mood, don’t try to get out of it with half-price sushi.

On the bright side, at least this wasn’t my car.

Lunch #10: Salami, Avo and Brie Roll with Travelly-Type People at Yours Truly

I’ve been rather peeved today. Firstly, because it’s Monday, and the weather is better than it was on either Saturday or Sunday. Secondly, because I keep getting updates from the YP about the amazing time he is having in Switzerland. Things like, “I am on top of Europe and it is magnificent.” So far I’ve managed not to reply, “I am doing my laundry and it is deadly dull.”

Just before lunch today I got an SMS telling me about watching a glorious sunrise over the lakes at Interlaken while on a train heading to Locarno. I love Interlaken and Locarno. I love trains and lakes and sunrises. I miss the YP. The question was: Could a Long Street Lunch save me from dejection?

I decided I needed bread and cheese, because that’s what I would be eating if I were in Switzerland. I remembered a cute little sandwich shop I’d bought a roll from once before and headed there. On the way I noticed two things:

1. After their vicious pruning a couple of months ago, the roses are blooming again in the Company Gardens.

I know the things at the front aren’t roses. But the picture would have been a bit brown without them. Note how I’ve included the yellow of the cigarette stompie for additional colour. These are the things you learn to capture as a top travel photojournalist.

2. Bob’s (The Home of the R10 Shooter) is now offering R29 pizzas.

Was I tempted? Not particularly.

When I got to Yours Truly (I didn’t know it was called Yours Truly before, but now I do. I pay attention to these things especially for you) one lucky thing happened and one unlucky thing happened. The lucky thing was that two nice Travelly-Type people I know were already there and had just ordered their rolls. I invited myself to sit at their table.

The unlucky thing was that, just as I bit into my roll, I remembered that Yours Truly doesn’t take credit cards. I knew this because I’d tried to buy a roll there once before using my credit card. At least that time I hadn’t yet taken a bite of it (the roll, not the credit card).

It was awkward. The Travelly-Type Person I knew well enough to borrow money from had already borrowed money from the other Travelly-Type Person, who I didn’t know well enough to borrow money from, having only met once before. I was thus forced to eat my roll with the matter of its payment undecided.

While we ate, we discussed the following:

  • Other amazing places to eat lunch at and blog about.
  • A mutual friend who works at CityMob
  • The amazing half-price deal CityMob has on for Table Mountain Cable Car memberships. (If you’re interested, it’s on until Wednesday. I bought two.)
  • Whether there’s any chance of Table Mountain being successful in the ‘New 7 wonders’ campaign, or if the whole thing is a money-making scheme and is rigged.

I am sure you are dying to know how I solved the problem of the cash for the roll. Did I wash dishes? Did I busk on the pavement by singing my Potato Song? Did I call a bomb scare?

Well, I will put you out of your misery. Leaving my handbag as a hostage with the Travelly-Types, I went to the cafe next door and drew cash from the ATM there. Which is what I recommend you do too, if you ever find yourself in the same situation as yours truly at Yours Truly.

There is usually an unchained bicycle parked outside Yours Truly, but I don’t think it would be suitable to use as an escape vehicle should you not have the means to pay your bill.