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 #19: Drooling over Netsuke at the South African Jewish Museum

Today I spent my lunch break doing squats with a magnifying glass in the basement of the oldest synagogue in South Africa.

Although I have sometimes been complimented on my Jewish looks, I have no Hebrew heritage and (I’m ashamed to admit) not all that much interest in Zionist history. But two things lured me into the museum today:

1. The museum was having an open day, so I could get in for free. I have lots of Scottish heritage, so this appealed to me.

2. I have always been intrigued by the enormous poster of the strange animal with a very long neck (it’s not a giraffe) that’s on the side of the building. Apparently, it’s one of the Hidden Treasures of Japanese Art that are part of the permanent collection of the Museum.

After completing rigorous security checks, including a sweet but sharp-eyed Jewish Granny interrogating me gleefully at the entrance about my intentions, I walked past a very large pair of wings and swiftly, if somewhat apologetically, past all the other exhibits into the small room where the Treasures are Hidden.

Very Large Wings Indeed.

The Hidden Treasures turned out to be something called Netsuke. Netsuke are simply toggles that Japanese people used to prevent their pockets falling off their kimono belts. At some point, they went from being bits of shell and driftwood to some of the most intricate jewelry ever devised.

Netsuke vary from comical, to ludicrous to something approaching divine. The Jewish Granny had led me to believe that taking photographs would send the Ark of the Covenant crashing down upon my head (in the nicest possible way), but I can share the official descriptions of some of my favourites with you.

62. Netsuke of a mermaid and an octopus making amorous advances to each other.

69. Netsuke of a father and son startled as a tea-kettle comes to life as a badger.

70. Netsuke of the witch-dragon Kiyohime gripping her hair with her three-clawed hand, laughing wickedly as she entwines her reptilian body around the bell of the Dojoji temple; inside the bell is her captured monk-lover Anchin, who has spurned her, his face peering through an opening.

I managed to find a pic of this guy on their website:

9. Netsuke of Shoki the Demon-Queller standing on one leg, his sword in his right hand, holding the rim of his hat, on top of which hides an oni (or demon).

All of this detail is exquisitely captured in objects smaller than a Kinder Egg. Each of them is bursting with so much personality and vitality that I’m convinced they come to life every night as soon as the museum closes.

As for the strange animal with the long neck, it turned out to be a netsuke of a doe howling at the moon (as does do). Next time I pass the Jewish Museum on a night when the moon is full, I’m going to listen out for her.

39. Netsuke of a seated deer howling at the moon. Pic stolen from Jewish Museum website, because I’m scared of Jewish Grannies.

Lunch #18: Cheep Cheep Chicken From Inkuku

I suppose I should have shared this with you sooner: The Yummy Mummy and I have discovered the World’s Most Enjoyable Diet. Essentially it consists of eating all the cheese and cream and steak and sausages you want. With a side order of eggs fried in butter. It’s very like Atkins or Noakes, but without portion sizes, branded food bars or any sense of self-control.

Apparently the Yummy Mummy has a friend who dropped 15,000kgs* in three days eating double-cream greek yoghurt and bacon, so she resolved to try it too. When the Yummy Mummy reported back that she’d lost 2,000kgs* four days later, I decided to join her.

These are the instructions she sent me:

“No bread, potatoes, rice and pasta. But lots of oats, some crackers, veggies and salad, KFC, chicken with the skin, peanut butter, eggs scrambled in butter, cream cheese, full cream yoghurt, cheese, sausage, streaky bacon, chops with the fat…”

She forgot to put ‘entire bottles of wine’ on the Can Have list, but she did assure me that they made no difference to the diet’s effectiveness. (Note: in order to be good little dieters, we have sacrificed beer. Most of the time.)

I then read every article on this website: garytaubes.com and decided that vegetables were probably too much of a carbohydrate risk, so heroically decided to go without those too.

The real challenge, however, was to find a lunch place that would accommodate my new healthy diet within my perennially-trim lunch budget. But as I was strolling up Parliament Street wondering where I could buy deep-fried sausages with a side order of cream, I came across this:

Even if you don’t know enough Xhosa to translate Inkuku, it’s pretty obvious what this place specialises in.

I didn’t want the evil roll, chips and coleslaw, but was pleased to find I could still get half a chicken for R25. And what a delicious half of a chicken it was! Inkuku do theirs as a lemon-herb roast, with crisp yet greasy skin that’s well worth eating. The only thing missing was the mayonnaise – for flavour and a bit of extra fat. (I had to go to Spar for that.)

If you’re not on a strict diet, you can get the chicken burger meal for R30…

*Weight-loss figures may be slightly exaggerated. In case you were wondering, I myself have lost almost 1,000kgs in the last month. Or, at least, I haven’t actually gained any weight.

Lunch #17: T-bone and ten bottles of bubbly at Societi Bistro

There is something gloomy people like to say about free lunches, which I have to admit is generally true. However, I think that possibly one of the nicest things about friends is that sometimes they make it possible for a free lunch to pop into this universe for a brief visit from some parallel universe where there are such things as free lunches.

In this case, the friends in question were the Yummy Mummy and the Delectable Restaurateur. The free lunch was the launch of Societi Bistro’s Italian menu. (There was a French one a while back. It was fabuleux, as the Yummy Mummy would say.) The way Societi’s regional menus work is that each week for 10 weeks they feature a special menu from a different region of a particular country. So, for the next month or two, Societi’s chef will be working his way up the boot of Italy like a particularly amorous lover langorously licking his lady’s leatherclad leg.

Sigh. Alliteration makes me thirsty, but probably not as thirsty as I was on Saturday afternoon when I arrived at Societi and saw this:

The bottle of bubbly is not visible in the photograph. That is because it is being poured into a glass that’s about to be handed to me. You cannot fault the service at Societi.

10 regional wines were served to match the regional menu. The bubbly was Kaapse Vonkel, but since Italians drink something called Prosecco instead of manning up and learning how to do Methode Champagnoise, I think this was a good call.

At first, I was well-behaved and tried to make polite conversation in between waving my glass for more bubbly. (Only little waves. The staff are very attentive.) But then I saw this:

Stefan, Societi’s very tasty chef, busy at the braai.

No silly, not Stefan…

This. Chargrilled T-bone drizzled in olive oil and lemon juice.

About 10 bottles of bubbly later, with at least a kilo of t-bone gobbled down my gullet, the Societi Effect* had fully taken hold. Things were said and done that I blushed to remember when I woke up in the middle of the night (amazingly) safe (and alone) in my own bed. Fortunately, there is only one incriminating photograph of me (that I know of) in existence:

Photograph courtesy of Niels Colesky. We were having a photographic competition with our cellphones. I don’t think he won.

It seems somehow appropriate that my society portrait from this event is of a boot.

*The Societi Effect: A term I’ve had to coin for the phenomenon of arriving at Societi Bistro in perfect possession of one’s manners and senses and leaving many, many hours later with the firm belief that manners and senses are stupid and you never really liked having them anyway.

P.S. In case you’re hungry here is a video of Societi Bistro. It has lots of footage of fantastico food and wine.

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 #16: Picnic with The Blind Date on The Company Gardens Lawns

It’s a funny thing, but despite my former involvement with a supposed-lover-of-the-outdoors – the erstwhile Yummy Politician (since downgraded to the NSYP – and, in case you ask, NS stands for ‘not so’). But, as I was saying until I made my own sentence too convoluted to continue, before today I had never partaken in that popular Cape Town lunch arrangement: The Picnic on The Company Garden Lawns.

In fact, it was The Blind Date who suggested this lunch. He offered to bring food if I would bring a blanket. I felt this was fair and courteously checked that he didn’t have a fear of squirrels. So at 1pm precisely today, I sashayed gaily down the stairs with my blanket to meet The Blind Date, who had driven all the way from Hout Bay with homemade Haloumi and Avo wraps and some grapes.

We proceeded in a slightly awkward Blind Datish way to The Company Gardens, where I found a place close to some shade and spread the blanket in the full sun. “Oh look, a rat,” observed The Blind Date, with admirable sangfroid, as an average-sized foot-long specimen rooted endearingly in a neighbouring flower bed.

This photograph was staged after the lunch. You can tell because there are no wraps, rats, beggars, grapes or seagulls in it.

About three minutes after we were seated and had set out the food, I decided to move the blanket into the shade. We sat down again, possibly not as neatly as before. The Blind Date produced the wraps and I unwrapped mine at the wrong end, which he pointed out politely. I sat waiting for him to start his in case there were further specialized wrap-eating procedures I needed to observe.

I think it was at this point that the first beggar arrived. He didn’t ask for money (nobody ever does these days – I think it’s passé in Cape Town mendicant circles), so we gave him the grapes. They were nice grapes, but it was also nice to share our lunch with someone, even if we hadn’t actually invited him.

It turned out that although The Blind Date has no fear of squirrels, he does abhor pigeons and seagulls, which are even more plentiful in The Company Gardens. Shortly after The Blind Date had thrown his wrap wrapper at a seagull (don’t worry, he picked it up again afterwards – the wrapper, not the seagull), the second beggar arrived. But we had given the grapes away and eaten the wraps. We explained this. The beggar nodded understandingly and left.

Minutes later, we had another visitor. Keenly, we perceived he wasn’t a beggar (possibly because of his barcoded truncheon, black-and-white uniform and fluorescent vest with the official city acronym emblazoned on it).

Apparently The Blind Date had attempted to relax a little too much in my company. He was leaning on his elbows on the blanket, legs stretched out in the sun. Truncheon Man brandished his weapon in what he probably hoped was an official manner, but only succeeded in looking uncomfortable.

“You can’t lie down here,” he said, automaton-like.

“Sorry, what?” we both said.

“You,” he said to The Blind Date. “You can’t lie down like that. You must sit up. It’s the rules.”

It’s true. After several gobsmacked moments, we established that no person may lie down on the Company Gardens Lawns, or even sit in a vaguely reclining manner at any time of day. We could not establish why this might be. Truncheon Man just said it was so.

So, dear readers, once more I find myself in a position to give you invaluable culinary advice: If you lie down on a picnic in The Company Gardens today, you’re in for a bit of a surprise.

Observant readers of this blog will notice that, once again, I’ve skipped a lunch. I really, really promise to write up Lunch #15 “Tibs with The Woman With No Face, The Great Dane and The Glamother” at least before, well… June.

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.