Whatâ€™s not to love about Cape Town – itâ€™s just one long sleep away, a mere two hours time change so virtually no jet lag and a guaranteed instant hit of Winter sunshine.
Yet again, The New York Times voted Cape Town as its top holiday destination in 2014.
Much has changed since my last trip a decade ago. Cape Town exudes confidence, itâ€™s a brilliant cultural stew-pot, businesses seem to just spring up all over the place, hip urban coffee shops, farmers markets, roadside shacks, super cool cafÃ©s, restaurants,Â pop-up concerts where the music can be anything from bongo drumming, French folk singing, classical to hip-hop.
On my earlier trips to South Africa, imported products and ingredients were greatly sought after but now virtually every shop and restaurant proudly touts the fact that the produce or products are produced in South Africa. The sea and farms around Cape Town produce some fine quality fruit, vegetables, meat, and beautiful fresh fish which is often cooked within hours of coming off the boats.
Many Cape Town eateries are casual affairs but it also has its share of stellar chefs and two of its top restaurants The Test Kitchen in Cape Town and The Tasting Room in FranschhoekÂ are on the worldâ€™s Top 100 Restaurant List. Over the festive season it was really tough to get a table in many of the most talked about places, but I had a particularly memorable lunch at The Pot Luck Club, the more casual and edgier roof-top sister restaurant of Luke Dale-Robertsâ€™ The Test Kitchen. Chef Wesley Randles and his gang of passionate young chefs turn out an irresistible range of pan African and Asian sharing plates.
Out in Franschhoek where I spent a few days to attend a family wedding. I greatly enjoyed staying at Le Quartier FranÃ§ais on the main street. Breakfast was one of the best I have eaten anywhere. Freshly squeezed, and I mean freshly squeezed, juices – orange, beetroot, grapefruitâ€¦Â Beautiful fresh ripe fruit, crunchy granolas classic and gluten free, thick unctuous buffalo milk and Greek yoghurts, home-made jams and croissants and house cured bacon. Here the less formal, Living Room serves delicious tapas all day long. I particularly loved the prawn popcorn in a crisp tempura batter with Aioli and the duck and lentil crumble.
The Old Biscuit Mill in the Woodstock is not to be missed. What used to be a rundown area home to fishermen and factory workers is now a collection of little shops run by creative young artisans, furniture makers, artists and craftspeople. The Neighbourhoodâ€™s SaturdayÂ Market is an insight into the vibrant artisan food scene with local farmers, bakers, cheese-makers, charcutiers with over one hundred traders selling their handmade and home grown produce.
Out in Kalk Bay we had brunch at the OlympiaÂ CafÃ© for old times sake. There was a queue as ever for the plates of simple food, chippos (chippolates), scrambled egg, frittata, omelettes, baconâ€¦ served on chipped formica tables. I ordered coconut hotcakes with passion fruit and strawberries and soaked up the hippie vibe.
This year Silwood Kitchen, South Africaâ€™s first cookery school established by the feisty Lesley Faull, originally from (from where) celebrates their 50th year with the publication of â€˜A Year at Silwoodâ€™ published by Quivertree Publications.
Melissaâ€™s The Food Shop in Cape Town is an interesting deli and cafÃ© with an intriguing system. You can choose a selection of lunch dishes from her table and then have the plate weighed to arrive at the price,Â it seemed to work brilliantly. This chunky pear, walnut, blue cheese and watercress salad was one of the options as well as Melanzane Parmigiana, lasagne and several other tempting salads.
Pear, Walnut, Blue cheese and Watercress salad.
450ml (16fl oz/2 cups) water
450ml (16fl oz/2 cups) red or white wine
450g (1lb) sugar
50-75g (2-3oz) ripe blue cheese, Crozier Blue or Gorgonzola
salt and freshly ground pepper,
18 whole walnut halves
Peel, quarter and core the pears. Put water, red wine and sugar into a deep stainless steel saucepan, bring to the boil stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the pears, bring back to the boil, cover with a cartouche and the lid of the saucepan and simmer gently until the pears are tender when pierced with a skewer or tip of a knife. Cool in the liquid and chill.
To serve, remove the pears from the poaching liquid, scatter the base of the serving bowl with watercress sprigs, lay the drained pear quarters on top, (half the pieces if the pears are too large). Scatter the walnut halves, large crumbles of blue cheese and some more watercress sprigs on top.
Season with a few flakes of sea salt and some freshly ground pepper and serve.
Cauliflower Soup with a Hint of Truffle from â€˜A Year at Silwoodâ€™
Serves 6 to 8
180g (6oz) onion, finely chopped
75g (3 oz) potato, peeled and finely chopped
60g (2 Â½ oz) butter
500ml (18fl oz) light chicken stock
250ml (9fl oz) milk
250ml (9fl oz) cream
750g (1Â½ lb) cauliflower, chopped
Sweat the onion and potato in butter, until the potato is completely soft. Add the stock, milk and cream, and bring to the boil. Add the cauliflower and simmer until soft, approximately 5 minutes. Place in a blender and blend until completely smooth, then season with salt and white pepper.
To serve, reheat and serve in warm bowls with a swirl of truffle oil and a sprinkling of micro herbs.
Prawn â€˜Popcornâ€™ with Aoili
20 fresh Dublin Bay Prawns
Tempura batter see below
Peel the raw prawns and cut into Â½ inch pieces. Keep chilled
Make a tempura batter.
Just before serving, heat oil in a deep fry. Dip the prawn pieces one at a time into the batter and drop into the hot oil. Cook for a couple of minutes until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve on a bed of watercress or organic leaves with a bowl of Aioli/garlic mayonnaise for dipping.
200g (7ozs/scant 2 cups) rice flour
20g (3/4oz/scant 1/4 cup) corn flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
cold sparkling water
Sieve the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre.Â Whisk in the water with a balloon whisk, until the batter is the thickness of double cream but not too smooth.
Cool and chill in the fridge until needed.
A twist on Millionaires ShortbreadÂ
Serves 6 as a dessert
6-9 shortbread biscuits
Toffee sauce or dulce de leche
Hot dark chocolate sauce
18 toasted hazelnuts, halved
Maldon sea salt
To serve, have all the components ready.
Choose six small but deepish bowls or glasses. Break 1 or 1Â½Â Â biscuits into roughly Â¾Â inch pieces into each bowl. Spoon two tablespoons of toffee sauce or dulce de leche on top. Sprinkle on some toasted hazelnuts and then some hot chocolate sauce. Finish with just 3 or 4 flakes of Maldon sea salt on each
Serve with Jersey cream or Vanilla bean ice cream.
Dark Chocolate Sauce
Makes 16fl ozs (450mls/2 cups)
8ozs (225g) best quality dark chocolate (semi sweet or bittersweet)
8fl oz (225ml/1 cup) cream
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) dark rum or orange liqueur or strong coffee or vanilla extract (optional)
Put the cream in a heavy bottomed, preferably stainless steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted.Â It will seem curdled at first but donâ€™t worry, keep on stirring and it will become smooth and glossy.Â Add the chosen flavouring if using.Â Â Serve warm or at room temperature.
Farmers Markets: After a busy Christmas and a little break our local Farmers Markets are back! Mahon Point on Thursday 8thÂ January from 10am to 3pm, Douglas Farmers Market on Saturday 10th January 10am to 2pm, Midleton Farmers Market Saturday 10th January 9.30am to 2pm, Wilton Farmers Market Tuesday 13th January from 10am to 2pm.
Slow Food East Cork Event with renowned food historian. Dorothy Cashman will speak about how a love of food and literature can take your life in a different direction, Thursday 22nd January 2015 at 7pm Ballymaloe Cookery School. Enquiries 021 4646785 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Proceeds to East Cork Slow Food Educational Project
Guest Chef at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Mary Jo McMillanâ€™s name may not be familiar to many of you but weâ€™ve known and admired her for many years. She in turn loves Ireland and has been visiting for over 30 years. Mary Joâ€™s restaurant and catering business in Oxford, OH, USA had a cult following and she is particularly famous for herÂ braises, slow cooked dishesÂ and of course herÂ baking. In this one day course on Saturday 31st January youâ€™ll also learn two fool-proof menus andÂ the secrets of several of Mary Joâ€™s sought after cakes, pastries and French bread. For more details see www.cookingisfun.ie.
Saturday Pizzas are back again – join the devotees. Wood fired pizzas with exciting seasonal toppings, great Margherita, Marinara and Pepperoni also. From 12 to 4pm every Saturday at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. See Facebook Saturdaypizzas for todayâ€™s specials.
Seville Marmalade Oranges are back in the grocers again. Thereâ€™s something deeply satisfying about making a few batches of the real thing. Only the bitter oranges from the South of Spain produce the traditional flavour so beloved of marmalade lovers. Seek out a charming little book â€˜Marmalade: Â A Bittersweet Cookbookâ€™ by Sarah Randall for classic recipes and new twists on how to use your neatly labelled jars of glistening preserves in a myriad of creative ways.