Last week we were invited to Grand Africa Café and Beach’s launch of their new winter menu. It all started with the Whatsapp from the GM, Telpha Berry. Great hilarity ensued when I asked him how many were invited (in other words, how many could we bring in our party and misunderstanding my question, he answered “About 100”). Otto immediately set about planning busloads of people…!
Our history with Grand Africa Café and Beach goes back some years now. It’s long been one of our favourite summer weekend spots, and a grand place (pun intended) to meet up with old friends – local and international. We just love the idea of “comfort-on-the-beach-with-cocktail-in-hand”… kind of like Shimmy Beach Club. There’s always a great vibe and there’s really nothing lovelier than spending a chilled weekend afternoon or evening, kicking back on a comfy couch on the “beach”, glass of something in hand, lovely food while staring out over the ocean. Of course, the fact that it is frequented by such people as Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco and various local celebs has nothing at all to do with our love of the place!
A beautiful, classy 21st birthday venue
A couple of years ago, we arranged my youngest daughter’s 21st birthday there. We gave her a choice of venues for an intimate crowd of family and friends, and that was her first. We went on a pre-event planning dinner and Telpha was incredibly helpful and enthusiastic. He even waived the usual function fee for us since her birthday was just before high season in Cape Town.
Needless to say, the event went off without a hitch and everyone had a ball. We ordered our favourite Grand Africa Café and Beach “snacky” dishes – their wonderful pizzas (the parma ham and rocket is especially to-die-for), and their Mediterranean platters, with hummus, tzatziki, fried halloumi, olives and flatbreads.
So, not having visited for a while, since moving out to the Winelands, it was with great excitement that we hopped in the car and drove all the way through from Wellington (on a cold, rainy winter’s night) for this special feast.
Cocktails, fires and celebrities
The ambience was just perfect for winter – warm lighting, chandeliers, the newly enclosed veranda area, and fires and bio-fires everywhere. We were welcomed with cocktails (more Caipirinhas, than Mojito, I thought – though I could be wrong), but of course, quickly moved on to our usual bottle of wine – or four…
Gibbs and Gabs
The evening kicked up a notch when I glanced over at the table next to us and realized that one of our favourite former cricketers was sitting just a few metres away! I persuaded my daughters to go over and ask Herschelle Gibbs if he wouldn’t mind having a selfie with them. This was particularly special as my Mom is an armchair cricket fan of note, and years back, when my girls were small, she was glued to the screen during one of the one-day games. She gets very excitable and at one point yelled out, “Aah no! Gibbs is out!” Chloë, who was about 2 at the time, became very concerned about her older sister, “Gabs”, whom she sometimes referred to as “Gibs”, not quite being able to pronounce the nickname. “Where, Gunny? Where’s Gibs gone??”
That’s been a family legend for about the last 20 years, so as I say, it was all the more special to finally have the three of them together in one place! My beauty-orientated eldest daughter also recognized our former Miss South Africa, Cindy Nel, at Herschelle’s table.
Time to tuck into 8 courses…
Okay, so – back to the winter menu. If I’m to be perfectly honest, when it came to the food, the chef’s new dishes could have done with a bit of extra spicing, as we were not that impressed with the pork belly, the bouillabaisse or the linefish. Now I understand that bouillabaisse is actually a humble Mediterranean fisherman’s stew, originating from the French port city of Marseilles – quite a simple dish, using whatever fresh ingredients you have at hand: any white fish; mussels; prawns and a choice of fresh herbs and spices, in a tomato broth. But neither Otto nor I could really detect any of the basic flavours that should have been in there, such as fennel and cayenne pepper, perhaps.
Lamb dishes with a difference
What I will say though, is that despite the fact that I cannot (and never usually) eat lamb, I really enjoyed the two lamb dishes.
My mother swears that my dislike of lamb has something to do with her taking me into a butchery when I was little. Being from a farm background, she couldn’t understand my horror at seeing bodies hanging everywhere. When I pointed to one and asked, “What’s that, Mom?” she replied that it was lamb. I apparently said, “No. What was that when it was alive?” When my mother said it was a sheep, I walked out and have never eaten lamb since.
I actually think it’s more to do with the smell and the taste, but who argues with my mother? She loves lamb so much that she can’t believe that other people aren’t crazy about the taste as well. She always tells the waiter when ordering lamb, “Just pass it through a warm room, with its wool still on, and then bring it to me!” We always get strange looks at this instruction.
Mom always said, try everything!
So, of course, as it was a tasting, I had to sample what was put in front of me. And, surprisingly…very tasty! The lamb soup with sugar beans and lentils was actually quite a revelation, as was the curry. So, of all the savoury dishes, I have to (reluctantly) admit that those two were my favourite.
As always, I have very little criticism of anything sweet, and I really enjoyed (and devoured) the two desserts. Our only problem was that the cream served with the Grand Tart, listed as “lavender cream”, tasted nothing like lavender. And I was really looking forward to that, as for the longest time I’ve been promising myself to test my lavender recipes at home!
Challenge accepted, Grand Africa Café and Beach. That will be my next obsessive recipe trial run. It’s been baked cheesecakes for about the last 30 years and I finally found two recipes that come close to what I’m looking for. Now it will be to prove that lavender cream can be unique and exceptional!
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Until next time!