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Making a meal of 2010

22 December 2010 - 00:23 By Bandit At Large

The Bandit takes no risks in selecting a target at which to celebrate the highlights of a year's search for culinary excellence, from Augrabies Falls where Sanparks serves a pretty solid breakfast, to the consistent excellence of the beguiling array of deliciousness available at the Neighbourgoods Market at Cape Town's Biscuit Mill, and Durban's Royal Hotel, which no longer bothers to ensure that the food complements the splendour of the exquisite dining room in which it is slopped up.

"Feel like kicking off Saturday with a caffe corretto (a double espresso served with a shot of grappa)?" the Bandit asks.

The beautiful Distraction's face lights up. "At La Cucina di Ciro?" she asks, simultaneously nodding her head. "I'm having the tournedos breakfast."

"We'll share."

"We'll see about that," she harrumphs.

Seldom does the Bandit manage to assemble a crew in the blink of an eye. The Distraction is a rare marvel of decisiveness before the rail in her wardrobe. A toss of her root beer tresses (Tom Waits take a bow), and she's done.

And so to 7th Avenue, Parktown North, where Ciro Molinare is operating an alluring summer breakfast menu. The Distraction is momentarily crestfallen - and then her eye catches the sixth item on the new menu, a variation on a theme: "Tournedos wrapped in bacon and pan fried, served with grilled tomato and sautéed potatoes, poached egg and herb hollandaise."

The bold espresso with a smooth dense crema is a perfect match for the rasp of the grappa.

A shared portion of the poached pears deep fried in a muesli batter and served with yoghurt honey and muesli elicits heartfelt mmmnns.

So too does the "potato and chive pancake topped with mushrooms, sauteed spinach and grilled tomatoes with poached egg, gratinated with a tomato/parmesan hollandaise".

But the show stopper remains the tournedos breakfast, every element a conceptual masterstroke perfectly executed. The tart, feather-light hollandaise is a quite exceptional foil for the sauteed mushrooms. Overall, even better than the five-star winter version.

Over a slice of toast topped with tangy gooseberry jam and a second espresso the crew gets down to the business at hand: highlights of the year.

A long, lazy spring lunch at Linger Longer, where chef patron Walter Ulz, also known as Divine Dining, continues to effortlessly pull rabbits from his chef's toque. Refined, subtle and often quirkily playful, Ulz's food, simply, is beyond reproach. The seafood starter featuring ceviche should be trademarked. Crumbed sweetbreads with a tarragon infused beurre blanc. Sublime dessert featuring a light-as-a-cool- breeze berry mousse. Seamless service.

Lunch at the always bustling Kalky's in Kalk Bay Harbour, Cape Town. Moist, bought-at-the-harbour snoek steamed in a jacket of crisply fried batter. Good chips. Princess Demanding, 11, an aficionado, declares the calamari excellent. Outrageous value for money. Beautiful setting.

Two cups of coffee brewed from the Indonesian kopi luwak beans bought for the Bandit by Princess Discerning, 17, on a trip to London which are sipped in quiet solitude in the midmorning winter sun. The most expensive coffee in the world - for having passed through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) - is unspeakably good.

A plate of succulent, immaculately seasoned prawns at Carla's a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant just off Surfer's Corner in Muizenberg. Good rump and fried egg too.

A nostalgic trip back to granny's kitchen courtesy of the lemon cake and chai tea at Contessa, Tea Connoisseur, in Rivonia, Sandton.

Good coffee, fantastic cheese and Peter James Smith's delicious range of sausages at Cheese Gourmet in Linden.

Juice of the year goes, without hesitation, to the uber chi-chi Tasha's in Morningside for an astoundingly good rocket, beetroot and orange juice selected from the restaurant's "Signature" menu.

A sweetly steaming vetkoek and polony bought at dawn in the heart of winter from a vendor struggling to keep up with the demand for her wares at the Metro Mall taxi rank on Bree Street, Johannesburg.

Lunch and dinner at chef patron Aristotle Ravagelas's Byzance restaurant in Lonehill. Superb mezze, where simplicity is the byword. Other-worldly slow-cooked pork belly with red cabbage. And the cinnamon sugar-dusted banana and chocolate-filled bombolini (the lightest, pillowiest little doughnuts imaginable) served with a banana- yogurt panna cotta, which gets the nod as dessert of the year.

A three-course table d'hote dinner at Quiet Mountain Country House in the Magaliesberg, where the simplicity and accuracy of the cooking reflect a reassuringly honest approach to top-quality excellent ingredients. Garden salad and dressing a triumph. Splendid views from magnificent gardens. Great fudge. Even better cream from the Quiet Mountain herd.

Tart Patisserie at the Leaping Frog shopping centre in Fourways and Moemas in Parktown North for their truly droolworthy pastries and baked goods. Lavender and chocolate tartlets from the former, plump marshmallows, brioche and strawberry and parmesan tartlets from the latter.

The Grillhouse in Rosebank where the prime rib is, in the words of John Keats, "a thing of beauty and a joy forever". Robustly seasoned and cooked to a turn, the meat is sweetest near the bone, with a strip of fat grilled to a perfect crisp. Chips fried golden. Spot on. Great meat from affiliate Meat etc, including the damn fine burger patties served at the Grillhouse.

Not a bad haul at all for a year's work, the Bandit thinks. Bring on 2011.


Linger Longer: You'll want to stay forever.

Byzance: Best of the eastern Mediterranean.

La Cucina di Ciro: Bold, assertive flavours.

Kalky's: Unbeatable value, freshness.

Carla's: Simply succulent.

Moemas: Say "marshmallow" after a mouthful of theirs.

Tasha's: Roll with the Brolex boys.

Tart Patisserie: Best tartlet pastry around.

Contessa: Anyone for tea?

Cheese Gourmet: Smile for the pic.

Grillhouse: Can't beat the meat.