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Throwing the Bones a little further back

Throwing the Bones a little further back

Thanks for the great review of Bones. You nailed their style of elegant simplicity perfectly. There is a backstory to that one and it comes from your mention of the lemon tart. In May 1998, Rudi Minnaar and I went to Chicago to attend the annual NRA restaurant show. On the way home we stopped over in London and decided to have lunch at the River Cafe, then a restaurant with a burgeoning reputation.

I read your article entitled a Soupçon of Serendipity yesterday and it did bring back memories of a wonderful time. For Rudi and myself, Morton’s was not our first foray into the wicked world of restaurant ownership, that belonged to the Moosehead in Johannesburg, but it was our first attempt at doing something in Cape Town. While we were busy doing the shopfitting a Capetonian came wandering by and asked me what was being built. I answered, “a restaurant’’, whereupon he said in a somewhat imperious tone, “it’s far too big, it will never work, we don’t like big restaurants”.

Looking back now, I think that what helped us to succeed was dumb luck, a love of New Orleans and the kindness of a few local restaurant critics, you being one. Not that the Cape Times was always kind to us. I remember once being hauled over the proverbial coals for increasing our menu prices just before the December season, and no amount of explaining how we had to protect ourselves from the alarming increases in vegetable and meat prices saved me from a roasting.

Still, we survived and along the way also thrived, mainly with the help of some wonderful people who worked with us in those early years. You quite rightly mentioned Tammy Botbyl who started as a waitress in the Moosehead after training at the Royal in Durban, and Peter Weetman who wandered in to Morton’s one day and worked his way up by dint of sheer energy and enthusiasm.

There were others as well, especially the chefs, Grant Cullingworth at the Westin, Lindsay Venn at the Cullinan, Craig Patterson at the President, Michael Le Borgne at Food Corp and Sanelle Esterhuizen last seen at 15 on Orange. We always believed that proper training was the key to having great staff.

Thanks for the great review of Bones. You nailed their style of elegant simplicity perfectly. There is a backstory to that one and it comes from your mention of the lemon tart. In May 1998, Rudi and I went to Chicago to attend the annual NRA restaurant show. On the way home we stopped over in London and decided to have lunch at the River Cafe, then a restaurant with a burgeoning reputation.

A young lady named Shelley, who had worked for us as a waitress in Morton’s, was employed there as a hostess and she managed to get us a table. It was a late lunch and Shelley came over to sit with us and shoot the breeze. She also introduced us to a young sous-chef named Jamie whom she jocularly referred to as a little punk. As a parting gift she gave us a copy of the River Café Cook Book signed by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. Needless to say we were totally impressed with their approach to Italian cooking — elegant, simple and true to the best ingredients available.

Which is why we put the Lemon Tart on the menu at Bertha’s. It was made exactly to that now legendary recipe, from the blind baking and egg-washing of the shell to the rich egg, butter, sugar and lemon zest/juice filling. The only variation was a brûléed top and spoonful of marscarpone/cream on the side. Myrna Robins wrote in the Argus that it was the best lemon tart she had ever tasted and promptly asked me for the recipe, which I gladly gave her as she had written such a glowing review of the restaurant. The Lemon Tart lives on at Societi and at Bones, much to my delight.

I really enjoy your articles and reviews in Daily Maverick. Keep it up. – Hugh von Zahn DM

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