First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

A three-course, three takeaways candlelit feast



A three-course, three takeaways candlelit feast

La Box contents of chipotle thighs, fried sweet potato and salsa. (Photo: Supplied)

It’d be a food fantasy come true if I could order, instead of my supermarket things, restaurant things. I’m afraid it comes down to needs and wants here. But perhaps I can step up my wants a little for a while.

The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food “rescued” from the food chain. Please support them here. 

What do I need now? Some basics like eggs, fruit, avos, tomatoes, maybe a good chicken if there is one, pasta, cream, cat food pouches.

What do I want now? A meal with guests maybe, a three-course sort of meal once more. Meals have become such one dish things. 

Years ago I used to organise progressive dinners in Melville, five-stage events. They invariably started with drinks and snacks at one place, 12 of us walking down the road to the next spot for starters, leaving there for mains at another place. Every restaurant wanted to do those. Then we’d go on to pud at a fourth place and wind up late in the night for port and cheese and biscuits at The Ant. They’d sometimes forget we were coming and we’d find a party on the go or we’d stand laughing and drinking in the aisles while they sorted out the overcrowding, shoving earlier guests into the outside areas. 

One of my best food friends, David, is in Gauteng, locked down in the province, and I ask him if he’d like a progressive meal, something like those from the Gourmet Society days. Except as takeaways from the restaurants. I’d collect three different courses, leaving one of them as a bit of a mystery, for fun, and we’d dine on them at table with candles and silver, proper napkins. He’s game.

My idea is to get all three items within walking distance, in one restaurant area. Melville is out because so many actual restaurants have closed for good in 7th Street, so aren’t doing orders for taking away or delivering. 

I cast my thoughts towards Parkhurst, with Kolonaki, Embarc and Modena as three possible candidates. At this present lockdown level, all three of them provide deliveries and takeaways, Embarc even supplying full dinners to reheat and finish at home. I’ve written about Modena as the first restaurant I ate at last year, after restaurant lockdown, The real and the surreal on a Joburg table. We started dinner before it was really dark, in the early evening because of the then stricter curfew.

I have also written about the superb Embarc, Embarc for a Joburg couple’s notable food journey

Il Contadino provides whatever dishes are on the current restaurant (as though open) menu. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

My thoughts drift slightly east of Parkhurst to Parktown North, another restaurant area with places a little more spread out but still within walking distance of each other. La Boqueria, Coobs and La Cucina di Ciro spring to this delighted mind. I love Coobs for sourcing almost 100% of its fine dining-food ingredients from its own wonderful farm of vegetables, fruit and free-ranging animals. La Boqueria is known for Spanish tapas food as well as mains and the rest, of course. It seems ideal for the starter section of the meal. I know Ciro di Molinari and his wife Klara do all three courses very well too but I fancy a sumptuous dessert of the sort that Klara made famous.

David is not madly interested in the planning process, “just the result”. He does, however, ask if he might come and have a look at the restaurants involved when I go to collect.

It turns out Coobs is closed for everything until they can open as a full and fine restaurant again. But James Diack’s other restaurant, next door, is open for deliveries and takeaways. The farm source is the same, in fact it’s even more pronounced there, with its countrified farm food, as the name suggests. Il Contadino can provide whatever main courses are on the current restaurant (as though open) menu. I should just choose from whatever is there and order. 

I reckon I’ll make up my mind when I know what I can order from La Boqueria, the Spanish restaurant. Sadly the menu, including tapas, is not available for takeaways or deliveries. 

La Boqueria is offering La Boxes instead. They are also Spanish, some by language, as I discover when I see the options. They’re meals for four or more, a few just for two. I choose the Chipotle Box of chicken thighs and accompaniments. They’re Mexican, making use of sun dried jalapeño and also paprika in this case. Somehow I neglected to see another option for two that could have been interesting too. It is a pasta version of paella, called the Fideua Box. There is something exciting about the anticipation of a box.

According to the way the orders and payments work, I’d be collecting the La Boqueria box at two in the afternoon and that is confirmed. It’s earlier than I’d planned but then this is a food adventure. 

So, with all that knowledge, I return to Il Contadino, choosing mains that don’t involve chicken. There’s rolled pork belly and it’s comforting that I know how it was reared and there are further delicious thoughts knowing where the accompaniments have been grown.

But why not order two different mains, in the interests of maybe sharing more Il Contadino food? Here’s a wood-coal roasted, farm pumpkin dish with a spinach, tabbouleh and mushroom accompaniment that I know will have more depth than its list of major ingredients. 

What I don’t know and can’t remember is if David eats vegetarian food. He gives me a telephonic list of vegetables that he doesn’t eat and pumpkin isn’t on it. Later it will transpire that pumpkin was supposed to be on his list. This story will have a conversion aspect. 

I ask Il Contadino if I might collect the food round about two as well since I’d be in the very vicinity.

I’ve been banking on the idea that Cucina di Ciro is famous for providing stunning takeaway dishes for decades, long before lockdown was in our wildest dreams, in addition to meals at the fabulous restaurant. It’s a lovely veranda’d house with a much enlarged kitchen, surrounded by roses, those roses that normally appear in massive bunches on the restaurants tables. 

La Cucina di Ciro’s takeaways, most often removed in people’s own serving dishes, are the secrets of many northern suburbs dinner parties. I have attended two where the hostesses said not a word about the source of the lovely foods and accepted all compliments as their own. I’ve even wondered if hosts or hostesses might do the opposite and advertise the fact that the food will be from Ciro to ensure attendance at their tables. 

I think I am communicating my order to Ciro himself, not realising he’s just had a quadruple bypass and that today is his birthday as well. I ask if the dessert for two could be a surprise. It will end up surprising me by being two surprises.

I remember to ask if I can collect the dessert round two-ish.

An odd idea comes to me. I speak to David once again and ask if he’d mind coming along for the collections at two. And also if he thinks eating at, say, three is an alarming idea. We would still have the candles, I mention. Yes. He’s still game.

After the first collection at La Boqueria, knocking on the door, looking into the surprisingly vast when empty, wood and glassy restaurant and receiving the box, we realise the walking part of the exercise is turning into driving between the restaurants. It would have been fun traipsing down the next block to Il Contadino but not with a big food box.

So it is, collecting the order in a very large brown packet through a window of Il Contadino. It seems like too much of a chance of messing up the food by walking the next three blocks. We drive. 

With silver entrée cutlery we’re eating half of the chipotle thighs, softly fried sweet potato, pumpkin mooshed with coconut purée and a salady sort of salsa, with silver entrée cutlery. A couple of candles in pretty Georgian glass candlesticks flicker in the sunlight.

“It’s all rather exciting,” says David from under his sunglasses, dissecting a tenderly ruddy thigh and trying some of the coconut purée with the salsa too. He approves the chipotle strength and bite after each mouthful. The salsa is far more grand and fresh than others, including brilliant inclusions like plumped raisins, courgette strips, tiny apple bits, radicchio, a few cubes of avocado, micro herbs, the promised tender edamame beans and corn kernels.

I wipe my fingers on real linen for the first time this year and consider, for a mad moment, slipping out for a trip around the block before the next course. Am I so unaccustomed now to eating more than one course at home?

It is plain that this is cheffy stuff, when I bring the plates holding the Il Contadino mains, even slopped a bit by me in the kitchen and definitely not at their visual best. 

What goes under the pork belly is spaghetti squash in strands on a butternut and cannellini roastlet. I’ve got the pumpkin dish and David examines it, lying in it’s firm yin swirl, darkly delicious, saying though he doesn’t eat the stuff, he likes the look of this and could he have some.

‘Difficult to get every vegetable element perfect. As well as this pork belly.’ (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

“Difficult,” says David, with a still-munching mouth, “to get every vegetable element perfect. As well as this pork belly. Colours, textures, tastes. He’s one of your top chefs?”

I think it is difficult, especially from packaged foil containers and I’m lost in admiration for the wholeness of flavour in the soft bright kale, chewy cracked wheat with fabulous parsley cream. Luckily both of us get some so that we don’t have to share.

One of the two surprise puds from Klara of La Cucina di Ciro. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

When David eats a very good half of my smoky, bittersweet pumpkin I feel this counts as a food conversion and am so proud of James’ food.

I haven’t mentioned that I even dressed up a little for the meal. The light is beginning to slip away so that the candles and my satin trousers start making more sense.

The other surprise pud from Klara of La Cucina di Ciro. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

I fetch the desserts. I plate the strawberryish, chocolate-meringuish one and leave the crème brûlée in its own glass dish. Klara’s part of the kitchen has made us two instead of one mystery pud to share. I know I’ve eaten my fill. We’ll at least admire them, taste them perhaps. Maybe David can still manage some, though he seldom eats dessert.

At six, the window glass is dark, the candles burning low, light flickering on the silver dessert spoons and forks that have scraped and re-scraped the dessert dishes clean. Both of them.

Supermarkets? Puhleese. DM/TGIFood

La Boqueria orders  

Il Contadino orders: 010 880 4793

La Cucina di Ciro orders: Whatsapp 081 894 3146 


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 1

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted