TGIFOOD

CAPE TOWN, WRAPPED

The new, the old and the inadvertently neglected

The new, the old and the inadvertently neglected
Tjing Tjing. What happens when everything on the menu looks irresistible. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

The list of must-visit new places in the Mother City seems to grow daily, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that when you remember the longtime favourites – or even established places you’ve never been to – you could probably eat out quite happily every night for the rest of your life.

We’re going mental at Tjing Tjing in this month’s wrap of the Cape restaurant scene, then indulging in the meaty consistency of Carne on Kloof before venturing to Upper Union and the wonders of the StrangeLove Cocktail Lounge.

Tjing Tjing!

So, that place I’m ashamed I had not been to even though it’s been around for years? It is Tjing Tjing on Longmarket Street in the city centre. What an absolute joy. Torii on the ground level is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 12pm till late, and doesn’t take reservations, and that casual approach somehow appeals to me. 

Vibrant decor at Tjing Tjing. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

The more expensive (let’s not beat about the bush) Momji upstairs reopens on Saturday (4 March) but is fully booked; in future, go to the website and book via the Dineplan link, and the rooftop bar opens at 4pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays. I’ve been up there once before and those stairs are brutal. Another good thing about getting older is that you realise and accept your limitations when it comes to drinks and stairs.

We went a bit mental in Torii because it was so difficult not to order everything on the menu. As it was, we had Agemono aubergine, Kewpie mayo and pickled cabbage in steamed buns; smokey sweet potato gyoza; Okonomiyaki Fries thick-cut potato fries, okonomiyaki sauce, Kewpie mayo, bonito flakes, nori, sesame, spring onion which were ridiculously good; mushroom and sesame gyoza; and miso mushroom ramen for my vegetarian friend.

Japanese cheesecake with miso caramel. (Photo: Bianca Coleman)

“It’s a lot,” warned the waitress. “We don’t care, we want it all!” we cried. And we ate it all too, plus we shared a Japanese cheesecake with miso caramel for dessert. If you’ve not yet experienced this confection, I suggest you do so; it’s light and fluffy and more like a soufflé than the denser baked Western-style cakes.

Another one for the must-go-back-to list.

Details: 021 422 4374 / 422 4920 | [email protected] | tjingtjing.co.za

Meaty dishes you know you love

We come to another tried and tested favourite of many years: Carne On Kloof. Chef patron Giorgio Nava has a long history on the Cape Town restaurant scene, from his original 95 On Keerom (now sadly closed) to Carne SA and Carne On Kloof, which have the same menu; 95 At Parks in Constantia is where I’m going for lunch this Sunday and I cannot wait to smash that fried pizza in my mouth.

Carne On Kloof offers a variety of steaks from popular rump and fillet, to lesser-seen cuts like spider and hanger steak. (Photo: Supplied)

Anyway. Carne, as the name suggests, is about the meat. If you’re not going for that, perhaps find somewhere else for dinner. One of the things I love about Giorgio (other than being the only Italian who doesn’t like coffee, garlic or soccer) is that he makes a menu and sticks to it. This means that even if you haven’t been there for a while, it’s still going to be the same, with the dishes you know and love.

Butternut and ricotta ravioli with burnt sage butter is the perfect way to begin at Carne On Kloof. (Photo: Supplied)

Which is why I started with the butternut ravioli with ricotta, topped with sage butter and parmesan cheese. For our main courses my friend and I both had superbly prepared and sliced beef flat iron steak, aka butlers’ steak, feather blade steak or oyster blade steak, a cut with the grain from the chuck, or shoulder of the animal. Carne offers this, as well as some other less-seen cuts like hanger and spider steaks, which is great because they shouldn’t be overlooked and have great merit when cooked correctly. The usual suspects rump, sirloin (on or off the bone), fillet, ribeye are available, as is the famous La Fiorentina: 1.2 kg beef T-bone, lamb, game, pork, chicken… and a burger. 

Naturally, we could not leave without having the famous II Fondente al Cioccolato dark Italian hot chocolate fondant with a delectable liquid chocolate centre. You can get a version of this dessert at many restaurants now but it was Giorgio who paved the way when he introduced it all those decades ago. Again, this was precisely as it has alway been, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

And I get to have it again on Sunday, yay! 

Details: 021 426 5566 | [email protected] | carne-sa.com/carne-kloof

Generous, like her food

Upper Union’s chef Amori Burger. (Photo: Jan Ras Photography)

Turning back to the new, Upper Union opened in December 2022. It’s on, well, Upper Union Street in Gardens. Just off Kloof Street, this is becoming a foodie region of note. The heritage building is uber-stylish inside and out but that would mean nothing if the food didn’t match.

The concept is a fixed menu or small plates. All members of your party are to order one or the other. All the dishes on the set menus (vegetarian/non-vegetarian) are available as individual small plates. Chef Amori Burger is like her food generous and luscious; her personality is intertwined with every dish served.

Exterior of Upper Union. (Photo: Jan Ras Photography)

The set menus comprise a bread course, choice of two starters, a main course dish with four sides, and dessert for R550. And trust me, you are not going home hungry.

Do begin with a cocktail. The classics are there but step outside your comfort zone and have a signature one instead. I had the Cape Bazaar Espolon Blanco, red bell pepper, toasted bread, cumin and citrus. I would never have expected to enjoy a drink that tastes like red pepper but life is full of happy surprises. All the signature cocktails can be made without alcohol so my sober friend had the Cape To Casablanca (no Madre Mezcal or Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado): honey, harissa, carrot. Even though there was honey, we were both pleased with the savoury notes of our drinks.

The food at Upper Union is most generous. This is an example of the vegetarian menu: Blackened beetroot with sides – sweet potato, green falafel, yellow pear tomatoes and broccolini. (Photo: Jan Ras Photography)

Make the most of the last of summer by sliding in at a table outside for afternoon drinks and a few tasty plates. Although I am not a dessert person as a rule (which, if I think about it, and you read this entire story, is a lie) but I cannot recommend highly enough the Honest Chocolate fondant baulois (if a chocolate brownie and chocolate mousse had a love child) and the Puglia ricotta fritters (poffertjies really) with fennel sugar, blackberries, lime and salt cream.

Details: 021 891 0360 | [email protected] | upperunion.co.za

StrangeLove small batches

StrangeLove in Salt River has a fine range of cocktails made with spirits distilled on the premises. (Photo: Alix Rose-Cowie)

At StrangeLove Cocktail Lounge – which opened at the Hope on Hopkins distillery in Salt River a few weeks ago – the selling point is that the spirits used are small-batch hand-distilled vodka, gin, agave spirit, rhum agricole (sugarcane-juice rum) and Campari-style African Amaro, made on the premises. StrangeLove is on the mezzanine level above the distillery. It’s open from 5pm to 10.30pm on Thursdays and Fridays; seating is limited to 30 a night and walk-ins will be accommodated if there is space available, but bookings are recommended.

We sampled the house menu on which co-owner Leigh Lisk (with Lucy Beard) said they had worked very hard. It’s presented in three sections: Aperitif, Mains and Digestif, with each cocktail paired with a complimentary snack (“proper” food to come). The drinks range from a simple gin and tonic, to the currently trendy Sbagliato, a Clover Club to an El Presidente.

StrangeLove daiquiri is a classic made with rhum agricole and lime.

I’ve been wanting to try a Sbagliato for a while, a twist on a Negroni with Prosecco instead of gin. Everywhere else it will be made with Campari but Hope makes its own African Amaro which is spectacularly good and I urged Lisk to get that stuff bottled and on sale as soon as possible. I had the El Presidente for my main course, with rhum agricole, which is made from freshly pressed sugarcane juice as opposed to molasses from which your everyday rum is made.

Dessert was a delicious, frothy, almost frivolous Clover Club (gin, raspberry, lemon) with a mini raspberry macaron. My friend had the Gin Alexander; fun fact: A Brandy Alexander is a brandy-based dessert cocktail consisting of Cognac, crème de cacao, and cream, that became popular during the early 20th century. It is a variation of an earlier, gin-based cocktail called simply an Alexander.

The El Presidente – rhum agricole, vermouth and grenadine. (Photos: Alix Rose-Cowie)

In addition to this menu, there is a range of classic cocktails such as Margaritas, Daiquiris  and Black Russians. And there is an entire page of Martinis that will blow your mind; I had no idea there were so many possibilities. Leap in on your own, or try a tasting flight of three, which I am so going to do as soon as possible. 

Details: 021 447 1950 | [email protected] | hopedistillery.co.za. DM/TGIFood

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