I am wary of Capetonian restaurants in winter.
They are usually bloody freezing, most of them being set up for summer.
I think it’s a bit much to be expected to huddle in a fleece, with a blanket over your shoulders as you eat a meal.
That’s what Titanic survivors did.
4 of us met at Keenwa. The Peruvian place opposite Hemelhuijs on Waterkant Street.
It was a cold Friday night. In fact it was freezing. A keen wind blew through the restaurant. It even blew down the stairs from the upstairs bar, which has an open balcony onto the street. After a while I spotted that the back door was wide open, and held in place with a brass latch.
I closed it. None of the staff seemed to notice or care.
10 minutes later the waitress showed up with menus. A long time later the food began to arrive. We were trying out a selection of one of our guests wines so we did have plenty of distractions, but when you are hungry you are hungry.
The ceviche read as follows on the menu; “Cubes of fish marinated in lime juice and a sprinkle of chillies, served with sweet potatoes.” The cubes of fish were there, but no sweet potato, and it was served in a watery tomato liquid with bombshells of chilli ambushing my palate. An unpleasant little dish, I thought.
Another starter was calamari covered with a gloopy creamy sauce. The taste was completely destroyed by salt – a frequent offence by chefs at all levels of restaurants in South Africa.
A salad starter could not be served as they had no tuna, as advertised. “What about beef?” we asked the waitress. She ran off to consult with chef. “No beef allowed, but he will do chicken”. Whaa??
Chef skimping, does not sound good. Ah well.
“Is the chicken free range?” we ask. No, we were told, it’s from a factory, a battery job. Well they’re the cheapest, and maybe originally from Brazil, or Thailand, and have been pumped full of brine in Rotterdam in vast processing centers. Tasty. We declined.
Mains arrived. Three of us had opted for the lamb stew, as it sounded the safest possibility. I mean, how could you go wrong?
It arrived, quite a tasty bean and rice stew and in the middle was a huge star shaped bone. It was like a cross section of shin, but with spiky protrusions around the edges. In the crevices between the spiky protrusions we found the meat. A sort of team effort evolved, where we helped each other along as we looked for the meat, giving advice and encouragement.
The problem was that there was so much gristle, stringy bits, fat and other unidentifiable bits that the meat was in short supply. The bits we found were tasty though. The problem was that there were very few of them.
I asked the waitress what cut we had been given. Off she went to ask chef. “It’s the neck!” she announced on her return.
A side of french fries arrived. Limp and flaccid, they had obviously just been drowned in a vat of lukewarm oil.
The restaurant had filled up by now – an odd mix of young trendy types, and older Spanish speaking couples and groups. Awful pop music played on the speakers.
Keenwa label their food as “Peruvian Home Cooking”. I think this is a diversion from admitting that the nice guys behind the operation are not very experienced, and are newbies at running a professional kitchen serving 40 approx covers on a busy Friday night. The food, we found, was over salted, poorly judged and cheap ingredients had been used.
Service on the whole had been Basil Fawlty level. That’s a very common problem everywhere. The girl did her best and we gave her the full tip.
This is the review I wrote the day after eating there.
But I felt I had to double check things. Sometimes I do that with a restaurant. I go back again or I get a friend who can add value to visit on my behalf.
A couple of days after I left I met an acquaintance who had lived in South America for 4 years. She had spent time in Panama, Peru, Equador, Costa Rica, Mexico and a few other places. She speaks fluent Spanish and knows her stuff when it comes to South American food.
“Look”, I said to her,”I don’t want to give Keenwa an unfair review, would you mind going along and giving me feedback also?”.
I should also tell you that she is a professional in the restaurant industry, that’s how the gal makes her living,
Anna, let’s call her Anna, went along for lunch with a fellow full-time restaurant employee and reported back as follows;
“I loved it. It brought me back to my time in South America. It was my first time eating there and it made me even a little homesick as it brought back old memories. I got so into the spirit of it that I asked the staff to play some of my favourite South American music, which they did, and I even sang along.
The service reminded me of South America also. Slow, erratic, everything seemed to come at it’s own pace and take a long long time.
We had a platter starter which included beef hearts, chicken skewers, octopus and linefish skewers and so on. We had the lamb stew also for mains, and we enjoyed it. It was very tasty. We also had a Keenwa/Quinoa salad with prawns. All delicious. For dessert I had delicious Alfa Jores, a sandwich biscuit with a sweet sauce in the centre, and my friend had a great Pisco Sour sorbet.
I found the food to be as authentic as you get in South America, and very well made for the ingredients that you can get here in South Africa.
I will say that the service was inexperienced, and they seemed just about capable of handling the lunchtime trade when the restaurant was only 1/4 full. I can imagine that on a busy night they might be under pressure.
They are not experienced at what they do, and this shows”
So there you have it. A tale of two meals.
My advice to anyone thinking of going is to try the lunch first, and see if you like the cuisine. Avoid busy Friday or weekend nights when the place is snowed under with customers and the kitchen can’t cope.
My advice to the owners is to take a step back and make sure you under promise and over deliver. It’s obvious you both have a passion for what you do, just don’t ruin it with cheap ingredients, over salted food, and slapdash service.
At the moment you are the most authentic South American experience in Cape Town, but the competition is hotting up, with a new venue on Bree St. and other contenders moving from the markets and catering into the restaurant trade.
And please, pretty please, warm up the place of an evening. Close the back door.
And some candles on the tables would be nice. It would make the place cosier and we’d be able to see our menus.
50 Waterkant Street.
021 419 2633