Cape Town restaurants aren’t really suited to Winter.
Summer is their thing.
Warm weather, blue skies, spectacular views and streetscapes mean that open spaces, alfresco dining and starry skies are the backdrop to some of the best dining experiences in the Cape.
But come Autumn and Winter a metamorphose occurs. What were once airy breezy restaurants become cold unwelcoming places, with hard chairs, empty tables and plastic shutters pulled down against the wind and rain. Very few restaurants manage the transformation from Summer to Winter dining.
One that does, though, and manages it brilliantly, is Societi Bistro.
Its large outdoor dining area just gets tidied away, and its indoor space comes alive with cosy candlelit tables, crackling log fires and chatter and laughter from the regular clientele who ensure a full house most nights of the week.
Owner Peter Weetman has just launched his Autumn menu. It is replete with Autumn specialities like ox tongue and Autumn salad, and risottos made with pancetta and mushrooms.
There’s a vegan cassoulet, and a wonderful dish with pork neck, pancetta, mash, green beans in a pancetta and mustard sauce. The venison pie
contains springbok, wild mushroom pear and duchess potatoes. Chef Stefan Marais uses seasonally available ingredients in his dishes, and despite the Autumnal touch to the menu they also have a lightness and a subtlety that leaves the palate clean. You feel that you’ve had a satisfiying meal without it being “too much”.
I ate there recently. On a cold damp windy Cape Town evening I felt warmed by the log fires and a warm welcome from staff who did not pour over a clipboard to see if we had reserved. The polished old floor boards led to a corner table where blankets were strung across the back of each chair, not that we needed them. But it was another comforting touch to a restaurant that wears its Autumn/Winter credentials proudly.
Ministrone soup hit the spot, instantly warming me up, while my partner raved about the fish soup. My sirloin steak was cooked rare and pearl onions and cafe-de-paris sauce accompanied. The chips were hand cut.
The kitchen actually peel their own potatoes and cut them into chips. Golden and crispy on the outside they were soft and fluffy in the inside. Big deal, you might say, but hand cut chips are a rarity, and I even know one of the most renowned steak restaurants in Cape Town buy in bags of ready made french fries – and it is evident when you taste them.
My partner had the lamb shank on mash, with carrots and a red wine jus. He said he was “in his Grannys” . Enough said.
Unsure about the wine, the waitress offered to let us taste between a Doolhof Dark Lady or a Hartenberg blend.How classy is that?
The Hartenberg won, and it went beautifully with the meal.The wines are well priced and you’d do well to spend over R100 a bottle.
We had dessert in the snug next door. This is a small dark bar with a log fire, where you’d be happy to dive into and share conversation, gossip and conspiracies with the other drinkers. It’s that kind of place.
Societi Bistro is on a roll. Service is enthusiastic, friendly and attentive, without being overbearing. The food is well judged and flavoursome. The atmosphere is relaxing, cheerful and comforting.
I now can see why Societi Bistro has such a loyal following.
Societi Bistro, 50 Orange Street, Gardens. 021 424 2100. www.societi.co.za
Starters R32-R64. Mains R45-R160.Desserts R35-R46.
Thumbnail photo by Penny Strich, USDA.