The Karoo Heartland village of Nieu-Bethesda is weird and quirky, but in a nice way. It has a lot of interesting nooks and crannies which include a couple of fascinating attractions, authentic Nieu-Bethesdian accommodation and slightly off the regular type of mainstream restaurants and eateries. When you pass a little restaurant with a sign saying Bruno’s Alfresco Pizzeria with the added tagline of “World Famous in Nieu-Bethesda… then you know you want to check it out. It also helps that I really love pizza.
So the quirkiness of Bruno’s start with the fact that they are only open on a Friday evening. At first I was surprised but then I understood why. Nieu-Bethesda isn’t the busiest of villages and there are a number of spots to eat at so they avoid being empty most nights and became the Friday night hangout. Bruno’s really is as authentic Southern Italian as you will get and with the eccentric Italian Swiss chef and owner Brunno at the wheel you, you are assured of the best thin based pizza in town. World Famous, in Nieu-Bethesda.
As we were a decent sized group in town for a meeting the Monday morning, a special request to open on the Sunday night for us was granted and I was glad it was. Not a lot of pizza places around where you can stand at the kitchen chatting to the cooks preparing the pizza or where you can peek into the pizza oven just before sticking your camera halfway in just to be shoo’d away because it’s time to take the pizzas out. No well drilled conveyor belt from a fast food pizza joint in the city. No, local ladies making the pizza just the way they were trained by Bruno. Mine was delectable. Their special for the night, Kudu Salami Pizza. Highly recommendable if you are in town.
But, and this is a big but and I can’t deny, that wasn’t all. Bruno had a surprise up his sleeve. I heard rumours of a secret underground wine cellar. Just stories or the truth? I was told to ask Bruno himself, so I did. He chuckled and there was a glint in his eye. Yeah! Let’s go. The wine cellar isn’t just a regular spot to store wine. It literally is an underground space that feels like it’s straight from a movie set. Bruno had it built as a wine cellar but after a flood filled it up with water a few years ago he hasn’t really kept wine down there. He did show us a little something standing around the one corner and we got to taste the fruits of this little something afterwards. Or rather what came from the fruits that went in there. I can understand why he doesn’t sell it. It’s a special little something for special visitors and we were special. We got to see his wine cellar on a personal tour after all.
This morning I joined a couple of colleagues for breakfast at Angelo’s on the beachfront to celebrate one of their birthdays. Sitting there watching a couple of dolphins pass by we all just realised again how privileged we are living in this beautiful coastal city where we can sit and have a meal with a view like this.
The food truck culture has definitely reached Port Elizabeth and Food Truck Friday down in the Baakens Valley (once a month at this stage) has proved it. The Makoy Food Truck, one of PE’s originals, did the catering at a function I attended in November and if that is the food that comes from food trucks then who needs to go to a restaurant? Now if we can just find a place in PE where food trucks can have a semi permanent spot with enough foot traffic to stand and we can have Food Truck Friday every day or at least every weekend.
I got to peek into the new Richmond Hill Brewing Co undercover beer yard and brewery in the Baakens Valley the other day. Unfortunately it was literally just a peek in as I was attending an event next door so I didn’t get to try the beers or check out the brewery, but I’m sure this spot is going to become a very popular spot here in the Port Elizabeth. The recent Craft Brew and Food Fest also took place between here and the adjacent Chicky’s Yard and looking at the photos on social media I really missed something.
Port Elizabeth is very quickly getting a reputation as a good food destination with visiting bloggers and journalists raving about the variety and quality of restaurants and food markets available around the city in their articles. Now I’m not food expert although I am known to enjoy a good steak / pizza / chop and braaibroodjie / plate of home cooked food / cinnamon and sugar pancake / or > insert whatever food here< on occasion. I'm not the judgmental type (friends not allowed to comment on this) and can be pleased very easily when it comes to food, but I have also watched my share of cooking shows so have learned to not just stick my food in my mouth, chew, swallow and not have an opinion about it. So Facebook will hear about it if it wasn't good. Having known that, the marketing people at Ginger Restaurant probably wouldn't have been so quick to invite me to the relaunch of Ginger at the Beach Hotel. Or if they did, perhaps they had the conviction of their chef's abilities to back the invitation up with.
Since opening in 2007, Ginger Restaurant has carved a reputation for itself as a fine dining restaurant with a comfortable yet upmarket atmosphere. The restaurant just underwent a refurbishment to modify its contemporary flair and under the guidance of interior designer Michele Leyland, Ginger has a fresh look but with the characteristics that it has developed over the last nine years. That, along with being awarded a Platinum Wine List Award from Diners Club International, the relaunch was seeing in a new era of dining at Ginger.
The Damselfly and I were the first guests to arrive the evening (seeing that it was a school night and all) so chose one of the best seats in the house. Right by the big windows with a view across the road towards Hobie Beach and Shark Rock Pier. It was dark though, and raining, but we wanted to sit there regardless. We were showed to the table and was served welcome drinks. Now I’m not a whiskey drinker, but the whiskey cocktail I got really wasn’t bad at all. Wonder if they would tell me what went into it so I can try making it at home next time somebody comes over. You know, that’s how you impress folk.
Ordinarily Ginger would have an a la carte menu but for one night only they had a Relaunch 7 course menu for diners to enjoy. First up was Amuse Bouche. Like I said, I’m not food expert or restaurant critic, so I had to turn to my friend Google to see what it meant. To quote Wikipedia, An amuse-bouche [aˌmyzˈbuʃ] (plural amuse-bouches) or amuse-gueule [aˌmyzˈɡœl] is a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre. Our Amuse Bouche was made up of rare beef, onion marmalade, blue cheese and guacamole on croutons. Bite sized? Probably more like two bites if you didn’t want to struggle to chew because of a overly full mouth. The Damselfly wouldn’t ordinarily do the blue cheese thing nor am I an avocado fan, but together this was a bite that ushered in a very enjoyable evening of dining. Ok, so now I also want to know how to make onion marmalade.
Next on the menu was the Starter consisting of poached crayfish, mussel, mange trout and seaweed salad all in an aromatic chorizo and saffron broth. When our waitress put the plates down I wondered why she had a teapot on the tray but it turned out to be the broth that she then poured over the seafood. The Damselfly who will always order seafood if it’s on the menu was over the moon and it probably came in as her third favorite of the dishes for the evening. You’ll see her top two below. Unfortunately it was my least favorite, but hey, I only learned to eat Sushi the other day. Please don’t misunderstand me, there was nothing wrong with it. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as what was to follow.
After a sorbet to cleanse the palate (no, I’m not posting a photo of sorbet), the first of two Tasting Plates were served. Lamb chop, herb crumb toasted cumin cauliflower pops, candied carrots and a chive mash finished with a natural lamb jus. If they had just served me a big plate of this I would not have wanted anything else for the rest of the meal. The first thing I tried was the cauliflower pops. Nice texture and slightly crispy. Man, I’ve got to try this at home. The lamb was soft, juicy and the spicing was perfect. If this was made outside over the fire, Justin Bonello of Ultimate Braai Master would have been seriously impressed. Candied carrots? No, not just sweet carrots. Candied like a toffee apple gets candied. Great combination along with the green mash. Perhaps I don’t do fine dining enough, but I approached the green mash with a Dr Seuss rhyme in the back of my head before recomposing myself. Can’t help but laugh looking back at that. This dish was definitely the favorite one with both of us.
The second Tasting Plate was made up of toasted beetroot risotto, pickled mushroom, home cured venison loan and finished with a smoked creme fraiche. The Damselfly once, many moons ago on a cruise we took, had a very bad risotto experience which often still comes up as a personal joke between us. She wasn’t so sure about this one. Me on the other hand dove straight in to find out what the risotto tasted like. A very peculiar taste and not bad at all. She picked a pickled mushroom off and said it tasted sour. This is where watching Master Chef comes in. It’s not about the individual components of the dish, but rather what they taste like as a combination. And no, they don’t just make that up as something to say on television. I piled a bit of everything onto my fork and took a bite. Mmmmm, now there’s a combination that talks to each other very civilised. This time around the shoe was on the other foot and I really enjoyed the dish while the Damselfly didn’t. It just shows that it is different strokes for different folks.
The Pre-Dessert was more like a different take on a palate cleanser and had a combination of fruit to start the transition from savory to sweet. Bring on Dessert.
Dessert came in a close second on both our favorite dish ratings although it could well have been a draw with the earlier lamb. Salted caramel ribbon, chocolate and Frangelica soil, ginger sponge accompanied with a smooth mango sorbet and mint leaves. This was chew your lips off lekker. If Ginger would package and sell the caramel ribbons I would probably have a standing order for them. Yet again the whole combination was a winner. We ended off our evening with coffees and then it was back to real life but with the memory of a great meal enjoyed in the perfect environment. That big boerseun from the Free State would probably have stopped for a burger afterwards, but we found the meal to have been just enough not to feel uncomfortably full, the flavours were perfect and the service excellent. Obviously I will have to come back another time to see what is on Ginger’s new menu. Now back to the salted caramel ribbons. Could I perhaps have the recip… Never mind.
Disclosure: I was invited to the re-launch by Ginger Restaurant as I work in the tourism industry and not as a blogger. They didn’t ask for a blog post to be written (and not being a food writer I don’t think they even thought I’ll post something about the meal) and I keep full editorial control over the post and content.
If you’re looking for fine dining in Port Elizabeth you don’t have to really look any further than Ginger Restaurant at the Beach Hotel across the road from Hobie Beach. The Damselfly and I were invited to come and try out their seven course relaunch set menu tonight. The restaurant has just had a complete refurbishment and along with a new award winning wine list, a menu to match, impeccable service and a very relaxed atmosphere, it definitely is a must for both locals and visitors alike looking for something a bit more – or more like a lot more – sophisticated than the local fast food takeaway joint.
I don’t think there is anybody out there (except obviously vegetarians or vegans) who doesn’t love a good steak. Not everybody can make a good steak though. I have tried many times and just can’t get it right. It’s always either done to much or not enough and I think the Damselfly may even have given up on me finally producing her the perfect steak. But there are those who CAN make the perfect steak and on my visit to Umhlanga recently I discovered just the place to enjoy it at. Unfortunately it’s just too far from home to do so on a regular basis.
The Butcher Block Restaurant is located on Umhlanga Ridge right next to the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga where we were staying. The nice part of staying at the Holiday Inn Express was that we could sign the bill to our room and only settle it along with the room bill on departure.
We decided to indulge a bit and go for starters as well before tucking into the steaks. The Damselfly loves mussels and I love cheese so she opted for the Mussel starter (Half shell mussels gently simmered with Chardonnay, garlic, mascarpone cheese and cream) while I went for the Camembert starter (Deep fried camembert cheese served with roasted almonds, fresh rocket, cranberry sauce and melba toast). Great options on both instances. Second tick for Butcher Block for the evening. The first being the great service we received from the moment we walked in. A greeting at the door, a greeting from a passing manager, a good table at the window and very attentive, brisk and extremely friendly service.
Then it was time to select our steaks. With a great variety it wasn’t easy though and we both probably changed our minds a couple of times while discussing the different options on the menu. The Damselfly eventually settled (although settled probably isn’t the word; more like excitedly chose) on the Camembert and Bacon sirloin steak (Steak with a delectable green peppercorn sauce topped with pan-fried bacon and Camembert cheese. My choice fell on one of their specials for the evening, a Fillet steak stuffed with jalapeno peppers, cheddar and mozzarella wrapped in bacon with a paprika infused butter on top When the steaks came we immediately knew we were in for a treat when we saw that they were flame grilled and cutting into them they were also done to perfection. The Damselfly’s medium rare and mine just over medium (so that a good vet can’t save it anymore). My better half also mentioned that the bacon on her steak definitely wasn’t just catering grade beacon fried in a pan as it had a distinct smoked taste and flavour to it. Both steaks came on very nicely presented plates and were served with chips. Steaks = tick number three and four.
My lovely wife having dessert
And talking of dessert. Although we weren’t really planning to have dessert after starters and mains, I decided to have a look at the menu anyway. With the Damselfly only having ice cream and chocolate sauce I decided to be a little more adventurous and try something else. I was torn between two options and hadn’t even finished asking the waiter which he would recommend when he said the Kahlua and Ice Cream Crepes. (Ice cream rolled in light crepes, drizzled with hot Bar One sauce topped with roasted almond flakes) I’m sure I could find somewhere to fit that in as well… Out came the plate with two pancakes filled with ice cream and accompanied by a shot of Kalua. My eyes went big but it tasted so yummy that I made sure I found enough space for all of it. Fifth tick goes to the dessert giving them a full house for the evening.
The verdict at the end of the night? Butcher Block can really be highly recommended and served us probably the best steaks we have ever had anywhere. And don’t just take my word for it. The next morning while waiting for our taxi to take us down to the beach we chatted to a British visitor who comes to the area at least once a year. He asked us about our plans for the day and told us that we definitely had to try the restaurant (Butcher Block) next door as it had the best steaks he’s ever had and he travels extensively. So next time I’m in Durbs and feels like a steak I know where I will be going.
Disclosure: We were invited for a weekend at the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga by the InterContinental Hotels Group and they carried all the costs for the weekend. They asked for a blog post to be written about the hotel itself but had no editorial input in the content of the post. This post I threw in extra as I can recommend the place with conviction.
Last weekend with Ironman we headed down to the beachfront to support the runners and set up our spot in front of McDonald’s. I don’t think I’ve ever posted a picture of the Dolphin’s Leap complex next to Bayworld and decided to snap a pic. Dolphin’s Leap is made up of mostly restaurants and pubs with places like Cool Bru Beach Bar, Beer Shack, Gondwana, Raasoie, Nando’s and Rocomamas as well as Surf Centre surf shop. A brand new conference centre is opening in the complex in the next week or two which will add to the business mix of the area.