DINE4SIX: A Great Dining Experience

Lamb rack, mint jelly, horseradish

Do you enjoy good food? Eating out? But have no-one to go with? Then sign up for a dining experience with DINE4SIX. I attended a DINE4SIX event recently  and cannot recommend it highly enough. DINE4SIX is a platform through which people (six at a time) wanting to eat out can sign up for a restaurant dinner, together with people they haven’t necessarily met before.

The DINE4SIX event I attended was at an Umhlanga

A view of the ceiling in the private dining room at The Chefs Table, Umhlanga

restaurant called The Chefs Table. Now, a ‘chef’s table’ (notice the apostrophe) is a special dining experience that takes place in the kitchen of a restaurant. The chef serves a tasting menu to a small group of people explaining each course as it is served. So, a chef’s table is about fine dining. DINE4SIX combines these two concepts – meeting new people and fine dining – into one

Chicken thigh press, miso, shimeji, shiitake custard by Kayla-Ann Osborn

unique occasion. And the one I attended happened to be at the restaurant The Chefs Table.

Every one of the six people at my table agreed that getting to know the other diners really made the occasion.

‘I love meeting interesting people and learning about other points of view,’ said Barbie, a principal at a local school, at the end of the meal.

And Prabashni, another diner and architect at a local firm, said ‘We are all very different, but the common experience of appreciating food together made those differences acceptable.’ And that really is the key. Signing up for the experience (which you can do through the website https://dine4six.com) ‘takes the apprehension and difficulty out of meeting new people by hosting events that allow you to meet new and interesting people over a casual dinner at some of your city’s finest restaurants.’ (https://dine4six.com).

And a fine restaurant The Chefs Table certainly is. Our tasting menu – created by executive chef Kayla-Ann Osborn – consisted of six courses of beautifully presented food that included squid, pork, beef, chicken, lamb, and salted caramel dessert. My brief description really doesn’t do the dishes justice. I tasted things that included ‘murdered leek’, edible gold, pea brûlée (my favourite) and shiitake custard. I particularly enjoyed the Crispy squid with green curry, and the lamb rack, while my neighbour, Pat, said one of his favourites was the Angus beef Carpaccio and white anchovy.

I was the only teetotaler amongst us while all the others were served a different wine with each

P.S. I love you, salted caramel, biscuit tuile, blond chocolate, vanilla ice cream (notice the gold leaf) by Kayla-Ann Osborn

course by Mundy, a wine steward who is working up to be a sommelier. There is an option when booking to choose the meal with or without wine pairing.

Our party finally left The Chefs Table when the restaurant was closing and not another soul was in sight. Our late departure was probably because we had been talking so much. At this stage the handshakes that had opened our evening were dispensed with; everyone hugged their goodbyes and made their tired ways home. I hope I meet my fellow diners again some day. Bon appetit!

Dine4Six diners

 

Snowy Transformations

I arrived in a freezing Germany on 9 December 2017. My goal: to visit the Christmas market at Marienplatz, Germany. Bundled up in five layers of my paltry southern hemisphere winter wear, my eyes watering in the cold, I braved the outdoor experience alongside my husband.

A gluhwein stand

The atmosphere was marvellous. Stands of hot chocolate and gluhwein steamed invitingly in the biting air, while visitors and tourists waddled past in their padded coats. Just taking off my gloves to examine little goodies at the stands froze my bony fingers. Shopkeepers helpfully spoke English when I looked blank at the German tongue, and people seemed generally cheerful despite the minus one degree Celcius temperature. It took three trips to the market before I had decided on what to buy. South African Rands don’t make much of a dent in Euros. And, to my practical mind, many of the ornaments and trinkets, nice as they were, wouldn’t have been very useful.

I settled on buying traditional food. The stand that got my Euros was the one

A strange kissing companion

that offered tasting samples and I enthusiastically bought packs of stollen (a fruit bread) and lebkuchen (a ginger-type biscuit) for friends and family back home after nibbling the delicious little blocks.

We had just got back to our hotel room when it began to snow in earnest. I was delighted. In two hours every horizontal surface I could see was covered in soft whiteness. But of course, with icy weather comes travel problems. My departing aeroplane that night had to undergo special de-icing procedures before it could safely take off. I have to say that this was the best part of my trip. Because I have a cockpit pass I was permitted to sit in the cockpit for taxi and takeoff and what a view I got. Before taking off the Airbus A340 was surrounded by three giant de-icing vehicles. Like weird-looking Transformers (I think the creators of the film based their models on these machines), the trio scooted back and forth around the wings and tail spraying 60 degree Celcius liquid across its surface. Using a checklist designed for such conditions the pilots did all the requisite checks and procedures before lifting off the icy runway. Beneath us the whitened landscape twinkled in gentle yellow lights until it disappeared beneath a layer of cloud.

Winter lights

What a treat. Sitting in the cockpit was much more exciting than any movie I could have watched on the aeroplane’s entertainment system.

My funny husband

Mince pie journeys

 In the first week of my Christmas UK holiday I have had seven mince pies. That’s one per day. Five of those have been in different locations. My first munch was at a Carol service at St Helen’s Bishopsgate in central London. This centuries-old church has excellent acoustics and the small choir and soloist needed no amplification for their voices to ring out above the hundreds of singing congregants. After singers concluded the evening with “O come, all ye faithful” servers brought round spicy mulled wine and mince pies. Yum.

img_0073My next mince pie venue was in the little village of Biggleswade. Where? Yes, that’s what several long-time London residents asked me too. Biggleswade is in Bedfordshire at the end of a countryside one-hour train journey from King’s Cross Station. It’s quiet, but growing, assured my cousin, who has lived there for 30 or so years. And in fact a long time ago there was “The Great Fire of Biggleswade”. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “The Great Fire of London”. Never mind that. My cousin’s home-made mince pies in her bright home filled with Christmas decor and family memories were so yummy I had two of them.

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Red Cafe Wonderland

As my daughter and I ascend the staircase to Red Cafe I feel like I have stepped with Alice into Wonderland.

“The owner suffers, like, really badly from insomnia,” says fourth-year student daughter. Of course then, as we pass the lady at the front desk, I can’t help noticing the simply  enormous bags under her eyes.

“Just a thought,” I say to daughter, “don’t you think running a coffee shop might worsen her insomnia…?” Is it me or does the very same proprietor seem to work at double speed ringing up the till for waiting patrons, flashing away at the keys with a sort of caffeine-fueled energy?

Daughter and I step out onto the deck which is nestled quietly next to the leaves of a tree. The height and shrubbery shield us from the ordinary Grahamstown life below, adding to the fairy tale feel. While waiting for our red cappuccino and avocado shake , I glance across at a couple seated nearby. They breathe not a word to each other for the entire time we are there. And the young man is calmly painting his forearms. After surreptitiously investigating we discover that said young man is painting makeup foundation over tattoos on his inner arms. How curious. Perhaps he’s going to a job interview we wonder?

Even closer to our table is another man. Unlike the painter, this man is accompanied only by a vast bowl of cutlery. To say he isn’t talking to the cutlery would just be silly. But he does seem infinitely more fond of his silvery companion than the painter is of his friend. Even curiouser.

Action speeds up. Our waiter trips across to our table, sloshing my drink into its saucer.

“Oops,” he says cheerfully, “my nickname is Wobbles.” At the same time a tall, slender woman in a denim skirt walks past aiming for the table in the corner. As she sits down the raucous-harmonious sounds of a live singing group fill the air from below. I look up just in time to see the woman’s bearded profile come into view.

Is Red Cafe always like this? Or only at National Arts Festival time of year? I can’t tell. It has an atmosphere all of its own. One of a kind. I’d like to say I highly recommend Red Cafe. That you should go because you’ll have a unique experience. Problem is, I’m not quite sure if I’m dreaming or not…

Shepherding satiated student daughter downstairs after paying our bill to the night owl I say, “Come Alice, it’s time to go.”

Coffee time, with the professionals

Photo: Brenda Daniels

Photo: Brenda Daniels

Picture: Sha Coetzee (left) and Anthony Abiet at the official opening of vida e caffé, La Lucia Mall, Durban, on Thursday 22 May 2014.

Anthony, the exuberant General Manager at vida, educated customers on the opening day about some of the intricacies of how the café makes their coffees. This includes the correct coffee-making techniques, such as time taken to draw the water and temperature to which the milk is heated.

It also involves the customer service process; ordering at one end of the counter and delivering at the other. Another important aspect is the coffee “experience”; the store at La Lucia is a particularly nice-looking one, with cork finishes and oak surfaces, and staff are trained to make “customers friends”.

Sha Coetzee is a customer-come-friend. She has been patronising vida for many years, popping in to a store daily, sometimes twice a day. She started visiting vida in Cape Town first and is now a faithful customer in Durban.

Like Sha, I love going out for a good cappuccino and don’t feel I’ll ever dabble in the art of “proper coffee-making” at home. Many people do though and according to my son-in-law, Stuart Turton, “Durban is experiencing a kind of resurgence toward home-produced coffee.” You can go really big (for example a Bezera Italian machine which a friend reports now costs almost R20,000) or start small. The vida website, for instance, demonstrates a very natty little thing called a capsule machine. My son-in-law has started his coffee endeavours with a “moka pot” and a hand-held milk frother (see the picture below). The, er, jar in the background of the photo is the stage I’m at… Which is why I need to go out for coffee!

Photo: Robyn Turton

Photo: Robyn Turton

Melanzane pops up as quite delicious

A review by Brenda Daniels

Do you know what Melanzane is? I didn’t until a recent lunch with two friends at a lovely home restaurant in Durban North. The eatery we visited was a “pop-up restaurant” run by MasterChef S.A., Joani Mitchell. It is held on select days during the month of April at a beautiful big house in Old Mill Way.

Our little round table was set for three with unmatched crockery, ivory-handled knives and an embroidered tablecloth. It was peaceful while gazing across the wooded, coloured-leaf garden, filled with plants well suited to tropical KwaZulu-Natal. And lavishly decorated as it was, even a visit to the loo didn’t diminish the charming ambience.

Back to the Melanzane; after some enquiry and a quick Google search I learnt that this Italian dish is made with brinjal (aubergine) and layered with tomato in a cheese sauce before being baked like lasagne. Yum!

And yummy it turned out to be. I vowed right away to look up the recipe when I got home so I could make it for myself. While we were enjoying our meal, the chef visited our table and explained that she used a combination of haloumi, mozzarella and cheddar cheese to make the dish more tasty.

But even more interesting was her reason for including this dish on her menu. Many patrons had asked Joani to offer meals and snacks that fitted with the new Tim Noakes diet (the controversial new one advocating high fat and protein with low carbohydrates). She obliged with the Melanzane, using rice flour instead of wheat flour to exclude the use of refined carbs.

Whether I support Noakes’ “caveman” diet or not is beside the point here. Our enjoyable luncheon, finished off with Rooibos tea in dainty china cups, was delicious, elegant and relaxing. I didn’t feel like a caveman at all.

Follow Joani Mitchel on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MCSA.JoaniMitchell.

(Left to right) Isabelle Luker, Lee Currie, Brenda Daniels (all freelance journalists) enjoy a lovely luncheon. (Photo: Waitress Akhona)

(Left to right) Isabelle Luker, Lee Currie, Brenda Daniels (all freelance journalists) enjoy a lovely luncheon. (Photo: Waitress Akhona)