Can We Toque?   Restaurant Review.   Alfie’s Pizzeria, Pretoria

One of my favourite cartoons shows a diner being offered a sprinkle of that horrible fake parmesan you can find. The caption: “Would Sir like his food to smell of vomit.”

No danger of anything unpleasant at the excellent Alfie’s Pizzeria in Pretoria, which is a relatively recent addition to the Alfie’s Empire. Indeed, the name is misleading. It is so much more than a pizza place.

They will serve you a large steak, a plate of excellent pasta, a range of sandwiches and cold platters, as well as the best pizzas I have tasted in a very long time.

The secret is simplicity. Like all the best Italian restaurants – or indeed all the best restaurants of any nationality – Alfie’s Pizzeria uses great ingredients and prepares them well.

The last pizza I had there was the Alfie’s special – superb cherry tomatoes, freshly sliced prosciutto, crumbled cheese on a beautiful base. The pizza oven is always working, with two or more pizza chefs who know their craft and perform it superbly.  With love.  And real parmesan.

If you are lucky enough to bump into Chef Patron Nicky Geerts (his friends call him Nicky;  I call him Nicholas), ask him to prepare you one of his pastas or gnocchi dishes. The man has a magic touch, even with something as simple as a few appetite-whetting crostini.

Pop into the adjacent deli and you will see the secret. Cold cabinets of real Italian ingredients. No parmesan from Potch or salami from Springs.   These treasures are for real and put the food at Alfie’s Pizzeria high above the norm.

The place is in a tree-lined side-street, and has both an indoor dining area and a terrace with tables. I find the latter a bit warm in summer, but there are fans to cool you down.

The wine list is limited but good, there is an excellent choice of draft and bottled beers, and a quite impressive range of cocktails.

So, the choice is yours. A beer and some pizza,  or a sandwich, or a three-course meal (and don’t get me started on the desserts, as I find it impossible to stop…).

The deli has its own seating area which is ideal for morning coffee, and there is a breakfast menu as well as.

If you don’t believe me, give it a try. But if you really prefer the dog-vomit encrusted pizzas which you so often find in South Africa, you may not be happy.  

Alfie’s Pizzeria has no pretention, but its standards are high.

NB: A block away from the pizza place you will find the original Alfie’s, an Italian restaurant run by a chap called….? You guessed it! Alfie. 

A more robust menu with more meat and fish and pasta dishes to choose from, and a chalk board of daily specials. No pretention here either. Just excellent food. The ice buckets leave a bit to be desired, and on my last visit I was presented with one made of flexible plastic, which looked more like a present pouch for a wine bottle than a sophisticated cooling device.  But it worked.

It is also worth being aware that these Italian hang-outs are in an area which is becoming very full of restaurants, and there currently isn’t much parking. However, if you find walking half a block from your car to the restaurant, you are perhaps not deserving of such impressive food.  
Rating:  I give it 5*

Key to the Ratings….

1*    Dog food is nicer

2*.   Cat food is nicer

3*.   Not bad if Woolworths is sold out of ready meals.

4*.   I like it

5*.   I love it.   Not to be missed.

Will a new SA investment promotion plan actually work?

This country needs to grow faster.  And it needs a spectacular jump in jobs.  It will only achieve these two goals with more investment. A lot more.   Billions and billions more.

So it was encouraging to see the President himself at the dti on Friday to launch a new InvestSA one-stop-shop for investors.

Not that he took it quite as seriously as he might have done.  He was 70 minutes late, which was not just a gross discourtesy to his own ministers and officials, but a way to send just the wrong message to the investors who were also there for the ceremony (nobody would have made the journey just for the food and non-existent booze).

The idea is sensible.  Gather together in one place all the agencies which currently entangle investors in red tape, and offer investors a way to fast-track all the approvals and licences, electricity supply and visas, and so on that they will need to get their projects off the ground.

Of course, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, for if this new anti-bureaucracy initiative does little to actually fast-track investment, it will have been a waste of everybody’s time, including that of our tardy President.

Let us give them the benefit of the doubt, though.  A similar model has worked elsewhere.

The President also referred to an important new hand-holding initiative, with one or more Ministers being assigned to each major new potential investment, to assist in clearing any obstacles which may lie in the face of aspirant investors.

An excellent initiative, but one which is difficult for we outsiders to monitor.  Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said he is hand-holding a big auto investment at Coega and a pharmaceutical one near Durban.  Fingers crossed.

And, of course, we do need more work to ensure investments do actually flow here.    Make it easy for the right people to come and go as they need to.

I remember quite a while back that the local CEO of BMW – a massive investor in SA – couldn’t get a work permit.  That sort of embarrassment cannot recur.

Meanwhile, the scandal of inept staffing at ORT International airport remains a massive stain on the country’s reputation.    The last time I met an international arrival, I had to wait at the arrivals gate almost two hours after disembarkation, as three planes had arrived at almost the same time, bringing many, many tired folk into the country.  And there were just four passport officials processing the long queues of international arrivals.  People were being misdirected to the wrong queues.

What a disgrace.  And such an easy problem to fix……. if you are not a petty bureaucrat in a country ravaged by petty bureaucracy, incompetence and corruption.

So good luck with the one-stop-shop.  Just beware of all those public sector one-stop-shoplifters.

Tweet of the Day (@famousquotenet):  There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong. – H.L. Mencken

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Can We Toque? A tale of two Tashas.

I have had many a meal at Tashas.   This chain of upper- middle-market restaurants is excellent at providing above-average food, good service and a bustling atmosphere.  And boy do they bustle.  No booking of a table here.  They are often full, and there are often queues for a table.  It is a successful chain, and normally deserves that success.


My buddy George wanted to meet me for lunch the other day and opted for the Melrose Arch Tashas.    This is a hugely popular, slightly-too-crowded-and-noisy place.

I arrived early and ordered a bottle of wine.  As so often, I gravitated towards Warwick and the delicious First Lady Chardonnay.   But trouble was lurking.

After about 10 minutes (with George installed as well) we asked where the wine was.  The answer was they didn’t have any but were “looking upstairs”.  Time dragged on, and they decided they did have a bottle, but it was too warm.  Would we like anything else?

Now I know that sometimes there is a wine on a wine list which is out of stock or not ready to serve, although this really should not be the case in a place with a very, very small selection of wines.

I ordered a glass of tap water.  Price: zero.

My plight and the smoke coming out of my ears attracted the attention of the lady manager, who was suitably apologetic, and soon found a bottle of my chosen wine, even offering it to me for free.   By then my mood had soured from pleasantly fruity to acidic vinegar, and I declined.   I finished my (very ordinary and not well constructed) toasted sandwich, and we left.   We were not charged for our meal, even though George had demolished a plate of very tasty looking salmon.

What was brilliant is the way in which they cared about a customer, even in a very busy restaurant, and even though the waitress had been terrible in not telling me from the start that my chosen wine was not going to arrive for a long, long, long time.      My sulk continues.

The following day, I was back in a Tashas, this time the one in Morningside, for breakfast with a dear friend – so dear that she picked up the bill.

Nothing really wrong with this meal, apart from one severlye irritating remark from the waiter.

I had ordered my favourite breakfast: two eggs, four slices of bacon and two of toast.  And go easy on the foliage.   There may be a place for rocket, but it ain’t on my plate.

The waiter’s response was a classic, which I will remember to my dying day (pretty soon if I don’t go easy on the bacon).

He said I couldn’t have four rashers of bacon: “We do three or six.”

My response was that I expected four rashers to be brought to the table, or the manager.  They decided I would be happier with the four rashers.  And the breakfast was very good, once we had resolved the rasher ration quandary.

Am I planning a boycott of Tashas?  No.   Although quite pricy for what it is, it has a good formula, OK coffee, and does some food very well.

And I do admire a place which tries to resolve a customer’s complaints, rather than a restaurant which regards the customer as the problem (see previous postings).

Tweet of the Day

Shit Jokes (@ShitJokes): When I was young, I was adopted by a man called Daz. He’s my non-biological father.

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Can we Toque? Reviewing Bellinis and Turn ‘n Tender. And the mis-steak-en search for a good steak

A missed-steak-en quest.

What is a sandwich?    In my experience, it is two pieces of bread with a filling, or if you are into Nordic style, it can be one slice topped with, well, toppings.

I am partial to a good sandwich, and my mate George loves a good steak.  It was a Monday and our first choice of venue was closed for lunch, so we opted for Bellinis, which is just off Oxford Road in Illovo.

We arrived early and it was pretty empty, but soon filled up.   We were welcomed by a lady with a face so grumpy that I wondered if we had stumbled into an above-ground dominatrix place.  As warm welcomes go, this had gone some time ago.

There was an excellent wine choice on 2 chalk boards, with food specials on the 3rd, and I opted for the ever-reliable, nicely-chilled, Haute Cabriere Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend.

I wasn’t that hungry, so skipped the starter, while George opted for fish cakes. He claims that these are a good barometer of the quality of a restaurant. They were cold in the middle, and he found a fish bone in one. Not good.

George ordered a steak, and I went for a steak sandwich. It was the strangest sandwich I have ever been served.   On the plate were two slices of hard, dry, tasteless, awful toast.  A Rock of Gibraltar-shaped lump of fillet was placed between the slices.  It was nice meat, but cooked with abstraction and indifference.

I questioned the layout and was told by an even fiercer-faced assistant dominatrix that this is how they do their steak sandwiches.  It went back, and that was the end of the meal for me.

George’s steak was OK but not memorable.

So for our next steak experience we opted for the nearby Turn ‘n Tender steakhouse in the Illovo Centre.

It took a while to place our orders with the mumbling waiter.  I had a blue cheese burger, which was a bit heavy, but was served with a generous jacket potato.  However, the small pack of butter on the side was liquid and I wondered how long (hours, days, weeks?) it had stood at room temperature.

The wine was a safe choice – a bottle of red Warwick 1st Lady.  It was way, way, way, way, way too warm, and one wondered whether they had mistakenly put the wine on the grill instead of the meat.  Ice cubes were required to lower the temperature, but they diluted the wine too much and it was not a great pleasure to drink.

George opted for the sirloin, which was on special, and which he ordered medium rare.   It arrived way overcooked with a basting sauce which was layered on top.  The problem is that he did not like the basting sauce and had asked for it to be left off.  There seems to be a serious problem of communication between the waiters, who ask you what you would like, and the cooks, who serve you the steaks as they wish to cook them.

We had arrived a bit late, but even so it was disconcerting that the staff installed themselves en-masse at a nearby table for their lunch.   Don’t charge restaurant prices and expect your guests to dine in the staff canteen.

I gather that despite this experience, George returned for dinner with a visiting friend, and the meat was undercooked, cold in the middle.    It was sent back.

No tip was offered at the end, which led to a protest from the waiter.

It was not a successful steak search for George.  He had to send back his meat in the Wanderers Club because it was clearly not fresh at yet another lunch rdv.

The quest continues.


Tweets of the Day

Stansaid Airport (@StansaidAirport): Old Benny there was just saying ‘when one door closes, another door opens!’ Lovely man, terrible shuttle bus driver.

Stansaid Airport (@StansaidAirport): BBC: Court convicts Glasgow man of printing counterfeit notes and orders him to pay £100,000. I don’t think they’ve thought this through.

Mark Twain (@TheMarkTwain):  A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.

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Die Vine Intervention: Fleur du Cap. Noble Late Harvest

Noble and not that often late Michael Olivier talks us through another Cape sweetie: the Fleur du Cap Noble Late Harvest 2013.

The tasting panel was hosted by John Fraser consists of Prospoa’s Dino Fagas, Tersos’ Gantcho Mantchorov  and Absa’s sharpest tongue Chris Gilmour.

Malcolm Mac Donald provided the technical flair.

Check out the noble and only-a-few-months-late podcast:

Die Vine Intervention: Nuy Rooi Muscadel

The tasting panel returns with a sweet and luscious Rooi Muscadel from Nuy, introduced with his usual flair and authority by the sweet and luscious Michael Olivier.

The Johannesburg studio avoids all sour notes with Absa’s Chris Gilmour, Tersos’ Gantcho Mantchorov and Prosopa’s Dino Fagas.

John Fraser was in charge of the bad jokes, while Malcolm MacDonald applied his technical magic.

Click here for the podcast: