Can We Toque? Alfie’s


I do love good food.   So when a house-guest recently asked where I would like to go for dinner, as a way of thanking me for his stay, it wasn’t hard to suggest we went to Alfie’s in Hazelwood in Pretoria.
This family restaurant does everything I like: simple but delicious grub.
The wine list is pretty limited, but we opted for a really enjoyable bottle: the Saronsberg Provenance 2015 Shiraz.  It went well with everything we ordered.   It went too fast!  It died too young.
Alfie’s has a small, but well-chosen menu, and also a series of daily specials.   Three of us were dining, and two of us opted for the ravioli, beautifully stuffed with cheeses and brinjals, in a rosé cream sauce.
The other starter was also a pasta dish from the specials – raviolini stuffed with hake.
Both choices were correctly al dente, superbly flavoured.   Excellent.
Unfortunately, I was pretty peckish on arrival, so gobbled up a couple of slices of the really tasty focaccia bread.  I loved it, although it would have been perfect if it had been warmed through.   This took the edge off my appetite, but I can hardly blame the restaurant for my own greed.
I thought I would give the risotto with bell peppers a go, and was very happy.  It was quite rich, but rightly so, beautifully creamy – and the rice was superbly cooked.
The others had veal escalopes with ham and cheese, and the salmon.    All good.   The veal and fish were both tasty and well prepared.
Only one of us had room for a dessert – the tiramisu – which was good and vanished at an impressive pace.
There is no pretention at Alfie’s, and our waitress was friendly and efficient, despite the place being packed with groups of happy diners.
I wasn’t paying, but believe the bill for three came to around R1 500.
Alfie’s is part of a small empire of restaurants in Pretoria’s flourishing ‘The Village’ cluster and is just a block away from the excellent Alfie’s Pizzeria, which has a different menu but demonstrates the same attention to quality.  You won’t find a better pizza in Pretoria.
My rating?  4.5*
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.

Silly Celliers Backs down.

Jacques Celliers, CEO First National Bank

With the troubled SAA in the headlines so much, it was inevitable that much attention was given to a recent tweet by FNB CEO Jacques Celliers, in which he pledged to stop using the airline.

This was not just an annoyed aside from a frequent flyer, but was a boycott by the head of one of our major banks.

Yet by Friday, Celliers was pictured smiling sheepishly alongside Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, having kissed and made up.  They were even clutching wine glasses to toast the new accord.  (The Treasury, of course, is in charge of SAA.)

So what went right/went wrong?

A quick internet search of the shareholders of RMB (which is the listed parent of FNB), shows that the PIC, which is the custodian of state pension funds, holds about 8%.   Not a massive share, but enough to be a voice from the State to which attention must be paid.

Then, of course, there are bound to be many billions in government dealings with FNB/RMB, which is another lever which could be pulled tight around the neck of grinning Celliers.

We may never know what provoked his U-Turn, but that does not detract from its significance.

It came as a batch of leading CEOs had been meeting Gigaba to discuss corruption and other important issues.

This apparent show of force by Gigaba put the FNB boss firmly in his place, and suggests that next time a senior business leader decides to make a strong political statement, he or she will do so at their peril.

One again it shows that you should think carefully before you tweet. Unless you want to emerge as a prize twit.

Whine Celliers. But will it lead to SAA Reform?


Jacques Celliers, CEO First National Bank

I am not quite sure what to make of this tweet from a top bank boss:

Jacques Celliers (‪@CelliersJ1)

2017/08/14, 06:36

As from today I’m not flying on SAA anymore .. instead I’ll be supporting the honourable alternatives .. this abuse has to come to an end!

The head of FNB has a good point, but is Celliers being a bit celly?  Certainly, if SAA were in the rail business, they would be a train wreck.  Corruption at Board level, unpleasant flying experiences, and an ability to burn cash at the speed of sound.  Airline fractures all over the place.

Few South African can be happy about the current state of affairs – and I, for one, would celebrate the privatisation or closure of SAA.  This is a jumbo airline disaster and  a national disgrace.

However, Celliers works for a banking group which has come off badly in previous skirmishes with government.

In 2017, Paul Harris, who then headed FNB’s parent group RMB, got into hot water with government over an anti-crime advertising campaign which appeared to attack government.

In January 2013, Celliers’ predecessor Michael Jordaan was in trouble over a YouTube campaign featuring children, some of whom were critical of government.

So there are worrying precedents for the current FNB boss to fret about.   Government has massive economic clout, and if it wants to punish FNB it certainly has the ability to do so.

However, there has been a recent tendency for business to be more critical of government, and of state-owned parasitals like SAA.

So maybe Celliers will get away with it?”

He certainly has my support.


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Can We Toque?     Padbok, Brooklyn, Pretoria



I have only once had Thai food in Thailand.  I was in transit at Bangkok airport and dined in the restaurant there.   Absolutely magnificent stuff, which delighted my palate and disrupted my digestive system.   I then had a long flight back to Europe, in a window seat.   My neighbours got little sleep that night as I clambered over them several times to dash to the recycling facilities.

At its best, Thai food can be fragrant, full-of-flavour and well-spiced.   I have eaten very spicy dishes, which may well be more authentic than the toned-down stuff I prefer these days, but I tend to go easy on the chili after that meal at the airport.

There may be better Thai restaurants in Pretoria than Padbok, but I have yet to discover one, and while Padbok is a rather strange place, I do love going there.

It is a vast restaurant with very little atmosphere and clumsy service.  However, the food is excellent.   The kitchen opens on to the restaurant, and the chefs clearly know what they are doing, as the food is cooked and served briskly.

Three of us went along for lunch, and had a varied and enjoyable meal, ordering enough for some doggie bags to be required.

My favourite starter dish was the beef salad, which had excellent flavour, a nice mix of meat and salad ingredients, although the beef was a bit fatty.   We shared a generous portion of chicken satays, which I found a bit dry and slightly underwhelming, but the others enjoyed them.  The prawn spring rolls were tasty, but there was a lot more pastry than prawn, which was a shame.

For mains, I went straight for the Chicken Panang Curry, an exquisite balance of flavours, which went well with the plain steamed rice.    The stir-fried beef with chili and basil contained more green beans than beef, and was a bit too spicy for me.  I was outvoted on that one.    I loved the stir-fried sweet and sour chicken, even though it was initially a bit dry – as the meat rested on the sauce, which had not been well mixed-in, to coat the battered chicken.     The fried prawns in tamarind sauce, topped with crispy garlic and shallot, was excellent – as was the Pad Thai dish of noodles with prawns.

There was no room for dessert.  We shared a bottle of sparkling water and a Glen Carlou Chardonnay 2015m, which was quite wooded and went well with the food.

The restaurant also has quite a range of sushi, which I did not try.  I prefer cooked food.

Although we had ordered five main dishes, only four initially arrived, and I had to prompt the waitress to find the other one. There is a reasonable wine list, but they tend to run out of stock, and one wonders at this lack of attention to detail.

With tip, the bill came to R850.

Would I go back?  I do a lot.  It has its faults, but the food, in general, is very good.

Rating:  I give it a 4*

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.

Anything for the Weekend? The future of car ownership.

Many years ago when politicians were admired and the earth was flat, barbers would ask their male customers if they wanted “anything for the weekend”?  A discreet way of checking whether they needed a pack of condoms.

Toyota, whose products have even more safety features than most condoms, has also been thinking how to make the weekends different, special, fun.

At a seminar this week on the State of the Motor Industry, Toyota’s financial services head Marius Burger looked ahead to a time when people won’t own a car, but will have the use of several.

As well as financing plans which cover the use of a car, to be returned or paid-off at the end of a servicing period, he is looking at a even more flexible product.

“People will pay for a transport solution rather than a vehicle,” he suggested.  “We may offer a platform with more than one vehicle.”

It appears to work through the driver buying a number of points each month, and being able to trade them for the use of a choice of different vehicles, as required.

You could opt for a runaround for the week, and a 4×4 for the bush for the weekend.

You could hire something sexy and sleek to take the mistress out for dinner, and something more modest to drive the wife to the shops.

There would of course have to be all sorts of infrastructure for the pick-up and drop-off of vehicles, but that is not beyond the wit of man. Or woman.  Not too dissimilar schemes with bikes in London already run effectively.

Over half of people who want to purchase a car have their financing application rejected, which is one reason why Toyota, with presumably all the other auto firms, is looking at ways to open the market for more people. Burger believes there are huge opportunity to grow the market through these sort of innovative products which look at use, not ownership.

And just imagine the disruptive effects – and the new opportunities  for Uber, for the car hire firms…..

For a long time there have been businesses which can hire you a TV, a computer, a companion, for an hour, a day, a week…..  Why not have permanent, yet temporary use of a car?

You may never own a car again.  But, then, you won’t need to.

Tweet of the Day

@CharlesMBlow: Say what you want about Obama, but I never once worried about a damned nuclear war…