As essentially a luxury business, the restaurant industry is particularly vulnerable to the recession. Not even all the cribbing of expense accounts by British parliamentarians could save some London Michelin stars, and in the United States bankruptcies of upmarket eateries are at their grimmest in decades; New York restaurants, especially sushi bars, are flopping as easily as Broadway shows.
Readers of Once Bitten may know that with few exceptions and unless otherwise stated reviews here are based on at least three visits. A few restaurants I’d designated to feature have sadly closed in the interim. Waiters were told in mid-shift at Riboville that they were out of a job; the gates of this spectacularly converted bank were padlocked by nightfall. Other closures include the Showroom, Summerville, 48 on Hout. Union UASA’s April employment report claims 1400 restaurants went under this past year.
Many eateries on Kloof Street are offering massive discounts, but with such thin margins in the food business, this practice is unlikely to keep them afloat. Unless it serves as a loss leader for value added products such as alcohol, all that happens is regular patrons pay less than they were prepared to or they eat more for the same price, compounding the loss.
If you thought you could no longer afford eating out, consider the Eastern Food Bazaar in what used to be the Wellington Fruit Growers Market. This narrow 1934 building forms a corridor from Long Market to Darling Street. I remember as a kid running the gauntlet of dried fruits, nuts, mebos and sugared fruit cubes. An upmarket reinvention of the food court concept by the owners of the Jewel of India in the Waterfront, it is currently offering unbelievable prices with meals from R20 to R30, relying on high turnover, no frills services and volume.
The walls are now lined with Moghul paintings, highly ornate wooden screens, and carved doors framed by columns to create a faux Indian lane; the floor is paved with stones to suggest a cobbled road; from the sitting area roof, hang chandeliers and wooden buckets. Chairs and tables, some with granite tops (no plastic here), stand along one side opposite a battery of stainless steel food stalls with chefs jabbering to each other in several languages. Halfway there’s a basin with taps to wash your hands. You order and pay at a central counter and collect the food with your chit from your chosen stall. The food is prepared fresh before you.
Together with the exotic smells, and the lively, bustling crowd, the atmosphere is jolly and congenial. The clientele are from all walks of life. I recognised administrators from parliament, city labourers, salaried office workers. At peak lunch hours, the queues (many for takeaways) are a bit daunting, thinning out after 2:30pm.
Most of the stalls are Indian, but there is an Istanbul stall that dishes up shwarma and hummus (R30) with perfectly cooked chips and a salad garnish. Humus with a pita bread is just R10. Having just returned from Istanbul, I can vouch their falafel (R20) is not as nutty, but it’s the genuine article, heavier and greener than what you find in most of our Greek restaurants.
The ‘China Town’ stall serves chicken (R30), paneer (R25) or vegetables (R25), Manchurian or Sechwen style, each either ginger or chilli, with fried rice and noodles.
At Bombay Bites they do a vegetable curry of the day. The dal makani on rice at R15 is simple, but unbeatable value. The Kebab counter serves tandoori chicken, tikka lamb and sheik kebab.
At the Punjabi Counter I tried their lamb rogan josh (R30). It was tasty, but more mutton than lamb; at these prices it is obviously not going to be a cube cut from prime meat. The lamb mince, pea and pot curry (R25) is a better option and cheaper. Unfortunately you have to go to a separate queue to collect your naan bread (R6).
The Madras Dosa House serves superb dosa (R20). This is a south Indian speciality, a crisp lentil pancake accompanied by a spicy traditional sambar and green chutney. The chef spreads a thin disc of batter on a hot iron plate, and builds up a tasty potato filling before folding it in. The only other place in Cape Town that serves dosa is Masala Dosa on Long Street.
The bazaar has now also opened a coffee bar and an ice cream counter, serving lassi and “natural” ice cream.
This is recession proof dining. Let’s hope the prices last.
Eastern Food Bazaar, The Wellington. Open 11am to 9:30pm. Tel: 021 461 2458.
Published in the M&G June 2009 http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-06-20-bazaarly-affordable