Published in the Mail & Guardian, 11 June 2010
Our government, whether national or the opposition in regional power, seem almost unable to do anything without somehow involving food (and wine): gala dinners, banquets, talk shops, networking lunches, conferences, and perhaps the most ironical of all a couple of hundred million spent on budget vote parties this last quarter. Unfortunately, one look at our portly ruling class and you can see where they put it all.
But political animals, party hacks, technocrats and policy wonks (for that matter journalists and artists too), need places to quietly network over a meal (hopefully on their own account). One of their favourite haunts and with a sterling reputation was Rozenhof. It was quite a blow to many last year when after 25 years, the proprietor Robert Mulders was forced to close doors due to rental hikes. The landlords have subsequently paved over the little garden and turned this charming historical house into an office park.
The good news is Mulders has now opened a new restaurant, and one right on parliament’s doorstep, in Idasa’s (the Institute for Democracy in Africa) building.
Six Spin Street, is a clean, welcoming, airy space shared with a first-rate new bookshop. The building dates from 1902, and the elegant vaulted interior with wooden furnishings (patrons will recognise from Rozenhof), has a working fireplace for winter.
Spin Street, so close to our political epicentre, actually derived its name from a failed experiment in silk-spinning set up on this spot by Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel 300 years ago.
Books, food and conversation make a lovely combination, still further enhanced by the spectacular artwork on display commissioned by Idasa. Quite apposite to the philosophy of this establishment is Brendhan Dickerson and Petra Keinhorst’s giant figurative mobile, In the Balance, made of bronze and stainless steel, a metaphor for participatory government, stressing the need to balance the weights of different stakeholders to achieve a harmonious democracy.
For lunch, the restaurant offers a parliamentarian’s and business set menu, what they call A Quick Spin. Within 50 minutes they guarantee, you’ll have your starter, main course, a glass of very good wine and coffee for R150. A typical menu is a choice or chilled cucumber and yoghurt soup or a mixed six leaf salad with sprouts and a soya orange vinaigrette, followed by a choice between fresh salmon trout on extra fine beans with hollandaise sauce, or a lamb and rosemary pie.
You have a good chance of spotting well-known public figures, the likes of Dr Buthelezi; Barbara Hogan was in the other day.
The dinner menu has a few favourites from the former establishment, starters such as the sizzling hot cheese soufflé (R70). I do hope Mulders brings back his legendary guinea fowl and the crispy duck. Currently, mains include Moroccan lamb with couscous (R165), roast fillet (R160) with mustard crust, mushroom ragout and Béarnaise sauce, linefish (R105) with fennel crust and Pernod butter sauce. For dessert, you might try their panna cotta with Smyrna figs (R40).
I have only eaten here once, but if the standards of Rozenhof are maintained, you can dine here with confidence.