Leading Edge: SA’s food for thought in Aussie kitchen

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

EVEN the best restaurants get things wrong, nevermind those who cannot be counted among the best.

At one of the latter, a spot on Cape Town’s Mouille Point, customers were amazed to be told the place had run out of bread. They knew of at least two excellent – and open – bakeries within three minutes’ walk.

A few months ago in that city that good manners forgot, Joburg, an Illovo cafe manager accused a patron of counterfeiting for daring to pay part of the bill with a stack of newly-minted R5 coins that had been spat out as change from a nearby parking machine.

And try getting decent service anywhere in Durban in December. Perhaps all the competent waitrons have gone home to Zimbabwe for Christmas. Perhaps all the rest think they’ve been crucified. Perhaps they should be.

Right now Faf du Plessis and Russell Domingo run a restaurant that got things badly wrong the last time we visited for a proper meal.

That wasn’t for the fun but frivolous fandango that was the one-day series against Australia. What was 5-0 and all that? A palate cleanser.

How we needed one after last season, when little was well done and even medium was rare. Five out of eight tests went vrot in the faulty fridge of defeat, the No. 1 ranking was burnt to a crisp No. 7, and the star chef – Dale Steyn – kept lopping off his fingertips with his cook’s knife.

But here’s the thing with restaurants that get things wrong: what matters is how they fix them.

Had the Mouille Pointlessnesses said, “We’re all out of bread but someone’s fetching a piping hot batch of loaves as we speak”, or had the Joburg jerk come back from the brink of bumptiousness to say, “Actually, what shiny new coins! And thanks for all the change”, things would have been fixed and the customers they miffed might have been inclined to return.

Not that will be quite so straightforward for Du Plessis and Domingo and the rest of the South African squad who, from Thursday, will feel the heat of the kitchen that is a test series in Australia.

They have, of course, started to fix things by slicing and dicing New Zealand in their test series in August.

But roasting a couple of kiwi birds is a damn sight less difficult than getting a kangaroo onto the spit, much less cooking it properly.

Everybody is on the same side in a decent restaurant. The customers want to eat good food. The kitchen wants to prepare good food. The waitrons want to serve that good food well. The management want the staff to sell and serve good food well enough to make those customers want to come back.

That’s not the case in a cricket match, where one team’s meat is the other’s poison.

Nevertheless South Africa have a chance to fix what went wrong. Best they don’t spoil the broth.

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