My friend Terri made this cupcake. This cupcake is made with beer, and let-me-tell-you-something, readers: it is delicious.
Boston Breweries’ Naked Mexican, their Corona-esque pale lager, is in both the sponge and white icing, and although it was just the result of a late night experiment in a kitchen with too much beer in it – as if that’s a real problem – it’s actually really good. It turns out that the ubiquitous pale lager lends itself surprisingly well to baking, but, oddly enough, it’s in the icing that the beer’s pronounced bready and yeasty notes shine though. Topped with lime zest, it’s a little summertime cake that cheered up a cold winter’s night.
P.S.: If you’ve been thinking of baking with beer, you should go right ahead! It’s great! Just a word of warning though: cupcakes made with beer tend to go stale and hard really quickly. (Unless they’re made with Guinness, which, for some reason, tends to stay moist and rich. Caveats galore!)
We use Castle Lager at home to make our beer batter. It’s cheap, heavily filtered and makes a smooth, light batter that’s perfect for home deep-frying.
Add a touch of cayenne pepper to your batter for colour and foundation. You’re looking for lightness to accompany the calamari here, not heavy flavour to overpower it.
Cape Town is market city; Hout Bay is market town. Just down the road from the tourist trap stalls of the decades-old Lions Craft Market and yappy curio sellers by Mariners Wharf is a colourful and gratifyingly authentic indoor market.
In an old harbourside warehouse, made complete with wafts of rotting fish from nearby factories and docks, a hundred or so vendors of all kinds set up shop to form what is perhaps Hout Bay’s best shopping experience. (It’d be its best eating experience too, if it weren’t for Massimo’s.). Although seemingly only a godsend in comparison with Hout Bay’s other marina markets, the truth is that the Bay Harbour Market is one of the Western Cape’s best: chic but relaxed; free of posturing and entirely good-natured; buzzing but never uncomfortable.
Great produce is accompanied by craft beer supplied by Keg King. This past weekend featured local favourites Darling along with the ever-improving Napier and ever-present stalwarts Paulaner. Everson’s craft cider is also available across from the beer. Gourmet sandwiches and R15 hotdogs sit together comfortably ten metres away. Live music wafts over the busy stalls. The smoke from fried sausages and brewing coffee mingle easily in the seaside air.
But don’t let me spoil the surprises for you. Rather, let these photographs whet your appetite for a wonderful day out. The Bay Harbour Market is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Follow @bayharbourmkt, too.
Just watch out for the dive-bombing seagulls in the parking lot.
There’s a well-worn staircase off the sidewalk towards the top end of Long Street. Down a dark corridor, barricaded by a broad-shouldered, black-suited bouncer, these stairs used to mark the entrance to Zula, a bar and live music venue which was the clown car of Long Street: no matter how full it already was of straight-fringed girls and James Dean-coiffed boys in second-hand leather jackets, it would always get fuller.
Sensing a need for larger premises, Zula relocated to more spacious and grandiose settings literally a few blocks down the road half a year ago. For months club-goers wondered what would take its place.
Gone is the floor worn down from thousands of pairs of tapping sneakers and pointy shoes, the wide, shallow stage and dark walls. In its place is light, light and more light. The staircase is surrounded by heart-stenciled walls. Tobasco bottles and pepper shakers hang from the ceiling as chandeliers. Brick walls and concrete floors against pastel blue walls. Gone is the smoke from hand-rolled cigarettes. Instead the scent of dough and napolitana sauce wafts around the patrons.
This is Sgt Pepper. (Lonely hearts jokes mercifully absent.)
It’s spacious and airy, eschewing the dinginess and busyness coveted by so many Long Street eateries. An open-plan kitchen looks over a handful tables. Through a door off of the main dining room is a small bar, in which tutu-ed men in the midst of long bachelors’ parties can sometimes be found. A foosball table awaits next door. The balcony is long and simple – almost unembellished save for the mismatched chairs and exterior metalwork.
It’s another one in a line of ‘refined’ rock ‘n roll eateries, not completely dissimilar to Saints, only one street away, and which I reviewed last week.
It loses to Saints on beer, though. Sgt Pepper’s beer selection is passable – SAB bottles and Jack Black, Milk Stout and Black Label on tap – but it’s partially made up for by a pleasingly inexpensive and varied – if not particularly nuanced wine list. House wine is R15 and quaffable. An inexpensive and inoffensive alcoholic option is always well received.
But it’s not as if the food is nuanced, either. Resorting to the classic pizza/pasta/burger/salad-based menu, Sgt Pepper relies on variations on a theme and not outright innovation. Pleasingly, what they do is very good. Pizzas are thin-based and crack delightfully with each bite. Toppings are generous, cooked well and combined in simple, effective combinations. (The Pappa Prawn is king, littered with chunky and juicy crustaceans and smothered in fresh and sweet chili. It’s really good.) It could all be best described as rustic, reasonably-priced and completely suited to the venue’s atmosphere and aesthetic.
True, Sgt Pepper isn’t exactly a top-drawer culinary or beery experience, but it still manages to be delightfully bright and a decent night out. The evolution of these rooms from rock bar to rock diner has been swift and complete. Perhaps the spirit of the old Zula is still alive here. It’ll be interesting to see how Sgt Pepper develops over the course of the coming year.
194 Long Street, Cape Town
Durban’s central suburbs are a bit of an anomaly. Half chic, half stuck in time, it’s the sort of place that the hip and frighteningly uncool rub shoulders quite easily. Seemingly frozen in the amber of its Eighties and Nineties heydays, a suburb like Musgrave isn’t exactly known for progressive dining. But in an unassuming corner of Durban’s most famous once-famous suburb rests one of its best-kept secrets.
Unity Brasserie and Bar on Vause Road admittedly isn’t the sort of place that jumps out from the sidewalk. But once you enter into its mute-palette world of painted brick, polished concrete and slick illustration, chances are you won’t want to go back to the rough-edged outside world too soon.
Somewhere in between upper-crust gastropub and relaxed brasserie, Unity is immediately inviting and intriguing. Silhouettes of livestock adorn the windows and walls, reflecting Unity’s focus on their use of locally sourced and ethically raised animals. It’s stressed on their menus and specials boards. It’s even printed out on the steps of their entrance stoep.
Fittingly, a lot of care goes into their ambitious menu of gastropub favourites and new inventions. You’ll find superlative burgers – from venison to veggie – inexpensive bunnies and, unsurprisingly, a damn good cut of cow. That is, if you’d want to look past such decadences as the bone marrow on toast or the tagliatelle ragu. For such a seemingly meat-geared establishment, Unity also offers a pleasing number of well-constructed vegetarian dishes, of which the lentil and butternut bobotie is king. Frankly, it’s better than most meat boboties.
“Most people say that Unity’s for carnivores,” says owner Sean Roberts, who also runs the classic Mediterranean eatery Café 1999, which is literally next door, with his wife Marcelle. “But I’d like to have a hand held out to the vegetarians as well.”
But the best thing about Unity isn’t its ambidexterity, its commitment to good produce, or even its bar menu for game-time snacks; it’s the beer.Unity is one of the very few restaurants in South Africa that offers its own house craft beer. Brewed a half-hour’s drive away at Shongweni Brewery (whose Robson’s range is considered by beer critics to be one of SA’s best) the aptly-named Cowbell is an astonishingly creamy pilsener with light citrus notes and hoppiness that slakes the itchiest thirst. Its richness accompanies most of the menu superbly, but it’s just as good sipping it by itself with one eye on the cricket.
In a few months’ time, Unity will become exclusively a craft beer affair. Additions from Darling Brewery and Jack Black will soon accompany Cowbell and their current European craft options supplied by Brewers & Union.
“Craft beer and me have a love affair going,” Sean enthuses. It shows. Even now there is, quite literally, nothing like Unity anywhere else in the city. Cowbell itself will be bottled and available locally soon, but world domination isn’t the plan.
“It’s not my game to want to get it out to bottle stores and lots of other restaurants,” Sean says. “We hardly have enough for ourselves.” And that’s no surprise, as they don’t seem to sell any other beer here: they go through 1500 litres of Cowbell a month.
Unity is a welcome tonic in a city in need of more thoughtful dining, not to mention alternative drinking options. Bringing together just the right amounts of sophistication and fun, it goes to show that innovation breeds in places sometimes thought stale.
This piece was written for GQ.co.za, and may be found in its original format here.
Spiga D’Oro, on Durban’s Florida Road, is almost certainly the city’s number one Italian eatery, if not for quality, then certainly for quantity. It used to be small: a tiny but vibrant pavement eatery on Florida Road, a place that didn’t take reservations and put out superlative antipasti, pizza and pasta inexpensively until the wee hours. It has more than once been described to me as the place where Morningside chefs went after dinner service. After all, there are very few places in this town where you can get a good sit-down meal past midnight, unless you call eating a chip-triple-cheese roti cross-legged on the pavement of Sparks Road a “good sit-down meal”. (I would happily count myself as someone who does, however.)
Not too long ago Spiga expanded, and now the restaurant encompasses a large fountain courtyard area round the back from the original premises. With all of this space, you would imagine that you wouldn’t have to wait long for a table. Although Spiga say that waiting for a table is ‘part of the experience’ of eating there, my friends and I were forced to wait, on a not-so-busy weekday night, for an hour in a dingy and uncomfortable waiting bar until a table became available round the front.
But when you’re finally called by the doorman (via cellphone, no less) to your table, things immediately look up. The decor in the main restaurant is warm and casual. One wall is given to permanent marker scrawlings; the rest to posters, pictures and memorabilia. It’s very comfortable, even if the seating can be a bit tight.
As one of the few visible proponents of the now-faltering We Love Real Beer brand in Durban, it’s one of the few places you can expect an above-average beer list. That’s not saying it’s spectacular: it comprises of SAB bottles and Amstel draught, a selection from B&U and two beers from Birra Moretti. The Birra Moretti La Rossa is my go-to: it’s European, as is &Union’s offerings, but is a tad cheaper and goes very well with tomato-based dishes.
And man, is the food good. Choose between small, medium or large portions from the pizza and pasta menus, but always expect to be served, well, more than what you were expecting. I ordered a medium tagliatelle pescatore and was pleased to receive perfectly cooked pasta with enough prawns and peppers to leave me satisfied. Unless you’re absolutely ravenous, a medium portion really should be able to do you. Expect to pay about R80 per person for mains and beer.
All in all, while Spiga d’Oro is flawed, and – as the axiom goes – ain’t what it used to be, it’s still reasonably priced, well-positioned and puts out consistent and delicious food that draws scores back to it seemingly every hour of every night. Its success can be measured in its popularity: unlike many things in the world of food and beverages, it seems that popular opinion is worth something this time.
The Cock House is one of Grahamstown’s best known bed and breakfasts, not only for its country charm and it being Nelson Mandela’s favourite place to stay in town, but also because it has the word “cock” in its name and, well, Grahamstown’s a student town. But looking past its very worthy associations with both Madiba and male appendages, the Cock House is also probably one of the City of Saints’ few culinary pearls.
Once owned by esteemed writer André Brink during the 1970s (and he was just one among a long line of rather illustrious previous owners and benefactors) the Cock House was declared a National Monument in the 1990s while under foreign ownership. Although it’s been subject to many renovations and restorations over the decades - well, more accurately centuries, I suppose - its remains an irresistibly charming example of 19th century settler architecture: all fitted teak, french doors, satisfyingly squeaky floorboards and slathered in beautiful old paintings and photographs. Although I can’t speak much for the bed and breakfast portion of the establishment, it’s by far and away the most beautiful bar and restaurant in Grahamstown.
And it’s probably the best place to eat here, too. Although there are some firm favourites – the steak with Madagascar green peppercorn sauce and pork belly (with some cracking crackling) come to mind – the fashionably small menu (literally only a dozen or so items shared between three courses) changes regularly, offering at least one fish dish and one vegetarian dish. Grahamstown is notorious for bad fish, but the linefish here is always fresh and cooked superbly.
The deserts are where it’s at, though. Over the half-dozen or so times I’ve been to the Cock House, I’ve enjoyed such decadences as dark chocolate and ginger souffle, duo creme brulées and – the best so far – hot apple crumble floating in a pond of the most moreish vanilla custard imaginable.
The beer selection is also the best for miles. In addition to a good range of beers from SAB, the Cock House also stocks three beers from Gilroy’s Brewery in Roodepoort, Gauteng. I generally have all three when I go to dinner here: the Traditional is an Irish Ruby Ale, which is delightfully soft-bodied and laced with sour fruit; the Favourite is an amber, fruity and almost biscuity Pale Ale; and the Serious is a superbly satisfying Strong Ale with a whack of acidity, roasted malt and light nuttiness. All three are delicious and complement the produce of the Cock House’s kitchen perfectly. For this part of the Eastern Cape, it’s a remarkably refreshing thing. It almost makes you feel like you’re not in this old pokey university town.
But, you know, it’s still Grahamstown outside, and there’s no escaping that. Thankfully, the Cock House remains unpretentious, warm, genial and relatively unrefined, which is the way it should be around here. Grahamstown is full of places that strive to be big city-style institutions, but there’s no use pretending. And that’s why the Cock House is perfect the way it is: it retains a perfect balance of kitsch, homeliness and just a touch of modernity.
And the good beer list helps, too.
The Cock House
10 Market Street, Grahamstown
These are chocolate stout cupcakes that were made last weekend. Here they are fresh out of the oven. They were delicious.
And this is my friend Claire. In this picture she is the process of baking those chocolate stout cupcakes, which were delicious. She is very cool and it was her birthday yesterday. (Happy birthday again!)
Claire is also a part-time baker, and runs a little home-industries-style-bakery-thing with another friend, who is also called Clare. Since they’re both Cla(i)res, the bakery is called Clare & I (link). Together they make delicious cakes and cupcakes with a good sprinkling of humour and charm. (Flat-topped gray liquorice Le Corbusier cupcakes, anyone?)
Now, I’m not going to tell you exactly how Claire made these delicious cupcakes, just in case she plans on selling them out of the bakery one day, but I can tell you that it’s a variation on a simple beer cake recipe, of which you can find a dime a dozen online. The beer that we used for this batch was Darling’s Black Mist, of which I had a few sitting in my fridge from the week before. Other recommendations for baking would be Hook Norton’s Double Stout or, if you can’t get that, you can go for Castle Milk Stout. The choice is yours, although I wouldn’t use Guinness if I could help it - ideally, go for something less bitter or with a bit more character.
What’s great about baking with beer is that it acts both as a flavouring and a rising agent, which means anything you bake with it comes out super light and fluffy. For some reason, the beeriness of the cupcakes increases the longer you leave them before you eat them. From personal experience, however, I doubt you’d be able to resist eating all of them for too long.
The cupcakes were topped with chocolate butter icing, caramel and cherries. Irresistibly light and fluffy, morish and malty from the beer, they were finished off between five of us within half an hour.
So, I guess the point of this post is that you should: (i) bake with beer for deliciousness and fluffiness; (ii) eat lots of cupcakes because they are tasty; and (iii) buy the Cla(i)res’ baked goods.
Have a great weekend, and enjoy Rocking the Daisies if you’re heading out that way. And please don’t drink and drive.