Graham Paterson is an illustrator. He is also my housemate.
He moved down from Durban at the beginning of this year to move in with me and a few of our friends. Despite initial suspicions that he couldn’t cook, he surprised all of us tonight by making the best pizza any of us have ever had – on my terrible excuse for a braai, no less.
Here’s how he did it.
First, make this easy pizza dough from Jamie Oliver (link) and roll it out into 25-30cm rounds. It’s inexpensive and relatively easy.
If you can, roll your bases approximately 5mm thick. (You can make them thinner if you want, but seeing as we use an old Milk Stout quart as a rolling pin, it’s about the best we can get. The thinner they are, the easier they’ll cook on the braai.) Stab the rounds with a fork a few times to make sure they don’t shrivel up when they go on the coals.
After they’ve rested for a bit, braai your rounds on semi-hot coals for about three minutes on each side. Just par-cook them: make sure to get a little bit of colour on each side, but also make sure that the dough stays mostly raw.
Once they’re charred, thinly spread tomato paste on one side of each base. In this instance we used plain tomato paste from a tube, but a homemade Neapolitan sauce would also work well.
Lightly sauté some onions and whatever toppings you want for your pizzas while they cool. When your toppings are lightly cooked, spread them on the bases and add a thin layer of mozzarella on top. (Don’t bother using expensive cheese with this recipe – the smoke from the braai will likely overpower any light notes in good buffalo mozzarella. On saying that, however, blue cheese would work excellently.)
Chuck your pizzas on the braai, and cover with the lid. If you don’t own a Weber, cover it up with a cardboard box lined with aluminium foil like we did. This way the coal chars the bottom of the base and the heat trapped in the lid or box cooks your toppings and lightly melts the cheese.
For best results, only put your bases on the braai after the coals have been burning for anywhere between 70 and 90 minutes. Any earlier and you could risk charring the undersides of the base a bit too much. It won’t ruin the pizza, but the char might be too strong for some.
When the cheese is lightly melted and the bottom lightly charred, cut and serve.
Enjoy with any beer you wish. I chose Castle Milk Stout: the char on the base and the heavy roast on Milk Stout’s malt went together like a dream.
This recipe might seem like difficult work, but it is a lot more rewarding (not to mention a lot cheaper) than ordering pizza in. The dough is probably the most difficult part, but once you’ve made pizza dough a few times, it becomes second nature, even to an unnatural cook like me.
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
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.
“I love Craft Trattoria.”
That’s a pretty easy statement to qualify.
I spent the last week or so in my hometown of Durban, visiting my family and friends before I attempt to complete my postgraduate degree in the next two months. During my time there, I headed to Craft Trattoria, an Italian restaurant owned by Neil Roake that is conveniently situated across the road from my childhood home in Glenashley. They purport to serve very real very modern Italian cuisine very well.
Although it’s not in the hippest part of town, Craft’s decor is very much on trend: wood panels are contrasted with a poured floor, and it looks very impressive. To me, Craft sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the liquor stores and takeout kitchens that surround it, but that’s probably just me - I’m just used to frumpy and middle-class Glenashley in its four-year-old slops and Sharks polo shirt after a day in the garden. I’m not used to seeing such a pretty place on Newport Avenue.
As Craft is really just another page in Neil Roake’s burgeoning portfolio (which includes the Freedom Cafe and Museum House Publishing, which has published his internationally-awarded cookbooks), the food was bound to be something crazy. If I had gold for blood, I would have tried the crayfish tail mac and cheese, which just about sounds like somebody thought of the greatest two foods in the world and combined it into one dish. I know someone who ate it once* and she said it was fantastic.
There is also a good range of beers on sale from B&U and SAB. Craft also sell two beers from Heineken Italy’s Birra Moretti range. The eponymous first beer is an OK easy drinking pale lager. It’s inoffensive, but expensive for what you’re getting. The second, La Rossa, is a sweet malty lager that goes very well with heavy dishes or pizza. (La Rossa pretends to be a doppelbock but it isn’t fermented very much at all, so can’t really be called as such. It is, however, still a satisfying and tasty drink.)
Speaking of pizza, Craft does great pizza. They have a wood-fired oven in the corner right by the bar, and make pizza with traditional Italian toppings. No pineapple or banana here. I had a caper, anchovy and chili pizza and, once I got past the incredible pungency of the thing, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It also helped that the La Rossa managed to temper the engrossing saltiness of the toppings.
This spot once used to be an Italian restaurant called AL63 that did great risotto and melanzane. It was unpretentious and one of my favourite places to go at home with my parents, especially when they paid. It wasn’t very well patronised, however, so I was worried that Craft would go down the same way and also close down soon after it opened.
Happily, Craft has been (and still is) full regularly, and it’s easy to see why. The place is gorgeous, the food equally so and it’s run with the right attitude. It’s a bit of a special restaurant plonked right into what is, frankly, not the most special suburb. But with good fare and good beer, it’s teaching this side of Durban North that they don’t have to settle for bad Portuguese restaurants every night of the week.
35 Newport Avenue, Glenashley, Durban
* This person was my mother, so you’d best respect that opinion. “Ooh yeah, I respected your mother last night,” you retort. Ooh, good burn dude, you got me there.
Sweet lord what is this my eyes are seeing this is fantastic.
As far as I know, tickets for Thursday’s dinner are still available from firstname.lastname@example.org for R295 per person. It may seem a bit pricey, but it also includes a takeaway pack of beer and, well, a seven course tasting meal from Massimo’s in Hout Bay. Get on it.
(For more details, including what’s on the menu, click on the flyer.)