Africa is so amazingly diverse, if you can imagine it - we have it somewhere. (As well as a lot off stuff that people find hard to imagine!) Be it a lazy, tropical Island breakaway or a hard core, adrenaline filled adventure - I will do my best to help you get the most out of your holiday. Seeing that this blog is a brand new project - it will take a while to grow. If you have a particular destination in mind that has not been featured yet, just send me a mail and I will assist in any way possible. Postings on this blog are based on personal experience. I plan to rate places and venues visited on a 'must go' or 'avoid' basis. I will also give a Lemon Award to the very worst festering pits that I have had the misfortune of stumbling across... If you have a comment, or your own input - lets have it! Complaints and compliments received from readers will be forwarded to the relevant venue for comment and/or follow up action. Please bear in mind that opinions expressed in this blog are my personal views only and I do not presume to know everybodys tastes... Any other advice dispensed is based on personal experience, and may not be factually correct. I therefore will not be held responsible if you do something silly after reading my advice on the matter. My main purpose here is to help you to think and plan in the right directions. I trust that you will have as much fun visiting this blog as I plan to have while writing the posts.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Something Fishy - Part 1

Yes, it’s fresh!
Planning to do the Garden Route in the Southern Cape soon? Like to eat fish? This one’s just for you…

Earlier this year I spent some time in the Knysna area with guests. On the way there we stopped in Mossel Bay for lunch.

Before I carry on, the run-up to this lunch has to be explained.

I firmly believe that to understand dining in South Africa, one should know the following:

Red Meat:
The Northern half of the country’s inhabitants probably know more about preparing beef than anywhere else due to the availability of some of the very best beef produced in the world. Lamb is also prevalent in the central (and Southern) part of SA. Ask anyone who has ever had a decent SA beef steak or lamb chop, done by any local on his braai (bbq) at home – we know our story and have an absolute passion for red meat!

The Southern half (Western and Eastern Cape), on the other hand, produces the best lamb (Karoo lamb) to be had on this earth as far as I am concerned… Unfortunately no beef worth mentioning and in the coastal areas one can’t always be sure of the lamb either.

This is by no means a negative comment on restaurants in places like the Garden Route or Cape Town. There are hordes of excellent, world class restaurants to be found there. We South Africans are passionate about food after all! But, on average the steaks are better up north - that's just the way it is.

Apart from the coastal areas, one should avoid fish except in some of the better (and more expensive) restaurants in Pretoria and Johannesburg. If you like seafood, you’ll love the dining experiences offered in SA’s coastal towns and cities!

Due to the above, I always live on fish and the occasional lamb chop when in the Southern Cape. On this trip we were all looking forward to our first bona fide Hake & Chips (a hangover from our days as a British Colony) in the Southern Cape. I personally have been looking forward to this for quite a while, and was constantly enticing my guests with mouth watering tales of the treat we were in for…

Upon arrival in Mossel Bay, we first visited the Dias Museum (an absolute must!) to work up an appetite before we started scouting for a restaurant. The idea was to find a place with a nice view that served fish & chips.

After driving around a bit, looking at possible venues, we decided on a little place with a great view, at what is definitely one of the best locations in Mossel Bay – Tidals Seafood Restaurant. Situated right below the lighthouse and Bat Cave, right on the rocks, one certainly can’t ask for a better view or location. I’ve been to this place before (years ago), and had a below average experience with a seafood platter. Following my motto of trying everything at least twice, hoping that things may have changed and reasoning that preparing a plain fish and chips isn’t exactly rocket science, we entered…

And then:
The smell of decay and the stickiness of the floor should have warned me, but nooo, we give everybody a second chance, remember? A sticky floor is by no means always a deterrent for me. For example: I firmly believe one should only buy a bunny chow in Durban from a place with a sticky feel to it…

The tepid (and slightly sour) beer should have been another indication of all not being well in paradise but we bravely persevered while enjoying the perfect weather and splendid view of the waves crashing on the rocks right in front and below us.

When it was time to order, I felt that I should at least make sure of what we were actually getting, all things considered.

The conversation went something like this:

Waitress: What would you like to order?
Tony: Tell me about your fish & chips please. Do you serve them fried or grilled?
Waitress: Only fried in batter, we don’t do grilled.
Tony: Fair enough. Tell me - are they nice and fresh hake fillets? When were they delivered? (Remember that we could actually see the fishing harbour from where we were sitting.)
Waitress: Yes, very fresh. They were delivered this morning.
Tony: Great, we’ll take three and some cold beers this time please.

When our order finally arrived, I was extremely dismayed (to say the least) to behold the following on my plate: A half cooked, less than palm sized excuse for a hake fillet in a sticky batter. It was plain to see that these fillets came directly out of a box of pre battered frozen fish fillets as found in the supermarket, and were not even done the courtesy of being fried in oil or baked in an oven – definitely microwaved, there can be no other explanation for the batter's texture. These attempts at ‘fried fish’ where accompanied by what could at best be described as microwave chips (we are talking English chips here, not crisps) that did not have the benefit of even seeing a microwave oven, but were rather boiled or steamed or something…

In all the exitement I nearly forgot to mention the tartar sauce that had already started to turn brown from old age - disgusting stuff!

Next conversation:

Tony: Delivered this morning, you said? Fresh, you said? Tell me – were they delivered freshly frozen from the supermarket, pre battered in boxes?
Waitress: Yes, fresh from I & J*.
Tony: ?($)&#%?#$&!!!??

(The rest of the conversation cannot be repeated in polite conversation, as I am trying to keep this blog at least ‘PG’ rated.)

*(A note about I&J for those of you not familiar with the brand (Irvin&Johnson). They are a very respectable frozen foods company and probably the best known frozen foods brand to be found in shops in SA. Their quality is always good, so one must actually go to trouble to degrade it to the point where we received it. If I was a branding manager for I&J, I would sue Tidals, or at least prevent them from using my brand name in any way at all…)

While there is physically nothing wrong with frozen fish fillets, it's a lenghty cry away from fish that were still swimming in the sea that morning and has never been frozen, no matter how you look at it.

After not accepting the fish & chips, we opted for beef burgers (without the chips thank you) and those nearly made us long for the fish again…

It is a real pity that such a nice venue should be allowed to become such an embarrassment. We can all just hope that they go bankrupt soon and that new owners will do justice to the venue.

I am definitely awarding this place (I do not have the vocabulary to fully express my feelings here...) with both my 'Lemon Award' as well as the more select 'Festering Pit' award, reserved for the absolute 'worst of the worst' I accidentally stumble across. A most definite 'avoid at all possible costs', as far as I am personally concerned.

This story has a happy ending though. After our terrible experience in this nest of incompetence, masquerading as a restaurant, I started looking for the kind of place that I knew had to exist somewhere in Mossel Bay, and found it!

This answer to my fish & chip (and other seafood treats) prayers is called the (to be revealed) A lovely, lovely, lovely place! Definitely worth a posting all by itself, I would hate to detract from their reputation by even mentioning them in this article…

Look out for ‘Something Fishy – Part2’ to be posted next.


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