The Mercury

Daring to branch out

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WHENthe going gets tough… the tough open a new restaurant. With most eating venues still struggling through the recession, and many biting the dust, comes the news of two well-establishe­d sets of restaurate­urs broadening their scope.

More of the one at a later date, but the second duo is Marcelle and Sean Roberts of who will open another outlet in their centre in Silverton Road.

Work on Unity, as it will be called, is steaming ahead and it is scheduled to start trading later this month in the old El Cubano premises.

It will be more casual in vibe and style of food and will also, Sean says, be easier on the pocket.

Café 1999, meanwhile, seems to go from strength to strength and has had a considerab­le facelift since I last ate there, with crisp white tablecloth­s giving it a more upmarket feel.

And, joy of joys, the team working on Unity has come up with a solution to Café 1999’s acoustical problems. So soon, you might be able to have a great dinner and a conversati­on at the same time.

Sitting outside at lunch isn’t a problem though, and we couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable meal.

To start came little crumbed fishcakes flavoured with coriander, served with a home-made red curry mayo and crunchy pickled cucumber. They were simply wonderful and I’d go back for just a main course portion.

Our other starter was a special: mussels in an Oriental sauce incorporat­ing mirin (rice wine), soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and coriander.

The mussels were certainly fresh – no freezer had featured in their lifespan – but I found the sweetness and intensity of the sauce a little overpoweri­ng. It was interestin­g, but would perhaps work better with a less delicate seafood.

Looking at starters it’s hard not to order crumbed calamata olives stuffed with ricotta and crispy anchovies with basil aioli, but if you want to investigat­e further, the latest menu also features the likes of chorizo poached in cider and served with feta and dates, ginger and lime prawn tails with wasabi mayo, chargrille­d artichokes with lemon breadcrumb­s and Parmesan, and balsamic chicken livers with cashew nuts. There’s not much there that I don’t want to try.

Calamari cooked with black beans and served on Asian greens with avocado and a Vietnamese chilli dip certainly appeals.

As do a lot of mains, like loin of lamb with chermoula spicing, served on potato rosti and topped with a minted pea purée, and coriander, sesame and coconutcru­sted chicken thighs on gingerroas­ted sweet potato mash.

There’s a lot more, but the only main course dish we chose from the menu was home-made gnocchi tossed in a gorgonzola and walnut sauce. The gnocchi were light, the sauce devilishly rich but equally tasty, the whole leavened with little nuggets of caramelise­d butternut.

In a totally different vein was a special of pasta with a smoked salmon cream sauce, a delicate, subtle and classic dish.

I think I preferred the va-va-voom of the gnocchi though.

But nothing could top seared tuna served rare on an Asian risotto incorporat­ing coconut milk. We were told the fish had come in fresh that morning, and I could believe it. It was heavenly, the sesame seed crust lifting it above sashimi status.

The great thing about Café 1999 is that most dishes are available in smaller or large portions, but in this case I wished I’d opted for the full helping.

A tower of beef fillet layered with camembert, rocket and onion marmalade going to the next table smelled and looked impressive.

I’d also be tempted by strawberry and leek risotto, and spaghettin­i with prawns, chorizo and artichokes.

The vegetarian has the likes of chargrille­d artichoke and tomato tart with a Parmesan crust and a chickpea, feta and baby spinach burger served on a black mushroom.

And of course, they can tuck into desserts like coconut panna cotta with white chocolate granita and mango coulis and a deconstruc­ted banana split broken down into banana marshmallo­w, caramel ice cream, crème caramel and peanut brittle.

We had the apple and brioche pudding that we all found a bit stodgy, rescued only by a velvety Calvados and raisin ice cream.

It was a minor hiccup and did little to spoil the mood of contentmen­t.

Starters about R30 to R65, main courses R45 to R150, depending on portion size.

Monday to Friday lunch, Monday to Saturday dinner.

031 202 3406.

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