I used to worry about the environment until I realised that switching to long life lightbulbs was pointless as long as nations kept dropping uranium out of the sky. If I must leave a large carbon footprint I vowed to have fun doing so. Laying down long tracks of burnt rubber on asphalt is fun. Doing so in an iconic Shelby Cobra along one of the world’s most spectacular driving roads, Chapman’s Peak Drive in South Africa, is automotive nirvana.
Chapman’s Peak Drive is a toll road from Hout Bay to Noordhoek on the way to the Cape of Good Hope. It consists of nine kilometres and 114 curves hugging the near vertical face of the mountain. I had spectacular views of the Atlantic on my right as the bellow of 5 litres of pure V8 power echoed off the mountain face. The massive tyres screamed in protest and scrambled for grip as I hung on to the steering for dear life, my face split by a huge grin!
The Shelby Cobra was the brainchild of American racing driver Carroll Shelby who bolted on a powerful American Ford engine to the pretty but underpowered British AC Ace sports car in 1962. This fine example of Anglo American cooperation resulted in one of the most beautiful cars ever built. Original cars now cost upwards of $500,000 (£315,000) but Shelby subsequently licensed production to several manufacturers, including Superformance Cars of South Africa who continue building Cobras.
Dean at Cape Cobra Hire is a friendly Brit who used to work on Eddie Jordan’s Formula One race team. He described the car as “a four wheel Harley Davidson”. He’s right. You carefully step over side mounted exhausts to enter the car (you’ll burn if you touch them). Stick your arm out the door and you can feel the heat rising from the exhausts. The horn on my car was broken but it didn’t matter. Small children cry and dog’s run away when they hear the car’s basso rumble. There is no roof. When it rains you get wet. Who cares when you are having this much fun.
On the way to Chapman’s Peak I pulled over for coffee at The Grand on the strip in Camp’s Bay where Capetonians come to play. The verandah is the perfect place to watch the beautiful people. The Grand has a single uber decadent bedroom with 24 hour butler service and what it claims is the world’s largest mini bar. Parking touts eagerly waved the Cobra in. Despite its muscular stance the Cobra is suprisingly easy to thread through traffic, being far narrower than most modern sports cars. It also helps that you can clearly see all four corners of the car from the driver’s seat. It’s practical then for city use…
At the behest of my running buddy and neighbour in London I stopped for lunch at the Food Barn in Noerdhook. This modest thatched roofed restaurant set in what was once a farm store, is the most talked about bistro in Capetown. Cannes born chef Franck Dangereux creates a fusion of Provencal, Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Pan Asian elements – yet sources all his ingredients locally. Dangereux trained at Moulin de Mougins in Cannes with Roger Verge. Alain Ducasse also once trained there. Dangereux worked at two 3 Michelin starred restaurants in Paris before eventually moving to Cape Town.
The food at his restaurant is quintessential haute cuisine, served in the most laid back environment. The prawn beignets and cheese fritter with tomato macaroon was a mash up of flavours at once familiar but foreign in their combination. I’d never eaten a tomato macaroon and wouldn’t have believed it would taste anything but strange. It was delightful. As was the waitress, who thoughtfully gifted me a box of the said macaroons as I was leaving. The deconstructed bouillabaisse with local line fish, calamari and prawns, served with a rouille sauce and cheese croutons was sinfully rich. The cheese croutons added just a hint of crunchy sharpness.
Dangereaux pairs all his dishes with local wines. If like me you’ve tired of run of the mill, highly acidic Sauvignon Blancs (the equivalent of paying rent on a bar stool these days), try the South Africans. Porcupine Ridge, Buitenverwachting, Iona Sophie Terblanche, Robertson and Jordan all make superb Sauvignon Blancs full of that pungent, grassy, leafy aroma, with the quintessential acidity of the grape offset by a soft finish in the mouth. Majestic Wine has a good selection of South African wines in London while Astor Wines and Spirits is the place to go in New York City.
After a punishing day of hard driving on heart stoppingly beautiful roads, I met the race car driving oenophile in Cape Town for a casual dinner at HQ. HQ is located in Heritage Square (circa 1771). In keeping with the global trend towards single food menus HQ serves steak and nothing else, apart from salad and chips. This is a popular casual restaurant with a nice buzzy vibe. With so few options on the menu the waiter still managed to mix up our order (with or without gravy can’t be that hard to remember) when he wasn’t forgetting about us altogether. I’ve had way better chips in places that don’t claim to specialise in them. Someone please introduce these guys to double and triple cooked chips. The food and service was erratic.
The saving grace of HQ is the cocktail list. It’s original and eclectic. The Spider Bite; jalapeÃ±o infused vodka, gomme and fresh lime was spicy and seriously hot. It was served in a martini glass with salt on the rim. The VIP (Vodka Infused Pussy) was a cocktail of citron vodka muddled with lots of limes, cucumber and mint, charged with Pussy. The refreshing citrus notes were reminiscent of a caipirinha.
So what’s with the Pussy? Pussy is a British made all-natural energy drink. It’s citrus tasting although some might find it somewhat tasteless. Its tagline is “the drink is pure, it’s your mind that’s the problem.” I’m not sure the world really needs another energy drink.
More Ways to Go
If two wheels is more your thing, down the road from Cape Cobra Hire on Buintengraght is Royal Enfield Cape Town where you can rent an authentic Indian made bone shaker. There are more environmentally friendly ways to travel the Chapman’s Peak Drive. Bike it as part of the Cape Argus Classic 110K (62 mile) bike race or run it at the Two Ocean’s Ultra Marathon, a 56k (35 miles) trot from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.