Authentic unfussy food is trending right now. Food critics pan carefully prepared Michelin star garnering dishes in favour of simple authentic flavours. I don’t have a particular view on this debate – although if I am to spend my hard earned money at a restaurant I want to know that the chef has devoted a significant part of her adult life learning to make perfect dots of colour coordinated sauce on my plate.
Properly authentic food is hard to come by – what pray is properly authentic about American BBQ in London, or Northern Italian cuisine in Cape Town? It’s just some bloke following a recipe.
For an authentic sea food experience in Cape Town I like Panama Jacks. It’s authentic because no one planned its existence, curated its menu or designed its interior. It just is. And it is good.
Panama Jacks is an accident of a restaurant in a busy working harbour. One actually passes through a harbour customs check point to get to and from the restaurant. A uniformed guard walks around your car and inspects the boot for who knows what kind of contraband.
The restaurant is a collection of inter-connected shacks in a wind blown part of the harbour. The corrugated tin roof of the restaurant has a makeshift ceiling of flags (possibly donated by some of the ships calling at the harbour). The flooring consists of inexpensive industrial carpeting. The windows are panels of plexiglass.
The staff are friendly and knowledgeable. The menu is simple – the freshest seafood around. Mussels, langoustines, lobster, shrimp, Kingclip (a local whitefish) are part of the standard fare. My Mozambican langoustines, lightly grilled and served with a lemon butter sauce were sublime. The flesh firm, but succulent. The french fries (double fried on request) are the perfect accompaniment. I’ve had plump juicy South Coast shrimp here and delicately flavoured local mussels.
Wash your meal down with a decent bottle of South African wine or a selection of locally brewed craft beer. Cocktails are best avoided.
Harbour redevelopment plans are a constant threat to Panama Jacks’ existence. The latest rumour is that it will be moved to another shit hole location in the harbour later in the year. Go now for an authentic experience.