The temperature is barely above freezing in London and New York. In Cape Town the sky is a brilliant blue and the temperature is a balmy 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit). The Cape Town Jazz Festival is kicking off and post jazz cocktails at the rooftop Tjing Tjing bar are delectable. I had to run a marathon last weekend to justify coming here, but it’s been worth it. Come!
I had recently arrived from America and was tasked with interviewing some UK customers by my employer. One such customer accused the company of being arrogant. Leaning forward, he angrily stuck a finger in my face and asked, “why do you guys think that you are the dog’s bollocks”? I had no idea. In fact I had no idea what “dog’s bollocks” meant. I remember carefully writing down the words “dog’s bollocks” in my notebook and promising the customer that I will get back to him on the bollocks issue…
Dog’s bollocks means dog’s testicles, but in British slang usage it means very good, or the top of the pile. Really. Think bee’s knees or cat’s pyjamas. On the other hand when the word bollocks is used by itself, it means rubbish. Or nuts.
Dog’s can famously lick their own testicles. Through the ages men have been fascinated and/or jealous of this canine capability. I never did get around to getting Nigel Wood’s personal perspective on testicles as we chatted inside his restaurant, The Dog’s Bollocks in Cape Town, South Africa. This is currently the hottest ticket in Cape Town, a burger restaurant in a garage/drive way. The October 2012 UK edition of Esquire magazine lists it as one of the top ten attractions in Cape Town. They take no reservations and open from “5 to 50″. Nigel starts serving at 5PM and stops when he’s served 50 burgers. After that he pushes the tables back to make room in the garage for his one-eyed 1970′s Lotus Eclat. (The Eclat has a vacuum seal that keeps the pop-up headlamps shut. If the car is left parked for a while, the vacuum leaks and one headlight pops open. Cute.)
The entrance to the restaurant is literally the garage door. The tin roof has a few translucent plastic panels to let in light. The long narrow space is broken up by a grill where the famous burgers are cooked. Tucked away to a side is a branch of Deluxe Coffee Works, the artisanal coffee roasters in Cape Town. A tiny motorbike repair shop also shares the space. Customers of the coffee shop regularly ride their scooters and motorbikes into the store. Its all uber trendy and slightly nuts.
The garage roof leaks when it rains. It was raining hard when I visited with Capetonian friends including the Cupcake (she’s sweet and she bakes well) and the Princess Monkey (she’s titled and she’s nuts). The sloping garage floor was soon awash with rain water. Nigel kindly showed us to a “good table” where we’d get less wet. A waitress hurriedly unplugged a floor lamp. Eventually someone donned galoshes and splashed across to fire up the grill. The restaurant is BYOB except for wine. Nigel bottles his own red and white in tubes and sells them under the U-Tube label (by Ukuva iAfrica). It’s big in Poland, apparently. At Dog’s Bollocks the wine is served in conventional bottles at R55 (GB£4 or US$6 ). I ordered a bottle of red. Nigel gave me a bottle and said “here’s the wine, there are some glasses, here’s a corkscrew.” The service is delightfully quirky, as is everything else about the place. The restaurant serves different menus through the day – and is called different names at different times. At breakfast the restaurant is called Mucky Mary’s Hubcap. At lunch time it’s called The Bitch’s Tits. Hubcaps, tits and testicles – only in Africa!
The burgers are amazing. They are served on enormous, light as air rolls with what must be half a head of lettuce, onions, tomato and pickle. The secret is in the home made sauces. Mexican chocolate mole, pepperberry and blue cheese, and prego (a spicy Portuguese sauce) are standouts. The table went quiet as we greedily tucked in. I had the prego sauce and felt the spice gradually build up on my taste buds as beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. The burgers are so large that once you man-handle them into your mouth you don’t want the hassle of putting them back down and figuring out how to pick them up again. We inhaled our food.
Dog’s Bollocks is a symbol of how South Africa would like to see itself; multicultural, irreverent and re-inventing itself as it goes along. Yet roofs and more leak all over the country. I can’t tell whether we are seeing the birthing pains of a great African state or witnessing the last days of empire. Either way it’s a fascinating place to visit. Go! It’s the dog’s bollocks.
Further Reading and Drinking
The hot cocktail bar of the moment in Cape Town is The Orphanage. An unfortunate choice of name perhaps but it is on Orphan Street and a share of profits do go to the orphanage up the road. My favourite place for a post prandial drink however, is the bar at the Mount Nelson hotel where old world colonial glamour meets some of the most hospitable bar staff I’ve met. The Old Fashioned’s and the Hendrick’s Cucumber Martinis they make are particularly good.
France is the world’s fifth largest economy. At the turn of the last century Argentina was the world’s fifth largest economy. By the 1900′s Argentina was already living beyond its means, but it took several decades for it to become a basket case. France is sadly heading the same way. Their people refuse to work harder, adapt to change or recognise that socialism is daft.
Whenever Paris is sacked, either by revolutionaries or Germans, their best and brightest decamp to London. Such is the case now as waves of French entrepreneurs, financiers and anybody with ambition flood London. Paris is left with a bunch of Gauloises smoking libertines.
In the meantime, the French schools in London are massively oversubscribed and the more than 500,000 French in London are spilling out of the Gallic quarter in South Kensington. London real estate, already booming following the post Arab Spring exodus, is doing stratospherically well.
I like the French. What is there not to like about great food, fabulous wine and beautiful women? I am happy that many of my French friends will be living closer to me.
So where do the French eat and drink when they get to London? Martini Mandate decided to check out continental style food and drink in London. The African Queen and I chose three favourites, the Wolseley in St James’s, the Delaunay in the Aldwych and Les Deux Salons off the Strand. She is both african and titled, but like most of her people, the African Queen prefers to shop on the continent and is most at home in the cafes of Paris. We were at various points accompanied by a crazy mathematician and a warlord.
Wolseley Motors was the largest auto manufacturer in Britain through the 1920′s. Its legacy lives on today in the Isuzu Car Company of Japan (founded originally as a joint venture) and in the Wolseley Restaurant in London. The Wolseley restaurant is the site of what was once the Wolseley Motor Company’s London showroom. The large room with its high ceilings is airy and masculine with original black lacquer and natural marble. The restaurant probably makes more money than the car company ever did.
The Wolseley is like a club for people who don’t like to belong to clubs. You can get a reservation here (and they have tables for walk in guests), but regulars have priority. The artist Lucian Freud famously dined here at the same table every day. When he died they decorated his regular table with a black tablecloth and a single candle. It was a classy and understated statement from a restaurant that is all about classy understatement. The menu is large and mittel-european; schnitzels, cakes and coupes, chicken soup, chopped liver. The food is good. Not spectacular, but reliably good. This is a cafe and cafe’s are not known for cocktails. I like to drink Americanos at cafes on the basis that “in cafés you have to drink the least offensive of the musical comedy drinks that go with them.” (James Bond in Ian Fleming’s A View to a Kill). The cocktail menu is limited but the waiters are superb and the bartender will accommodate any reasonable request. Just make sure your request for an Americano (Campari, red vermouth and soda) doesn’t get you a weak black coffee.
Cashing in on its success, the Wolseley opened a sister restaurant called the Delaunay in the Aldwych, presumably named after the French artist. This is a handsome, masculine room – it doesn’t have the vaulted ceilings of the Wolseley, but it has critical mass and presence. Like the Wolseley, the Delaunay is an all-day operation but here the inspiration from the grand cafés of Vienna, Zurich and Budapest is more apparent in the dishes. There is a forceful mittel-European slant, with two of the menu sections entitled wieners (including a New York hot dog) and schnitzels. The African Queen tried a chicken schnizel. It was perfect, as was my bockwurst, but these dishes rarely challenge a kitchen. This is basic, reasonably priced cafe food. There is a good selection of wine by the glass, half litre carafe or bottle. My Old Fashioned was made the old fashioned way with the bar tender painstakingly crushing sugar cubes with water and bitters, creating a nicely muddled paste before adding bourbon. Its all very competent and reliable.
While the Wolseley is in undeniably posh St James’s, the Delaunay is in the Aldwych, which is a less distinctive territory sandwiched between the diamond dealers of Holborn and the tourists in Covent Garden and the theatre district. The clientele too is more diverse than at the Wolseley, consisting of people who couldn’t get reservations at the Wolseley and the inevitable gaggle of braying Sloanes . The latter are easily recognised by their excessing air kissing and the common greeting of “darling, where have you BEEN?” as if they were long separated freedom fighters, hardened by loss, stumbling into the same fox hole in Kandahar. Most likely they last met on a shopping spree in Milan.
Les Deux Salons is off the Strand, in what was one of London’s most infamous rookeries. These were the slums of Victorian London, mazes of narrow streets and alleyways, home to thieves and prostitutes; the dark heart of Dickensian London. The Wolseley and Delaunay have cafe menus, Les Deux Salons’ menu has more traditional restaurant dishes on it than brasserie ones. The decor is familiar; polished brass rails, mosaic marbled floors, dark wood, frosted glass mirrors, red booths, ball shaped lights – it’s brasserie cliche on a grand scale. It’s a darker space than the others, with a decidedly inter-war French glamour. We shared a charcuterie plate. I ordered a Negroni. The story goes that the Negroni was invented by a bar tender in Florence in 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni wanted something stronger than his normal Americano. The bar tender replaced the soda in the Americano with gin. The version at Les Deux Salon is decent, but there are others (for example the folks at Dabbous) who have turned this drink into an art form.
All three restaurants are confidently presented by successful restauranteurs. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, the folks behind the Wolseley and the Delaunay, made Le Caprice and the Ivy into the brands they are today. Les Deux Salons is the brainchild of Will Smith and Anthony Demetre of Michelin starred Arbutus and Wild Honey. I will continue to frequent them all – as will my newly arrived French friends. These restaurants are not havens for cocktails, but what they make, they make competently. The overall experience will leave you feeling well fed and watered. Bon Appetite!
Blogger reviews of the Wolseley by The Date Guy and Gin & Crumpets. Reviews of the Delaunay by Twelve Point Five Percent and London Stuff. Reviews of Les Deux Salons by A Girl Has to Eat and Get Forked.