The biggest disappointment in South Africa? For a long time it was a very pedestrian meal at Île Maurice in Umhlanga. But now, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to say that we have a new winner: Beads, in the lovely university town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape.
I was told in London about this new South African restaurant, Beads: "Fantastic" they said; "really innovative and interesting," they enthused. When we arrived in Stellenbosch our hosts blanched when we mentioned that we were visiting Beads: "But it's so expensive", they bleated. "I mean, they really are charging London prices". Initially I assumed this was the usual South African hyperbole, but with main courses at the rand equivalent of around £10+, Beads is priced within UK ranges - and is consequently very pricey by local standards.
Now, the location, in one of Stellenbosch's delightful oak-lined streets, is wonderful; and on a warm evening, with the sun setting through the trees and the cicadas beginning to chirp, there is nowhere lovelier. And the restaurant itself is beautiful: we sat outside on the stoep, listening to a party going on in the restaurant's gardens, and had a glass of wine. And another. And another. And then, just when we had almost finished the bottle, and one whole hour after ordering, our food arrived.
I had chosen kingklip; which arrived not only undercooked, but actually still freezing cold in the middle and with the unmistakeable grainy, watery flesh of something that has been zapped from frozen. I sent it back. It reappeared, the same fillet, still uncooked, still cold inside, and piled back on top of the original vegetables, which had clearly been left on top of the pass while someone threw the fish in the microwave for another five minutes, and were consequently by this stage also cold.
The manager had the honesty to admit that the kingklip was frozen, which made me feel even more resentful, since Stellenbosch is very close to the sea. Why is an apparently prestigious restaurant, only 10 miles from the nearest harbour, serving frozen fish at 120 bucks a pop?
Polite but painfully slow service; dreadful, dreadful food; a complaint that elicited neither surprise nor sympathy from the manager (let alone a refund); and an overambitious menu which, on the evidence of our visit, offers breathtakingly poor value for money.
I would rather stick pins in my legs than go back to this restaurant. I am even diffident about giving its address and telephone number in case some poor sap suffers the same sort of piss-poor meal as ours. But that's a chance I'm going to take. If you've had a good experience there, please let me know - surely by the law of averages they must occasionally produce something edible?
Cnr. Church and Ryneveld Streets
Tel.: (021) 886 8734