When I first went to the Singing Fig in Norwood's main drag, the restaurant was at the height of its success. Plaudits and prizes, rave reviews in Highveld Style and the Star. A few years on, my cousin suggested that all was not well. "It's changed hands," he said. "My mother-in-law used to go there all the time, but she doesn't like the food there now."
My cousn''s mother-in-law is a Very Scary Woman, so it seemed sensible to get on her good side by visiting and reporting back.
The restaurant has certainly been refurbished (although it ain't air-conditioned yet, sadly): low and spacious, with a sort of stripped-wood, colonial vibe going on, and added life given to the room by the charming array of nudes and other pictures hanging on the wall. We were seated in one corner beneath a giant minge painting - an impressionist daub of a couple of legs topped with the biggest, blackest pubic bush - which reduced my companion to giggles within moments of sitting down. "Is it Lily Allen?", he whispered. Whispering was an unnecessary precaution, as the restaurant was empty. At 7pm. Not promising.
Companion ordered veal scallopina in a Jack Daniels jus with gorgonzola butter, followed by creme brulee with Grand Marnier and berry compote. I had five-spice root vegetables with spinach risotto cake, and fig ice-cream.
A vast portion of veal appeared - five scallopini, or about three-quarters of a pound's weight of meat. They were served on a cold potato salad, not mentioned in the dish's description in the menu, whose cold, thick mayonnaise combined with the hot cream sauce to create an unappetising lukewarm, greasy soup, and which contained an equally unadvertised blast of chili. The creme brulee was lovely, although the thick compote which accompanied it was more like jam than compote.
The vegetable platter was inventive and tasty, although the French-style cream sauce was redundant on a dish containing such strong Oriental flavours and influences. The risotto cake was perfect - I mean, absolutely perfect: creamy grains of just-cooked rice. Unfortunately the accompanying green beans were leathery and inedible. The fig ice-cream would have been far better made with dried figs or fig jam, as the use of fresh figs resulted in a watery, sweet vanilla cream containing slimy pieces of fresh fig utterly devoid of flavour.
Service was cheerful but amateurish, and a far cry from the snappy, NY-style professionalism of our first visit. The total bill, including a bottle of wine from the excellent wine list (particularly strong on dessert wines) was R567 for two + tip.
In general the restaurant has an air of distraction that bodes ill; the cooking (judging by this visit) is distinctly inconsistent; service is sloppy, and its web site (which appears to have been recently suspended for non-payment - that, at any rate, is what the Google cache suggests) is at least 8 months out of date ("Menu will be subject to change in January 2007 when we launch our new menu!!", visitors are told in August 2007). If the owners of the Singing Fig want it to continue as a respected restaurant, they need a little more concentration on the basics of the business: consistently well-chosen and competently-cooked food, served with professionalism.
A little less bush, and a little more rush.
The Singing Fig
44 The Avenue
Tel: (011) 728 2434