Not quite

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It is that time of the year all right, and in spite of it being Monday, I am glad that it is. Only because I finished and dispatched my 3000 words to PP, and I only have one more programme to mix (code for “my work is just about done”) – tomorrow. So, it’s like being not quite on holiday,  which helps one cope with the end-of-year madness that would otherwise frustrate one if one still had serious work to do.

Like, for example, the fact that everybody and their aunt is forever out-of-friggen-office having a celebratory booze-up somewhere. Our little open-plan broom cupboard felt a like a tomb this morning – one where the corpse had come back to life and is off somewhere sucking the blood out of people with deadline stress. Not like me. Monday has never been so rosy.

In anticipation of this halcyon dream and because I have not seen them for ages, I had lunch with the girls at Ciro’s  yesterday.  I have not really been there much since my last birthday supper, perhaps three years ago, when the duck was dry, and Ciro unapologetically put it on the bill. Before that I went there regularly. Not anymore.

And yesterday I remembered why not. Look, it’s hard to find a better place to have good food under cool trees made cooler by that fine-mist cool-down spray contraption in the summer. The tables are prettily laid with cloth tablecloths and real serviettes. And mostly, Ciro’s food is still very good. Jacques says that Ciro makes the best risotto in Johannesburg after mine. (OK maybe he did not say that, but this is almost certainly the case.) But I do not think that the food in a restaurant that charges R110 for a starter that does not – at the very least – contain truffles and foie gras or Alaskan king crab, should be “mostly very good”. It should be consistently excellent, and Chiro’s is not.

I had the chicken, stuffed with couscous, crumbed with polenta and served with a delicious cream sauce of some kind (but not too much). The chicken had a great range of textures (the polenta really crisps on the outside) and was sufficiently full of flavour. I chose the chicken, perversely, because I knew the cost-to-labour ratio was low. I know how long  it takes to make little roulades out of chicken breast, to crumb them, and deep fry them.

By comparison, slapping a curry-like sauce on top of a piece of salmon is a one-hand-behind-your-back job.  And I did not like the salmon. I thought it was a waste of a good piece of fish, and other than the curry splat on the top, did not really taste like R175,00.  Ruth shared a bit with me, and she said she liked it. Jules, lactose intolerant, had pizza with prawns and capers. That was also excellent, not a crumb remained.

And  then it was time for pudding. I ordered the tarte tatin and Jules the crème brulee. Ruth likes to share when it comes to dessert. The crème brulee had separated: none of that silken, dense, melt-in-your-mouth vanilla custard stuff. I took us quite a long time to get someone to take it away, and by then the bit where we dipped our spoon was looking quite watery, as if you added some scrambled egg to dishwater. The tarte tatin was a pleasant apple-tart kind of a thing, but not quite a tarte tatin, which, as we all know, has golden, deeply caramelised apples, rich and moist, on top of a crisp pastry. To see what a beautiful mini tarte tatin should look like, go here. Or even  here. What a beautiful tarte tatin looks like is no mystery.

Ciro’s version is more like  a small stack of sweet, pale, slightly dry slices of unpeeled apple on op top of a crisp pastry. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the pastry. It was served with some custard, and it was, as I said, a pleasant apple-dish-thing.

I felt vindicated, a little, that we took our own bottle of bubbly. (Has anybody noticed that when you take your own MCC to a restaurant that they always give you the most amazingly cheap glasses?)

I know Ciro’s is very popular in spite of the dazzling price tag, but I suspect, nay, FEAR, that the bulk of Johannesburgers may not always have palates equal to those of our snotty compatriots of the mountain. There really is no other explanation.

Anyway. I am off to PE on Thursday, where I will practice mini tarte tatins in my mother’s kitchen and put pictures on the blog.

Aluta Continua.

According to the Daily Maverick this morning, most people spend 12 minutes every Monday complaining. Just saying.

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