One of the sadly common sights of winter is an all-dressed-up-and-nowhere-to-go restaurant. Mood lighting, draped tables, kitchen staff busying away, waiters at attention, and just two or three uneasily scattered tables.
My feeling is, if you love food – you probably love eating out. Food is art and creativity, but restaurants are businesses with relatively modest profit margins (yes, really, the overheads are enormous).
Mostly, they have to be open for business six days a week, 52 weeks a year. If we ignore them for three or four months, during winter, because it's cold and/or wet outside, and we don't feel like braving it, they might not make it through to the summer.
So I'm saying that if you like to be able to choose from a wide selection of restaurants, be waited on by confident and experienced staff, and enjoy the creative output of a great kitchen, it's your social and civic duty to support them through the winter.
Me, I'm happy to sacrifice take-outs, make my own packed lunches for work, and limit my cappuccino orders. A meal at a good restaurant at least once a month makes a memory that any number of toasted cheese-and-hams from the corner cafe can’t match.
The really, really good thing about eating out in winter, though, is that restaurants go to great effort to coax us through the doors. I had an amazing meal at Societi Bistro at Cape Town's V&A Waterfront the other day, part of an inspired series from chef Dan Evans.
He's building well-priced menus around specific flavours. You've missed the menu inspired by chilli and Hartenberg (peppers piedmontese with goats cheese, followed by chilli con carne and sour cream, with a dessert of roasted pineapple and chilli ginger ice cream), and the one inspired by chocolate and Diemersfontein (prawns 'Acapulco'; grilled springbok loin with raspberry vinegar and bitter chocolate jus, and Parisian truffle cake).
But you're still in time for menus inspired by Zonnebloem and garlic (until July 10); Durbanville wines and – love this – quinces (July 18 to 24); and a menu inspired by Fleur du Cap and goats cheese the following week.
A bit of winter tongue-wagging
A bit of scandal about the chef, by the way. He's a truly interesting Englishman, lured to South Africa by Kitchen Cowboy Pete Goffe-Wood, who knew Evans from his own days of working in London. Evans came for Cassia, on Nitida wine estate in the Durbanville area. It's a joint venture including Goffe-Wood and chef-cum-conqueror-of-China's-Great-Wall, David Grier.
Evans – whose food at Cassia was reminiscent of the faux-brutal food of London darling Fergus Henderson's St John restaurant – comes with a great CV. Training from Joel Rubichon (France) and Alistair Little (UK), and a series of popular restaurants, including London’s iconic and achingly trendy The Fire Station.
Within what felt like weeks, though, Evans had gone from Cassia. Where? How? No-one's saying, but he was rumoured to have performed a deliciously dramatic offended chef routine that, once the dust had settled, was generally thought to be inconsistent with the set-up at Cassia; a mutually agreed parting of the ways was said to follow. Then he re-emerged at Societi Bistro.
So, I said to the waiter, hoping to get the lowdown: "Just how scary is Dan Evans?"
He looked bemused. Not scary at all, it transpires. "I've never even seen him in a bad mood."
Damn. Don’t you hate it when your drama gets popped?
Heather Parker is the editor of Health24 and Bride magazine. She is one of SA's most respected journalists, and a serious foodie to boot.