Food24 eats at... HQ (Sandton)
Isaiah Berlin once wrote an essay in which he famously distinguished foxes and
hedgehogs. A fox, he said, knew many things. A hedgehog, on the other hand,
knows one big thing. Berlin was drawing a distinction between those who view
the world through the lens of a single idea, and those whose philosophical
outlook is more expansive.
The idea of knowing one big thing is a principle
that is eminently suitable for broader and more practical application. Restaurateurs,
for example, like hedgehogs, can do one big thing or like foxes, they can
draw on a wide variety of influences and experiences.
The menu is the giveaway.
Hedgehogs typically sport limited menus, offering seasonal produce in a defined
genre. Foxes, on the other hand, are happy to offer an eclectic menu,
as large and pretentious as a politician’s memoirs, featuring the
equivalent of a Cook’s tour of the world’s cuisine. The hedgehogs, more
often than not, get it right.
This brief reflection
on the virtues of hedgehogs reminded me of a meal I had some years ago
at the Café de Paris, in Geneva. This establishment has been around since the
1930s, and is to be found on Rue du Mont Blanc, just past the railway station
where Switzerland’s dozen or so registered juvenile delinquents tend to
congregate, opposite the purveyors of Swatches, cuckoo clocks and Swiss army
A meal at Café de
Paris is ranked as the 19th best thing to do in the city. This
ranking might suggest that there is not terribly much to do in Geneva (there
isn’t, especially on Sundays), or that the food at the Café de Paris is
spectacularly good (it isn’t). The Café de Paris, if nothing else, was my first
encounter with the concept of a single item menu. On offer is entrecote, fries
and a green salad, with the entrecote served on a chafing dish, placed on a
trivet and kept warm by a burner. The beef is smothered with a butter-based
sauce that slowly melts over the steak before splitting. That’s all, lunch or
dinner. Don’t ask for raclette or fondue. Take it (steak cooked to order) or
For those who have
neither the time, inclination nor the money to do 19 things in Geneva, the Café
de Paris has spawned a number of legitimate heirs in the form of the associated
Entrecotes de Paris restaurants that have sprung up, like asparagus in spring,
across the globe. HQ Sandton shares no association with any of these, (nor does
its parent in Heritage Square, Cape Town) but its owners no doubt thought that
the Café de Paris was onto a good thing. So HQ offers mains of salad, sirloin,
and chips. That’s all, lunch or dinner. Don’t ask for bunny chow or bobotie.
Take it (steak cooked to order) or leave it. We took it, medium rare.
The one-item menu
The menu (such as it
is) is to be found in the form of a stamp on the brown paper table overlay, and
suggests that if you are after anything more than a green salad, sirloin and
chips, you should take your patronage elsewhere. Orders (i.e. instructions on
how you would like your steak prepared) are inscribed on the overlay.
The salad arrived
first. It was excellent – cos and iceberg lettuce, served with a generous
helping of parmesan shavings and lightly toasted pine nuts, were generously
coated with a classic vinaigrette.
The steak that
followed was 250g of grass-fed, organic Namibian sirloin, cooked to order and
lifted by the sauce, which melted gently over the steak. HQ’s sauce is
apparently a version of that offered at the Café de Paris (the composition of
which is a trade secret, passed from one generation to the next) but just as
good. It was the consistency of a good béarnaise; all butter, garlic and herbs.
Extra lashings of sauce were offered, as were additional helpings of chips.
In keeping with the
theme, a limited dessert menu is available, with standard offerings of crème
caramel, crème brûlée, chocolate fondant, malva pudding, lemon tart and apple
tart tartin. We opted for the crème brûlée and the fondant. The perfect fondant
is dependent on perfect timing and is best served by a chef with balls,
confident enough to turn out the fondant onto the plate so as to hold its shape
without haemorrhaging the chocolate lava inside. The fondant was served in a
bowl, ever so slightly overcooked, with a helping of vanilla ice cream. The
crème brûlée was well-flavoured with the perfect consistency, topped with a
thin film of amber-coloured caramelised sugar rather than the more traditional
brûléed finish. But both desserts were entirely satisfactory.
The service was
friendly and attentive, if not a little familiar. The bill for two, including a
bottle of mineral water and two glasses of Quoin Rock Merlot, excluding a tip,
came to R480.
You’ll like this if
you prefer hedgehogs in the kitchen. Eating a steak, chips and salad here with
a glass of good red wine may even be the 19th best thing to do
in Johannesburg. You won’t like this if you’re looking for a steak well done,
served with chips, pepper sauce and a Klippies and cola.
HQ Sandton was reviewed by Like Father Like Son.