Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lucky Charms & Sensational Bites: Port Elizabeth’s Narai Siam Thai Kitchen

Located in an unassuming converted house on a quiet, out of the way street in Newton Park, Narai Siam Thai Kitchen’s exterior seems ho-hum, a striking contrast to the inside, which makes you feel like you’ve been carried away by a crowd of Thai nationals in an Asian version of Carnival. Every table, wall and even the ceiling is adorned with authentic Thai tapestries in hot pink, yellow, green and blue. Shimmering mirrors reflect light like little disco balls, making the space feel larger than life. The feeling is festive, casual, and definitely fun – perfect for groups in a celebratory mood.

This is the vision of Colin Beelders and his partner, a Thai national. Over the years they have painstakingly sourced each element of the décor in Thailand and travelled with them back to South Africa. Apparently the décor does much to inspire the guests and some, the owners say, are simply overwhelmed by the temptation to tinker with the glittering ornaments, even slipping them into their handbags alongside extra dinner mints. Colin explains, “Unfortunately things are sometimes stolen or broken,” he shrugs, “sometimes we get them back.”

Colin continues, “The restaurant’s name is inspired by a Thai king whose temple in Lopburi is most famous for its annual Festival of Monkeys.” The temple has become a tourist attraction since 2,000 monkeys decided to take up residence. These crafty monkeys have a habit of sneaking up on unsuspecting tourists and pick-pocketing small items like car keys or snacks before scampering off. I can’t help but make the correlation between the monkey-thieves at the temple in Thailand and patrons in Port Elizabeth who would pause between bites to strip the walls of their ornaments.

Determined to leave things in their place, my friend and I are looking forward to our lunch out on an otherwise average day. We make small talk with our host who brings us order-by-number menus. There is something to be said for these – somehow I always fool myself into believing I don’t need the extra help but invariably realize after several mangled attempts at Thai that ordering by number isn’t so bad after all.

We start with easy-to-pronounce Tom Yum Soup, a house specialty, and order a bottle of Noble Hill Sauvignon Blanc – a perfect companion to Thai food because of its lemony, crisp finish. The soup is warming and has just enough spice to balance the sweetness. For the entrée we decide to share two of the restaurant’s signature dishes, my favourite, #13 (that’s Kang Keow Wan Gai – sweet green curry)with chicken, and #42 (Pad Nam Phrik Phao – stir fried and roasted chilli paste) with beef. In both dishes, the vegetables are perfectly cooked – seared but still crisp fresh. The rich coconut of the green curry is complemented by mild spice and lifted by the zing of lemongrass – the combination is a gentle dance in my mouth. The chili dish by contrast is feisty and full of kick, richness and depth of flavour. As the restaurant starts to fill with aromas from the kitchen and the energy of other patrons the space is transformed into a mid-day’s party. Just a few bites in and we are loving the food and the vibe.

When the coast is clear we sneak away to have a peek at the infamous men’s loo – where the interior is guaranteed to bring a laugh, if not a blush as red as sweet chili sauce due to the many phallic statues adorning the space. Obscene and hilarious to us westerners, it turns out we are missing the point entirely. These figures are lucky charms, known as Palad Khik, and have been highly regarded in Thai society since the 8th century AD for their powers to bring good luck, prosperity, protection against evil forces and last but not least – to increase one’s sex appeal. Quite the norm in Thailand, they are even worn as necklaces.

I don’t know about you, but I somehow doubt I could ever fall head over heels for a man wearing a giant phallic charm around his neck, but I suppose one never really knows until one is faced with the situation.

We return to the table giggling. We catch our breath and turn to high-five the table of ladies next to us – their turn is up. Still feeling flushed, we decide to cool down over Thai iced teas – brewed to perfection, they are sweet, authentically Thai and beautiful to look at – just like the restaurant, which seems to have made it to the end of lunch largely intact. Although I haven’t seen anyone slipping trinkets into their takeaway boxes it still feels like we’ve got up to a bit of mischief – sort of like those monkeys living in the famous temple in Lopburi. Something tells me King Narai would be proud.

  • TEL: 041 363 8126

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Global Gourmet: The Restaurant at Clos Malverne

A flair for contemporary classics and complex flavour combinations are just two of Nadia Louw Smith’s culinary talents, as Theresa Lozier discovered when she chatted to Clos Malverne’s executive chef over a sophisticated seasonal lunch.

Childhood memories – we all have them. Those moments that stay with us our whole lives, taking us back to the way we felt, to the sights, sounds, and smells that we had for that fraction of time. For some of us, like Nadia Louw Smith, a childhood experience can have the power to influence the course of our lives.

“I remember my family going to my grandmother’s home for Sunday lunch,” she explains. “The house was always filled with the smells of her freshly baked bread and traditional roast. Those were very happy times.” She continues, “My grandmother was my biggest influence and inspired me to follow my interest in food. Being in the kitchen never felt like work to me – it was always fun, creative – and I often helped my mother in the kitchen in the evenings. After a while, my dad used to tease her that my food was better!” She laughs gently, and the twinkle in her eye belies her humble demeanor.

Her father was right to take note of her early talent. Nadia’s career has spanned South Africa’s culinary landscape – from five-star luxury at Cape Town’s Mandela Rhodes Place Hotel & Spa, to the Cederberg’s world-renowned Bushmanskloof Wilderness Resort (hailed as the “Best Hotel for Food” by Condé Nast Traveler magazine), and the cosmopolitan flair of the Cinnamon Boutique Restaurant in Wilderness. In 2009 she traded the shores of the Garden Route for the rolling hills of the Devon Valley outside Stellenbosch, becoming the driving force behind the launch of The Restaurant @ Clos Malverne.

Nadia relfects, “I’ve been here since the beginning – since the launch of the restaurant. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I get to set the standards, train the staff and the menu is me – it’s my food. I love combining flavours and, since the wine adds such an important dimension to the dining experience, I really enjoy the added complexity.”

Located 40-min from Cape Town, Clos Malverne is an idyllic country getaway set among the vines. Its gorgeous spa is a highlight for those looking for some daytime pampering - combined with lunch, visitors can really get away from it all. Other drawcards include award-winning wine, a sophisticated yet approachable setting, the wraparound balcony with a view of the vines and unpretentious, global cuisine.

As executive chef, Nadia ensures the menu takes its cue from nature – most of the fresh greens come from the wine estate’s own organic vegetable and herb garden – and offerings change every few months to make the most of the seasons. As much as possible, ingredients are sourced locally and handcrafted onsite – like the Franschhoek salmon trout that Nadia cures herself. A cosmopolitan influence of flavours is evident on the menu but the common denominator is a feeling of down-to-earth accessibility. Nadia says, “There are so many cultures to be inspired by – even here in South Africa, our food reflects our diverse roots – we have Dutch, Afrikaans, English, Malaysian, Indonesian, and Indian influences – and it’s wonderful to enjoy these flavours as contemporary classics. Soon we’ll even be launching a series of five-course gourmet evenings where we’ll have a bit of fun celebrating these flavours with all the style of fine dining.”

The lunch menu is made up of three indulgent courses, incorporating complex flavours like dill, thyme, citrus, and star-aniseed. For starters, Nadia recommends the tempura prawns served with a homemade chili sauce – the crispy batter, sweet meat and hot spice are complemented by a cool mango salad and paired with the estate’s crisp Sauvignon Blanc. For mains we try Nadia’s personal favourite, the orange and star-aniseed marinated duck breast, served with roast vegetables and a sweet potato cake that is coated in bread crumbs and fried until crisp on the outside. The combination of textures and rich, deep flavours pair well with the estate’s slightly fruity shiraz. The signature grilled beef fillet, sourced from a local farm, comes topped with your choice of sauces – but if you ask me, the creamy brandy pepper sauce is a “must-try”. Pair it with the flagship Auret, a distinctive blend of cabernet, pinotage and merlot that delivers elegant structure and just enough berry. Whatever you do, save a little space for dessert – both the vanilla pod crème brûlée and the dark chocolate fondant are to die for – the latter oozes with 80% Belgian chocolate and makes your plate an absolute mess of utter delight.

The Details:
  • The Restaurant @ Clos Malverne Wine Estate is now also open for Sunday lunch
  • A series of five-course Gourmet Evenings kick-off on Friday, 25 Feb for R295 per person
  • For more information or to reserve your table phone 021 865 2022, visit or email

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Revel in Romance & Rosé this Valentine’s at Simonsig’s Cuvée Restaurant

It’s February in the Cape – summer’s happiest month – and Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. You know the one – that day that’s steeped in nostalgia and fairy tales, rooted in loving proclamations, reckless abandon, confessions and promises, filled to the brim with sweet nothings and everything else in between. It’s a day of passion – passionate love for some and fear and loathing for others. Will you have an unforgettable one? Will you find that someone in time? Or do you think it’s just a lot of hoo-haw invented by the likes of Hallmark? No matter which side of the emotional fence you’re sitting on we can’t seem to get past this day without feeling something and to be honest, so far I’ve been feeling like a bit of a skeptic.

After all, Valentine’s falls on a Monday this year – the most mundane of all days in the week – and with a job full of travel and tired evenings it seems like a lot of effort just to say “I love you” to someone I see every day. So when my special someone suggested we make it our own day and celebrate a little early, I was surprised to hear myself instantly agree, taken over by the whims of my secret romantic side or perhaps shot through the heart by Cupid’s golden arrow.

And so it was that we found ourselves at Simonsig’s signature restaurant, Cuvée, for an afternoon of carefree conversation, fine dining, premium wine and celebration. Upon arrival we were treated to a tasting of the Méthod Cap Classique range – lifting our spirits like the bubbles in our glasses. I must have forgotten my inner skeptic back in the car since I forgot all about my initial reservations while wandering under the oaks in the garden.

Set under a vine-covered trellis, the Cape Dutch building created a romantic setting and the nearby fountain trickled a slow melody in the heat of summer’s embrace. It was a cool relief to come indoors and sit like VIP’s, enjoying the view of the mountains framed by floor-to-ceiling drapes in soft hues of beige, cream and sultry grey. The darkness of the wood floors and tables created a rich feeling and the sound of jazz vocals moved softly through the air, a faraway voice of crystallized emotion. A modern mix of kitsch and style, the décor included chandeliers formed by a medley of glassware and china, suspended from the rafters in the double volume space above us, and silver light fixtures gleaming from their view of a century’s old wine press.

In the spirit of the occasion we chose the Rosé-inspired menu, only available until the end of April, which celebrates the earthy, berry flavours of the Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé. Our waitress, Wilma, treated us to a graceful balance of attention and privacy between courses. We started with a taste of tender-crumbed bread, bursting with sundried tomato, offset by butter cream. Next we indulged in ostrich carpaccio, presented with cherry compote, earthy green sprouts and tangy goat’s cheese, drizzled with a red wine glaze. The combination of sweet and sour, creamy and sharp danced together in our mouths. Our entrée was an experience in each bite – seared tuna, perfectly pink in the centre – sealed in a jacket of coarse pepper, complemented by star-aniseed roasted plums, anointed with a creamy lemon butter sauce and punctuated by bits of walnut that melted in happy glory. Dining on this food made us feel like royalty but we weren’t finished yet – our final en core was a palette-cleansing dessert of icy orange marmalade and macerated berries that left us feeling refreshed, light and completely spoilt.

After this experience my inner skeptic seems to have vanished without a trace, and with a few weeks left before the “official” Valentine’s Day I’m starting to rethink my feelings on the matter. Why not celebrate with your best friend on that one day of the year? Does it really matter how the tradition began so long as you believe it? And if there’s any way to take the ‘mundane’ out of Monday, a brush with Cupid and time at Cuvée certainly can. Looks like I’ve been shot through the heart after all.

It’s not too late - reserve your Valentine’s Evening at Simonsig’s signature restaurant, Cuvée – perfect for pampering or even a proposal under the stars. The 3-course dinner includes live jazz by The Limehouse Trio, a bottle of Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé and a box of handmade chocolates. 19h00 on Monday, 14 February for R350 per person. Vegetarian options are available upon request. Choose between:

· Starter: Roasted Duck, Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad OR Venison Carpaccio served with Crisp Apple, Gooseberries and Mustard-Dill Sauce

· Entrée: Beef Fillet Medallions enriched with Roquefort Cheese, Walnuts and Wild Mushrooms OR Sesame-crusted Norwegian Salmon with Wilted Greens

· Dessert: Dark Chocolate Fondant with Cherry and Marzipan Marbled Ice-cream, and Cointreau-infused, Macerated Watermelon with Orange Zest and Watermelon Sorbet


· AMBIANCE: Romantic luxury – it’s Valentine’s all year long

· LOCATION: Outside Stellenbosch, on the Kromme Rhee Road between the R44 & R304

· HOURS: Lunch Mon-Sun 11H00-15H00; Dinner Wed, Fri, Sat: 19H00-22H00

· EXTRA SPECIAL: Book a private occasion in the luxurious Van Niekerk Room

· RESERVATIONS: Phone 021 888 4932 or email

Note: The Rosé-inspired menu is available for a limited time until the end of April. Available as a set two- or three –course menu for lunch or dinner, it includes a flute of Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rosé. R160-R190 per person