There is a gold-standard, quintessential African experience nestled in the bustling city center of Cape Town.
It may initially seem as desultory as Mama Africa Restaurant on Long Street; but what seems unassuming and shallow at first glance, masks a most charming dining experience. Today’s foodie escapade, took me to the GOLD Restaurant.
The Gold restaurant defines itself as “a unique African restaurant in the heart of Cape Town. Our set 14 course Cape Malay and African menu is a taste safari that will transport you from Table Mountain to Timbuktu. This culinary experience is accompanied by unique interactive traditional entertainment.”
A restaurant so stoically planted in its belief of its fine culinary “taste safari” sets standards high, so I was eager to see whether they pass muster.
I got the biggest laugh of the night, even before I step foot into the restaurant. My friend and I were surprised by the Mali Puppet situated just outside GOLD’s door, which came to life every time guests were to enter the establishment. My friend and I experienced what I was sure was heart failure when the larger-than-life puppet stood up and greeted us warmly with its elongated wooden neck and arms.
After a few minutes spent waiting for a reservation miscommunication to get rectified, we were led from the foyer to the main dining area, by smiling ushers/waiters/entertainers, dressed in conventional traditional ‘African’ garb.
As you go up the stairs to the main dining area – which houses a well-lit stage – one gets surprised by the grand architectural scale of the restaurant. It is uncommon for restaurants with the African motif, to be anything more than dark, and crowded with bodies and mismatched novelty decor – and situated simply where you may garner the most tourist foot traffic. Gold Restaurant is an anomaly among its kind. It, naturally, has an inescapable element of commercialized African realism. However, the retention of the exposed brick and former warehouse design, the new multi-levels that accommodate diners who can’t ascend steps, as well as the general decor of the restaurant, doesn’t make me want to sigh in exasperation and cringe at the hyper-realism of their ‘Africa’.
As a film-lover, I noted how the restaurant is likely commissioned as a film set often, by sheer design alone!
Anyway, diners got to learn Djembe drumming from a funny, but austere Ivory Coast instructor dressed in prints that keep to the restaurants’ African motif, and paradoxical Michael Jordan sneakers. He had the eclectic mix of diners laughing, but eager to learn beyond their mildly tone-deaf beats and tempo’s. My friend and I soon realized some stereotypes hold true, as we enjoyed keeping up with the instructions thanks to that ‘innate black rhythm’.
A tradition held by the restaurant is to have their ushers/waiters/entertainers wash the hands of the diners after the Djembe drum circle. Rather than offer a hot hand towel as most fine dining restaurants would, I felt that this was a rather lovely custom.
With a glass of Methode Cap Classique (MCC) topped with gold leaf, we were all soon ushered to our tables, wherein each table got a highly attentive waiter to diligently inform us about each dish from the 14-course menu, as it came.
One would think 14-courses would be overwhelming, if not for the fact that GOLD is a restaurant dedicated to opulent fine dining – ensuring their ingredients and portions are subsequently perfectly measured for a glorious African gastronomy experience.
The menu began with the Cameroon Benne Chicken Salad, which honestly stands as my 2nd favorite dish of the night. It was soooo tasty with its free-range chicken breasts, sesame seeds, fresh greens, palm oil coriander and orange dressing.
The Sierra Leone red pepper relish served with a Xhosa Pot corn bread would have been an okay closer for a meal, for me. I’m simple: Fresh bread is everything to the dark cavernous pit that is my tummy.
What followed those starters was sweet potato cakes from Malawi, and Cape Malay’s offering of the South African Lamb and Ostrich Bobotie Samoosas.
Not to be outdone on this African taste adventure, Egypt’s soup inspired the Egyptian Red Lentils and yogurt dish…and then came my favorite dish, straight from Tanzania. The Tanzanian Fried Fish with coconut and spinach, is a dish traditionally prepared with endemic Mukeke or Ndagala found in Lake Tanganyika – which is the worlds longest fresh water lake (which divides Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo).
One of the waitresses was walking through the restaurant offering to paint the faces of diners with delicate designs, as face-painting is customary among some African communities.
While sipping on a glass or 3 of Neil Ellis Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc, a momentary reprieve from the yum-yum that was our food, came in the form of GOLD’s entertainment.
A praise singer welcomed everybody, and did introductions of the restaurants musicians, puppets, dancers and singers. There was energetic dancing – taking bits and pieces from traditional motions from all over Africa – as well as a third performance which GOLD says is dedicated to “our royal African queens. Our queen will scatter 24 carat gold dust on our guests to say thank you for visiting us.”
When put into words, it seems very much like a gimmick used all over the world for dining experience that have defining restaurant themes; but Gold Restaurant’s balance of exuberance and simplicity, is on the right side of savory.
The rest of the menu commenced, with dishes like: Cape Malay Yellow Rice, the South African Tomato Bredie prepared with Lamb or Springbok, Arab bulgur with a fresh take on it, free-range chicken wings with hot “African Birds Eye” pepper,South African Mandazi and Egyptian Almond Cigars, finishing everything off.
Full, season-changing set menu, available here.
I need not call Gold Restaurant out on their boast of their dining experience being a “taste safari” because it surely was. Some may find some of the dishes too spicy, or bland to their foreign palates, but shame on whoever cannot appreciate the fulfilling food and entertainment, for what it was: a commendable performance on both fronts.
It is a fine dining experience – perhaps not as classically opulent as the gold metal that flaked my bubbly and dessert suggested– but splendid none the less!
15 Bennett Street, Green Point, 8005
Tel: +27 (0) 21 421 4653 | Cell: +27 (0) 82 414 9663 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org