I know a restaurant is my kind of place when the waiter shows you to your table, hands you your menu and asks you if you’d like a tequila. A tequila? At dinner, washed down with chardonnay? Obviously. Despite the fact that it’s a veritable stone’s throw from my house and an establishment frequented by many of my friends, somehow I’d never made it to dinner at Café Manhattan in De Waterkant. Which I realise, now, has been a big oversight on my part because it’s the kind of place you walk into, weary to the bone and bored senseless with the monotony of parenting and you remember, with stunning clarity, that you’re actually an adult who very much likes adult conversation and also wearing a leather pant and throwing back the odd shooter. In that order.
Within five minutes I’d cheered up so much I was barely recognisable to myself, and the evening was a joyful series of hurrah moments as I remembered important things like: I love that Cape Town has a gay district, and that I live a few blocks away from it; I love going out on a Friday night to places where children aren’t allowed, and I love talking to my husband while being plied with cold white wine and admiring the stylish, beautifully groomed young men who frequent this sexy eatery. The music is funky, but not obtrusive; the lighting is low but not seedy, and the service is friendly and attentive without you ever feeling harassed. And the prices are really, really reasonable. In fact, the burgers (which are huge and amazing) are cheaper than the ones we have when we go to that other place which does allow children. You know where I mean.
Anyhow. I was in an American kind of mood, so to start I ordered the corn and Arborio sliders which come on a generous serving of tasty roast vegetables (v. yum indeed), and Per had the salt and pepper squid. Both were delicious. Then, I had a very hard time because I almost never order the chicken in restaurants – it feels like such a naff, fence-sitty thing to do, and anyway, chicken is lunch – but this one I couldn’t resist the sound of, being buttermilk-soaked, coated in Texan spices and deep-fried, Southern-style. The portion is so big (think KFC’s family bucket) even greedy guts me could only manage half. Only order this dish if you walked here from Kimberley. Then again, it would probably be very nice with mayo on government loaf the next day.
Per had a T-bone with two sauces since he was having commitment issues – chocolate chilli and chimichurri which is an Argentinian thing made of parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar and goes very nicely on beef and also on double-fried chips and onion rings and vegetables and your finger. (Personally, I would have gone for the triple cheese or the smokey chipotle, but I only get to boss him around so much before he tells me to settle down and face the front).
By the time we were done we were too full to speak, but had to try one of the fun milkshake flavours for dessert. He voted for chocolate brownie, but since I was writing the review that was vetoed immediately and we had the apple and cinnamon (you can also have peanut butter and marshmallow and lemon meringue – yum) and it was completely divine, served with a dollop of apple pie and two spoons. They also do fun and unusual-for-SA things like root beer floats, soft shell crab and pumpkin pie, but those delights I had to leave for another day. If it’s been a long time since you had a decent conversation with your partner or it’s been a stupid week at work or life is just unimpressing you hugely, comfort food in a cheerful setting goes a long way towards making the world bearable again. Pull in, order the fries and say yes to the tequila. You’ll walk out a new man.
Café Manhattan is on 74 Waterkant Street, De Waterkant. Call them 021 421 6666 or check out their website http://www.manhattan.co.za/. They’re open for breakfast, and have a special Steak Knife Tuesday for when the weekend got really fun. The pavement tables are also good for an after work cocktail or seven.