by Matthew Sterne
on August 10, 2010
“There are two kinds of music, the good and the bad. I play the good kind.” Louis Armstrong
Cast your mind back to the bygone days of the Rat Pack – the team at Brio have created a traditional dining room in this fantastic double volume space, built way back in1893. They have brought back ‘dinner and dance’ with stylish aplomb. We started our evening with an aperitif in the wonderful cigar and cognac lounge. Wood panels, a roaring fire and comfy sofas and arm chairs complete the picture.
The band will entertain you with the likes of Nina Simone, Louis Armstrong, Eta James and other jazzy classics. If they’re playing. We went on a Monday night and the band was not playing. In fact we were the only diners in the restaurant. In an enormous high-ceilinged ball room of a restaurant, you can imagine that this lent itself to an ambiance more akin to a dentist’s waiting room. A very stylish dentist of course. The space is fantastic – stylish, classical and opulent. There’s a raised area with black leather banquets and black and white Victorian tiles. I’m quite sure the experience would be rather different on a busy night with the band in full swing, but a restaurant should be good every night. As it was however, there was little to distract me from the food.
The menu is classic grillroom. It’s refreshingly brief and includes old classics like Roquefort snails and Crayfish Thermidore. Reading through the glamorously bound menu, I was rather excited – have we finally got a great venue that does classic dishes really well?
The answer is no. A starter of asparagus wrapped in parma ham will set you back R96. For R96 I thought it might be magical asparagus hand reared by elves and nurtured to the soothing sounds of Kenny G in the late afternoons. It wasn’t. It was distinctly unexceptional, blandly presented and served with a gloopy and overly tangy hollandaise. My fellow fatty had the calamari – as chewy as old bra straps drizzled in lemon butter.
Meat is obviously the thing to have in a grill room, so I opted for a fillet steak with a mushroom sauce (costs extra). My steak was undercooked and as ropey as, well, rope, while the mushroom sauce would not have been out of place in a hippo’s nostril. But credit where it’s due – the thick cut chips were fantastic. Vegetable sides (for which you again pay extra) included butternut, creamed spinach and marrow. Dull and unimaginative.
It’s worth mentioning that the service was flawless. The wine selection is good and there are plans to have an enormous basement wine cellar where you’ll be able to venture and select your tipple. Sounds good. I made do with a waitress delivered and rather measly glass of Glen Carlou cabernet for R56.
I was willing to overlook all of this at the prospect of a Lindt chocolate soufflé. Soufflés make me weak at the knees. I see them so rarely on restaurant menus these days because they are a nightmare to prepare and they take time. This particular soufflé was a reminder of that. A soufflop. If I was chef, which I’m not, I would have been ashamed to serve it. Which reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from the food critic AA Gill when he was challenged to open his own restaurant:
“Critics may well be like eunuchs in a harem who know how it’s done, having seen it done every day, they just don’t fancy having it done to them.”
Back to the soufflé. It had not risen a jot. It was a hard, slightly burnt pie crust with a thick chocolate cream filling. It was deliciously chocolatey but more reminiscent of scraping out the cake mix from Mum’s Magimix than a soufflé.
Brio 1893, like communism, is a great idea in theory. But if they’re going to be successful, they’ll need to drop their prices, get a new chef and get some music on the go every night.
130 ABC Building, Adderly street
021 422 0654