by Matthew Sterne
on September 27, 2010
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” Leonardo Da Vinci
A lot of restaurants in South Africa could learn a thing or two from 95 Keerom. Fresh ingredients, simply and expertly prepared.
It’s in a slightly unfortunate location behind the Dubliner off Long Street. Senator House (not a Senator in sight) is an apartment block right out of the drama series the Wire. It’s brimful of Nigerian drug dealers and is just over the road from 95 Keerom. Even the short walk from the makeshift gravel car park feels rather exhilarating. There is something curiously rewarding about seeking out a great restaurant in a dodgy area.
95 Keerom Street, circa 1682, originally housed the stables and slave quarters of the Company Gardens. Many of the original elements, including the façade and brick walls, have been saved in the restoration process. The upstairs area is open-plan and modern, lots of glass, earthen colours and modern wood chair, all centred around a wizened tree. Downstairs is quieter, cosier and more intimate with a series of smaller, face brick dining rooms.
The secret to 95 Keerom is the ingredients. They source only the best and freshest local and imported products and then do as little as possible to the raw ingredients. Unpretentious and delicious. You don’t have to look much further than the twice daily baked bread and pungent Morgenster Olive Oil to find evidence of this. And you’ll need it to nibble on as the almost comically Italian chef, comes to tell you the saliva inducing specials.
The signature dish at 95 Keerom is il carpaccio, which comes in a number of enticing guises, including swordfish, tuna and of course beef. Carpaccio is on virtually every restaurant menu in South Africa, whether Italian or not, so you could be forgiven for feeling a little uninspired. But carpaccio is never going to be about the chef’s cooking skills, it’s about the quality of the beef or fish and that is why 95 Keerom sets the standard. I opted for the carpaccio con palmito e parmigiano (with palm hearts and parmesan) which was clean, fresh and delicious.
For main course, you cannot go wrong with the linefish,” Il Pescato del giorno alla 95”. On my first visit, I had the most magnificent East Coast Sole, butter grilled with sides of spinach and soft parmesan polenta. Again, something that you can get regularly in South African restaurants, nothing new, but this was fresh, plump and perfectly prepared. And if you’ve never been convinced by polenta, then this is place to try it out – when I cast my mind back to 95 Keerom the polenta stirs some rather deep and primitive longing in me. On my second visit, I opted for the Red Roman – not as good as the Sole, but it’s good to see that they will only serve what is freshly available. Horny Grazer Snr (my Dad) had the Gli Spaghetti all Cozze (mussels and tomato), which was rich, tasty and mussely. What more could you ask for?
Come pudding time, imagine my excitement when I saw a variety of chocolate soufflés on offer. Could 95 Keerom really be Horny Grazer heaven?
No. These are categorically not soufflés. They are chocolate fondants. A poor man’s soufflé if ever there was. There is nothing quite like that sinking feeling when you raise the expectations of a glutton – you tease their salivary glands only to leave them dangling in a peristaltic rage. I was almost moved to tears at the banal sight of a perfectly formed fondant. Misrepresentation at its most culinary egregious. I complained vehemently and told the manager that at the very least the waitress should have managed my expectations when I ordered. He sycophantically agreed, but I note with dismay that nothing has changed. The only cloud on an otherwise silver lining for 95 Keerom.
If you’re sick of pretentious, over sauced and styled food that is more art than nourishment, then 95 Keerom is the perfect antidote. It’s a great, simple and versatile Italian restaurant, ideal for a business lunch, birthday dinner or an intimate liaison.
95 Keerom Street
Telephone: +27 21 422 0765