Garlic snails. Picture: ISTOCK
Garlic snails. Picture: ISTOCK

NOW I know why President Jacob Zuma has been kvetching loudly about the fact that civil society forced him to dump Des van Rooyen as finance minister in December. As they say in business, these two are absolutely aligned! Okay, they are not aligned, but are certainly cut from the same cloth.

They like the finer things in life. Don’t tell me about tightening belts and all that rubbish finance minister Pravin Gordhan has been banging on about.

Last week it emerged that government had spent R500,000 housing Van Rooyen and his family in a five-star boutique hotel in Pretoria. It is not just any old hotel, my friends. The hotel, 131 on Herbert Baker‚ serves high tea and has an exclusive restaurant that promises to “satisfy even the most discerning palate”.

“Five-star expectations are surpassed time and again,” says its website.

This is where Van Rooyen has been facing hardship since January 1. The public works department put him up there. These are the geniuses who spent a whopping R246m on Zuma’s Nkandla home. They are a consistent bunch.

Anyway, don’t expect anyone to ask Des why he didn’t say to the department that they should get him cheaper digs. Zuma won’t ask him. Can you imagine that conversation? Des would retort: “You have just spent R8.6m buying luxury cars for your four wives!”It’s a great life, isn’t it?

Which is why we decided to employ that great Japanese word, shibumi, when we went out for dinner. The word denotes understated beauty; no show. It is a word to live by.

We chose a newish restaurant, A La Bouffe, in a slightly shabby but regenerating street in Linden. New restaurants are coming up. A glitzy new television production studio is up. And A La Bouffe is there.

The restaurant website says chef Romuald Denesle worked under Marc Chalopin at Charlot Roi des Coquillages and at Louis Grondard’s two-star Michelin restaurant, Drouant, before moving to the UK, where he worked as sous chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Fleur de Sel, Dalhousie Castle and as senior sous chef at Ardeonaig Hotel on Loch Tay.

We went on a Saturday evening. The petite restaurant’s tables were nearly all taken, with a mixed crowd of old and young. We waited to be served. Thulani the waiter was all alone, waiting tables and manning the bar. It didn’t make for swift or smooth service.

My connoisseur friend ordered a French white wine blend (Grenache blanc, Grenache gris and Macabeu) which came at a reasonable price for an import: R330! And it was delicious. We were very happy with the second, a light red, the Beaujolais Villages. The third, a Domaine Grier, is produced by the famous Grier family of the Cape (makers of Valhalla wines) at their vineyard in France. It was slightly on the heavy side, causing division at the table, but a steal at R295 a bottle. We Uber-ed home, in case you were wondering.

The food? The menu is perfect — it is small and specific, showing decisiveness on the chef’s part. We were also divided on the food. I loved my snails in garlic and parsley butter while my lovely wife thought hers were poor. Our guests felt the onion soup lacked “body”.

My steak was not medium rare, but medium to well, which was extremely disappointing. Was chef in the kitchen? Or a stand-in?

The free-range chicken in a mushroom sauce was to die for.

We will go back to A La Bouffe — where it was good, it was very good. But the place needs to up its consistency. There were too many niggles.

***½ A La Bouffe
32 Seventh Street, Linden, Johannesburg
Tel: (011) 888-8004

***** Thuli Madonsela
**** Excellent
*** Good
** Poor
* Nkandla

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