This year I have decided to start exploring the Cape from a culinary point-of-view. Cape Town is a wondrous place with many splendid sights, sounds and people. But there is something special in its food and its flavours. I hope to use journey of exploration as a springboard to other discoveries the complacent Capetonian often misses about his or her beloved home.
Just to be clear, when I say “Cape”, I mean Cape Town and its surrounds, as far as my current home in Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is a small and quiet little town with multiple personality disorder and which is neither small nor even quiet. It is a symbol of patriotic pride for many Afrikaners who wander underneath the alien oak trees; it is a raucous student town and a peaceful tourist town; it sports history and cutting-edge technology (uh, I mean research); it sells the cheapest alcohol you can legally buy as well as some of the most expensive meals in the country. It is at the same time deceptively large and deceptively small, especially to the casual observer. For years I only knew the “student” side of the town and beyond. It is only in recent years that I have slowly begun to venture into the other side of town.
Picture four friends walking down Victoria street on a Friday afternoon in the summer on which the sun does not casts down as much heat as it does laziness. They are hungry and looking for a place to eat—some place where they have not been before. They turn left in Ryneveld street and continue on a bit and cross one of the many lines of demarcation in Stellenbosch. This one, like the others, is not marked or indicated in any way. It is more of a feeling that comes over you as you walk along. Somewhere between the church and the synagogue you cross over from the “student” part of town into the “tourist” part of town. Here prices triple or quadruple and there is no mention of Tassies. You hear strange accents and see people walking around with cameras around their necks. There are loads of little cafés and restaurants sprinkled between the businesses which some of the locals frequent. We continue past Plein street, discussing what we are in the mood for and ford Church street (the epicentre of the tourist part of town). Suddenly we find ourselves at the end of Ryneveld street and finally decide on a small, unremarkable place: 5 Ryneveld.
This is not the type of place I would normally dine at, primarily because of they charge for their food (although, in retrospect, it wasn’t unaffordably expensive, except for the R1399 burger which includes a bottle of Dom Perignon). But we were young, foolish, hungry, and there was the unspoken significance that this was a farewell for one of our friends.
A large section of the 5 Ryneveld menu is devoted to burgers. They have a wide variety with interesting toppings. The “Ronin” chicken burger caught my eye. I cannot remember all the details I would like to of that day, but what is important I do remember and that is how delicious that burger was. It had the slightest of zing—perhaps it would be too little for other people, but it was just right for me. The flavours fused in my mouth and I was a thorougly happy chappy!
My friends enjoyed their burgers as well, but had minor complaints. I had none, which leads me to the primary conclusion that not all of 5 Ryneveld’s food it for everyone. They try interesting things on their menu and sometimes it works, but sometimes the menu description creates an expectation which isn’t quite lived up to. Personally I would recommend 5 Ryneveld, even if only for you to decided for yourself if and what you like.
One thing that is an annoyance is the website of 5 Ryneveld. Before starting this post, I thought I would go brush up on the menu a bit. However, their website features a pulsating logo, and while it is a nice logo, it only features the logo. So, don’t bother going there, unless you are high and need something to completely zone out on.
Location of 5 Ryneveld.
The next restaurant on my list needs no introduction. Over the decades, Stellenbosch has had many legendary establishments which became (in)famous among the student populace. Some have weathered the onslaughts of Change, while others have perished and are now only memories to some of the alumni. The Brazen Head is relatively new, but it is already firmly established in Stellenbosch and I don’t believe that it will go away any time soon.
The Brazen Head has served me well over the past few years. Nearly all the students in Stellenbosch know The Brazen Head and, of that group, I would say most of them know it well. It spans two storeys and a courtyard. The ground floor is the “bar” area and has several smaller rooms in which you and your friends can kuier in relative peace. The top storey is reserved for bookings and is more of a restaurant area. But I think it is the courtyards which is everyone’s favourite. Even in summer, because the tables surround a soothing fountain and the addition of mist sprayers ensures that this area is always cool and comfortable, even on the warmest of days. What I consider a loss, however, is that fact that they have covered up the balcony area. When this was still uncovered, it provided a slight view over the town and, sometimes, some quite from the crowd below.
But what about the food? The Brazen Head offers a wide variety of meals. I have eaten there before and enjoyed it, but on the occasion I want to highlight now I had a plain old beef burger (yes, I went with the budget option). The burger was nice and succulent. It reminded me of a Spur burger which, lets face it, is not bad at all. The meat was softer than that of a Spur burger, but it also had an after taste which wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t what you get from a Spur burger.
The Brazen Head is too expensive for the average student to eat there more than once in a blue moon. I reckon they make most of their money from students who stop by for a beer or two. And they seem to flourish on this business model, so who am I to meddle with the status quo? There is just one teeny, tiny suggestion I want to make, if the proprietors are reading this: just make a plain old plate-of-chips option available. Something affordable on which student can munch while drinking their beer. Not having this option is hurting you, I’m sure. But, if you are going to do this, you are going to have to get a new recipe for chips, because what I got with my burger was below standard and will be even for a drunk student.
Still, maybe I am just being fussy. The Brazen Head is a good establishment overall and well worth a revisit. Whether you decided to go to The Brazen Head for the food, the drinks or just the sprayers, I’ll see you there!
Location of The Brazen Head
PS I am not a professional food critic and have not had any “training” apart from “open up, here comes the train…”. I write these reviews solely on the license of free speech the Internet so unfortunately provides. Any views expressed here are mine alone. It is up to you to use commen sense and sound judgement in deciding whether to eat at a certain place or not.