Tim James: On the need for a list of restaurants that allow BYO

January 12, 2015
by Tim James
in Opinion & Analysis
with 4 Comments

I always feel affronted by restaurant reviews that ignore the winelist, let alone provide any detail. Even in, say, the New Yorker, where it’s a matter of practical irrelevance; more so in blogs and magazines aimed specifically at local winelovers.

95 Keerom.

95 Keerom.

Here follow a few remarks, with a whinge or two, on wine service during a recent visit to a restaurant in Cape Town, though it’s not a review of either the restaurant as a whole (I’m not qualified to do that properly) or of the winelist – which is not bad, reasonably priced, a bit safe and dull, featuring mostly current-release stuff.

It’s a long-time favourite restaurant of mine in question – 95 Keerom Street, in the centre of Cape Town – with unflashy Italian cooking made with fresh ingredients and with care, and served pretty well (usually; by South African standards), in a thoroughly pleasant environment, the whole show run with professional brio and attention to detail by the estimable chef Giorgio Nava. I would go more often but the menu is too static, with a lot of it more or less the same as it was ten or more years ago.

There were four of us dining, so I was expecting to need at least two, probably three, bottles of wine. I took along one of them: Aldo Conterno Barolo 1998. First chosen off the 95 Keerom winelist was a thoroughly enjoyable Mulderbosch Steen-op-Hout Chenin Blanc. Then I asked for my Barolo to be opened, and was told that, no, BYO was no longer allowed. Oh! The immediately previous policy had been to allow one bottle per table. Apparently this change had come in “a few weeks” before.

I asked our waitress to check with Giorgio, as I was sure he’d happily permit an exception – but he was away from the restaurant for a while. I was irritated, but started selecting a red from the list. Then another waiter came up: he’d spoken on the phone to Giorgio who gave the go ahead. Excellent. Good marks to the staff for doing all their duty. Then this new waiter irritatingly exceeded his duty by pointing out that this was “although the wine is on the winelist”. Turns out what he meant was that there was a Barolo on the winelist – one I didn’t recognise, from 2009, 11 years younger than mine as I pointed out. I wasn’t keen on spending R1100-odd on wine infanticide.

The Aldo Conterno was very good, in early maturity. I’d brought it straight from my wine-cooler at 14 degrees, so it was by now pleasantly cool, and went down well. What to follow it with was not so easy. I chose the Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2012. I’m pleased to repeat my Platter note about “clean, delicious fruit flavours, unobscured by masterly oaking, discreet tannins. No great depth, but most drinkable.” Of course it was rather youthfully raw, and lacking complexity after the Barolo, but we all liked it. And, as I was paying, I liked it being good value at about R250, as I recall.

The trouble is that – as happens in most restaurants – it was served at room temperature. The temperature in a room on a moderate summer Cape Town evening (if the air-conditioning was on, it wasn’t set low) is not the correct temperature for serving wine – it accentuates the alcohol effect and reduces the freshness. I don’t know if all the 95 Keerom reds are served at this temperature, but none should be. Certainly, most restaurants serve whites too cold and reds too warm.

And in future I won’t feel able to take my own bottle. I must say that that is a substantial disincentive. It’s getting time to start establishing a list of restaurants that allow BYO.

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4 Comments

  1. anthonyJanuary 12, 2015 at 11:39 pmReply

    Hi Tim I agree would be most informative to have access to such a list as I invariably take my own wine although some restaurants charge ridiculous corkage charges to deter patrons from bringing their own wine whilst some are not really perturbed thereby thanks

  2. Tim JamesJanuary 12, 2015 at 9:13 amReply

    David, I agree in principle. However, seeing I’d been taking a bottle to this restaurant for at least a decade, it didn’t occur to me. And I do often ask for an ice-bucket for reds – I did so recently at Societi Bistro in Orange Street, as their reds are always much too warm. I put the red on ice while we drank the white (I’d brought). Wouldn’t have been useful at Keerom, however, as the bottle was emptied before it had much chance to cool!

  3. KwispedoorJanuary 12, 2015 at 7:49 amReply

    Yes, a list of restaurants that allow BYO, but also a list of restaurants that have reasonable wine markups.

    In December I was briefly in Port Elizabeth and took the chance to go for a meal at Zorba’s (14 Stanley Street) for the first time in many years. It was as wonderful as I remember. We had a 2013 Raats Dolomite Cabernet Franc with our meal and it cost R135 – only about R20 or so more than I paid for it earlier in the year at Wine Cellar. I think Meerlust Rubicon was something like R380.

    If only more restaurant owners actually liked wine, knew something about it and could contain their blind greed concerning markups…

    For the record, some details about the rest of our meal at Zorba’s: we had a pretty waitress that was extremely friendly, attentive without being obtrusive and clearly very well trained. Service was lightning quick and the ambiance fresh and uplifting. They also didn’t play the crap music (elevator-type or current commercial drivel) one often has to bear nowadays, while the volume was spot on.

    I had a well-presented, truly gorgeous Kleftiko-style lamb shank with fresh rosemary that fell of the bone (only R115!!!) and my girlfriend had a near-perfect hake that seemed to jump from the sea into the pan. The veggies were fresh, tasty and vibrant. The food was also not drenched in some sweet, unctuous sauce that obscured the actual food. The wine was clearly sourced from a wine fridge and was served at an absolutely perfectly cool temperature, considering the time of year and day. I had so much fun, it’s a wonder I didn’t cry or have a pants accident.

    I’ve no idea if they allow BYO wines, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all. However, at their prices, they largely negate the need for people to bring their own (apart from old wines, of which they have less on their list) – they would probably make more money on BYO in any event – haha!

    I’ve NEVER read about this fantastic little restaurant anywhere. Us winos need to punt restaurants that provide a great experience like this (especially at the great value they offer) more. I don’t think Zorba’s offering can be matched – even remotely – up here in Gauteng. Come on, wine lovers, what are we missing out on, out there?

  4. David CJanuary 12, 2015 at 7:04 amReply

    Always prudent to confirm with the restaurant BEFORE arriving if they allow BYO. Nothing wrong with asking for an ice bucket for your red, especially in summer.

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