Restaurants are not just about food. Good food can be ruined by bad service – if I’m treated badly, I’m never coming back – similarly bad food can be redeemed by a feel-good experience.
At Oroboros Tapas Bar the food isn’t terrible. The potential for feel-good, however, is excellent.
Oroboros squeezes into a small space in a small street all that’s best about Muizenberg: openness, jokey charm and boho style. Owner Jacques de Klerk, an ex-muso, and chef Craig Biggar are a pair of middle-aged locals who still know how to have a good time.
The kitchen stays open until midnight in mid-summer. In winter there are Sunday night classic movies (you just missed Dr No) and this is the only place in Cape Town that stocks ale brewed in tequila barrels.
Oroboros opened a year ago in a side street across the way from Muizenberg restaurant stalwarts Carla’s and The Empire Café.
Inside, the menu is written in chalk on the wall and the chairs are unmatched. There’s a designer’s eye to it all, though. The vintage decanter collection is lovely; the drinking glasses are a pleasure to look at and to hold. The lights and mirrors are well-placed. It’s not remotely grimy or run-down, as boho décor tends to be.
The “tapas” – which isn’t tapas at all, but meze and small plates of regular restaurant food – has been lavished with attention. It’s the kind of food you’d be flattered to be served in someone’s home.
Easily the best thing I ate was the oyster mushroom pâté. Made with fresh oyster mushrooms grown organically, the texture of the pâté was fit for a queen: ultra-fine and creamy with a delicate taste both fresh and earthy.
The mussels were the worst thing I ate. I’m sure it’s true that the mussels were fresh, but the sauce, which was advertised as tomato-based with chorizo, tasted like chicken livers. It’s possible that the sauce was pureed and this was accidental, but as chicken livers were also on the menu I have my suspicions.
It’s testament to my very good mood on the night that I didn’t find the mussels-livers combo more schreech-worthy.
Why the good mood? I grew terribly fond of our waitress, Tracey-Leigh Lawson, almost instantly.
“Oh, we don’t serve water here, sir,” she charfed my husband in the first five minutes. Tanned, worldly, of De Klerk and Biggar’s vintage, Lawson rocked her boyfriend jeans and blonde crop. Someone this cool could have justified condescension to the couple out on a date night. Instead she leant her hand on the back of my chair. After saying goodbye she appeared again, at my car window. She’d run down the road to bring me the scarf I’d left on the back of my chair.
Lawson and I shared smiles, but we didn’t share a taste in food. The pork loin ribs she recommended were coated in too much sweet, sticky sauce for my liking.
The careful design of the Oroboros interior did not extend to the plating. The meze platter was what American movie characters call “a hot mess”.
I could cope with the piled-high meze plate – just – but I was intolerant of the dried herbs sprinkled across the length and breadth of the hilly food landscape. As a garnish, all dried herbs do is make a plate look like someone’s ashed on it.
Speaking of ash, there’s enough smoking going on outside to make it feel like the nineties. Diners spill onto the pavement where they lounge on sofas and perch on barstools. Some of the outfits, like the décor style, verge on theatrical. Velvet, lace and pinstripe are in evidence. There are also skateboarders in surf T-shirts, homeowners in puffer vests and backpackers in jeans.
If you’ve always wanted to be called “bru” or “dude” by a stranger, this is a good place to hang. It’s possible you’ll like that more than you expected to. We did.
Oroboros Tapas Bar 082 925-1073; 2 York St, Muizenberg
- Daisy Jones is author of Star Fish, a cookbook about sustainable fish. She has written restaurant reviews for Business Day and various guides.