Krishan Peters is standing behind the counter of Prashad Café in Kloof Street. He’s wearing an Origin coffee apron; there’s a big, shiny coffee machine. There are potted plants and an Instagram-friendly mural. There’s no meat on the menu; indeed, nearly half the dishes are vegan-friendly.
None of this is terribly unusual, especially in the hipster-heavy City Bowl. Prashad Café is just one of Cape Town’s estimated 60 vegan- and vegetarian-friendly restaurants.
What’s unusual here is the food: It’s exceptional. The soya mince that’s used for the samosas is drained and rinsed so thoroughly it’s the best looky-likey meat samosa I’ve ever had. The egg-free roti and nan doughs are double-rested and double-kneaded to achieve a softness that makes them almost indistinguishable from regular Indian flatbreads. Instead of ghee or butter, the doughs are brushed with an oil and vegan butter combo.
The menu at Prashad Café is built around curry. This matters, from a foodie point of view. Why? Because the first ancients to develop a meat-free cuisine were Indian. Dishes like yellow dal have been perfected over 1500-plus years. The same cannot be said for lentil burgers and tofu nuggets.
Moreover, Peters has resto-pedigree. More than forty years ago, his grandfather opened Maharajah, one of Cape Town’s first Indian restaurants. It’s still attracting rave reviews from customers. Peters’ mother, Theresa, has been chef-owner at Maharajah Vegetarian in Rondebosch for over a decade. Prashad Café is just five months old but the recipes are much older: each one is an adaptation of Theresa’s most successful dishes.
The Chana Masala, a humble dish of tomatoes, potatoes and chickpeas, is exquisite. The tomato is slow-cooked, sweet. The spicing is gentle but warm; the chickpeas and potato firm but comforting.
The paneer butter masala (pictured) is equally lovely: luxuriously smooth and rich, with unusually firm chunks of Indian cottage cheese.
The butter beans curry is justifiably famous. If rich “butter” sauces and dal makhani nod to the North Indian dishes that made Maharajah in Long Street famous, the butter beans curry points in the direction of the family’s Durban roots.
This curry is robust. The spices are lively. The beans are nutritious. It eats like a working man’s lunch on a humid summer’s day. It’s the obvious filling for the bunny chow.
The roti wraps – Cape Town’s version of a mobile curry – are enormous. I would recommend the mix veg curry here – instead of the saucy korma – simply for ease of eating.
One matter of personal taste: The soya “mock” chicken is neither stringy nor rubbery, but I don’t like the texture. Having said that, I notice that for some online reviewers the soya butter chicken is their raison d’etre.
The samosas deserve a special mention. The spinach and paneer filling is so freshly green it reminded me of a spanakopita. The potato coriander filling perfectly exemplifies how even the humblest of combinations can be distinguished by masterful cooking.
The mango lassi is a stand-out. Made with real fruit and home-made yoghurt, is everything a mango lassi should be: fruity-sweet not sugary-sweet; creamy but not cloying. It is a bright and tropical treat that elevates the mango, that most royal of Indian fruits. This mango lassi is the very opposite of what strawberry milkshakes are to strawberries.
Prashad Café is not licenced. However, as its name would suggest, it does do a good coffee. The cappuccino I drank would hold its own against any other Kloof Street coffee. Peters also serves vegan cakes.
Parking here is easy, a boon in this part of Gardens. Finally – unbelievably – it’s so affordable. Samoosas are R5 each – have all four types for R20, why don’t you? – and a wrap is R60. Curries are R80 each but the portions are so big your leftovers or doggy bag will do for supper tomorrow. A double shot espresso is just R18.
Prashad Café: Shop 11B, Palmhof Centre, Kloof Street, Gardens; (021) 422-0264; www.prashad.co.za
- Daisy Jones has been writing reviews of Cape Town restaurants for ten years. She won The Sunday Times Cookbook of the Year for Starfish in 2014. She was shortlisted for the same prize in 2015 for Real Food, Healthy, Happy Children. Daisy has been a professional writer since 1995, when she started work at The Star newspaper as a court reporter. She is currently completing a novel.