It was quite unfortunate how the entire street to one side of Five Flies had been blocked off, strewn with building materials and fences for a massive construction project. But it made stepping inside the restaurant a moment of wonder when we saw how it was cleverly tucked away amidst all the historic parliamentary buildings, just beyond the bustle of Long Street. With its strategic location and polished interior, one could see what an ideal spot Five Flies is for corporate lunches or respite from congressional sessions. The evening had also lured in a big family toasting to good health around a wine-glass-laden table, as well as a number of couples looking for a quiet, sophisticated dinner.
In particular, I watched in amusement as a woman across the room made absolutely no effort to hide her fascination with the beautiful building—buildings, rather, as the restaurant is comprised of two houses joined together. Between bites of her dinner, she craned her neck to peer into a nearby room or to stare up at the ornate balconies above us—ones from which Shakespearean citations could be orated. The courtyard is a charming atrium-like space between two joined buildings, a glass ceiling keeping most of the winter chill out and the comforting gas heaters tending to the rest. It was here that we sat among closely arranged tables and potted plants with cobblestone under our feet. Surrounding the courtyard are interlinked rooms: a well-stocked bar to the side, a room with a wall covered by clocks of all shapes and sizes in which a private gathering was being hosted, behind us another dining room with an antique touch in the décor.
Our meal began with Artichoke Hearts (R 90), an imaginatively transformed combination of familiar ingredients. The tender artichoke hearts were crusted with panko crumbs and deep-fried for a satisfying crunch, the inside filled with smooth goat cheese. On the side came the savoury touch of the smoked olive tapenade, the chimichurri’s fresh tones, a hint of sweetness from the green apple puree, and the broccoli aioli for a creamy finish. The micro herbs on the side included alfalfa sprouts which, with their perfectly trimmed ends, denoted an impressive degree of detail. It was just about one of the best starters we’d had in a while.
With a starter so difficult to top, the meal seemed to go downhill from there. The Queen Prawns (R 195) came with a serving of savoury basmati rice on the side – which was so good I could have eaten it all on its own – but the prawns, though grilled well to a handsome char, could have used some seasoning. It could also be that this was because I could not taste the Lime Beurre Blanc that the menu had indicated. The wild rocket and cocktail tomato salad however did balance out the dish nicely. My husband’s Beef Fillet (R 165) seemed to present a similar issue: it was a beautiful slab of meat, a New York style steak artfully suspended on a structured heap of crushed potatoes, but we felt it had not been seasoned all the way through. We also couldn’t taste the thyme in the potatoes, but what more than made up for it was the out-of-this-world creamed leek and oyster mushroom ragout, paired with a sweet red wine jus, through which we dragged each bite of our steak and potatoes. As a whole, the intended flavours were all present in each dish, perhaps designed pointedly in that way to be eaten together; we simply would have preferred to see the seasoning incorporated evenly throughout each component.
Dessert was a Tatin of Grabouw Pears (R 65) which, instead of the usual integration of fruit and pastry, was more like a de-constructed version: a pastry cup filled with butter-and-caramel-browned pears. The pastry was slightly underbaked, but the pear was deliciously sweet with its cinnamon hints. In particular, we also enjoyed the brandy snap strips and the sticky honey-like drizzle that evoked wafts of lychee. Service was smooth and unhurried in such as a way as to reflect the relaxed dinner environment Five Flies strives to maintain. The restaurant also accommodates private functions, tour groups, and conferencing events, and one has to wonder if perhaps with so much going on food has just become one of the many focal points at Five Flies. But from its monumental background to the tasteful ambience and the classy menu, there’s a reason Five Flies has sustained its reputation an iconic stalwart in the Mother City.
Note: ask for freshly ground pepper and your server will show up with a giant pepper grinder the size of a bazooka—it’s a sight not to be missed.
by Esther Lim
Five Flies, 14-16 Keerom Street, Cape Town
Contact: 021 424 4442 or firstname.lastname@example.org