Going to the theatre is no longer just about the show: it’s now an ‘experience’. Theatres quickly realised the benefits of a bar, but now many are responding to the fact that a night out might well require something to eat before or after a show. In Cape Town the Baxter Theatre has long had a restaurant, and the Theatre on the Bay is the latest to add a dining venue, ‘Sidedish’ in addition to a café and a VIP room.
But one of the stalwarts of the dinner-theatre experience has always been Kalk Bay Theatre. Converted from a church in 2004, it quickly became renowned for its quirky shows and its bargain suppers served on its wooden mezzanine level.
The restaurant has been through a few changes since then but now, with talented chef Hannah McMahon at the helm, it has most assuredly found its feet and Kalk Bay Theatre is relaunching itself as the original dinner theatre experience destination offering a main course (and optional starter) before the show, with coffee and/or dessert afterwards.
The menu changes from show to show but is classic in nature and often includes fresh fish from the local harbour, though on a Tuesday night when the improvisation game Theatresports is showing, the menu is a straightforward homemade burger, chips and beer for just R 50. And on Sundays the restaurant offers a mouth-watering cheese board and wine for a very pleasing R 95.
The restaurant itself is a charming space under the eaves of the building, a balustraded gallery that overlooks the stage floor. Wooden floorboards and traditional pine chairs and tables are teamed with good quality cutlery and crockery as well as linen napkins, generous glasses and candles. With its elegant blue walls and convivial and friendly atmosphere it is reminiscent of a stylish trattoria, though the theatre connection is unmistakeable, thanks to the posters of previous shows lining the walls.
A graduate of the Silwood kitchen, and with experience at Uitsig’s River Café, The Food Barn and Londolozi Game Reserve, Hannah McMahon was most recently head chef at the five-star Highlands Country House in Kenilworth. Not bad for a 24 year old Zimbabwean who, before even reaching her teens, was driving her family nuts by drying her homemade fettuccine all over the furniture.
McMahon’s current menu includes a choice of succulent crumbed prawns with sweet chilli and basil dipping sauce, or a warming winter soup to start; grilled fillet of beef with parmesan polenta cake, vegetables and a red wine jus for main course, or supreme of chicken stuffed with feta and peppadews, with wilted spinach and a chunky pepper salsa. We eschewed the vegetarian option of spinach and ricotta ravioli but ordered one serving each of everything else on the menu.
Elegantly plated, each dish was hot and spot-on tasty, with juicy tender meat contrasting with crisp and flavoursome accompaniments. Service was top notch – attentive, friendly, knowledgeable and with enough pause between courses to feel unrushed without feeling forgotten. The wine list offered a good selection at prices ranging from R 75 per bottle to R 210. House wine was Splattered Toad – always a good one – served in a bottle or, nicely, in a 500ml carafe.
We very quickly felt at home to the degree that after our main course we had to be reminded about the play and gently ushered out of our chairs and down to the seats we had reserved earlier by the disarmingly quaint yet ruthlessly effective method of placing a piece of paper with our names on the chairs of our choice.
The play – Sie Weiss Alles – was a Kalk Bay Theatre classic, with a cast of just two, one of whom had written the play, while a third person managed the lights and sound. It struck me that this set up epitomised Kalk Bay Theatre’s approach to everything: Good. Simple. Quality.
After the performance, we headed back upstairs where we’d left the last of the bottle of wine on our table. We mulled happily over the delights of the play while tucking into an utterly delectable dark chocolate tart with whipped strawberry cream and honeycomb, as well as a board of astonishingly good cheeses and a satisfyingly generous plunger of hot coffee.
The cast, as is traditional, joined the crowd upstairs for a quick drink. It’s one of those elements that I’d imagine could be exhausting for the actors but at Kalk Bay Theatre it somehow works particularly well… perhaps it’s something to do with the feeling of community in Kalk Bay. Or perhaps it’s because, having had dinner there, one feels remarkably at home and quite easy about inviting a star from the stage to pull up a chair and tuck into one’s cheese board. Or perhaps it’s because of the quality of actor that Kalk Bay Theatre hosts. In this case, both James Cairns and Tarryn Bennett were utterly charming and we left feeling as though a little bit of stardust had rubbed off on us.
And so there are many reasons why I will continue to recommend Kalk Bay Theatre. Nothing is unnecessarily complicated: not the service, not the set and not even the food. Everything is approached with exquisite simplicity. In an age that is encumbered both by austerity and by endless spin-doctoring, Kalk Bay Theatre is to be lauded for its refreshingly straightforward approach. And yet it has much to boast about. For a classic night out, the dinner theatre experience doesn’t get much better than Kalk Bay Theatre.
The set menu at Kalk Bay Theatre costs R 150 per person for 2 courses, or R 200 for three courses. Dinner is served from 6.30pm, when the doors open. Patrons reserve their seats before moving upstairs for dinner. On Tuesday nights for TheatreSports, guests can have a burger and a beer for only R 50. The cheese selection and glass of wine on Sunday nights costs R 95 per person. (Prices exclude drinks, coffee, service and show ticket).
Bookings can be made at anytime on the Kalk Bay Theatre website www.kbt.co.za.