I think, perhaps, the South African accent is my favourite in the world. The very hint of it makes me swoon, butterflies flying into a tizzy in my stomach, my brain fuzzy with ardour. It makes me stutter and stumble over the smallest of words, blushing all the while like a schoolgirl in the flush of first love. Yes, I think I am in fact in love with an accent. But to be in love with an accent is silly… if, after all, you haven’t even visited the country of origin or the cuisine. Thankfully I can now cross the latter off my list and begin to claim that I am not in love with the accent alone but perhaps just South Africa in general…? Yes, maybe that’s it.
The lovely folks over at Publicasity and South African Tourism invited myself and a handful of other bloggers to their dinner event, being held at the Bbar in Central London. We were promised an evening of fun, learning about South African food and, even better, getting to cook it ourselves. What a privilege! Of course I said yes – it was far too good an opportunity to pass up… especially at the thought of Safa accents surrounding me. Be still my beating heart.
The charming Sous-Chef Chris Schat was to be our mentor for the evening, though he was somewhat rushed off his feet with a very busy evening’s service in the restaurant. He’d just returned from holidaying back home in South Africa, was sporting a rather fetching tan and was dashing all over the place… and that accent. Oh boy. That accent. I was practically in heaven.
After the other bloggers had arrived the evening kicked off with the first group of girls heading into the kitchen to make the starters. We were having bobotie spring rolls to start – an unusual twist on a South African favourite.
My first experience of bobotie was actually had at Mooli’s, my regular Soho haunt, but in a very different form, wrapped in a wholewheat roti. Bobotie itself is traditionally a kind of moussaka dish, without the aubergine, made with curried beef mince and a creamy sauce. It was apparently declared the national dish of South Africa in 1954 – reason enough to eat it, as it is!
The spring rolls were crunchy and the fillings juicy – they were served alongside Mrs. Balls’ Chutney, a real South African home treat! They were delicious and next up was my group’s turn in the kitchen to cook the main course: springbok.
Photos courtesy of Ron Aviv.
As you may be able to tell, we had a lot of fun in the kitchen. One of the dessert chefs slipped us a cheeky bit of ice-cream when Chris wasn’t looking, prompting lots of giggling and trying to scoff down as much of it as possible. But we got down to business too and prepped and cooked our main courses. Grilled springbok (which is imported from South Africa as it’s difficult to get hold of in the UK – not exactly reducing the carbon footprint, sadly!) was served with mashed sweet potatoes, buttery carrots and spinach, and a red wine and red currant jus. I even got to demonstrate my plating skills which are, unfortunately, absolutely appalling. Of course it probably didn’t help that I was so enamoured with Chris’ accent that I was, erm, a little distracted…
Photo courtesy of Ron Aviv.
Luckily for me we had help on hand from Chris who helped us quickly plate up the rest of the dishes and brought them out to the hungry group. His plating wasn’t too different from mine, which was somewhat of a relief…
Finally the last group went into the kitchen and emerged shortly afterwards with the crowning glory of the meal: the Malva Pudding.
Malva pudding is a traditional sweet sticky pudding made with apricot jam, not dissimilar to a steamed treacle pudding. It was served with a vanilla ice-cream with hidden apricot slices and though it was perhaps a touch too sweet for me, it was delicious. All the others gobbled it up with barely a trace of ice-cream or single crumb left on the plate.
Finally we were offered a treat to finish off the night – a Springbok shot.
The Springbok, the national animal of South Africa (and also the name of their much loved rugby team), featured twice in our menu. This time round, however, it came in the form of a layered shot made with creme de menthe and amarula cream.
One of the South African Tourism folks told me that the famous story behind the amurala was a prank, similar to the 1957 BBC’s April Fool’s Joke that spaghetti grew on trees. The story this time was that amurula fruit had such a high sugar content that when left out in the sun the fruit took on a potent alcoholic quality, so much so that a full-grown elephant eating it would stagger around as if drunk. The footage surrounding this myth was so convincing, featuring so many animals acting drunkenly, that many became convinced this was in fact the case. It later emerged, however, that the animals in the footage had been tranquillised and though amarula fruit is very sweet it did not, in fact, make elephants drunk. Duh.
Regardless it had a slight fruity creamy flavour, not dissimilar to Bailey’s with tropical fruit mixed in. The mint flavour following was a little bit like swallowing mouthwash, however, but that’s how I always feel about mint-flavoured drinks!
But that wasn’t all, because after such a lovely evening we were all given a goodie bag to take home with us, which contained a South African Tourism magazine, a cookbook with braai (the South African version of barbecue) recipes, rooibos tea (mhm, rooibos!), Mrs. Ball’s chutney, various South African candies & some barbecue spices. I’ve been slowly using them all up (particularly the tea), but may have to wait for a little better weather for the braai book.
South Africa itself as a travel destination is one I’d love to visit, not just for the accents now, but also because apparently South African Tourism do special food tour packages, which was particularly exciting to discover! Can you imagine it? Sleeping under the stars, surrounded by animals and creatures we can only marvel at, and learning how to cook delicious South African food, all at once. That’s possibly my idea of heaven… and that’s coming from one of the most city-fied girls you’ll ever meet! I know that the next time I’m booking a big trip for myself South Africa is going to be a definite to put on the list!…and yes, okay, maybe it’s also because then I’d get to be surrounded by that gorgeous accent all day every day…
A humungous thanks to Publicasity & South African Tourism for inviting me along – it was a truly lovely evening with a lot of laughs, great company, learning and tasty food.
Photo courtesy of Aviv Ron.
Until next time then, and perhaps that’ll be in South Africa, peace and love.
Please note, whilst The BBar provided us with our dinners (which we did have to cook ourselves, I might add!) and a complimentary goodie bag, I have received no monetary compensation for this write-up and all opinions are my own.