Eat Out’s Jenna Abraham pays a visit to Primal Eatery, a new meat-focused eatery on New Church Street in Cape Town.
Parking: On the street, but it can get very full, so taxi in if you can
Cost: Main courses cost from R195 to R250
Serves: Contemporary South African and Greek dishes with a focus on wood-fired meat
Best for: Special occasions
Star rating: Food 5, service 5, ambience 4
This place is just too good to keep quiet about. Primal Eatery is co-owned by husband-and-wife team Brynn Felix (The Orphanage and Shimmy Beach Club) and Kristina Klonaris, who are trying to keep the opening of the restaurant quiet for now “while they iron out their kinks”, but it already runs smoothly, with attentive service, a swift kitchen, delicious food and great ambience.
Primal Eatery is a restaurant for purists who love the taste of meat – not the basting or sauces, but the naked goodness of the cut.
Before we get to the main event, however, we’re served a complimentary board of babaganoush, grilled red-pepper dip and butter made from pork fat, as well as triangles of grilled pita and sourdough.
The dramatic entrance of the flaming saganaki starter sets the tone for the night. A Greek cheese called kefalotiri (similar in texture to halloumi, but softer) arrives in flames in a small pan, accompanied by grilled pita. Lemon juice is squeezed over to dampen the flames.
We have to order the grilled watermelon to satisfy our curiosity about what happens when you do such a thing. Nothing sinister: It’s an interesting take on the popular watermelon salad that has become a classic at Sunday lunch. It features pickled watermelon rind, cubed feta, stoned Kalamata olives, sprinkles of burnt onion and a smattering of micro leaves. The fruit is grilled super-fast just to tss-tss on each side. It’s delicious.
For mains we both go for the butcher’s cuts of the day, a medium-rare 250g fillet and 300g sirloin off the bone. The meat is accompanied by textures of onion (onion purée, flame-grilled pickled baby onions and burnt onion) and truffle mustard.
For sides, we opt for chips with oregano, flame-roasted sweet potato and no sauces, as we suspect this is one of those rare moments when the meat won’t need any disguising. We’re not wrong.
The beautifully sharp steak knives finely and easily slice through our juicy meat.
In the past, my partner has struggled to get a piece of meat cooked the way he wanted it. After I tentatively ask him how his meat is, he looks up from his plate, surprised, and answers: “It’s rare.” His struggle has ended.
For dessert it’s a difficult choice: How do you say no to deep-fried oreos? (The neighbouring diners don’t.) How do you say no to rose-geranium cheesecake? (We certainly don’t.) The subtle flavour of rose geranium blossoms into heaven in the mouth. Utter bliss. It comes with no crust, but is so light and fluffy you barely realise it’s a cheesecake. Burnt strawberries, fresh blueberries and raspberries, and a strawberry sorbet accompany the star of the show.
(In honour of Valentine’s Day, the bill arrives with complimentary flaming shots and My Broken Heart, a chocolate fondant filled with strawberry purée and cut into two, and sprinkled with tiny pieces of strawberries.)
There’s an extensive wine list with Champagne and MCC on offer, options of the usual red and white varietals, and dessert wines. Cocktails include the Peaty Smoked Sour, made with Singleton of Dufftown Tailfire Whisky, shaken with a grapefruit-and-rosemary marmalade, lemon and a dash of Lagavulin scotch, and decorated with a slice of dried grapefruit and a sprig of rosemary. Despite the mention of sour in the name, it’s quite sweet. You could also opt for the Foraged Bramble with Inverroche Amber Gin, Kalymnian Dream with Ketel One Vodka churned with Greek yogurt, and many more, as well as the usual classic cocktails.
Despite the restaurant having been open for only three weeks, the service is faultless. We are welcomed by a smiley front-of-house manager; our waitress has an extensive knowledge of the menu; and our food arrives in a timely manner. Our water glasses are never empty, and we are always under the watchful eyes of the attentive staff and owners. The other guests seem to have the same experience.
You can choose to be seated inside or outside the buzzing restaurant. On a warm summer night the terrace is the place to be. The inside décor is a medley of oranges and reds with wooden tables and a subdued grey textured wall. Many of the tables within are two seaters, which creates a cosy, intimate setting. If you visit when the DJ is on duty, the music might be just a little too loud to have a comfortable conversation.
A good indication of a restaurant’s standard can be the quality of the restrooms. At Primal Eatery there’s two-ply toilet paper and hand soaps and moisturisers by Africanology, an eco-friendly brand that also smells delicious. Needless to say, we feel well taken care of.
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