Back in Cape Town after sojourns in Johannesburg and Durban, Madame Zingara is celebrating “10 years of dreams”. Its tent is among the biggest and most luxurious of the few surviving Belgian spiegeltents in the world.
Getting into character
The impish staff are dressed in bohemian costume and are brimful of camp repartee. Seating more than 400 diners, the service is prompt and a minor miracle of logistics. Few of our swanky hotels have a banqueting service this efficient.
Patrons are offered face painting by a vampire and invited to the Bijoux Boutique in the foyer of the tent to get into a character of their own creation with accessories from feather boas to pirate outfits.
The show has several opening introductions with clap-along fun and circus jingles and perhaps too many warm-up numbers before it gets into proper revue mode.
The entertainers include drag queen Brendan van Rhyn as his alter ego, air-hostess Cathy Specific, and her inimitable sidekick, the Little Queen of Tarts, Rory Avenstrup, a person of restricted growth. Singer Stella Magaba joins the original Three Tons of Fun — Nokukhanya Dlamini, Lillian Khumalo and Salome Damon — providing musical interludes while you eat.
Between courses, there are circus artistes: Ukraine chair-stackers Julia and Sergie Kapranov; Russian rollerskaters Ivan and Kristina from Moscow; a double-strength act with Daniel Bauer tossing and whirling Lisa Pridgeon about the stage; Christine du Plooy in a splashy aerial act that starts off in a bath of water (if you’re in the front row, expect a refreshing drizzle); sexy rapper Ben Caesar; and a rope-skipping act from Khayelitsha performed by Masixole Felani, Thozamile Peter, Terence Tshamlambo and Sbu Mabele.
The highlight is perhaps the three astounding contortionists, the Mongolian Princesses, and a mysterious masked figure in a superhero polka-dot outfit who skips through “its” own hands and passes “its” body through a tennis racket, at one point appearing to dislocate a shoulder to execute this feat.
The menu is a set four-course dinner. For starters, a cup of potato and leek soup and a small platter with individual tomato tarts, a ramekin of olives, some bread straws and cream-cheese dips.
It’s followed by a primi piatti, on my night butternut ravioli.
For the main course, there is a choice: Zingara’s signature dish since 2001, beef fillet on black mushrooms with rocket and topped with a rosemary-infused Belgian cocoa sauce and a “tower” of vermicelli noodles, with potato bake and butternut as side vegetables; Norwegian salmon fillet coated with black sesame seeds, pan-fried and served on wasabi mash potatoes with a fruity salsa and lemon aioli; lamb shank cooked slowly in a red wine and vegetable sauce, with mash, gravy and gremolata; or a mixed vegetable curry served with a popadum.
Dessert is a trio of dolceletti: sticky pudding, crème brûlée and a berry mousse. When the show ends, the audience is dragged on stage to dance with the artistes. Madame Zingara succeeds in giving you one helluva great night out.
By Brent Meersman for Mail & Guardian online