From small beginnings can come great things. Case in point: the recently opened Hallelujah food and champagne bar in Kloof Nek Road, Cape Town.
Everything about this hole-in-the-wall eatery is small: the venue, the menu, even the portions – dim sum-style, designed to be shared. But this little gem packs a powerful punch. Brought to life by co-owners Adam Whiteman (from next door The Power & The Glory fame) and the likeable Julia Chen, Hallelujah serves what is best described as new Asian street food with a serious gourmet backbone. Jeanne Calitz predicts that it’s only a matter of time before this humble establishment is swamped with delighted, devoted diners.
The menu is short but oh so sweet, with an emphasis on Asian favourites like steamed dumplings and noodles. Personal highlights include smoky prawn skewers, served on piping hot steamed buns and a delectable coriander and lime dipping sauce that almost had me licking the bowl. My partner fell heavily for the slow-roasted pork belly, incredibly succulent pieces of which are served on steamed buns, with refreshing cucumber slices as a nice cool contrast. And then I have to mention the 12-hour duck, which arrives steaming in a little glass jar, accompanied by that acclaimed Japanese delicacy, soba noodles. They are served cold, with shredded cucumber and a piquant sauce which pairs very well with the melt-in-your-mouth duck.
Truly, this is excellent food. At around R78 average per dish the bill does expand pretty quickly, but then everything is so good that any thoughts of moderation are likely to evaporate at the same rate.
The mood is relaxed, friendly and welcoming. The décor is industrial with a bit of tropical surfer cool thrown into the mix. On arrival you are invited to study the menu and tick off your choices on a short order list. Pass it through the serving hatch and wait for your name to be called and food to be collected – or even handed to you by fellow diners.
The size – there must be room for 25 people max – makes for an almost communal dining experience. This atmosphere is supported by the cool counter seating, which places strangers opposite each other and gets people chatting. I loved the vibe, and will be returning soon with friends.
Service is friendly and swift; I imagine it might get a bit slower when the space is filled to capacity. Bookings are only accepted for tables of 4-6 people, so if you’re worried about space and pace, I suggest you do what we did: arrive early. It may be uncool and very un-hipster, but it works. (Hallelujah is open from Wednesdays to Saturdays, 7pm to 11pm.)
In a move that really does make you want to praise the heavens, Hallelujah distinguishes itself by its impressive offering of bubbly, all of them Cap Classiques and quite a few offered by the glass. A distinct, proudly South African theme runs through the rest of the drinks menu as well, from delicious local Triggerfish craft beers through to the presence of the wonderful fynbos-infused gins from the Inverroche distillery in Stilbaai.
This would be an unconventional but ideal spot if you’re in the mood to celebrate that promotion – or any other hallelujah moment. Order the lobster roll – one perfectly cooked lobster tail on a roll, smothered in a fragrant, mayonnaise-based sauce – and wash it down with a glass or two bubbly. It almost goes without saying, but this is not the kind of dish you’ll want to share. As the most expensive item on the menu, it will amount to a pricey little celebratory dish, but it’s one you won’t be likely to forget anytime soon.