Sunday, August 28, 2011

Breakfast at Fresh n Wild, Windhoek, Namibia

Fresh n Wild is fast becoming my favourite casual dining venue in Windhoek!  Yes I know that this is the third review, but it's all about incremental restaurant reviews, isn't it?

My previous experiences involved lunch, so for a change, I had breakfast there on a nice warm Saturday morning.

It was 8am, and there were only 4 or 5 tables of diners, so the service was quicker than usual, and cheerful as always.  This time, I got a printed menu; the chalkboard must just be for lunch.

On the previous two occasions, I opted to sit on the deck running along the long rectangular fishpond, but since that seemed to be a rather popular spot, I opted for a table under the shade of the trees instead.  As you can from the picture, it's a fair way off from the pond tables (which are in the sun).  Don't worry - I bring up the tables by the pond for a reason - I will comply with the Chekov's gun principle ...

There is a huge range of breakfast options for the hungry diner.  Everything from a light healthy bowl of crunchy roasted muesli topped with live (wtf?!) yoghurt or a croissant accompanied by butter and jam, to good ol' bacon and eggs, all the way to massive dishes like the Breakfast in a Pan: eggs, sausages, bacon and tomatoes, topped with a heart-clogging amount of melted cheese.  Naturally, I couldn't go past that challenge, and ordered myself one Breakfast in the Pan.  This is an absolutely delicious dish - I fully believe in a big, full-fat breakfast, and this ticked all the boxes!  But flavoursome too.  The tomatoes added a nice counterpoint to the cheese and egg, and the toasted brown bread perfectly complemented the food in the pan, adding a nutty flavour and chewy texture to the experience.  At N$50 (around AUD6-7), this is great value!

I also took a chance with an espresso (again ordering half a cup), and it wasn't too bad, despite coming out at two-thirds full (it was a pretty big espresso cup, mind you!).  Nice flavour, decent crema, and reasonable strength.  And at N$9 a cup (around AUD1.50), this is good value.

While waiting for my meal to arrive (it's freshly cooked to order, so I'm happy to wait for quality), I even got some entertainment from the American couple sitting at one of the tables by the fish pond.  How do I know they're American, and why was I being so nosey?  Well, if someone talks really loudly with a strong accent, it's hard to ignore them, even when you're sitting at the other end of the courtyard.  Now, don't get me wrong - I have American friends and they're all fantastic, level-headed and highly intelligent people.  But whenever I travel, I seem to come across these randoms who epitomise that (perhaps unfair) stereotypical American tourist or expat.

Anyway, I only started paying attention to their conversation when the bloke starts raising his voice when he says to the girl. I try to ignore it, but he just keeps going on.  And then he exclaims: "You're lying!".  So I think hello, what's this?  And this is kinda how the conversation goes.  The man is saying to the women that she only ever pays attention to a movie when a good looking guy appears on screen, but she doesn't do the same when a hot woman appears.  Then he goes on about how superficial she is, and sets her a hypothetical challenge - what if she had to choose between two guys, both with great personalities, but one looks like Brad Pitt, and the other is fugly - which one is she going to choose?  I couldn't hear her responses, because she spoke at a more discreet tone.  But his voice just keeps getting louder as he speaks.  Normally I would be annoyed by this breach of the serenity, if not for my efforts not to chuckle.

But mate, seriously, firstly, heterosexual women who also dig other women?  That is one of the oldest male fantasies.  Of course, that may be true for the lucky few blokes (maybe not so lucky - remember what happened to Ross Geller from Friends, for you Gen X-ers out there), but it doesn't necessarily mean you get to participate.  And as for women being attracted to good looking guys?  Isn't that just the reality of it?  Why are we men allowed to like hot women, but deny women the enjoyment of ogling men?  Let's face it, we're all superficial at some level.  In any event, the scenario he posed isn't much of a dilemma - a better dilemma for the girl would have been a hot man who is an arsehole, and a fugly guy who has a great personality.  But then again, a massive body of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that the girl will choose the first more often than not.

Anyway, I digress.  This blog is about food.  But then again, it's also about the experiences surrounding food.  And this was certainly memorable.  And enjoyable.

And you happen to the be American chap who featured in the exchange above: mate, when you choose to raise your voice in a quiet, public venue, you waive your right to any privacy.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fresh n Wild revisited - Windhoek, Namibia

Fresh n Wild!  My last visit to this delightful casual restaurant/cafe was so enjoyable that I decided to come back for more.

I am pleased to report that the service is indeed consistently cheerful and efficient.  And I discovered that these guys even have their own bottled water! What's even more useful, I realised that they have at least one "true" vegetarian dish on their rotating lunch menu (vegetarian may be harder to find than you realise when dining out in Africa, especially the big meat-eating countries like Namibia).

However, here's a general tip for eating out in Africa: if you want a to get your food and drink quickly, the best policy is to make up your mind very quickly, and order when the waiter first comes around to take your order.  If you're really really hungry, then don't let the waiter go away when he or she drops off the menus, but you really need to be quick on the ordering or they'll just walk.  Not that this is the case with Fresh n Wild, though.

This time, I went for the beef curry.  Again, nicely presented.  The rice was nicely cooked (probably boiled rather than steamed, from the firmer texture of the grains).  Flavours were okay, not a lot of heat in the spice.  Again, not haute cuisine, but a nice filling meal nonetheless.

For dessert, I opted for a pair of koeksisters.  No it's not that kind of place.  I'm talking about the delightful deep-fried braided dough, dipped in sugar syrup and served cold.  I know I've said many times that I'm not big on dessert, but these little morsels were absolutely delightful.  They were literally soaked through with sugar syrup - honey coloured syrup comes oozing out from the middle when you cut it in half, but rather than being too sickly sweet, they were just right.  Must be the coldness, which dampens the sweetness.

Definitely check it out next time you're in Windhoek.  You do need a car to get there, but if you're prepared to brave a ride in one of the local shared taxis, then it'll only cost you around N$5-10, and you'll have an experience to take with you to lunch!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Good coffee no more - my hopes dashed

I went back to Dulce yesterday (in the Maerua Mall, Windhoek), truly looking forward to another good espresso.

Alas.  It was not to be.  I ordered the espresso, and out it came.  But it looked nothing like what I was expecting.  In fact, it looked like everything I would have expected from your average African cafe/restaurant serving coffee (mind you, not that the coffee in many Asian or even European countries is any better).  A sad, over extracted, watery, thin, muddy drink - they should have switched off the water flow at least 5 seconds earlier and perhaps it would have been good.

That's the other problem you seem to get in many African restaurants or cafes - consistency is lacking.

I couldn't even bring myself to take a photo. *sigh*

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fresh n Wild - a little Namibian oasis in Windhoek, Namibia

Fresh n Wild is a funky little restaurant/cafe on Liliencronstrasse (or Liliencron Street), near the corner of Robert Mugabe Avenue (yes you read it right) in Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia.

I'm not sure what it is I've done, but there are many workers in the Namibian hospitality industry who don't seem to like me.  I ask for something and I get a look that makes you feel bad for imposing on the waiter.  I say thank you and they respond with "uh huh", like you should have said it a long time ago.  You leave the restaurant and say goodbye, and they just ignore you.  Is it a language issue? Or a cultural thing?  Is it a lack of confidence?  Or is it just me?

Anyway, I'm pleased to say that Fresh N Wild, located at the northern end of this little city, is a refreshing difference.

The staff are always cheerful and friendly, and will keep coming back to check on you (which is not the norm in African restaurants) and to see if you want something else.

They have tables indoors, but the best seats are out the back, in the little shaded garden enclave.  Because Windhoek was experiencing a cold front from Antarctica (temperatures of below zero at night!), I opted for a "shot chocolate" - a tall glass of hot chocolate with a shot of Amarula for N$28.  A rich, delicious drink indeed, which certainly warmed me up!

They do a great selection of breakfasts, and also have an ever-changing lunch menu, displayed on a chalkboard which your waiter will bring to your table.

I opted for the sticky maple pork medallions with rice, and it was nicely presented.  The sauce was a bit gluggy, probably because it was thickened with flour and not reduction.  But still, it was tasty and I ate it all.  Not haute cuisine, but these guys are really trying to do something different and enjoyable, and they deserve full points for that.  And the pricing, at around N$60 a meal (less than AUD10), rounds off a great package.  I'll definitely be coming back here again!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A guide to airport food: Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport

The problem with air travel is the fact that no two airports are the same.  Some airports offer you an amazing cornucopia of experiences including High Street fashion shopping and gourmet meals (I'm thinking Hong Kong International Airport), while others are seriously basic and there's not much to do once you're airside, other than to sit with the rest of the cattle and wait/hope for your flight to board before your sanity departs first (like Kigali airport).  However, no matter how barren or basic the airport may seem, knowing some of the ins and outs can make your transit experience a heck of a lot more pleasant.  Naturally, our focus is on food; but one must have a comfortable environment in order to enjoy one's food, so we need to try to achieve that too!

The second airport to be reviewed in this mini-series of articles is O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa (the first was of course Hong Kong International Airport, although I didn't know it at the time ...).  I would consider this the most modern and impressive airport in Africa (although on a global basis, I still believe that Hong Kong and Singapore airports are the true stand-outs from an overall perspective - comfort, amenity, service, food, shopping, etc).

The airside self-service restaurant is simply a nice looking cafeteria, so your expectations need to be set at that level.  However, if you have enough time to kill, I would recommend going out through customs to spend some time in the landside part of the airport.  Since I had about 5 hours between flights, I did just that.

The only catch you need to think about arises if you don't already have a boarding pass for the next flight.  The landside check-in queue can be insanely long and slow - I once queued for an hour!  And they have dedicated ground crew stationed at the start of the queue whose sole job is to weigh your carry on luggage.  The official limit is 7 or 8kg, I think, but they have discretion to let you get away with up to 10kg if you do some sweet-talking.  But if you've managed to squeeze your 15kg gold-bullion filled carry-on at the previous airport, you're not going to get it through at this airport!

There is an entire massive level set between the arrivals and departures levels, which is devoted to restaurants.  Most of these restaurants are your typical African chain restaurants and fast food joints, like Wimpy's, Ocean Basket, Soaring Eagle Spur and even KFC.  There is even a pub - the Keg and Aviator - for those who feel the need for a cold one.  One of the better restaurants, in my view, is Mugg and Bean, which is a prolific chain restaurant that has outlets in many African nations.  It's not a full blown restaurant or a bistro, but more of a coffee and brunch place, serving breakfast and light meals.  Which is of course perfect for air travel - when was the last time you enjoyed a plane ride while bloated with food?  Despite the huge number of staff, the service can be patchy.  The best policy is to directly approach a member of staff to tell them where you're sitting, and that you'd like to order some food (don't worry, they'll give you a few minutes before they come to take your order).  It's much better than sitting quietly at a table unannounced, and then getting upset that nobody has bothered to come take your order.  I noticed a few people doing this, which eventually led to hand-waving and the making of remarks at the staff which would only have guaranteed the chef's surprise with their meal - even a couple of locals.  I mean, seriously, shouldn't you know better?!  But when they arrive, don't make the beginner's mistake of asking them to come back in a few minutes, because a few minutes will turn into half an hour.  Think of it as an exam.  Discipline yourself to decide what you want to eat very quickly, then when time's up, put your pens down, order something, and hope that it's what you wanted.  Better than going hungry.  The same applies when they come back again and ask you if you want another coffee.  That said, the staff are pleasant and friendly.

Mugg and Bean boasts an "inner sanctum" area with booths where you can cocoon yourself away from the stress and hassle of airport travel for a while.  The breakfast menu is interesting and varied, and offers substantial and light alternatives.  I went for the Farmer's Breakfast, which comprises eggs perfectly cooked the way you like, bacon, a skinny length of boerwors, hash brown, half a tomato, and a slice of bread that looks like it's been fried in butter. Now that's my idea of a decent breakfast!  All for a reasonable price of R50-60. And while their espressos, like so many other African restaurants and cafes, looks and tastes more like someone poured filter coffee into an espresso cup, they make great lattes.  And for those coffee drinkers who are less fussy than me and prefer filter coffees, they have this great deal where you can order a "bottomless" cup of coffee!  Be warned, though - if you're going to be on a plane for more than a few hours, you need to factor in the amazingly effective diuretic effects of excessive coffee consumption ...

You may wonder why I didn't just eat the breakfast served on the plane?  As you can see from the picture, economy class airline caterers cook eggs like the way they cook fish.  After a tentative mouthful, I decided to leave the egg to bask alone in its rubbery glory.  And the croissant promised much, but turned out to be a dry normal airline bun in a different guise.  The fruit was nice and fresh, though, but hardly filling on its own.  So it's a good thing O.R. Tambo International Airport has something much more palatable to offer on the landside.

Post note: Ah yes, I forgot to mention - O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is perhaps the only airport I know of that still has an express massage (totally legit - not the dodgey kind!) outlet airside.  For the bargain price of R180, you can get a 20 minute leg massage to minimise your DVT risk.  Or even a neck, back and shoulder massage.  But I reckon the leg massage is the best.  Do yourself a favour and set aside the time to give it a go!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Coffee in Zambia - another good espresso discovery!

For all you espresso lovers out there who spend time in Zambia and can't get over the scarcity of a decent purveyor - check out the Southern Sun Ridgeway Hotel in Lusaka (better known to local taxi drivers by its previous incarnation, the Holiday Inn), located on Church Road, near the High Court.

It's one of the few local hotels in Lusaka which give you that "western world" vibe, if you're into that sort of thing.  And unlike many hotels in the "western world", the staff are plentiful, warm, friendly and obliging.

When I ordered my first espresso at breakfast there, I was already expecting thin coffee-flavoured water in a cup.  But no - there was some promise!  Sure, it was over-extracted and filled to the brim, but the coffee smelt good and sported a thick crema.

So I decided to take a chance, and tried to show the staff how to make a decent espresso.  At first, I asked them to turn off the water when the cup was half-full, but their natural inclination (or more water being better) caused some hesitation at the crucial moment.  So I decided to supervise, and was pleased to see that all the proper prep was done - they pre-heated the cup in hot water and doled out a double-sized (must have been 15g-18g) of coffee grounds.  And I told the staff member to stop the water when it was only a third-full. Even with the inevitable hesitation, the results were good!  The picture says it all.  They all looked at me like I was crazy, but I enjoyed my coffee so much I didn't care.

I also thought that you might enjoy the wider picture showing my pre-breakfast snacks - a bowl of crispy fried bacon (seriously, it's good), and hand plucked grapes. Grapes in Lusaka are insanely expensive - the equivalent of USD20 a kilo in the supermarket.  But perfect with bacon.  Kinda like a dietarily irresponsible version of peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, but without the unhealthy carb-heavy bread.

So if you're every in Lusaka, Zambia, and aching for a decent espresso, pop into the Southern Sun Ridgeway Hotel, and make sure you ask them for an espresso, but only a third-full.

More on Zambian cuisine later.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Solo Pizza - Stefi's homemade Tiramisu

Well, I finally got the chance to try the long-awaited homemade tiramisu at Solo Pizza, freshly handmade by Stefi.

It comes conveniently packaged in a generously large serving, and for $6.50, is great value, particularly given the quality.

I'd already had dinner, and was stuffed full, but was driving past the shop and couldn't resist the opportunity to check it out.  There were a handful of young, well-dressed men and women in the store happily chatting away with Gio and Stefi, and with each other, in Italian, sipping occasionally from glasses of wine in their hands.  If I didn't know better, I'd think I was in Italy!

I told myself that I would stop at just one mouthful.  Then two. Then three.  Then damn it, I ate the whole thing.

This stuff is good - beneath the light, fluffy and sweet mascarpone layer lurks the deliciously spongey savoiardi, bursting with moisture but not feeling soggy at all, offering up a subtle flavour-blend of espresso and a hint of some dark, rich liquor, so tantalisingly familiar but I just couldn't pick it.  I'll need to ask Stefi about it next time.

And as you can see from the picture, to make the experience even more dietarily irresponsible, it's perfectly complemented by a dram of Monkey Shoulder triple malt whisky (a blend of single malts from Kininvie, Balvenie and Glenfiddich distilleries), what with its smokey honey flavours ...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The various culinary delights of Hong Kong airport

If you've ever missed a connecting flight and had to stay overnight because the next plane out leaves the next morning, you'll understand the crappy, sinking feeling I had when it happened to me.  It's even worse when that plane flight is the one home.

Anyway, when I landed at Hong Kong at 2am, 9 hours after I was supposed to have arrived, and 4 hours after my connecting flight had left, and facing my third day (yes third!!!) in transit, I could either give up, curl up on the cold hard airport floor and make feral noises, or make my way to the hotel room procured by the airline, curl up on the hard lice-ridden bed and make feral noises so I wouldn't be distracted by the sound of the trains periodically passing by every half an hour.

Lucky for me, the airline put me up at a decent hotel, the Sky City Marriott, just minutes from the airport: no lice, soundless rooms, firm comfy beds and great service. and I didn't have to get to the airport until 12 noon the next day, so I could finally get a decent sleep.  But in my walking-dead state, I forgot to demand that they chuck in breakfast as well.  But that was to be the silver lining.

The next morning, at the urging of one of my long lost facebook friends (now living large in London), I ordered myself a glass of Moet et Chandon to go with my simple sandwich breakfast.  Moet has really lifted its game in the last several years.  There was a time when I just wouldn't choose to drink Moet.  But this was a tasty beverage indeed.  Feeling better already.  I thoroughly recommend the champagne breakfast to everyone.

While airside at the airport, I had a light lunch at the gigantic food court on the upper level.  This place is amazing - it offers a massive range of cuisines and styles - everything from traditional Hong Kong barbecue dishes, to Japanese, to Italian, and even a sports bar.  Anyway, I got myself a Hong Kong-style Hainanese Chicken Rice.  Delicious, if not quite as spicy as the Singaporean style that I love (it's funny how Hainanese Chicken Rice is done so much better everywhere else in the world outside Hainan Island!!).  Accompanied by chicken rice, chicken broth, pickled vegies and two dipping sauces.  The first dip was a standard sweet, thick soya sauce.  The dipping chilli sauce was a slightly spiced up blend of ginger, garlic and some other secret ingredient, and the rice was sublime - light and fluffy, displaying the aromatic fragrance of having been cooked in chicken stock and garlic.  All for the bargain price of HKD65.  Feeling even better now.

While wandering around the airport before heading to the business class lounge, I chanced upon the Caviar House & Prunier restaurant, just planted amongst haute couture fashion shops like an oasis.  Having been emboldened by my champagne breakfast, I decided to spoil myself further, and got myself a table.  These guys do an absolutely fantastic tasting platter, which consists of the following, which you need to eat in ascending order:

Make travelling wonderful again. Indeed!

  1. a 10g tin of Malossol caviar from Russia.  The name suggests that it's got plenty of salt in it, but all I could detect was just a hint of saltiness, complementing the smooth, delicate, caviar-y flavour of the beautifully softly textured pearls.
  2. two chunks of Russian Balik Salmon.  I like my salmon and have eaten lots of salmon in my time, but this stuff was sublime.  Soft, yielding, flavoursome, with a distinct absence of fishiness in the smell or taste!  I've never had salmon this good outside of a really good sushi place.
  3. a serving of foie gras - ecstasy.  'nuff said!

with little toasted triangles of bread, chopped egg whites, chopped onion, creme fraiche and lemon conveniently wrapped in muslin to accompany.  And a glass of Perrier Jouet to wash it all down.  The Perrier Jouet was fresh, with soft, citrusy flavours; an excellent accompaniment to my session of therapeutic alimentation.  The placemat says it all!  Feeling perfectly blissful.  And just in time for a leisurely walk to the boarding gate for my plane home.

Next time you need to spend time in Hong Kong airport, don't just fritter it all on window shopping.  Treat yourself to some culinary delights!