WHEN I was little I remember my parents heading for the Bell at the Beach Hotel in Marine Drive whenever they had anything remotely worth celebrating. It was the automatic choice for birthdays and anniversaries – Mom would have the duck a l'orange, the legendary Gino was their waiter of choice and they would not return without having squirrelled away some after-dinner mint choccies in a napkin for us.
My birthday fell on a Monday this year, a night when elegant dinner options can be limited, and so I thought of PE's Beach Hotel whose well-appointed, 21st century flagship restaurant, Ginger, is open seven days a week.
And, since MyWeekend has only ever called at lunchtime (and that nearly six years ago when it first opened), a return review visit was certainly in order.
Though not quite in the same location at the hotel as where the Bell used to be, and with its contemporary, pared down interior bearing zero resemblance to its forerunner, Ginger somehow still manages to evoke some of the nuances of the old Bell.
Gino apparently also still works there, though only during lunchtime service. The menu, too, is dotted with a few dishes from the past, only you can now expect these to be plated in a far more modern way.
As it was a chilly winter's eve my husband Salvelio and I started with some medium cream sherries followed by a starter of steak tartare (R60) for me and a fiery south Mediterranean fish soup (R65) with harissa and melba toast for him. My friend Gabby, a vet, would at this point have looked me sternly in the eye and uttered the chilling words: "beef tapeworm". But, given Ginger's reputation for quality and excellence, I wouldn't dream of questioning their selection of meat for a raw dish such as this. There are in any case so few Eastern Cape restaurants serving steak tartare that I feel virtually obligated to order it when I do spot it on a menu. This one was up there with the very best, fillet skilfully hand-chopped, capers adding sharpness and crunch, and a bit of the yuck factor removed in that the traditional raw egg yolk on top was slow-poached to gooey perfection. I enjoyed the fresh, herby flavours of the steak and the dots of horseradish and potato mousse on the plate.
In contrast to my cold choice Salvelio's tomato- based soup was a real winter warmer and the harissa on the side, though gum- searingly hot, had an exotic pungency.
As a nod to my late mother I next ordered the duck breast with orange and ginger. At a cash-evaporating R155 it looked picture perfect, but was, disappointingly, overcooked, which made the meat tougher than it should've been. Salvelio's main, too, was a let-down as he said the lamb shank (R148) tasted too "lamby", if that makes sense. The jus, he said, simply did not have the wonderfully complex, herby, winey flavours you would associate with the lamb shank of your dreams.
Some sublime Spice Route ice-cream (R40) and an explosively good chocolate lava pud with caramelised banana and peanut butter ice-cream (R48) did improve matters. However even when starters and desserts are exemplary, which they were, a lacklustre main course can diminish a great night out and in hindsight we should have sent ours back.
Ginger is on (041)583-1229. This review visit was unannounced and the meal paid for in full.