I wonder if the Jo’burg hack and I were in the same place? I saw no one in tears following the death of the old skinflint, no shops closed as a mark of respect (perish the thought… the loss of revenue, oy veh!), no flags at half mast and no gloomy faces.
To be sure, I also didn’t exactly witness dancing in the streets celebrating his passing. (That would be very un-African, but happens occasionally.)
It was a matter of supreme indifference to all I spoke to, saw or heard, that an era had ended.
I was at Antonio’s in the “new” bit of the sprawling shopping mall which I refused to call “Sam Levy’s Village” when he was alive; that’s the first and last time you’ll read it in print in my columns.
I am told there are about 30 possible places to eat on the Borrowdale Village side of the road, plus more in Pomona’s shops and visitors are spoiled for choice from slap-dash cholesterol soaked junk-food to swish, slick, smooth 360 Degrees, which wouldn’t be out of place in the West End, Manhattan or one of the classier bits of Jo’burg.
And there’s a whole lot of vaguely middle-of-the road places in between both licensed (to sell alcohol) and unlicensed for one reason or another. I know for a fact many restaurateurs and proprietors have, over the years, bleated about Levy’s allegedly extortionate rents and Rachman-esque up-front “key money” demands, but it speaks volumes for the late aging Shylock’s business acumen that more wannabe mine hosts still battle for space there.
“Antonio” is none other than plain old “Ant” (Anthony) Berens a 48-year-old Zimbabwean-born food specialist of Anglo-Swedish descent, who initially trained not 100 metres from his present main operation, under Duncan Barker at the original Wombles Steak House. Space prevents a full CV but he opened and ran Food Connection at Newlands and Pomona, bought Oscar’s, at Ruwa, changing its name to Dan Meats (business partners were Danish and ran the restaurants and food outlets on all Danish-registered ferries). Dan Meats was sold to Colcom who, I think, maintain the brand on up-market lines.
He owned the butchery at Honeydew Farm, Greendale when at its peak of popularity and professionalism and more recently set-up and saw on its feet Mekkah, a Borrowdale sushi and fish restaurant now, oddly — bearing in mind the pronunciation of that name — run by Sam Levy’s sons.
I first visited Antonio’s about 18 months ago at the suggestion of the then American military attaché, Lt-Col Patrick Anderson, who raved about the Scottish cod and chips available as a sit-down meal or takeaway: hugely popular with his family and — it looked like — half the northern suburbs. (Now
I gave that dish — and the outlet generally — an enthusiastic Miller seal of approval here (but I see Butcher’s Kitchen (ex-Keg and Sable) now sell fish (probably hake)-chips-and-mushy-peas at very reasonable cost; MINTED mushy peas make the delicious dish far more North of England-cloth cap authentic!
At the recent Italian National Day, Ant lustily blew his own trumpet, about a new dish: spaghetti vongole (with clams) which needed trying at the earliest opportunity. I first ate this in Venice (where clams — shellfish — are very working class scoff), tarted up with anchovies, chili and tomatoes.
Ant serves a somewhat blander version with steamed clams swirled into rich, creamy, al dente pasta. I’m sure chili sauce or fresh chopped chilies are around for those with insatiable asbestos gullets, but mine was fine with a wee sprinkle of black pepper.
There’s not a lot of “meat” in clams, so Ant is generous with his portions. I’m sure I counted 14 or 15 empty shells, spooning up the last of the sauce into which parsley had been sprinkled. A fairly substantial side salad accompanies the dish, which costs US$10.
Shellfish is high in cholesterol, for those worried about such annoying facts, and — of course — aren’t kosher, thus taboo for the late Sam’s co-religionists.
Other pasta dishes include Antonio’s (anchovies, olives, capers, Napolitano sauce) at US$11 (same price as blue-cheese Alfredo); marinara has prawns, calamari and mussels in a tomato, onion and garlic sauce) at US$12; with Italian meatballs or Alfredo, the price is US$10, Carbonara is US$8; Arrabiata and Napolitano US$7.
I liked the sounds the salad section of the attractive menu made (US$6-US$16); pizzas US$6-US$15; “gourmet” pies US$3 and pie-chips-gravy and salads US$7.
I sat immediately outside Antonio’s. There’s another outdoor eating area shared with Patty’s Kitchen next door (I hear Patty’s pies are wonderful) overlooking an attractive water feature garden, next to a tiled mosaic depicting (I assume) a Mozambican beach scene.
Neither Antonio’s nor Patty’s are licensed to retail grog, but I gather on balmy sunny evenings (as opposed to the current freezing winter ones!) it’s common to have regulars popping corks of good Cape wine to wash down substantial, dare I say “comfort” food? served a door or two away.
Bottom line: spaghetti vongole with salad and a canned Sprite, grand ice-cream and delightful fresh strawberries with a very fine cappuccino: US$16.
It needs the odd tweak: clams are very messy to eat, the requested “finger bowl” seemed to be an egg poaching pan! (But water was pleasantly warm with an odd twist of lemon).
Antonio’s No 4, New Complex, Borrowdale Village. Tel (including delivery service) 0774 892 855. Opens daily 9am-7:30pm, Fridays until 10pm.