Meat and the copious consumption thereof seems to be a bit of a thread lately; in keeping with that theme, I must relate my experience at Mzoli’s in Gugulethu.
Mzoli’s is the quintessential meat restaurant that has achieved a somewhat iconic status in Cape Town, but beware: it is not for the faint of heart – an intimate dining experience it ain’t. But if you take your meat seriously, love a great vibe, don’t mind thumping music, and are happy to either bring your own wine and glasses – or buy a few quarts from the shebeen (sorry… tavern), then Mzoli’s is definitely the place to be.
The beauty of the place is the simplicity of the concept. Mzoli’s is primarily a butchery; you walk into a busy room that has a huge display fridge running the entire length of one side, with the most amazing meat on offer. Eighty percent of what’s available is lamb, but there is also some chicken, pork chops, and a bit of beef.
When it’s your turn, you simply point out the various pieces of meat to one of the myriad of assistants behind the counter. It’s all weighed and placed in a huge enamel dish. You pay at the till point at the end of the line and you are given your dish, which in our case, was overflowing with various cuts of meat (10 hungry mouths to feed!).
You then precede down a long corridor to a huge braai area where you hand your meat over to the most important man in the place: the man who oversees all of the cooking. He politely orders people around – both staff and customers alike, but it is more of a general coordination than an elaborate battle. You are given a number and told when to return – you’ll wait anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how busy they are. We were there on a rocking Sunday afternoon and there were about 800 – 1000 people in attendance; our food took all of 40 minutes. But look, we were there with a business associate of Mzoli himself, so we got the royal treatment.
You collect your meat at the appointed time and head to your table. Accompaniments available are a bowl of pap (white polenta), some chakalaka (a fiery local tomato relish), and half a loaf of bread. Our royal treatment included plates. Everything is communal and everything is eaten by hand.
The food itself was magnificent. In front of us we had about 3½ kg of meat – lamb chops, lamb ribs, rump steak, chicken breasts and legs, lamb leg chops, and lamb sausage. All of it was cooked to perfection – and I mean to perfection. Everything was beautifully seasoned and some pieces were basted with a magical BBQ sauce of their own making.
As you would imagine, I spent a fair deal of time watching the guys outback on the fire and it was something to see. They cook on six huge Jet master type built-in-braais with a proper flue. There is a huge grid that runs three quarters of the way across the braai; the last quarter is where the wood fire is built and the hot smouldering coals are then shovelled across under the meat.
These cooks know exactly what they are doing – the chicken is placed on the fire first followed by the lamb rib. Each cut is put on at the appropriate time with the lamb sausage being last so that each table’s meat is all ready at precisely the same time, and all faultlessly cooked.
We washed all of this down with a magnum of glorious Kloovenberg 02 Shiraz, as well as a few other choice bottles of red wine.
The afternoon got off track as usual; we joined Mzoli for a drink at a tavern around the corner where we solved the world’s problems and commiserated South Africa’s early exit from the ICC Champions Trophy over a couple bottles of Johnny Walker Black.