Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Learning the art of sabrage
It was time for a Christmas lunch this week before everyone goes off to their respective holidays (or "staycations" for the recession-hit!) and publicist Jill Grogor whisked myself and a fellow journo off for a beautiful lunch at Signature, which is run by Felicia's nephew Desmond Mabuza (okay, I have to explain all this before I get to the sabrage bit). Now Desmond and I go way back to his Back O' The Moon Days. He is one of the hardest working people that I know; he's at the restaurant every morning at 9am and only leaves at 2.30am. He is now in partnership with the Moloko Group, who also own AtholPlace, the beautiful new Strathavon Boutique Hotel and Constantia Manor. Last week a group of media and celebs had a "pamper lunch" at AtholPlace and we then went off to Signature afterwards for a drink.
Jill promised that we would return for lunch and so we did ... just in time for a sabrage lesson. Sabrage, by the way, is the art of getting a bottle to take its own top off and then drinking the yummy champers inside. It's the best party trick in town. It doesn't have to done with a sword, as those are not actually knocking around one's house. I've even seen it done with a teaspoon by Pascal Asin from Moet & Chandon while Gatriles was still around and was profoundly impressed.
Now Signature is a fine dining experience, a rarity in this fickle town where places spring up like mushrooms overnight and then disappear just as fast when the style crowd moves on to the Next Best Thing. The menu encompasses things like oysters tempura, which certainly got my attention. I've heard of Oysters Rockefeller but never oysters dipped in batter, Japanese style! You could have them the normal way but this was unusual. It was a tough choice for starters but as I am a bit of a salmon addict I had the salmon roses. Our companion, in a hat, sploshed her sashimi into soy sauce vigorously, a wonderfully incongrous sight. Jill stuck with salad for mains but the rest of the menu covered wonderful fish dishes, fillet, Thai style curries, and a cute chicken pot pie. And nice puds too, although I woul like to see restaurants offering a plate of fresh, sliced seasonal fruit as our fruit is so phenomenal. One of the nice things about the restaurant was the curvilinear banquette-style seating for those who like to settle in for the afternoon.
One of them was Marilyn Cooper from the Cape Wine Academy, who helped put together the very successful Soweto Wine Festival together with Mnikelo Mangciphu. She was sitting with the restaurant's sommelier but came over for a quick chat. I told her about the Hyde Park Southern Sun opening and how sommelier Miguel Chan performed sabrage. What a ritual it seems, we said, that only a few holy of holies can ever understand. So Marilyn in her inimitable way called for a bottle of champagne. Initially they brought some Louis Roederer (yum!); but what she really meant was an empty bottle so we could do a "simulation". So we got an empty of Moet Rose to practise on.
Now sabrage is something that has always fascinated me; how does someone open a bottle of champers so dramatically without it exploding? Do you need to be very drunk to do this? I always like to watch people do it but thought it came with the instruction "Do Not Try This At Home" like the WWE wrestling. Marilyn completely demystified the art of sabrage for us. Let's see if I can remember what she told me, in sequence.
1. Remove the foil from the top and neck of the bottle, while keeping your finger on the cork (important to remember this), with the bottle tilting away from you (hold its bottom in one hand). The foil needs to be completely removed. Then unscrew the wire cage over the cork and remove the wire, still keeping your thumb on the cork.
2. Then feel along the neck of the bottle with your thumb horizontal to it, to see if you can feel the tiny line that runs down the side of the bottle. When you have located the seam in the bottle,
3. Take your sword/kitchen knife and stroke it, blunt side down and FLAT, down the the bottle along the seam right to the top of the neck, once, twice, FIRMLY, then for a third time quickly, this needs to be almost like a tennis stroke. You could also use a teaspoon but it has more impact on onlookers or party guests if it's something that looks spectacular.
4. WHOP! The cork shoots off, along with the extreme top of the bottle, going who knows where.
You have now performed sabrage. Don't worry, says Marilyn, there's no chance of you getting glass in your champagne as the pressure inside a champagne bottle is about 6bars, nearly 3 times more than your tyres, and everything goes out of the neck. But you do need to point the bottle away from yourself, your eyes and your loved ones. It's all about physics and pressure. You need to follow these instructions to the T, though. There are a lot of dumb people out there who would try to bash the bottle in half and kill themselves.
You've heard about the element of surprise ... well, this was the element of sabrage. Jill was most impressed and vowed to try this at her next party. But we thought we should go and get bottles of JC le Roux and practise on them first!