Monday, February 15, 2010

Dinner with a bunch of butchers


Here's looking at your chops ... Some of the beautiful flesh on offer at Meat, Etc.

One of the things that visitors to this country always tell you (besides, "You have such a beautiful country") is that the meat here is so fantastic, unlike places like the United Kingdom where it tastes of virtually nothing. One of South Africa's premium steakhouses, The Grillhouse, has been going strong since 1995 and many a fine steak has been enjoyed with a good bottle of red in this fine establishment.

Something to drool over ... carpaccio from heaven.

With the new expansion of The Firs shopping centre in Rosebank The Grillhouse has expanded its horizons with the opening of a new boutique butchery and deli right opposite its adjoining jazz haven Katzys, called Meat, Etc.

Gourmet butcheries are springing up like mushrooms all over the world and meat cleaving courses are becoming particularly popular (especially with the ladies) so this expansion is right on the money.

I was invited with a group of foodies, such as Hillary Biller from the Sunday Times and Rosanne Buchanan from Food & Home, to enjoy a dinner in the deli section, which was closed off from the public for the night. This did not deter passers-by from constantly peering in at us through the glass doors. Some of them belonged to the Lufthansa crews who always stay at the Hyatt Regency. Apparently they are great customers and take vacuum-packed meat back with them to Germany. It makes a great present - I have always wanted to give someone gorgeous fillet steaks for their birthday!

The invite read: "Don't know your rump end from your shank?" and we were promised that by the time we left we would know all there was to know about meat, the best cuts, as well as how to prepare and cook them. Now I don't eat a lot of red meat - too worried about hormones and steroids and all that extra acidity - but every now and then I really lust for a steak and start salivating involuntarily at the thought. While butcher Jan was explaining to us about the different cuts I was positively slavering. "Now, we are going to slice some rump," he told us. "Oh please don't," I entreated, having just watched The Long Good Friday again where a gang of hoodlums cut some poor man's bum up with a long knife. The Food & Home team sniggered.

But Jan, who was big and burly and built like two butchers put together, was unstoppable. He was incredibly deft with his sniper-sharp blade and snipped out the sinew in one fell swoop, then trimmed off the fat without removing one atom of meat so it was as clean as a whistle. He told us that the rump as so good it could pass for fillet but that he knew better. With all this knowledge under our belt we all felt like we could waltz into a butcher shop tomorrow and watch with an eagle eye, knowing what was what.

Then it was our turn, with a long red gorgeous piece of fillet each (still drooling at the thought). We were issued with plastic gloves which were very sweaty and stuck to our clammy hands, plus a sharp knife. I was sitting next to Moneyweb's David Bullard who proved to be a dab hand at butchering. He slid his knife under the white sinew, pulled it upwards off the meat and sliced it off expertly (maybe he was imagining it was his ex-editor Mondli or the entire team of Avusa!). Mine was a poor show - I managed to cut off the chateaubriand part first and then got horribly mixed up as to which end was which. As for trimming the fat off, I hacked off bits here and there so the whole piece looked terribly raggedy-assed. Our pieces were taken off and weighed but very few managed to cut a 300g steak and two 20Og steaks, most were underweight.

Then followed a magnificent meal cooked by the in-house chef and staff. On the table were some melt-in-the mouth lamb cutlets with neighbouring platters of steak ranging from well done to very rare, carved and beautifully presented. With that came all the trimmings: mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, sweetcorn and butternut squash. The marketing manager from Waterford Estates, Mark, was on hand to serve his fabulous whites and reds and tell us about them (he even told us about his Waterford Rock Salt chocolate which was created to be enjoyed with the Cab). David had perked up after all his Hannibal Lector-like carvings and told us about his brother, who is the lead guitarist with Smokie (of Living Next Door To Alice fame). The band still travels the world and sometimes plays at Carnival City where all the ancient groupies come out to greet them, like the Banger Sisters of Brakpan. The security guards take one look at all these Afrikaans off-duty policewomen, etc, and say: "OK, you can go in, and you, and you, and you ..."

I discovered that the deli not only sells magnificent meat (the same quality aged cut steaks that are served in The Grillhouse) but there are other goodies to be had as well ... the best biltong in town, and I have to repeat it ... the BEST. The boerewors comes in lambs' casings, and is to absolutely drop down dead for. It retails at around R170 a kilogram so we are talking top quality here, but what a treat. There are also spices and sauces and bastings and oils (all local). Fynbos honey from the Hamilton Russell estate, which is produced in limited quantities. Little Webers with wood chips to smoke meat with (always wanted to do that). All sorts of paraphernalia and braai equipment. No wonder they call it Meat, Etc.

And I loved the tag line: "Meat to Please You". It most certainly did. But I can't stop the drooling now ...

Smoke 'em ... No meal is complete without a nice Cuban. But you might have to nip next door to Katzys for one

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