The Shortmarket Club

Yes, it’s true that this is one of the prettiest new restaurants in town. It’s also pretty hard to find if you don’t know where you’re going (much like its neighbour, the ultra hipster cocktail spot Outrage of Modesty, where the menus are printed on blocks of wood and don’t tell you what booze is in the drinks). But let’s assume you got over the awkward moment of standing right outside it ogling your Google map and saying “it should be right here”. You walk up the impressive staircase, and you are now inside. Congratulations.

The first thing to hit you after the burgundy walls and slick bar is a distinct smell of smoke. This, you will soon realise, is not because someone is burning toast or lunch, but because some of the dishes require being brought out to the diners on a bed of smouldering something — say a chestnut and fynbos roasted petit poussin — before being whisked back to the kitchen for plating. It’s a fun touch, and the lingering smoke looks somewhat celestial in the sunlight that streams down into the restaurant. But let’s not quibble about this — it’s not that pleasant to be in a smoky room for lunch, especially when it gets in the way of unencumbered breathing.

There is, however, nothing to quibble about when it comes to the delivery of bread and wine, both of which arrive in impeccable style.

Thus fortified, onward!

It’s not easy to choose what to eat at The Shortmarket Club because pretty much everything on the menu sounds darn delicious. But we settle on celeriac soup (it is ‘de jour’) and crispy octopus with mango atchar and bonito flakes that dance a little when you squeeze them with lime. Both are delicious (the octopus is the real daddy deal, with a proper tentacle cut up and breaded and fried in what is a surprisingly generous portion for a starter; this after hearing more than one person complaining on the Interwebs about the “pathetic” portion sizes here. Not so this one).

For mains, we choose lamb rump with fennel fondant and other goodies, and a porchetta with peas and sugar snaps and horseradish. Oh, and duck fat potatoes, for good measure.

Well the plates were very pretty, and what was on them certainly tasty. But.

But what?

It’s hard to say, except to acknowledge a minor anticlimax as ‘tasty’ came to mind rather than ‘amazing’, ‘mindblowing’, etc. It was good, but not outstanding. Which is not a crime, except when everyone has been banging on about how amazing everything is (except for those grumps going on about portion size), so you go in wearing a hat to make sure your mind isn’t blown too far away.

I don’t blame the chef or the kitchen. I blame the Interwebs, and perhaps our own unreasonable desires to find better, shinier, more fantastic things every time we go out.

Still, not quite defeated, we let ourselves be talked into dessert, which became a shared caramelized lemon tart with strawberry and amasi ice cream, and a little cheeky grappa for one of us. And, good lord, what a glorious lemon tart it was, puckery and sweet and crispy in all the right places.

We had read the chef quoted as having said ‘I wanted to do a lemon tart that is so much more, and that’s exactly what it is.

Plus, at some time during said courses, Lady J revealed that during her rebellious teenage years, she used to secretly read The Thorn Birds while pretending to study her Afrikaans textbook. #Risqué!

So is the SMC worth the hype? It’s definitely worth a visit. And (other) ladies who lunch: you will be delighted to find complimentary tampons, nail files and earbuds in the bathroom. A stellar touch to a slightly hazy lunch.