… so, in a recent restaurant review I read, the writer referred to the menu as an “insider’s joke” which is exactly what Societi Bistro is – an insider’s club in an over-cooked Mother City. Perhaps my view of the restaurant is a little biased because I’m a regular to such a degree that drinks are placed rather than ordered but Peter Weetman (legendary for his graceful hospitality and wickedly sharp humour) has created a fabled place of fresh seasonal dishes named after regulars who not only adorn masthead’s of glamorous fashion magazines, taste makers and trend setters but also family and friends who gather in the rustic courtyard of the heritage building to indulge in the Café Society atmosphere day and night.
Societi is not one of those over-night success stories, but has become infamous over the past 11-years for its seasonal produce, local ingredients and ethically sourced range of meats which is more important in gourmet providence of late than flash in the pan presentation. Head Chef Stefan Marais, whose Spanish, Italian and French training is the basis his gastronomic philosophy and approach as he produces a new menu that accommodates the changing seasons, fleshed out with specials that change daily. This allows diners to experience old favourites alongside the new delights every time they visit the restaurant and slowly introduce his ethics to a rather jaded urban culinary palette.
“I want to create honest food,” says Weetman “that updates nostalgic favourites with current food trends. Societi is not meant to be an exclusive fine dining establishment but rather a balance of the best quality and freshest ingredients at an affordable price. It’s an extension of my home and I want people to feel that way.”
No review of Societi would be complete without mentioning The Snug which becomes the epicentre of Societi during the dark and stormy months of Autumn and Winter within the City Bowl with a slow burning open log fire set against the overly-masculine leather wing-back chairs snuck into the corner creating an intimate space in a public venue. Like the expression ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ the unwritten rule in this space is ‘we don’t talk about last night’. On the dark grey walls hang an eclectic collection of vintage erotica portraits from the late 20’s to 60’s but that’s what’s cool about Societi: it surprises with little twists with a bookcase filled with books on food, wine and travel. It adds tasteful touches to a familiar neighbourhood local.
Best sellers are definitely the wide range of pastas (don’t expect the drenched soupy kind you buy elsewhere!) and the slow roasted pork belly, Caesar salad with anchovy dressing, the mushroom risotto with spinach, the fillet au poivre with Madagascan green peppercorns and brandy, and the organic venison burger with hand-cut fries and indulgent homemade mayonnaise to dip and twist. Other innovative dishes such as the north African inspired Venison served on a bed of couscous with stoned fruit salad is one of the best examples of flavour profiling and the art of balanced season. Fiercely “love local” befokked, all of the pairings on Societi’s wine list provides an informed curated list from the best estates and cultivars in the Western Cape.
Offered by the bottle or glass, the prices are a steal when compared to other establishments in the area which makes it a popular after-work hangout or pre-dinner drinks venue throughout the week. Like the food menu, the selection is supplemented with a rotating stock of the owners’ favourite vintners which always offers something surprising and exciting for even the most regular of regulars.
Societi Bisto isn’t out to win a galaxy of Michelin Stars or be the “IT” place to be during Season which is the point. We like that about it. We like the fact that real celebrities, royalty and potentates frequent Societi rather than the wannabes and schlebs that crowd out Atlantic Seaboard establishments. To sum up the experience would be to reference a lovely anecdote told by Churchill’s granddaughter Celia Sandy’s about the time he was on a lecture tour of America and was served a buffet lunch of cold chicken.
“May I have some breast?” he asked his hostess.
“Mr Churchill,” she replied, “In this country we ask for white meat or dark meat.”
The following day Churchill sent her an orchid, with the message: “I would be obliged if you would pin this on your white meat.”
Thankfully, Peter has a fondness for Orchids.