Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapman's Peak Hotel

A couple of years ago we rediscovered Hout Bay's Chapman's Peak Hotel, a Cape Town institution which had suffered the affliction of many institutions - banality, conformity, mediocrity.

I think it was a touristic instinct that made me say one day, Let's go to the Chappies Hotel. Doubtful looks.

My mother Vince and I sat on the shaded balcony above the road above the pale sickle of beach and the bay of blue water whose far end is populated by the fishing boats, wharfs, stinky fish factory, and excellent fish and chips joint (Fish on the Rocks) in the harbour which lies at the foot of the abrupt ascent of iconic rock that anchors and defines Hout Bay. Right beneath the white-washed balcony where we sit are the wire sellers with their beatific smiles and ubiquitously pretty beaded creations, whose little animals and ornaments we never buy.

The service that first time was beyond slow, but improved on subsequent visits.

We always order the calamari or the linefish of the day, and both come in sizzling cast iron pans, probably half the reason I like them... How can you not like a cast iron pan? I have no idea of the provenance of the calamari. But its batter is crisp and febrile and the squid's interior tender. The grilled line fish has always been excellent. Both are served with lots of lemon wedges.

And that's all, with bottle of very cold local Sauvignon blanc, and that strange creature, the South African green salad.

Which means iceberg lettuce, pink tomatoes, and cucumber. If there is feta in it is a Greek Salad. And you will find Greek salad on every menu in every dive and and snack and lunch and dinner joint in every single part of the country regardless of how remote.

There are chips, of course, the once-fried kind that never stay crisp longer than the time it takes to carry them to the table.

The last time we were there, a table of four elderly, poised, white-haired men sat near us. The manager brought a bottle to them -it seemed to be their personal bottle, and they all drank nips of witblits (white lighting) from of it, after their lunch. Janice Honeyman (or Honeyperson, as we called her at opera school) was having lunch with her father (we guessed) behind us, and locals, flash Gautengers and stressed waiters (the electricity had gone down during lunch, which meant No Chips - everything else was cooked on gas) shared the wide open bright space

On a clear blue afternoon, or a day when the stormy surf is up and the balcony is open, the Chappies Hotel is one of the laid back, old places where it is pleasure to sit for some hours. I hope it lasts.

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