Eating there last night was one of the most impersonal experiences I have had in ages. The space itself is beautiful (an old building carefully restored with black and white tiles, an outside courtyard and beautiful exposed wooden beams). I hardly had time to notice though as I was ushered inside and hurried to my seat. The first thing that struck me was the number of tables. And the number of people. In the first 30 minutes I was there I saw two separate tables being turned over for new diners and the whole thing was starting to feel like a bit of a procession. The menu itself was a paradox of expensive food being listed on a plastic, laminated menu. The wine list is separated into price categories rather than grape varieties or regions, and it too (unlike the wine it lists) was cheap in nature.
I asked the waitress if the meat was free-range to which I received an honest answer of "What does that mean?". Fair enough. I won't be having the sirloin then. Instead I tried mussels to start. They arrived less than a minute later with a suspiciously hot plate and suspiciously cold mussels. Perhaps microwaved. Perhaps frozen mussels. Perhaps both. They were rubbery and tasteless and I left most of them. Another starter of grilled field mushrooms with gorgonzola and caramelised onions was better but still smacked of "amateur-hour". My linefish (cape salmon) was presented skin-side up but the skin in question had not been scored, nor crisped. A grey, soggy piece of fish is not great for presentation. It came on "herbed linguini", which turned out to be linguini with store-bought pesto. I ate about half. Desserts got no better. In fact they got worse. The Queen had her standard creme brulee (she's become a bit of an expert). Tragic. The custard had curdled and it was inedible. My malva pudding was hardly better and had either been baked in bulk sometime in January, or bought. Sometime in February. The sponge was dry and the ice-cream it was served with was rock-hard.
I should mention that all starters are priced the same, all mains are priced the same and all desserts are priced the same at Five Flies. For example, any main costs R125. There is another list for more advanced food, with surcharges. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during winter they run a special where three courses is R150. Compared to the normal menu, that's great value. Compared to almost anywhere else it is not. For example, Jardine is running a special where they too charge R150 for three courses. No prizes for guessing where I would rather eat.
Five Flies. Home of chipped, cheap glassware and knives with plastic handles. Where the policy of "bums on seats" is paired with "get them in and out quickly". I have heard a rumour that 60% of their trade is provided by a deal they struck up with Thompsons Tours. I'm not sure about the accuracy of that but it would help explain their fall from greatness to mediocrity. And the fact that they seem quite content in that role.