You know that restaurant that's warm and inviting, serves simple but tasty chow, good wine and local beer. You go there often. You call it your local. You pop in there for something quick and easy during the week but also for a lazy lunch on a Saturday or Sunday. You tell everyone how reasonably priced it is. Got it? Well Wild Woods, Pete Goffe-Wood's new venture in Hout bay, is that place. Only better.
I went to check it out last night with Pafoof and The Dragon who were down from Joburg and was impressed. When you walk into Wild Woods, there is a window that allows you to see straight into the kitchen where Pete is hard at work. Up a few stairs and you know you're in a neighbourhood spot pretty quickly (I don't mean that in a bad way...it's more in reference to the relaxed vibe). There is a particularly inviting pub with two equally beautiful features taunting each other for pride of place. One is a gorgeous piece of Jamon ham. The other is a Jack Black tap. There is a mixture of some interesting light fixtures and a green mosaic feature wall behind the bar. The eating area leads onto a deck which boasts awesome views of Hout Bay. It's basic but nicely done.
The menu at Wild Woods changes daily but retains most items. The style of the food is unashamedly bistro and concentrates on flavour and texture combinations more than frilly presentation or overly complicated cooking techniques. I was thrilled (like high-school girl waiting in line to see Twilight thrilled) to see hangar steak on the menu. The only restaurant in SA I've seen it at before was Carne. I explained it there but let me do it again for you. Hanger steak is found near the kidneys of the animal and as a result is dark and quite gamey. You don't see it too often because not too many people know how to cook it. Also, not too many people know how to eat it. You really do need to have it rare or maaaaaybe medium rare. If you cook it any longer it becomes way too tough. Anyway, last night I had it with roasted shallots, potatoes and spinach all served in a rich, dark jus. Fantastic, strong flavours. I started the meal off with some of the Jamon ham already mentioned. It was paired with nectarines and rocket and the clash between the salty ham and sweet fruit was perfect. I made sure to taste food from the plates around me and can confirm that the home-cured duck with figs, a salmon gravadlax, the yellowtail with new potatoes and the roast chicken breast with porcini mushrooms were all superb. (How confident do you have to be to put chicken breast on a menu?!)
Look, the place has only been open for two weeks so there were always going to be a few teething problems but I expected that. The good news is that they arrived in the form of our waiter rather than the food. It wasn't through lack of trying either - the dude really was doing his best - but the language barrier was more Berlin Wall-ish in proportions. Shame, he battled with everything and we did wait too long for our food. As I mentioned though, these things can be fixed and I'm sure they will be with a bit of time.
Chatting to Pete he told me that he'd much rather have a restaurant full on a Wednesday night than a Saturday. He reckons those are the guys who will pop in once or twice a week regularly rather than the person who gets dolled up and treats Saturday night like a big occasion. Fair enough. My impressions were that the place is likely to be full on a Wednesday AND a Saturday night pretty soon. Everyone is going to want to call this place their local.
Wild Woods is open for dinners (18h00 - 23h00) from Tuesday to Sunday but the bar opens at 16h00. On Saturdays and Sundays they serve lunch from 12h00 to 15h00. Call them on (021) 971-1166.