Jamie Who is a blog about everything. Except current affairs. And politics. Also science, sport, religion, celebrities, movies, media and marketing, technology, business and design. So...basically Jamie Who is a blog about food. All things food.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Five Flies - Fall from grace

When I first moved to Cape Town the Stormers rugby team had just started playing in black and Five Flies was was one the best restaurants in the country. 10 years on and a lot has changed. For the Stormers, they are now wearing a solid blue jersey and for Five Flies...well...it must rank as one of the city's great disappointments. 

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. 

Jamie Who


JoelW said...

Have not eaten at FF for years, since the time that we went in season with friends from overseas.

We had booked a table for 8pm. We arrived and were ushered by a doorwhore upstairs to the bar until our table became available. We sat at the bar for 1 and 3/4 hours! Our friends were treating us otherwise we would have walked.

Then they did not comp our drinks despite the long wait and we were told that we had to order all 3 courses as we sat down as the kitchen was closing.

I go to Cannes for business every year and myself along with 10 000 delegates for the festival eat in a strip of restaurants 2 km's long. The food is fantastic quality, you are eating within 5 minutes of ordering and the waiters are thoroughly professional. That is the benchmark and South Africa is still woefully short of this.

Unknown said...

Bloody Hell - that's ugly..

Anonymous said...

could never understand the hype about five flies. ate there once out of choice and been taken twice and all three times have been disapointed. there are too many other good restaurants to eat at rather than eat there again.

Koek! said...

Haven't been to Five Flis for years... Guess I won't be going any time soon then either.

Anonymous said...

When I started cooking 9 years ago, the very first place I started training at was 5F. The kitchen was manic, and yes, the Thompson's rumour is very true... The chef then was Gerard van Staden - one of the best chefs I have ever worked with, but when he left I think it all went bust. Pity, because the building is so so awesome. What a waste of space in a beautiful city...

Anonymous said...

Sounds almost identical to an experience I had there two years ago, which was also when I vowed never to return. Subsequently I had little choice when I had to put on the 'good girlfriend' face and attend a Christmas function there at the end of last year. Sadly, not only were my previously formed conclusions about the food being totally dismal confirmed, but amazingly, the service had worsened too! We were waited on by a girl who had an expression like a bulldog pissing on a stinging nettle, and she was equally as charming. What a pity and a waste of a lovely historical building!

Anonymous said...

Went there about a month ago, the service was poor, the food ordinary, and the chairs terribly uncomfortable - the riempies are so stretched that the wooden frame cuts into the back of your legs, and you find yourself sitting too low at the table ... Won't go again.

Vicky said...

Totally agree. The food was cold, the service, similar. Won't be going again!