Harbour House, Kalk Bay: Restaurant Review


Harbour House
Kalk Bay Harbour, Cape Town

Category: Fine Dining
Open for: Lunch, Dinner
Under review: Dinner
SA Blog Recommends? Enthusiastically!

Snippet
It’s a spectacular venue that, a few years ago, was sadly marred by overcooked, dry and sometimes even fishy squares of the day’s catch. Harbour House has since straightened its act, however, and now avoids the two banes of local seafood preparation – bland, watery fish on the one hand, and leathery, overheated fish on the other – with a light touch that indicates new expertise and dedication.

(See full review below.)

Price Range: Medium-to-High
Fare: Seafood
This meal cost: 350 per person
Including tip? No
Including wine? Yes (corkage)
Food Score (out of 10): 7
Service Score (out of 10): 6
Reservations? Essential
Corkage? R30 per 750ml

Booking Information
Tel: +27 (0) 21 788 4133, Fax: +27 (0) 21 788 4136
Email: harbourhouse@icon.co.za
Website: www.harbourhouse.co.za
Also Reviewed In: Rossouw’s Restaurants

Review
The setting of Sean Keener’s birthday this year was Harbour House, one of the best-loved seafood restaurants in Cape Town, with a culinary team that places emphasis on linefish caught earlier in the day by the fisherman who work out of Kalk Bay Harbour, which the restaurant overlooks.

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It’s a spectacular venue that, a few years ago, was sadly marred by overcooked, dry and sometimes even fishy squares of the day’s catch. Harbour House has since straightened its act, however, and now avoids the two banes of local seafood preparation – bland, watery fish on the one hand, and leathery, overheated fish on the other – with a light touch that indicates new expertise and dedication.

Sean, a companion, colleague Court and Your Correspondent started the evening in the bar area, admiring a server’s wrestling skills as she grappled with the 3-litre magnum of wine Sean had brought in for the occasion. (Your Correspondent’s lovely assistant was at home, alas, with a stomach bug.)

We sipped the first glasses – poured without so much as a single spilled drop – while munching on slices of spongy bread that could only have come from the bakery of Harbour House’s neighbor and direct competitor, the famous Olympia Cafe. Such recognition of others’ achievements is always a fine sentiment to behold (and eat).

After being shown to a table in the middle of the main floor (all the window seats, which had views of a grey, glass-like sea, were booked), we ordered batter-fried prawns with whipped avocado, tuna sashimi, and roasted buternut salad with pine nuts. All were good: scores (out of a possible 1) of .5, .75 and .75 respectively. (For the first time in ages, Your Correspondent tasted crunchy, flavorful pine nuts in a restaurant – usually they’re soft and have lost all pine aroma.)

After a civilized interval, during which we puzzled out our next order, tried to flag down our busy server for more water, and took turns piloting the mammoth bottle of wine safely to the mouths of our glasses, the mains arrived: cob in a bearnaise sauce with steamed asparagus, yellowtail in a salsa verde, and the seafood platter for one (which our server had graciously informed us was large enough for two to share). The last was an extraordinary heap of the sea’s fruits: three half-crayfish (rock lobsters), a seared tuna fillet, calamari tubes, a handful of grilled prawns, and a small bed of steamed mussels.

As with the starters, everything measured up, and a few items even exceeded expectations. The crayfish flesh was firm and sweet – not a hint of the flouriness so common in other establishments’ seafood platters – and the seared tuna was an extraordinary, wobbling hunk, perfectly done, with flesh so tender and fresh that it was practically immoral. For those two items alone, the seafood platter scored 1 out of 1. Between the two linefish dishes, the cob was the better, meriting a .75; the yellowtail was not much different from an entree that could have been had elswhere for half the price, and gets a .5

Dessert was a chocolate mousse cake from New York Bagels in Sea Point, so we didn’t get a chance to sample what Harbour House had in its store of sweets. We did each down a thimblesful of Frangelica with our coffee, however – believe it or not, the magnum had completely sunk to the bottom of our stomachs at the end of the mains – which gives an indication of the restaurant’s good preparedness in its after-dinner department.

A chauffeur picked us up for the 40 minute drive back to the Atlantic Seaboard. Needless to say, we were woozy with satisfaction. This was the finest seafood I’ve had in a restaurant in at least two years, and Harbour House deserves a toast for its exemplary effort on a very busy night.

Final base score: 4.25 our of 6.
Converted score: 7 out of 10.
An excellent score, especially for a seafood restaurant, given all Your Correspondent’s prejudices going into such an establishment.

Wine: 2005 Diemersfontein Pinotage (3 litre magnum)
Wine Score (out of 5): 3
Wine Notes: In terms of flavor, this is currently the most unusual wine South Africa has to offer. It tastes more like caramel and berry liqueur than fermented grapes. Word is that winemaking duties have changed hands at the estate, so get hold of a bottle before any meddling with the formula ruins your chances of guzzling liquid purple toffee.