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Riboville is for life
Article By: Dan Nicholl
Mon, 19 Feb 2007 12:02 AM
If I were to be locked in a restaurant for the rest of my life, then it would have to be Riboville. Or more specifically, Riboville?s wine cellar ? a glorious, 10 000 strong affair housed in an old bank vault beneath the restaurant.
And there?s a reason for entertaining such thoughts, for if you happen to be at Riboville for dinner, there?s a very good chance you will be there for the rest of your life, waiting for your food to arrive.
Not, as the name suggests, a cheap American rib emporium of the fast food variety, Riboville is rather expensive affair in Adderley Street that?s named after a horse that won the Durban July in 1974. If I were the horse, I?m not sure I?d be entirely happy with that. The wine cellar is quite magnificent, and the food not at all bad, but the service veers from the eccentric to the appalling, which is all very well if you?re watching an episode of Fawlty Towers, but not quite so amusing when you?re out for dinner on a Saturday night.
First, the cellar, Riboville?s star attraction. Ask, and the staff will take you downstairs on an excellent guided tour, where 47 estates make up 10 000 bottles, and a toy store experience for anyone with the slightest delight in wine. With the restaurant set in the wide spaces and high, elegant ceilings of an old bank (and put together at no small expense), with the vault re-born as a treasure trove of an entirely different sort.
Modern South African classics abound: Warwick Trilogy (dating back to 1993), La Motte Millenium, Diemersfontein Pinotage, Flagstone Music Room? But the true joy is in wandering up and down the cellar, exploring all 47 vineyards represented, and digging up gems ? Du Preez Estate?s Polla?s Red, for instance, a steal at R65 a bottle. You could stay there all evening ? and in retrospect, we probably should have.
The food was fine. An Asian kitchen rides alongside a fish kitchen (the owners of Riboville boast The Codfather to their name) and a sushi bar, and produces some great dim sum (the pork in particular), excellent lamb chops spiked with lemongrass, and a cracking duck with masses of flavour, and enough fat left on for a mouthful of richness. And try the spicy seared tuna, marinated and touched up with plenty of zest, an understated enchantment.
And the wok-fried beef was lightly done, but would have been even better if the rice had arrived with it; instead, it wandered along ten minutes later, with the delay being explained away by pointing to the front of the menu, where a disclaimer warns that different kitchens mean food will arrive ad hoc. Sushi and beef, perhaps, but rice and beef? Inexcusable.
On top of that? We returned from the wine cellar, and were immediately jumped by a hostess wanting to know if we?d just walked in and sat down at an empty table that might have been waiting for someone else; it may be a 250-seater restaurant, but surely five guests who?ve requested a tour of the cellar can?t be that easily forgotten?
Food arrived sporadically, the seared tuna taking the better part of an hour (for a dish that requires the most fleeting of time in the kitchen). Water had to be ordered repeatedly, glasses saved from the wrong wine being poured (which in turn ended up on the table cloth rather than the glass on one occasion), and a smiling but completely unintelligible waiter (one of several who alternated in serving us over the four hours we spent at Riboville) bounced around the table, adding a surreal touch to the night.
The dessert options brim with pretension, but successfully so ? the re-constructed de-constructed cheese platter is a work of art (gorgonzola creme brulee is sublime), and there?s an equally ornate fruit platter. But when you?re closing in on midnight, and patience has worn extremely thin, the redeeming touch is minimal.
There?s a Chinese bloke on the back of a tortoise painted on one of the walls ? the former representing the Eastern cuisine, the latter the speed of service. Go for the cellar, and for the food, but find a quiet lunch time when they can manage the customers. Handling 250 people on a Saturday night is a little out of Riboville?s league.
Review unannounced and paid for in full. Six starters, five main courses and three desserts, plus four bottles of wine, R1 597 ? or R6.50 an hour for the evening.