When it comes to the way I see the world, almost everything is tinged with nostalgia. I’ve previously mentioned how I tend to experience anemoia with regularity when visiting certain places – and food is not excepted. I often seek to recreate certain periods in time – whether through dress, music, interiors or taste. My latest experience of the latter came courtesy of a visit to one of the oldest and most established steakhouses in South Africa – The Hussar Grill.
Birthed in 1964 and featuring a menu almost unchanged over the subsequent decades, an opportunity to dine at The Hussar Grill is an opportunity to step back into the past – and only in the best of manners. Think crisp white table linen, sparkling glasses and intimate booths upholstered in dark green leather. While a strong masculine aesthetic of dark wood panelling, moody lighting and a well-thumbed library of books as decor touches give The Hussar Grill a kind of old boy’s club appeal, the service is as warm and inviting as their log-burning fireplace in the winter.
Invited to dine at The Hussar’s Willowbridge restaurant on a rather frosty Friday afternoon, I ventured out into the still-unchartered (for me) territory of Durbanville. Situated in Cape Town’s northern suburbs, Willowbridge is a mall that mirrors it’s surroundings rather than juxtaposing against them. Tastefully blending into the countryside that encircles it, the mall offers a pleasantly compiled experience that caters to the discerning shopper. Unbesieged by the crowds that are all too often found at bigger malls, Willowbridge is perfectly suited to a retail introvert such as myself – somewhere to browse and daydream (and spend) an afternoon away.
But it wasn’t shopping I had in mind on this occasion, but rather the chance to sample some of The Hussar Grill’s award-winning steaks. And my de rigueur lunchtime glass of red wine.
While all branches of the restaurant offer similar touches, each one is unique in it’s ability to set a certain mood and The Hussar Grill at Willowbridge is no exception. Open to a large picture window showing a valley verdant with growth, the atmosphere inside the eatery exudes an inviting hospitality with staff more than willing to ensure that your time spent there is as enjoyably memorable as possible. We had the pleasure of being waited on by Tracey – a thoroughly likeable and effervescent lady that made our visit all the more special by her presence. As I mentioned before, The Hussar Grill is old-school – which means that your waitrons genuinely care for you during your meal – there is absolutely none of the conveyer belt manner of service that one often finds in franchise restaurants. In fact, I hate to even place The Hussar under the term of franchise – they are that singular.
When it comes to the menu, expect all your favourite steakhouse classics – and perhaps a few of your parents and grandparents’ favourites too. Dining out with my mum Andie is always such a fantastic experience as she has a constant wealth of memories of what eating out in Cape Town and Johannesburg in the 1980s was like. She was quick to recall her time spent as a fashion design student in 1981 – eating out at the Rondebosch branch of The Hussar Grill, socialising and drinking Irish Coffee. Later on it was the Rareside Grill in Greenpoint where my father would ask for “garlic like snow” to top off his steak while mum went for “Old Man Sauce” with hers – a cream-based sauce made with hot English mustard. It’s memories such as these that we took with us – a kind of nod to the past whilst making new recollections of our own.
But I digress. Back to the menu.
I’ve recently acquired a fascination for snails – or perhaps I should call them escargot – and was pleased to see them on the starter menu. Drenched in garlicky butter, fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese, these tender little mouthfuls are all too quickly consumed and left me wanting a second serving. Luckily I was able to nick a taste of mum’s starter – authentic Dutch bitterballen – and their crispy texture and cheesy flavour makes for a tantalising tidbit. Next time I’ll be sure to sample the Carpaccio, the Marrow Bones or the Baked Camembert too. To drink I chose The Hussar’s own signature 50th Anniversary Red – a smooth-drinking blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that subtlety enhanced our meal.
Although the menu is comprehensive, for mains there was only one option we were unequivocally decided on – steak. I chose the Blue Cheese Sirloin – a classic New York cut covered in creamy blue cheese sauce and done to my preference – rare. Mum opted for the rump done medium-rare with her favoured mustard sauce. For sides we indulged in a smorgasbord of carbohydrates like thick-cute fries, battered onion rings, herbed new potatoes and the complimentary crispy sweet potato shavings. Although both steak absolutely melted in the mouth and came with a delicious side of flavoursome fat, in my opinion the rump was by far the winner for it’s tender texture and outstanding taste. Having previously been shown exactly what goes into the preparation of an “A” grade steak by Head Chef Elie, I have a new appreciation for this perceptibly simplistic cut of beef. Showing us his French flair for filleting, Elie took us backstage into The Hussar Grill’s expansive kitchens and walked us through just what goes into prepping their house specialities of expertly-aged sirloin, rump, ribeye, fillet and T-bone steaks. Clearly passionate about his calling, Elie displayed his lightning-fast knife skills whilst trimming the cuts of excess fat and sinew before weighing each steak to come in at the required 200 to 500g portion sizes. Unique to The Hussar Grill, a meat board is offered to diners in order to allow them to view each cut of beef before ordering – thus one is assured of the perfect meal, every time. Also, nothing goes to waste here, with excess fat and beef trimmings made into their own house burger patties.
Pleasingly comforting, dessert is also offered up in the same classic style as the rest of the menu – think Crème Brûlée, Chocolate Fondant and Malva Pudding. I opted for the latter whilst mum had a Dom Pedro laced with whisky. The perfect end to what is likely to be the first of many meals at the Willowbridge Hussar Grill.
And to make the offer of a classic steakhouse dinner all the more appealing, The Hussar Grill in Willowbridge is running a winter special where they are offering a 2-course lunch for R125.00 per person as well as their signature 50th Anniversary Red Wine blend for R130.00 a bottle. I say why not take a weekday drive out to admire the agrarian scenery of Durbanville before working your way through The Hussar Grill’s sumptuous menu this winter? I know that’s exactly what I’ll be doing again in the very near future.
I snapped the horses and cattle on the nearby Altydgedacht estate – the purveyors of a very friendly little Italian-inspired 2013 Barbera.