If you had asked me ten years ago whether there are particular South African foods that I miss here in London, I would have come up with a fairly long list. Biltong, rooibos tea, Mrs Balls chutney, Castle Lager and Nando's sauces would all have been there. But over the years that we have been here, I find that it is becoming increasingly easy to find my favourite South African foods here. Rooibos, Mrs Balls and Nando's sauces are all available at our local supermarket, and most other things can now be obtained at the ever-increasing network of South African shops. But every now and again, I get a craving for a taste of home that can't be found on a supermarket shelf.
I get a craving for Spur food.
Ask any South African if they have a Spur memory, and I can guarantee that they will come up with a couple from this popular chain of steak restaurants. From kiddies' birthday parties with sparklers and staff singing happy birthday, to awkward teenage first dates, to wallet-friendly bottomless cups of coffee as a student, to South Africans' first tentative steps into Tex-Mex cuisine. And show me a South African who does not go a little misty-eyed at the mention of Spur onion rings and Spur pink sauce! The first Spur Steak ranch was opened by Allen Ambor (who is still the company's executive chairman) in Cape Town in 1967. Since then, 237 South African and 28 international franchises of this inexplicably native American-themed restaurant have opened including some in London, to my utter joy! Since it opened a couple of years ago, I have been a pretty regular visit to the Cheyenne Supr at the O2 in North Greenwich, and when I was recently offered some vouchers to eat there and check out their summer beach and cocktail menu, I jumped at the chance.
The restaurant is situated in the cavernous O2 dome, meaning that its "outdoor" patio area is in fact inside, sensibly protected from the unpredictable English summer weather. Maybe if I'd arrived earlier/later/not during school holidays, the beach might have looked less like a kids' sandpit and more like an inviting place for grown-ups to have cocktails. But I arrived when I arrived, and the beach did look a little like a hastily abandoned playground, albeit one with very good quality, fine beach sand. If you are a family with small children, though, the beach will probably prove a huge hit with the young ones while mom and dad get to dine in relative peace and quiet. The beach will be available until the end of August.
Once inside, the decor and menu will be comfortingly familiar to those who know South African Spur menus, although there are some differences. The quesadillas have sadly disappeared from the starter menu, there is no eisbein or chicken liver dishes, and the salad buffet (Salad Valley) that has been a feature of South African branches for as long as I remember, apaprently does not meet UK food safety standards and has been scrapped. But familiar things like nachos grande, the cheddamelt steak/burger and the goodie burger ensure that it still tastes like home.
We started off with a Key West Cooler cocktail for me and a Catle Lager for Nick. To nibble on, we shared a Super Spur Combo – a sharing plate of ribs, crumbed calamari strips, crumbed button mushrooms, spicy chicken wings and cheese-filled potato skins with a spicy tomato salsa. Nope, not the healthy option (!), but everybody needs to fall off the wagon once in a while. The ribs were good, as were the mushrooms. The chicken wings were not remotely spicy though, and the potato skins were dry (other than the gooey cheese sauce). I also thought a little bit opf garnish might have improved the look of the plate – a lettuce leaf or a slice of tomato. So not an unqualified success, but then we were not there for the starters.
Main courses proved to be streets better. My 21oz full rack of Spur ribs was gigantic and fall-apart tender. The meat was succulent, the basting sauce perfect and I was a happy camper. Chips were fresh and good, and my beloved Spur onion rings on the side were a sinful little piece of heaven, smothered in pink sauce (renamed "salad & French fry dressing" in the UK, I see!). Nick's sirloin steak was as good a piece of steak as I've seen in London and cooked to perfection: chargrilled on the outside and perfectly pink on the inside. On the side, we had a "Greek" salad – South African-style, that is, which means iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives and feta cheese. Purists beware – but South Africans will feel right at home On previous visits we have also had other side salads (all generous and fresh), some outstanding burgers (the bacon and guacamole burger is a favourite) and delicious faijitas. The wine list is very limited (I think there were three reds and three whites) but the soft drinks are bottomless. We did not have dessert on this occasion, but the Spur brownies and waffles are legendary – and they serve Kahlua dom pedros! Service (always a strong point at the Spur) was helpful, very smiley, and efficient throughout.
Starter prices hover around the £4-5 mark; burgers (indlucing onion rings and chips) are about £8-10; and steak prices range from £9 (for a 6oz. steak) to £20 (for a gigantic 17oz. steak). If you love your heart, you can also choose to replace the chips and onion rings with a side salad. The verdict? If you are looking for a kid-friendly sit-down restaurant with an unchallenging menu (and excellent steaks for mom and dad!), you can't do much better at the price. And of course, if you are a homesick South African in London, you will think you've died and gone to heaven
The Entertainment District
The O2 Dome
Tel. +44 (0)20 8858 0196
If you liked this post, you can read more of my restaurant write-ups here.
And in other news, nominations are now open for the 2010 South African Blog Awards until 27 August. I would REALLY appreciate it if you would take a few moments to click on the picture above and nominate me in the categories Best Food & Wine blog and Best Overseas Blog. Only the blogs with the most nominations go through to be finalists, so every nomination counts!! Pretty please with chocolate sprinkles? When you click the link below, CookSister has already been selected as nominee in the abovementioned categories, so all you have to do is enter the security code displayed and a VALID e-mail address, then click on the link in the confirmation e-mail they send you. NB – you have to click the link in the e-mail that you will be sent, otherwise your nomination will not count! Thanks ever so much