One of the pieces of wisdom that I am fond of dispensing to friends is this: I believe that the secret to a contented life lies in learning to accept and even enjoy change. It’s a lesson that I have found to be very hard to learn (and I’m still doing some remedial classes!!), and one that my father has never learnt at all. Let’s just say I am geneteically predisposed to have a high RC factor – reststance to change. It can be changes as small as your favourite restaurant taking a much-loved item off the menu; or your favourite TV show being screened on a different night (or, heaven forefend, cancelled!). Or moving house; changing jobs; or starting/ending a relationship. Or it can be the biggies, like melting glaciers and disappearing rain forest. The world is in a constant state of flux and much as we try to build little islands of stability and continuity around ourselves, we are constantly faced with the unsettling turmoil of change.
I have been going to Plettenberg Bay and walking on Lookout Beach my entire life. We started going when I was about six years old and I have pictures of myself and my brother as very young children looking for hermit crabs in the Lookout Lagoon, walking over the rickety but charming wooden bridge that used to span the lagoon, and spending countless hours searching for pansyshells in the Lookout Beach surf. As a student, we rented a house every year above Lookout Beach and took tipsy walks along the sand in great giggling groups; or drank sundowners perched on the rocks overlooking the beach. And when it came to choosing a honeymoon venue, I naturally chose an apartment overlooking Lookout Beach. I thought that this was to be a constant in my life, whatever other changes came about – surely a geographical feature is a safe bet when it comes to choosing change-resistant totems? Hah. In November 2007, the Keurbooms River came down in flood and swept the sliver of sand and vegetation that I had known as Lookout Beach out to sea and installed in its place a new course for the deep and fast-flowing river mouth.
One of the businesses that was most affected by this sudden change was The Lookout, a restaurant that started life as a tiny kiosk at the end of Lookout Beach selling cooldrinks and ice creams, but blossomed in the early 1990s into an island-style restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and a wooden deck overlooking the beach. As the restaurant is built on solid rock, it was spared the wrath of the sea, but lost most of its parking lot and had to re-align its entrance. But on the plus side it suddenly acquired a proximity to the lapping waves that it could previously only have dreamed of. As a student, I was mostly interested in their cocktails – and I have to say that the list is still pretty appealing (witness my Beach Affair below!), but these days my main interest is the food.
My dad (he of the high RC factor!) always has the same thing: the fishcakes. And why not, as they are excellent, substantial examples of their kind; chunky and flavourful and obviously made on the premises rather than bought in. I love that they are not deep-fried and that there is considerably more fish than potato in them; and the spicy tomato relish that they are served on makes a great dipping sauce for the excellent fries. I tend to range more widely on the menu but always stick to seafood as it is realyl fresh and really good. On a previous visit, I had the mussel pot - mussels in a creamy white wine and garlic sauce, served in a mini potjie (a traditional South African cast-iron cooking pot). I am a total sucker for mussels and these are a great example (although the sauce may be a little too creamy for those after a moules mariniere style of dish). On my most recent visit I could not resist the Jamaican calamari steaks. These turned out to be great thick chunks of calamari liberally coated in spices, garlic and lemon, and cooked to perfection. Calamari can be a difficult thing to get right but the kitchen at the Lookout know their stuff: a crispy crust and yielding, almost buttery flesh below – your knife simply glides through it. Smple perfection. Carnivores need not despair – the menu also includes a fine selection of meaty treats (steaks, lamb chops, pork spare ribs, and burgers) and for lighter appetites there are some sensational salads (grilled halloumi, prawn, calamari, tuna and curried chickem to name but a few), soups and toasties.
Although my dad is generally a sucker for dessert (and the Lookout do some great South African classics such as Cape brandy tart, a cherry pavlova and a baked cheesekace, this time we stuck with a cup of excellent espresso. For those who only want to stop for an afternoon tea and cake and admire the view, there is a selection of coffees, and scones with jam and cream. And for the early risers, there is also a full breakfast menu – and at any hour of the day there is the spectatular view.
Prices range from about R45-65 for a salad; R65-120 for main courses (although considerably more for premium items like large prawns); and about R35 for dessert. Service is young, amicable and efficient even when the restaurant is full. Although it is best enjoyed on a sunny day, there is also a smaller indoor area for when the weather closes in and a downstairs function room for private hire. The Lookout is always a permanent fixture on my itinerary when I pass through Plett – maybe I will bump into you there one day!
THE LOOK OUT
Look Out Beach
Tel. 00 27 44 533 13 79
Fax 0027 44 533 01 74
And in other news…
It is with great pleasure that I announce the 2011 Food and Wine Blogger Indaba! This event was held for the first time in 2009 and I was honoured to be asked to speak. The good news is that I will be speaking again and hosting workshops at this year’s event in Cape Town! Bookings are streaming in and tickets are selling fast – so if you are a food or wine blogger or if you are interested in becoming one, the Indaba is the place to be on 20 February 2011. Book now!
Dont forget to check out the series of posts we are running on the Plate to Page workshop blog featuring a review of 2010 and plans for 2011 from our four workshop instructors Ilva, Jeanne, Meeta and Jamie. The May 2011 Plate to Page hands-on food writing and photography workshop is now sold out - but register now if you are interested in Plate to Page II in Italy in Autumn 2011.