Cooking, smoking, baking and creating with fire at Aardvark Eats


YOU know when your dinner at a new restaurant is so good, you immediately make plans to return for brunch two days later before you even leave the premises? Yes, well that’s what happened when I visited Aardvark Eats in Riebeek Kasteel.

It opened in December 2020, in the house on the town square I have long coveted. I have toyed idly with the idea of living in it, but it never came to pass because one, the Oom was still living there, and two, I could never stand the summer heat for a prolonged period of time and I’m not sure the Manleys across the road would take to kindly to my permanent installation at their poolside. I would have brought wine, just saying.

But if I can’t have it, I’m delighted Jeleze Hattingh and Irene Grobbelaar do. They bought the house last year during lockdown, no doubt at an excellent price, and have done some knocking down of walls inside. As you enter the front door, the space opens up to your left and your right, and there is a long table destined for it. At the moment, with the still-balmy days and nights, the front garden and stoep are the places where friends and guests gather to kuier. Evening chills are kept at bay with fires in little braziers; my favourite was the piggy.

Jeleze and Irene’s welcome is warm, as is that of Butler the Boston terrier, but wait till you meet Asia (pronounced “Usher” in her seductive Polish accent, followed by a surname which contains characters not in our alphabet). That’s unless she’s gone home by now, as planned, but you never know.

At Aardvark Eats, everything is done over fire and coals. There is a pizza oven, but technically no pizzas, although you can get a flat-ish focaccia crisped golden on the edges and topped with melted mozzarella, which is superb with a glass of 2018 Old Vine Chenin under the Nuwedam label.

The menu is fluid, changing according to what’s available, and what’s sold out. So you could have butter-glazed grilled prawns, or slow-fire braised smoked pork belly, or brisket flatbread with marinated feta, rocket salad and dukkah-spiced yoghurt. Or, if you’re lucky like me, the chipotle glazed smoked baby back ribs (below) on top of bacon (which-makes-everything-better) potato salad with Asian slaw to balance the richness, and a potato crisp for texture.

Whatever else happens, pray to the food gods there will be a freshly baked cheesecake with candied bacon jam for dessert. That’s all I’m saying on the matter.

While Irene is mostly in the kitchen where she is assisted by chef Luke Manuel (who popped out with each course to see how it was being enjoyed, and to see if there was any constructive criticism), Jeleze can be found out front where she is happy to tell the story of how Aardvark Eats came to be. No spoilers but it includes a months-long road trip across Africa in a Land Cruiser, during which they ate incredibly well – fresh fish still flopping, meat and local produce.

We went back on Sunday for brunch – poached eggs with pulled brisket and smoked paprika hollandaise sauce. Was it good? The person with me ordered a second one, so I’m going out on a limb and saying yes.

At the time of writing, Aardvark Eats was still waiting for its liquor licence. For more information, click here.


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