IN its simplest definition, a bistro is a small restaurant serving inexpensive meals. Expanding on this, is that those meals are home-styled and comforting. Societi Bistro, which has been meeting this brief for a decade in its current location, is inviting diners to experience the contemporary definition of a bistro – an evolution into any rural food served in an urban environment – under the banner of Bistros Go Global.
From March 28, head chef Robert Giljam will present a whopping 21 menus featuring modest and traditional meals from across the globe, each only available for four days – Wednesdays to Saturdays. There will be a short break in this rhythm when the winter menu launches in June.
Each menu offers three courses – starter, main and dessert – and a suggested South African wine pairing (all wines are available by the glass or bottle), and you’re welcome to pick all or any of the ones you fancy and combine them with dishes from the main menu or other daily blackboard specials.
Bistros Go Global begins with the Caribbean: Jamaican hake fritters with pineapple, cabbage and lemon; spicy Cuban pollo asado (pulled roast chicken, citrus, wraps, salsa); and coconut ice cream. Working its way around the globe in almost a full circle, the final destination in September is Louisiana in the US with Peruvian ceviche with granadilla and lemon to start, followed by a Cajun dish called étouffée with chicken and prawns on dirty rice, and a dessert of Bananas Foster beignets served with Bourbon and vanilla ice cream. In between, the culinary journey will take your taste buds on an exploration of flavours from North Africa, Spain, Portugal, and Japan. Because Societi Bistro has in previous years presented “tours” of French and Italian food, these countries will be prominently featured with tightly zoomed-in regions like Paris, Normandy, Venice, and Rome.
Development of the chosen dishes took months of research and preparation, something of which owner Peter Weetman is very proud. For example, for the Caribbean menu, he tasted about eight different starters and he and his team slowly played with them to decide what would best appeal to South African palates, as well as looking at the local availability of ingredients. Take that and multiply it by 21 times three, and that’s all before the team in the kitchen perfects the recipes.
“Part of the appeal of coming to eat in a bistro is that if you wanted to, there’s no reason you couldn’t replicate the dish at home,” he says. “I think that’s the great thing about rural food – it is accessible, easy, and very often it’s a one-pot wonder.
“It’s not fine dining. We are not a fine dining restaurant, we’re a bistro, and ultimately, the rural dishes are something a grandmother would have cooked. There are none of the so-called ‘royal’ dishes on our menus, which would be eaten by the upper middle class. We’re looking at the person working in the field – what do they eat?”
Travelling abroad has become expensive, comments Weetman, so this is a version of armchair travel in that you can be here but taste somewhere else if you close your eyes. “It’s a nice little escape,” he says.
Since the appointment of chef Giljam, diners will have noticed subtle changes in the food at Societi, reflected by his background in Asian restaurants. It’s never going to be fusion food, stresses Weetman. Western will be Western and Asian will be Asian.
“Also, what you’ll see on the current autumn menu – which is a nod to what we’ll do next year – is a traditional South African lamb bredie,” he says.
“There’s no reason why bobotie can’t make it onto the menu. In no way do we want to exclude any kind of cuisine as long as it’s rural.”
- This story first appeared in Weekend Argus Saturday Live on March 24, 2018.