Tag Archives: Restaurant

Bell’s Special Reserve at Hemingway’s Bistro

It’s strikingly appropriate that this post is about Bell’s Special Reserve, for which we’ve just launched a Father’s Day promotion (see the The Return of WHISKYdotcoza), and also a bit of an homage to my dad and his favourite restaurant.

My dad is an unpretentious man.  He certainly can and does appreciate fine things, but I think that he reserves his greatest enjoyment for genuine, down-to-earth, simple pleasures.  When he finds something that he likes he embraces it enthusiastically, be it a wine, a restaurant or a rugby team.  This passion is most evident in his support of the Sharks.  He came to this country not knowing much about rugby and having played only a solitary game (the how and why were lost on a child’s ears), but it struck a chord with him, and today he ranks amongst the most ardent fans in the province, one of those with a pedigree dating back to the old B-Division days.  He takes the same approach when it comes to restaurants.  We’re a family that enjoys our food and we’ve celebrated many wonderful family occasions over a meal at a restaurant.  When the first of the Keg restaurants, the Keg & Thistle, opened in Durban, he was one of the most steadfast patrons; some 5 long, loooong years had to pass before we dined out anywhere else, such was his loyalty.

Today, and for some time now, the Keg’s place in my dad’s heart has been taken by Hemingway’s, a substantial step up (I was going to say “in my opinion” but it’s indisputable so take it as fact).  Hemingway’s is located in the lower Glenwood area of Durban, in a charming Victorian style house that’s been renovated and converted into a restaurant.  Half the tables are on a terrace out front, alfresco always being a useful format in the east coast sauna, and the other half inside.  It’s small enough to feel intimate, but large enough to feel vibey, so suited to just about any dining event I can imagine.  I’ve obviously had many meals at Hemingways – this much should be clear by now – but recently I sampled their new menu for the first time.  It offers a wider selection than the previous, and the medium-rare fillet with blue cheese sauce that I selected was fantastic.  I also finished off a few of my companions’ dinners – I’m nothing if not true to my dustbin nature – so I achieved a fairly broad familiarity with menu and I honestly couldn’t fault a thing.  The service is excellent too.  My dad engages with restaurant staff in very dad-like fashion, but these guys seem to get him.

Victorian? Passable knowledge of whisky. Dangerous knowledge of architecture.

Onto the bar.  So far there’ve been words but too few of them on whisky.  The usual suspects were front and centre – but I was pleasantly surprised to see a few older representatives of the Glenfiddich family also in attendance.  I let my eyes linger on the 15yo Solera, but good as it is I know it well so I wanted to give something else a try.  I decided on Bell’s Special Reserve.  Blended malts are a hugely underrated style of whisky, and as a result relatively uncommon.  It’s little known by the whisky drinking everyman that a single malt, the “pure” style of whisky, is in fact blended – different casks of different wood from different years can typically be used.  So there’s not much by way of conceptual superiority of single over blended malts.  A single malt is representative of a singular place and style, in a way that a blended malt can never be, but a blended malt can call upon a variety of malts and the blender’s skill, and thereby draw from a virtually limitless flavour palette to create something that might be just right for you, for me, for a particular occasion.

Bell's Special Reserve

My occasion was an after dinner dram with my dad.    We savoured the first sweet, then peppery-spicy flavour, and reflected on a great meal, and a great moment in time spent together.  If I had to analyse it more closely I’d say that this whisky could use a bit more time in its casks.  I feel much the same about the Grouse blended malt.  But then again if that was the case we wouldn’t be able to pick up these 100% malt gems for under R200 a bottle.  There’s an extrinsic component to our perception of flavour, I guess that’s why such things as marketing and branding exist.  In this case the Bell’s Special Reserve was the perfect complement to a much enjoyed father-son occasion.

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Wrap party at Pepénero Restaurant

Last night saw the WHISKYdotcoza site wrap party take place.  There’s still some information to chase up from errant suppliers, and a few final tweaks to be made, but we’re almost there.  The opening bell is about to sound.  Let the trading begin…soon.

I sneaked in a quiet one before the festivities began

Our event was held at Pepénero in Mouille Point – a venue that I frequent regularly, and so do many other Capetonians it seems; Wednesday night and the place was packed to capacity.  We chose it for the party because it’s a great place to drink whisky.  For starters there’s a meaty selection of whiskies, as one would expect because it’s owned by the scion of one of the doyens of the local liquor industry.  The bar area is atmospheric – featuring an opulent décor style (which extends to the restaurant), large comfortable leather couches,  and a massive travertine bar counter, which is just perfect for propping up whisky-sipping barflies.  Take a bow Paul Kovensky.

I asked to bring in my own whiskies – their selection is wide, but by no means exhaustive – which they graciously allowed, so we worked our way through bottles of Macallan 12yo Sherry Oak and Highland Park 12yo, a taste journey starting from preserves and working its way to soft smoke.  I appreciate Islay malts once in a while, but I’m by no means a peat-freak, and this Highland Park is just right; enough peat into which to sink your teeth, but not so much that it clobbers you over the head.   Awesome stuff!

On the culinary front the restaurant was as reliable as always.  They have a fairly broad menu, but I find myself gravitating to their sushi more often than not.  It’s delicious and reasonably-priced, a winning combination in my books.  I like my sushi with strong wasabi, and too often restaurants don’t get this right.  Pepénero’s wasabi takes no prisoners – it sits up and punches you in the nose.

On the whole a great evening with our web designers and friends from Milk, who have done an amazing job.  Whisky, good company, and a great setting…what more is there?

Happy Easter everyone.  May the dram be with you.