Thursday, August 02, 2018

Lunch at la Cuccina, Hout Bay

In the beginning.  A nostalgic visit to La Cuccina
We thought we had to deliver things to Kenilworth and, at the last minute, discovered that Hout Bay was where we needed to be. We phoned our good friends there and said, "we are going to be there at lunch time, can you join us for a quick bite" and they suggested La Cuccina. We hadn't been here since 2002. And that visit made history for us and this one brought back floods of memories

We haven't deliberately avoided the restaurant, it’s just that, as food and wine media, we get invited to a lot of other places. In 2002, we were planning to open a food and wine shop in Sea Point. We had chosen the name - Main Ingredient - found the perfect location, taken a lease and ordered stock. But how to let people know we were going to start this new venture when we had a minimal advertising and PR budget? La Cuccina had not been open long and was the flavour of the month in Cape Town, so we decided to try it out. They didn’t have this lovely outside terrace way back when
Inside, it does not seem to have changed a bit, and the restaurant still has a self service buffet where you pay for your food by weight. We sat next to a window this time, as we did before, and then went to see what was on offer for lunch.
The salad table and the self service bar are at the back of the restaurant
There were magazine racks then, along the wall, with all the popular magazines. John had been in advertising, marketing and sales; he has a diploma in marketing. Lynne began her career in advertising, went into publishing, from Woman’s Own, New Society, Heinemann, Sage and had been in Sales and Marketing and finally PR. We had qualified in wine, meeting and getting together when we both did the Cape Wine Academy diploma while holding down Corporate jobs. We began to strategise about how to stretch our almost non-existent promotions budget, everything we had was being spent on stock. And then the penny dropped. Why not send out a press release to all the publications that covered food and wine? It wouldn’t cost anything except labour and time. And the names and email addresses were there, in the magazine racks against the wall. So, while we ate our lunch, we copied down all the names and email addresses of the editors, food editors and wine writers. (yes, they were there, way back in 2002!) And they were sent our press release. Just one page; very important to keep it short and concise, with all the facts. We got huge coverage and amazing attention

This man is sitting at the table we occupied all those years ago
Main Ingredient, our shop in Sea Point, paired fine wines, ports and sherries with unusual ingredients. South Africa was getting all the new television cooking programmes, featuring Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and others and home cooks were beginning to become adventurous. But the TV cooks were using ingredients that no one had ever heard of here, let alone know where to find them. But Lynne, who had returned in 1993 from the food capital, London, after 27 years there, and loved to cook with those ingredients, had already sourced them for her cooking and knew where to find them. So it was a no-brainer to combine unusual food ingredients for cooks with fine wines for people who loved to eat and drink

La Cuccina has a lovely selection of cakes and other things to take home or to eat there
The salad bar was a little depleted when we got there, but there were salads using Asian ingredients with which we are now familiar, a Moroccan salad with sumac and other spices and herbs which we stocked in Main Ingredient and were difficult to find in 2002
You can order slices of these lovely looking quiches
Or choose from the panoply of cooked foods. Lynne chose the chicken and mushroom pie, delicious 
Main Ingredient never sold anything cooked or prepared, only ingredients to take home and cook with. And we provided Lynne’s recipes, so you could try the ingredients out. We left prepared food to the restaurants - we were not trained in that area, fearful of waste and didn't want a kitchen in the shop
Baked yellowtail with lemon, John’s choice
Healthy muffins
John’s choice of fish, with Asian rice and lentils and a Moroccan salad
We shared a bottle of the house white, Glenview Sauvignon Blanc at R100 a bottle
The wines we sold in Main Ingredient were from good producers, some very reasonable, some very commercial, some exceptional and some rather expensive. But the only criteria we had for stocking the wine was that it had to be really good. Our first question to wine buying customers was "What are you eating with this wine?" It helped to us to sell them some ingredients to go with their supper! And it worked well the other way around. If they were making Paella or a Moroccan Tagine, we had the best wine pairing for them
And after lunch we admired the cakes
Carrot cake, without the usual icing
We each had a slice of the Chocolate and Almond flourless cake, covered in a good chocolate Ganache, with three black coffees and one green tea
The current drinks menu, you should go and try it for yourselves; we recommend a visit
The green tea to end the meal
We were so successful that Main Ingredient won the Eat Out Outstanding Outlet award four years running. We closed in 2010 because the recession was seriously eating into our customers’ pockets and because the supermarkets had seen the merit in our ideas and ingredients and were stocking them in bulk at prices we could not match. And selling wine at a meagre profit before VAT does not do much to cover the expenses. We were too old and wise to try and stick it out and get ourselves into financial problems. We paid all our bills, closed the shop and traded on-line until the Post Office collapsed; we also traded in markets for 5 years, but they evolved into places to meet friends and to eat and drink on site, and the European tradition of markets being places to buy good ingredients was not there. Our certificates hang on the wall of our wine cellar with some other souvenirs
MENU continued, having evolved out of the weekly newsletter that we had been sending our customers. Those were happy times. We thought you might like to hear our story or to reminisce with us. Many of our loyal readers were customers at Main Ingredient and many have become friends. We now have many overseas readers, nearly 52 % of the total. All of us enjoy wine, food and life
The very reasonable bill

No comments: