IT’S far more interesting for the reader when a restaurant reviewer really hates a place and can rip into appalling food, disgusting hygiene and dumb or drunk waiting staff.
Then, on the flip side if you are lucky enough to review a fantastic eatery, the reader also has the vicarious thrill of discovering a treasure.
There is the promise of a meal so delicious, service so swift and a welcome so warm that you can hardly wait for pay day to book a table.
However, falling between those two extremes is the reviewer’s headache: a new restaurant that is good but not great; decor and ambiance that are pleasant but not thrilling; service that is adequate but not sparkling and food that is nothing to either complain or write home about.
What’s more, when you cover that kind of restaurant the reviewer can so easily come across as a pompous ungrateful arse because whoever is paying for the meal, it generally is not the journalist.
(It’s Weekend Post, never the restaurant. Otherwise who would ever believe it when we do say something nice?!)
Which brings me to the newly opened Cafe Europa at Brookes on the Bay, the first Port Elizabeth branch of this national franchise.
Reports from friends – one who lunched, another who supped – were glowing but, after two visits, I only partially agree.
One of the best things about Cafe Europa is its position overlooking Bayworld and Kings Beach: it was a pleasure this week to enjoy a midday cappuccino on its covered balcony while watching crazy souls plunging into the school holiday waves.
And, although neighbouring Primi Piatti and Ocean Basket may have wider sea vistas, Cafe Europa benefits from being on the more sheltered eastern side of Brookes on the Bay.
The menu is extensive: breakfasts galore and a wide range of light meals such as tramezzinis, wraps and burgers as well as more solid offerings and plenty of pasta and pizza – all you could ask for, really. It’s priced right for an up-market chain (except for two steaks, all the mains are under R100) and portions are decent.
The wine list is also fairly wide and there is Kanu by the glass (R24) and a few cocktails.
On our evening visit the Europa pizza (R74) with pancetta, feta and avocado was tasty – not as good as Leonardo’s, Mangiamo’s or Charlie Superstar but better than Debonairs. The caprese salad (R54) was generous but the fettucine carbonara (R64) was a little bland.
One criticism is that the strawberry daiquiri is an unnatural shade of red, a deep crimson likely to appeal only to the Cullen family and tasting more like a cinema slushie than a cocktail with kick.
A second visit over lunch showed the food in a better light: two of us shared the most delicious chicken burger (R68), a gourmet shake (R30) that whizzed together chocolate, Toblerone and Milo (now, how can that go wrong?) and seriously strong and aromatic cappuccino (R16).
Its food lacks nothing except a unique flavour and that, perhaps, is the allure – and problem – of a chain. Whether it is in Pofadder or Plett, each of the dozens of Cafe Europas have to offer a standardised quality of fare and on that score the Port Elizabeth branch hits the standard you expect from a sophisticated national outlet.
However, Cafe Europa faces stiff competition from restaurants in Stanley Street and several other Richmond Hill outlets, not to mention a few in Sixth Avenue, Walmer.
If you prefer excitement off the beaten culinary track, Cafe Europa may not be your first choice. But if you want something predictable and pleasant – with a great view – then it is well worth a visit.
Cafe Europa is at Brookes on the Bay, Beach Road, Humewood, (041)584-0167.