Asada lights up Stanley Street restaurant strip

Angela Daniels takes a look at Mark Oosthuizen’s new menu flavoured with Argentine, New Orleans and French Creole cuisine

With a 4.9m long firepit to one side and fresh seafood on ice to the other, the eclectic mix of cultures that is Asada is evident the minute you walk through the door of one of Port Elizabeth’s newest – and trendiest – Stanley Street restaurants.

Mark Oosthuizen of Asada combines French Creole with Argentine dishes
Picture: Werner Hills

Matching New Orleans’ inspired French Creole cuisine with Argentine-style meat dishes cooked on open flames was a gamble. For restaurateur Mark Oosthuizen it was a calculated gamble which, if the throngs of people lining up to grab a table are anything to go by, will serve him well.

Oosthuizen, who also owns Fushin in Stanley Street and Fushin Champagne and Tapas Bar in Baywest, said he had been playing with ideas for a new concept when the opportunity arose to open up a new restaurant alongside Fushin.

But, said Oosthuizen, if he was going to start something new he wanted it to be completely different.

“I don’t put myself in a box,” Oosthuizen said before launching into a fascinating explanation of Asada’s birth.

He had been looking for a place where he could display his fresh seafood which, at Fusion, was in a fridge and out of sight of patrons. He was also looking at providing Port Elizabeth’s foodies with timeless dishes.

“Burgers have been done, pizzas have been done, so I was looking for something that hadn’t been done. In the late ’80s and early ’90s you could get clam chowder or lobster bisque in many places but then that died down. It’s timeless food that I wanted to bring back.”

So that explains the French Creole side of the menu but what, I wondered, inspired the Argentine dishes. The answer, Oosthuizen said, was chef Francis Mallman who specialises in Argentine food, focusing particularly on Patagonian dishes which are cooked on open flames.

With that in mind Asada, Spanish for grill, therefore seemed an apt name. The Argentine-style food also allowed Oosthuizen to bring in meat dishes – something which appeals to scores of South Africans.

Oosthuizen believes the Argentine and French Creole flavours complement each other and using both concepts expanded the range of dishes he could explore.

“Thinking about how I was going to marry those two was interesting but I think we now have food spanning two continents without losing our identity,” he said. I have to agree.

Stopping in for a meal with my husband last week, we tried cream of smoked salmon (R40) and chicken liver paté (R40) from the Tapas and Paté menu. The chicken liver paté was smooth and easily one of the best I had ever tasted.

On this my husband and I agreed – not so much on the salmon. I loved it, it was salty and very fishy and I thought perfect. My husband felt it was a little too salty, but tucked into enough of it to assure me he didn’t hate it.

Both dishes were served with a baguette and were very filling – they’d certainly suffice for a light lunch. Nevertheless, we forged on with mains, Patagonian calamari for him (R85) and lamb flank for me (R125).

Both were great. I know because I always insist on tasting my long-suffering husband’s food as well as my own.

You would think I’d have stuck solely to my own as the lamb portion is a generous 380g but I had to have a taste of the delicious looking cajan calamari. I’m glad I did. It was tender and excellently flavoured, spicy without being overwhelming. My lamb was cooked to perfection – and very tasty.

For sides you have a nice array to choose from, with options including veg, potato bake and cous cous.

While the food obviously takes centre stage there are a number of other treats to enjoy at Asada. For me, it was the toe-tapping jazz music that was playing and the little tree, which has been allowed to grow slap-bang in the middle of the restaurant, the floor carefully paved around it.

It’s about time Bay residents were able to try food concepts with a difference.

This visit was unannounced and the bill paid for in full.

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