Bistro 13 and why I probably won’t go back

I wasn’t really planning on writing this review as I didn’t take enough pictures to show you, but I decided to go ahead anyway as I can still put into words our experience of Bistro 13. I often find it very hard to take pictures of food when out with a group of people, especially in the evenings when the use of a flash may disturb other diners, and this was the case here; I just couldn’t bring myself to take numerous pictures while everyone else just wanted to enjoy their dinner. Over lunch it is easier to take pictures of food without being too conspicuous or upsetting others, so expect to see more lunchtime reviews than dinner reviews here!

I read about Bistro 13 on a few blogs as well as reading some good very reviews elsewhere (including Tripadvisor), so it was with great anticipation that I booked a table for six people for Saturday night. The chef at Bistro 13, Nic van Wyk, is quite famous in South African food circles from what I can gather, and the menu at Bistro 13 seemed really interesting with a lot of inspired combinations to choose from.

Bistro 13 - Interior
Bistro 13 – Interior

The restaurant’s interior is modern and feels airy and light, with doors opening onto a large patio area, and with the dam in the background and ducks waddling about, it creates a very relaxed atmosphere. We arrived about half an hour before sunset and watched the light outside fade as the restaurant lit up with soft lighting and candles inside. A nice touch was a candle holder shaped like an ostrich egg that took centre stage on the table. Complimentary bread was very good, with homemade flatbreads and mosbolletjies on offer while we tried to decide what to order from the varied interesting options on the menu.  Similarly, the wine list was interesting with more than enough choice to satisfy our requirements. Our waiter for the night was knowledgeable about the menu and answered all our questions happily while keeping our glasses topped up.

This is unfortunately also where things started to go slightly wrong. I quite often find myself unable to choose between two dishes, and then resort to asking the waiter which option he would choose. In this instance I was deliberating between a crumbed pork fillet main, or flash fried prawns with risoni. After listening to the waiter’s more detailed explanation of each dish I strongly leaned towards the prawn option, but the waiter assured me that the pork was the better option. I think you can already see where this is heading, but I’ll run through all the dishes we ordered and give a quick run-down on each.

For starters we had the following:

  • Beetroot, figs, sprouts, goats’ cheese – presented very prettily, but the verdict was that the beetroot had an overpowering vinegary taste, with the figs and goats’ cheese completely lost in the dish.
  • Mussels, chorizo, gnocchi – presented with mussels out of the shell, in a kind of cream broth and looked unappetising and messy – but tasted very good, though salty. Some bread served on the side to mop up the lovely sauce would have been good.
  • Curried, crispy calamari, vinaigrette potatoes, avocado, pickled cucumber – presented very nicely again and looked really impressive, but had an underwhelming and fairly bland taste.
  • Crispy sweetbreads, sherry vinegar sauce, carrot salad – proclaimed to be very good indeed and looked good as well.

On the whole the starters were just ok with portion sizes and presentation varying wildly; the calamari portion looked huge compared to the mussels for instance.

For mains we had:

  • Steak and wine special (not listed on the online menu) – sirloin steak served medium, with potato fries on the side and a glass of wine of your choice (Welmoed wine I think). Steak was well cooked and the fries were good (this was for the junior member of our party)
  • Beef steak, black pepper and brandy sauce, onion rings, cheese stuffed mushroom – the steak was tasty but quite small. We ordered beef fat potato chips extra and the portion was tiny; chips or potatoes of some type should really have been included in the price of the steak in my opinion.
  • Lamb springrolls, coconut curry sauce, lemon and yoghurt raita – we ordered a starter as main and it was presented well and was tasty and flavourful.
  • Onglet steak salad, avocado, blue cheese, baby potato, pearl onions, lemon and spring onion dressing – presented very innovatively but sadly also lacking in flavour and taste.
  • Pan fried line fish, baba ganoush, harissa beurre blanc, crispy chickpeas – again presented very nicely but didn’t go down too well; acceptable dish but not particularly good and not something that we would reorder.
  • Crumbed pork fillet, smoked mash, caramelised onions, cabbage, pork jus – hmmm…well, what can I say? The dish just did not work at all and disappointed on all levels; though it was a large portion the pork wasn’t nice or tasty, the mash was truly awful to someone who eats and loves potatoes in any shape or form, and the pork jus was non-existent. The pork was rather covered in a kind of mustard sauce that did nothing to enhance the flavour. This may just be a personal taste but I really couldn’t eat the dish and I struggle to see why it came so highly recommended. Two other members of our party tried it and while one said it was edible, the other agreed with me that the dish was pretty bad. I know I shouldn’t blame the waiter as ultimately I made the choice of what to order, but I really was very disappointed, especially as I had such high expectations of the restaurant.

Bistro 13 is a great looking restaurant with an inspired sounding menu and good service, and I really wanted to like it, but sadly it seems to be lacking in the execution of the dishes. In retrospect and after much discussion between the diners present on Saturday night, none of us felt that it was good value for money or good cooking and I am sorry to say that I see no reason to return and try the food again. Maybe our expectations were too high, or maybe we simply made the wrong choices and should have stuck to the ‘safe’ options like steak and chips. Chef Nic van Wyk did come over after dinner to get our opinion of the food and he listened attentively and patiently while we talked through the various dishes but I’m not too sure that anything will change as most of our issues could simply be seen as someone’s particular taste. I would argue however, that the fact that so many dishes over the evening came in for criticism (and we are not on the whole picky eaters) means that it is more than just personal taste that is at play at Bistro 13. We did have an enjoyable evening overall, but I can honestly say this had much more to do with the good company and the excellent bottles of wine we had than the food.

Ambience – 4/5

Service – 4/5

Food – 3/5

Value – 3/5

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