I thought I’d hit most of the “cuisines” by now—Mexican, French, American, Cuban, Italian, you name it. But then Husb and I went to Charlottesville, VA, to visit friend Martha and she proposed something new: South African.
Hmm. What could that be? Husb is famous for being one of the most (shall we say) particular people on the planet. Don’t give him anything with mayonnaise, or mustard, or horseradish (thanks to my m-i-l for that last one). This is not a complete list, either. He has good taste but he just can’t abide condiments.
And so we approached The Shebeen with trepidation. Would Husb be pleased? Martha was confident in the restaurant’s quality—she’s been there a number of times—but neither of us knew what himself would think.
It was Saturday night. UVa was playing and so we had to wonder if it would be crowded. Mother Nature stepped in and gave the game a two-hour thunderstorm delay, so we had no problem getting seated.
So what exactly is South African food? I still can’t say. Read the menu (I’ll wait). You’ll see beef and pork and lamb and fish and chicken, and even vegetarian. But not prepared in ways that you’ve seen before.
Partly because we knew it would take us a little while to decide on entrees, we ordered draft beers (from a nice selection) and shared the Camps Bay calamari appetizer: “Squid pro quo! Spicy chili-marinated calamari in a tempura flour crust, fried and served with our crispy capers, lemon aioli and caramelized onions.” Nice way to start a meal.
I had the list narrowed down to five selections by the time the server took our entrée order. And I even decided my final choice was going to be Peri-peri shrimp skewers (“nine large grilled shrimp marinated in spicy peri-peri, garlic and oil, skewered on bamboo and served with mango chutney and lemon”). But then Martha ordered it. So of course I had to change my mind. I went with the Durban spiced chicken (“chicken breasts skewered on sugar cane, spiced with annatto, coriander and cumin, served over mealie pap [South African grits], voodoo sauce [very spicy!] and mango chutney”). Husb surprised me by ordering Sosatie (“cubed local Retreat Farm lamb top round, skewered on sugar cane with dried apricots, marinated for at least twenty-four hours in mango chutney, tamarind & turmeric, grilled and served with samp and beans, yellow rice, mango chutney and a cucumber mint yogurt”).
Reviews: raves all around. I found Martha’s shrimp too spicy-hot for my tastes, but my chicken was perfectly seasoned (I wouldn’t call it “very spicy” at all). The sugar-cane skewers flavored the meat but did not make it overly sweet at all. Martha loved her shrimp, Husb loved the lamb (which I also sampled—it was excellent). The mealie pap was creamy and a perfect complement to the chicken. There was so much food that I had to get a box to go.
After all that we did not have room for dessert but no one cared. The Shebeen is a restaurant Husb and I will talk about for years, I know, and it may even have been good enough to get him back to Charlottesville before too long. That says something.
Photo of Sosaties from Shebeen website