Thursday, July 19, 2012

Caravela

I'm sure Leighton knows all about the Caravela - the small, fleet, sailing ship developed by the Portuguese in the fifteenth century mainly to explore the coast of west Africa.  Detective Kubu knows all about the Caravela too, but for a different reason.  It is the name of far and away the best restaurant in Gaborone, and, for special occasions - or indeed whenever he can find an excuse - Kubu will make his way there and enjoy food which is Portuguese in character but with a subtle African fusion.  At the end of the next Detective Kubu novel, he and Mabaku sit under the trees in the courtyard, toast their successes, and lick their wounds.
My friend Jonathan Everitt is a photographer, IT specialist, and occasional (like this is the first occasion) restaurant reviewer.  I thought it would be interesting to see his take on the past, present, and future of the Caravela on his first visit to Botswana last month.  
Over to Jonathan:


On the 21 June 2012, I found myself in Botswana rendering IT support to one of our branch offices in the Kgale district of Gaborone. I was probably a stone's throw from the Criminal Investigation Department offices, and might have looked up Kubu, but I didn't know that at the time.  Botswana feels quite different to South Africa. For one thing, I felt slightly alien as there were very few white people in the city, a different feel but certainly not threatening in any way, rather the opposite. On Michael's recommendation, after work that evening I took the opportunity to visit the famous Caravela Restaurant, renowned for its Portuguese fare. The restaurant is situated inside a residential area, and, from outside the property, one can see the large trees providing shelter to the courtyard tables. 


The restaurant officially opens its gates at 6pm, so I spent some time waiting outside and taking photographs until the new managers, James and Sue, arrived. I was welcomed in and told to make myself at home as they prepared for the evening. I chose a two-seater table in a corner, and made my way around the restaurant with camera in hand.  I familiarized myself with the bar, and menu as the waitresses busily prepared tables and cleaned up. I went outside and took some photographs of the courtyard section, empty given the cool weather.  Still, I could visualize the lunchtime bustle as customers enjoyed the shade provided by the large trees, the wall allowing one to forget the neighboring suburbs. By this time, Tony, the owner of the Caravela, arrived, and was kind enough to spend time with me, giving me some background on how the restaurant began.

Originally from Mozambique and then Rhodesia, Tony arrived in South Africa in 1982 where he began a catering business. He remarked how different the people were when he first arrived in South Africa, and although welcoming, he found them quite reticent in developing the easy friendships he was used to from his Rhodesia days.  In 1996 he and his wife, Lou, left South Africa and settled in Botswana where they started the Caravela, following the dream they both shared of owning and operating a distinctive establishment that offered Portuguese food in an intimate and comfortable setting, without a pretentious air about it. My impression was that the restaurant was to be regarded as a special place, as though one was visiting a friend's home. Certainly that was how they made me feel. Tony brought James and Sue on board to operate the restaurant as he wanted more time to relax and enjoy his life with his family. My observations of the four together during the evening were of a close-knit family working in synchronicity- a refreshing change from the majority of Johannesburg restaurants.


From the starter menu I chose the prawn cakes (4 in a serving), which were delicious, while I enjoyed the house red. For my main course, I chose the Bife a Portuguese, grilled fillet steak with wine and garlic sauce, topped with bacon and fried egg and served with rice or chips.The steak was a sizeable portion, but the flavor was what made it. It was prepared as I always prefer, medium-rare. At the risk of being boring, I would choose the same meal again.  Given the satisfaction I got from that dish, why choose anything else?  But fish lovers  can select from seafood kebab (Espetada De Peixe), two styles of southern Africa's delicious local Kingklip, Sole, Calamari, Cod fish, and finally Portuguese sardines. Then there are meat and chicken specialties which all looked excellent.

At times the electricity went out (Tuesdays and Thursday are the days that this happens apparently), but in a couple of seconds a generator somewhere at the back of the restaurant started up and everything resumed once more. No one expressed a murmur of discontent when the electricity failed - indicating that the diners were regulars, used to this. 

During the course of the evening, the atmosphere was warm, and the conversation levels kept low, befitting the intimate atmosphere of the candlelight, especially when the power was off. The tables were well spaced for privacy and the service was attentive, but not intrusive. 

The conclusion to this evening was that, funds permitting, I would fly to Gaborone just for supper at Caravela!

Thanks, Jonathan!  I can't wait to get back to the Caravela.  And everyone thought Stan and I go to Botswana for the wildlife when, as you see, it's all for research...

Michael - Thursday.

6 comments:

  1. Now that's the kind of review I wish my work received: Appreciated, succinct, and flavorful! Nice work, Jonathan.

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  2. Can I come? i'd like the steak, medium rare, please.

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  3. Annamaria, since you know and like Botswana, another visit must be scheduled in the future. I know you would tolerate Portuguese rather than Italian food.

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  4. You're all welcome! This really is a first rate restaurant. And, hey, there is the wildlife too!

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  5. Michael, YES! The wildlife. Stan's word "like" does not begin to describe my feelings about Botswana. Now if I could cross the Atlantic on that gorgeous, romantic boat.....

    Perhaps the crossing would not be as delightful as I would imagine. But I can dream, can't I?

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