There is a graffiti stairway in Shortmarket Street Cape Town that leads to a casual eating experience with food of fine-dining quality. No frills. Plastic and enamel plates. At the Commissary it’s a mere 40m2, three communal tables and a counter that seats six. Moving art on the walls, blackboards. Here the loud buzz of happy chatter drowns out any music. Some come for a quick cocktail and oysters, others sit tight and work their way through the entire, enticing menu. That’s what we did, starting with the Pani Puri ceviche, an unusual Indian slant on a traditional ceviche that explodes in your mouth, and the sashimi (yellowtail) and ponzu dressing (the ponzu made by the chef Wes Randles). As he handed over our first dish at the counter, he warned us that there would be nothing gentle about the food, that we were to expect flavours that are unapologetically extravagant.
It was at the one-plated Shortmarket Club next door that Wes and Luke Dale Roberts had many discussions about opening a pared-down restaurant during the recent drought and recession. The Commissary is the result. No reservations, fewer staff, the focus on food. “When food is expensive the expectations are higher. This is our chance to try something unique. People understand quality, these days they know a lot about food, but they don’t always want a four-hour dining experience. Here it is shortened, and the timing is up to you,” says Wes.
I managed to quiz Wes on his forthcoming week in Tokyo, where he and his chef friends Ivor and Ollie will be feasting with locals, meeting lauded chefs plus experiencing some top restaurants. “I’m expecting a culture shock. I am going with an open mind. I admire the Japanese philosophy of mastering a craft – it is not in their culture to try to be the best, but to master the craft, which they spend a lifetime doing.” Definitely not what this talented chef will be doing when he returns, he loves variety, but he is sure to be greatly influenced by the experience.
Our waiter Oscar led us through making wise choices. Every dish sounds as delicious as it is, and yes, we did over-indulge. The 90s-style wedge salad with pecan nuts and miso cream dressing was simple yet spectacular, the special of the day was too – a mortadella slider.
It was a simple cookie that brought our fabulous evening of casual feasting to a memorable close.