The Soup Apartmentby Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi / 03.07.2013
Restaurants put power firmly in the hot sticky hands of the patron. From the moment you walk through the threshold of any eatery worth its salt, the waiter or waitress and kitchen staff do a jig to either charm you out of pocket, tantalise your tongue into spending sordid amounts, or slip those Randelas from you wallet while you roll over in a sated stupor. With every morsel down your throat, the cash register makes that Super Mario Bros mushroom coin sound and if you tip well enough, your waiter or waitress gets an extra life.
Not so at the 4c Soup Apartment. This pop-up restaurant is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings and will run until the 14th August. Fusing the talents of three chefs under the leadership of sometimes TV chef Maryse Feza Bakomito. The ingredients for the meals are sourced from well respected food outlets and organic suppliers, including Honest Chocolate and Knead Bakery. Long Street lies at the feet of apartment 4c and the city stretches out from the apartment’s panoramic sized windows.
The scent of comfort food drifts from the glass doors of the apartment block and onto the streets to wreak havoc on the unwitting noses. And when the security guard lets you through those doors, the scents give your appetite a long, warm welcoming hug. The door of apartment 4C is wider than that of a normal flat, purpose built for over indulgent eaters.
The decor in the apartment keeps the same tune as the guitar, vocal and electronic gadget duo sending out esoteric harmonies throughout the night. Stephen Hitchcock, the man responsible for the designs in the dining area says that the seats, tables and four makeshift sculptures were inspired by the idea of nature reclaiming human made structures. There are cushions instead of chairs and wooden poles, cut to random heights, litter the space and serve as tables. The lights dropped down from the ceiling hang a breath from touching the apexes of the four sculptures dividing the room.
All animals have a ritual which helps them survive the winter. The movable décor and installations in the Soup Apartment dining area could not have struck a more appropriate chord with the human instinct for nesting (and sharing hearty meals) through the coldest season.
Chopping boards laden with entrees of mini tostadas, some topped with avocado and others with tuna ceviche rest on the makeshift tables between the clans in the room. The faster they disappear, the faster they are replenished. The main courses change every time the restaurant is open but the starters and desserts stay the same and the bread is bought fresh from the Artisan Bread Association every opening day. On this particular Friday, the first soup is a mushroom and sprout miso with crispy noodles. The mushrooms in the soup were cooked just enough not to be soggy and carried their own flavour which balanced the soup perfectly.
One of the two waitresses gently coaxes the smokers from an adjoining room the way a kind mother would her rowdy teenagers, when the second soup is served. ‘You don’t want it to be cold’ she says in a voice which means ‘Don’t make me come back here’. It’s a thick curried butternut soup topped with almonds and it almost burns the taste buds clean off the tongue. The third soup is a mussel chowder topped with a Tempura prawn. The luxurious creaminess of it soothes the tongue after the shock and awe of the butternut soup. Although, it was delicious in its own right, by the time the last morsels are being scraped from the slowest eaters’ bowls, a tangible drowsiness has descended over the entire room.
‘No you can’t leave’ says mother dearest, less cajoling than before. ‘Not before you’ve had dessert’. Dessert is a tiny cup of Honesty Hot Chocolate – a dairy-free, close to pure cocoa chocolate jolt melted into a cup which miraculously vanishes if you don’t down it quickly enough.
*Images © Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi