Hallelujah’s very name is an affront to the haters, hinting as it does at the quasi-religious, cultish status the style-challenged attribute to the trappings of hipsterdom. And Hallelujah is situated alongside The Power and The Glory, that innocuous bar that appears to have been granted the mantle of hipster nexus by the sad, unthinkingly eager ninnies who write those Top 10 lists that pass as entertainment journalism.
If you read the words ‘achingly hipster’, or “hipster central”, or any other tired derivation thereof, immediately disregard the opinion of the person writing. I speak as someone who probably once used that phrase myself in a dark time. But brethren, I have now seen the light, and realise that those among us who are constructing hipsters as the enemy are basically Donald Trumps without the popular vote. I’d like to think we’re beyond this endless damn need to construct an other to attack so we’ll feel better about our own shortcomings in the living interesting lives department.
What does this all have to do with a review of Hallelujah, you ask? As I sat there, in one of the scarce seats (the restaurant probably seats no more than 18), I watched the chef cooking. Her concentration was intense, every one of the dishes on the tiny menu accorded the same respect and care as a gastro-chemical marvel from Noma. To ascribe glib cultural stereotypes to what they do here is offensive. More than usually offensive, I mean.
With a menu this focussed, you can order at least one of everything, and everything is worth ordering more than once. But when you order the grilled Mozamibiquan Prawns on steamed buns with a coriander and lime sauce, spare a sombre thought for the dish that it replaced on the menu. At least, I think it replaced it – it might be a seasonal thing. I loved the simple, delicious sweetness of the lobster on New England style roll, but with crayfish being placed on the red list, I fear that might have gone the way of the hippie (as in, virtually extinct except for a few that still emerge from the sea in Kommetjie and Noordhoek).
Yep, crayfish are no more. Which reminds me – are Burger & Lobster on Bree St going to have to change their name to Burger & Burger? Which sounds more like a furniture store in Beaufort West than a restaurant in Cape Town. But perhaps they source their lobster from somewhere else. Also, while I’m on the subject: is Burger & Lobster an official partner of the international chain? Or just a sad rip off?
But back to restaurants that matter, rather than restaurants that might just be gimmicks. (I say ‘might’, because despite having been to Burger & Lobster twice, I haven’t yet bothered figuring it out. I’ll tell you this, though: the music they play is atrocious, the lighting is deep nouveau riche, and the burger and lobster seemed good. I’ll have to go back with earplugs and concentrate this time, to draw a line under the experience.)
Hallelujah’s mussels dish is plump and almost aggressively simple, steamed in sake (or possible with?), scattered with chunks of spicy, aromatic sausage, and finished with lime butter. Eating it was like encountering the smells of a foreign city for the first time. You know what I mean, I’m sure: the city qua city is fairly similar to your idea of a city, but the differences are in the details, like the smells and tastes. I loved it, you’ll probably love it too. The mussels, that is.
I ate pretty much everything on Hallelujah’s menu, barring desserts. I could carry on dredging up dish-related superlatives, but the truth is one basic description does it justice: every dish’s taste is immaculately constructed and, to the diner’s eye, unfussy in execution. I love how small the place is, and that invisible cone of concentration around the chef’s head is like a halo on an angel. Hallelujah indeed.
You’ll find Halllujah at 11D Kloof Nek Rd, Gardens, Cape Town. Their website has no information, but a lot of attitude. So just Google for opening times etc.