It’s time to revisit one of the city’s prized places for meat. Carne on Keerom is a dedicated restaurant for meat lovers. And it’s back on the Cape Town map, after laying low during the pandemic.
Milanese restaurateur Giorgio Nava is leading the Carne team, ensuring that his stamp of quality control reigns supreme over both kitchen and dining areas.
During October 2023, Nava will also reopen 95 Keerom, directly opposite. 95 was Nava’s first restaurant. Opening in 2003, it quickly became the darling of Cape Town’s law court community. It was also where anybody wanting a table in a glamorous setting with consistently good food knew they’d be looked after.
But first it’s Carne’s turn. Open since 2008, this split-level space has a stylish bar and open kitchen, with dining below. It offers chicken, pork and vegetarian options, but you’re really making a dinner reservation at Carne because you’re craving serious red meat. Properly sourced and prepared with respect.
“All our meat is grilled with charcoal in a Josper charcoal oven from Spain. It gives a beautiful smokiness to the meat and crispiness on the outside,” explains Nava. “Our beef is mostly free-range and we also have grassfed. We’re particular about maturation. And we’re known for longer dry ageing.
“The three factors to offer you a good piece of meat: the ageing of course, how we cut the meat, and how it’s cooked. It looks very simple, but requires some skill and technique to achieve a beautiful, tasty, tender, mouthwatering steak,” he says.
Most of the animal is used at Carne, so unusual cuts include flat-iron shoulder steak (called ill filletto di spalla di Manzo), or gamier hangar steak (lombatella).
“Today we’re serving an antipasti veal tongue, and calf liver,” says Nava, always the showman. The tongue is sliced thin as carpaccio, complemented by little salsa verde. “The marrow bone on the menu is always popular. It’s split in half, grilled in the Josper oven and seasoned with butter and sage, salt and pepper.”
A Carne dish I remember as absolute comfort food was lamb shoulder ravioli. Four tender pasta pockets drenched in burnt butter, sage and grated Parmesan. I tried this signature starter again recently – it’s just as good.
A meat lover may go for the game, but beef lovers order T-bone or prime rib on the bone. “We offer a few cuts with meat cooked on the bone, to really enjoy the flavour. We have two ladies who come often and enjoy La Fiorentina [beef T-bone] to share. They enjoy it together, with a bottle of wine.”
Nava beckons a waiter, who shows the day’s meat selection. We collectively estimate the thickness of the prime rib on the bone, and settle on about 7 cm. “We sell a lot of meat on the bone, that is where the flavour is. So we offer sirloin, but also sirloin on the bone.”
On the side
I love that Nava sticks to his guns about what his restaurants offer, irrespective of trends. “If you go to any steakhouse tonight, your meat comes covered in basting. We don’t do any basting except for local olive oil, salt and pepper,” he says. “A good piece of meat doesn’t need any basting.”
“The experience is to taste the flavour of the meat, not the flavour of the sauce. South Africans love all these sauces. In the beginning it was a bit of a fight, but now they know.” He grins. Nevertheless, the Carne menu offers bearnaise, mushroom sauce and salsa verde. A compromise. “So we introduced a few, then you at least please the more stubborn ones. But on the side.”
At least one table is reserved by foreigners on most evenings, specially requesting Carne’s ‘Safari Platter’ selection of grilled game meat. It’s been that way since Carne featured on the Cape Town leg of Netflix travelling food series ‘Somebody Feed Phil’.
“We call it safari on my menu: a mix of venison. Today we have different game meats in a 400 g portion.” The plate may include impala, kudu, blesbok, black wildebeest and ostrich, grilled in the Josper, with olive oil and seasoning.
“It’s highly appreciated by foreigners because it’s unusual. And by locals because it’s not something easily found at their butchery. It’s free range and healthier than farmed animals.”
Carne is dedicated to meat, says Nava of their current focus. “When it opens, 95 will be dedicated more to fish and classic Italian food. In the minds of people, Italian is pasta and pizza. But we can do more than that. Our cuisine from north to south, is rich in vegetables, meat and fish, cooking in many different ways.
“At 95, you will find salmon in many different styles. The fish you eat in Puglia you’ll eat differently in Milano, prepared in a different style. That’s what 95 will offer to its guests: an experience of the whole of Italy and its coastlines.”
Simplicity is key
I ask Nava what his secret is. In the early days, he was always out front, taking every table through their menu. Ensuring standards, spreading his philosophy of eating and cooking. He rarely took a day off.
“It’s the simplicity of how we present the food. Today customers are tired of fireworks on the table and show food. Worldwide this food is over. When people today make an effort to go out to a restaurant, they want to see a steak. Or a fish. They don’t want a confusion of everything. In my restaurant since day one, you get the main ingredient, and rarely decoration. We like to announce the flavour of the fantastic meat. Or fish. The ingredient has to be as pure as possible.
It's about consistency too. “If you use cheaper quality, my staff can still mess it up, so I buy the better one. But you have to spend more per kilo. When I offer that dish and ask if you enjoy, I put my face on every plate. I’m not compromising on that.”
Carné on Keerom
70 Keerom Street, Cape Town
Monday to Saturday 18h00 – 21h30
021 424 3460, www.carne-sa.com
Caffé Milano Pasticceria & Bar
Homemade pastries and coffees
100 Shortmarket Street, Heritage Square, Cape Town
Monday to Saturday 08h00 – 17h00
083 327 1158
95 Keerom Street, Cape Town
Will re-open in early November 2023