Labelled as gastropub but rather a British bistro: review of The Crazy Horse
(Photos from The Crazy Horse Facebook page)
The first duty of a gastropub is to be a pub. Of all the things I miss from the UK, I do miss a good pub. Somewhere warm, dark and cosy in Winter and sunny and outdoors in Summer. Somewhere with good ales, nice wines, even better food. And most importantly, somewhere with soul, with personality, with quirks. I want uneven floors, random stuffed pheasants leering down from the wainscot, Auntie Marjorie’s teapot standing on the mantelpiece filled with ostrich feathers, a special chair bearing the name of a long-dead regular, nooks, crannies, board games, books, plastic statuettes of the Babycham deer – I want to see things that tell a story and I want chatty, convivial landlords or managers who will happily relay said story, creating an atmosphere and ensuring no-one need ever drink alone. It should be like Central Perk from ‘Friends’ but with beer.
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The Crazy Horse is not a pub. Why do I say this? Well, the biggest problem with Crazy Horse is the space – you can’t deny it, it’s awkward. The bottom level is split in half by a staircase leaving the bar counter on one side, invisible from the plain banquette seating on the other. Upstairs, it’s a smart-looking restaurant space with a gorgeous artwork on the stairs and nice fixtures and fittings, but it’s undeniably a restaurant, not a pub, and you can’t change that by putting a couple of old prints up on the walls. The whole set-up, whilst lovely and well put together, feels as if it’s fighting with this space rather than working with it.
The beer selection covers all the bases, although the wine list is pricey and too brief and doesn’t give essential information as to blends etc. But without a doubt, the saving grace of the The Crazy Horse is the food. It’s not exactly pub food (not even gastropub food– who ever heard of bar snacks which have to be eaten with cutlery for God’s sake?!) – but it is good, modern British food, well cooked, very tasty and at the moment, the only reason I would go back.
We tried a selection of ‘bar snacks’ aka small tapas plates and they were all excellent. Puffy Yorkshire puddings with rich and meaty oxtail were the star, the cauliflower cheese risotto balls were excellent and the homemade tartar sauce for the battered fish goujons was a triumph. More seasoning is needed on the crackling, but it’s excellently teeth-breaking and enjoyable nonetheless. Onto mains with an interesting-shaped and very rich lamb pie, a smoky gammon steak (a little dry but tasty), fabulous hand-cut chips and a homemade ketchup which they should bottle and sell as an extra income stream. You can sign me up for a case right now.
There is plenty to like at this establishment and all the bones are there for a successful business -but not as a gastropub. My advice is cut the silly name, lose the jokey logo and for God’s sake get rid of the oh-so-hilarious, look-at-me-am-I-funny-or-what house lager named Horse Piss (split my sides and pass the waterproof underwear) and rebrand it as a modern British bistro. Because then everything works, there is a strong focus which matches the space they’ve got and they can stop confusing customers and get on with doing the things they’re doing well. It’s worked for more than 30 years for Browns of Oxford and Cambridge and trust me, Cape Town needs a good British bistro quite as much (if not more) as it needs a gastropub. And start selling the ketchup – you can thank me later.