It’s World Cup time, which means that pretty much everybody on this little planet of ours has developed a sudden obsession with South Africa. Madiba, Brooklyn’s flagship South African restaurant, has unsurprisingly become the center of much of NYC’s soccer-related hoopla.
Of course, we were dumb enough to try to eat there on the first day of the World Cup. Apparently, Madiba had been overrun by hundreds of people eager to catch the first game in South Africa, and those crowds had been accompanied by a few news cameras, as well as a gang of documentary filmmakers. A pair of ESPN.com soccer bloggers/columnists couldn’t even get in the door because the place was so packed.
Luckily, we were too lazy to try to get to Madiba for the 10:00 a.m. kickoff of the first game, and things had calmed down by the time we arrived at… um, 1:45 in the afternoon. We waltzed on in, and got a seat without a struggle. Lucky us!
I’m about to write some mean things about poor Madiba, so let’s start with lots of happy, loving thoughts. I loved the décor—who could complain about a massive, colorful painting of Africa with Nelson Mandela’s smiling face watching over the continent? I loved that there was a massive projection screen with World Cup soccer playing on it. I loved the friendly guy who took our order and brought us a pair of cold Tuskers, which is one of my favorite beers. I loved that everybody seemed pretty happy and relaxed—clearly, the crowd that remained from the first game was still having a great time. And I love the World Cup, especially when it brings a little bit of love to a part of the world that could use some.
Was that enough lovey-dovey stuff? OK, good. Now, I’m going to be mean.
I don’t like being mean, so it pains me a little bit to talk about all of the things that kind of sucked. My silverware and plates had big, noticeable specks of crud on them. (I flicked off the crud without saying anything to the servers—I’m not squeamish about that kind of stuff.) Everything was pretty overpriced: the Tuskers were $8, and were the only cold beers available when we arrived. A different server knocked over my (nearly empty) beer at one point—and then stood it back upright and walked away, without bothering to apologize for spraying some of our overpriced Tusker on the floor. Weird.
And then we received our small, mediocre, overpriced entrees. Before arriving, I was pretty excited about ordering bobotie (supposedly South Africa’s national dish, depending on who you ask), which sounds like an Malay/African version of Greek moussaka (not to be confused with moose caca). Bobotie is a baked concoction made from ground beef (held together by milk-soaked bread… yummy!) and topped with a layer of custard. The dish isn’t really known for its beauty, but the combination of seasonings (tumeric, chutney, curry, lemon rind, bay leaves, raisins, onions) sounded amazing.
Sadly, we were served a small little cube of something that tasted like a dehydrated sloppy joe, topped with a thin layer of almonds wedged in a hardened béchamel topping. It was accompanied by a small scoop of greasy yellow rice and a papadom, which was easily the highlight of the dish. (That isn’t saying much.) Adding a dab of extra chutney helped, but it was still a lifeless, uninspiring plate of food.
Our other entrée, pap and boerewors topped with tomato-onion chutney, was a little bit better, but still far from amazing. Pap is a white cornmeal mush, not dissimilar to mashed potatoes (or Bajan cou-cou); boerwoers are mild beef sausages—basically, slender tubes of high-quality meatloaf. It was a decent dish, but not amazing; basically, it seemed that we were eating a South African version of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Both of our entrees were runty and overpriced–$16 and $17, respectively.
The final score: we had two beers each (only one of which was spilled by the server), shared two smallish snacks, had two cups of the most putrid burnt coffee I’ve had in years (and I routinely drink three-day-old coffee at home—I swear, I’m not picky), flicked bits of crud off our coffeemugs and silverware, and left the place hungry. We paid $80 for two people, including tip and tax, and went straight to a coffeehouse to get some food and decent coffee when we left.
But hey—the World Cup is awesome. And I love that South Africa is hosting the World Cup, and that we got to eat in a genuine South African restaurant in NYC on the opening day of the South African World Cup. The food was crappy, but at least the soccer and atmosphere were a ton of fun.
195 DeKalb Ave., Brooklyn
Subway: DeKalb (B, M, Q, R) or Nevins (2, 3, 4, 5) or Clinton-Washington (G)