Rump, Sirloin, Fillet. T-Bone perhaps and ribeye if you’re lucky. With a few exceptions, South African steakhouses are not particularly adventurous when it comes to steak cuts.
Not so at Carne SA, chef Giorgio Nava’s Italian-inspired steak restaurant in the Cape Town CBD, which has now expanded to the ‘burbs of Constantia. I could ramble on about the décor or the service, both of which are excellent, but really it’s the steaks you should be coming for. Key to the Carne SA experience is the variety of cuts, all presented on a platter and explained at your table.
While most steakhouses stick to a handful of best sellers, the Carne SA menu offers up to 28 different cuts of beef and lamb. The flavoursome Hanger steak, which ‘hangs’ near the kidneys, is one of the finer picks, but it is the unusual ‘Spider’ steak that Nava hopes more diners will try: “Spider steak is the muscle between the hip and the leg. Most butchers just mince it because it takes so long to trim all the sinew and connective tissue, but once you clean it out it is unbelievable, so much flavour. After you’ve tried it you won’t touch fillet ever again.”
Nava’s steaks hang for a minimum of 28 days, but often far longer with some cuts aged for up to three months. Some customers also raise an eyebrow when the steak is served without the usual lashings of sweet barbecue baste, but on that front he is unapologetic.
“The only sauce we use is a good olive oil. Our meat has flavour, it has taste; there is no need for anything else. With that our customers discover something different. For the first time they taste the meat, not the sauce.”
While you won’t find a basting brush at the grill, béarnaise, mushroom and pepper sauces can be ordered on the side if you’re desperate. But really, there’s no need. Other side orders are kept simple: thin-cut fries, fried potatoes or steamed veg tossed in olive oil.
The attention to detail extends to the expensive charcoal-fired Josper oven Nava has had installed. Burning at over 400°C it ensures a perfectly crisp crust, while retaining the juiciness of the meat.
“It is an amazing oven, but it doesn’t forgive you,” smiles Nava. “It’s such a high temperature you can burn a spider steak in 30 seconds. A sirloin goes from medium to well done in one minute. If you don’t pay attention you can throw that piece of steak away.”
But Nava is good at paying attention, particularly to what customers want. Carne SA Constantia is the first branch to offer fish on the menu, Norwegian salmon or line fish, as well as lighter salad and pasta options for the Constantia ladies what lunch. The wine list, a good selection of local and Italian offerings, is similarly tweaked.
“We never sell any bottles of rosé in town, here we sell 10 a night. In town nobody orders the cheese platter. Here we sell every night. So we are learning to be more open-minded, and we adjust according to what the people here ask for.”
But perhaps there’s no need. Judging by the full tables just a few weeks after opening, Carne SA seems to have struck a chord in the south.
114 Constantia Main Rd, Cape Town, South Africa
021 761 0247