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Knife Restaurant in Century City
You haven’t tasted ribs like those at this slick, family-friendly smokehouse and bar in Cape Town
Every fork needs a knife. So when Ed Saunders, owner of popular Long Street tapas bar Fork, decided to open another dining destination, this time in Cape Town’s Northern Suburbs, he chose to title it after the corresponding utensil.
As it turns out, I find on my first visit to the restaurant, which sits at the back of the Crystal Towers Hotel in Century City, that Knife is also a very fitting name for the venue considering it’s a carnivore’s Arcadia. Wooden plaques on the wall instantly underscore the focus – “Nice to Meat You”, “Meat Whisperer” and “Proud Meatatarian” they read. These are accompanied by exposed red brick, raw concrete pillars, burgundy booths, low-hanging pendant lights, polished timber and black-and-white chequered flooring, so that the whole open, airy space looks a little like an industrial-chic pad in New York’s Manhattan.
And in fact, an American spin was exactly what Ed was going for when he established the diner, intent on creating something a little different to the norm.
“There are a million steakhouses in South Africa, so Knife is not just another bog-standard one,” he explains. “It’s more of an upmarket American-style smokehouse with some Louisiana influence.”
A key differentiator is the fact that the restaurant has its own smoker on the premises, so naturally I opt to try the famous smoked baby back pork ribs, keen to see what all the fuss is about.
While I wait for my order to arrive, a plate of homemade cornbread – warm and herby and utterly moreish – is delivered to my table and a staff member dresses me in a plastic apron. Knife may be smart and contemporary, but it clearly also encourages tucking in and getting a little dirty, a relaxed attitude that’s emphasised by the black-and-white photos of kids with sticky hands and saucy mouths on the walls (these are actually the children of everyone who was involved in building the eatery).
The wallpaper also indicates Knife’s family-friendly approach. Little ones aren’t just tolerated here; they’re openly welcomed, and to prove it, the restaurant serves a range of milkshakes and has compiled a dedicated kids’ menu, with space for colouring in on its reverse side.
But I have an adult appetite today, and so I almost burst with excitement when my ribs land on the table, accompanied by fries and coleslaw. Marinated in a sticky BBQ sauce and smoked over wood chips several times, they’re unlike any ribs I’ve tasted before – thick, meaty and rich with a smoky, oaked orange flavour from the secret basting and preparation method.
The rack of goodness is swiftly followed by a beautifully aged, pink-centred fillet steak with creamy mushroom sauce, hand-cut chips and corn on the cob (“We don’t do butternut and creamed spinach,” says Ed, emphasising Knife’s originality). Then comes the Alabama burger (they’re all named after US states), featuring bacon, cheese, avocado and a heavenly sauce on a brioche bun, and then a bowl of fried calamari with ranch dressing. The latter is soft, crispy and light – proof that a steakhouse can do seafood well too.
What I’m eager to return for are some of the Southern specialities, like the spicy prawn gumbo, the Creole fishcakes with green pea fricassee, the fried chicken strips and the sticky sweet potato stack, as well as the braised springbok shank and the build-your-own salad (yes, there are a few vegetarian options). The restaurant also caters for allergy-sufferers, and in addition to the standard menu, there are always blackboard specials that get reinvented bi-weekly.
Although I’m here for a main meal, as General Manager Gen Jurgens emphasises, Knife is the kind of place you can visit for all sorts of experiences. “You can come for an upmarket dinner, a casual lunch with the kids, a birthday party with family or even a few after-work beers and bar snacks”.
Guests are starting to settle at the outside tables for happy hour (reduced prices on cocktails, selected house spirits and Jack Black lager between 5pm and 7pm daily) as I get ready to leave, and I’m tempted to stay on. The bar is actually (quite literally) a central feature of the restaurant, and I’m told that the mojito and margarita are worth travelling far for.
But it’s time to go, and on my way out, I leave Ed with one final question: what’s next? “Well, we’ve gone from Fork to Knife, so I just need to open Spoon and then I’m retiring,” he jokes. I laugh, but truth is, I’m hoping he’s at least a little serious.
Tip: With ample space and set menus, Knife is a brilliant venue for birthdays and other functions. The restaurant also offers free basement parking for all bookings after 6pm if the reservation is made before this time.
The Bill: Starters cost between R55 and 75, burgers are from R70 to R110 and you can get a main for between R95 and R215. Desserts average around R55 and cocktails sit between R50 and R60.
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