Of fireplaces and fire-eaters

Of all the things I love about winter, fires rank right there at the top - there’s nothing like a roaring fire to offset the chill, and then there’s that whole primal fire thing that always strikes a chord somewhere in the depths of your being. It’s nice to be all animal like, hunched before the flames, munching something you’ve just hunted (marshmallows will do too). This week, in among a couple of fireside dinners – most notably a visit to cosy Tokara restaurant by night to try their amazing five-course winter special (R220) - there have been other fiery encounters… I came close to a meaningful metal-on-metal exchange while on the lookout for parking outside favourite spot &Union in Cape Town’s Bree Street. I’ve seen the charred skeletons of burnt-out cars before, but never actually on fire, and here, down the side of the road, great big plumes of smoke and flames were rising amid a collective of beemers and jeeps. I was downright disappointed when I discovered this was less a case of spontaneous combustion than some random guy, lying face up between the cars, attempting a fire-eating performance in the hope of extracting a few rands from the bar’s patrons (or at least those brave enough to sit outside on such a cold night). I do like an good display of fire-eating - or flame-throwing, whatever you call it - and have a weakness for the smell of kerosene, so was gratified when revisiting the city’s Vaudeville burlesque supper club a few days later, where I was seated so close to the stage I could almost feel the singe of the flames against my skin as the considerably more accomplished artist - bare-chest, shiny pants, top hat, dinky Zorro mask – spewed fire from his lips while twirling burning batons between his legs and about his ears. Ah, the thrill of pyromania… His was just one of several polished acts throughout the evening, a variation on some of the performances we’ve seen before (aerialists, jugglers, dancers), but this time also including more music such as by local operatic singer Robin Botha (she’s got a voice on her), and conducive to enjoying more of a chatty, relaxed dining experience than before. The décor is the same Parisian boho-vintage-brothelly-chic, with intimate little booths for canoodling in and enough velvet to start a revolution, and you can still, for an additional fee, get yourself kitted out in hats, feather boas and glittery make-up if you feel the need to look the part. What’s really new is the food side of things, with the launch of The Brasserie at Vaudeville. The menu is now a la carte and features appropriately bistro-esque fare like delicious plump mussels (a kilo of them for a reasonable R90) and frites with French mayo on the side, or steak and frites (R125 for 250g fillet). A note on the frites, which I have a terrible soft spot for, is that these are less the thin, crisp variety than good old chips – but I still gobbled all mine up. For starters there are appetising options like French onion soup and interesting salads, and a tomato and caramelised red onion tart that looked very good – all attractively plated. Our salmon fishcakes (R40) were firm, fresh and tasty, served with a generous portion of greens. An apple tarte tatin (42) – actually the only kind of tarte tatin – was a fitting end. There’s a compact winelist, but the choices are adequate and you can get some good wines (like La Motte Sauvignon Blanc) by the glass. It’s a guaranteed fun evening, and regardless of whether you’ve been before and feel you’ve seen it all, the new menu provides something different to get your teeth into. It’s also more affordable than before, and while there’s a R75 entertainment surcharge, you can manage costs by what you choose from the well-priced menu. You also get free ‘VIP Access’ to The Fez Club upstairs, and judging by the queue outside the door round 11pm, it’s a good spot for a little winter-warming boogie. I, however, had a fire to get home to.