Dawn Kennedy – Jul 1st 2011, 00:00

Recently the Baxter Theatre Centre has added a touch of elegant deliciousness.

I have a fond memory of maybe 10 years ago, interviewing Mannie Manim, then theatre manager of The Baxter. He invited me for lunch and I wore high heels, anticipating a Chardonnay-filled afternoon. My elevated notions crashed as we pushed our trays along the canteen’s metal railings and sat together to share cheese-and tomato sandwiches. Having recently been at the opening of the Baxter’s new catering facilities, I was relieved to learn that I can now wear heels for dinner. The Baxter Theatre Centre’s CEO and Director, Lara Foot, has been applying her formidable imagination to think of ways of making the theatre complex a vibrant cultural hub in the city.

Recognising that food and drink play a central role in human happiness, she invited the highly successful Johannesburg-based catering company The Forum (headed by the dynamic Glynis Hyslop) to create three exciting new drinking and dining venues within the Baxter. This required a major structural renovation, the first in the Baxter’s 34-year history since opening its doors in August 1977, and cost R5 million. The result is glamorous, with white oyster-shaped couches inviting postproduction conversation and delicious food for all tastes and budgets, ensuring that no one needs endure a performance through pangs of hunger. We spent an evening sampling the à la carte menu at Act. For a clean sweep, nothing beats white, and the Moorish-style décor at Act is dominated by clean linen and gleaming mirrors. The first thing I notice is the Baxter’s iconic orange saucer lights reflected perfectly in a gleaming silver spoon. Mesmerised, I start counting the circles, but before I reach 20 I’m interrupted by an attentive waiter offering wine and delicate morsels.

We get off to a good start – our wine recommendations are superb. For starters, I opt for beetroot and apple soup. The strong earthy undertones of my favourite winter treat are well complemented by a sweet apple top note. Still from Russia with love, my companion enjoys an organic trout on potato rosti, with rocket, vodka cream cheese, black caviar and chives. My main course takes me to sunny Thailand for calamari served with coriander basmati and an unusual aubergine, celery and sweet chilli salad. My partner has the loin of lamb wrapped in potato rosti and served with honey-glazed beetroot, buttered baby spinach and natural jus, which is more hearty and harmonious. As we eat, the loudspeaker announces, “Ladies and gentlemen take your seats.” Soon I have the impression of being stranded at a railway station after the train leaves the platform. Concerned that we might not enjoy an empty dining hall, the manager assures us that they are working hard to attract diners during performance times. However, I find there is a poignant romance to experiencing the changing ebb and flow of people. Moreover, it means that we can enjoy the stars of the culinary show – the desserts – in reverend silence.
The Amarula crème brûlée that arrives in a golden filigree of spun sugar is visually delightful. It is served with a sumptuous shot glass of bitter chocolate and Nachtmusik sauce. My chocolate fudge tart is rich, decadent and utterly delightful, with a tangy berry sauce to freshen the palate.

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