Headquarters review

Very brave, that’s all I can say. To open a restaurant in Cape Town that only has one item on the menu, takes guts, especially when it’s steak. “What if you don’t want steak or you’re vegetarian”, is the first question people ask when I tell them about HQ. “Then don’t go to HQ”, is my response. I’d heard about Headquarters and popped in there for a drink a few weeks ago to check the place out but I only ate there for the first time this week. This is going to be a short review as there won’t be much to say about the menu (but for interest I’ve added a little something at the end).

Owned by the guys who own Caveau, you can safely assume that it’s a quality establishment. Heritage Square is not called that for no reason, the ages gives it character. In HQ the raw stone walls and wooden supports are juxtaposed with modern steel and mirrors. The combination of old and modern creating an appealing effect. There is a large lounge area with big leather couches where one can enjoy one of the many fantastic cocktails on offer. There is a smoking area to the one side and the other side houses the main dining area and kitchen. This is where we enjoyed our meal. 

We ordered the 1 menu item, sirloin steak, all of us opting for medium rare. They all came rare, which we didn’t mind but if you want yours medium rare, order it medium. There are no sauces offered with the steak but it does come smothered in Cafe de Paris butter. I had no idea what Cafe de Paris butter was, but now I do and I like it (see below for more on this). A serving of pommes frittes accommpanies the steak. I would say it was the best or second best sirloin I have had, although admittedly I don’t order sirloin often, I’m more of a fillet guy.

While you wait, they bring you a fresh seasonal salad. Ours consisted of standard lettuce, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. A very simple salad but the freshness of the ingredients rescues it. Surprisingly, there are 10 desserts to choose from at R25 each. I wanted the creme caramel but was told by the manager that they were not happy with it so I defaulted to the apple tartin with ice cream, average. The creme brulee was ok, quite small and served cold. The lemon tart was definitely the best option. If you have dessert, choose that.

We ordered a bottle of Guardian Peak Shiraz (R110) which was great value. The wine list is short but has some nice options and not too badly priced. L’ Ormarins Sauvignon Blanc by the glass was R38 and a surprisingly small allocation. The service was fine, we were handled by the manager himself a lot of the time and he knows what he’s doing.

Do I think it will survive? Well, it’s quite pricey and while the steak is good it’s not connoisseur good. I was a little surprised to see some physical tenderising happening as well as salt added. I think the idea is good (and is successful overseas), but I think it can go one notch up. Perhaps that will happen in time. Worth a visit nonetheless.

And now for a little extra, some info on Cafe de Paris butter…

Café de Paris Butter

Created by Freddy Dumont in 1941, specifically to go with sirloin steak, and served in the Restaurant Café de Paris in Geneva, this herb/spice butter was an instant success. So much so that it was almost impossible to get into the restaurant for years. The exact recipe is probably still secret today, and only a few restaurants world-wide are reputed to serve the original recipe, amongst them the Parisian ‘Le Relais de l’Entrecôte’ and the ‘L’Entrecôte de Paris’ and the ‘Café de Paris’ in San Francisco. The original Restaurant Café de Paris in Geneva still exists (albeit under new management) and still has the butter on the menu.

You won’t find a recipe for Café de Paris in Escoffier, Larousse or the Sauce Bible. Nor is it listed in the Oxford Companion to Food, Food Essentials A-Z or in the Cook’s Encyclopaedia. I did eventually find it in the German edition of ‘Der Grosse Pellaprat’, printed in Switzerland in 1966. Interestingly, it closely matches the recipe I have from my father, from his time as a chef at the Savoy in London in 1943.

Surfing the internet it becomes obvious that there are a lot of ‘chef’s versions’ out there, some quite close to what you would expect and some really way-out, like a German hotel chef’s version mounting a herb butter based on thyme, tarragon and parsley with sweetened condensed milk!

Below my father’s recipe from 1943:

Beurre Café de Paris

1 kg butter
60g tomato ketchup
25g Dijon mustard
25g capers (in brine)
125g brown eschalots
50g fresh curly parsley
50g fresh chives
5g dried marjoram
5g dried dill
5g fresh thyme, leaves only
10 leaves fresh French tarragon
Pinch ground rosemary
1 garlic clove, squashed then chopped very finely
8 anchovy fillets (rinsed)
1 tbs good brandy
1 tbs Madeira
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp curry powder (Keens)
Pinch cayenne
8 white peppercorns
juice 1 lemon
zest of ½ lemon
zest ¼ orange
12gm salt

Mix all ingredients with the exception of butter in a glass bowl and leave to marinate for 24 hours in a warm part of the kitchen (a slight fermentation occurs). Purée the mixture in a blender and push through a chinois. Foam the butter and mix with the purée. Cover and store in the fridge. It is customary to form the butter into a log, freeze it and cut off slices as you need them.

Keeps for several weeks.

Upon service a round of frozen butter is placed on the cooked sirloin and put under a VERY hot salamander for just long enough to begin to brown the top of the butter (while the butter underneath stays cold).

[Original source: http://www.classic.com.au/wizard/CParis.htm]


7 responses to “Headquarters review”

  1. you’re right about the small allocation of Sauvignon Blanc! The food was good and it is a novelty, but not being the world’s biggest steak eater, and prefering mine with a pepper sauce – i’m not sure i’ll go there again soon. The lounge for drinks is lovely though. Also the caveau deli and bar in the courtyard is really buzzing these days – especially on Friday afternoons – the best part is that it’s out of the wind!

  2. I had dinner at HQ last saturday and was dissapointed. I think the only thing that rescues the place is the novelty of the concept. My steak was dry, overcooked and tough (i ordered it medium rare), and considering that it is the only item on the menu, i am baffled as to why they don’t do it well. Mcdonald style frozen fried does’nt cut it in my opinion, i mean how difficult is it to make them? The salad was however, tasty and fresh, but at R400 for two people having only ordered 1 cocktail each, I wont be back in a Hurry. The nelsons eye is BY FAR the BEST steak in Cape town – HQ does’nt even come close!!

  3. Re. the HQ Cafe de Paris butter – we recently discovered that they use egg in theirs, when an egg-allergic friend asked the right question and then had to send her steak back and request it dry. And I don’t think she enjoyed her steak as much as the rest of us; it may be true that their entire secret is in the sauce.

    1. That’s interesting, especially as the long list of ingredients above doesn’t include egg.

      Lucky your friend asked!

  4. What put me off from this place, the first time we went we were standing at the bar having drink when my wife felt something on her foot. Upon looking down she found a monster cockroach run up her pant leg!! We will never go back because of this and I advise no one else to either!

  5. After whiskey festival we decided that steak was the way to. Be to HQ many times but only for drinks &snacks, but was dying to try their steak.
    Now, as an ardent carnivore, not soiling my plate with a hint of green decor is good thing. Even the pseudo MacD pomfries are secondary, steak me baby…well…

    Let’s just say I was spectacularly underwhelmed.
    For all intents and purposes I paid R140 x 2 for quiet tough and largely tasteless sirloin. Had a nibble of a steak roll at the whiskey fest (@R25) which was tastier and more tender. Now, when your charging me an effective R560.00 per kilogram for steak, as the rest was granish/trimmings, I expect you to rock my carnivorous stomach…apparently not.

    Now my friend was trying it out before taking his lady out for a rocking steak,while me being married to a vegetarian was hoping to experience a night of carnivorous liberation…we’ll we can’t always get what we hope for.

    Mentioned this to the Caveau (always good) manager/chef and received empathy .

    Oh well, Nelsons Eye, Hussar, Famous Dead Animal Disectors Grill, here I come.

    If you’re going to bleed me, make sure it’s out the middle of my steak and not the middle of my wallet.

    Just saying….

  6. I ate at HQ again last night and my review is the same. It was a great meal, but not the best steak you’ll eat.

    I have no problem recommending people eat there. The overseas visitor I had with me was very happy.

    It did cost R300 each for the meal and a shared bottle of wine though.