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Clarke of the Karoo

Clarke of the Karoo

This Barrydale eatery has built up an enviable reputation, thanks to great Karoo food and an even better staff…

Words and Pictures: Richard van Ryneveld
Styling:  Anthony Johnson

_DSC3106If I have one favourite stopover on Route 62, it’s without a doubt the well-known Clarke of the Karoo. In the heart of Barrydale, on the main R62 route passing through the town, it’s hard to miss, with its butternut-yellow walls and the battered top half of an old Karoo windpomp adorning the roof.

Mike Clarke is a food team’s dream. An unpretentious, down-to-earth Liverpudlian, Mike is a true foodie who has, as one of my editors used to say, ‘paid his dues my boy, paid his dues!’ From the day we contacted him to do the shoot, Mike and his team had alles ge-organise, as they say in the classics.

Mike has the inimitable Brit sense of humour. As we tuck into one of the Clarke of the Karoo’s famous brekkies, I ask Mike what his favourite kitchen utensil is, expecting him to say something along the lines of ‘Oh, my set of Sun Kershaw Classic 6 ceramic blades’. He slaps the table in delight. “I have been waiting my whole professional life to be asked that…” He has a grin as wide as the Little Karoo. “A bloomin’ bottle opener, Richard … A bottle opener!”

Somehow this summed up our day of tasting, photographing and getting an understanding of why Clarke of the Karoo has over the years built up such a reputation for great food.

But Mike shares another secret. “If you want a successful restaurant, it’s very, very simple,” he says. He then asks Henrietta Jambo to join us. “The secret is your team, your staff,” says Mike. “Hetta joined me at Clarke’s a month after we opened,” he continues. “I couldn’t run this restaurant without her. Felicia Esau, our tiny waitress who makes the portions look larger, is also a star!”

Clarkes3Mike has a great record of successful eateries in South Africa. “I came out for the British Lions tour in ’74. After working in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies, I came back to South Africa and bought The Suikerbossie in Hout Bay.” Mike owned this well-known restaurant for 14 years before moving to Knysna. There he started Crabs Creek Waterfront Tavern, an old English pub on the lagoon.

As usual I disgrace the food team by tucking into the Karoo lamb burger and the grilled vegetable bruschetta almost before we have finished photographing them. Now I understand Mike telling us, “While it’s good to get rave reviews, write-ups and so-on, we are only as good as the last meal.”

Mike’s philosophy on food reflects the sentiments of all the talented chefs featured in Country Cooks: Simplicity, freshness of produce and ‘local is lekker and better’. Mike reiterates this philosophy when he says, “Our lamb is the best! Karoo lamb – you can’t beat it! And Barrydale is a fruit and veg area too.”

Mike’s food is, as he calls it, ‘a mix of Karoo cuisine and Mediterranean dishes.’ One of the boards on the veranda reflects the following: Karoo oyster, Cape Malay bobotie, Karoo lamb curry, whitebait, roasted vegetable bruschetta with balsamic reduction, and bacon and bluecheese burger.

It turns out that Mike gets his fish fresh from his old stomping ground, Hout Bay, when he can.

It’s a magic day at Clarke of the Karoo – eating, drinking and being merry. Especially the merry! I will always remember him greeting a couple coming in the door with “Welcome to Barrydale. It’s a drinking town with a farming problem.”

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