For many foreign tourists, and quite a few locals too, eating game is a major part of the authentic South African experience.
Situated on Cape Town’s Waterfront, the City Grill steakhouse has since 1999 offered crocodile, warthog, springbok, ostrich, kudu and venison as its signature dishes, at exotic prices to match.
But Consumer Watch was tipped off that the restaurant was substituting some of those meats.
We commissioned an expert in DNA-based species identification from the University of Stellenbosch to test some of the restaurant’s more exotic offerings, to find out exactly what was being served up.
She visited the restaurant in a party of four in September.
Between them they ordered one starter – smoked springbok carpaccio – and six main meals: ostrich fillet steak (R195); warthog (R169); crocodile (R179); kudu (R175); springbok (R175) and the giant grilled mixed venison skewer, comprising crocodile, ostrich, warthog, kudu and venison sausage (R295).
They took small pieces of each meat, labelled them and later DNA-tested them in a lab.
Tests revealed that while the ostrich and crocodile dishes were in fact ostrich and crocodile, the following six substitutions had taken place:
l The smoked springbok carpaccio was identified as common ostrich;
l The kudu was black wildebeest;
l The springbok was identified as fallow deer;
l The warthog (from the grilled mixed venison skewer) was pig; and
l The warthog was a pig;
l The kudu (from the grilled mixed venison skewer) was identified as black wildebeest.
Asked to respond regarding the serious ethical and financial implications of passing off one meat species as another, City Grill general manager Barry Nieuwoudt said while the restaurant management was “aware of rumours surrounding meat substitution in the industry”, they were unaware some of their dishes “may have been affected”.
“Your findings have certainly shaken us up and we intend to be proactive in preventing something like this happening again,” he said.
“We have taken all affected dishes off our menu.
“Only once we are completely satisfied that the meat we have been supplied with is what is described on our menu will we reintroduce these dishes.
“As your tests show, the only way to really know the difference in packaged game meat is to conduct DNA testing.”
Nieuwoudt said the restaurant intended to adopt more stringent means to ensure they got what they ordered.
“To this end we intend consulting experts in the field to assess and determine the best way of doing this. In the interim, our intention is to conduct similar tests to what you carried out on an ad hoc basis on game meat supplied to us and to inform suppliers that that is what we intend to do.”
l As an additional test, the same party of scientists visited the Hussar Grill in Willowbridge.
There they ordered two starters and two main courses and took samples from the meat served in all four dishes.
In short, while the beef biltong was found to be beef, and the bushman’s kebab comprised kudu, eland and gemsbok as claimed on the menu, there were two substitutions.
The cured springbok loin carpaccio starter was, in fact, kudu, as was the “game steak” main course, which was said by the waiter to be gemsbok.
Hussar Grill Willowbridge owner Russell Minter-Brown said the game steak was indeed kudu, and the discrepancy was as a result of a “communication error” on the part of the waiter or the kitchen staff.
As for the “springbok” carpaccio, he said, it was sold to him by his supplier as springbok, not kudu, and he provided Consumer Watch with the invoices relating to that batch and others around that time, as proof of this.
He also produced a photograph of the vacuum-packed product, marked “springbok carpaccio”.
“I obviously made immediate contact with the specific supplier, who is a Cape Town-based agent for game farms in the Eastern Cape, and have asked them to provide us with a full and detailed explanation in writing.”
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