A short twenty minute drive took me from the city out to the suburbs of Sugarland to visit a new South African restaurant called: Out of Africa.
On Sundays they have a Mimosa Brunch that features many of the items found on the regular menu as well as eggs, sausage and bacon.
On the outside, one can tell nothing abut what the resturnat will be like inside as it is in one of those ubiquitous looking strip malls that are found all over the United States. So it is a pleasant surprise to step into the dining room as see the room with a tasteful African feel.
I came with fellow Chowhounds Dorothy and jodycakes. We sat outside on the deck, next to the water, and for a few moments I felt transported from Houston to somewhere else. (Okay there was little humidity today.) For brunch they have a jazz pianist in the dining room and a speaker had been placed outside so we could enjoy the music there as well. The buffet was spread out in a room off the main dining room and easily accessible by those of us outside and well as the dinners inside.
Overall I found the food flavorful, with some Indian overtones, which included spices and chutneys. Some of the food was a bit spicy hot but not all of it. The breads I tasted, a biscuit and flour based corn muffin were delicious.
The best dish I had, which fellow lamb lover, Dorothy agreed with me about, was the Lamb Sosaties with Brandied Apricots. It consisted of skewers of lamb with plump dried apricots in between the lamb pieces. The meat was cooked perfectly, no easy feat with a buffet, charred on the outside and rare on the inside and not overly spiced, giving the brandied apricot a chance to offset the taste of the meat without overwhelming it.
Another main dish I really enjoyed was Bobotie, which looked like Sheppard’s Pie but tasted nothing like it. According to the restaurant’s web site, it is made of “minced lamb and beef spiced with raisins, apples, almonds and curry and baked with a custard topping.” I learned from the web site that I should have had it over the yellow rice with the mango sambol. (To bad the dishes did not have directions.) I liked the way the dish unfolded in my mouth, beginning with biting down on the slightly firm custard on top and then through the chopped meats as the flavors did a dance on my tongue.
I tried the Boerewors, a South African Sausage, which had an off taste to me. Both fellow Houston Chowhounds, jodycakes and Dorothy said it tasted like blood sausage, so perhaps I wouldn’t like that either.
Another one side I tasted, that I did not like was Ouma's Green Bean Mash, which was a tasteless combination of potatoes and overcooked green beans. Although I did not enjoy it, it reminded me of Southern style comfort food. Perhaps this dish may be better suited to another person’s taste or childhood memories.
My favorite side dish was the Pap and Trainsmash which was corn bread (Pap) that had the consistency of a thick porridge with a very tasty tomato and onion sauce (Trainmash) that I spooned on top.
Since I had overindulged just a couple of days ago at another brunch, I did not feel like tasting anything else. (Yes, call me a wimp, it is alright.) The dishes I did not try included a pork, chicken, and fish dish, as well as a pasta salad and a couple other salads.
I did leave a little room for dessert. I had a nice piece of a brandy pudding and a milk tart. Nothing left any great impressions.
Service was attentive and gracious, the atmosphere was warm and genuine (the owner came by and chatted with us) and the price, $19.95 for this buffet and unlimited Mimosas was reasonable.
Overall I have mixed feelings. I see this as a destination restaurant. I found the cooking and taste of the food a novelty, but not compelling enough that I am thinking about when I will be taking my friends out to Sugarland to the restaurant, or even when can I go back and try more dishes. I believe the South African food I ate at Out of Africa boils down to being comfort food. The food is interesting in a novelty sort of way, flavorful, and well prepared but not inexpensive, close by, or interesting enough for me to drive out to on any regular basis. Let’s face it - with all the variety that exists in Houston, this one just doesn’t strike my fancy.
Should you go to the restaurant? Yes by all means, go and experience South African food for yourself, it is worth at least one visit, the brunch has a huge variety of foods and was a great way to spent an early Sunday afternoon.
Out of Africa: 14019 Southwest Freeway #204, Sugar Land, TX 77478 281.277.2691
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