In Pictures: Get An Eyeful Of Peli Peli’s New, Surprising Menu Items
South African restaurant Peli Peli’s original location is in Vintage Park in far Northwest Houston. It cultivated a passionate fan base that’s enabled expansion to a second location in the Galleria, the fast-casual concept Peli Peli Kitchen in the Hedwig Village area near I-10, and more locations on the way in Katy and Austin.
Longtime customers love the mainstays of bobotie (a relative of shepherd’s pie with a base of ground lamb and accented with fruity notes from tart Granny Smith apple and apricot preserves), kingklip (a light-fleshed fish popular in South Africa) and sticky toffee pudding.
I like those things, too, but I’ve never been quite as impressed with Peli Peli and chef Paul Friedman as loyal fans—until now. The new dishes that I was invited to try exemplify confidence and innovation. These are adventurous, packed with flavor and perfect for the season.
Ideal for the rare days of cool weather is the Red Curried Lamb Potjie. “Potjie” literally means “small pot food,” so a single-serving sized cast iron cauldron holds the hearty stew. Tender chunks of lamb leg (which is prepared separately to prevent overcooking) comingle with potato and peas in the sauce of warming red curry spice. The heat is rounded and tempered with a bit of sweet mango chutney on top. A dash of the toasted coconut served alongside serves as a crunchy topping, which diners can mete out as they prefer, along with chopped tomato and red onion for touches of fresh flavor. The potjie is only available at lunchtime.
Lamb makes its presence known in an even bigger way as a shoulder chop. “It’s like a lamb cutlet; almost like a T-bone,” explained Friedman. “It’s a big piece of meat so I recommend medium or medium-rare. I don’t recommend anyone order it well done because then it kills the lamb.” The creative topping of peppadews (the sweet and only slightly spicy pickled red pepper that’s a ubiquitous accoutrement at Peli Peli), red onion, balsamic vinegar and oyster sauce comes across much like a South African-Asian riff on Italian caprese salad, sans the cheese. It’s a large cut of lamb but the very successful dish disappeared quickly.
“I’ve always wanted to have a whole fish on a plate,” confessed Friedman. Well, fried whole fish is definitely in vogue, so he’s made that wish come true. Peli Peli now features an Asian-style whole fried snapper that’s lightly battered in a whispery layer of rice flour before frying. A dip in what Friedman laughingly calls his “BCB sauce” (butter-cream-butter) and more buttery scampi sauce on the side are needed—but not overwhelming—touches of decadence. The cream cheese-stuffed peppadews alongside are treats unto themselves. As far as separating the meat from the bones of the fish, Friedman explained, “With the cuts on both sides it’s very easy to use your fork and just pull the meat off with no bones at all.”
The Seared Blackened Salmon is another interesting fish dish. “I wanted to have the blackening spice on the actual salmon itself but I also wanted to create an unusual flavor in the sauce. I took asparagus and artichokes, made a Hollandaise sauce and blended it all together,” he said. The end result is a well-seasoned filet with additional color from the pale green, vegetable-infused sauce. Reinforcing these flavors are accompanying grilled asparagus and roasted artichoke hearts, as well as grilled wheels of corn and a succotash of cauliflower, broccoli and corn kernels.
The most adventurous dish—and one that Friedman will likely have to convince some diners to try—is a very worthy, steak-like presentation of beef tongue. “This is a recipe my mom used to make,” said Friedman. It’s first boiled for four or five hours—until very tender—in a pot with salt and seasonings. Then, the remaining tough part is removed before it’s sliced and grilled. Afterward, biltong seasoning and coriander (the same spice blend used for Peli Peli’s addictive Biltong beef jerky) is generously sprinkled on top. For anyone trying beef tongue for the first time, this would not be a bad way to get an introduction.
Finally, there are a few new brunch dishes as well. They’re a little over the top, but sport carnival-like exuberance that’s likely to make diners smile. First is a three-story tower of chicken schnitzel and deep-fried waffles layered with bacon and topped with a fried egg that’s been speared with a South African flag-adorned toothpick on top. It’s zany fun—and of course very sharable once the tower has been deconstructed.
Also sporting the deep-fried waffles, which makes for extra-crunchy exteriors—is a sweeter tower named South African Deep Fried Waffles. The dish makes excellent use of cream infused with Amarula liqueur, which is made from the fruit of the South African marula tree (known locally as the “fertility tree” or “elephant tree.”) Marulas are quite tart, but in the same family as cashew apples and mangos. So, it only makes sense to add mango to the tower of waffles, as well as fresh blueberries, vanilla cream and a cinnamon butter spread.
With all of these interesting, boundary-pushing dishes to be tried, for the first time I can say with confidence that it is well worth more than a short drive to Peli Peli—and not just to see the opulent dining rooms. Once there, diners may be challenged with different boundaries—the inability to eat nearly as much as they’d like.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.
We need you in The Woodlands Paul