When I visit Franschhoek, I love to revisit the shops in the village, and am always on the lookout to see what is new. A surprise discovery was the new Café Roca in the village, a hidden gem tucked away behind an art gallery, formerly the home of the now defunct Melissa’s. I loved it so much, that I went back on three consecutive days,
When I arrived for the first time, it was late afternoon, I intending only to have a cappuccino, often my first test and taste of a new restaurant, to check the service and professionalism. I was given a menu to look at, and was surprised to see it consist of a handful of Tapas dishes, each priced at R80. I chose a Caprese salad, and asparagus rolled in prosciutto, both dishes small. I walked around inside, and was impressed with the decor, and look and feel of the space, perhaps being prejudiced about its link to Roca at Dieu Donné. The manager Louis Rex was very friendly, and made things happen with my order, and gave me a little information, for example that initially they will open at midday, and finish at about 21h00. A stern looking man came to my table too, addressed me by my name without me knowing or recognising him, and the tone of his voice when he asked me to follow him made me think that he might ask me to leave. It was Craig Sherrel, the owner of Roca and Roca Café, and he showed me his new Speakeasy Bar and Café with pride, it having opened the day before. He did mention that I had experienced problems with my meal when I had least eaten at Roca many years ago.
I remember the new Café Roca space so well, having lived in Franschhoek for three years, and visiting it regularly when I had a guest house there, having been a Cybercellar, an art gallery, and then Melissa’s. It is tucked away at the end of a passageway, between a curio shop and an art gallery, and one may miss this wonderful addition to Franschhoek.
As the lease and furnishings were bought from the Melissa’s liquidators, the chairs and tables are recognisable. Floors have black and white tiles, and I found a beautiful peacock design in the fireplace. Walls have large posters, one with Marilyn Monroe dominating, but a cheeky Charlie Chaplin one is at the entrance to the kitchen too. Upstairs is a separate counter and a long table, and could be used for private functions. Outside is a lovely courtyard, under a voluptuous tree, offering good daytime shade, and popular for sitting in the evening too. A picture of the view from Roca at Dieu Donné over the Franschhoek Valley has been erected, in between two doors which Craig bought from the first Madame Zingara restaurant in Cape Town.
Over the three days of going back, I met the most wonderful people there, Craig having an amazing knack of connecting people. On my first visit I happened to start speaking to a British couple sitting nearby, and they told me that they live in Franschhoek now and are die-hard Roca fans, so came to try the new Café Roca. They said something I heard a number of times over the three visits, and that is that the locals would love to have a place where they can meet, without it being touristy, something they appear to feel about most other establishments in the village. Even more amazing was my second visit, I planning to sit inside and write a Facebook post. I was introduced to a couple, and they asked to sit with them to chat, as the love for dancing we have in common intrigued them. Abrie Stander had brought his playlist into the restaurant, and Craig played it for him. Abrie lives in Vereeniging, and drives to Pretoria every Friday
evening to dance there. Hazel is married to Abrie’s cousin, and loves dancing too. Then it emerged that all three of us were born in the same year, and had studied at the University of Stellenbosch at the same time, Abrie having done a B.Comm too, but a year later than I, having had to do his compulsory year of going to the army. This was an amazing coincidence. On this visit I tried the kingklip, with Tartare sauce and two side salads instead of chips, very good value at R80.
When I returned on the third day, Craig suggested that I come back after 19h00, to hear Derk Blaise play the keyboard. It was amazing seeing Derk after so many years, he having played at my Guest house opening in Franschhoek in 2004! He and his wife Charlotte owned a furniture shop and restaurant La Grange, and we often ate there. They organised a music evening every Friday, eagerly attended by the locals, Derk playing with his Cape Dutch Connection band. Now 80 years old, Derk is in good shape, and he created a great atmosphere with his music, attracting a large number of locals. On this evening I met Amy Kleynhans, a former Miss South Africa, and her husband Leighton Curd, who live in Franschhoek. We had so much fun together, and Amy would love to walk the Camino, she told me. Someone I had not seen in ages, who was also there, was Guy Kedian of Stellenbosch Vineyards.
The more I got to know Craig, the more I liked him, and I have challenged him to get Franschhoek dancing at his new Café Roca.
The Chef is Margo Uys, and Craig’s partner, very reserved, but very friendly. She came to obtain feedback herself about my reaction to the dishes I ate. She previously worked at Mont Rochelle.
In the short period of the one week of opening, I could see that Café Roca was already becoming the locals’ special eatery and bar, as well as meeting place. I am sure that Craig and his staff will work hard to keep it like this, a special Speakeasy, affordable, friendly, and with very good music, both live and in its playlist.
Disclosure: My first meal of two Tapas was kindly comped by Craig.
Café Roca, off Huguenot Road, Franschhoek. Tel (021) 876-3384 www.rocarestaurant.co.za Instagram: @craig_hugh_sherrel
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein