Constantia Nek has been a famous halfway stop and tea room, first operating in 1929. It is by far the oldest restaurant in Cape Town, and its recent transformation into La Parada and Harbour House has rejuvenated Constantia Nek, and has given the building a new lease on life, making it the social centre of Constantia.
I was fortunate to have been invited to the opening of Constantia Nek a month ago, and it was at the launch that I met two major role players who together with Harbour House Group founder Michael Townsend (in the middle of the photograph) have made the transformation of Constantia Nek possible. Trevor Wollheim (on the right in the photograph) is a new business partner of Michael Townsend, and his futures investment company has bought a share in the Harbour House Group, injecting cash to allow the tremendous growth of the Group, in opening or in the process of opening Harbour House, Tigers Milk, Easy Tiger, The Grand Café & Beach, and La Parada restaurants in Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg, and Dubai. Trevor towers over most, at 6’7″.
The other significant player is Alex Müller, who with his brother is the owner of the Constantia Nek property, which the brothers inherited after the passing of their parents last year. I sat down with Alex yesterday, and he shared the story of Constantia Nek with me. He explained that Constantia Nek was a toll station and resting place from 1929, for workers moving logs from Hout Bay to the Castle via horse cart. In the 1950s the wing of the building which is now the area behind the La Parada deck was opened as a tea room. It was expanded by an addition of the section which is now the La Parada bar in the ‘Fifties, and by a further wing in the ‘Seventies, being the section which is now Harbour House.
Alex told me that his family is Namibian, and his parents were both from Swakopmund. His father Hans was a civil engineer, and was known for the pioneering projects which he was involved in in Namibia, including the building of the airport in Windhoek, the Saldanha Sishen railway line, and roads in that country. In 1976 the family moved to Cape Town, Mr Müller wanting to become independent and run his own business. He became a property developer, and looked after the properties of Barclays Bank and Esso, which he would refurbish, or shopfit new branches. He also bought and sold apartments. He heard about Constantia Nek being put on auction, and bought the property. A family house was built in the ‘Nineties behind the restaurant. Alex was ten years old when the property was bought, and both his parents were hands on in running the tea room, which was one of only two such top establishments, with the Mount Nelson. Peter Sellers and the Rolling Stones were some of their high profile patrons. Alex and his brother assisted their parents, folding napkins, and later assisting in the bar. Alex was responsible for Front of House, and his brother Operations. The Constantia Nek restaurant became known as a venue for hosting weddings, parties, and dinner-and-dance on Saturday evenings.
Alex studied Business Science and Finance at UCT, worked at Allan Gray, and has property investments. He owned Morchuri pizza outlets in Claremont, Stellenbosch, and Lakeside, but has sold them. He inherited a protea farm in Bot River, and sells proteas at the airport, to accommodation establishments, and they are used at Harbour House Group restaurants. He told me that the Constantia Nek restaurant fell into ‘disrepair‘ over time. He discussed the possibilities for the property with Michael Townsend two and a half years ago, and this has led to a close friendship between the two. After the passing of his mother early last year, Alex persuaded his father that they should not continue operating the restaurant, and that they should lease the building to the Harbour House Group. A day after the deal was signed, Mr Müller passed away, feeling that the deal was meant to be. It has taken 18 months for the property to be redeveloped, with a new kitchen, and electrics. They worked closely with the Heritage Council, requesting assistance and advice in how they could make changes meeting their stringent requirements, and to create a building with a mix of old and new. Alex himself is tall, at 6’4″.
Since opening at the end of September, Constantia Nek has become a popular meeting place for residents of Constantia and the southern suburbs. Sunday afternoons sees DJ René liven things up from 15h00 – 20h00, and I have spent many happy hours dancing to his music. Alex shared that next year they plan to transform a building in the parking area into a Wine Centre, representing the wines of the Big Five wine regions
Alex praised Michael Townsend for his generosity, for assisting young persons in Kalk Bay in getting them through school, and helping staff in times of need, reflecting the poor childhood he had himself. He also told me about Michael’s ‘creative genius‘, and that Michael intuitively feels if a space is right for his restaurants.
I saw Alex at the launch of Luxe Laser & Spa in Claremont last week, and picked up there that he is a co-presenter on Wednesdays on Tammy B’s show from 12h00 – 14h00 on 2OceansVibe Radio. Alex met Tammy at the Constantia Nek launch, and she invited him to the studio. She told him that he had a good voice for radio, and she invited him to share the Wednesday slot with her, the two presenters having a good chemistry. They discuss latest movies, topics trending on Twitter, conduct interviews regarding events, and other impromptu topics.
We spoke about the marlin in the Harbour House section, which is said to have been a record catch, weighing 170 kg, and was bought by the restaurant in the ‘Seventies’. It was initially hung in what became known as the Marlin Room, now the bar section of La Parada. It now hangs in the Harbour House section.
At the launch of Constantia Nek, a hundred guests were invited to an enjoyable 12-course sit-down dinner prepared by Chefs Francois Welgemoed (previously of Fancourt and Sun City) and Grant Kennedy (previously of Radisson Blu Granger Bay). The dinner was preceded by a mountain of oysters, and sparkling wine was offered as a welcome drink. Some of the dishes we were served were the latest sushi dishes on the Harbour House menu, tuna tartare, potato gnocchi, mussels, kingklip, tuna salsa verde, lamb with potatoes, spinach and peas, and grilled prawns.
Before attending the Constantia Nek launch, fellow writer Llewellyn Lambert and I popped in at Harbour House at Constantia Nek, and we each chose a starter to give the restaurant a try, having eaten at Foxcroft earlier in the day. The Harbour House section faces Constantia, and False Bay can be seen in the distance. I loved the crisp and clean white interior of the restaurant, and especially at the far end a herringbone tweed effect attracts attention. Big stackable glass doors have been installed, allowing diners to enjoy the view and fresh air. Outside planters have been created, to grow vegetables and herbs. The wooden tables are painted white, with a mix of white metal chairs, and very special riempies chairs. Subsequent to our first visit a number of small pictures have been added to the walls, as have buck horns, which seem out of place in a fish restaurant. The marlin was added after our first Harbour House visit. Salt and pepper grinders are smart, made by Peugeot. Napkins are provided, and cutlery is by Nova. Ciabatta was brought to the table, and I requested butter for it, when the waiter offered us olive oil and balsamic vinegar. White orchids can be seen throughout the restaurant. Overhead lights are white. We received good service. I ordered an Avocado Ritz, whilst Llewellyn ordered a seafood ceviche, both of which dishes could not be faulted. The menu and prices at Harbour House in Constantia, Kalk Bay, and the V&A Waterfront are all the same.
I have not yet eaten at La Parada in Constantia Nek, but have tried the new Summer menu of La Parada on Bree Street. The menu has been designed by its new very talented Chef Martin Senekal, and is the same as the La Parada on Bree Street.
La Parada, Hout Bay Road, Constantia Nek, Cape Town. Tel (021) 795-0620 www.laparada.co.za Twitter: @laparada_za Instagram: @laparadaza All day Monday – Sunday
Harbour House, Hout Bay Road, Constantia Nek, Cape Town. Tel (021) 795-0688 www.harbourhouse.co.za Twitter: Harbour_Houseza Instagram: @ Harbour_Houseza Open Lunch and Dinner Monday – Sunday.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein