Twice in one day I chatted to bubbly Betsie van der Merwe, new owner of Manna Epicure, meeting her for the first time on Thursday, and I loved her energy, homeliness, and friendliness.  We had connected via Twitter previously, but it was the first time we met at her restaurant on Kloof Street. She highly recommended I  my Laundry, and told me that she would be doing a function with them that evening, where I saw her again, after receiving an invitation via Twitter to attend.  The function at I my Laundry was a wine tasting by Arnold Vorster of Graham Beck Wines, and a tasting of Manna Epicure breads.

I my Laundry opened a week ago, after a month-long transformation from what was previously the Sundance coffee shop, which had belonged to notorious Conrad Gallagher. The back section of the space is on two floors, and contains the laundry, with washing, dry cleaning with a four-hour turnaround time, ironing, and collection/delivery (within the City Bowl initially) services offered, not visible from the coffee shop/restaurant on the ground floor.  It has been beautifully transformed, with a 14-seater silver grey concrete table top resting on steel legs, most comfortable white and black high-back chairs, a wooden counter on which Betsie had displayed her breads, and some wooden shelving.  On the mainly rough brickwork walls are displayed artworks, which will be rotated over time. There were orange serviettes, and beautiful brand new cutlery.  I loved the stylish Maxwell Williams water jug.

The inspiration for the name and concept for I my Laundry, which is co-owned by Clayton Howard and Mico Botha, comes from The French Laundry in New York, which was first started by a husband and wife team, running a restaurant and a laundry first as two outlets next door to each other, and then opened up to become one entity.  The Buitengracht branch is the third to open in the past four months, with branches in Durbanville and Kenridge too.  Clayton has extensive experience in the hospitality industry, having worked at Ellerman House, the Twelve Apostles Hotel, The Table Bay Hotel, The Pepper Club Hotel & Spa, Arabella Sheraton, The Mount Grace Hotel, and The Cellars Hohenhort Hotel.  Mico also has a hospitality background, having last worked for Bidvest’s Cleaning Division, but also worked for Outsourced Labour, and is developing the Visual Training TV company.

Free wifi is offered, and a coffee machine makes perfect cappucinos from Brazilian-imported beans by Joga Joga Café, exclusively stocked in South Africa by I my Laundry.  Cupcakes from Manna Epicure will be for sale.  An exciting subsidiary business is I my Wine, for which Clayton and Mico will host interesting corporate events in which they bring together an alcoholic beverage supplier and a chef or restaurant to create a magical evening, as we experienced on Thursday evening. Last night a corporate client held a Dim Sum evening, with Chef Steven from Beluga doing the food for the group.  At the Thursday evening function not everyone knew everyone attending, and so the introductions around the table were a taste of the personalities of the guests.  The I corporate name has many legs, and exciting new projects are certain to develop.  One of these is I my Linen, which is the sale of an organic bleach. Another brand is I my Art,  and currently Irish photographer Niall Molloy is displaying his work, while Von Deen’s wooden hearts can also be bought.

Betsie and her baker Josh introduced their wonderful breads to us – Country rye bread, Rosemary and date sourdough, Ciabatta, and Cranberry and hazelnut rye.  The breads are available from Manna Epicure, and freshly baked by Josh from 5h00 onwards. Manna Epicure opened in 2005, driven by Maranda Engelbrecht (now driving Babel at Babylonstoren) and Jacques Erasmus of Hemelhuijs.  The restaurant is homely, flavourful, aromatic, natural, and no-fuss, Betsie said of her eatery. The breads can be bought in half sizes too, for ‘bachelors and bachelorettes’.  Betsie had brought along a lovely selection of Fairview cheeses, including Chevin goat’s cheese, blue cheese, cranberry and white rock, and apricot and white rock.  Parma ham from the Wild Peacock Emporium; chorizo, fig and rosemary mixed in a sauce; cashew nuts; apricot chips; and dried cranberries, eaten with the Manna Epicure bread without butter, was a feast.

I have previously attended a tasting of Graham Beck Wines conducted by Arnold Vorster, and he has a relaxed way of introducing the excellent wines in the company’s portfolio.  We were spoilt by tasting a  Graham Beck Brut Non Vintage on arrival, a classic 50%/50% Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend.  The Game Reserve is an unwooded Chenin Blanc.  This was followed by a 2009 Chardonnay, with grapes coming from Robertson, giving lemon and lime notes.  The Graham Beck Shiraz 2008 is made in older barrels, from grapes which come from the Stellenbosch Graham Beck Wines farm.  The William 2007 is a Cape blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and a little drop of Shiraz, the wine being named after the grandson of the late Graham Beck.  Our special tasting was concluded with the Bliss Demi-Sec sparkling wine.  Graham Beck MCCs can now be tasted at its dedicated Gorgeous bubbly bar at the Steenberg Hotel, next door to its Catharina’s restaurant.

We were sent home with a gift bag of a 375 ml bottle of Graham Beck MCC and a packet of Manna Epicure’s melba toast, beautifully gift-wrapped, having enjoyed a wonderful evening.  I was lucky to sit opposite Cliff Jacobs, owner of Villa Belmonte in Oranjezicht, who himself has been the host of magnificent gourmet evenings, and we were able to share common experiences about the highs and lows of the hospitality industry of the past few years.  We both enjoyed the cappuccino.  Most guests present knew Clayton, the hospitality industry featuring strongly in the guest list, and all enjoyed a wonderful evening, meeting ‘colleagues’ from the industry.

I went back for another great cappuccino yesterday afternoon, and while the city centre was extremely busy, parking was available outside the shop.  Clayton and Mico were both there, and felt like old friends already, 24 hours later!

POSTSCRIPT 7/4: I attended a Wildekrans grappa and GaBoLi grappa chocolate tasting at I my Laundry today.  I am super impressed with all the ideas bubbling out of co-owners Clayton and Mico, for example, they are thinking of starting Fondues.  On Fridays, from 5 – 7 pm, they will host free Laundry Parties, at which one can taste wines.

I my Laundry, 59 Buitengracht Street, Cape Town.  Tel 084 660 0777 (Clayton)/083 6020291 (Mico) www.Ilovemylaundry.co.za Twitter:@ILovemyLaundry, Monday – Sunday, 7h00 – 19h00.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage