I only went to Birds Boutique Café (a misnomer, there being nothing Boutique about it all!) once, and awarded it a Sour Service Award after the visit, due to the couldn’t-care-attitude expressed by the then owners. Speaking to its new owners Kevin Mink and Leigh Trout (on the right behind the counter), it is now understandable, given that the previous owners had been looking to sell the Café for a year already, and it showed! The new Birds Café and Gourmet Eatery opened on 1 September, and is a huge improvement, in its decor, service and food quality. There are no bird tweets anymore!
Birds Café on Bree Street is diagonally opposite &Union. Chef Leigh used to work for Chef Bruce Robertson at The Showroom, whereafter he worked on the exclusive private North Island in Seychelles. He was at Mont Rochelle Hotel for a year, cooking for its restaurant Mange Tout, moving to Birds Café from there. Chef Kevin has had a catering company ‘Art of Good Food’ for eight years, and has renamed it Birds Catering, working from upstairs in the same building.
The interior was decorated with a bird theme by the previous owners, and some of these touches, such as a collection of bird cages on a wall, cute swan ground pepper and coarse salt holders, and birds on the menu, have been retained. Bird egg sweets come with the bill. What has gone is the curtained off kitchen, at which one was originally meant to place one’s order, except that they did not say so, adding spaciousness to the restaurant, and allowing one to see the buzz and busyness of the seven kitchen staff working with Chefs Keith and Leigh. They told me that their emphasis at Birds Café is to work with smaller suppliers, sourcing only local seasonal organic products where possible. While the emphasis is on the Café side originally while they find their new restaurant feet, they will open for dinners next year, offering sophisticated dining in the evenings, and retaining the Café style during the day, for breakfast and lunch.
The back kitchen wall is painted an olive green, and I loved the upside down ‘bucket’ lampshades in the entrance room and over the kitchen section. Seating is in two rooms (the one at the kitchen is more homely and definitely more popular) at large communal tables, with ‘seats’ made from milk crates (now covered with hessian cushions) too high relative to the table top, and not to everyone’s taste. Unbranded olive oil and balsamic vinegar jars are on the table, with Consol glass jars containing cutlery. Service is friendly, and water in a carafe is proactively brought to each new arriving guest. Chef Kevin interacts with guests too, taking orders, and there is an amazing friendliness, quite unlike what I experienced on my previous visit. Clients kept arriving around lunch time, and filled up the restaurant.
There are paper menus for Breakfast and for Lunch. A guest who shared the table told me that some items seemed familiar to her from the previous Birds. Breakfast is served until 11h30, and offers a selection of four health breakfasts (cooked oats; raw beetroot with apple, papaya and seeds; fruit salad, granola and organic yoghurt; and citrus with yoghurt, almonds and pomegranate, costing R25 – R39); toast, jam, organic roasted peanut butter, creamed honey (R25); pancakes cost R20 – 25 for two, either with cinnamon or chocolate; and five egg choices (R38 – R45): poached eggs and bacon, sorrel and goat’s cheese omelette with wild forest mushrooms, fried eggs and bacon, scrambled eggs with kippers, and egg white omelette and roasted tomato and basil. A number of health ‘shakes’ are available (R14/R28), and LavAzza cappuccino costs R16, served in a beautiful white cup with gold stripes, without saucer, the teaspoon in a separate bowl. The crockery in which the food is served is partly ex-Birds and what the chefs owned, all unusual and with a home-made feel to it.
For lunch, it’s a choice of open sandwiches (I saw the generous rib-eye beef and mustard hollandaise sandwich being served to a table next to me, and it looked delicious), salads, light meals, and ‘sweets’. Sandwich choices are the rib-eye beef (R55); tomato, avocado and feta (R40); and roasted spiced chicken with hummus and egg plant (R45). Salads include chicken caesar (R60), baby beetroot with goat’s cheese (45), and spring greens with asparagus, artichokes, broad beans, and peas. I chose the poached free-range egg with steamed asparagus, greens, and parmesan shavings served with toasted ciabatta (R45), the herbs and dressing adding a special taste, although I found it a little too salty. Chicken pie with a garden salad costs R60, and quiche and a garden salad R45. For dessert one can have pancakes, cakes at R30 (carrot cake and cheesecake were the two options when I was there on Saturday), and chocolate brownies. Only Graham Beck wine is served: Chenin Blanc, Rosé, and Cabernet Sauvignon (R35 – R45 a glass).
I liked the refreshing new feel to Birds Cafe, that both Chefs Leigh and Kevin came out of the kitchen to say hello, the friendliness from the staff to their customers, and amongst the customers themselves as they share tables, and the emphasis on healthy unfussy food that offers good value for money.
Birds Café & Gourmet Eatery, 127 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 426-2534. www.birdsboutiquecafe.com (The website, containing only the phone number and opening hours, is that of the previous owners. It will be amended and updated). Monday – Friday 7h00 – 17h00, Saturday 7h00 – 15h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage