‘Refreshing’ is a word one associates with Las Paletas artisan lollies, not only with its range of fruit and chocolate lollies, but also how it hosted its media event recently. Las Paletas has attracted the attention of the Cape, and is now stocked in all Pick ‘n Pays in the Western Cape. The range will soon be exported to Holland, and is already sold in Colombia! Continue reading →
* The Reserve Bank Monetary Policy Committee has kept the repo rate unchanged at 5,75%, the new Governor Lesetja Kganyago has announced. The rate did not change due to the reducing inflation rate, the lower international oil prices being an inflation benefit, and the weak economy.
* The Vancouver Sun writes about ‘Sensational South Africa‘, highlighting its ‘Big Five must-see list’. It includes Cape Town (‘the country’s prettiest city‘, Bo-Kaap, the City Bowl market – certainly not the best Cape Town has to offer – Table Mountain and its ‘tram ride‘, the Mount Nelson Hotel, and Robben Island), the Winelands (Franschhoek and its Wine Tram), Himeville and the Drakensberg, Durban, and Safaris.
* The City of Cape Town has announced its extensive plans for the safety of the city and its visitors over the Festive Continue reading →
Many restaurants opened this summer, but the industry is taking its first toll, with restaurants closing down. It may be a tough winter ahead, given the poor state of the economy. Yet Neil Grant and Barry Engelbrecht (Burrata), Clayton Howard and Mico Botha (I Love my Laundry), and Michael Townsend (La Parada, Lucky Fish, Harbour House) are expanding their portfolios.
This list of restaurant openings and closings is updated continuously, as we receive new information:
* Chef’s Warehouse & Cookery School has moved to Bree Street, in the Cape Heritage hotel building, where Awestruck/Caveau used to be, and is now called Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen, with Chef Liam Tomlin in the kitchen. Street Food has also opened as a take-away outlet (7h00 – 15h00)
* Diesel & Creme, a diner, restaurant, and coffee shop, has opened on the R62 in Barrydale.
* Idiom Wines is said to be opening a restaurant.
* The Tap Room has opened at Devils’ Peak Brewery
* I ♥ my Laundry has opened another (its third) branch on Buitenkant Street.
* Jordan Wines has launched a Deli and Bakery.
* Lucky Fish & Chips has opened on Bree Street, on Regent Road in Sea Point, on Long Street, in Kalk Bay, and in Muizenberg, belonging to Michael Townsend of the Harbour House group.
* Tümi has opened as a health food café in St John’s Piazza in Sea Point, being part of the Col’Cocchia group. Continue reading →
Many restaurants are opening and have opened this summer, with only three months of the summer season left in which they can create awareness and make an impact before the dreaded winter arrives after the Easter weekend. New restaurants are far more casual, with informal dining.
This list of restaurant openings and closings is updated continuously, as we receive new information:
* Umi Asian restaurant opened in December with The Marly hotel in the Camps Bay Promenade, owned by The Cove (Kovensky) Group (photograph above).
* Equus restaurant on the Cavalli stud and wine farm on the R44 has opened. Carl Habel left the Mount Nelson Hotel as Restaurant Manager and Sommelier to join the restaurant, but left before it opened. Chef Henrico Grobbelaar from the Twelve Apostles heads up the kitchen.
* Shake your Honey is to open in the original Madame Zingara building on Loop Street this year, according to an iolTravel report. The ‘vibrant spirit of India’ is to be reflected in the 5-storey building, with a theatre, markets, restaurants, and shops.
* A new restaurant and micro brewery is to open next door to The Bromwell in Woodstock (name not yet known).
* TriBakery has opened on Bree Street.
* Vida e Caffe is opening coffee shops at Shell petrol stations, 40 initially and 300in total. It has also opened in Garden’s Centre, and in St John’s Piazza in Sea Point.
* The Black Sheep Restaurant has opened on Kloof Street. Continue reading →
It was on Twitter that I saw Seline van der Wat, MasterChef SA Season 2 Finalist, request suggestions for food destinations in Cape Town. I had so enjoyed her spunk on MasterChef SA that I invited her to join me in sharing my Foodie Cape Town yesterday.
We met at Melissa’s on Kloof Street, where I had my favourite iced coffee for the day, and Seline gave me some feedback about where she had been in Cape Town relative to my list of favourite food destinations. The Neighbourgoods Market at the Biscuit Mill and Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants were the only two food stops she had been to already.
We talked about MasterChef SA Season 2, and she wore the wooden rabbit brooch which she had worn throughout the show. She wears it every day, and her sister and fellow MasterChef SA Finalist Leandri was given an identical one as a gift. One senses that they are very close, Seline being slightly older, and having an older sister who recently made them aunts, as well as a younger sister who is still at school. She lives in Pretoria, and has resigned her job as an engineer working on renewable energy via Hydropower. From a rigid day job she would escape to the kitchen to express her creativity via cooking, she and Leandri sharing an apartment. Seline could not stop raving about Chef Chris Erasmus at Pierneef à La Motte, loving his passion for food, and his sense of community. She plays the piano, guitar, and cello. They grew up in Mafikeng, and lost their mother about ten years ago, necessitating them to cook for the family of four daughters and their dad. Having such famous daughters has made their dad a celebrity in their home town, and he has met many more of the locals since his daughters were on TV. He himself now hosts Moroccan dinner parties, while the youngest sister is starting to learn to cook and bake as well. Seline said that she and Leandri did not watch soaps on TV Continue reading →
This year the Good Food and Wine Show has new owners, Fiera Milano Exhibitions Africa, and in some respects little has changed, yet it felt as if most of the show consisted of theatre demonstrations, most of which has to be paid for in addition to the R110 entrance fee. Controversial Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay certainly is the main attraction of the Show.
At the entrance to the Show, where one buys the tickets, Ramsay’s poster attracts attention, the only visual that indicates that the Cape’s main food show is inside the doors of the Cape Town International Convention Centre, running until Sunday. As one walks through the hall, one quickly gets to the ticket office selling tickets for Ramsay’s demos, as well as his books. Thereafter one sees the queue, waiting patiently to get into his demo. I asked a Capetonian how much she had paid and why she wanted to see Ramsay. She said that she had paid R250 for the ‘cheap’ show (and not R950 for the VIP version, she said with derision) and that her son wanted to see Ramsay, costing her R720 for the tickets and entrance alone. Where we walked, we saw stands set up for demonstrations, some larger, some smaller. The Checkers Celebrity Chefs Theatre was curtained off, one hearing the cheering when Ramsay arrived to put on his show, and for many it was more of a comedy club than a serious cooking demonstration. Ramsay hosts the 11h00, 13h30, and 18h00 slots today, and 11h00, 13h30 and 16h30 slots on Sunday. Other Celebrity Chefs on stage this weekend are Australian restaurateur Bill Granger, master pâtissier Eric Lanlard, and twins Isabella and Sofia Bliss of Junior MasterChef Australia. ‘Giggling Gourmet’ Jenny Morris and Rooi Rose Food Editor Vickie de Beer will do presentations on ‘Decadent Desserts’ at the Häagen-Dasz and Pillsbury stand. Chef Eric Lanlard and a number of other local baking specialists will be on show at the Golden Cloud interactive theatre. Spar has a Wine & Canapés Theatre, while Spekko sponsors a ‘Tafelpraatjies‘ Theatre with talks by leading Afrikaans food presenters.
Woolworths had set up a massive ‘Real Food Theatre’, stylishly decorated, attracting attention with its branding. It was one of few stands that did not charge for attendance, accepting attendance on a first come first served basis. At the time we came across the Theatre, Chef Christiaan Campbell from Delaire Graff was setting up to do his demo, and 12 volunteers from the audience were requested to prepare his menu of a starter of Cured eye of pasture-reared silverside with parmesan and radishes, and a main course of potato gnocchi and mushroom sauce. Chef Christiaan described his menu as being terroir-driven, the silverside having come from grass fed pasture beef from Greenfields in KwaZulu-Natal, and the baby radishes from Farmer Angus at Spier, having grown in their compost heap, Chef Christiaan explained. Lorraine Bourgogne, our intern from Reunion, volunteered to cook at one of six stations, and Chef Christiaan had his hands full to teach his new ‘students’ how to make his dishes, viewed by the audience. They were lucky to take their creations home with them. Chef Peter Tempelhoff of The Greenhouse, Bill Granger, Tamsin Snyman, award-winning food bloggers Anel Potgieter and Nina Timm, and Rebecca Hurst will do demos this weekend at the Woolworths stand. The Woolworths Little Chefs Kitchen has hands-on workshops for children by Chefs Peter Tempelhoff, Christiaan Campbell, and Isabella and Sofia Bliss this weekend.
For the rest there were some interesting small stands, the Las Paletas artisan lollies stand attracting attention with its attractive stand design, despite its small size. Jason Sandell’s wife Diana Chavarro is from Colombia (they met in London), and the name of their business is the Spanish for …’ice lolly’. Diana has a marketing background, and it shows in the attractive design of the stand, and its marketing material. The ‘business card’ is a lolly stick, which contains their contact details! They are usually to be seen at the City Bowl Market on Saturday mornings. What makes their lollies so special is the unusual taste combinations, e.g. strawberries and cream, guava and cheesecake, pomegranate lemonade, strawberry sorbet, coconut lemonade, kiwi sorbet, raspberry, yogurt and kiwi, spiced mango, peanut butter and jam, roast banana, granadilla gelato, and brownie cheesecake. An unusual design feature, and reflecting the green trend, was Moyo’s lettuce lattice screen, separating the food preparation and serving areas! Chocolates by Tomes is offering excellent Show prices, one of the best chocolate-makers in Cape Town. Denise’s Delights sells delicious cupcakes at only R10. The super friendly mother and daughter team of Erica and Ursula at the Puglia stand very kindly handed me a stracciatella mozzarella tub, knowing my weakness for their product. The Lebkuchen stand connected with my German roots! Paging through the Show booklet afterwards, we were surprised about how many stands we did not see, yet we felt we had walked up and down every aisle!
The alcoholic beverage section of the show is disappointing, and seems an unexciting side of the exhibition, tucked away at the far end, and not blending in nor ‘pairing’ with the food in the rest of the hall. Graham Beck partnered its MCC with Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Bistro, the only such food and wine pairing we saw.
What was extremely odd was seeing a number of stands that had no relationship to food or wine: DStv could be understood to be there, as a sponsor of the Checkers Celebrity Chef’s Theatre, but looked like a massive decoder sales showroom. Even weirder was the rather large Ariel stand, marketing the washing powder! But oddest of all was ‘Café la Domestos’, an Eastern-style table setting low on a tile floor, to represent that Domestos is such a safe and good cleaner that one can literally eat off the floor! Hence their taste treats (one could choose between salmon or labneh) were served on white tiles, a bizarre mental leap!
The Woolworths demo stand was the highlight of our visit, and is centrally located in the exhibition hall, allowing one to make a stop here to attend one of the demonstrations, or even better, to participate in one, without charge. One should bring along enough cash to give into the temptations throughout the Good Food & Wine Show!
Good Food & Wine Show, Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town. Today and tomorrow. www.goodfoodandwineshow.co.za Twitter: @GoodfoodSA R110 entrance fee (includes a goodie bag with a pack of sugar sticks and a 400ml bottle of OMO Auto Liquid Detergent valued at about R30).
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
After writing about the disastrous error-filled and outdated Conde Nast Traveller Guide to Cape Town earlier this week, it was refreshing to see a link on Twitter about the Telegraph Travel’s ‘Cape Town City Break Guide’, written by local travel writer and ‘destination expert’ Pippa de Bruyn (author of a ‘Frommer’s Guide’ to South Africa and to India, and of ‘A Hedonist’s Guide to Cape Town’), resulting in a far more accurate guide for the tourist visiting Cape Town.
The Guide kicks off with the Beauty positioning for Cape Town (the one that Cape Town Tourism has just thrown away by using ‘Inspirational’, as the new positioning for Cape Town, even though it is not unique for Cape Town and has been used by others, including Pick ‘n Pay!), in stating that “Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world”. It is accompanied by a beautiful shot of Clifton, with the Twelve Apostles as backdrop. The reasons for travelling to Cape Town are motivated as its ‘in-your-face beauty’; the pristine white beaches; the proximity of nature; spotting zebra and wildebeest on the slopes of Table Mountain; watching whales breaching in False Bay; being ‘halted by cavorting baboons near Cape Point’; being a contender for World Design Capital 2014 with its art galleries, ‘hip bars’, opera, and design-savvy shops; the unique marriage of Dutch-origin vegetable gardening, winemaking introduced by the French (this fact must be challenged, as it was the Dutch who established the first wine farms), Malay slaves’ spices, and English ‘Georgian mansions and Victorian terraced homes’; its contrasts of pleasure and poverty, of ‘pounding seas and vine-carpeted valleys’, and its award-winning wines and produce offer ‘some of the best (and most affordable) fine dining in the world’.
The ‘Cape Town City Break Guide’ includes the following recommendations:
* travel time is suggested as ‘pretty much any time of the year’, and a warning of wet Julys and Augusts now is inaccurate, given the wonderful non-winter weather experienced in Cape Town during both these months this year!
* misleading is the claim that Cape Town offers the best land-based whale watching in the world – this positioning belongs to Hermanus, and is corrected a few pages further into the guide. Also misleading is the claim that the best ‘summer deals’ are available in October and November – most accommodation establishments have the same rate for the whole summer, and do not drop rates at the start of summer.
* it is up-to-date in that use of the MyCiti Bus is recommended to travel between the airport and the Civic Centre, as well as to the Waterfront. Train travel between Cape Town and Simonstown is not recommended, due to dirty windows and lack of safety, one of the few negatives contained in the Guide. The red City Sightseeing bus is recommended, as are bus tours, taxis, Rikkis, and car hire.
* The ‘Local laws and etiquette’ section does not address either of these two points. Instead, it warns against crime when walking or driving, and recommends that tourists should not ‘flash their wealth’. Potential card-skimming in the Waterfront and at the airport is also a potential danger, travellers to Cape Town are told, not accurate, and unfair to these two Cape Town locations.
* Tourist attractions recommended are Cape Point, driving via the Atlantic Seaboard and Chapman’s Peak; wine-tasting in Constantia; the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens; exploring the city centre on foot, walking from the city centre to Green Point; taking a water taxi from the Convention Centre to the Waterfront; the Footsteps to Freedom Tour; the Company Gardens; the National Gallery; summer concerts at Kirstenbosch; tanning at Clifton beaches; shopping for wines or going on a wine tour; High Tea at the Mount Nelson hotel; going on tours which allow one to meet the ‘other half’ locals; walking through the Waterfront or taking a sunset cruise; the Two Oceans Aquarium; eating fish and chips in Kalk Bay; going up Table Mountain by foot or cable car; day trips to Cape Point, the West Coast National Park to see the spring flowers, and the Winelands (referring to Franschhoek as the now out-of-date ‘Gourmet Capital of the Cape’, by stating that ‘it is the only place where you have award-winning restaurants within walking distance of each other’, not correct either).
* in the ‘Cape Town Hotels’ section, it states disturbingly (and information out of date) that ‘Cape Town isn’t cheap’, and therefore suggests that clients stay in Oranjezicht, Tamboerskloof, Higgovale, and Bo-Kaap (but none of these suburbs have restaurants, something guests would like to walk to by foot from their accommodation), as well as De Waterkant, the V&A Waterfront (probably one of the most expensive accommodation areas!), and ‘Greenpoint’ (sic). Self-catering and ‘B&b’ (sic) accommodation is recommended. Hotels previously reviewed by The Telegraph are listed: the Mount Nelson, Ellerman House, the Cape Grace, Cascades on the Promenade, Four Rosmead, An African Villa, Rouge on Rose, Fritz Hotel, and The Backpack hostel, an interesting mix of hotels, and not all highly-rated in its reviews. No newer ‘World Cup hotels’ are recommended.
* For nightlife, Camps Bay’s Victoria Road, Long Street and Cape Quarter are recommended. Vaudeville is strongly recommended, but has lost a lot of its appeal. Other specific recommendations are Asoka on Kloof Street, Fiction DJ Bar & Lounge, Crew Bar in De Waterkant, Julep off Long Street, and the Bascule bar at the Cape Grace. The list seems out of date, with more trendy night-time spots being popular amongst locals.
* The Restaurant section is most disappointing, given the great accolade given to the Cape Town fine-dining scene early in the guide. Four restaurants only are recommended, and many would disagree that these are Cape Town’s best, or those that tourists should visit: The Roundhouse in Camps Bay, Willoughby & Co in the Waterfront, 95 Keerom Street, and ‘Colcaccio (sic) Camps Bay’! A special note advises ‘gourmet diners’ to check Eat Out and Rossouw’s Restaurants for restaurants close to one’s accommodation. Stellenbosch restaurants Overture, Rust en Vrede and Terroir are recommended, as are Le Quartier and Ryan’s Kitchen in Franschhoek, and La Colombe in Constantia.
* Shopping suggestions include the city centre, Green Point, Woodstock, De Waterkant, and Kloof Street, the latter street not having any particularly special shops. The Neighbourgoods Market in the Old Biscuit Mill is recommended as the ‘best food market in the country’ (locals may disagree, with the squash of undecided shoppers, and increasingly more expensive), and may recommend the City Bowl Market instead). Art galleries are also recommended.
While the Telegraph Travel ‘Cape Town City Break Guide’ is a massive improvement on the Condé Nast Traveller Cape Town guide, even this guide contains unforgivable errors, which a local writer should not be making. One would hope that Cape Town Tourism will get the errors fixed. We also suggest that they recommend the addition of Cape Town’s many special city centre eateries, and that the accommodation list be updated. The exclusion of Robben Island on the attraction list is a deficiency. The delineation between recommendations for things to do in Cape Town is blurred in some instances with recommendations in towns and villages outside Cape Town, which may confuse tourists to the Mother City. Overall, the Guide appears superficial and touristy, and does not reveal all the special gems that Cape Town has to offer.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage
Whilst I dislike going into the city centre during the day, due to the irritating parking guards, I am pulled to the city centre more and more due to the ever-growing collection of good restaurants and coffee shops. This blogpost is a summary of some of Cape Town’s inner-city highlights:
* Hemelhuijs– owned by interior and restaurant consultant Jacques Erasmus, previously from Manna. Emphasis is on freshness. Creative unusual menu. Breakfast and lunch served. Monday – Friday 8h00 – 15h00. Saturday 9h00 – 15h00. Open for dinner on Wednesday evenings. 71 Waterkant Street. Tel (021) 418-2042.
* Dear Me Foodworld – a hot new addition, with a Francois du Plessis decor emphasis on green (both interior colour and herbs grown from the ceiling, see photograph above) and health, with most dishes offered as lactose-free and/or sugar-free alternatives. Menu changes daily. Great creative chef Vanessa Marx. Monday – Friday 7h00 – 15h00. Open for dinner on Thursday evenings. 165 Longmarket Street. Tel (021) 422-4920.
* Tjing Tjing Bar– when Dear Me Foodworld closes late afternoon, its upstairs Ting Tjing Bar opens, serving tapas, changes regularly. 165 Longmarket Street. Tuesday – Saturday from 16h00 until late. Tel (021) 422-4920.
* Escape Caffe– one of the hottest coffee shops in the city centre, featured in the media for its lemon cheese cake. Owner Lameen Abdul-Malik has a Nobel Peace Prize for his joint efforts to ensure the safest possible use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. Serves organic blend artisanal coffee from Espresso Lab. Monday – Friday 7h00 – 16h00. Saturday 9h00 – 12h00. 130 Bree Street. Tel (021) 422-1325.
* What’s On Eatery– probably the restaurant with the friendliest owner (Trevor Jordaan) in town, serves Breakfast and Lunch on weekdays from 7h30 – 16h00, and Dinner from Tuesday – Saturday. Coffee by Origin. Excellent value. Exciting news is the appointment of Chef Oliver Cattermole from 1 October. 6 Watson Street. Tel (021) 422-5652 CLOSED DOWN 2011
* Rhubarb Room– coffee shop inside decor shop, previously in Bo-Kaap. Serve cakes, coffee (by Deluxe), soup, quiches, and salads. High tea offered for baby showers, kitchen teas and birthdays. Monday – Friday 9h00 – 17h00. Saturday 9h00 – 13h00. 227 Bree Street. Tel (021) 424-2004. CLOSED DOWN 2011
* Valora– stylish new restaurant, bar and café. Try Chef Andrew’s Two Tone soup. Extensive menu choice, includes tapas. LavAzza coffee. Great for late snack and drink. Monday – Friday 7h00 – 22h00, Saturday 17h00 – 23h00. Corner Loop and Hout Street. Tel (021) 426-1001. CLOSED DOWN 2012
* Skinny Legs & All – interior decorated with paintings from co-owner João Ferreira art gallery. Emphasis on freshly made food. Advised by Brad Ball of Bistro 1682. Run by sweet pair of twins Jamie and Jessie. Monday – Friday 7h00 – 16h00. Saturday 8h30 – 14h00. 70 Loop Street. Tel (021) 423-5403.
* Roberto’s Signature Restaurant – expect interesting things to come from Roberto de Carvalho, leader of the SA chefs team in Culinary Olympics, and ex-chef at Twelve Apostles Hotel. Simple food, mainly in Portuguese style. Excellent Tiramisu. Located below On Broadway, so very busy between 7 – 8 pm to cater for the theatre crowd. Tuesday – Sunday 12h00 – 15h30, 18h00 – 23h30. 44 Long Street. Tel (021) 424-1195. CLOSED DOWN 2013
* 6 Spin Street – unusual restaurant setting inside the IDASA book shop. Well-known for its cheese soufflé and duck. Monday – Friday Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner from 8h30. Saturday dinner only. 6 Spin Street. Tel (021) 461-0666.
* French Toast – focus on its large range of wines by the glass offered, but interesting tapas offering. Monday – Saturday 12h00 – 23h00. 199 Bree Street Tel (021) 422-3839. CLOSED DOWN 2012, BUT RE-OPENED AS THE ODYSSEY IN 2013
* Jason’s Bakery– recently opened where Jardine’s used to be, owned by Jason of ex-Jardine’s Bakery. Bakery and Café. Sandwiches, breakfast, soul food, and vegetarian. Monday – Friday 7h00 – 15h30. Saturday 8h00 – 14h00. 185 Bree Street. Tel (021) 424-5644.
* Haas Coffee – increasingly popular city hot-spot without any parking guards, and usually a parking spot available close by. Friendly and welcoming, and part of Haas Collective decor and art. Cakes, tarts and food menu, including cooked breakfasts. 67 Rose Street. Monday – Sunday. Tel (021) 422-2239.
* Piroschka’s Kitchen – Hungarian Flammkuchen with Gluehwein on cold days. Monday – Friday 11h00 – 19h00. 106 Bree Street. Tel 083 327 3203 CLOSED DOWN, NOW ONLY AT MARKETS
* Bread, Milk and Honey – busy breakfast and lunch spot, for take-aways or sit-down. 10 Spin Street. Monday – Friday 6h30 – 16h00. Tel (021) 461-8425.
* Il Cappero – hard-working Sicilian chef and charming husband Aldo in front-of-house. Not-so-usual Italian and Sicilian specialities. Monday – Friday lunch. Monday – Saturday dinner. 3 Barrack Street. Tel (021) 461-3168. MOVED TO CAMPS BAY
* Charly’s Bakery – famous for its cake creations and cheeky cupcakes, one can also sit down for coffee, cake, pies and cupcakes. Ample parking, no parking guards. 38 Canterbury Street. Monday – Saturday. Tel (021) 461-5181.
* Maria’s – Owners Kate and Cleon Romano are charming hosts, and the restaurant has a lovely buzz, and many tapas-like Greek dishes as well as mains. Monday – Saturday lunch and dinner. Great lunch spot after City Bowl Market. To open for Sunday lunch soon. Dunkley Square, 31 Barnett Street, Hatfield. Tel (021) 461-3333.
* Bird Café and Gourmet Eatery – Quirky milk-crate seating, decor change has opened up the kitchen, great quality food, friendly service. New owners Keith Mink, and Leigh Trout (ex-chef at Mange Tout, Mont Rochelle Hotel in Franschhoek), opened on 1 September. 127 Bree Street. Tel (021) 426-2534.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
I had read about the re-opening of Maria’s Greek Restaurant on Dunkley Square in the Property magazine, with a detailed description of the labour of love that owner Cleon Romano and his wife Kate put into the renovation of the building that was starting to show its age. I had the most wonderful evening on my visit two weeks ago, largely due to the friendliness and sharing of information by Cleon, and I could not help but think that Maria had returned to her original home, as a ‘reincarnated’ half-Greek Cleon.
Cleon’s Greek dad owned Romano Signs, and Cleon says his dad would have been proud of him opening a Greek restaurant, just a year after his dad passed away. Cleon’s chef mother Yvonne Romano, from the Mediterranean Kitchen, is currently running a Greek cookery course on Skiathos. Maria, the original owner of the restaurant, starting running a Greek deli from the property and had also lived there, as long ago as fifty years or more, but is said to have disappeared overnight in 1981. Cleon is only the fourth owner of the building, and bought it in 1994.
The work on a neighbouring property, in excavating it to create an underground garage, led to cracks in the Maria’s building, and Cleon had to close for three years to reinforce the building underneath the foundation, against the walls and across the ceilings, with the help of structural engineer, and an architect that had worked on the restoration of buildings in Tulbagh after the earthquake in 1969. The interior space has opened up, and doors can be opened in summer to allow the restaurant to spill out onto Dunkley Square. The colour scheme is earthy and wooden, and Cleon impressed with his environmental care, in his choice of wall decoration (a water-based sealer), the finish on the walls, the eco-sensitive floor paint, his wooden untreated brass-top tables, the chairs for which he made the seating himself, and biodegradable toilet paper. He proudly told me about his earthworm farm at his home, to transform his vegetable waste into compost.
Lighting is low, and interesting in being individual lamps with brass cup holders, which can be adjusted in height and in direction, the ones at Haiku having been Cleon’s inspiration. The tables have shell-shaped candle holders, but the flickering ‘candlelight’ is created by tiny LED lamps that are charged overnight. The ceiling is made in true Greek style with white painted reeds, over a blue ceiling. Upstairs is another room with its own bar counter, and each of the sections can seat about 30 guests. A gas heater stands inside and is switched on when it gets chilly. The kitchen is open to the restaurant. In honour of Maria, Cleon has kept two original green-painted doors near the bathroom. Greek music is played continuously, and gave a warm taverna atmosphere, with the restaurant filling up quickly, and the guests expressing their enjoyment to Cleon when they left.
Cleon and I did not stop chatting for the three hours that I was at the restaurant, and he sat down to share his passion for his restaurant and life in general with me. We connected in many different ways, including Camps Bay, having known his mother, Cleon being a restaurant designer, and in having operated in the hospitality industry for a number of years. Cleon was sweetly naive in his question as to whether he should have a website for the restaurant, and Twitter and blogging seemed foreign concepts to him. He also had not seen the recent review that JP Rossouw had written about the restaurant, so positive that Rossouw had written that he wanted to celebrate his birthday there. Maria’s had just listed Beaumont wines two days previously, Rossouw’s wife being the marketing manager of Beaumont.
The menu caused a bit of a problem when I arrived, as it is lengthy, but hung on a wall, and was very high up, so that it is hard to read, with its small writing. As I did not say that I was writing a review, the waitress could not understand why I could not wait to see an e-mail with the full list of menu options and their prices. Cleon solved the problem by bringing down a menu board from upstairs. He probably will have more boards in future. The winelist is also on a board and also hung on the wall, but contains fewer items and therefore was easier to read. The vintages of the wines are not listed, due to space constraints on the board, Cleon said. The wine is served in traditional Greek glass beakers. Nine white wines start from R25/R90 for Glen Carlou Tortoise Hill white blend, and peak at R 145 for De Morgenzon Chardonnay, and Tokara Walker Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Graham Beck is the only sparkling wine served, both its Brut and Brut Rosé costing R160. Eikendal’s red costs R25/R95, and Glen Carlou’s Tortoise Hill 2008 red blend R35/R130. Beaumont Raoul costs R105, and Mooiplaas Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 R180.
The menu contains mainly mezze items, such as roasted almonds (R15); hummus and tzatziki (R25); mucer (a Turkish courgette fritter at R35); dolmades (R30); tiropitakia and spanakopita (R35); keftethes, and fried halloumi (R40). Main courses are vegetable (R55) and lamb moussaka (R70), Patagonian calamari (R65), slow roasted Greek lamb (R135), and hake in beer batter (R70). I had the delicious lightly fried halloumi, pita bread and a wonderfully creamy tzatziki with dill, followed by the grilled calamari, served with a small Greek salad and chips, the calamari being too oily. A separate menu board on the opposite wall listed specials, being calamari stuffed with feta, chilli, rocket and lemon zest (R55), West Coast mussels in a cream sauce (R40/R70), and pasta of the day, which was salmon and créme fraîche (R80) that day. The lamb comes from a butcher at the Neighbourgood Market at the Old Biscuit Mill, and Cleon says that they like to support “the small guys.” The mezze bowls were made by Cleon and Kate at a pottery studio in Hout Bay. Kate is the chef, working with a dedicated team.
I felt absolutely at home at Maria’s, having been a very frequent visitor to Paros and Mykonos for ten years, and also a regular supporter of Maria’s many years ago. I liked the customer responsiveness, in that the restaurant will open on Saturdays for lunch from now on, because I and another group of customers had come from the City Bowl Market on Hope Street to eat at Maria’s, but found it closed for lunch. Cleon and Kate are charming and friendly, and the service was attentive. I loved Cleon’s philosophy of rather having quality than quantity in his guests, and seemed to be in no rush to market the restaurant. I will be back.
Maria’s Greek Restaurant, 31 Barnett Street, Dunkley Square, Gardens. Tel (021) 461-3333. No website. Monday – Saturday lunch and dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage