The most unusual name for a classy cocktail bar must be that of newly opened Orphanage on Bree Street, which is on the corner with Orphan Street, a street name I had not noticed previously. I was impressed with its elegant and classy interior, unusual cocktails and other drinks, and interesting value for money food.

As I was driving to the Labia cinema last Saturday, I drove past the former Rhubarb Room space, and saw the new brown painted exterior, with candle-holders outside attracting one’s attention.  With the front door open, one could also see a massive chandelier, which runs along the length of the room.  I stopped to take a quick interior photograph, and returned after the movie, when the venue had filled up a little more, its first day of opening to the public and also the birthday of Johnny Friedman, the owner of the building and a partner in the business. Manager and co-partner Raymond Endean seemed a bit hesitant about sharing information initially and about letting me have a menu to take along for this story, but mellowed as more guests arrived and all appeared to be running smoothly.

The massive chandelier dominates the interior, almost detracting from the massive wooden bar running along the length of one wall.  On the opposite side are striped couches with coffee tables, creating sections, as well as a collection of high bar tables and stools.  More seating is available in the little courtyard, which one had not noticed before.  In the far end a DJ had set up his equipment, and played mood music, which became progressively louder, but did not overpower the conversation.  He was later joined by saxophonist Jamie Faull, and they performed together.  Jamie plays his sax on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. The staff wear amazing outfits, with waistcoats, black pants, Orphanage aprons with the key logo, and bowler hats, and are all very friendly and eager to serve.  There is low lighting, despite the chandelier, with many candles.  Cleverly the high table tops have been cut out to hold a bucket, into which a candle had been placed.  If one orders sparkling wine or white wines, it becomes an ice bucket, a clever touch, as it is space-efficient too.  A chest of drawers allows one to store one’s left over bottle for a next visit, and hence the key is the symbol printed on the brown serviettes, on the business cards, and is incorporated in the design of the menu too. The decor design was done by Inhouse architects. A large rectangular serviette contains the Inox fork and unbranded knife in a brown sleeve, with the key logo, brought to the table on a silver tray. Everything is printed on brown paper, with the key logo, and even the bill was presented in a brown sleeve. They purposely try to steer away from what everyone else does, wanting to be unique.

The first indication I had that things are different at Orphanage was when the cappuccino was served in a ‘blikbeker’, the sugar sticks being served in a smaller size.  Raymond explained that he managed Asoka Bar for seven years, and Eclipse and Caprice in Camps Bay prior to that.  The idea behind Orphanage is to go back to the time of the Prohibition, to create the feel of a ‘hidden bar’.  In deciding on a name, they were aware of their location on Orphan Street, also the home of the St Paul’s Church across the road.  A dreadful influenza epidemic swept through the region in the early 1900’s, leaving many children in the Cape orphaned.  Children would come to the church for food, giving the street its name, and Reverend Sidney Warren Lavis helped set up the first ‘orphanage for boys’ in Cape Town in 1919, called the St Francis Childrens’ Home, in Athlone. The placemat proudly shares: “ORPHANAGE are very proud supporters of the St Francis Children’s home that we derive our quirky name & rich heritage from.. because this type of tomfoolery has a social conscience too”. R15 of the ‘More Tea Vicar?’ drink of Finlandia vanilla, rooibos syrup, cranberry, and lemon, which costs R55, is donated directly to the St Francis Children’s Home. In December and January R 10 will be added to every bill, to donate to the St Francis orphanage.  The Rector of St Paul’s blessed Orphanage on its first day of opening. Raymond said that they understand that the name is controversial, as showed when we Tweeted about it.

The drinks list has a number of Orphanage branded wines, and Raymond told me that sommelier and consultant Kent Scheermeyer is helping them to source two red and two white wines, as well as a sparkling wine.  He wasn’t sure where they were coming from, but the Pinot Noir will be from De Grendel, and Mullineux will supply a red blend.  The cocktail list was compiled from a study of bar trends and 200 cocktails were evaluated. Most have a quirky name, and are served in quirky ‘vessels’ too, such as a fine Victorian tea cup.  A cucumber Martini is served with a cucumber sandwich on the side.  Interesting is that a drink is named after the police commissioner in the Western Cape, Hilton Hendricks, who arrived for the birthday party too, with his bodyguards, who (surprisingly) were very hesitant to share his first name.  Moët & Chandon costs R800, Ruinart R1000, Dom Pérignon R1800, and Krug R3600.  &Union beers, Grolsch, Peroni, and some commercial beers are available.  More than twenty cocktails, with interesting names, many related to the name of the establishment (e.g. ‘Innocent Orphan Annie’) cost between R35 and R65.

The menu will be changed every three months or so, and is restricted to only ten items at the moment. It is the domain of Chef André Hendricks, with consultant chef Mac Mulholland, who has worked with HQ, Asoka and Tank.  A kingklip carpaccio (‘Fishy on my Dishy’ – photograph right) sounded unusual, and was exceptional, drizzled with lemon and olive oil (R50).  I was less impressed with ‘Rabbit Food’, with too much rocket, and little asparagus and aged pecorino (R45). Other tapas options are Cauli-fritters (R40), ‘Crayfish Signature’ (R95), ‘Milanese Chick Chick’ (R65), ‘Octopus Crunch’ (R55), and ‘Little Lamb Buns’ (R60).  One senses that the team had great fun in coming up with the names.  One can also order platters of mezze or charcuterie (R95 each), and cheeses (R75), olives, nuts and truffle chips, or a dessert (at R35 each) of ‘pineapple thins’ or ‘Molten Coco Loaf’, which turned out to be a lovely chocolate fondant served with vanilla ice cream. The dessert and the salad were served in bowls set inside wooden blocks, again an interesting and unusual presentation.

Raymond said that they are almost purposely ‘anti-marketing’, wanting to grow their business on the basis of word-of-mouth, on the strength of their service, which was friendly and kind. I was lucky that charming and passionate co-owner Katie Friedman was at Orphanage too, and that she spent time with me to give me more background to the establishment. She has worked in marketing film production companies in the USA, and her business card describes her as the ‘House Marketeer’. She emphasised how blessed they are to have St Paul’s as their neighbours, and that they can contribute to the work that they do for the St Francis orphanage.

Orphanage cocktail emporium is a definite must-see and try, and a convenient stop before and after a night out, with ample parking at night.  It is a classy place to visit, fun and quirky, and having a drink there has a social benefit too.

POSTSCRIPT 5/4: A lovely 26°C evening, at the start of the Easter weekend, was a good opportunity to go back to Orphanage.  I couldn’t believe that it was jam packed outside, and some customers said they had come because of this review.  Co-owner Katie Friedman came to chat and thank me for the review, and told me that next summer they will do breakfast (with porridge options) and lunch too. She also said that they will be open every night of the week now. I tried their crayfish buns.

POSTSCRIPT 18/4: Talk about customer service.  On a last visit I asked if Orphanage had Bailey’s or Cape Velvet, and they told they only had Amarula.  When I went back to re-photograph the kingklip carpaccio in better light tonight, Raymond proudly showed me the Bailey’s they now stock!

Orphanage cocktail emporium, 227 Bree Street, corner Orphan Street, Cape Town.  Tel (021) 424-2004. www.TheOrphanage.co.za Twitter:@OrphanageClub  Monday – Sunday 17h00 – 2h00, Fridays from 15h00.

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