I’ve been in Cape Town this last week and true to Jessie style I’ve been spending a lot of time in supermarkets, markets, stores and malls looking at product and design. As for scene-soaking and people-watching, I made the most of the cafes, restaurants and bars of the city..it was a tough job.
Interior homes / restaurants / hotels / spas etc (excluding retail) – Super impressed by the good taste and quality of decor of nearly everywhere visited. ‘Cape Town Chic’ is kind of smart whites and neutrals with a beachy theme.
Architecture – Jaw dropping in areas such as Camps Bay and Llandudno beach (think uber modern / glass/ concrete beach houses set into cliffs looking over a bay… the type of properties that you’ll never ever own). I noticed that the whole city is under a lot of construction, with the new builds (flats or houses) all displaying a similar, very striking, very modern look.
Fashion – I was warned not to get excited about clothes shopping in South Africa but I wasn’t put off since I love the challenge of discovering things that no-one else does. But was I challenged! The merchandise on offer reminded me of the stuff we used to buy pre-Top Shop going cool. The stores are trying to be trendy but in a trashy and young way. My only joy (and it was a real joy) was discovering Urban Degree (website not up and running yet as seems to be the case with a lot of business in SA). This store is gorgeous – beautiful simple clothing for men and women offered in neutral and pastel colorways. The interior is fresh and neutral and I loved the display for the shoes and jewellery – really girly and pretty. I purchased some fab sandals for about £20 – if my boyfriend wasn’t looking quite so bored I would have bought the gold version too…plus I would have tried on the funky canvas ballet slippers which came in a range of pastel colours. I really liked the floral print on them – nice design detail.
A special mention goes to Jenni Button – a higher-end store for women – which I visited whilst in the Canal Walk mall. I really liked the wood detail on one side of the store : floor to ceiling reclaimed planks in a darkish grey colour which had been washed with what seemed like a very pale silver. It doesn’t sound like much but the slightly shimmering effect of silver over the rough, old planks is really effective (unfortunately no piccs of this).
Food and drink
It appears that Capetonians are really health minded. Seemingly popular chains such as Kauai and Soma offer juices, smoothies, salads, wraps etc. I was especially impressed with the drink offer at Kauai such as the ‘floo fighter’ drink which includes fresh ginger, lemon, mint tea, honey and cayenne pepper or how about ‘Appledesiac’ – which contains hot apple, honey and ginger. On the food side, at Sumo you can choose anchovy or mozzarella as a spread for your morning toast along with more ‘normal’ choices such as jam, honey and marmite.
Other healthy fare I spotted on menus was butternut squash (roasted, and featuring heavily in salads), grilled line fish, sushi, chai, roobois (obviously), and lots of low fat Bulgarian yoghurt (must look up why Bulgarian). I also noticed that supermarket milk is labelled as rBST-hormone free.
Less healthy but equally yummy….I saw a lot of hot or iced chocolate on offer in cafes – nearly always made with Lindt chocolate. I wonder why Lindt has the monopoly in Cape Town?
My favourite supermarket had to be Woolworths. It’s basically a South African M&S – smart, chic, high quality with loads of food and products you just want to coo over. I did some research and discovered that Woolworths have or have had had a link with M&S for the last 6 decades -which explains a lot. Despite some shameless similarities in both packaging and product I noticed that in the South African chain, the offer is far more health-related with products displaying clear health benefits on packaging. Take a look at the bread choice in the picture below, could you imagine seeing this in every M&S in the UK? What would us Brits would make of Selenium bread? The other functional breads in the range are more commercial and could be successful in our market. I’d certainly buy all of these…although I am a health nut! Other notable ‘health’ categories include cereals (‘hi-energy variants’, sports imagery on packs), dried fruit (suphur dioxide free) and yoghurts (big on probiotics) etc.
And despite the healthiness and some pioneering food offerings some quirks surprised me : At Vida e Caffe, the super funky coffee chain which is soon to be opening in London’s Regent Street (yay!), they don’t offer fat free milk. In fact what they call ‘skinny’ is our semi-skimmed milk. This was the case pretty much everywhere. I ended up buying my own carton of fat-free milk and asking the baristas to make me up latte with it – they found this hysterical and a completely alien concept! I wonder if they will be offering skinny in their London branches. A few extra details worth mentioning from this cool outpost….Firstly, the lattes were never luke warm as they can be with Starbucks sometimes. The reason? They steam the inside of the cup with water before pouring in the milk. I never once had to ask for my latte ‘extra hot’. On an eco note, I noticed they used milk bags instead of those giant plastic milk cartons commonly used in the coffee chains in this country. And finally, they serve alcohol! I’ve always longed to mix coffee and alcohol together – a concept which gets away from English pub-ing but still promotes ‘going for a drink’ ie. you can catch up with a girl-friend and one of you has a beer / cocktail and the other a coffee. Far more cosmopolitan I think.
And what about the food in Cape Town? Menus were strong on fish – a real bonus as it’s my favourite food but what’s with all the heavy sauces, or worst still -Cajun spices? I have Italian roots and I really believe that this kind of food is best served simply – olive oil, maybe lemon, rosemary, herbs etc. I hate to be the difficult customer, but I found myself having to alter and hold everything with so many meals.
The food and drinks scene is buzzing, and the choice is far superior to what we have in London. You get the sense that Capetonians are very proud of their produce and restaurants and I applaud that passion. Maybe I had bad luck with my restaurant choices, but what I would say is that if the food was as good as the decor, location and vibe of their establishments, Cape Town would be up there with the best places in the world to eat.
On a final food note, I would like to give a special mention to a little bakery chain called ‘Knead’ – particularly the Muizenburg branch – which I felt was one of the most impressive eating concepts I experienced. The menu is centred around their bakery bread which is completely yummy and wholesome. You can make your own breadboards or choose between sandwiches and salads but what stood out were the thin crust pizzas which come with crushed garlic and chilli sauces on the side. So light and tasty.
London could do with a place like this.
My final comments concern one of my favourite things in Cape Town – the Neighbourgoods Market which takes place every Saturday in the Woodstock area. It’s a complete foodies delight of beautiful farmer’s produce, gourmand/ artisan and healthy goods such as shitake bread, olive oils, nut honeys, cupcakes, coffee, smoothies etc If you’re feeling extravagant feast on oysters and champagne from the chic little stalls or buy a creation from the award-winning chef from winelands restaurant, La Colombe . There are also fashion areas, as well as several boutiques selling decor bits that you just so want to take home with you (notably Plush Bazaar). This is a truly awesome example of a farmers and food market and just what I’ve always visualized markets of this kind to be like – full of passion and creativity. I find our home grown affairs or even so called trendy markets such as Portobello generally disappointing.