Economising in the Inner City

Downtown PanoramaIn an attempt to evolve from overgrown man-child to respectable adult ahead of my 30th birthday, I recently said goodbye to my converted garage abode and have resettled in a dwelling originally intended for human habitation. While it’s not hard to get used to things like furniture and indoor temperatures below 40 degrees, the increased cost of living has proven somewhat more difficult to swallow.

Luckily Cape Town’s foreshore has proven to be a veritable treasure trove of exciting venues, offering plenty of tasty and civilised options for the newly impoverished city slicker. Thanks to the daunting 5-minute commute from Gardens, this area of the inner city might as well have been on another planet up until now, but now that I’ve ensconced myself in its hustle and bustle, I am finding it progressively harder to leave.

Around every street corner is something enticing, from ridiculously well priced food jaunts to Manhattan-inspired rooftop bars. So if you find yourself in this part of the world (either because you’re working in the area or because you got hopelessly lost), you might want to try out a few of my latest discoveries.

Park Inn By Radisson

If you’re looking for a taste of New York without the price tag, look no further than the RBG Rooftop Bar, handily located on the 11th floor of the Park Inn Hotel. With comfy deck chairs, a terribly civilised splash pool and an unrivalled view of Table Mountain, this is the kind of place that could become seriously addictive – I’m already envisioning whiling away many a glorious summer day high above the buzzing city streets.

Good luck beating that view

Luckily, this is actually a feasible plan, thanks to a vigorously enforced free snack policy and a daily happy hour that more than lives up to its name. Provided you can make it there between 5 and 6pm (the staff seems to have a fairly tenuous grasp of time, so this can quite easily be extended to 7) you’ll be able to enjoy fairly liberally sized glasses of frozen alcoholic goodness for just R20, with flavours differing daily. Thus far I’ve sampled the pina colada, the margarita and the strawberry slush, and I can report back very positively on all three.

Over and above this, you’ll be able to enjoy a selection of complimentary snacks, which make their way out of the kitchen at regular intervals. Now I’m fairly easily won over by free food in any discernable shape or form, but I can’t heap enough praise on whoever happened upon the genius idea of providing deep fried potato skins for inter-drink consumption. Genius I tell you!

If you can find a happier happy hour in the greater Cape Peninsula, please do let me know. You know where to find me.

Food Lover’s Market

Judging by the vast swathes of humanity that trek through the Food Lover’s Market every day between 12 and 2, I’m guessing it’s less of a hidden gem than I once might have thought. Its popularity is entirely justified, as it lives up to its moniker in every conceivable way, serving up a vast array of deliciousness – from baked goods and pizza to sushi and salad. Its pay as you weigh salad bar is the stuff of legend, as are its towering tubes of chocolate covered treats.

Come to Papa!

But if you’re on a budget, and don’t have the appetite of an anorexic sparrow, you might see your wallet coming under fire as a result of frequent trips to this food emporium. The weigh/pay system doesn’t favour those with hearty appetites, and even relatively meagre portions can set you back a fair penny.

But trips to Food Lover’s needn’t be reserved for special occasions, providing you know how to work the system. Every day at around 3pm, a selection of marked-down meals make their way out onto the sales floor, providing scavengers like myself with an unbelievable selection of glorious tastiness at just a fraction of the cost. In fact, for just R15, you’ll be able to eat a pretty great meal every night of the week, with options ranging from ostrich fillet to salmon. Just be prepared to fight for the privilege (you can be sure I’ll be there armed to the teeth).

Saturdays also provide a reprieve for those on tighter budgets. You’ll be able to fill a fairly substantial bowl with everything from cranberry chicken to fresh avocado for just R25. Again, timing is of the essence, as stocks aren’t replenished during the day. So get there early, and you can plan out an entire weekend’s worth of meals without digging too heavily into your food budget.

Alexander Bar & Café

Even though this Strand Street bar reeks of hipsters, it still succeeds in being pretty damn charming, in addition to offering great value for money. During the day, its small verandah, smack bang in the centre of the urban hustle, is an awesome vantage point from which to enjoy a morning coffee. Soaking up the energy of the inner city, along with copious amounts of caffeine, is truly an experience to be savoured.

Call Me Maybe?

As night falls, the venue inevitably begins to attract a greater selection of skinny-jeans clad individuals, the result, I presume, of its old-school telephone ordering system. It’s quite hard not to get swept up in the novelty value of this – I mean where else can you literally phone your drinks order in to the bar using a pretty nifty retro-looking handset? I’m into it.

In addition, Monday evenings are exceptionally budget-friendly, with a changing selection of home cooked classics available for just R40.

With the addition of an upstairs theatre space, which plays host to Tuesday evening jazz nights as well as open-mic nights, you can expect the hipster factor to skyrocket, but, for now, Alexander Bar remains an attractive and unique feature of the downtown landscape.

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This Place I Call Home

It’s been four years now since I arrived in the Mother City and it’s given me cause to reflect on a place that is quite unique, both in this country and the world at large. A little town in the shadow of a breathtaking mountain, it heaves with creativity, howls with wind and seduces its residents in all manner of ways. I highly recommend you consider taking up residence in this little pocket of eccentricity, but, before you do, here are a few tips for newbies to consider:

  1. Get high. The mountainous landscape seems to have encouraged all activity in this town to take place at altitude. If it takes place on the ground it is probably uncool. You’ll need to conquer any vertigo you may have before moving here as you will be required to swim, gym and perform all manner of other feats on rooftops. That is simply how it is done.
  2. Be wise, accessorise. Fashion in this town is so dramatically cutting edge that it defies logic to the point of insanity. One key item that should always be a staple in your closet is the much touted fedora. This will indicate that you are a) super trendy and b) ever so chilled. The key to its success as a status symbol is the fact that it reveals that you are clearly impervious to gale force winds. In a city where said winds regularly gust to the point that one is actually unable to cross the street unaided, the feat of keeping a stylish little hat on your head simply demands to be applauded. You should also make sure you have a number of trendy scarves close at hand. These can be worn in any season and weather condition. It seems that Capetonians have very sensitive necks which must be kept warm at all times. As a result, scarves are worn with t-shirts in summer, and pullovers in winter. Strangely enough, the rest of the body seems to be able to cope with all extraneous weather phenomena.
  3. Complain about the weather. This is a favourite hobby of Capetonians, myself included. Due to the fact that we experience so many different forms of weather, it seems we are always missing at least one element. Sunny days are always ‘too windy’, but boiling hot days inevitably bring endless moaning about the lack of a ‘cool breeze’ (even though said cool breeze is so strong that it could land you up in a tree somewhere). You should basically always be displeased with the weather and make sure this is adequately vocalised. You will then be welcomed into the fold with approving nods and knowing glances.
  4. Be where the tourists aren’t. Once tourists have cottoned onto a hotspot, you would be seriously jeopardising your social status should you, as a local, dare to venture into such territory. Cape Town is epically hip and one small mistake such as this could result in a dramatic social faux pas. Never suggest that you go to The Waterfront for dinner.  Your power lies in your ability to suggest little out of the way places that are probably dingy and horrid but pack a huge punch for your Capetonian credibility. I suggest you scour the innards of the city and find the most remote, out of the way spot and tout it as God’s greatest gift. If the locals don’t know about it they will be compelled to go along for the ride for fear of having missed the proverbial boat. And voila, you have yourself a hotspot! 
  5. Drive like an idiot. Cape Town is legendary for its less than skilled drivers. Some put it down to the distracting views, which is certainly not a problem in a place like Johannesburg, where cement and mine dumps pepper the landscape. Basically, just drive like you are permanently stoned. Operate at a pace so epically slow that a pedestrian could outwalk you. You should also be smoking while you do this, incidentally. Your lungs are fair game once you arrive in the mountain town. If you can smoke, talk on your cellphone and drive at the same time you will know you have arrived. But start slow, very slow. You’ll get there.
  6. Be chilled. I don’t care how much it stresses you out you must, at all times, appear not to have the slightest care in the world. This kind of behaviour is reserved for places like London and New York. Should you do something ridiculous like be on time for an engagement, you will clearly identify yourself as an outsider.
  7. Learn to love alternative, indie music. Everyone in this city has an opinion on music. When you first arrive you won’t have heard the majority of the bands appearing on iPods around the city. Don’t panic. Smile and nod. Just don’t EVER admit that you’ve just been jamming to Now 52 or something else obscenely mainstream. Do some research and get a few names before you come down. If it sounds like music that you could only possibly enjoy while tripping on acid in a Tibetan Buddhist facility it is probably acceptable. It is also essential that the group’s name makes no sense whatsoever. It’s art you know bru.
  8. Hit the gym. People are beautiful in this town. It is honestly ridiculous. You are going to have to hit that treadmill like the world is about to end before you swan your way onto Clifton Beach. Stop reading now, grab a celery stick and start running.
  9. Don’t eat any food with flavour or texture, this is intensely passé. You will need to drink organic tea, filled with substitute fruit sugar as you eat your topping-free pizza on a wheat free base , or, even more criminally, your burger with a wheat-free bun. Basically if you consume anything containing wheat, gluten or the blood of an unfairly raised animal, you are doing yourself a massive social disservice. Don’t come hungry.

Cape Town is a strange, eccentric and beautiful place to live. For all its oddities I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the place I call home and hope to do so for many years to come. Much love to the little mountain town.

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Market Value

Over the past year, Cape Town has gone completely ape shit for markets. Since the Old Biscuit Mill established itself as the place to be on a Saturday morning, a litany of other quirky little establishments have cropped up all over the place, meaning Capetonians can now get their market fix almost any day of the week.

For those of us who prefer not to have to rub up against craft beer-swilling hipsters, and are less than thrilled by the prospect of circling Woodstock all morning looking for an ever-dwindling supply of parking places, this is a most welcome development.

There are few things I enjoy in this life more than a great market. They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Well guess what, if you play it right, a market can give you just that! Of course, if you’re one of those people with ‘ethics and morals’, you probably won’t be able to experience the full, unadulterated joy of sneaking back to the taster table, hoping the stall owner doesn’t recognise you from your visit 5 minutes prior. But for those of us without scruples, a market represents a perfect opportunity to fill your stomach without emptying your wallet.

That other old rumour that you shouldn’t drink before 12? Guess what, it doesn’t mean shit at a market. In fact sobriety is actively discouraged at most of them, with stall owners leading the charge, having long since bade farewell to sobriety by the time the clock strikes 9am.

The market is a parallel universe of awesome, where society’s traditional rules and standards need not apply. So for those of you who prefer your market experience without a side of hipster sweat and massive queues, here’s my guide to some of the best, both in and out of town:

City Bowl Market

Thursday 4:30 – 8:30pm, Saturday 9am – 2pm

Have your cake and eat it

A small and centrally located haven of deliciousness, devoid of both pretentiousness and parking issues, the City Bowl Market is fast becoming my go-to destination on a Saturday morning. What it lacks in terms of variety, it more than makes up for in charm and quality, with a number of stalls that regularly get me worked into a rabid frenzy of hunger.

Whether you’re in the mood for dim sum, spicy samoosas or a healthy salad (I judge you if this applies), there’s a range of options to suit your requirements. I seriously recommend getting well acquainted with one of my favourite discoveries to date – the chilli popper spring roll. This is a staple of my visits to the market, and something I’m even willing to pay for! R12 gets you one of these mind blowing concoctions, but there’s a well stocked taster table just so you can make absolutely sure you like them before you buy one (go back a few times, they keep re-stocking).

Other options you should think about trying are the cheesecake brownies, so drenched in sugary goodness that they could send a diabetic to their grave, and the melt-in-your-mouth macaroons, which easily give the smug Parisians a run for their money.

Bay Harbour Market

Friday 5-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9:30am – 4:30pm

This popular market in the heart of the republic of Hout Bay is more about the vibe than the food. My experiences here have ranged from sublime to absurd, with the most recent visit culminating in a stomach-churning encounter with a frozen prawn, deceptively hidden in a spring roll. I’ve also had my man bag, which is both stylish and useful I might add, viciously insulted by someone trying to sell me mozzarella.

But, aside from these somewhat less than ideal experiences, I’ve found my time here to be generally quite delightful. The venue is full of character and warmth, and suitable for any type of weather. Fires blaze during winter, and a neat little outdoor section provides sanctuary for sun seekers in the height of summer.

There’s also far more than just food on offer, with a wide range of clothes and trinkets making it the perfect place for a little Christmas shopping.

Not to be missed on a visit to the Hout Bay Market – the out-of-this-world lamb rolls, served with roasted cherry tomatoes and feta. Melt in your mouth fantastic!

Needless to say, I’d recommend you avoid Tao’s Asian Kitchen, who seemed less than interested in my near-death encounter with their under-thawed prawn.

Stellenbosch Market

Saturday Mornings, 9am – 2pm

The finest ingredients for a good morning

This is the mecca of morning markets, and, as such, is a pilgrimage that should be undertaken by everyone at least once in a lifetime. Located on the Oude Libertas wine estate, this outdoor/indoor market just oozes charm and character, as well as alcohol – the Stellenbosch stall holders are clearly even more enthused by the prospect of drunken Saturday mornings than their city-based counterparts. Oh well, when in Rome I suppose.

The market is sprawling and diverse, and chock-full of all manner of delicious treats. It’s hard to know where to even start describing the bounty on offer – from giant stroopwafels to cinnamon rye rusks to chilli chocolate brownies, there’s so much food around it can actually get quite overwhelming.

Not only that, but taster portions are infinitely more generous out in the Boland. I have, on occasion, spent a good few hours trawling this market, savagely stuffing my face throughout, without spending more than R5.

If you have the time and inclination, you simply won’t do better than this for a Saturday morning’s entertainment. You might just want to make sure you rope in an abstemious and sober friend who’ll be able to get you home in one piece!

When in Rome…

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The Breakfast Club

Café Caprice 

Cape Town is a fascinating place. Often (fairly) derided by folks from up north as a den of inefficiency, its ability to function in spite of its seemingly indifferent population is astounding. Its 2pm ‘rush hour’ traffic is legendary, and somehow a vast segment of the city’s inhabitants seem to be able to function quite happily without any discernible form of employment.

Restaurants and cafés pump at all hours of the day or night, and the Sea Point promenade remains permanently awash with joggers and exercise enthusiasts, seemingly impervious to the shackles of traditional ‘work’.

Sure most of them blog. Everyone in Cape Town blogs. But in my experience, this is a less than lucrative form of existence, forcing many of us to live in reconstructed garages, clinging desperately to the foot of Table Mountain in the hopes of one day living the glamorous life.

And glamour abounds in the fair Cape. We have our pick of the country’s finest restaurants, wine farms and leisure attractions, the majority of which are conveniently located right on our doorstep. Yet for those of us salaried folk, a visit to one of these establishments could mean imminent financial ruin, with prices more suitable for trust fund brats and those who have had the good fortune to flirt their way into ageing millionaires’ wills.

So, what to do?! Fortunately there is a way around this conundrum. It just involves waking up slightly earlier, and requires a fairly strong penchant for egg-related dishes. Those three magical hours between 9am and midday – before the yummy mummies have donned their stilettos and the rich kids have recovered from their caramel vodka-induced hangovers – provide rich bounty for the city’s plebs.

Breakfast is Cape Town’s great equaliser, and affords its more financially encumbered citizens with an opportunity to live the good life, if only for a limited period. A couple of my favourite breakfast spots to get my glam on are:

Bistro 1682

Free-oche!

There’s something to be said about a place that offers its patrons free honey brioche. Not bread, but honey frikken brioche. Usually this would be reason alone for a repeat visit, but there’s so much more on offer at this glorious little spot on Steenberg Estate.

Tradition appears to dictate that all meals, irrespective of the time of day, should be washed down with a glistening flute of the estate’s delicious MCC Brut Chardonnay – a clear nod to the fact that not many of these breakfast-goers have a job to get back to. Consider me sold!

The breakfast menu is small but oh so delicious, with staples like Eggs Benedict given the 5 star treatment, substituting bacon (clearly passé these days) for a nice steaming chunk of crispy pork belly. Hey if it’s good enough for the rich and famous, it’s good enough for me!

Breakfast is pretty reasonably priced – R50 – R60 on average – so you’ll be able to get yourself a healthy helping of high-class living without making too much of a dent in your finances.

For more information visit www.steenberg-vineyards.co.za

There are worse places to enjoy morning coffee

Tintswalo Atlantic

Ok so R190 for breakfast possibly wouldn’t traditionally be regarded as cheap. But when you compare this price to the R25,000 a night room rate at this incredible hotel, which hugs the Atlantic at the foot of Chapman’s Peak, you’ll start to understand the relative value of the offering.

Wow. Just wow

Tintswalo is the kind of place you need to know about (I came across it very much through good fortune), as from the road it looks like a sort of ramshackle backpacking establishment. But once you’ve been collected in your 4×4 golf cart, and been shimmied down the steep cliff to the hotel itself, you’ll soon start to see the appeal of the place.

Yoghurty goodness

Simply put, there isn’t a better view in Cape Town. And that’s saying something. Sipping your morning coffee on the gorgeous deck, the waves of the chilly sea breaking at your feet, is truly a breath-taking experience. And then there’s the food. Sweet holy lord the food. Put it this way, you’d be well advised to come hungry. Homemade muesli, delicious yoghurt, pastries, croissants, salmon, breads, flapjacks and omelettes all form part of the lavish three course feast, which has the capacity to render even the most hardcore stomachs replete. (I could have done a second croissant though, I’m not going to lie).

 

Breakfast of Champions

If you space out the meal strategically, you’ll probably be good to go for another 24 hours. Looking at it as three gourmet meals rolled into one, the price tag begins to seem altogether more reasonable.

So there you have it my fellow working class Capetonians! The VIP lifestyle is ours for the taking. Just make sure to set your alarm.

To learn more about Tintswalo Atlantic, head to www.tintswalo.com/atlantic

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The Cape of Good Hip

Living in the City Bowl is awesome. There’s something magical about waking up at the foot of Table Mountain, surrounded by vibrant energy and a vast array of amazing places to eat, drink and be merry.

Yet this strikingly beautiful part of the city has been infiltrated by a strange and dangerous new species. Discernable from homeless people only by their iPhones and stupendously bad haircuts, the common hipster is a plague on this otherwise idyllic environment.

And their numbers are growing. Whether due to their dazzlingly bright skinny jeans or their inexplicable penchant for scarves in summer, these mainstream hobos are slowly converting the masses to their nefarious ways.

Nobody is safe. While today you might display a few minor symptoms, like the compulsive urge to Instagram pictures of food, tomorrow you might find yourself buying a fedora, or scribbling indiscernible ‘art’ in a moleskine whilst sipping on a flat white coffee (cappuccinos are like, WAY too milky).

So it’s important to make sure that, before you find yourself slipping uncontrollably into full-blown hipsterdom, you take suitable precautionary measures. The first step is to avoid the city’s many hipster hot spots. This is easier said than done, as a venue’s hipster cred can very easily be lost to a more exotic and unorthodox rival at a moment’s notice.

Vigilance is key, as is your ability to travel in groups of fellow unafflicted people, but you should be safe if you make a point of avoiding the following establishments:

The Power and the Glory

This is the epicentre of all things hipster and should be avoided at all costs. Cleverly hidden under the city’s renowned stoner hangout, Rafikis, this is the mothership of the skinny jeans brigade.

This is a truly terrifying place, boasting hideous atrocities like evening chess matches and ‘gourmet’ hot dogs, and will at all times be heaving with an unspeakable cross-section of humanity.

It’s neither a bar, nor a restaurant, nor a coffee shop, rather choosing to exist as some sort of unsettling mutation of the three, without actually offering anyone much of anything.

Should you be lucky enough to actually acquire a seat in this den of iniquity, it’ll likely be on a bench, bizarrely placed squarely in the centre of the main floor – tables be damned. I suppose this is appropriate for a place that doesn’t really serve anything, but I do feel that the old table/chair combo is a fairly reliable one, having served humanity sufficiently well over the years to earn representation in all establishments purporting to offer food.

Tjing Tjing Bar

Whilst you might be mistaken for thinking that this uber-trendy little bar in Long Street could be a suitable location for after-work drinks, you’d be well advised to think again. Tjing Tjing is a hipster’s wet dream, boasting expensive cocktails, insubstantial ‘tapas’ dishes and a ‘cosy’ New York style interior.

As the average hipster only emerges fairly late in the evening, Tjing Tjing is relatively safe during the outrageously uncool ‘happy hour’ period, but make sure you get out early. A quiet night out with friends can quickly degenerate into a dismal, heaving clusterfuck, leaving you trapped in a sea of fedoras that you’ll find almost impossible to escape. You have been warned.

Other Honourable Mentions

Hudson’s – Has usurped its now-too-mainstream predecessor Royale as the hipster hamburger haunt of choice

I Love My Laundry – Dim sum while you do your laundry – could it scream hipster any louder?

The Orphanage – Yes it’s located on Orphan Street, I get it. Funny joke. Still, you really can’t trust an establishment that names itself after a refuge for parentless children.

&Union – Craft beer is the nectar of the common hipster and this Bree Street bar punts this as its major selling point – ‘nuff said.

So city dwellers, consider yourselves warned. I have braved these establishments to bring you these reports, risking both my humanity and sanity in the process. You’re welcome.

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