Tag Archives: Cape Town

Visiting Cape Town, the Mother Ship.

The extra-terrestrial experience begins with a five-minute check-in and a stonking breakfast at Lanseria airport. Never again, I promise myself, will I unnecessarily go through the horrors of OR Tambo. Two hours later, the Mother City. Or as it turns out, the Mother Ship.

To a Lowvelder, it is undeniable. Cape Town is another world. Capetonians are aliens. As alien as Marmite-flavoured rice cakes and Badger-friendly muesli.

“So, what did you do in the holidays?” Two students, recently returned to the centre of their studies, conversation-locked and loafing, dangling kikois and piercings down Dock Road.

“Sleeping. A lot of sleeping. It was good. I love sleeping. You?”

“I smoked a lot of weed”


“Yeah, great. I love smoking weed. Next year I am thinking of getting a job at Afriski, but this year, it was weed.”

The weather is unseasonably warm. The Waterfront brims with childish smiles and confusion-wracked parents orienteering their offspring through the diversions and interpreting the endless stalk-mounted signs in front of strands of candy tape. Everything, it seems, is temporarily elsewhere.

Arts & Wellness Craft Curios is temporarily at the Craft Centre in North Wharf” reads one such piece of advice. Wellness is very Capetonian, I think to myself.

At the Aquarium, more signs: “The Rockhopper Penguins are temporarily in the kelp forest. The Outside Penguins are temporarily on the beach upstairs.” Probably smoking weed, I reckon.

By a dry dock: “Bypass route available when closed.” Bypass route to where? For whom? Dry boats?

Warning Cannons Firing”. Where? At whom?

Cannons notwithstanding, Cape Town is a Hard Hat Area. It will be wonderful when it is finished but for now, just as the pavements are closed, so is the skyline filled with cranes. And while we visitors from up-country herd our mini-hordes from one attraction to the next, Capetonians hibernate rather than don protective clothing to negotiate the detours.

Burying themselves in shopping malls and coffee shops where the ambient temperature is 22 degrees, they wear hibernal long coats and woolly hats. They hang out in supermarkets with specialist sections appealing to unusual diets. Their rice cakes really are Marmite-flavoured – “Rice cakes will never have to be bland and boring again now that we have baked them with lovely Marmite” says the packet, apparently not taking into account that this judgemental measure could be avoided by not making any rice cakes at all. They still eat like polystyrene, however Marmitey. And Cape Town’s  Muesli really is badger-friendly. What can this mean? No badgers were hurt in the harvesting of the wheat flakes or the drying of the raisins? How unsurprising.

A coffee shop in Mouille Point. Clutching a laptop, a pale, scarf-swathed, leather-clad maiden in knee-length boots,  to the not-so-pale waitress: “You can feel the South-Easter coming in. The ‘marntin’ is going to be buried in cloud this afternoon.  I don’t know whether to face the sea or look inland from under the heater. Oh, decisions! What do you think? Anyway, darling, bring me cappuccino, you know the way I like it, not more than half a centimetre of foam and min sprinkle on the top.”

I smile at her over my perfectly normal cappuccino but she ignores me. It all becomes clear. These creatures from another world can’t actually see us. This is not ET. It is The Sixth Sense. They look straight through us because they don’t know we are there. Like the penguins, we are temporarily elsewhere. But it stops them badgering us about the depth of our foam and what flavour rice cakes to buy.

Party Train to Pasture

Larry the Landy’s last dance was a festive affair with trompoppies and hooch

Larry and I had co-travelled many tens of thousands of kilometres but we now had to finalise our impending divorce before Death itself should us part. It was heart-rending. My Land Rover was slowly giving up the ghost. I could no longer afford the medical bills.

Travel had become much tamer in recent times. We couldn’t risk breaking down in Deepest Darkest; there was no bundu-bashing at Mana Pools, no hurricane-dodging in Niassa. Instead, our most recent foray had seen us topping up his water in the car park outside Shoprite in Graaff-Reinet, again outside Spar in Jeffrey’s Bay, followed by Woolworths in Plett and finally Checkers in Bredasdorp.

It had been a glorious winter trip of sunshine and whales, white surf crashing onto white sandy beaches, cliff-top walks and empty roads, until we reached Cape Town, where the doof-doof from the Waterfront was muted. The city was in lockdown pending the arrival, not of me and Larry, but of the most powerful man on earth. Obama was heading for Robben Island.

We went instead to a mechanic near the Castle who insisted that he wouldn’t be able to look at my car for two weeks. It was the straw that broke the Landy’s back. I went straight to the railway station to book the last berth to Johannesburg for me and the last spot in the vehicle carriage for the Land Rover. I wasn’t going to risk a breakdown and two weeks in Leeu-Gamka.

In his outlandish turquoise and purple outfit, Spoornet Man could not have been more helpful. He even promised me that the food on the train had improved. Spoornet’s infamous coffee was back, he said, and I must try the Pap en Tik.

This, I had decided, would be Larry’s last ride.

We arrived the required three hours prior to departure, allowing time to fill both fuel tanks and thus to weigh down and manoeuvre Larry successfully under the roll-up door and onto the train.

The riotous din of the boarding hordes was a magnificent manifestation of rainbow polyglot joy, wherein a preponderance of gap-toothed women yelled “waars my f@#*%n sakkie?” and “wie het my f@#*%n kind gesteel?” as they kept noisy tabs on their belongings and their offspring.

A mother from Rondebosch gently placed her hands over her daughter’s ears.

A couple of hundred passengers have loaded onto a train here every other day for I don’t know long but still it was as chaotic as the first day of a massive department store sale. Then into the pandemonium strode a snake of paired-off touring trompoppies from Bellville, in yellow track-suits and green beanies. The noise cranked up another couple of hundred decibels as they boarded the train with a gaggle of mothers in pursuit in DRUMMIE MOMMIE jackets.

It was not a peaceful journey but it was a happy one, the shouting, the stomp of running drummies and the strong smell of hooch only subsiding at about 2am somewhere near Kimberley. The by-now more subdued crowd finally disembarked in Johannesburg at dusk the next day, a respectable seven hours late.

I waited for Larry to appear. “Nice vehicle!” said one onlooker.

“If it had been a nice vehicle, I’d have driven it here, and not paid R4000 for it to come by train!” I muttered and then realised she wasn’t looking at Larry.

A shiny black Jeep appeared from the vehicle wagon, a mid-20s Naomi Campbell lookalike at the wheel. The number-plate read PRENUPT WP. As I was finalising the end of my time with my Land Rover, this Jeep symbolised the beginning of a marriage. An intriguing lobola.

A Mansion at the Point

Chris Harvie discovers a Cape Town hotel which offers the perfect city escape, for a man from Hazyview

The smell of old wood and roses assaulted me. What a happy change from plastic and plywood. Winchester Mansions in Sea Point looks from the outside like a town hall in Belgium and from the inside like a block of flats in Pimlico, neither of which is a bad thing. In fact, there are not too many bad things about Winchester Mansions, apart from the fact that I have always thought that Harvey was a stupid way to spell Harvie.

Harveys at the Mansions is the restaurant alongside and, in good weather, inside the bougainvillaea-clad courtyard piazza that forms the heart of the hotel. We caught a glimpse as we checked in.

Above the damasked tables tier three storeys of rooms of various sizes and views, some towards the mountain, others towards the sea. Also above the damasked tables are strategically placed nets to catch pigeon messages. It was three hours until dinner. Three hours till we could taste Henry Jonkers’s fare.

“You’re going to love it here,” Lhonti said, leading the way to a sea-facing suite.

“You’ll be so relaxed; it’s going to make your hair grow back.” Funny. I had always thought my hair was already growing back. Maybe she could see that and knew she was onto a winner, but either way, she was very confident and with some justification. Winchester Mansions is not a five-star hotel, nor does it pretend to be one. It is a friendly, efficient, excellent four-star hotel. The rooms are elegant and everything works except the TV remote because someone had nicked the batteries. We got it going with the batteries from the aircon remote.

The guest information and the signs are in German and English and the place, clear about its two markets, combines German organisation with English charm, although I like to think it would have been a German that emptied the remote batteries into his digital camera.

All the rooms are double-glazed. The bathrooms are big (and big bathrooms are important). There is also a Health and Wellness Spa, if you need your body-fat pushed around after too many meals at Harveys, named after the Ginkgo tree, which is apparently known for its adaptability and resilience in an ever- changing world. It could apply to every aspect of Winchester Mansions. Genteel yet modern. Efficient, but friendly.

The bar is perched above the pavement, enabling patrons to look down onto the nearby heads of the passers-by to see whether they need their hair to grow back.

Of course, you can also tell from the tops of people’s heads whether they are English or German and therefore whether they buy or steal their batteries.

On a still afternoon, looking out over the Atlantic as the sun prepared to sink into it under a huge blue sky, Cape Town proffered its usual bunch of freaks. A bedoeked Xhosa woman pushed an elderly, powdered madam in her wheelchair along the pavement and stopped in horror when attacked at knee-height by a flying dachshund in pursuit of a ball four times its size, all of which escaped the notice of the four entranced hippy Tai Chi practitioners nearby and their Rastafarian leader.

“In summer, maybe to-six or past- six,” said the barman when I asked him what time the sun would set, but it was getting on for to-eight when the sea swallowed it up and we made it into the courtyard for dinner. Henry Jonkers’s 25 years of chefing were well evident in his strong Cape Malay influences infused with the experience of four years in Dublin. They call it fusion cuisine, old and new, local and international.

The blurb tells you that, if you tell Henry what you like, he will create his version of your dish, but the shrimp bobotie, the duck on sweet red cabbage and Cape sweet indulgence were straight off the menu and hugely successful. Especially the former and despite the naff name of the latter, consisting of miniatures of all your favourite South African puddings, milk tart, Cape brandy pudding and granadilla cheesecake, so order from the menu, would be my advice.

Don’t bother Henry with knocking up your favourite Lancashire Hotpot or, if you are German, your best bratwurst goulash. He knows what he’s doing.

Breakfast was equally inspiring. The mozzies flying in the restaurant had obviously discovered this for themselves, although they were after the crumbs under the tables, not the groaning buffet of pastries, cold meats and fruit.

There was even smoked salmon and, the ultimate civilised breakfast, steak tartare. Now that’ll get you going if the bran flakes don’t.

The pigeon-poo-catcher hadn’t been 100% effective at dinner, but there were no unpleasant incidents at breakfast. Indeed, there had been nothing unpleasant about Winchester Mansions at all. Go there. It’s not expensive. It’s quiet. It’s professional in a friendly sort of way. The food’s excellent.

I scratched my head as I walked out onto Beach Road. It was growing back, I swear it.

Winchester Mansions and Harveys at the Mansions, 221 Beach Road, Sea Point. From R667.60 per person per night sharing, bed and breakfast.

Tel: 021-434-2351, fax: 021-434-0215, e-mail: welcome@winchester.co.za, website:www.winchester.co.za

Jazz at the Mansions, Sundays 11am to 2pm, live jazz, bubbly and a wide-ranging buffet.

Talking Italian

Chris Harvie discovers a truly Roman restaurant in Cape Town’s Waterfront

Roberto (not De Niro) was waiting, talking Italian. He showed us to our table and led us through the menu, rattling off all the melanzanes and rotolos and radicchios with the indigenous skill of the Lazio-born and then said, in English, “Close your eyes and you could be in Rome”.

Well, not quite, Roberto. We could see Table Mountain and a harbour-full of boats, not Seven Hills and the Colosseum, but he had a point. The Italian around the corner in South Africa is usually a cheap and cheerful spag bol and pizza joint with pre-prepared tomato sauces that are about as far from Naples as they are from Neapolitan ice cream. Meloncino is not cheap but it’s cheerful and choice and enchanting and generally all-round damned Italian and the chef trained in Rome. So it’s close.

Everywhere else had been full. We had staggered around the waterfront under Cape Town’s Mediterranean evening sun for hours trying to find something that wasn’t fast food or Greek and wasn’t already overbooked. It was a Friday at the height of the season and we hadn’t reserved anywhere. Queues had formed outside all the popular eateries and we were just about to head out to the Southern Suburbs and try our chances there when Meloncino hove into view where the Sports Cafe used to be, at the top of the steps next to the Chinese. And it was empty.

Roberto was supplanted by Tapiwa, a Zambian property studies student at UCT whose grasp of Italian pronunciation was as good as Roberto’s but whose English was better. Dazzled by the backdrop of the funky bar with its oranges and reds, and its multiple empty bottles and white sofas, I ordered an antipasti misti and a beef fillet with rosemary mash and then fell down the step trying to get to the loo, where I planned to admire its fine imported Italian fittings. No injury was sustained but my stern words to a passing waiter. “Someone’s going to go a nasty purler there after a couple of Peponis” will, I hope, save a few lives.

The food was faultless. Nobody asked me how I’d like my fillet, which is generally a bad sign in a bad restaurant and a good sign in a good one. It arrived a perfect rare-to-medium-rare. This was a good restaurant. The preceding starter had offered a fascinating assortment and the succeeding Tiramisu was layered with imported Italian Mascarpone. It was world-class and accompanied by a glass of Asara Noble Late Harvest which made the step on the way to the loo even less visible.

So why was the place empty, when everyone was so capable and the food so fine?

“We’ve only been open three days and the first two were for family only,” explained Tapiwa. Picture the scene. All those Capetonian Italian restaurateur families descending for two days on Meloncino’s staff to ensure that they are ready for opening.

Cape Town’s Cosa Nostra, all named Joe or Tommy, ordering a Tagliolini al Salmone and another Peponi, telling them to make it snappy and threatening to blow their and their families’ arms off if the beer’s not cold enough.

Well, it has worked. Meloncino is excellent. And obviously, as Roberto had helpfully pointed out, if you closed your eyes, you might be in Rome, not Sicily, so the Mafia are not involved, but everyone that is involved is doing a really good job. We were privileged to have eaten with them on the first day they admitted non-Italians and as far as I am concerned they and their families are safe.

Meloncino, Shop 259, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town 021 419 5558.

Open 9.30am until 11pm daily.

Chris Harvie paid his own way and received no discount or incentive from this restaurant.