An American In Cape Town
James Cannon Boyce – an American in Cape Town – has been visiting and working on projects in the Mother City for almost ten years, but on a recent trip, for the first time he stayed downtown on Adderley Street and fell in love with the CBD – here are a few of his new favourite places.
“I have always loved Cape Town, its history and its vibrancy. I usually stay in Constantia at a wonderful bed and breakfast called Dongola House, but this recent trip, I stayed right downtown in the CBD and I loved everything about it. It’s not quite as pristine as some of the suburbs, but to me it was far more like actually being in Africa and far more fun.”
Mornings in Cape Town mean one thing – the best coffee in the world and too many places to possibly go to try it. I love Tribe 112 in Heritage Square, which is literally in the lobby of a BMW motorcycle store. Somehow, like a lot of the hybrid retail stores in Cape Town (Loading Bay, I Love My Laundry), the combination of machines and cappuccino works well here. They have a great table to stretch out and have meetings at.
My first coffee love in Cape Town is Origin. I have been going there for five years now, and while it’s kind of on the edge of the CBD, I have to mention it and its neighbour, Loading Bay, where not only is the coffee great, but I do love the breakfasts as well.
I am going to also give honourable mention in the morning coffee department to Bean There and its neighbour, Honest Chocolate Café. So it’s safe to say, that if you love coffee, you can’t go wrong. It’s also funny because being American, people will ask you all sorts of crazy questions about Africa and Cape Town – I can promise you one thing, being born, raised and living in Boston, we don’t have a single coffee shop in the city that’s better than these – and Boston’s nickname is Beantown. Another morning ritual I started, well was forced to start, was lining up at the Honest Chocolate Café for their Sweet Potato Gluten-free Vegan Brownies. I had one one morning and then went back the next day and they were sold out. I tried again the next day, and no luck – it wasn’t till I actually stood there and waited for them to cool that I was able to bring them back to the office. They are incredible.
Lunch around the CBD is just remarkable. Our office is in Wale Street and while I could go on forever with a list of places, I narrowed it down to five for the purposes of this article – from the supremely casual to my favourite place to meet and eat and do business. I also want to note that I think Cape Town is simply the best food city in the world, bar none. It’s a combination of the different kinds of good – the amazing buildings and spaces that so many of the restaurants are in and also the value of eating here. For tourists especially, there is no place in the world that offers value for money like Cape Town.
On the streets of Bo Kaap, there are food stands where the grilled chicken is especially good – there are two right around the corner from our office on Rose Street. I don’t think that people often think of Cape Town as a place for street food but for thirty or forty Rand, you can get an amazing meal complete with spicy grilled chicken and samosas that can’t be beat.
Chef’s Warehouse at 92 Bree Street makes my list for three reasons. If you are a foodie as I am, the store is remarkable and well worth some time browsing. The only problem I find there is that the things that I love are all either made of stone or heavy wood, but next trip I am going to bring an extra suitcase, pay the overage and do some serious shopping. The tapas at Chef’s Warehouse, are of course, amazing but I actually prefer to head downstairs for lunch and visit the Street Food take-away. They have a very limited number of items each day but they are all great, and being American, I do often eat my lunch at my desk. Further up at 231 Bree Street, is another absolute go-to lunch place for our team in Cape Town and that’s Sababa. It’s small and has only a few chairs but it’s a great place to walk in and get amazing Middle Eastern food to go. They serve you as you point and pick at the day’s specials – all freshly made. On the way there of course, you will pass the newly opened Culture Club cheese deli and restaurant and Bacon on Bree, so on this stretch of Bree Street, you really can’t go wrong.
Changing it up cuisine-wise a bit, and if you are in the mood for amazing fresh juices, pop into El Camino in Bo Kaap. It’s just up from Wale Street and again, it’s a limited menu of fresh, great lunches from around the world – ‘camino’ meaning road in Spanish, and the tasty plates offered are from the owner’s culinary experiences travelling around the world.
I saved my favourite and best for last and that’s Clarke’s on Bree Street – 133 Bree Street to be precise. I first came to Clarke’s to have lunch with my now good friend Branko Brkic, co-founder of Daily Maverick. Branko lives and works at the tables at Clarke’s and for good reason. It’s a great space, with wonderful staff – the coffee is really good here as well, but Branko would kill me if I didn’t tell you to have the burger. It most definitely is the best burger in Cape Town – maybe the world. Branko and I eat there together at least once a week and we stare at the salads and the other sandwiches and we think that they are good, and we’ve been eating a lot of burgers lately, but we still order them.
One thing that I also love about Cape Town and doing business there is that people love to come eat, talk business, hang out a little and meet new people. As you can see, I often will invite friends, clients, potential clients and everyone from the office to meet in the back room of Clarke’s – which is open to the sky which I love. Every time we do this, people end up with new business partners, new friends and new contacts. It’s just a great thing about the city and I miss that spirit and camaraderie when I am back in the States.
After work, Cape Town loves its happy hour and I am going to call out two places I enjoy going to. First, I am not one for hotel bars but I do enjoy The Twankey Bar at the Taj Hotel at the corner of Adderley and Wale Streets. It’s got high ceilings, great drinks and will often have a band playing in the corner. The WiFi is fast and true and the bar food is solid. It’s a nice place to sit back and relax.
My second go-to place is Tjing Tjing – a rooftop bar at 165 Longmarket that you would never know was there and was so good – if you were just walking by. It’s above another great coffee shop, Dear Me, and worth the climb up the stairs. Great drinks, fresh air and stars above you – nothing’s better than Cape Town for that. For dinner, you can’t go wrong in Cape Town really. Carne is great, its sister restaurant 95 Keerom is wonderful for Italian, and it goes on and on. I like Mesopotamia on Long Street for the kebabs but if I was in Cape Town tonight, staying in the CBD, I’d go to the Eastern Food Bazaar at 96 Darling Street, because there is nothing else like it in Cape Town – or anywhere else that I have been to. Walking in, there are seven or eight different Eastern food stations, well Eastern if you count pizza and gelato as Eastern. The portion sizes of the fresh falafel, the tikka masala and the Chinese stir fries are all huge and the quality of the food is really remarkable – on my last trip, I determined after extensive market research that the Chicken Tikka Masala there is the best in the city. Just remember, you have to decide what you want and then go pay at the cashiers in the middle. Armed with your receipt, you go back to the food station you prefer and exchange your receipt for your meal.
After dinner, there’s a must final stop. The House Of Machines at 84 Shortmarket. It’s the best bar in Cape Town (though I haven’t been to them all I confess). The bartenders take their craft seriously and perhaps the best thing about it is that they serve food late (some places around CBD do close a bit early.)
There’s so much more I could write about the CBD. I love the t-shirts at Lucky Fish. Who doesn’t love a roof top movie cinema at The Grand Daddy Hotel? When I was there they played ‘Rocky’ one night because it was just after the Mayweather fight. I could write an entire article about First Thursday’s when downtown really comes alive. But I’ll save that for my next trip. Happy exploring and yes, when you find some new favourites, email me I’ll be back soon.
James Cannon Boyce is the founder of CommonSense.Agency, a brand and business development company with an office right in the middle of the CBD on Wale St.