Change is Constant at Pilcrow & Cleaver, Church Square

Words: Julie Velosa

It’s a well accepted fact that we’re all in the habit of marching through life with our noses buried in our phones. However, if you take the time to look around you, a walk through Cape Town’s CBD reveals a plethora of beautiful buildings with detailed facades that ooze character. If you look a little closer, you’ll find hidden gems like Pilcrow & Cleaver ensconced in those hole-in-the wall nooks, and when you do, you’ll feel like you’ve been let in on a secret of those in the know.

Take a Seat

Personally, I’ve always loved Church Square; a vibrant corner of the city where history, like the famed Groote Kerk, is juxtaposed with the contemporary like the luxurious Labotessa Boutique Hotel and Speakers’ Corner. The square itself is a melting pot, with camera-toting tourists, recently returned-to-office workers and locals bustling about their business. Pilcrow & Cleaver is an upmarket eatery offering those in the locale a stylish place to enjoy lunch or dinner.

Flanked on one side by the Pilcrow & Cleaver bar, which services the restaurant (another hole-in-the-wall gem), as well as Fratelli’s Deli, also owned and operated by Pilcrow’s chef-owner, Judi Fourie.

What’s in a Name?

Before we go any further, let’s address that name. Admittedly, I had to google what a pilcrow is. Being a writer, I should have known but alas, it was Google’s wisdom that told me it’s the symbol for creating a new paragraph. And, as such, was a symbol for chef Judi creating a new chapter in her career.

Her introverted, almost shy personality hides a wealth of experience at some of Cape Town, and the country’s, most well-known restaurants. P&C is an expression of that experience and the realisation of years in the hospitality industry spent honing her craft. The cleaver part… well, no one messes with a chef with a cleaver in hand, right?

Pilcrow & Cleaver Style

The restaurant space includes indoor and outdoor seating. We chose to sit in the elevated front window area; beautiful wood-framed windows concertina open with a view overlooking the square.

It was the perfect spot to enjoy the restaurant’s small plate-style menu, while taking in the comings and goings of the CBD.

The interior of light wood counters, stylish leather chairs and pendant lighting is framed by striking sections of tropical orchid wallpaper; overall the feeling is sophisticated and welcoming.

Notably there is no service staff and the kitchen is an open space where guests can see everything at play. The restaurant also does not believe in tipping and instead has a fair pay model throughout.

We kicked off with two signature cocktails from the menu – the Rhino in High Heels and the Espresso Martini, while both were lovely, we decided that Espresso Martinis should come with a warning – dangerously delicious! A pick-me-up with a dash of buzz, what’s not to love?

Small Plate Menu Favourites

The small-plate style of menu really suits the way I like to eat – multiple courses of starter-sized dishes, each packed with intricate subtleties and flavour combinations. We opted for the 4-course dinner menu, which, between two of us, gave us the opportunity to sample 8 of the dishes, each selected for their uniqueness.

The menu is a mix of influences with hints of Asian and Indian, even Italian. There are also signature South African inclusions like a Malay Springbok Loin main and Langbaken Karoo Ash Camembert as a cheese course. Certain items on the menu also change weekly, which means each time you visit you’ll be able to experience something new.

Standouts for me included the Scallop Ceviche – I loved the freshness of this dish, unadulterated scallops cured in a combination of orange and fynbos vinegar. With slivers of fennel, citrus segments and pops of sweetness from fat, juicy soaked sultanas. Pine nuts added a savoury crunch and rounded out the dish.

The Bacon Barded Kingklip was a surprise; a number of elements that you would not immediately think will work together, yet do. A bacon-wrapped fillet of kingklip is arranged in a melange of pork spek-fried croutons, nut-butter fried mushrooms, prawns and whitebait, along with asparagus and crispy potatoes.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘small plate’ concept, these dishes are packed with nuance and are each ‘mini meals’ that add up to a big night out. You’re definitely not leaving hungry.

My partner relished in his Love Letters – no, not from me, from the kitchen – prawn, chilli and lemon ravioli in a rich and deeply flavoured bouillabaisse sauce. He also opted for a menu fav, the P&C Burger, which – word to the wise – is a full sized burger! A brisket and chuck grass-fed patty with melty Raclette cheese, homemade pickles and hand cut fries. It’s a whopper but in the right way.

On a Sweet Note

We knew we wanted something sweet to end off the meal and the Chocolate Sea Salt Marquis was just the ticket. Dark chocolate set mousse with pops of pistachio mousse and pistachio brittle.

Sure that we couldn’t possibly fit in another bite, we somehow found a way when the kitchen sent a final lemon macaron each to end off the meal (there’s separate macaron stomach, didn’t you know?).

Make a Stop

While Church Square may not be the go-to spot when you think lunch or dinner, those who know, know. It might be slightly more off the beaten track than your usual spot but it will be well worth it. When you’re done with lunch or dinner, pop next door to the bar and round off your meal with another classic cocktail. Don’t say we didn’t warn you about those Espresso Martinis!

Open daily from 12h00 to 23h00. 3.2 Piazza, Parliament Street, Cape Town.

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