The best view in town
Another of the uber-successful and vibey Madame Zingara group eateries, The Sidewalk Café is our Capetonian take on the European pavement dining culture. With panoramic views over the Mother City, the café flaunts its prime location at the foot of Table Mountain. It’s where things happen; where friends meet, where ideas are born, where memories are made and where good food is available in abundance.
Three course meal…
I was introduced to the concept of sidewalk eating when I first went to Europe in my early 20’s. Before that, my idea of fine dining was epitomised by our regular Sunday afternoon outing to the Spur. Chico the clown ice creams and packaged wet wipes. Growing up, a restaurant was an indoor venue where you shared a confined space with loads of other patrons. It was a stately affair. You wore your Sunday best and tried desperately to remember all the etiquette rules. If you’re lucky, you got a window table, otherwise you were stuck in the middle section of tables that reminds of the New York street grid. In the 90’s, you still had smoking sections indoors, and no reason for outside tables.
These days, however, the more patrons spill out of the venue’s seams onto the sidewalk, the better. I experienced this culture on hot summer’s days in Brussels and Paris. On chilly winter mornings in Utrecht and Cologne. On these city squares, in these sidewalk cafes, “watching the world go by” became a thing. Even in winter, people would sit outside the sidewalk cafes, holding cups of steaming hot chocolate or coffee between gloved hands. In summer, under the umbrellas, there’s a slowness to everything on the sidewalks; the slow action of eating luxuriously, the slow enjoyment of the outdoors, the slow appreciation of the good things in life.
I always wondered if these al fresco diners didn’t feel self-conscious about feasting in plain sight of tourists and business people walking past. I would watch them from a distance, trying to understand this new way of experiencing food. I craved the lavishness of their outside encounters; the laziness of their lunches. I admired the hipsters sitting in the sun, sipping a coffee, whilst happily typing away on their laptops, their half-eaten sandwich forgotten on the table. I also wanted to tuck into a burger with my sunglasses on! I also wanted to feel the sun touching my skin as I enjoyed a Belgian beer. To me, there was something so mesmerising (and liberating!) about eating outside of a restaurant that I soon embraced this culture and even today I prefer to sit outside to dine, whether it’s morning, noon or night. Never will I do New York grid dining again.
As I caught my first glimpse of The Sidewalk Café coming up the hill in Vredehoek, my heart sang. It brought back such fond memories of my Euro-trip when I saw the little rows of tables on the pavement outside, carefully hugging the exterior walls. This little café was recommended to us by our good Italian friend, who knows Cape Town’s culinary scene better than we do. I now see why she found this little café so charming and quaint, with it’s incredible views and quirky interior. It definitely has a European touch, with some local flavours worked into it.
This particular morning, we had a little table just inside of the front door as the nip of the Cape Town winter still left us a bit icy. Having said that, the early morning sun was streaming in, filling the intimate spaces with warmth and the welcoming hues of a new day. A few tables were occupied, but all through our breakfast there was a steady stream of people filling every available nook and cranny until it eventually spilled out onto the sidewalk by early afternoon.
Of course we started our breakfast with a round of cappuccinos. Most good meals do. They were served with tiny, melt-in-the-mouth sugar cookies. Our friend recommended the eggs benedict, and again, my heart was happy. By now we all know about my love affair with eggs benedict. It’s no secret. Although I must admit; it was a close call between that or the roasted choc chip granola. I ordered eggs benedict with bacon, she ordered it with salmon. Karl ordered the French toast with bacon. He asked our waitress to please exclude the banana. She kindly offered to substitute it with strawberries, without a moment’s hesitation. A few minutes later, she came back to say that unfortunately they didn’t have fresh strawberries, but they could offer him a mix of fresh fruit instead.
The waitrons are awesome; totally relaxed and obviously loving their customer interactions. They operate like a well-oiled machine within the walls of the café – there were no scrambles, no mistakes, no stress. Only friendly vibes and loads of confidence in their venue and in their food. We had another round of cappuccinos and enjoyed the early morning bustle of the Mother city waking up. I took some time to soak in my surroundings. My eyes roamed from the countertop seating area that boasts with 180-degree windows, to the strings of fairy lights and dried bushels of onions hanging above the little bar. I took time to look over the floating shelves filled with travel curio’s and other odds and ends that, when displayed together, make perfect sense. I appreciate the eclectic assortment of furniture and décor items that dresses up the café – it ranges from vintage antiques to quirky farmhouse chic.
Patrons were as diverse as the décor – singles working on laptops, couples intimately talking about their plans for the day, groups of youngsters sipping glasses of bubbly, tables of friends catching up. This is where you come to “watch the world go by” or, this is where you are at when the world goes by.
Our breakfasts arrived promptly and steaming. I can never say it enough; simple food is the way to go. Garnish is so 90’s. Garnish that you can’t eat was never a thing. Stick to the basics and let the stars of the dish speak for themselves. My eggs benedict promised just that: crispy, flavourful potato rosti’s, proudly cradling perfectly poached eggs, topped with crispy strips of bacon and hollandaise sauce. A sprinkle of wilted spinach and micro greens for colour and texture. Absolute perfection. But, again, Karl’s french toast was a work of art. Generous slices of thick artisanal bread fried to perfection into an eggy shell, topped with lashings of maple syrup, crispy bacon and tart fruit. The fruit substitution included pear, pineapple and dried cranberries – this combination was perfect to cut through the richness of the eggy bread, and sweet enough to complement the saltiness of the bacon. A really good start to what turned out to be a really good Sunday.
We reluctantly left after a stunning meal. At this point in the day, I’m sure we could’ve sold our seats for a few hundred bucks. The Sidewalk Café is another of those places where you could happily have your brunch spill over into a lunch spill over into sundowners.
At the end of the working day, The Sidewalk Café slips into her sexy evening wear and seduces merry makers into her fairylight-lit interior for a cocktail or two. With a beautiful selection of mains, desserts and cocktails, she is as busy at night as she is in the day. I can imagine the sidewalk full of people talking and laughing, celebrating and excitedly sharing selfies.
I did that in Europe. Dining and celebrating on the pavement under the bright sun or under a starry sky. And these days there are numerous places in Cape Town that boasts with al fresco eating. But at The Sidewalk Café, you are gifted the unique opportunity to feel as if you’re on top of the world, with all of Cape Town glittering at your feet.