Olympia Café, Kalk Bay

Olympia cafe outside sign

Once upon a time, when I was in my early twenties, I thought I was a hippie and signed the lease on an old house set against the mountain in Muizenberg with a pokey lounge and a lemon tree and a windy view of the sea. I imagined myself wearing sarongs, taking early morning swims and spending my days writing and doing hippie-type things. In reality, I spent most of that year on the side of the M3 waiting for my rusty red Cortina station-wagon with its malfunctioning fan-belt to stop spewing steam long enough to get me to my job in the city as I battled rush hour traffic and was perpetually stressed out and chronically late for work. Reality didn’t quite live up to the fantasy, and the following year I moved back to a flat in more manageable Tamboerskloof.

But I love that part of the world, and I always have. It’s so different from the rest of Cape Town and, despite its proximity to the city, Kalk Bay particularly has managed to retain a real fishing-villagey kind of feel. One of my favourite things about living on the that side of the mountain was breakfast on a Saturday morning at the Olympia Café, home of some of the best omelettes in the universe which, despite being enormous, they have the audacity to serve with fried bread. We took the grannies there for breakfast on Tuesday, and the omelette of the day was mushrooms, mozzarella, pepperdew, avo and pesto, and it was – as always – delicious.

olympia cafe inside sign

What I hadn’t realised, as we strolled up the road afterwards, was how many fabulous new places have opened up in the last while, and we made mental notes to visit all of them in the upcoming months. It’s done itself up, that main road, and if you’re hungry you really are spoilt for choice. And the new cafes are funky and interesting and command a great view of the street and its passers-by, but despite all the newness and the fact that it was mid-morning on a week day, Olympia was still full, many of its patrons chatting away to the waiters, obviously locals who were better at doing hippie-type things than I was. Just make sure, when you go there, that you don’t have lunch plans because the meals are substantial enough to last you until dinner.

As we meandered along, we noticed throngs of old ladies in head-scarves emerging from the station and making their way to the quay, no doubt to enjoy an early fish and chips lunch. Being incurably curious, I accosted a small woman passing by and asked her what was going on. She told me that on a Tuesday pensioners get to take the train for free. ‘From where?’ I asked. ‘ From where we live,’ she answered, ‘Mitchell’s Plein.’ And while she didn’t exactly lower her eyes, when she said ‘Mitchell’s Plein’ something subtle but significant passed between us – a hint of embarrassment on her part, as she confessed to the white girl in expensive sunglasses that she is nothing but a poor coloured woman from the sticks; the vaguest hint of defiance in her tone as she (rightly) assumed I know less than nothing about what she’s lived through in her 70 years on earth, and that she’s answering me out of politeness and that’s where it ends. For me, it was the ever-present longing to take an eraser and just rub out the details of our past like we used to do in Standard 3 when we made a mistake with our HB pencils; make it that it never happened the way it did so that I could just talk to a human being on the street without all that stuff hanging over our heads all the time.

Because, of course, when she was my age, she would have had to take a special ‘non-Europeans’ train carriage and when she got to Kalk Bay she wouldn’t have been allowed to go to a ‘white’ restaurant for a calamari roll and a coke and have a swim in the sea to cool off on a hot, Indian Summer’s afternoon. While I could – and still can – pretty much do whatever I wanted. And I know it and she knows it and all we can do is try to relate to one another as normally as we can now on a crowded, sun-strewn pavement two decades later and hope, eventually, we’ll be able to move on. Or that the new generation is so different none of it will even matter anymore. I don’t know what the deal is with the free tickets, but I think it’s a great initiative. These ladies were chatting and kuiering like it was nobody’s business. Tempting as it might be, we mustn’t allow ourselves to forget the newness of these freedoms. As we were leaving the Olympia Café, we stuck up a conversation with one of the locals who was polishing off the day’s special, about 70 chippolatas served with scrambled egg and mushrooms, and she told us they’re open till 9 o clock at night, are licensed and that the dinner time fare is just as yummy as what they serve in the morning. I believe her. We’ll go back soon to see for ourselves.

I forgot I was supposed to take a pic and started eating. The fried bread is served with pepperdew and aubergine dip. Very cheeky indeed.
I forgot I was supposed to take a pic and started eating. The fried bread is served with pepperdew and aubergine dip. Very cheeky indeed.

Café Mischu in Sea Point

cafe mischu sign

It’s harder than you might think, living in this cool city, coming up with cool places to go for coffee which you’ll also want to blog about, so when my friend, Craig, suggested Mischu in Sea Point, I thought, hurrah, yes. Mischu is opposite the Spar, and the reason he likes going there – other than the great coffee – is that he says it’s funny watching women have conversations when their faces don’t move. And while on the day we were there I didn’t spot any of those and I really liked the way they’ve done it up and it’s the kind of place you can definitely hang out with your Americano and watch the world go by, it got me thinking about this whole botox thing and why I have such a problem with it.

And it’s not because I’m not vain or don’t care about getting old and ugly. I care about it much, and I spend ages in the mirror worrying that my teeth aren’t white enough and that my sun spots will eventually take over my entire face and I’ll look like an alien and I hate when I gain weight and my clothes cling. And in the interests of vanity I bleach said teeth and I eat salad when I want pasta and wear BB cream every single day while pretending I’m au natural, but there is just something about the botox thing that makes my toes curl.

It’s like I have these two opposing forces where the one is super invested in looking good at any cost, while the other – I guess you can call her my inner dyke, though I suspect that’s deeply offensive – says ‘fuck that for a lark. I’m a woman, not a girl. I’m amazing just as I am, and I don’t have to buy into that twisted conception of what female adults are supposed to look like. I don’t have to be skinny and hairless to be accepted, and I certainly don’t have to look like I’m 25 in order to have value in this world.’

And while I’m incredibly fond of the vacuous, shallow version of myself and have the bags and shoes to prove it, it’s the other voice that I pay attention to because she feels closer to the real me. Because I am more than the sum of my parts, and I can hold my own intellectually and in spaces that would have scared the daylights out of me when I was in my twenties. I might have had fewer crow’s feet, but I was also rather dof and uninteresting by virtue of not having done very much. Your average 20-year-old has a lot of living to do before they make interesting dinner companions and, honestly, I value having seen some things in my life and having an opinion very much more than I do looking perfect in the mirror.

And fuck knows, when you get to 40 you’ve seen some things. I’ve had my heart smashed more times than I care to count; I’ve given birth twice without so much as an aspirin to help a girl through (what was I thinking, right?); I’ve held sick, feverish babies through the night and got up at the same time the next morning to do the other things that needed to be done. I’ve made a life for myself in a far away, cold country and endured the relentless heartache of being away from my home and my tribe. I’ve written things that have made people laugh out loud, and things that have made people so furious they wanted to lynch me on the spot. I’ve made good choices and terrible choices, and I’m not more special than anyone else, I’m just alive in the world, as we all are, and getting on with this journey I’ve picked out for myself.

And to deny my face the lessons I’ve learned – to pay somebody money to inject poison into my head so that when I’m really, really happy or really, really sad you’d never know – feels like the biggest travesty. Worse, it feels like betrayal to myself, because I have earned these lines, every single one. These lines are living. These lines are what I have lived and the things I have seen and done. They are drinking wine late into the night and talking with my husband about what matters. They are shouting in rage when he doesn’t get a thing about me and I can’t believe how hard it is being married. They are the terror that he won’t get off the plane and I’ll lose the love of my life because he is the coolest human being I have ever known, and they are shrieking with laughter when my maddest friend picks up her phone and talks in the same funny voice that used to have me sent outside the classroom in Std 7 for my uncontrollable hysteria.

They are worrying that my children are safe; sadness that my dad doesn’t feel good about his life; hoping my mom gets home safely when she works late at night. They are consoling our daughters when their daddy goes overseas every month for work, the angst that I might have offended a friend and the secret 3am fear that I’ll never write that book. Maybe it isn’t as ‘beautiful’ as the smooth, blank faces you see on younger women, but to me its beauty lies in something else – in its naturalness and its grace and the message it sends to my daughters about what really matters in life. And it’s not whether their mother has a wrinkle-free forehead. It’s not the hope that people look at me and go, ‘wow, she looks great! How does she do it?’ And I never think that, anyway, when I see someone who’s had work. I feel pity and a kind of sadness for what she thinks she has to be to be loved and to feel okay in the world.

And maybe I’ll change my mind in 10 years when the passage of time really starts marching across my face, but honestly I don’t think so. I think that other me will nip that thought right in the bud. Because the kind of beauty that comes of knowing who you are and what you have to offer doesn’t exist at the end of a needle. Anyhow. I think I got off track. Café Mischu does kiff coffee. My wrinkles and I will be back.

The service is warm and friendly, and the coffee is goo-ood.
The service is warm and friendly, and the coffee is goo-ood.

Beleza on Upper Kloof

Beleza interior Love the retro interior. And the outside-y section is great, too.

This morning’s coffee arrangement with my mom was a little bit different because it was preceded by a meeting at Elisabeth’s school where one of the moms has initiated a project whereby available parents have been asked to provide assisted reading to some kids who come from homes where their caregivers don’t/can’t read and are at risk of falling through the cracks of an education system which isn’t really equipped to provide this type of individual attention. And while I like to think of myself as terribly committed to this country, the shameful truth is that I do zip diddly in terms of offering my time/skills/money to any of the many worthwhile causes around while there are so many people who do so much. It’s a very nice idea, this. It’s just 15 minutes per child per week, directly after drop off and, as was explained, this brief time spent alone with an adult is often the only time these kids will get in the week.

Having grown up in a home where I was read to constantly it’s hard to imagine a childhood without books and words. But that’s the reality for a lot of South African children. And it will cost me nothing and is the absolute least I can do given the amazingness of every part of my life in this country, and it’s horrible that I’ve never done anything like this before, and that I’m only doing it because it’s really easy and I know that it will turn out to be at least as rewarding for me – who has no clue, really, about how some people in this country live. So, we will each have a child allocated to us, and once a week we’ll bring books from home or choose them from the school library and read together and learn the words and talk about the stories. And I should do much, much more than this, but it’s something and it’s a start.

On the way to coffee afterwards, my mom – who is awesome with kids, and has offered her time, too – was already planning little treats to bring along for after their session and that’s a nice idea, too. To give your reading buddy a little sticker or a sucker because – and I know this from my own kids – these small tokens celebrating their achievements mean the absolute world to them. By the time the meeting was over we were both hungry, and I remembered seeing a sign at the bottom of Upper Kloof advertising cheapie breakfasts, so that’s where we headed. Turns out the place we’ve been driving past (across from Rafiki’s at the big set of traffic lights) is called Beleza (http://belezarestaurant.co.za), and it’s awesome and I can’t believe I’ve never been there.

Beleza is a café/restaurant/vintage clothes store, and the interior is stylish and retro and one of those Cape Town spots that you walk into and think, sheesh, this city is cool. Since today is such a magnificent day we decided to sit outside and watch the world go by. After a perfectly tasty bacon and eggs breakfast (for R19, if you please) and very good coffee (they won an award in 2011 for best coffee in town, fyi) we browsed around inside, and while I’m not really a big vintage clothing kind of person, they have some nice stuff – sunglasses, accessories and a pair of funky 60s-style sandals I might have bought were they in my size. It’s one of the few vintage stores I’ve been into where I thought, Oh, I’ll be back. And it’s just quite a delightful concept – gathering your girlfriends for a few drinks and bite to eat, and picking up a cute frock or throw or bracelet while you’re at it. And I’m sure it’s fab in the evening, too. So, I’m excited about next Tuesday where I strongly suspect that, while I might be helping a child to read, the one who will be doing the real learning will be me.

The vintage clothing store. They often have sales - check their website for the next one.
The vintage clothing store. They often have sales – check their website for the next one.
As my friend, Stef, says, there is no reason not to be fabulous.
As my friend, Stef, says, there is no reason not to be fabulous.

Cafe Mozart, Church Street

Cafe mozart sign

So, me and Aunty Lorraine’s next Kiff Coffee stop was Cafe Mozart in Church Street which, as locals know, is something of an institution, having been around more or less since P.W. Botha. I never visited in the olden days so I don’t know how much it’s changed, but it’s quite blinged up now, with lots of fake roses adorning its small picket fence (which unsuccessfully keeps out buskers), and fun brick-a-brac-y things lining its walls. It’s totally unpretentious, and sometimes you’re just in the mood for unpretentious. And what’s cool about this cafe is that it’s located on a pedestrian street lined with antique stores and stalls where the same people since I worked on Greenmarket Square in 1992 arrive to arrange their hodgepodge of treasures on probably the same blue velvet cloths. It looks like they still haven’t sold anything.

fake flowers

Since we’d both had breakfast and it’s just wrong not to eat, we decided to share a toasted croissant with bacon, lettuce and tomato. It was so yum we had to have another, and the coffee was pretty good, too. Not that I’m an expert, as I’ve explained. My friend, Alison, and I had lunch there not too long ago and they do a very cool and madly inexpensive buffet. For R42 you get a glass of wine, soup with home-made bread, a full buffet (which that day included lamb stew, cauliflower bake, lasagne and several salads) and dessert. It’s a good deal whichever way you look at it.

Sometimes you just don't mess with a good thing, and a BLT is one of those things.
Sometimes you just don’t mess with a good thing, and a BLT is one of those things.

bric a brac

My mom and I laughed about how, as a child, I hated tomato (I still kind of do unless it’s on a BLT croissant or in a pasta sauce or they’re teeny and exceptionally sweet) and every time we were in a restaurant I’d take my tomato off my burger and every time my mom would ask me if she could have it and for some reason – knowing full well I wasn’t going to eat it myself – I’d say no. I have no idea what that was about, but just about every time we’re in a restaurant now she reminds me of that betrayal. I guess I’ll never live it down. That, and the time I ate dagga cookies on the afternoon of my 16th birthday and, in my deeply stoned state, had to sit at the dinner table with my parents’ best (quite posh) friends and eat a roast dinner, trying to stay on my chair and not completely die of hysterics when my best friend and partner in crime forewent the roast potatoes and lamb and gravy and only dished herself peas which she then found quite impossible to keep on her fork. It was a long dinner (sorry, mom, you cooked good food. I hope I’m still seeing you next week after reading this).

cafe mozart blackboard

After a second cup of coffee we wandered around Greenmarket Square which is quite boring and same-y now, but we did watch a woman demonstrate 13 ways to wear a cardigan which was pretty impressive. And it was made of bamboo, what’s more. And then we congratulated ourselves on coming up with such a fun and clever tradition as regular coffee meetings. Talking in real life – as opposed to all this cyber stuff – is really very lovely.

The Kiffest Coffee in Cape Town (A New Thing)

So, if your husband – like mine – is straight and over 30 it’s probably not his best to sit and la-la in cafes and coffee shops, awesome as they might be. In fact, sometimes I think if I left my husband to his own devices instead of dragging him by the trouser leg to ‘events’ he’d never leave the house again, bless. So, quite by accident, I’ve embarked on a New Thing. Since my mom is DIVINE beyond and the only time I chat to her is for three seconds when she arrives to babysit and I should have been somewhere ten minutes ago, and as she also has the problem of a husband who is straight and over thirty, we’ve decided to meet for coffee every Tuesday morning. Which is so fab, actually, and so fun.

This Tuesday was our first meeting and we went to one of my favourites, Haas in Rose Street. I hadn’t decided to blog about it yet so I didn’t take any pictures, but here’s their website with loads http://haascollective.com/. It’s completely cool, and the waiters wear top hats and they do this savoury muffin (in truth, the real reason I go there) made with spinach, sweet peppers and melted cheese which they serve warm with home-made jam. It’s so big even I (greedy guts) can only eat half, and so divine you have to stop talking for a while. Haas is also part shop/gallery which sells stylish, rather beautiful artwork and knick knacks. So, it’s really quite win-win. And their coffee, of course, is great.

I read somewhere that they sell this rare, super-expensive coffee made from the poo of some exotic animal which lives in a tree on an island far away. (I’m not sure if they actually serve poo coffee – probably not – but what I have is really good and doesn’t taste anything like that).

Not that I’m a coffee connoisseur by any means. In truth, and if I was left to my own devices and wasn’t afraid of being ridiculed, I wouldn’t buy the Jacobs for a gazillion rand, I’d get that huge tin of Ricoffy white people buy for their maids and be happy as a banana. But since I’m married to a Scandinavian where coffee drinking is something of a religion (and who can blame them – without those hourly pots of jet-fuel-strength brew to keep them buzzing through the interminably long winters there’d be a lot more hara kiri going on, in my opinion), it’s become a bit of an indispensable part of my life. But I’m not going to be all blah-blah-these-coffee-beans-have-a-clean-nose-and-top-notes-of-veldskoen-and-chewing-tobacco, I’m going to talk about how fun it is to sit there and what you can eat and who you’re inclined to see. Because there are so, so many amazing cafes in this town that I just never get the chance to go to.

And we’ll go to fabulous places, and we’ll go to places that are fabulous for different reasons. And I think this new year’s tradition is going to make 2014 quite a fun one. I’m excited. Watch this space!

My new coffee shop buddy, Lorraine Hayden. The kids will not be invited, obz.
My new coffee shop buddy, Lorraine Hayden. And the girls when they were very little.