A taste of the townships
A butchery and restaurant on the outskirts of Cape Town is attracting a highprofile crowd
Pork 2. ALAIN Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Gordon Ramsay. Eaten with them, dined at their emporia — it’s been wonderful, guys, but nothing like the steak in a plastic bowl in Mzoli’s in Gugulethu with a sommelier prising the cap off my bottle of beer with his two remaining teeth. You don’t get those little touches in London, Paris or New York.
I don’t do extreme dining and am partial to white linen tablecloths and an icy glass of PulignyMontrachet. Or two. Yet I am in the township on the outskirts of Cape Town at a venue that is a butchery, a restaurant and a nightclub. Forget sushi and tapas, way too old-hat. The way forward is point ’ n’ cook: you point at lamb, steak, possibly buffalo, chicken if you’re a wimp, and they cook it on a vast braai, coal glowing, spitting at slapped-on wallops of meat cooked as you like.
‘‘Look at the colour of my skin, man,’’ says a black South African in front of me in the queue. ‘‘That’s how I like my meat.’’
It’s then chucked into blue plastic, to be eaten hands-on. The beer is icy from the store nearby, the sommelier a fellow diner with the only bottle opener in the place: his mouth.
You do not know what desperate is until marooned in a township in 27C heat without being able to crack a bottle dripping with fridge-cold dew.
Apup. 4. Anchovy 3. Hazelnut 1. FOODFORTHOUGHTSOLUTIONS:
I amsharing this beer, and plastic bowls, with Margot Janse, a chef who has won a zillion awards for her sublime magic at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek.
Margot and I, together with Susan Huxter, owner of Le Quartier Francais, white South African and a trifle nervy about whether we are going to get out alive, are now totally relaxed. We share the enormous bottle of beer with straws. We love the meat, the scene. About two minutes after we’ve discovered this jolly place, who should roll up but Jamie Oliver. Just when one thought one was extremely adventurous, chef-telly comes to the township.
Mzoli Ngcawuzele’s place is cool, the music deep house or kwaito, but not thumping as we are chomping, j ust a touch of Cape j azz. It is gentle, we are gently treated, white ladies lunching are just fine.
When I first went to Cape Town, it was before apartheid had been lifted; one knew it was coming, but to visit a township wouldn’t just have been silly, it would have been suicidal. Now there are B&BS in Khayelitsha and township tours.
I have mixed feelings about poverty tourism. Should one really be going to ogle the dirt poor or to boast that one survived the night in a human hell? Actually, Gugulethu — which in Xhosa means ‘‘our pride’’ — with its grid system of houses and shacks, is better organised, and certainly has less rubbish, than a typical housing estate in England. Vicky’s B&B in Khayelitsha is infi- nitely warmer and friendlier than any motel at home. It is from this township, where many live in old shipping containers, that at dawn the maids set out in pristine uniforms to walk to work in the big houses of Constantia with their marble bathrooms, glittering blue swimming pools and electric gates screaming KEEP OUT. (When Mark Thatcher and Earl Spencer lived in Constantia, it was known as Marks and Spencers.)
But the white enclave of Constantia isn’t where it’s at any more. It is the city of Cape Town that is vibrant.
Walk Long Street — that would have necessitated a bodyguard in the past — and you’re on a verandaed meander past funky bars (definitely stop at Cape to Cuba for a mojito, and a cigar at the Che Bar) and boutiques. South African design is original, clever, fabulous. You can return with something no one else has got — that is travel luxury.
Always look up in a city. And there you will see the restored balconies and railings of Victorian Cape Town, the hungover eating heavy-eggy breakfasts with intravenous bloody marys at the Daddy Long Legs Art Hotel.
This place is to die for: probably in the Emergency Room, designed by Capetonian architect Bert Pepler in hospital chic. Each bedroom is designed by a different local bohemian figure — photographer Robin Sprong, artist Toby Attwell — all marvellously mad, plus a cut of the proceeds from the blood-red Emergency Room goes to the local Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
You’ll never watch Casualty again, but of all the hotels in all the world, this is the humdinger with a sense of humour, eclipsed only by the Grand Daddy up the street.
Here the penthouses on the rooftop are in vintage Airstream trailers: this is the ultimate trailer park. Seven silver trailers sit in a funky roof garden overlooking Table Mountain, again each designed by a different gorgeous imagination. I love Dorothy, by artist Sarah Pratt, all blue polka dots — like sleeping inside a Cath Kidston pyjama leg.
Tamsin Relly, Cara Rosa and Chloe Townsend, respectively artist, textile designer and leather genius, have done the Ballad of John & Yoko trailer. It’s all mad, it’s fab, an instant fantasy of taking all the trailers, having a great party at the private rooftop bar with mountains to eat while gaz- ing at Table Mountain. Then dancing until dawn rises over Robben Island.
On the subject of which: you should go.
There’s a certain horror about travelling from the Nelson Mandela Gateway to see Nelson Mandela’s cell — something prurient — particularly, in my case, having just had lunch with a frail Mandela. I went to the former prison of Robben Island with Prisoner No 884: Thulani Mabaso. He returned after 13 years and commutes from his township; without myprivate tour with him, and the pain of it, I would have been lesser for the experience.
For three centuries this island — so bare, roaring wind, screeching gulls and now overrun with rabbits — was the Alcatraz of Cape Town. Irrevocably isolated but with the city in sight, vicious currents defying escape; about 20 per cent of the ministers in today’s South African government were prisoners there.
Their women came thousands of kilometres and crossed on the turbulent ferry to see their menfolk; the prisoners broke stones in a chain gang during the day. There is a little cairn outside the quarry, including Mandela’s stone, that breaks the heart. You must never travel entirely for pleasure — it is always the unpleasant that sears the memory. lequartier.co.za daddylonglegs.co.za granddaddy.co.za southafrica.net