Ever felt like sitting in a laundry eating dim sum listening to French music? How could such a concept not be irresistible? Last time I had a dim sum breakfast at I Love My Laundry it was accompanied by the pleasant tones of Constance Amiot, Pascal Lejeune and Sandrine Kiberlain. Management has a strict policy to play only French music.
This quirky little establishment also offers dry cleaning, dyeing, alterations, and ironing services. Did I mention that it is a wine shop too? And a coffee bar. And a gallery. Confused?
Somehow it all hangs together as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The brainchild of owners Clayton Howard (currently sporting a conservative version of a Mohican haircut) and business partner, Mico Botha, this April it has already been open for one year.
It is something you’d expect to find in lower Manhattan, and perhaps the I Love My Laundry logo primes one for that. The inspiration actually came from a place (now defunct) called The Public Library in Soho, New York.
The interior is exposed red brick walls crammed with artworks. A laundry line runs diagonally across the middle with an ever-changing exhibit of things pegged on it. The entire centre of the shop is taken up by a massive 14-seater, concrete slab table; it had to be cast in the shop, the cement piped into a mould from a concrete mixer that idled outside.
The table is crammed with tsatskes de luxe, from such design labels as Boe-peep “handsome things”, Sweet & Soutie “gift ideas”, Toucheefeelee “home décor and pamper products”, and even Wagalot organic dog biscuits made by the NGO work4you.
Every Wednesday evening at a free wine tasting “laundry party”, photographers, designers and artists launch their work in the gallery and shop space. The result is a kaleidoscope of creative delights, and as a result the interior is completely redecorated on a four-week cycle. Even more novel, one can lease the art on a monthly basis for one’s own home or office.
There is a steady traffic of people dropping off their laundry, which is returned discreetly, rather quaintly, wrapped in orange paper, so you don’t have to bare your undies in public; not that this seems to bother anyone these days as under 30-year-olds regularly sport their underwear in the street while wearing it.
The turnaround time is 4 to 5 hours (at R10 per kg), but there is an express service that does it in 2 hours at a higher rate. That’s enough time to do some errands in the CBD, catch up on the free Wifi, and enjoy a cup of Brazilian jogajoga coffee at the laundry’s espresso bar. The coffee is served with the ambiguous slogan, “drink it naked”, which doesn’t mean you have to check your clothes at the laundry door, but suggests you try the coffee without milk, sugar or other “contaminants”.
With or without a washing basket it is worthwhile popping in for the dim sum made by Maria Tia and her family, formerly chef at the well-hidden Bamboo Restaurant off Long Street. The dim sum is Korean style, which means no fish oil and no wheat in the pastry. Pure rice flour and water is used to produce three thicknesses of pastry depending on the consistency of the filling. There are meat options, but most offerings are vegetarian. Vegetables respond better to steaming in any event. The pricing, as with all the products and services at I Love My Laundry, are reasonable. Portions cost R30 and consist of eight dumplings served on a bed of spinach in a bamboo steamer.
The tofu dim sum uses the firmer type of tofu and minced vegetables and carrots. The pastry is silky and pleasingly light. I highly recommend the kimchi filling, which includes a little tofu too. On the table are bottles of oyster sauce, soya, chili, and sweet mango sauce.
Surprisingly, there is only the faintest hint of laundry smell. The detergents used are all organic, eucalyptus based and fragrance free. Windows are usually kept open however and four fans spin from the roof.
As a registered heritage building, a fat trap could not be installed, which is why cooking is by steam. But every Thursday, there is a fondue evening at R125 per person. On the table are four stations, each with three shared fondues: three cheeses and three breads – a sour dough, a sweeter bread and an oil-based bread; a beef consommé with fillet, rump and green peppercorn steak, and rye bread croutons; and a dessert pot with dark chocolate fondue, brandy, marshmallows, sponge cake, orange segments and banana.
To accompany the food there is no shortage of wine as the laundry is also Cape Town’s only social media wine distributor and wholesaler. They buy in bulk and offer some wines at silly prices, such as R28 for a bottle. There is a shelf of current wines with their prices clearly displayed attached with washing pegs.
The venue can also be hired for parties of up to 60 standing or private sit-down dinners for 14 people. As one would expect, Howard and Botha have a dozen suggestions for themes, including toga parties.
At this laundry, you can easily find yourself three sheets to the wind.
I ♥ My Laundry, 59 Buitengracht Street, Cape Town. Tel 084 660 0777 or 083 602 0291.
This aricle first appeared in the Mail & Guardian 19 April 2013.