These days the first question one asks a waiter is no longer, “May I see the winelist?”, but “What is the password, please?” Restaurants that only offer paid access ought to think again. As for coffee shops, those that don’t provide customers with wireless gratis might as well close their doors.
Until our mobile service providers stop charging the highest 3G data rates in the world, we’re in thrall to wireless facilities. Free WiFi is commonplace in many parts of the world. And thank heavens! Vodacom’s data roaming charge is a prohibitive R128 per megabyte. No matter how wealthy one might be, there are few activities on the internet that can justify that expense. Downloading an e-book at that rate costs more than the hardback version.
Besides keeping patrons happy, WiFi makes people tarry longer and hopefully order more coffee. They might even invite their Facebook friends to join; give the establishment some free PR by tweeting about what they’re having to Forkly; write a quick review for TripAdvisor; post some pictures of the décor to Flicker. They may also get down to doing some work.
I no longer go to coffee shops that don’t offer free WiFi. Fortunately, there is a great new breed of boutique coffee shop in the city; boutique in the sense of being small, specialised, fashionable and artistic. They are welcoming, personable and although laid back, generally efficient.
Leading the pack for a while was Skinny Legs & All, with the caption “luxury café”. That last bit is something of a misnomer. The wooden ceiling is gorgeous, but it has concrete floors, an open kitchen with a cement counter, and a shop front window. It is actually quite charming. Old school chairs are pulled up to skinny-legged, white-topped tables. The fridges hum loudly. There is a turntable playing vinyl records.
The artwork on exhibit changes regularly. This used to be João Ferreira gallery, and he is still involved with the owners – twins Jamie and Jessie Friedberg.
They serve a perky Americano in a bright, yellow cup. The food is as one expects these days from such establishments: locavore, homemade, free range; the style: honest, simple, unspoilt. For breakfast definitely try the wild mushrooms on toast or the warm banana toast with fresh blueberries, bluegum honey and crème fraiche.
Up in the Waterkant, the Loading Bay with sweeping views of Table Mountain is one of the most pleasant spaces to tap away on one’s laptop or tablet. Its centre is a long table with benches, popular for creative meetings.
Americanos come in glass tumblers here. The café is attached to an apparel shop selling exclusive garment brands such as Our Legacy, Acne, Velour, Naked & Famous.
For brunch I tried the “asparagus salad” with green beans, avocado, goats cheese on an over generous mound of mixed greens. There were however no more than two thin, spliced asparaguses. I complained and the salad was promptly returned with more asparagus.
One should try the man’oushé or Lebanese “pizza”, a staple Levantine afternoon snack, plain or with chicken or lamb, and always with labne (a yoghurt cheese) and the quintessential Levantine herb za’atar (hyssop).
In the Bo-Kaap on rapidly-developing Rose Street is the Haas Collective, voted by Wallpaper magazine as one of 20 reasons to live in South Africa. Its other claim to fame is that it is the only outlet in the country to serve Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee at R80 a cuppa. The coffee beans are partially digested and mellowed having passed through the gut of a Sumatran palm civet.
If that sounds a bit rich you can choose single origin organic coffee from Guatemala or Columbia. They also serve muffins, croque monsieur, croissant, baguette, French toast, salads, and bunny chow. The food is good but slow. You need to relax here.
The coffee shop is part of a pleasantly camp, eccentric, faux antique and designer artefacts store. Adjectives such as delightful, fabulous, and the exclamation Gosh! spring to mind. Here you can pick up original artworks by Vanessa Berlein or Francois Irvine, taxidermied birds and dear heads, a custom built bicycle, authorised Tretchikoff cushions, jewellery, furniture, ceramics and sculptures; or handmade leather covers for that iPhone and iPad while you enjoy the free WifFi.
Haas Coffee Collective, 67 Rose Street, Bo Kaap. Tel: 021 422 4413.
Loading Bay, 30 Hudson Street, De Waterkant, Cape Town. Tel: 021 425 6320.
Skinny Legs & All, 70 Loop Street, Cape Town Tel: 021 423 5403.
First published in the Mail & Guardian August 2012.