Dear Me

It is as if Cape Town inner city almost wilfully ignores the economic reality of the times. Numerous trendy eateries and coffee shops have opened within the past year – Skinny Legs, Clarke’s, What’s On, Jason’s, Haas, Alexander Bar – to a name only a few. Some are already crowded and for now seem fashionable. How many will survive remains to be seen. Despite the city’s considerable appetite for pretention even the chicest spot can find itself deserted down the line. If you want to make money in the restaurant business, it is safer to open a pizza or burger joint; the latest clutch of these are noticeably crowded noon and night.

One establishment which unreservedly deserves to succeed is Dear Me. They’ve hit the nail on the head, bringing together in one elegant package the demands of today’s diners (including free wireless), while responding to the latest trends in food.

The place is easy to overlook; no more than a simple branded green awning outside a narrow historical house on Longmarket Street.

Inside it is reassuringly ergonomic; design that is attractive without being overly self-conscious. Hexagonal, cellular, honeycomb wine racks under the stairwell illustrate the principle well. The ceiling is a hanging garden of upside down pot plants.

Besides the restaurant there is a deli with dark, wood shelves loaded with comestibles in glass jars, including such finds as homemade piccalilli and Moroccan salted lemons with chili and bay leaves.

Blackboards offer a selection of tempting charcuterie (pinotage and fennel salami, bresaola, pancetta) and intriguing cheeses (cumin boerenkaas, drunken pecorino, Green Goose Ficksburger). Bread is baked on site. A professional barista ensures good coffee. A separate juice and smoothie menu tenders “berried treasure” and “chilled Buddha”.

The clientele varies, but there are usually a few business folk and significant contingents of the ladies who lunch – the health, eco and figure conscious, many of whom I suspect were in a past life ardent practitioners of feng shui. By 1pm yellowtail is sold out.

Every dish on the menu invites customization. Vegetarians and vegans are encouraged; diabetic, coeliac, lactose- or gluten intolerant – you will be accommodated; starch free, egg free, nut free, fat trimmed, sugar reduced – no problem.

The owners believe you should be able you eat here every day and never have to say “Dear Me!”

The kitchen prides itself on seasonal, local, free-range, artisanal, ethically-farmed, carbon conscious, guilt-eased, sustainable produce. As a result ingredients are fresh and top quality. Thankfully organic has come a long way from its worm-eaten, undersized, shrivelled renaissance a couple of decades ago. Even the winelist favours boutique wineries, some organic; consider Silverthorn Green Man MCC, Secateurs Red, Migliarina Shiraz, Marklew Chardonnay.

In the washroom you’ll find bio-degradable hand soap.

Bottled water is not an option. Instead a filtration system provides still or sparkling tap water at no charge.

The breakfast menu allows one to pick and choose and pay accordingly. Naturally there are low and lactose free options for yoghurt. Beyond muesli and fruit, are the usual morning favourites such as bacon, avocado, even anchovies. The scrambled egg with spinach and mushrooms is possibly the most oil free in the city.

Lunch plates are likewise respectful of both the ingredients and the diner.

The sweet potato and yoghurt soup (R35) was surprisingly, pleasantly rich, with subtle ginger and coriander coming through.

Few dishes could be more enticing on a summer afternoon than sweet melon, rocket and goat feta salad (R72). Cubes of orange spanspek (STET), green honeydew, and red waatlemoen (STET), steeped in mint, and sprinkled with pinenuts resembling watermelon seeds, combine impeccably with the feta. The piquant green rocket was drizzled with saffron vinaigrette.

Keeping things light, the Lourensford trout tartare (R88) comes diced with onion, pickle and capers, and shaped as a small timbale. It is served with a side salad of rocket, sliced radish and red onion.

For meat eaters there are such choices as venison with mango and pak choi, lamb with olives and mint, even pork.

The menu changes daily, but expect variations on the above.

For dessert, what else but Valrhona organic Fair Trade chocolate mille feuille and berries?

Dear Me, 165 Longmarket Street, Cape Town. Tel: 021 422 4920

This article first appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 10 February 2012.

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