Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lunch In The Library At The Cape Grace

Entering the elegant and gracious Cape Grace Hotel at the V&A waterfront in Cape Town is a gloriously soothing experience.  The doorman's welcome has the quality of old fashioned courtesy and the cool and peaceful interior further enhances the moment.  Beautiful furniture, exquisite flower arrangements and  friendly smiles gently command one's attention
Eugene and I love lunching in the Library at the Cape Grace Hotel.   This lovely room, full of antique Cape furniture and marvellously overstuffed sofas and chairs that almost enfold you, provides a perfect place to escape the vagaries of a Cape winter or the trials of a steamy summer.   We flop back into the softest sofa and allow the ambiance to embrace us.

The waiting staff appear almost noiselessly bearing menus and warm greetings.  Drinks are offered and the  spacious coffee table in front of each seating area is set with huge crisp linen napkins, silver cutlery and water  and wine glasses.  We order our drinks and take a while to peruse the menu.  One is never hurried at the Cape Grace.   A charming manageress, Quanita, "just call me Q, " eased our way through the experience.

The menu is a combination of light meals under the moniker; 'Fast & Fresh' and more substantial options 'Midday Mains' with a dessert section 'Sweet Surrender.'  I was easily seduced by 'truffled mushroom ragout on toasted ciabatta, poached egg and pancetta'  from the Fast and Fresh section.  Eugene, after much dithering, chose the 'Cape Grace 'club sandwich' with grilled chicken, crispy bacon, avocado, smoked tomato mayo on home-made ciabatta'.  This from the Midday Mains.  On previous occasions, I have enjoyed  the home-cured smoked salmon salad and Eugene has made quick work of the Cape Grace fish and chips.

There are lovely choices that really do justify a bit of dithering.  The staff don't mind and with knowledge and patience help one towards a perfect choice.  A soup of the day perhaps, or an interesting salad, smoked potato sweetcorn and mussel chowder, or an ostrich carpaccio.  Try a 21-day aged sirloin or a barbeque beef burger from the Midday Mains menu.  Confit duck and whipped potato pie sounds delicious as does roasted garlic risotto with grilled prawns, chilli and lime. There are two vegetarian options, a minted pea risotto, and a homemade tagliatelle with grilled aubergine, tomato sauce, toasted pine nuts and parmesan. While we waited, we sipped our drinks and nibbled delicious home-made bread and gazed out at the idyllic vista of yachts anchored in the Victoria and Albert marina with Table Mountain in the background.  So serene, so beautiful.

It was also a moment to look around this remarkable room.   Raw silk floor-to-ceiling curtains, hand painted by artisans from nearby communities with extracts from Jan van Riebeek's diary, frame the picture windows and doors.  Striped walls appear to be papered, but are in fact hand painted, all the colours blending beautifully with the subtle colour of the curtains.   Beautiful Cape antique furniture sits happily amongst more modern pieces.   Some of the chairs have a buttoned clubby look, with other luxuriously upholstered sofas and chairs providing a softer counterpoint.  Vases stuffed with proteas atop brilliantly polished surfaces vie for attention with exquisite porcelain, brass candlesticks and gleaming silver. Crystal chandeliers with china plates eccentrically  placed between the diamonds, gaze imperiously down at all the goings-on below.

There is no end to the treasures.  Pictures and murals echo the Cape history and heritage and the books lining the walls provide lots of wonderful tales about our beautiful 'fairest cape.'  One could easily imagine Lady Anne Barnard holding salons in this oh so elegant room! 

The food was superb.  The truffled mushroom ragout, delicately flavoured, rich and fragrant, was served on toasted ciabatta and adorned with crispy pancetta .  Two lovely plump poached eggs completed the plate.  The tastes, carefully thought out, complimented each other beautifully. It was a perfect meal on a miserable winter's day.   Eugene's Cape Grace 'Club Sandwich' , incidentally one of their signature dishes, was a real treat.  This is not one's usual club sandwich involving  multiple layers of bread.  Oh no, this is a different experience altogether!  Two beautifully toasted sides of  bun are filled to overflowing with grilled chicken, smoky bacon, ripe, juicy avo, tomato and shredded lettuce and flavoured with an absolutely delicious smoked tomato mayonnaise.  Oh my, oh my.  We were both very quiet while we savoured our food.

We just had no room for dessert. The descriptions of the sweet offerings are mouth-watering.  I would have loved  'baked lemon cheesecake with pineapple sorbet', but perhaps another time.  The Chocolate Coffee Tart with Caramel Ice Cream sounds delicious as does the Buttermilk Panacotta.  Another treat, a local artisanal cheese selection with fig preserve, crackers and cranberry rye bread was a great temptation. 

There is a very comprehensive wine list and many of the wines may be enjoyed by the glass.  Being an hotel, there is obviously a full bar available.  I loved the legend on the drinks coaster declaring that, 'before hosting your drink, I was a menu cover.'  Cape Grace recycled natural materials. 

Afternoon tea in the Library is another special treat.  There are different categories of afternoon tea., from the 'Cream Tea' to a more fulsome 'Afternoon Tea', a 'Deluxe Afternoon Tea' and a 'Special Occasion Tea'.  If you are not terribly hungry you can enjoy a slice of one of their delicious homemade cakes.  There are all sorts of savoury and traditional scones, finger sandwiches and wonderful sweet treats.  Oh, and loose-leaf tea of course, or if you wish, excellent coffee.

There is a young, vital and energetic team at the Cape Grace.  I chatted to the Food and Beverage Manager, Michael Liffmann.  He spoke enthusiastically about his vision for the 'Library' and for 'Signal', the more formal restaurant at the Cape Grace  I asked him about the genie that created the culinary treats.  That genie is Executive Chef, Malika van Reenen.   This passionate young cook heads the culinary team that provides all the wonderful food.  Trained in Hospitality Management and with experience working in London and for local chefs including maestro Mike Bassett, she brings all her talent and inspiration to bear.  Her mother and grandmother, both excellent cooks, nurtured the love of cooking in this prize-winning young chef.

In summer or on a balmy winter's day, you might enjoy sitting on the enclosed library terrace where the food and ambiance is equally lovely.  Everything about the Cape Grace is lovely and handled apparently seamlessly with accomplished and consummate ease.

P.S:  Parking at the Cape Grace is plentiful. 

Lunch is served in the Library from 11.30am - 2.30pm 
Tea is served in the library from 12 noon - 6 pm.

Telephone:  +27 21 410 7100
Fax:            +27 21 419 7622

Address:      West Quay Road
                    Victoria and Albert Waterfront
                     Cape Town
                     South Africa

Eugene and I love eating out and we always pay for ourselves whenever and wherever we go.


Michael Olivier said...

"Just call me Q" Is she prepping herself for the Judy Dench part when they make James Bond Carte Blanche at The Grace, his favourite hotel in the book.

Leslie Back said...

Hi Michael, so good to hear from you. It is a huge coincidence! I hope that Dame Judy approves.