It is as if Cape Town inner city almost wilfully ignores the economic reality of the times.
Many trendy eateries and coffee shops have opened in 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 most chic 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 newest clutch of these are noticeably crowded, noon and night.
One establishment that unreservedly deserves to succeed is Dear Me. It has hit the nail on the head, bringing together in one elegant package the demands of today’s diners — including free wireless — and 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 has a reassuringly ergonomic design that is attractive without being overly self-conscious.
Honeycomb wine racks under the stairwell illustrate the principle well. The ceiling is a hanging garden of pot plants.
Apart from the restaurant, there is a deli with dark-wood shelves loaded with comestibles in glass jars, including such finds as home-made piccalilli and Moroccan salted lemons with chilli and bay leaves.
Blackboards offer a selection of tempting charcuterie (pinotage-and-fennel salami, bresaola, pan-cetta) and intriguing cheeses (cumin boerenkaas, drunken pecorino, Green Goose Ficksburger). Bread is baked on site and 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 the yellowtail is sold out.
Caring for all tastes
Every dish on the menu invites customisation. 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 to 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 the ingredients are fresh and top quality. Thankfully, organic has come a long way from its worm-eaten, undersized, shrivelled renaissance a few decades ago.
Even the wine list favours boutique wineries, some organic: consider Silverthorn The Green Man, Secateurs Red, Migliarina Shiraz and Marklew Chardonnay.
In the washroom you will find biodegradable 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 you to pick and choose and pay accordingly. Naturally, there are low-lactose and lactose-free yoghurts.
A good start
Apart from muesli and fruit are the usual morning favourites such as bacon, avocado and 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, green honeydew and red waatlemoen, steeped in mint and sprinkled with pinenuts resembling watermelon seeds, combines 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 is shaped as a small timbale. It is served with a side salad of rocket, sliced radish and red onion.
For meat eaters there are choices such as venison with mango and pak choi, lamb with olives and mint, and 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