Business-savvy cafes make the connection

The coffee connection: Free online access is an essential service in cafes these days, like at Skinny Legs & All (David Harrison)

The coffee connection: Free online access is an essential service in cafes these days, like at Skinny Legs & All (David Harrison)

Restaurants that offer only paid online access ought to think again. As for coffee shops, those that do not 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 are in thrall to wireless facilities. Free wireless connection is commonplace in many parts of the world — and thank heavens for it.
Vodacom’s data roaming charge is a prohibitive R128 a megabyte. No matter how wealthy you 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, a wireless network makes people tarry longer and hopefully order more coffee. They might even invite their Facebook friends to join them, give the establishment some free PR by tweeting about what they are having to Forkly, write a quick review for TripAdvisor, or post some pictures of the décor to Flickr. They may also get down to doing some work.

I no longer go to coffee shops that do not offer a free wireless network. Fortunately, there is a great new breed of boutique coffee shops 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, a “luxury café”, which 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. Actually, it is 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 art on show changes regularly. This used to be João Ferreira’s 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, try the wild mushrooms on toast or the warm banana toast with fresh blueberries, bluegum honey and crème fraiche.

Up in De Waterkant, the Loading Bay with its sweeping views of Table Mountain is one of the most pleasant spaces to tap away on your laptop or tablet. Its centre is a long table with benches that is popular for creative meetings. Americanos come in glass tumblers here. The café is attached to a clothing shop that sells exclusive brands such as Our Legacy, Acne, Velour and Naked & Famous.

For brunch, I tried the “asparagus salad” with green beans, avocado and goat’s cheese on an overgenerous mound of mixed greens. But there were no more than two thin, spliced asparaguses. I complained and the salad was promptly returned with more asparagus.

You 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).

World’s most expensive coffee
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 by being 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, croissants, baguettes, French toast, salads and bunny chow. The food is good but service is 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 art by Vanessa Berlein or Francois Irvine, stuffed birds and deer 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 wireless network.

Haas Coffee Collective, 67 Rose Street, Bo-Kaap. Tel: 021 422 4413; Loading Bay, 30 Hudson Street,

De Waterkant. Tel: 021 425 6320. Skinny Legs & All, 70 Loop Street. Tel: 021 423 5403

Brent Meersman

Brent Meersman

Brent Meersman is a political novelist (Primary Coloured, Reports Before Daybreak). He has been writing for the Mail & Guardian since 2003 about things that make life more enjoyable – the arts, literature and travel and (in his Friday column, Once Bitten) food. If comments on the internet are to be believed, he is a self-loathing white racist, an ultra-left counter-revolutionary, a neo-liberal communist capitalist, imperialist anarchist, and most proudly a bourgeois working-class lad. Or you can put the labels aside and read what he writes. Visit his website: Read more from Brent Meersman

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