Love at first wash

Ever felt like sitting in a laundry eating dim sum  and listening to French music? How could such a concept not be irresistible? Last time I had a dim sum breakfast at I ♥ My Laundry it was accompanied by the pleasant tones of Constance Amiot, Pascal Lejeune and Sandrine Kiberlain. Management has a strict policy to play only French music.

This quirky little establishment also offers dry cleaning, dyeing, alterations and ironing services.

Did I mention that it is a wine shop too? And a coffee bar. And a gallery. Confused?

Somehow it all hangs together as if it is the most natural thing in the world. The brainchild of owners Clayton Howard (currently sporting a conservative version of a Mohican haircut) and business partner Mico Botha, this April it has already been open for one year.

It is something you’d expect to find in lower Manhattan, and perhaps the I ♥ My Laundry logo primes one for that. The inspiration actually came from a place (now defunct) called the Public Library in Soho, New York. The interior is exposed red-brick walls crammed with artworks. A laundry line runs diagonally across the middle with an ever-changing exhibit of things pegged to it. The entire centre of the shop is taken up by a massive 14-seater concrete-slab table; it had to be cast in the shop, the cement piped into a mould from a concrete mixer that idled outside.

The table is crammed with tsatskes de luxe from such design labels as Bowpeep — “handsome things”, Sweet & Soutie — “gift ideas”, Toucheefeelee — “home décor and pamper products”, and even Wagalot organic dog biscuits made by the nongovernmental organisation Work­ 4 You.

Every Wednesday evening at a free wine tasting and “laundry party”, photographers, designers and artists launch their work in the gallery and shop space. The result is a kaleidoscope of creative delights and as a result the interior is completely redecorated on a four-week cycle. Even more novel, one can lease the art on a monthly basis for one’s own home or office.

There is a steady traffic of people dropping off their laundry, which is returned discreetly, rather quaintly, wrapped in orange paper, so you don’t have to bare your undies in public; not that this seems to bother anyone these days as under-30-year-olds regularly sport their underwear in the street while wearing it.

The turnaround time is four to five hours (at R10 a kg), but there is an express service that does it in two hours at a higher rate. That’s enough time to do some errands in the CBD, catch up on the free wi-fi, and enjoy a cup of Brazilian jogajoga coffee at the laundry’s espresso bar. The coffee is served with the ambiguous ­slogan “drink it naked”, which doesn’t mean you have to check your clothes at the laundry door, but suggests you try the coffee without milk, sugar or other “contaminants”.

With or without a washing basket it is worthwhile popping in for the dim sum made by Maria Tia and her family, formerly chef at the well-hidden Bamboo Restaurant off Long Street. The dim sum is Korean-style, which means no fish oil and no wheat in the pastry. Pure rice flour and water are used to produce three thicknesses of pastry depending on the consistency of the filling. There are meat options, but most offerings are vegetarian. Vegetables respond better to steaming in any event. The pricing, as with all the products and services at I ♥ My Laundry, are reasonable. Portions cost R30 and consist of eight dumplings served on a bed of spinach in a bamboo steamer.

The tofu dim sum uses the firmer type of tofu, and minced vegetables and carrots. The pastry is silky and pleasingly light. I highly recommend the kimchi filling, which includes a little tofu too. On the table are bottles of oyster sauce, soya, chilli and sweet mango sauce.

Surprisingly, there is only the faintest hint of laundry smell. The detergents used are all organic, eucalyptus-based and fragrance-free. Windows are usually kept open, however, and four fans spin from the roof.

As a registered heritage building, a fat trap could not be installed, which is why cooking is by steam. But every Thursday there is a fondue evening at R125 a person. On the table are four stations, each with three shared fondues: three cheeses and three breads — a sourdough, a sweeter bread and an oil-based bread; a beef consommé with fillet, rump and green peppercorn steak, and rye bread croutons; and a dessert pot with dark chocolate fondue, brandy, marshmallows, sponge cake, orange segments and banana.

To accompany the food there is no shortage of wine, as the laundry is also Cape Town’s only social media wine distributor and wholesaler. They buy in bulk and offer some wines at silly prices, such as R28 for a bottle.  The venue can also be hired for parties of up to 60 standing or private sit-down dinners for 14 people. As one would expect, Howard and Botha have a dozen suggestions for themes, including toga parties.

At this laundry, you can easily find yourself three sheets to the wind.

I ♥ My Laundry, 59 Buitengracht Street, Cape Town. Tel 084 660 0777 or 083 602 0291

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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: www.meersman.co.za

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