REVIEW: Street Food on Bree

When Chefs Warehouse & Canteen opened in Cape Town in February, owner Liam Tomlin’s aim was to create a casual dining space where every square metre ‘worked’. Its location in the new Bree Street food hub was key. The high-end canteen restaurant is attached to a kitchen shop and deli. It does not take bookings and diners share long tables, eating from an ever-changing menu of soup, deli staples and desserts. The main focus is modern tapas, a board of substantial samplers of French, Italian, Asian or Middle Eastern samplers serving two. The food is vibrant and visual, the service swift and unfussy.

Street Food on Bree opened early last month. Utilising those square metres means a small pavement building outside Chefs Warehouse now offers weekday breakfast and lunch on the move. A brick wall has colourful prints of travel snaps. A few stools allow sit-down eating, and a barista from Deluxe mans the coffee hatch. Jason’s bakery supplies pastries but brownies and addictive sweet churros are made inhouse. The main appeal is Asian or Middle Eastern food, sold cold to take away. These colour-coded meals range from R40 to R65. The exception is the Asian noodle broth of the day (yellow: R50) heated via the coffee machine.

My first visit was after the lunch rush, when many noodles, salads and sandwiches were sold out. We tried Thai beef salad (green: R60) and lamb schwarma (orange: R65) and were wowed by multiple, finely sliced ingredients partnering side sauces with zingy notes. Tender, rare spice-dusted beef strips on iceberg, sprouts, green bean, red onion, coriander and basil, with roasted peanuts and buckwheat noodles for company. A sweet Asian vinaigrette boasted julienned carrot, red chilli, mint and spring onion. A strong soy dipping sauce had sesame oil richness. To nit-pick, most Thai cooking favours lighter fish sauce over soy, but the fusion didn’t detract.

dsc_0043.jpg Lamb schwarma had tangy layers and components marching in tune, although I noticed the fridge chill more. Food to go will do that. Lamb strips in herby pita, with cucumber-mint tzatziki, tomato slices, fine red onion and spring onions. Gently spiced butternut puree with a peanut sauce-like leaning, plus a bitter hit of aubergine baba ghanoush. Endearing. Sapporo Japanese beer (R30) and naartjie juice (R26) squeezed onsite made ideal lunch partners.

Claiming a stool a few days later at midday, I had many choices. I fixed on rice noodle wraps (red: R40), carrying a moist mix of sweet barbequed pork, vermicelli noodles, carrot, red onion and fragrant greens. Personally I found sesame-dotted Togarashi mayo (based on a peppery Japanese condiment) pushed creamy elements too far, but cucumber ribbons, red onion, chilli and pickled ginger created sweet lift. Finishing with a quality flat white (R18) impressed.

Of course Dublin-born Tomlin has the credentials to pull this off. His previous top-end restaurant Banc was restaurant of the year in 2001 in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. He also judged South Africa’s top 10 restaurants as an Eat Out guide panellist in 2013. That kick-started the idea of going simpler, to offer consistency and value, serving full-flavoured food people want to eat.

STREET FOOD ON BREE, 92 Bree Street, Cape Town. Tel 021-422-0128. Open Monday to Friday 7am – 3pm.

This review appeared in The Times on 4 June 2014.