REVIEW: Blue Cafe is all about the neighbourhood

The Place: Sometimes you meet somebody instantly likeable. You can’t always put your finger on why, but generally charm, good intentions and receptiveness makes you excuse their shortcomings and focus on their possibilities. Visiting The Blue Café in Tamboerskloof is a little like that.

Jeanne and Murray van Hirschberg bought an existing suburban café-deli with an attached house. They’re in business with Jeanne’s mother Lynda Loubser, who oversees the cooking and bakes up a storm. They all live around the corner, although Murray and Jeanne’s involvement in other businesses makes them less visible. ‘We open the café in the morning and close at night,’ says Murray.

Neighbourliness is what it’s about here. Seated separately at pavement tables with a hedge behind and views of lovely Victorian homes, I’ve discussed live music venues with a female music promoter, and chatted over breakfast to a work-from-home guy from the next street.

The Food: This tiny deli opened at the beginning of November, and serves breakfasts to light suppers, and tea in between. They’re trying to catch their breath, yet customers keep wandering in. The narrow chalkboard menu will be expanded soon.

For now breakfast is fruit salad, homemade granola and yoghurt, or bought-in pastries. This seems like a boiled-egg-and-soldiers sort of place, yet the only advertised cooked option is Paul Daly’s Full Monty (R48), in honour of the previous owner. Croissant (or ciabatta toast) plus scrambled egg heavy with mozzarella and parsley, also had bacon, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes and avocado – tasty but surely overkill? Later, I learnt that a Baby Monty (R28) is also possible.

b3.jpg Tea is Murray’s loose-leaf Enmasse blends brewed in glass pots, while coffee is a dark Italian bean or locally roasted Truth brew. All well made. Lynda’s daily bakes are well worth a detour. Lunch and supper is sandwiches or rolls (Knead ciabatta is for sale), two creative salads, or cheese and meat platters.

I’m glad I returned to lunch on wonderful Dutch meatballs (R45). Two tender beef rounds clasping onion and parsley, in a comfortingly rich broth, with ciabatta toast for mopping up. Simplicity itself. Blue Cafe also does a six-cheese macaroni based on Jeanne’s grandmother’s recipe. An unused pizza oven will soon be reinstated.

The Rest: This deli’s shelves brim with oils and edible goodies to take home. They include attractively packaged toffees, almond bars, Stanford honey, fudge and savoury snacks. In the chilled section you’ll find Nice ice-cream, Camphill farm yoghurt or frozen homemade chicken pies. Jeanne is a product developer of edible treats who cut her teeth working for Melissa’s. She also creates the ceramic plates and ovals scribbled with witty sayings, used in Blue Café.

The Verdict? If you’re expecting massive food variety, a wine list and snappy service you’ll be disappointed (I’ve heard that people craving a sundowner ask for olives, but that’s probably just neighbourhood gossip). Smallness, creative quirkiness and a sense of community give this cafe street cred. Its owners are moving towards general dealers’ days where goods were bartered and regulars kept accounts. So green-fingered locals are encouraged to exchange home-grown produce in exchange for shop credit. Neighbourhood kids are already bartering basil leaves.

THE BLUE CAFE, 13 Brownlow Road, Tamboerskloof. Open weekdays from 7.30am to 10pm, weekends from 8am – 10pm. Tel 021-426-0250, Blue Cafe

This review appeared in The Times on 26 November 2014.