Bree Street, Cape Town’s “Hipster Highway”

“Bree Street is the coolest street in town at the moment,” says Liam Tomlin, in his trademark Irish brogue. And he should know: Tomlin’s an award-winning chef who’s been around the block a bit, from Dublin to Sydney and  — since 2004 — to Cape Town. The fact that he chose to set up his much talked-about new restaurant, Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen, on Bree Street has added yet more credibility to its status as the hottest stretch of tarmac in the Mother City.

A broad road running roughly north to south, from the top of the City Bowl, down towards the area known as the Foreshore, it’s the stretch between Buitensingel and Strand Street that is generating the most buzz in the city right now. While office towers soar above the pavements, down at street level, there’s a revolution going on as bakeries, restaurants, bars, and boutiques open. The once rather-boring road built wide (“bree”) enough for an ox-wagon to turn in is enjoying a revival.

And by and large, it’s matters of the stomach that are driving the change, as eateries and outlets mushroom faster than you can say ‘free range hangar steak’.

That’s precisely the sort of fare you’ll find at Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants, just off Heritage Square, where Andy Fenner takes the provenance of his meat seriously. If you’re after grass-fed, free-range, or ethically reared meat for your traditional South African braai, this is the place to come to.

While you’re there, step next door into Publik: this cosy wine bar run by Fenner’s buddy David Cope focuses on unusual varieties and lesser-known wine estates. If you’re looking to delve a little deeper into South Africa’s multi-faceted wine industry, this is the spot for you.

A few steps across Heritage Square you’ll find Tomlin’s new outpost of all things gastronomic. A hybrid restaurant/kitchen emporium, foodies can happily while away a few hours here.

The ‘warehouse’ side of things offers the largest selection of cookbooks in the Mother City, including a few of Tomlin’s own tomes, as well as a selection of covetous kitchen gadgets.

Step through the deli — a great place to stock up for picnics — and you’re in the low-key ‘canteen’. The service and décor may be uncomplicated, but the food is anything but. Tomlin’s Asian-inspired tapas platters, for sharing between two, are the talk of the town at the moment, and with good reason. The platters are only available from late afternoon until early evening, so at lunchtime rather, settle in with a selection of deli goodies and fresh artisanal bread.

Across the road, there’s more traditional tapas on offer at La Parada, and in a city with few quality Spanish offerings, this is amongst the best. The street-side tables are especially popular after 5pm, with office-workers stopping in for a glass and a bite, so be sure to bag your seat early. It’s certainly a place that comes into its own come evening, with a buzzing atmosphere and gypsy-chic décor.

Most importantly, the food is outstanding, with a wide selection of authentic Spanish tapas available in bite-size and starter portions. The food is expected to get even better once chef Andres Condé – formerly of the acclaimed elBulli – joins the team as Executive Chef in mid-2014.

Not in the mood for tapas? No matter; there’s plenty of globetrotting food on offer on Bree.

A few blocks north at the quirky I Love My Laundry, you can tuck into Korean-style dim sum with a side order of tumble-drying. Yup, it’s a restaurant-laundromat mash-up. Just a few blocks south, Clarke’s Diner (which also offers free Wi-Fi) is a veritable hipster paradise of craft beer and superb burgers served on buttery brioche buns. A few more blocks, and Sababa boasts a spread of Mediterranean goodies to be enjoyed at the handful of tables, or as a take-away picnic for the nearby Company’s Garden.

But if you’re starting your wanders in the morning, it’s Jason Bakery at #185 where you’ll want to start. Here Jason Lilley has made his mark as one of the best bakers in a city that knows a thing or two about stone-ground artisanal sourdough. It’s not just the bread that impresses: there’s superb coffee, buttery croissants, and top-notch gourmet pies. On “Lobster Roll Friday,” you’ll need to fight your way through the scrum of locals.

Don’t be fooled though; it’s not just the food that makes Bree Street so worth a wander.

For instance, a two-minute walk from Jason’s — mind you, don’t spill your flat-white — is the quirky home of Heather Moore’s much-loved “Skinny laMinx” design label. Moore is all about fabrics, and her colourful eye-catching designs fill the bolts of cloth at the rear of the shop. For something more suited to your carry-on luggage, up front you’ll find purses and book bags, aprons, and dresses, all crafted from iconic Cape Town fabrics. If you love design, this is a must-visit.

So too the South African Market, down at #107 above La Parada.

While you won’t struggle to find ethno-curio souvenirs on the streets of Cape Town, SAM offers a top-notch selection of local designers dabbling in everything from clothing to accessories, furniture to fashion. Online orders are also available if you don’t fancy lugging that must-have copper-piping lamp back to the US.

Out in the sunshine of Bree Street (the rump of Signal Hill that’s silhouetted above the colourful suburb of Bo-Kaap) there’s still plenty to explore. Perhaps a hot towel shave and a trim over at trendy barbershop Barnet Fair (Cockney rhyming slang for hair)? A craft beer at ever popular &Union?

If you’re lucky, you’ll be staying the night at the Cape Heritage Hotel, in which case the wonders of Bree Street will be yours for the taking. It’ll also mean a short walk home from those late night cocktails at The Orphanage, one of the city’s trendiest bars that quirkily pays homage to the historic children’s home across the road.

However you choose to spend your days, and your rands, trust me: it’s a rare and foolish traveller that doesn’t spend at least some of their stay discovering the delights of Bree Street.

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