Jaw-dropping illusions, high-energy juggling and a whole lot of fun
Dutch Haven Bistro in Durbanville
Holland meets happiness at this refined family-friendly restaurant in Cape Town
“You cannot buy happiness, but you can buy bitterballen [a round deep-fried snack], and that’s pretty much the same thing,” reads the blackboard that catches the corner of my eye as I waltz into Dutch Haven, a family-friendly bistro that’s tucked away in a peaceful courtyard in Durbanville, for a lunchtime bite.
The quote encapsulates the eatery’s feel perfectly: the Northern Suburbs restaurant is a little pocket of cheerfulness. Carefree family photographs beam down from above, sunlight skips across white tabletops and pirouettes off the pastel green feature wall, the giggles of guests gurgle through the air and all the waitresses bear big smiles on their faces.
No doubt, the breakfast and lunch spot owes its gleeful energy to the fact that it’s owned by the infectiously bubbly Wanda Ligtenberg. A stay-at-home mom for 11 years, this lovely lady launched the haven in February 2014 as her new passion project, and she’s intent on filling it with the same light and love as she does her own abode and on providing something to keep every member of the troupe content.
“We really want to cater for everybody,” says Wanda from her seat opposite me at one of the small café-style tables that rests against a floor-to-ceiling glass window. “The idea was to create a place for families where the men can watch rugby and drink beer, the kids can play safely on the jungle gym outside and the women can chill and chat.”
Naturally though, it’s the bistro’s rich, hearty food that is most likely to instil happiness in all. Because Wanda’s husband, Koos, hails from Holland and she’s eager to give locals a taste of something different, the owner has gone with a Dutch theme, and much of the fare is either imported from the Netherlands or inspired by the sort of flavour-packed snacks you’d find in quaint bicycle-lined cafés in Amsterdam or on the trendy backstreets of Rotterdam.
Those who’ve visited the land of tulips and windmills will recognise dishes like uitsmijter (fried eggs, gypsy ham and melted Dutch cheese on bread), patat speciaal (hot chips served the Holland way with ketchup, mayonnaise and chopped onion) and Amsterdamse biefstuk (fillet served in a gravy on fresh bread) and drinks like the distinctively Dutch Grolsch beer, which is available on tap. But as someone who’s never graced the pretty nation, I decide to sample the full spectrum of Netherlands-themed bites and order the Bit of Everything Dutch platter, which comes with bitterballen, kroketten (croquettes), frikandel (deep-fried sausage) and chicken strips.
Of course, for patrons who are slightly less adventurous, the menu also boasts many more standard options – a biltong bowl, eggs benedict, salads, burgers and gourmet sandwiches, for example – and because the restaurant welcomes little ones, there’s also an extensive kiddies’ offering and even a few nibbles for the tiniest of tots, like Purity fruit and finger biscuits.
On that note, anyone who’s a little concerned at this point that the bistro’s family-friendly focus means that it’s nothing but a rowdy playground filled with screaming tykes, sticky tables and saliva-covered toys can expel those fears. There’s nothing Spur-like about this little retreat, and in fact, it’s far from your gaudy, stereotypical concept restaurant too – “Holland’s colour is orange, and there was no way I was going to go with that, no way,” says Wanda, laughing light-heartedly.
Rather, the interior, which the deeply creative owner designed and decorated herself, is clean and contemporary, sophisticated and elegant. It’s the sort of place that she would gladly spend hours in, and so it’s likely the kind of spot that many others, from businessmen to couples, will find very agreeable too.
Her sharp eye for detail is what makes the space extra special, and it’s evident everywhere, from the refined silk tea bags that are imported from Italy and the delicate, floral wallpaper pattern that repeats in the tabletops to the quirky, twirly straw that balances in the freshly pressed fruit juices and the mini clog that the bill is presented in.
And when my meal arrives, I can see the effort that’s gone into the preparation and presentation of this too. My side chips are arranged in a paper cone that reads ‘eet smakelijk’ – the same way they’re served in the Netherlands – and little ramekins of curry sauce, mustard, mayonnaise and peanut butter relish stand to attention in a line at the top of the platter. As for the meaty morsels, I don’t believe even Amsterdam-based eateries make frikandel with a juicier flavour or kroketten with a creamier filling.
Although when I’ve devoured the last crumb, I’m too full to try out any of the pastries or sweet delights that Dutch Haven bakes fresh daily – think scones, waffles, pancakes, muffins and fudge – I do finally leave with a happy heart and content belly, and, well, that’s pretty much the same thing.
Tip: Dutch Haven can be hired out for any sort of function, from weddings and baby showers to birthday bashes and kids’ parties. Wanda organises every last detail down to party packs and table decorations, and she charges per head rather than hitting hosts with a hefty venue hire fee.
The Bill: In part thanks to the restaurant’s Northern Suburbs location and in part because of Wanda’s generosity, prices at Dutch Haven are kept low. Breakfasts go for between R15 and R69, light snacks are from R18 to R54, lunch items ring in at between R48 and R89, gourmet sandwiches sit between R47 and R79 and kids meals cost no more than R34.
On the lookout for other eateries that are fitting for the whole family? Click through to our overview of kid-friendly restaurants in Cape Town.
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