The iconic South African artist’s largest exhibition in Africa in over a decade
Batavia Cafe in Cape Town
Soak up the rich atmosphere and culture of the Bo-Kaap while nibbling on appealing treats at this quaint new eatery
Every home has a distinct scent. And when it comes to Batavia, a new café that was launched in April 2015 in the Bo-Kaap building where Haas used to sit, the aroma is definitely vanilla. It’s a subtle and delicate sort of fragrance that sweeps over me on my arrival at the restaurant in a way that gently says, “hello”. I’m greeted by Nancy Molina, the manager of the eatery, who kindly leads me to a comfortable window seat and from there begins to recount the long and beautifully multifaceted story of the bistro.
“Batavia is not a name that is strange to the Cape Malay people that reside in this suburb. It was the name of the capital of Indonesia back in the 1700s, and most Cape Malays can trace their ancestry to this spot,” explains Nancy, and she continues to tell a tale rich with details about battles and victories, slaves and trade ships, Napoleon and the Netherlands, and finally, a colony in Cape Town. The family behind the new café once lived in the Bo-Kaap, and as coincidence would have it, the building that the eatery rests in actually belonged to a close relative some years ago. This full circle of history adds wonderful colour to the story, and those wanting to know more can simply ask Zayaan Rasdien (the co-owner) or any other member of staff to hand you a booklet that documents the chronicle of events.
Although the eatery has its roots in Cape Malay culture, the halaal-friendly food (Batavia is yet to be certified) on offer branches out to cater to all kinds of tastes. Guests can indulge in breakfast treats like crêpes, organic oats with mixed berries, omelettes, muffins, fruit platters and traditional koeksisters as well as heavier midday items like sandwiches, homemade burgers, salads, roast chicken with couscous and more. Abdoul, the chef, also adds a touch of surprise each day with a lunch special that he whips up on a whim. “We never know what the special is going to be,” says Nancy. “Abdoul will go outside, look at the clouds, feel the air and say something like, ‘today is a soup day’”.
This particular afternoon is far from a soup day, though. The sun is warm and pleasant and rather than sipping on a steaming bowl of broth, I’m cooling off with a cold mint lemonade (the café also serves up other drinks, like coffee, regular and speciality teas, milkshakes and ice-cold crushers). From where I’m sitting, I can see people, cars and scooters casually making their way up and down Bo Kaap’s Rose Street.
Zayaan joins Nancy and me at our table and explains the thinking behind the décor at Batavia. “I really wanted the café to have a homely atmosphere, so we’ve set it up to make customers feel as if they are walking into someone’s house from the kitchen.” We’re sitting in a space that’s designed as a living room. In it lie wooden tables (surrounded by multi-coloured chairs), a magazine rack, bunches of flowers, comfy couches and a section that’s base to locally produced clothing (Issa Leo), jewellery, artworks, genuine leather bags, bamboo coasters and other impressive items for sale – an offering that makes the restaurant so much more than just your standard café.
Needless to say, there is always something pleasant to look at or tuck into at Batavia. As I finish off my lemonade and bid farewell to Zayaan, Nancy and the rest of the staff, I take in the comforting vanilla scent once more and leave with plans for a second visit already in mind.
Tip: The culturally rich eatery is open to delivering orders in the Bo-Kaap area on special request. Nearby offices can even contact Batavia for discounts on large lunch orders. Call the café on +27 (0) 21 422 2272 for more information.
The Bill: Batavia’s prices are reasonable. Breakfast items cost between R20 and R70, sandwiches range from R22 to R55 and salads are priced between R70 and R85. Cold beverages ring in between R15 and R35, while hot drinks cost between R12 and R25.
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 8am – 5pm; Saturday: 8am – 3pm (lunch is served until 3pm only; on Friday afternoons, the café is closed from 12:30pm to 1:30pm).
Corner of Church and Rose streets | Bo-Kaap | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 422 2272
Drink Napoleon’s favourite wine while he was in exile on St Helena at the Wine on Exile exhibition at Groot Constantia.
Looking for more Muslim-friendly eateries? Have a look at our round-up of Halaal Restaurants in Cape Town.
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