Where to go for foraging, fynbos tastings and apothecary workshops
Beleza Restaurant and Bar in Cape Town
A Portuguese-Italian eatery big on charm and breaking the mold
Beleza restaurant is smack in the bosom of Cape Town’s hipster stronghold, Tamboerskloof – seemingly dangerous ground for an eatery. In a notoriously fickle Mother City restaurant business and amidst a clientele that finds venues fashionable because they’re not (or something like that), it seems that the tide could have turned at any time, swallowing up the retro Portuguese-Italian café and leaving only a path of flannel and bicycle tread in its wake.
But after years – it opened in 2005 - of feeding the skinny-jeaned and the bearded, Beleza and its on-site vintage boutique, Lembranças, is anything but boarding up its windows and bidding wistful farewells to a failed venture.
In fact, it’s the exact opposite, and it has to be said that much of the laidback local’s successful staying power is rooted in the effortless cool and inadvertent forward-thinking that many of its patrons strive so hard to master.
For starters, co-owners and husband-and-wife team Albina Francesca and Ron Beleza – also the restaurant’s namesake – implemented the idea of upcycling well before it was commandeered by the likes of Woodstock creatives.
“Initially, we wanted the whole restaurant to be made from recycled goods,” Ron says, motioning to a mosaic made from mirror shards in the front of the eatery. “The mosaic is made from off-cuts, our chairs came from a Methodist church and were re-covered, and all of our tables were old army desks that we had cut up and welded.”
Similarly, Ron and Albina were crazy about a good cup of coffee long before beans became big in the Mother City.
“We were doing coffee before the guys from Deluxe even decided to come out of their bathroom (the spot where the iconic Cape Town roasters, Deluxe, started out),” says Ron in a deadpan tone that’s not so much malicious as matter-of-fact.
The duo sources their blend from an artisan micro-roaster on Buitenverwachting wine farm in Constantia, and, from the beginning, they’ve insisted that their customers have the best – a mantra that recently won them the 2012 Hulett Sugar Coffee Break competition for the second year running, and that also applies to many of the ingredients behind their heavily European-influenced menu.
Marrying their individual backgrounds – Albina’s family is Portuguese and Ron’s grandfather is Italian – with a respect for South African whims and fancies, Beleza serves up a hearty combination of popular local fare and traditional Iberian dishes, like Rump Trinchado, Algarve Seafood Cataplana and Madeiran Pork Fillet Curry.
“We also do a lot of cross-over things, and a lot of our food caters for the area, which is young and trendy,” explains Albina, with a nod to the weekly changing specials.
Exhibit A: the chilli popper burger, a dish that couples a beefy staple with a starter that’s mustered somewhat of a cult following. Also on offer is a variety of pastas, vegetarian options, and, of course, carefully-crafted breakfasts.
There was a time, in its early days, when Beleza was crowned the cheap brekkie champion of the city – two eggs, tomato, bacon and toast went for a measly R10. And while the endearing eatery still has the ‘Barato’ (which means ‘cheap’ in Portuguese) on the menu for less than R20, its artillery of reasonably priced but delicious alternatives is what lures those from the surrounding streets, as well as farther afield, for Saturday and Sunday early morning meals.
“I want to give you a good plate of food; I don’t want to rip you off. And I want you to come back,” sums up Ron, who mans the grills during the weekend rushes, but acts more as an executive chef during the week.
And as it turns out, he’s as daring with his culinary creations as he is with his plans for Beleza’s future. Aside from its natural hipness, the restaurant’s largely kept afloat thanks to an age-old Darwinian discovery: adapt or die.
Much has changed since the Kloof Nek café opened its doors, and, according to the eatery’s founders, the metamorphosis is never-ending.
“We’re both Geminis, so we get bored easily,” says Albina in a statement reflective of her Cape Town roots. “We’re always trying to think of new ways to freshen up things, to keep things moving.”
More specifically, the evolution of Lembranças (meaning ‘memories’ in Portuguese), Beleza’s in-house vintage clothing shop, and its associated monthly sales has added yet another notch to an ever-expanding belt.
With a background in fashion design and a keen eye for style, Albina began sourcing, mending and marketing some of her second-hand finds in 2010 and since, the shop’s exploded in both size and popularity. Nowadays, colourful racks boasting gentlemen’s tweed jackets, chic pencil skirts, woolly tops and crocheted jerseys intermingle with the tables and upcycled décor pieces, and patrons can have a gander at the meaningfully-collected garments while waiting for their breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Additionally, Beleza’s adjacent closed-in, al-fresco dining deck has undergone a host of tweaks and amendments, but is now an outdoorsy add-on that’s appealing both in the dead of winter (it claims a fireplace and blankets) and the peak of summer.
Still though, despite their admitted success in a neighbourhood notorious for its flippant nature, Ron and Albina are far from complacent.
“When you think you’re the best at something, you’re not; something always comes around and teaches you,” says Ron.
And with that kind of outlook, he, Albina and Beleza are bound to be around for some time still to come.
Tip: Beleza offers free Wi-fi, so come for a coffee and stay for dinner but be sure to bring your computer (or more specifically, your MacBook – if you want to fit in)!
Bill: Vast and varied; prices are as ideal for the student as they are for the high-roller. Breakfasts go for between R14 and R60, starters from R30 to R75 and mains from R55 to R200. Happy hour specials run daily from 2pm to 7pm.
Read about another Tamboerskloof local with staying power, the Power & The Glory.