A fluffy soufflé pancake (or two) at Torii at Tjing Tjing House
Café Puka in Cape Town
Venture away from Cape Town’s bustling main streets and while away the hours at this little Tamboerskloof gem
A light breeze tickled the back of my neck as smoky white clouds cascaded down a blue-grey Table Mountain like fumes spilling out from a giant witch’s cauldron. Sounds of children playing pretend at the park across the road and a distant dog barking somewhere in the heart of Tamboerskloof suburbia floated to my outside porch table at the quaint, little Café Puka.
“I’ll be with you in a second,” the owner, Michael Edwards, says to me, a blue pen tucked behind his ear. “I just have to take my dog for her 3 o’clock wee. She’s very particular about the time for these things.” While he’s gone, the lady sitting at the table across from mine shuts the book she’s been immersed in, leaves and is almost immediately replaced by another dame stopping by to catch up on her afternoon reading. A gentleman sits in the corner contemplating a newspaper crossword puzzle while nursing a cappuccino. I watch them wishing I’d brought my own collection of short stories.
You see, Café Puka is exactly the kind of place you can get comfortably lost for hours. It’s removed from the bustling city streets filled with foot traffic and ever-hooting taxis, and it offers that distinct sense of homeliness and friendly familiarity found only at true neighbourhood haunts.
When Michael returns, he has me choose something to drink from the simple but appetizing menu: I go for a super healthy carrot, apple and ginger juice freshly pressed on the premises. It comes bright and orange, and the sweet sharpness goes down easy, making me feel cleansed and fresher than a daisy. He sits down with his own glowing beetroot-coloured concoction to tell me about how this cute corner café came to be.
Michael has been manning the kitchen and serving faithful guests at Café Puka since 2001, and most, if not all, of the customers who stop by greet him by name. He began working at the nook about 12 months after he returned from the UK, where he’d been living for most of his adult life and cooking everywhere, from Michelin-star restaurants to fast food joints. He eventually inherited the eatery from a friend who owned it and didn’t want to be in the business anymore, and Michael has been putting his simple, no-nonsense stamp on it ever since.
“If you like your double skinny latte with rice milk and ‘hold the sprinkles please’,” he says, poking a bit of fun at the clichéd, pernickety Capetonian, “then stay away, because you won’t get that here.” What you’ll find instead is a straightforward selection of all-day hangover-curing breakfasts, laidback light lunches and delicious healthy options all peppered with Michael’s experienced foodie flair. Examples include the tramezzinis made with homemade bread sourced from a local German baker (“instead of from government-issue loaves,” as he puts it) or fantastically colourful fruit salads made with a mango-and-granadilla juice base and ingredients that please the eyes as much as the stomach (you’ll never find aesthetically unappealing apples, oranges or melons in your bowl).
Michael also has a taste for the innovative and unconventional – he’s had a hand in fashion and went to design school in London – and has thus included delightfully crisp-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside potato rösti and unique polenta and sweetcorn pancakes on the menu as more creative and tasty wheat-free alternatives. Similarly, the giant tortilla wraps are finished off with a bit of time in the pan to give them a golden samoosa-like touch, unlike the conventional floury shells that get stuck in your throat, and the slices of French toast are as thick as a fat kid’s wrist.
“I like to keep things fresh and different. To keep the momentum going, we have different specials every day,” Michael adds.
Though the food obviously matters, I doubt that it’s the only reason why the regulars are regulars. The fact that the little eatery invites such relaxation, making customers feel like they’re sitting on their own front porch, probably has something to do with it too.
After I’d eaten every last morsel of a rösti paired with earthy mushrooms and spinach and hidden underneath a serious smothering of mozzarella and once I’d followed this with a sweet, malva pudding-flavoured cupcake with white chocolate icing, I had finally run out of reasons to keep basking in the serenity of Café Puka. And so, with a reluctant goodbye to Michael and his yellow-haired Labrador lazing on the front step, I left the bubble feeling completely content.
Whether you come alone, come on a date or come with your dog (“if your dog is better behaved than your mother,” the restaurant owner jokes cheekily), be sure to arrive hungry, not only because the portions are generous, but because, truth be told, you’ll likely try to find any excuse to stay as long as you can.
Tip: Bring the kids along too, as they can have a fun frolic in the park across the road while you wait for your meal. Café Puka also does takeaways if you don’t have time to sit down, and your food comes packaged in eco-friendly, biodegradable boxes.
The Bill: Café Puka offers incredible value for money, with breakfasts starting at R26 and the priciest wrap setting you back just R64. The restaurant is open from 8am to 6pm every day.
Be sure to visit on a Wednesday for Café Puka’s Wrap Special for CapeTownMagazine readers.
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