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Caveau Restaurant & Wine Bar
In vino veritas – in wine there’s truth
Jean-Yves Muller and Brendan Crew met while working at The Cape Grace. Long nights would end with the two prowling the streets of Cape Town looking for somewhere to have a bottle of wine with a platter of cheese.
These sojourns generally ended with beer and tacos—not quite what they had in mind. This desire to wind the night down in a more civilised manner led to the idea of opening Caveau. (As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.)
I’ve visited Caveau many times; it’s situated in the beautiful and historic Heritage Square. You can dine outside on the stoep, and watch the city’s characters flow past; or inside where soft seating makes sinking in and getting stuck in unavoidable. There’s also a central courtyard, which interestingly boasts Cape Town’s oldest grape vine (it apparently produces merlot grapes).
It’s lunchtime; Jean is sitting opposite regaling his tale. The courtyard hums around us: an oasis of culture from the city outside. There’s a certain magic in the air, the kind you could feel when exploring a European village. The cobblestones, weathered wood, and chalkboard menus only amplify this.
So, although it started as a wine and cheese bar, the restaurant expanded to include a bistro menu that changes twice daily. Expect French peasant food cooked with finesse: generous plates piled high with things like roasted herby chicken, and confit duck with dauphinoise potatoes. They also have a ‘raw bar’, from which you can order sushi, oysters as well as salmon and beef tartar. Come late afternoon to feast on tapas like crispy prawns and marinated beef, while propping yourself up at their bar.
Why don’t we do something different?
Caveau is French for ‘cellar’, so it stands to reason that the experience here is seriously wine driven; but not in a serious way at all, in fact it’s rather playful. “I’m good friends with JP Rousseau,” says Jean. (JP of the eponymous restaurant guide.) “He suggested we do something different with our wine list,” continues Jean. “Instead of having a heavy dictionary of wines, we’ve separated it into sections.” Paging through we spy categories labelled by ‘mood and context’ and not variety. There are ‘food friendly wines’, ‘unusual finds’, and much more.
“We decided to do something funkier,” says Jean. “People are scared of wines; we want to break down those barriers.”
Our sushi comes on a wooden board and we pair it with Welbedacht Chenin Blanc. We follow on from this with confit duck. Jean tells me that although the menu changes often, they do have some classics that the regulars ask for; the Caveau burger for one. With a French-accented goodbye, Jean is off to check on other tables. The owners we’re told are very much involved in the day-to-day running of the restaurant, and that 90 percent of the time one of them will be here.
We say au revoir, begrudgingly, we could have easily spent the afternoon tasting our way through the list, and by the looks of things many people are doing just that.
By Malu Lambert