A little honesty goes a long way at the Cookshop

This Cape Town cafe serves up hearty, wholesome food in abundance

*The Cookshop has been closed but caters now for private functions. More info here.

We enter  a rustic courtyard, characterized by sunny white walls, wooden picnic tables, flowers and candles – an idyllic setting which instantly transports us away from the busy traffic on Harrington Street. What is even more striking is the set up; rather like a working kitchen, in which you can actually see the cooks preparing the food. Even the shelving isn’t meant as a design feature, but it represents a working unit, inside this working kitchen.

Owners, Tom Sheehy and Ammy Cope, opened the Cookshop in November 2009 to serve the early morning commuters, who previously only had the option of breakfast from their local petrol station. Tom and Ammy have never advertised and although a recent addition, the café has become successful amongst the local office crowd, simply by word of mouth. We thought we’d pop in for a coffee to find out why.

It quickly became apparent that the key ingredient to this café’s success lies in its honesty and openness. Not only is this space engineered to afford patrons views of the cooks at work, but Tom tells me that all the staff are keen to divulge the secret ingredients of their homemade recipes (although they remain tight lipped about their signature mayonnaise). Tom and Ammy have developed interactional relationships with a regular crowd of patrons – they love to share their lives and to exchange culinary ideas.

Passion for fresh, seasonal ingredients

The food at The Cookshop is every bit as honest as the set up and the owners certainly have nothing to hide when it comes to the ingredients used. Ammy is a self taught cook who is passionate about making food from fresh and seasonal ingredients. She is constantly looking to suppliers for creative inspiration, so the menu is very much a work in progress.

Staff arrive at 6am sharp to prepare freshly baked goods for their 7am opening. Their savoury breakfast pies, with a parmesan crust, are often still in the tray and piping hot for patrons to smell. We visited The Cookshop for a morning coffee and cake. I opted for a cup of Deluxe coffee, which is roasted on site at Deluxe Coffeeworks in Church Street. Tom readily admits that he’s a snob when it comes to coffee, so he only sources the real deal. My colleague and I couldn’t resist a home baked bran muffin, with fresh apricot and walnut zucchini.

A café that’s sensitive to the veggie lunch crowd

The Cookshop offers a popular daily lunch buffet, from 12-2pm, including; a wide selection of salads, from Turkish to pasta, and hearty winter soups. The portions are not weighed, so you can take your own fill and the prices are reasonable too, at R45 for a large plate and R30 for a small plate. However, Tom would not reveal the secret ingredient to their legendary homemade mayonnaise, available in chili and coriander or rosemary. The café is very sensitive to the veggie lunch crowd – vegetables and meat are handled in two separate kitchens and food is clearly labeled.

Their juices tend to be popular with people who use the yoga studio next door, after they’ve finished tangling their bodies into contortionist positions. I wouldn’t approach these juices with the same skepticism as I would other cafes claiming to carry the ‘healthy’ label in Cape Town – these juices are packed with fresh fruit and vegetables. I question the unusual combination of apple and fennel and Tom tells me that the fennel tastes rather like sherbet.

What’s also worth noting is that The Cookshop host an organic vegetable market, every Tuesday. Their products are sourced from a local biodynamic farmer and produce is freshly picked on the morning of delivery. Expect butternuts, spinach, carrots, leeks and herbs. Tom tells me that Ammy uses the leftover ingredients to create new menus for the café. The Cookshop stock their own products. I’m particularly taken by their balsamic onion marmalade, as I think it would go quite nicely with a cheeseboard or as a garnish for a burger.

If you’re looking for honest food, served by honest people, in a honest setting, then The Cookshop provides the perfect lunchtime escape. Ask inside for more details regarding bespoke catering services and their monthly dinner parties.

The Cookshop
117 Hatfield Street | Gardens | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 461 78 68

Opening Times:
07:00-15:30, Monday-Friday and 09:00-13:00 on Saturdays

By Lisa Nevitt


Cape Town is a city full of foodies and there are venues to suit every taste. For more foodspiration, be sure to visit our Eating Out Section

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