One of the most beautiful restaurant interiors in Cape Town is the newly opened Brio 1893 jazz restaurant on Adderley Street, one half of the previous Riboville Restaurant that closed down more than a year ago, and close to The Taj Twankey Bar. ”Brio” is a musical term, meaning lively and spirited, and that is what this restaurant embodies.

The German owner of the 1893-built ABC Building, in which the restaurant is housed, invited Skippy and Lauren Shaked to check out the building, despite both having sworn that they would not open another restaurant.  “It was love at first sight”, beams Skippy, despite the original interior having been a mess, only the beautiful wooden floor and original lamps still in the space when they saw it. 

Skippy and I have been Camps Bay “colleagues” for twelve years (he is the owner of Codfather, and ex-owner of Summerville).  I accepted an invitation to try out the restaurant, shared with Clare and Eamon from Spill blog, after I had popped in for a coffee and a drink about ten days before. 

Lovingly Lauren and Skippy have created a most beautiful restaurant, with a lovely ambiance.  Near the bar counter a cosy lounge area has gilded chairs with a lovely purple fabric.  A separate smoking lounge with its own fireplace also is beautifully decorated, and feels homely.  Another dining section can be cordoned off for a private dinner for 30 guests.  Soon the downstairs vault will be turned into a function venue.

Beautiful chandeliers hang over the bar area, whilst modern small chandelier-style lights light up the passage to the bathrooms, a good blend of old and new.  In the bathrooms the lighting is very modern, with a lighting panel above changing colour.  The original marble walls of what was once a Standard Bank add an unusual decor touch.  Lauren was in charge of the decor, and has an amazingly simple touch, a less is more approach, and it says CLASS.   It is not surprising to hear that she had a decor shop in Hout Bay.

The lower restaurant level has retained the beautifully restored wooden floors, whilst the raised section has my favourite black and white tiles.   One is separated from other diners by classical brown leather benches, with modern black chairs on the other side of the tables.   From the band stand in the middle of the lower floor we were entertained by Skippy’s pianist and guitarist, with soloist Robin.  The highlight was when Skippie took the microphone – he is a singer of note, singing with passion such standards as ‘Georgia’ and ‘Georgie Porgie’.  There is no cover charge for the music, and a couple danced, making this good value for a romantic evening out, celebrating a special birthday (with Skippy singing for a birthday girl the night we were there), an anniversary and even an engagement.  Compared to other restaurants with live music, Brio has the benefit that one can carry on a conversation whilst the live music is performed.   

Arlene, our medical student waitress, was exceptional, one of the best I have experienced.   She brought us the gold covered menu and winelist.  The menu is restricted, making it easy to choose.  We received cheese coated bread sticks and a peppadew dip to start with, and we felt that the breadsticks would have been better served warm, and without the dip, but may have been superfluous anyway, given that the starters arrived almost immediately.  I had the deep fried camembert with caramelized nuts and figs, the camembert having a lovely soft centre contrasted with the crispy crumbed exterior (R 62).  Clare enjoyed her oysters, at R15 each, beautifully presented.  Eamon was happy with his grilled calamari (R49).  Other starters offered are roquefort snails (R59) and springbok carpaccio (R88). 

The signature main course is the peppered fillet (R130), which both Clare and Eamon had, prepared perfectly medium-rare, as requested.  I found my grilled calamari (R96) too sharp in taste, making my eyes water, and Skippy explained that it has a sprinkling of cajun spice, which is not mentioned in the menu.  He immediately replaced it with an unspiced plateful, which was served with basmati rice.  Other mains range from the Brio Burger at R79, to a seafood platter at R420.  One can also order carpetbagger steak (have not seen this on a menu for years!), oxtail, steamed mussels (temporarily not available due to the red tide), linefish and crayfish thermidor.   Starches, vegetables and sauces cost extra, between R18 – R 25.   Side salads cost about R50.

Two desserts offered (malva pudding at R45 and creme brulee at R39) is too restrictive a dessert choice, in my opinion.  Clare’s creme brulee was a generous portion, and was perfectly prepared.  I enjoyed my cheese platter (R89).

The winelist offers about ten choices per variety, but does not contain vintages.   Champagnes range in price from  R1 100 (Moet et Chandon Epernay NV) to R3660 for the Dom Perignon Epernay).  Cap Classiques cost around R250, for Simonsig, Steenberg 1682, Pongracz and Graham Beck.   Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc costs R118, and Klein Constantia R238.  Chardonnays start at R116 for Brampton, with Hamilton-Russell the most expensive at R649.  Guardian Peak’s shiraz is reasonable at R138, and Ernie Els’ the most expensive at R484.  Fleur du Cap’s Pinotage costs R128, while the Guardian Peak Lapa costs R468.  Eamon was kind to me, knowing my preference for shiraz, and ordered a Neil Ellis for us and I was surprised that the 2008 bottle came with a screw top.   It costs R222.

We loved the evening at Brio – the beautiful decor, the ambiance, the friendliness of the staff, the generosity of Skippy and Lauren, the live music (Skippy’s singing in particular), the reasonable prices and the good food.  We will definitely be back. 

Brio 1893, ABC Building, 130 Adderley Street, Cape Town.  tel 021 422 0654.  www.brio1893.com (website under construction).  Open Mondays – Saturdays.   Dinners only.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com