It is very bold to close down two restaurants in Stellenbosch, and to start from scratch in Cape Town. This is what Sarah and Dup du Plessis have done, moving their two Café Dijon restaurants on Plein Street and at Zorgvliet in Stellenbosch into a most beautifully decorated space in the Rockwell Centre on Napier Street in Green Point, serving excellent Bistro food, one of the best French style restaurants in Cape Town.
When I first heard that Café Dijon was moving into the Rockwell Centre, my heart sank for the new venture, thinking that they were taking the space of Camil Haas’ Bouillabaisse, which closed down two years ago. But the Rockwell Hotel that operates from the building has made that space its bar, and created a small restaurant in the ex-Crepe Suzette space.
Café Dijon is in a space that once was a decor shop, facing Anatoli’s. Using In House designer Lawrence Holmes, the restaurant sports three ‘palm tree’ wood-cladded pillars, which not only add a most stunning decor imprint, but also hold downlighters, having a functional role too. The original marble topped bar counter was transported across from the Plein Street branch, as were the bistro-style tables and chairs. In raised sections near the stackable sliding doors new tables have been added, made from beautiful wood with an extra black section added, to make it look like slate. Here the bistro chairs have red striped or black and white check upholstery. A couch with blue and white striped upholstery provides seating for the tables in the lower section. The tables are allowed to show off their beauty and not hidden by a table cloth, but material serviettes and St Tropez cutlery add quality. Cape Herb & Spice Atlantic Sea Salt and Extra Bold Pepper grinders are on each table. Laminated floors look like they are made from wine vats, with names of wine varieties. At the entrance is a wooden structure, partly a ‘canopy’ containing downlighters, as well as a section in which wines can be stored, similar to the racking used to make champagne. Near the bar small white and black floor tiles give an aged Bistro effect. Bunches of San Pellegrino bottles with LED bulbs also create lighting, as do wine bottle-shaped lights hanging over the bar counter. Interesting is a wall with names, which the designers created to honour some of the special people in Dup and Sarah’s life, with some French names added, e.g. Le Roux, Olivier, Du Buisson, and Mouton, to suit the theme of the restaurant. The wall even contains the Zondernaam name, a brand name which Tokara owner GT Ferreira had to kill because it became more popular than its first brand, Dup told me. The walls have a green paint effect. Black canopies with the Café Dijon branding are due to be erected on the two sides of the restaurant. I loved the big black table outside, which has been built around a tree.
The owners of Café Dijon are not French at all, but locals. Johan (’Dup’) du Plessis grew up in the Banhoek valley, and his wife Sarah comes from Somerset West. Sarah trained at Silwood Kitchen and then worked in Monaco for Sir David Brown of Aston Martin fame. Dup grew up in a household in ‘which real men don’t cook’, but he did learn to, and they met at Deltacrest outside Franschhoek. When it burnt down, they decided to open a ‘Thirties style bistro in Stellenbosch, opposite the Town Hall, offering classic French dishes and comfort food, which suited the design of the venue perfectly. Sarah and Dup started Café Dijon four years ago, and chose a cat for their logo, many Bistro’s having an animal name, explained Sarah. In Stellenbosch an edict had banned cats in restaurants in the 1950’s, and Rose Jordaan’s grandmother had a black cat statue erected in front of the Stellenbosch library. They live outside Franschhoek, and both are in the restaurant, Sarah looking after the kitchen until after lunch, while Dup stays on until they close in the evening. Dup had a visitor when I ate there on Thursday, while Sarah was an excellent hostess, checking on her customers regularly.
A blackboard at the door advertised the specials: Angus beef burger R50; seared tuna with basil pesto R120; and the cheese of the day being Dalewood Brie at R60. The menu is printed on cream paper, and one is advised that food allergies should be shared with the waiter, as many dishes contain shellfish, garlic, dairy, or nuts, something one rarely sees on menus of late. Dup is very proud of the Toulouse sausage which they make themselves from pork shoulder, nutmeg, garlic, and white wine, and he insisted that I try it as a starter. Amazingly, Sarah remembered how much I had enjoyed their duck liver paté at their Zorgvliet restaurant more than a year ago, and sent out a taster of it with home-baked ciabatta. The sausage has a very mild taste, in contrast to the strong bite of the Dijon mustard. The sausage dish is usually a Bistro main course, two sausages served with pommes frites, a tomato and onion salad, and Dijon mustard, costing R70. The paté is part of a charcuterie platter, served with parma ham and Felino salami, costing R65. Other starters range from R55 – R 70, including steak tartare, calamari, trout, tomato tart, and marrow bones. Seven salad options include roasted beetroot, a classic Caesar, poached egg and bacon lardons, pear and Parma ham, grilled steak and rocket, and smoked duck breast, none costing more than R75.
Fish dishes are restricted to squid linguine (R75), and steamed West Coast mussels served with a white wine garlic, cream, and parsley sauce (R95). For the main course I ordered from the Bistro section, being pork belly with pommes purée, puy lentils, a pork croquette, an apple and grain mustard jus, and pea shoots (R115), which I had not seen for some time. The Bistro section also offers French onion soup, snails Bordelaise and chicken melanzane (R52 – R76 price range). Duck a L’Orange, served with confit duck leg, cabbage, bacon lardons, and an orange and Van der Hum sauce, sounds delicious, and good value at R120. A number of steak options are also offered, ranging from R115 for 200g Angus beef to R130 for fillet. One can order sauces, vegetables, and salads as extras.
Desserts are very inexpensive at R35, and include Crème Brûlée, caramelised lemon tart, strawberry meringue (Eton Mess style), and chocolate profiteroles with caramel cream. I had a baked apple tartlet with almonds and honey, with a LavAzza cappuccino. The cheese of the week costs R60.
The winelist offers three or four options per varietal, and it is disappointing that vintages are not specified on the paper winelist, which can easily be updated should the vintages run out. Moët et Chandon NV and Veuve Clicquot cost around R550, while Pongracz, Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel, and Graham Beck Brut cost R175. Four Shiraz options are offered, ranging from Thelema’s Elgin Sutherland at R150, to Rust en Vrede at R375. The winelist is dominated by Stellenbosch wines.
Café Dijon will become a welcome stop not only for lunch and dinner, but also in-between meals for a coffee, drinks, and tapas outside, which will be introduced shortly. Ample parking is available underneath the building, on the opposite side. The service from Eric was very good, and there was not one sign that this restaurant had only been open for one week when I ate there. The prices are very reasonable, and Dup and Sarah are hands-on, a definite plus.
POSTSCRIPT 5/9: I popped in for a coffee and a Strawberry Meringue after a concert this evening, and was delighted that the restaurant was so busy. Yet a party of four left angry, saying that the food order was not brought to the table correctly, and that they had been overcharged. The owners had left early, the manager had the night off, and the chef had turned ill, leaving the busy restaurant in the hands of a junior team. This is the second angry complaint we have received in the past week, in both instances the owners not being there. Best is to check if one or both owners will be there when booking.
Café Dijon, Rockwell Centre, Napier Street, Green Point. Tel (021) 418-3910. www.cafedijon.co.za Twitter: @CafeDijonCT Tuesday – Sunday lunch, Tuesday – Saturday dinner.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage