I love my hometown. It has plenty of things to recommend it: a wonderfully temperate climate. Some truly gorgeous colonial and Art Deco architecture. Some of the best beaches in the country. A university with one of the largest campuses in the southern hemisphere. The world-famous Addo Elephant Park on its doorstep. And it lives up to its nickname of the Friendly City.
But one of the things that it does not have is what you'd call a fine dining scene. Yes, there are places that serve good food, there are places that serve up retro-tastic delights, and there are places with pretty views, and but every time I have been home to visit and somebody has suggested I go somwhere for a fine dining meal, I have come away disappointed. The problem is sometimes that the menu is just plain boring (creme brulee is no longer cutting edge, people…), but more often than not the problem lies in a menu that looks good on paper but fails to deliver on the plate, combined with sloppy service and a fat price tag. Not a winning combination!
I think that part of the reason is that there isn't much by way of demand for that style of eating in Port Elizabeth – we like our restaurants to serve steak, seafood and pizza, and to do all three reasonably well. Still, it makes it a difficult when people ask me for restaurant recommendations – I don't want to send them somewhere with high expectations and come away disappointed and many Rands poorer. But what I have discovered over my past three or four visits is the emergence of a new restaurant scene in Port Elizabeth, and it is a style that we do spectacularly well: coffee shops. I don't mean in the style of Starbucks – more in the style of an informal, predominantly daytime restaurants that take pride in their baked goods.
One such place that I've visited a couple of times and hope to visit many more is the Cobblestone Bakery, situated in a converted residential house in the suburb of Walmer. They bake a variety of fresh artisanal breads from stoneground flour as well as other baked goodies daily, and is one of the first places in Port Elizabeth where I have seen a good selection of gluten-free breads. The room is bright and airy and the breads are attractively displayed in wicker baskets (go early if you want a specific bread as they sell out later!) and the sweet treats are displayed on adjacent shelves, to drool over and take home with you, or enjoy on the spot.
On the first of my two recent visits, I had a fresh warm flatbread topped with a generous dollop of cream cheese and smoked salmon, and a creamy herb dressing. The flatbread was crusty on the outside, pillowy on the inside and truly delicious. On my second visit I had the absolutely delicious peri-peri chicken livers (just enough heat, indulgent amounts of cream) with toasted sourdough, while a friend had the gluten-free rye toast with jam, served in a glorious resealable jar. Warning – those chicken livers are addictive!
Coffees are also excellent, the service is charming and the prices are reasonable. I also noticed that there seemed to be quite a few regulars, and a restaurant that has regulars is always a good sign in my book! On the way out I could not resist buying a packet of their peanut butter cookies and I must admit that they were a work of art: crumbly with butter, and packed with peanut flavour. I had to fight my nephews for the last morsels!
Whether you are looking for a spot of breakfast, having a leisurely brunch with friends, or just want to pick up a loaf of artisanal gluten-free bread, Cobblestone Bakery is the answer to your prayers in Port Elizabeth.
no. 40 6th Avenue
Tel. +44 27 (0)41 581 0182
This post is part of a new series for 2010 called Sundays in South Africa. As the entire football-conscious world knows by now, the FIFA World Cup 2010 will be taking place for the first time ever on African soil – in my home country of South Africa! I can't tell you how proud this makes me, or how good it is to see that all the stadiums that the naysayers said would never be built on time standing tall and proud and beautiful. The country is, of course, anticipating a huge surge in visitors and I know that many people will see the cup as a reason to visit a country they have long been meaning to visit, and use the tournament as a jumping-off point for visiting other, non-football South African destinations. With this in mind, as well as my backlog of posts about my South African trips, I will be trying to post a review of somewhere South African, or a South African recipe, every Sunday in the run-up to the tournament. I can't pretend it is going to be a comprehensive guide to South Africa – but it will certainly be enough to give you some ideas! Click here for previous posts in the series.