The Afrikaans word “bree” means “broad” and this wide, pedestrian-friendly street has quickly become a desirable food culture address. Two of the original tenants to open with a kitchen face each other through a line of fever trees. Café Frank started life as Rostisserie 360, where Deborah Wynne sold burnished free-range birds and wholesome salads from a hatch.
And Jason Lilley was charged with baking the bread course for Jardine Restaurant – his was the only light burning on a road that was all but deserted at night – in what is now Jason Bakery. Then the visionaries behind coffee chain Vida e Caffe opened a high-class beer hall called & Union under St Stephen’s Church, before anyone was using ‘craft’ as a description for brew.
Skinny laMinx arrived, handbag label Missibaba moved in at 229 and Swedish fashion designer Alexandra Höjer opened her atelier next to Café Frank. Each of these women had started with a stall at the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock, so a Missibaba Peacock Clutch in hand or Skinny laMinx ‘Herds’ cushion on the couch already had cult status for in-the-know Capetonians. Now there are an ever-increasing number of eateries and design stores on what some refer to as the ‘thinking man’s Long Street’.
South Africa’s oldest fruit-bearing vine grows in the courtyard of Heritage Square, a restored cluster of eighteenth-century townhouses set between Buitengracht and Bree Street.
In a stroke of serendipity, two urban wineries are housed on either side of the building: At the Hout Street entrance is Dorrance Wines, owned by Christophe Durand, and at the Shortmarket Street entrance is Signal Hill Wines, belonging to Jean-Vincent (JV) Ridon – who is quick to correct the plaque labeling the historic vine as Crouchen Blanc. His investigations led him to believe it is Gros Chenin and, as a champion of city vineyards, he was the first to harvest, press and bottle its fruit in 2011. Make an appointment for a cellar door purchase of The Threesome Methode Cap Classique and Ridon will do the disgorgement so it can be enjoyed right there and then.
Riebeeck Square sits next to Heritage Square and it serves as a parking lot, which isn’t far off from its original purpose: a place for outspanning ox wagons. Nearby is a sculpture by late South African artist, Paul du Toit, called Into Tomorrow.
wo bronze figures, one merging with the other, represent solidarity and collaboration, and sit alongside a curved bench with mosaic-work in bold colours built in partnership with Rock Girl – an initiative for creating safe urban spaces. A sister installation is planned for Langa township.
Du Toit, a prolific artist whose work is defined by bold colour and a naïve, childlike quality, would divide his time between his studios in Cape Town and New York, and although he did not live to see Into Tomorrow unveiled, he would no doubt have smiled at the thought of someone pausing to enjoy it while the crowds inhabited Bree Street for First Thursdays – the one night of the month where galleries keep their doors open until late.
At 201 Bree Street there’s always an intriguing window display and a bicycle parked outside. This is the home of Skinny laMinx, a design company and shop started by Heather Moore – the doors opened 12 days before Christmas in 2011. “I was looking for studio space with a small showroom,” says Moore, “so taking over a greasy little scooter repair shop a ten-minute walk from home and half a block from my favourite morning coffee shop was an easy decision, despite the fact that nothing much was happening on Bree Street back then.” It turned out to be an excellent decision. Bree Street blossomed and within a year Paul Smith opened a few doors down.
Moore began as an illustrator selling papercuts and screen prints online. She understands the value of a united Bree Street community, and together with fellow business owners created the Fine Living District. “We produce a map of top-notch retail in the city centre,” she says. “And we work to promote this area as a shopping destination for local high-end production.” Skinny laMinx aprons, tea towels and totes make for light, easy-to-pack gifts – and carry an unmistakably Cape Town label.
Behind a row of identical façades, three single-ingredient specialists set up shop in quick succession: Culture Club Cheese, Bacon on Bree and Mother’s Ruin – a cheesemonger, a charcuterie specialist and a gin bar. It makes the point: Bree Street is a barometer for Cape Town’s food and drinks scene. The bar came first, a showcase for the world’s latest obsession. Then Richard Bosman, who already had a reputation for his dry-cured, pasture-reared bacon, started selling it between slices of sourdough. And Luke Williams (formerly of London’s La Fromagerie) arrived fresh off a tour of South Africa’s artisan cheesemakers, ready to sell their wares. They’re following in the footsteps of Andy Fenner, who champions provenance and promotes lesser-known cuts at Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants. Heritage Square, at the heart of Bree, has always been a hub for new restaurants, and now it’s where gourmands procure specialist ingredients – at Chefs Warehouse. Almost every taste is catered to on this road and if a new wave is about to break, this is where it’s likely to happen.