By BRUCE DENNILL
The Patisserie, Post Office Centre, Rudd Road, Illovo, Johannesburg
Going for lunch at The Patisserie in Illovo’s Post Office Centre is like stepping into Alice’s larder in Wonderland. Everything pulses with psychedelic colours, with the whole artfully stacked ensemble of presentation boxes, bell jars, teapots and designer bowls wrapped in candy-striped pink, a decor choice that makes the little bistro stand out from its more conservative neighbours.
It’s a small place, a boutique, but the appealing clutter means it does not, can not. feel stuffy. Before you sit down on the feathery iron chairs – swirling patterns making the material look lighter than it is – take time to explore the displays, filled to bursting with cupcakes, chocolate brownies, macaroons. petit fours, biscuits and cake.
Then sit down and order something a little more substantial so that the sugar rush you’d get if you just stuck with the sweet stuff doesn’t knock you out flat. On the savoury side there are various egg-related breakfast options, fruit salads and quiches for vegetarians and pies – a choice of just chicken or beef, in a rare, relatively unimaginative touch. The beef pie, however, though a long way down the list in terms of artistic presentation in a venue built around that quality, is sublime, with the meat inside so tender Nicholas Sparks may write a book about it one day.
Happily, the mains dishes are all light meals, kept to a size that ensures that, even if you lick your plate clean, you’ll still have plenty of space for a Patisserie special – a macaroon, perhaps, or a red velvet cupcake.*
Whatever you are having from the speciality items list, make sure you wash it down with a cappuccino. The Patisserie doesn’t offer a range of sizes, sticking to the same sort of purist approach as the Paris bistros it draws its inspiration from in that regard. But the modest serving you do receive is beautifully made, and the baristas pride themselves on providing a stiff, tasty froth. There are a number of herbal teas on offer as well, but the quick, bitter bite of the coffee provides an ideal counterpoint to the sweetness of the baked treats.
The menu is not cheap: a small beef pie, two macaroons and a cappuccino will set you back just shy of R120. And if you’re in the mood for a more enthusiastic face-stuffing, that amount could very easily double. But the effect of the place – the effort put into making it more of an experience than just another culinary conveyor belt – plays a big role in keeping you in your seat the first time you visit, and wanting to go back, introducing new friends and colleagues to the venue.
Call it more than a coffee shop; perhaps less than a restaurant. Whatever. But get yourself there sometime for a lunch, a tea or to celebrate some worthy event. It’s an indulgence that should be excused as regularly as you can afford it.
* I prefer my cupcakes laced with honey and chocolate rather than essence of beetroot, and no argument about how trendy something is is going to convince me that cake shouldn’t taste like, you know, cake.