By BRUCE DENNILL
The iconic Tan’ Malie Se Winkel, just west of the Arc de Triomphed Hartbeespoort Dam wall, went through a long, sad patch when it felt like the authenticity that made the place an appealing tourist attraction – as opposed to a scruffy, second-rate roadhouse – had literally left the building. Happily, something has changed. The way the establishment looks remains true to its origins. It was built in the Twenties as the headquarters for the Waterworks company centred around the dam, as well as a temporary post office for residents of the district (it only began duty as a general store and restaurant in 1985).
The paraphernalia on show in the shop remains linked to the Afrikaner culture that is still a mainstay in the area – unsurprisingly, given place names such as Hartbeespoort, Brits and Mooinooi Above a cast-iron fireplace is a framed picture of the Voortrekker Monument and handmade farming implements do duty as décor alongside maps of France and the Netherlands showing where common Afrikaans surnames had their origins.
Food and drink is served in hard-wearing enamel-coated plates and mugs as guests sit at sturdy wood tables that might have been around since the institution was founded The menu includes such robust charms as homemade melktert and moerkoffie (like normal coffee, but with added punch, obviously) and, though it’s a touch on the expensive side, sitting down for tea and koek or a light lunch is a pleasure, with the friendly service suggesting values as old-fashioned as the building.
But that’s all, to some degree, cosmetic – the sort of thing Gold Reef City trots out to con the tourists. What made this visit notable was the other clientele. A table of men who were discernibly regulars (an observation borne out by their placing freshly-baked loaves of bread on their tabs as they left) sat at a table at one end of the restaurant having an intense discussion that consistently included the words “perd” (horse) and “skou” (show). Somehow, they managed to avoid a single mention of which designer would be providing which sort of hat for which pseudo-celebrity – apparently if you’re going to bring horses together for any reason in a big South African city. At another table sat an older woman with some sort of mental disability, quietly keeping herself busy, with the proprietors occasionally checking in to see if she was okay. Pictures to colour in were produced (they’re not standard, but the waitress was happy to get creative) for kids too young to appreciate the cultural significance of their surroundings. And in yet another chair sat an enormous man who cleared a full plate of boerekos in a couple of minutes in a room in which that behaviour signified appreciation of good food rather than bad manners.
The atmosphere was of a farmhouse kitchen in which the host family practice traditional hospitality because it’s a better, more satisfying system than indulging in the slick, minimalist modern style embraced by many trendy new restaurants. The current Tan’ Malie Se Winkel is a welcoming place that embraces a rich sector of South African culture and history. The venue has endured: here’s hoping the present dispensation does as well.