Olympia Café

Photographer Paul Weinberg’s exhibition opening on the first floor Kalk Bay Modern gallery was so jam-packed that I decided to drop downstairs to Olympia in order to make sure a table could be secured for dinner (well aware that they don’t take bookings).

Positioning myself at the counter with a glass of white, I cast a beady eye over the occupied tables.  As soon as I saw one had become available I pounced like a starving lioness, only to be admonished for a serious violation of Kalk Bay etiquette. 
“Write your name on the blackboard waiting list,” the waitron told me. 
With my tail between my legs I did, securing a prized place at number two in the queue. 
From then on things only got better, in fact close to bestest.

The kabeljou*, my favourite Cape fish, was a sublime chunky stuk.  It set the bar for piscatorial pursuits.  The thing I like about kob is that you can still taste the sea in it but stops well short of smelling like a fisherman’s bait bag (which explains why so many anglers are deserted by their wives).  Too often pesce either has the fishiness processed out of it or it is at the smelly end of the spectrum.  This was perfectly in-between.

The accompanying mash, a favourite comfort food, let the fish speak for itself.  Mussels in a traditional creamy wine and garlic sauce I have previously eaten here are to date unrivalled (and a far cry better than those horrible Belgian ones in beer at Den Anker).

One of my fellow diners, the Kalk Bay local, was big enough to chuckle at my table indiscretion.  She was served thickest lamb tjops I have ever seen.  This is the only way to butcher them if you like them juicy.  (Why can’t supermarkets include these less economical cuts as an option on the shelves?).

A running joke about Olympia is that the food is great if you can stomach the dirty looking kitchen and toilet.  The toilet has been spruced up but not much appears to have changed in the open-plan  kitchen.  Walking through a restaurant kitchen to pee immediately next door is almost a tradition in Cape Town (where there is little space to build a wing for the WC).  Uninitiated visitors take a little time to get used to this.

Unlike so many restaurants on tourist strips, the Olympia is a favourite among Kalk Bay locals (despite the unhygienic appearance).

It’s a legend in its own lunchtime, as its own slogan on a board outside has proclaimed. 
Now that I have learnt my local etiquette I (for once) buy into the PR.

* Kabeljou (Kob) is on the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s (Sassi’s) orange list.  Sassi cautions that it can be legally bought but that over time the population may be threatened.  This puts it in the middle between green (relatively plentiful) and red (illegal to buy).

Tom Robbins
October 7, 2009

Olympia Café
+27 (0)21 788 6396
134 Main Rd
Kalk Bay
Cape Peninsula

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2 Responses to “Olympia Café”

  1. Mark Ansley says:

    I agree with Tom on all the above … a great food.

    I enjoy their breakfasts and popped in there last week Monday for a quick bite to eat with my brother who was out from Wales. The place was packed when we walked in and we agreed to wait for a table. We stood at the entrance for 15 minutes and received not so much as a glance or acknowledgement from anyone working there. Finally, we spotted a table that was leaving and confirmed with others waiting that we indeed wanted that table. Still no recognition from the staff. We seated ourselves and after losing patience after another 15 minutes we got up and asked someone to help us. The coffee and food were delicious, we left our 10% tip, but there are too many good places to eat to have to endure that very poor level of service. I will not go back.

  2. Duncan says:

    I have always loved Olimpia, but I am surprised you did not mention that they bake their own bread and pastries (Yummm) and because of the popularity of that they opened a separate bakery shop round the corner a couple of years ago.

    My only complaint about the place is the number of cyclists on weekends, and they all expect their bicycles to get a seat too! There should be a separate section for cyclists.

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