On being greeted by the incongruous sight of a doorman at The Bromwell Boutique Mall, clad with coat-and-tails and top hat I can’t help recalling relatively recent African history from another part of the continent.
The Bromwell Boutique Mall
+ 27 (0)21 447 4730
250 Albert Rd
In the 19th century (mostly white) Americans sent freed black slaves back ‘home’ to Africa to assuage their guilt, creating the state of Liberia, with its capital Monrovia named after supporter and US president James Monroe. Bizarrely these former slaves took on all the Victorian trappings of their masters: from coat and tails, top hats to white gloves and afternoon tea. This scene carried on being played out until the 1970’s by this ruling class, frequently at the expense of indigenous Africans.
It all ended in catastrophe with a new set of rebel masters, embodied by the new tyrannical coup leader Charles Taylor*, under whose rule predecessor Samuel Doe’s ear was cut off while the torturer-in-chief sipped on a Budweiser. That they ate the ear has never been proved.
While one can hardly equate Liberia with Woodstock, there is something surreal about this scene at the Bromwell, played out next to the shell of the Elkin Paints building in this area that, despite gentrification, retains more than enough of a run-down feel.
But I’m not at Bread at the Bromwell for the ears of a Long Pig nor of a Short Pig but rather the almond croissants which have been said to be the best in town. The croissant is huge with slivers of the Eastern nut on top. The outside of the pastry is heated but the interior is fridge-cold, with the concentrated almond taste of marzipan, or almond paste.
Certainly no skimping on the almond here but I prefer Knead’s lighter, more buttery and less marzipanny croissants, which are also sold at & Union. (Only after eating at Bread I learnt that top pâtissier Antonino Allegra had left to launch his Desideri** chocolate range.) Knead’s almond croissant is also better than those of the Cassis chain, which has some of the prettiest looking cakes in town.
Moving beyond the continental European breakfast, the scrambled egg with truffle is rich and yolky though as has become misleading and dull promise in Cape restaurants – there isn’t a truffle in sight. What there may be is synthetic truffle oil to increase the luxuriance and a few specks of something green. At only R45 (as far as I recall) you can’t expect truffle either so why do they put it on the menu? If it is simply truffle oil just say so.
The salty-thin layers of pancetta (cured like bacon but usually not smoked) are excellent. A good baguette is accompanied by a fresh green salad, a livening touch when considering the rich egg.
As you would expect from the chiseled features of the doorman, who has an airbrushed look about him that would make pre and post-Raphaelys proud, both the maroon-coloured exterior and chandelier dominated interior are opulent. Floors are marble-esque and the seating inside and out is comfy-plush. Paintings abound, including one of a Rastafarian who appears to be mulling his stash in newspaper. For fans of enduring sex symbol, Brumilda van Rensburg, there is a chesty portrait of her.
Coffee is good and cleverly served in a modern cup-and-saucer set big enough to contain a jug of milk. Cutlery elegant as in a tall yet delicate Somali model.
Other breakfast options include egg with a cheese Hollandaise sauce, mushrooms and pancetta (R45); and muesli with yoghurt, honey and Italian Lemon Pound Cake. Served until 11 am.
Lunches include roast beef on rye with pickle and crème fraiche; chourizo and chicken salad; roast veg salad; the humble peanut butter and jam sarmie; a fillet for R120 and a burger at R85.
The tastiest sounding option is tagliatelle with an ostrich ragout (Bolognaise) for R70. The richness of ostrich and venison make them the best minced meat for this Italian classic. There is whole wheat vegetarian panzerotti stuffed with blue cheese, nuts and mushrooms (R75). Closed for dinner. Breads include sourdough, ciabatta and health bread. Pastries and breads retailed in the deli section.
The almond croissant R14 and a filter coffee R17.
Tables are far apart so good for breakfast meetings.
3/5 stars over brekkie
The mini-mall, containing art and décor upstairs may be worth a peek. On your first visit you have to hand over your identity book, which not even micro-lenders are legally entitled to do anymore.
Otherwise full marks to the owners for rescuing and lovingly restoring this condemned building, once the Bromwell Hotel.
A peak into Luke Dale-Roberts’ nearby The Test Kitchen reveals a warm space shunning the stuffiness and extensive menu of fine dining. Informality is usually the best way to enjoy delicious food and to foster good conversation.
* Understandably no-one was brave enough to vote against Taylor in the 1997 election, after he campaigned on the slogan: “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him.” Since then Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been democratically elected Liberian president.
** Desideri chocolates, which I am yet to taste, are available directly from Allegra. Phone 082 079 8687. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted November 24, 2010