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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Kos & Wyn | Food & Wine > Rubrieke | Columns > Paul Murray: Murray's Food Trails

Cáfe Max in the historic De Waterkant, Cape Town

Paul Murray - 2009-12-02

Anna Ridgewell not only judges and crits food. She understands people; anticipates clients’ needs and works to create a strong morale in the kitchen. Silwood Kitchen trained her as it has many, many others in the city and the world. Anna has worked in top South African establishments including the Relais and Chateau stable. And now we have from her Café Max, renowned for its fine cookery, especially for patisserie and freshly made dishes; try the venturesome dishes – eggs Benedicte or fluffy scrambled eggs with crispy bacon, and for dessert, how about a stack of flapjacks with honey and berries!

Seated at the table in Café Max she recalls one Friday afternoon late … A family who had once lived in the house which is now the café, knocked at the door. They were retracing their footsteps and expressed the wish to come in and see their former house, for them filled with pleasant memories. Invited in they told Anna their story. Early each Friday evening the whole family would help prepare the fare for the Saturday morning bazaar: samoosas, koeksisters and other delicacies. The grandmother explained how living there had brought a feeling of peace and prosperity. Today their successful family lives across many different continents. 

Figure 1. Café Max at De Waterkant, Cape Town

The grandmother explained how every week the competition was on to see who could plait the longest koeksister – after all, the pastries were meant to resemble a young girl’s beautiful long hair, neatly plaited.

Figure 2. Yummy cup cakes, chocolate cake and buns, all baked on the premises.

At Cáfe Max nothing has changed! They still are making pastries. And you can see from the décor how much they value the time-honoured methods of cookery.

Figure 3. At Café Max you go back in time – and even experience a petit piece of Paris at De Waterkant.

The building where Café Max is today was once owned by Lord Charles Somerset, used for stabling his horses and to accommodate the stabling hands. The café marries the past with the present; and it is from the site where Café Max now stands that the men stood waiting for their beloved to come from across the sea, singing “Daar kom die Alibama”, a song passed into South African folklore.

Figure 4. Left: Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of the Cape, 1814–1826. Photo credit: Wikipedia.
Right: CSS Alabama was a screw sloop–of–war that passed through Cape waters. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Daar kom die Alibama,
Die Alibama die kom oor die see,
Daar kom die Alibama,
Die Alibama die kom oor die see ...

There comes the Alabama,
The Alabama, it comes o’er the sea,
There comes the Alabama,
The Alabama, it comes o’er the sea ...

From Wikipedia.

Anna certainly does not hold back on the classical French recipes for baking patisserie – the icing on the cupcakes in indigo and the pink tables serve as a perfect foil to the white and black mirror tiles on the floor. The coffee machine buzzing and the foam from the coffee sticking to the cup all reflect a chef who understands taste.

Figure 5. The contrasting décor provides the ideal foil to the delectable choice of dishes.

Ryan Faull of the original Silwood family provides the bread, all the way from Knead in Wembley Square, so Anna saves on time having to bake French loaves and can rather spend the extra time talking to patrons and ensuring the best in chocolate tarts.


Figure 6. Ryan Faull has his own bakery and supplies Café Max. The Faulls are the original proprietors of Silwood, now in its 46th year. 

Mrs Osmon, the owner of Biesmiellah, a little higher up from Café Max, died very suddenly a few weeks ago, and she is acknowledged for her bredies and curries made in the traditional way, a classic example of cooking synchrony! Try out the recipe for Tomato Bredie, and to make it like they did hundreds of years ago, serve a roast potato in the middle of each diner’s plate:
  • 750 g (1 1/2 pounds) fresh tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1,5 kg (3 1/4 – 3 1/2 pounds) fatty mutton, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cups) hot water
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour.

Method: Skin tomatoes by blanching in boiling water. Chop peeled tomatoes and set aside. Heat oil in a heavy saucepan. Sweat the onions. When translucent, add mutton. Brown on all sides. Add hot water and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add reserved tomatoes and potatoes and simmer for a further 30 minutes. Add sugar and peppercorns. Thicken with a mixture of melted butter and flour and simmer for another 15 minutes. Serve with boiled rice and a caramel smile.

Serves 4–6.

(Contributor: Meryl Grebe. Click here for the source.)

Figure 7. Biesmiellah is in the Bo–Kaap, the historic Malay Quarter of Cape Town, well known for its special type of dishes such as curries and tomato bredie.

Café Max and Biesmiellah might share a similar history, being in the same area, but the food is worlds apart. Cape Town is where Asia and Europe meet, giving the food lover a great multitude of choices. Anna’s training at Silwood ranks as one of finest in the world and her association with Alicia Wilkinson, the principal, speaks volumes for the Cape Town cookery industry, of which Silwood Kitchen is an integral part, and has been for close on half a century. Silwood boasts student achievement unmatched and its graduates can be found worldwide, with Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal.

Silwood enables people like Anna to make the real French-style pastries and a lot more; and in her café in Cape Town, and with the bread from Ryan, and the Cape Malay cookery from the Osmon kitchen at Biesmiellah … all of this just goes to prove how the historical past comes together in the city, blossoming with new culinary ideas, all the time!

Contact details

Silwood Kitchens

 Figure 8. The emblem of Silwood Kitchens, a school for training chefs. Silwood Kitchen, Silwood Road, Rondebosch 7700, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa
Tel: +27 21 686 4894/5 Fax: +27 21 686 5795 Email: cooking@silwood.co.za

Figure 9. Ryan’s brother Evan Faull of Knead.
Contact details for Knead Bakery: bread@kneadbakery.co.za.
Tel/fax: 021 462 4183.


Figure 10. Biesmiellah in the Bo–Kaap, home to traditional Cape Malay dishes