FRIENDLY Stranger wandered into Port Elizabeth’s Brickmakers Kloof a few months ago and has been showing locals what a charmer it is.
Except it really is no stranger at all: the historical stone building in Upper Valley Road, in front of 1 Bridge Street, has had many previous incarnations, including as a shop where surfboards were made.
Its metamorphosis from scruffy industrial premises to cool cafe is symbolic of the shift in this part of town.
Maligned in recent years as an example of urban planning gone wrong, the stretch of the Baakens Valley closest to the sea and the city’s historic heart is now, slowly but surely, being transformed into an image of what it once might have been.
About 170 years ago, when PE was in its infancy as an industrial city, this part of the river was a popular attraction. And, long before the city had public parks, the spot where the river opened into an impressive lagoon was the centre of the outdoor social scene.
But canalisation of this stretch of the river up to the mouth followed, the lagoon was virtually forgotten and so too was the image of the well-heeled of the town fishing, boating and whiling the time away by the water’s edge as they sported cheese-cutters and dipped into their picnic baskets.
Fast-forward to 2012 and many of the warehouses that inevitably came to mar this part of the Baakens are still here.
But the valley is now also home to cheeky “newcomers” like Friendly Stranger.
My lunch partner Nicky and I visited the cafe recently and thought it a gem. We were not only impressed by the careful renovation job that had been done on the building, but enjoyed the laid-back, almost rustic feel of the place.
The basement lounge looked a bit gloomy for daytime dining though we imagined it could be most cosy at night (if you’re skinny enough to skim down the steep and narrow stairs). Instead we grabbed a table by the window to capitalise on the cool breeze coming off the river.
We started with an excellent, if pricey, mezze platter for two (R140) which was laden with cured meats, pesto, olives, rocket and tomato, a delightfully garlicky hummus and slices of ciabatta.
This we followed with lamb flatbread (R75) for me, and an ostrich and chickpea burger (R65) for Nicky.
The flatbread was a rib-sticker, especially after the platter we’d shared, the lamb soft and tender and the tomato-based sauce it rested on sweet and satisfying. Fresh rocket and dollops of creme fraiche completed the dish.
Nicky was slightly less taken with her burger, as the one pictured on the menu (though technically not the same burger) looked yummier. Her toppings were on the sparse side, and she strained to spot any chickpeas. However the patty was well cooked and the chips “proper home-made ones”.
Service from our waiter, Petros, was friendly and relaxed.
We forgot all about dessert until we were just about out the door. Solution? Shortbread balls (R5 each) with decadent chocolate centres for Nicky, and a jammy tartlet (R12) for me. Afternoon tea sorted.
Our bill excluding a tip and sweets, and including an excellent cappuccino, intriguing “champagne latte”, some iced tea and a refreshing, not-too-sweet home-made ginger beer, came to R347.
This review visit was unannounced and the meal paid for in full.