By Lee Middleton
In the space between Cape Town’s harbor and the eastern slopes of Table Mountain something remarkable is happening. Amid what constituted lower middleclass homes in the actual Victorian era (for real), and shops selling things like industrial hardware and bolts of fabric, the neighborhood known as Woodstock is undergoing rapid change. One of Cape Town’s oldest neighborhoods – and one of the very few where non-whites avoided eviction during apartheid – Woodstock’s crumbling facades and busy streets have been marked for decades by a distinctly vibrant grittiness. However, an influx of businesses to the warehouse spaces abandoned in the "bad old days" has seen Victorian gems restored to glory, and the area’s edgy ambience slowly but surely smoothed by art galleries, foodie hotspots, and designer boutiques. Call it what you like, but don’t miss out.
To Market We Go
Many a hipster’s first contact with Woodstock is the Neighbourgoods Market at The Old Biscuit Mill. Housed in the open courtyard of the ex-cookie factory, this Saturday market’s cornucopia of organic/local consumables (from delicious dips and artisanal cheeses to cooked treats like the perfect Belgian waffle or a fresh tuna steak burger) is where Cape Town’s arty design types go to graze and be seen. The market’s "crafts" section boasts the work of some great local designers and jewelers, many of whom get their start here. Can’t make it on a Saturday? Never mind, over a dozen designer shops trading in everything from antique lighting to spectacular contemporary beadwork now inhabit the old factory.
Eyes Wide Open
Where the young and trendy go, art must follow. Or is it the reverse? Mull this chicken-and-egg while visiting the Stevenson and Goodman galleries. The two galleries’ (which collectively have launched the careers of pretty much every internationally acclaimed South African artist in recent times) 2007 move to Woodstock was another flash point for the neighborhood, attracting the city’s wine-quaffing art-lovers on a regular basis. No surprise that at least a half dozen smaller galleries have followed, including Whatiftheworld, a small but exquisitely curated gallery mostly featuring local artists housed in an old synagogue. You can walk between all the galleries in less than 20 minutes (not counting actually looking at art, of course). Keep your eyes open while cruising the streets: Woodstock is also chockablock with some spectacular graffiti murals.
All that art and shopping can make a person hungry. Lucky you. Across the street from Stevenson and Goodman is legendary lunch spot, The Kitchen. Brought into the limelight by Michelle Obama, this quirky friendly spot has been churning out inventive and scrumptious "love sandwiches" and "salads" for years now. And by salad, don’t be deceived—think beetroot apple coriander, black rice with red onion, and roasted eggplant with tahini and dukkah. For something a bit less bustling, try Superette, a super cool space with amazing breakfasts (the secret to their egg scramble is cream!), great coffee, and free WiFi.
For dinner, Cape Town star chef Luke Dale Roberts abandoned his coveted spot at one of the city’s legendary la-dee-da wine estate restaurants to open his own venture, The Test Kitchen, also located in the Biscuit Mill. Serving three or five course tasting menus, Roberts is working some serious foodie mojo magic, and you’d be lucky to call yourself guinea pig. The wonders begin with an amuse bouche of dark chocolate, duck liver, and porcini shortbread, and carry on into things like rare smoked beef fillet with gorgonzola, fresh pear, candied pecans, and a miso-cured egg yolk. Genius. Meanwhile, if that’s all a bit too zhush for your tastes, Roberts’ next door venture The Pot Luck Club takes the same level of quality and flair, and applies them to a tapas-style menu, that includes treats like tempura curried celery leaves and wild mushrooms on porcini brioche with parmesan and lemon.
Photo Credits: To Market We Go: Courtesy of Neighbourgoods Market; Eyes Wide Open: Courtesy of STEVENSON; Foodie Mecca: Courtesy of Superette