by Dominique Warr
Casa Labia is a grand, early 20th century mansion built on the site of what was once a military battery in Muizenberg. It is situated above the Main Road commanding an uninhibited view over False Bay with its rolling breakers and kelp forests. Its owner, Count Natale Labia, came to South Africa as the Italian consul in 1916. He married Ida Robinson, the daughter of JB Robinson the mining magnate in 1921 and a few years later, he and his Countess built the Casa Labia. It not only became their home but also served as the official residence of Italy’s diplomatic representative in South Africa. His deep love of his ancestral roots became the inspiration for “The Fort”, as it was affectionately known, being Italian in style and character. The Count and Countess envisioned a Cape version of the original Palazzo Labia in Venice. The man chosen to draw up the plans for the house was well-known Cape Town architect, Fred Glennie. (He also built the Mutual Building as well as other landmark buildings around Cape Town CBD.)
Casa Labia’s interior fittings – the furniture, chandeliers, mirrors, ceiling panels and wall fabrics – were imported from Venice. To ensure that the work was carried out in authentic Venetian style, the Count arranged for an interior decorator to be brought from Italy. Once completed, Casa Labia came to be a meeting place for statesmen, academics and businessmen from all over the country. After the Count’s death in 1936, the Casa Labia was used only as a holiday estate for the Countess and their two sons. After her death in 1961, it largely stood empty until it was leased first by the Canadian government and later by the Argentine government for use as their embassies in Cape Town. Fast forward to 1985, when a joint decision was made by the Department of National Education, the Director of the South African National Gallery, Dr. Raymond van Niekerk, and the Treasury, to preserve Casa Labia and to open it to the public as a museum and cultural centre which opened to the public in 1988 after a number of renovations. Twenty years later, in 2008, Count Luccio Labia (son of Count Natale Labia) once again took ownership of the property, and with assistance from his daughter, Antonia Labia Hardres-Williams, restored the house to its original glory and opened it to the public as a multi-functional cultural centre and up-market venue in May 2010.
Casa Labia is an impressive venue where breathtaking décor and ambience combine to create an upscale dining experience. The food is simply wonderful. Fresh ingredients, tantalizing flavours and generous portions make this an excellent spot for lunch after a morning spent exploring Kalk Bay and surrounds. To give you an idea of their menu we’ve highlighted some of the dishes that stood out for us: Sliced melon with prosciutto; crispy Casa Labia salad with mixed baby leaves, celery, julienned carrots, radish, cucumber, baby tomatoes and roasted seeds; Casa Labia Caesar salad with a poached egg, pancetta, grilled free range chicken breast, homemade Caesar dressing, white anchovies and crispy garlic bruschetta; sliced rare roast sirloin on a bed of rocket with béarnaise sauce and topped with sweet potato chips; pan fried line fish with a lemon and herb butter served with a crunchy side salad and sweet potato chips, and, our personal favourite, the Casa Labia Club Sandwich on homemade toasted sweet potato bread with free range chicken breast, fontina cheese, caramelized onions, salami, avocado, fresh tomato and olive mayonnaise. For dessert, we tried the delicious crème brûlée, and two of the ‘cake of the day’ options which was lemon and almond cake, and death-by dark chocolate ganache cake, accompanied by caffé lattes and cappuccinos.
Visit Casa Labia at 192 Main Road, Muizenberg, Cape Town, South Africa.
If you’d like to make a reservation, phone Casa Labia on: +2721 788 6062. Tuesday to Sunday: 10h00 - 16h00.
Photographs by Nicole Danielle