by Sharon Warr
I suppose the cynical among us would never believe that there could be a little sliver of heaven resting on this busy and bustling part of our planet we call Cape Town. But there is, and it takes the form of Starlings in Belvedere road in Claremont.
From the outside you would never say that there is a coffee shop there at all. It nestles between a row of houses on the busy road, the only clue to its existence being a few umbrellas in a minuscule front garden. But enter this post edwardian house and you feel you have fallen into a wonderland of homely, warm style filled with a multitude of décor surprises.
Once again my theory holds true that the Café Experience begins not with the taste buds but with the eyes and ears. From the ‘eye’ point of view, the interior is country cottage. Huge sash windows let in mellow light, enhancing the wooden floors and high ceilings. Everywhere you look there are objects of interest, be they authentic antique Chinese scrolls, unique and unusual lamp bases or the interesting collection of original art pieces and collectable prints. Rustic furniture, candelabra, old books and vases of flowers scattered throughout add a quirky spin to a place simply oozing with character.
Trish, the owner and founder of Starlings, is as much part of the experience as the coffee shop itself. She knows her patrons and is always at hand to greet and have a friendly chat. It is hard to believe that Trish has had no formal training or experience in this somewhat temperamental field but her natural flair for putting ideas together and her determined business ethic has certainly worked to make a success of this unique oasis. In the tiny kitchen, a team of remarkable women hold sway, rustling up the delicious dishes that Trish has concocted. Just imagine “ricotta cakes with parmesan cheese with tomato chilli salad” or “Brioche dipped in egg with cinnamon sugar, honey and pecans”. Their quiches are always a winner. On a winter’s day there is always delicious soup with homemade breads. The menu changes from time to time but the favourites are always there. An enclosed back stoep looks out onto a garden that seamlessly reflects the rustic quirkiness of the interior. There are lots of shade trees, little water features, pebbled pathways and even a quaint old bicycle propped against a pole fence, making the outdoor area interesting and intimate.
Now onto the coffee. The baristas make something of a show piece if one sits at the long antique Oregon pine dining room table near to their station. The hustle and bustle is animated but not overly so and the waiters move about in the confined space like ballet dancers, never seeming to be in each other’s way. I am not quite sure how they achieve this but it looks effortless. The waiters are attentive but not intrusive and that’s a huge plus point for any establishment. And the coffee? It is sublime! Origin – and made to perfection! Oh to have a bottomless cup! Trish have mercy on this pitiful creature! For the tea drinker there is a wide variety to choose from and brewed in transparent teapots using the infusion method. Delicious smoothies and fruit juices are also optional. I must at this stage mention the Table of Temptation. One has to run the gauntlet past The Table every time you walk into the place! It lies in wait, lurking under its hanging net cover, laden with assorted muffins, huge cup cakes, brownies, shortbread, croissants and cakes with interesting names, all made on the premises or by individual home bakers who replenish The Table daily.
What I have told you so far describes Starlings and its wonderful ambience but I have so far said nothing about another important factor that makes this coffee shop interesting - the people who frequent it. It buzzes with interesting regulars - writers, interior designers, artists, landscapers, antique collectors, fashion stylists and the like. Consequently there is always an interesting snippet of conversation to tune in to or participate in. It is a place in which you could quite easily imagine the next J.K. Rowling huddled over a laptop in a corner, stirring her tea with a magic spoon.