Food review The Empire Café Muizenberg, Cape Town, re-opened October 2020

What: Empire Café Where: 11 York Road, Muizenberg
Operating hours: 7am to 4pm Tue-Sun. Last orders 3.30pm Closed Mondays- Oct 2020 – check back for updates for festive season 2020
Food: Mediterranean Coffee: Tribe Reservations: 021 788 1250 Info:  

Muizenberg Corner just got lucky.  One of Cape Town’s finest and most loved chef’s has just opened up his own restaurant in York Road.  The iconic Empire Café has been a Muizies institution for years, but the site has been vacant for a while. The new Empire Café opened again a week ago – October 19 2020- lockdown level 1, Cape Town. The owner/operator is renowned chef Clayton Bell. He was with the award winning Uitsig restaurant in Constantia for 17 years. That was followed up as executive chef at the acclaimed Villa 47 in the CBD. Here he is with Empire Café, in Muizenberg, at Surfers Corner.

The Empire shut down when its owner, David Jones died suddenly in September 2018, age 53.  Bell and Jones were friends and worked together. By keeping the name, Bell is paying homage to Jones’ legacy and for making the Empire a cherished spot,

How does Bell pitch the food at the Empire? He says that he wants to avoid tags like Fine Dining, Gourmet, and Artisanal. It is soul food he is making. I get that, but let’s say that the ricotta and spinach ravioli that I had, would not be out of place at a fine dining establishment- at a quarter of the price. Outstanding. Simple, classic, full of flavour (parsley, chillie), perfectly cooked the way pasta should be.  In line with finer fare, it’s not a huge portion but this is absolutely one of the best ricotta and spinach ravioli dishes that I have had- since Rome. It is served with a cream, butter, grana Padano.  I asked for a Neapolitan sauce, which was fantastic. The ravioli is made by Chef Bell. It is not from a factory.

Surfertravelguy had a burger – beautifully served with spicy fries and a mini French salad with an insanely amazing vinaigrette (I stole the salad, I did). The presentation is not finicky like Fine Dining, but it is impeccably plated. Burgers come in various permutations. There is a veg burger which sounds tantalising –chick pea flour, cumin, butternut, roast peppers, baby, marrow, broccoli, cauliflower. Drooling over that one, in anticipation. Burgers R105- with the chips and mini salad.

Bell describes the menu as Mediterranean. There is Italian, French, Spanish; a dash of Indian. To give you an idea of the culinary diversity of the menu: Breakfast includes: Shakshuka (R85), Butternut and Cumin Rosti (R95), home-made muesli with yoghurt panna cotta (R75) and Empire eggs and chips (R105). Sides such as avo toast (R35) and R8 for an extra egg. Howzat for breakfast. Filled croissants R45-R55 – roasted veggies and rocket, avo and Emmentaler for R24 for a plain croissant. Salads R85-R100. Fish of the day – R145. Today it was kinglip.

The coffee is by Tribe Roastery – espresso R18, flat white R24, latte R30. Yeah of course you can get alternative milk – this is surfer territory – add R12 for soya, almond, oat, cream. My flat white was served in a small cup – Italian style. Tribe Roastery makes a wonderful brew and the coffee was superb.

At the moment kitchen closes 3.30pm but hopefully by festive season, there will be a dinner service. Streamlined, uncluttered and sleek interior; wood floors, quality crockery; attention to detail such as orchids on tables. Empire Cafe could be in France, Rome, New York, and Shanghai. It’s like stumbling upon a gem in a city –and going – wow.

*The meal was unannounced and paid for in full. The chat with Clayton Bell followed after meal – grilled him on what is in the veg burger.

❇Image credits: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen, October 2020