Food & Drinks

Cape Town’s The Commissary Combines an Easygoing Atmosphere with Superb Food and Drinks

The latest offering from Wesley Randles and Simon Widdison, The Commissary, is set to shake up the food scene in Cape Town.

Greg Cox

Graffitied walls. Grungy interiors. Hip-hop on the playlist. The Commissary on Shortmarket street is the latest Luke Dale-Roberts/Wesley Randles/Simon Widdison partnership and it breaks all the rules except for one – faultless food. Suffice to say, this restaurant is nothing like the LDR eateries that came before it. 

Inhabiting the former Outrage of Modesty space, The Commissary sits neatly under the same roof as its big sister, The Shortmarket Club. But where Shortmarket is the responsible older sibling, The Commissary is the rebellious young gun of the family. Inspired by the food they like to eat, Wesley and Simon (who are joined by a young team that includes Randles’ wife Juliet and seasoned Shortmarket chef Katlego Mlambo) have created a restaurant that rejects any notions of fine dining grandeur. ‘The whole point of the space is for people to have some fun,’ says Randles. ‘Come in, eat some good food, get a little drunk – and it’s not going to hurt your pocket.’ 
The bones of the former cocktail bar have been maintained, yet the internal layout has changed to accommodate communal tables. Sandalene Dale-Roberts once again took the lead with the design and has created a space that works with the grungy, devil-may-care vibe. The Commissary, owing to its compact interior, required a different format from the other LDR establishments, and as such, Sandalene has designed tables specifically for the room. She also enlisted Louis de Villiers (aka Skullboy) to decorate the exterior, interleading staircase and bathroom with his iconic graffiti style. Local designer, Jade Klara, was commissioned to create a seasonal animation to be projected on the expansive wall of the dining room. Which pretty much makes The Commissary a visual feast as much as a culinary one.

So, what can you look forward to eating at The Commissary? For one, expect loud, in-your-face flavours and a low-brow (in a good way) menu that changes regularly. Wesley’s Korean fried chicken (that original Pot Luck Club devotees will remember fondly) has pride of place, and the SMC octopus slider features the tenderly cooked and crispy coated octopus we’ve all come to love at The Shortmarket Club. Making full use of their pizza oven, there are slowly cooked meats – such as a Massaman-style lamb shoulder, served with a roti, crunchy herb salad and a punchy lime and coconut dressing. 

At The Commissary, your experience takes on a choose-your-own-adventure form. ‘We’ve set up the menu so you can come in, have a couple drinks, have some snacks and it won’t cost much. Or, you can go all out and order our pricier items,’ says Randles. ‘It’s not something you have to overthink, because it’s affordable and accessible.’ On the drinks side, Widdison has taken great care to create a wine list heavy on food-focused wines. ‘There will be a lot of whites that work with the spicy nature of the food as well as some lighter reds,’ he says. The list is varied and start at entry level prices increasing up to wines that he calls the ‘big guns’ – more expensive, niche bottles for those who want to treat themselves. Similarly, cleverly curated beers are on offer, as well as refreshing, fruit-driven cocktails. 

When you sit down at a communal table, your drinks will arrive ice cold, and your food will come as and when it’s ready on humble, mismatched flatware. Think enamel dishes, mess-hall style trays and bright plastic plates. ‘The whole concept was to strip away every non-essential that you think you need to run a restaurant,’ says Widdison. 

Thankfully the rule ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ does not apply to this team. The Commissary makes such a departure from the rest of the LDR group’s restaurants and reminds us that they’re not ones to rest on their laurels when it comes to innovative boundary-pushing. Needless to say, this new spot seems set to shake up the food scene in Cape Town just as much as its predecessors did. 

Visit The Commissary at 86 Shortmarket St, Cape Town City Centre, 5–10:30pm.