When visiting the V&A Waterfront, it can be easy to forget that you’re in the middle of a working harbour. Whether you’re window-shopping in the mall or negotiating groups of tourists, glimpses of the boats that throng the water’s edge can be few and far between. Happily, this is not the case at the new Life Grand Cafe, which occupies one of the oldest buildings in the harbour and, from its pier-side location, also enjoys panoramic views.
Life Group of Companies founder Maira Koutsoudakis says, ‘We identified this gem four years ago and instinctively knew that it would be the ideal home for us. Situated on an arterial flow between the heaving V&A Waterfront and the new, edgy Silo district, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa and the Robben Island departure point, the heritage building dates back to 1902 and offers guests unparalleled natural and architectural beauty.’
You may find it difficult to notice the world-famous views, however, because the interior design of this new venue is likely to demand your attention. From the pretty entrance courtyard, you step into a refined reception area and wine cellar. This space in turn opens up to the light Conservatory where Life’s signature ‘theatre bars’ – Salad, Crudo, Forno, Coffee and Cocktail – are clad in patterned marble slabs with brass details.
The Conservatory dining area is chic-casual: classic café-style chairs mingle with velvet-covered semicircular banquettes. The grass herringbone-matting ceiling is both an arresting textured detail and a clever way to absorb sound. Nautically inspired hanging lamps are a nod to the seaside setting – and if close to the ocean is where you long to be, you can step out onto the Pier Promenade for an outdoor dining experience that will have you instantly feeling like you’re on holiday.
It’s clear that Maira and the Life creative team – which has designed and decorated private island resorts, boutique hotels and luxury lodges in locations from the Seychelles to Kenya, as well as five other Life Grand Cafes in South Africa in the brand’s 17-year history – has brought the group’s signature ‘restaurant as resort’ thinking to this new space.
On the first floor, a further range of rooms and possible experiences opens up: climb the turned-timber heritage staircase and you’ll discover the Library, Victoria Upper Dining and Alfred Upper Lounge areas. The latter two have already been hired for private events and other celebrations, as well as being elegantly comfortable options for dining during inclement weather.
The moody, gentleman’s-club ambience of the Alfred Upper Lounge makes you long for a rainy winter evening on which to mark a birthday in style, while its airy, feminine counterpart, the Victoria Upper Dining room, is one of the loveliest spaces in the building. Featuring buttoned banquettes upholstered in pale eau-de-nil velvet, as well as heritage furniture and a collection of blue-and-white Delft china heirlooms, this room also sports an airy, open ceiling, with exposed original timber beams.
Maira explains that she and her team saw the design and decoration procedure here as ‘the art of excavation and the process of omission’ during which they strove to emphasise the building’s origins (it was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1902 as the first post office and built during the reign of her son, Edward VII). They removed elements that ‘marred the original “bones” and character of the building’ and sensitively restored it to its former glory before adding ‘period-specific Victorian and Cape Dutch nuances, Delft detailing and references to the harbour and its historic role in the life of the city of Cape Town and its people’.
Diners familiar with the cuisine at the Life Grand Cafe locations in Gauteng will know what to expect from executive chef and partner Jeanel Pieterse’s kitchen at this new location: dishes created using the freshest ingredients where provenance is king. As Jeanel says, the Life signature is ‘comfortable classics with a little twist; food you want to leave home for [but also] food you feel at home with’. For a light lunch, choose from the salad bar or tuck into a selection of tapas, ceviche and new-style sushi. There are more substantial offerings, too, from steaks to pastas, fresh line fish – and desserts.
Life Grand Cafe is that rare sort of restaurant that combines a light-hearted atmosphere with impressive views, interiors and food. Ideal for everything from a bubbly-fuelled brunch to an intimate milestone celebration, this is a place that makes every occasion feel special.