Blakes is one of those Cape Town venues that have the good fortune of being able to boast that most important of selling points: a view. And not just any view, mind you, but a jaw-droppingly spectacular vantage point looking directly at the imposing edifice of Table Mountain. That's why the top level of Blakes is really the place to start as you enter through the venue's large Asian doors and are faced with the first of the venue's three levels: the Kimono Lounge & Persian Deck.
Arriving for dinner on a weeknight, this plush and dark club section was predictably empty, so we took the stairs up to the second level – the bar and restaurant area.
Here we found the Long Bar, with a large and welcoming bar counter and a small smattering of only 14 tables under large windows looking towards the mountain. This was also fairly empty, so for a pre-dinner drink, we chose to climb yet another set of stairs to arrive in the Salon Prive, a room that can best be described as a gentlemen's club, with panelled walls, bookcases and luxurious leather sofas. It should be a cigar lounge and is apparently the members lounge. But it was the large deck and that aforementioned view that grabbed our attention, so we sipped on our caipirinhas and marvelled that the curse of Cape Town's summer, the wind, was being merciful on us.
Descending a level to eat, we found a relatively empty restaurant but a very busy menu – put together by the head chef of Blakes' sister restaurant, Opal Lounge. We were immediately intrigued by the large selection, reasonable pricing (mains were no more than R85 but some starters were nearly as much) and seemingly improbable taste combinations. We selected the salmon with orange, beetroot, coriander & lemon (R65), which certainly expanded the horizons of our tastebuds, and the tempura fried quail with mango, mint and peanut salad, spiced salt and sticky soy (R57). The quail was a bit disappointing, but the salad more than made up for this.
For mains, we had the steak frites with béarnaise (R85), which was done to perfection, and the slow roasted lamb, mint aioli and rosemary ciabatta (R70). Unfortunately, the lamb arrived in the ciabatta, making it look like a sandwich, which is not what one expects for dinner. Presentation aside, the lamb was perfect.
Our waiter was friendly but clearly lacked training – he didn’t know what the specials were – if there were any – he uncorked our bottle of red wine and poured without offering a taste, and didn't ask how I wanted my steak done. We also had to ask for steak knives and salt & pepper for the table.
Sated and feeling like getting a bit of fresh air, we returned to the comfy couches on the deck to enjoy the hazelnut brownie & honeycomb semi-fredo (R55) and the Eton Mess with Balsamic macerated strawberries & meringue (R40) which was a sweet delight and refreshing way to cleanse our palates after the meal and wine.
So the verdict? We're not quite sure if it's a bar, a lounge, a club, a restaurant, a function venue, or a mix of all of these, without successfully being any one of them.
It's a superb venue, the decor is stylish and interesting, there's that view, the cocktails menu is extensive thanks to the imported Scottish mixologist, there's ample parking, it's conveniently situated, and it strikes me as a great place for after-work drinks/sundowners, or for a late-night cigar. The restaurant section however disappointed and doesn't seem sustainable, given the small number of tables, extensive and difficult menu, and few diners on the night we were there. A simpler menu would be just as good. It appears that a smaller, tapas-style menu is in the pipeline.
Chatting to the owner, David Graham, it seems Blakes is still finding its feet regarding where to focus, and is looking at making more of the club area downstairs with targeted, themed evenings, hosting functions in the top level, and making its mark in the competitive Cape Town lounge and nightlife landscape.
- Blakes Lounge & Bar & Dining is situated at 189 Buitengracht Street, where the road forks.
- For more information, visit the website: www.blakesbar.co.za