Rich in heritage, with grand wining and dining splendour, The Bailey by chef-businessman Liam Tomlin has just opened in Cape Town’s Bree St with a gracious bow to a service-driven era says KIM MAXWELL.
It’s been a long wait for Cape Town Central City diners, hungry for something new. Originally scheduled to open in April, The Café at The Bailey finally opened to excited chatter in the first week of June. The Bailey’s three levels open a floor at a time, to allow staff to implement quality while easing into service. “We’re perfectionists here,” is a common phrase with this team. After previews I’ve had of the entire space, I reckon the wait will be worth it.
The Bailey’s Bree St location is in what is arguably the Cape Town CBD’s most fashionable area – ably secured by the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID). It is diagonally opposite Liam Tomlin’s original Chefs Warehouse site, last trading as Chefs Warehouse Winebar & Pinchos. It marks Liam and wife Jan Tomlin’s second business venture with Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo partners Lisa and Warwick Goosen, and Gaye and Ernest Corbett.
The refurbishment introduces glamour and flair to heritage bones, transforming functional rooms that once operated as a women’s clinic.
“We bought the building, so we’ve invested a lot in lighting and plumbing and kitchens. I wouldn’t do that if we were just renting for the short term,” says Tomlin.
On entering the Cafe, the marble-tiled ground floor has an old oregon pine counter for coffee, croissants and patisserie delights – baked on site – under a sparkly chandelier. You can order coffee or sip wine on round café tables, seated at high-backed stools in pinstripes or buttoned green velvet.
“It’s an all-day café. I see this bottom space as somewhere more elegant, where mothers may drop their kids and come for coffee and a chat. We’ll serve breakfast, lunch and light meals until the evening. There will be lighter wines, rosé and bubblies,” says Tomlin. Pass the banquette seating with gilt-framed mirrors, to move up a wide flight of stairs to the Champagne Bar, for oysters and drinks on ice.
The first floor has the same carefully restored heritage bricks and tall sash windows. But polished parquet extends back past a lift wallpapered in old Parisian street maps to a bar counter. Tomlin’s eclectic art collection hangs on many walls, a brass chandelier suspended over the staircase.
Tablecloths and table service
“This is our classical French Brasserie,” says Tomlin, “with old-style service, like the overseas hotel where I started cooking 40-odd years ago. Where you went to a restaurant because of the maître d’ or owner. You’d go for the theatre on the floor, not the celebrity chef. It’s that theatre that I want to reintroduce.” The theatre of tablecloths and classic table service.
“We’re doing steak tartare but we mix it at the table. Instead of a dessert menu, we wheel out and cook desserts such as crêpes Suzette, and we have a cheese trolley too, with a mixture of goat’s and cow’s milk cheeses, local and imported. The wine list is 75 % local with 25 % French labels.”
Staff wear classic uniforms: waistcoats, ties and polished shoes. You can dress up as a customer, too, if you feel like it..
French fare at the brasserie
The Brasserie menu is classic French but “our interpretation of it”, along the lines of duck confit, beef bourguignon, coq au vin and steak frites. With tarte Tatin and crème brulee to finish. The Bailey’s head chef Jacques Grove worked as sous chef at Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo previously.
The top floor is The Old Bailey Whiskey Bar, where whiskeys and single malts can be sipped from velvet armchairs. It feels masculine in darker navy, embossed ceilings and parquet floors, an old map of Cape Town stretched across one wall. A black Italian-tiled terrace opens to City Bowl views.
“This is what I like to call a grown-up bar. For the “Forever 30s … people like me in their 50s, who pretend they’re still in their 30s,” grins Tomlin. “Who like a conversation at the table without having to shout, with a lovely whiskey, beer or wine.” Prices cater to a range of tastes and budgets. So, if you’d like to sample a 60-year-old label, 250 whiskeys and single-malts from 13 countries will be the place to start.
“I’m trying to get a London, New York environment in the look and feel upstairs. Here it is drinks served with selected small dishes from the café and brasserie,” says Tomlin. Even the loos at The Bailey catch the eye, with different coloured paint stripes, or doors wrapped in wallpaper.
Grand European café
The inspiration? A few months ago, Tomlin went to Paris on a “research trip”, frequenting cosy bistros, classic brasseries and grand hotels. “I went not so much for the food research – I just wanted to sit in restaurants of two or three generations, and experience what it felt like.”
“Downstairs is modelled on a grand European café, as you’d find in Budapest, Paris, Prague and London. A meeting place, or for celebrations. In the morning for breakfast, then moving on to a light lunch. Later in the year, we’ll introduce high tea in the afternoon. We don’t have Europe’s pre- and post-theatre culture in Cape Town, but it will be the perfect place for a drink. That was the inspiration, those grand European cafes I visited over the years. I love the theatre of those places.”
The one exception is an intentionally South African space. In the Paul du Toit private dining room, a screed floor is splotched with bright paint, best viewed through transparent Louis Ghost chairs. It’s in honour of the late artist’s love of primary colours. A turquoise ceiling has a red industrial metal conduit.
The dining room is decorated with studio trinkets and paintbrushes, ceramic plates, a sculpture and about 20 paintings (some owned by Liam; others for sale). “It’s the perfect space to show his work,” says Lorette du Toit, who “manages Paul’s legacy”. “Paul loved to experiment – he worked in so many mediums,” she says. “Basically, the room is dedicated to Paul’s friendship with Liam.”
The Bailey is named after a much-loved chocolate labrador, who died a few years ago. Says Tomlin: “This is a place with beautiful interiors, where you can do business, celebrate, relax, come with your family or romantic partner. To suit every occasion. That’s what we’re trying to do here.” Honouring the classics with a grand yet comforting experience.
What: The Old Bailey Whiskey Bar / The Bailey Café Brasserie Champagne Bar
Where: 91 Bree Street, Cape Town
Old Bailey Reservations: 021 773 0440