Liam Tomlin is not a man to put his feet up. No sooner has the chef built a success of one restaurant, than he opens another, always a different concept serving entirely different food.
A renaissance man of food, perhaps.
His latest venture is The Bailey on Cape Town’s trendy Bree Street, opposite Heritage Square, where his original Chefs Warehouse was established. It is three floors of delicious, starting with The Café on the ground floor, followed by The Brasserie one flight up, and again a flight up to The Old Bailey Whiskey Bar.
Each floor has its own kitchen, although there is a dumb waiter connecting them.
The Bailey partners
The venture is Liam and wife Jan Tomlin’s second with Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo partners Lisa and Warwick Goosen, and Gaye and Ernest Corbett.
The café has been open for just over a month, and already it’s tough to get a breakfast table. So, come for lunch or a light dinner; or book for high tea.
It is, says Liam, based on his favourite London restaurant, The Wolseley. On offer are light meals and patisserie.
The building was built in 1862 and is believed originally to have been a house; it was last a women’s clinic. Over the decades it has changed and been renovated and today just the front is the original building. The look and feel of The Bailey was a joint vision of the Tomlins and their partners; and they all particularly wanted the various levels to be different. They have kept the brick work exposed at the brasserie, adorned with art from their own collections. The back of the building, which houses the kitchens, is contemporary.
A sizeable sum has been spent on the plumbing and lighting, restoring the heritage features of high ceilings and sash windows, as well as updating and modernising, and building smallish but slick kitchens.
The polished parquet floors of the brasserie extend to The Old Bailey Whiskey Bar, as does the jewel palette and velvet upholstery.
The brasserie is devoted to classic French cooking, ‘which there is none of in Cape Town’, says Liam. ‘This [food] is where I grew up.’
It is refined, though not snooty. The waiters are smartly dressed in black and white uniforms, and service is knowledgeable and polished – go old school and order the steak tartare, made at the table, or the crêpes Suzette to see just how polished, with the dramatic flambé part of the show.
But first, Les entrées. I start with the beetroot tatin and as divine on the palate as it is, it vies with the artichoke risotto for attention.
This is proper food, made with love and a great deal of care by head chef Jacques Grove, previously sous chef at Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo, and his team.
On to Les Plats. I opt for melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi, asparagus, grilled oyster mushrooms, truffle and cep velouté. It is, of course, utterly delicious, and is well-paired with Julien Schaal’s Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay from the cool Elgin region. Lime, grapefruit, melon; it’s a clear, pure choice.
Because you cannot possibly leave without a visit to your table by the dessert trolley, we order crêpes Suzette, naturally, and a tasting of everything on the cart. The finely layered opera cake is especially good.
There is also a cheese trolley, offering a mixture of local and imported goats’ and cows’ milk cheeses. The wine list, too, is local and imported, with 75% South African and the balance French labels.
The Old Bailey Whiskey Bar
The bar has brought the concept of a whiskey club to Bree Street. Here, for a certain sum, you can become a member and have your own bottle kept for you on a shelf behind a glass door – the one wall is given over to these glass boxes. The first member has already signed up.
It is a masculine space, with deep armchairs, darker hues and an extremely well-stocked bar. A decent tipple is part of the deal.
‘I call [it] the Forever 30 bar,’ says Liam. ‘It’s for people like me who are in their 50s who pretend they are still in their 30s, who like to have service, who like to have smart waiters in uniforms, who don’t like it too noisy.’
There is something for every pocket, from eye-wateringly expensive tots of whisky, to well-priced wines.
‘The idea behind the bar was to have an amazing selection of whiskies – we have 320 from 14 countries. There are not many places where you get the opportunity to taste so many whiskies.’
There is also a Champagne Bar and the Paul du Toit private dining room.
‘We are not finished. There is still a lot we are going to do, but with our partners we bought this building, so it is not a short lease.’
The Bailey makes four Tomlin restaurants in the Western Cape: in Cape Town, there is Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo Atlantic, Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia and Thali, and there is Chefs Warehouse Maison in Franschhoek.
And if you were wondering, the establishment’s namesake is the owners’ late, beloved and much-missed chocolate Labrador.
Picture: Sam Linsell