Cape Town can be pretty tribal; everyone has favoured haunts. Clarke’s is something of a hipster hangout. From the outside, it looks a bit like it belongs in a small, one-horse town in the middle of nowhere—a few dinky tables and minimalist signage seemingly lost on this broad stretch of road. Step inside and it’s brimming with life, though – a rather sexy mix of waifs and vixens for waitstaff, and design detail that hooks you instantly.
Scenesters and beautiful people aside, as far as Cape Town cafes go, Clarke’s has an edgy look—a contemporary designer’s take on the retro American diner, complete with counter seating and tattooed lady-chef (the epically skilful-with-a-frying pan Lyndall Maunder) working magic over a sizzling grill. Myriad tiny pot plants (87 in all) lined up on shelves against the walls and windows, lampless lightbulbs dangling ornamentally, and all these weirdly attractive people. Who knew models ate fried food?
Apart from the people-watching, you come here for seriously tasty, hangover-blitzing food, so pray that their all-day breakfasts are in fact available all day (when ingredients run out, that show’s over); burgers are sensational, salads okay, and their fries (served with aioli) are a meal in themselves. Our preference is for their hash browns—diced with green asparagus, poached eggs and cauliflower, and optional haddock. For dessert, it’s a toss-up between their artisanal ice-cream (in fantastic flavours like peanut butter or cardamom), or sinking your teeth into one of the other diners (equally yummy, if you don’t mind chewing on hipster flesh). Though Clarke’s is not perfect (service can be sheepish), which is perhaps part of the charm – it’s unpretentious, with the vibe of a neighbourhood local bang in the centre of the city. They serve damn fine coffee, and the bar stays open deep into the night. That’s right – instead of milkshakes, they serve hard liquor, and things get decidedly festive.