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Welcome to Cape Town’s café scene, Florentin!

by Kim Maxwell 27 Mar 2024
Florentin - Bar

New Florentin restaurant is fast developing a following for contemporary Middle Eastern dishes in sharable or solo breakfasts. And there’s more to come.

It’s a quiet Monday and many of Florentin’s tables are filled with breakfasting singles or couples by 10.30am. A few guests from the upstairs serviced hotel apartments are arriving or departing with their carry-ons. It’s buzzing and feels cosmopolitan.

Exec chef Etienne van Wyk, Jordan Biderman-Pam and Amber Poole are the co-owners of Florentin. Biderman-Pam has worked in the restaurant industry at venues including Simon’s in Constantia, and Caprice in Camps Bay.

Etienne van Wyk runs a catering company that services big-name stars and crew at large concerts and events. Florentin was their attempt to create something smaller, to add their personal twist to flavours they all enjoyed.

“We found this spot right under Tokyo Aparthotel. It wasn’t intended. It had foot traffic around Loop Street,” explains Van Wyk.

“We were always going to do a Middle Eastern Mediterranean restaurant. Then we added a brunch menu at the last minute to cater for hotel guests. That’s why we have a short menu, some classics with a Middle Eastern twist.”

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Middle Eastern Shakshuka and Turkish Eggs with homemade flatbreads
Middle Eastern Shakshuka and Turkish Eggs with homemade flatbreads. Very shareable too.

BEST SHAKSHUKA IN TOWN

“The space dictated the trade,” says Jordan Biderman-Pam, continuing the conversation. “It was never planned as a breakfast and lunch spot. But then we thought: let’s make the best shakshuka we can, the best Turkish eggs we can. It may not necessarily be the most authentic – traditionally does it have dukkha on it? Probably not. But Etienne talks about the ‘music of mastication’ you get when you’re eating.”

“Yes, it’s [an auditory accompaniment] in one of the Ottolenghi books,” grins Van Wyk. “It’s about texture, the sound of food crunching... In Middle Eastern food they like adding crunchy ingredients such as pickled cabbage.

“So it’s not traditional Middle Eastern, but we add crispy chickpeas on our shakshuka, for texture. Then dukkha with nuts – so spices not only as flavour, but adding crunch. Otherwise you’re just eating Turkish eggs.

“Same with the ground beef kyima flatbread, where we’re adding walnuts.”

The sweet-savoury Florentin shakshuka is a colourful merging of cooked tomato, red and yellow peppers, surrounding eggs and labneh baked in a cast-iron pan. Dollops of yoghurt add freshness.

The Turkish Çılbır is herbier and lighter, and probably my new favourite city breakfast. Soft-poached eggs on a swirl of chilli butter and salty-sour, dill-streaked yoghurt, labneh and garlic creating a subtle savoury mix. A sprinkling of Middle eastern spices and sesame seeds on top. With homemade flatbread for tearing and dipping in eggy/yoghurt goodness…  

In both the shakshuka and Turkish eggs, the “crunch factor” definitely adds a textural dimension.

At an adjacent table, a tourist has ordered Florentin toast, egg-dipped brioche drizzled with an orange syrup, topped with cinnamon cream and toasted coconut. This house variation was created after a trip to Morocco.

“Florentin Toast is our version of French toast, based on the flavours of Marakesh. I was there a few years ago,” Van Wyk explains. “Their food is quite simple. One morning they brought us orange halves, with some orange syrup and ground cinnamon. So that inspired our Florentin Toast.”

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Main dining area
Main dining area is adjacent to the bar.

STARTING TO FLOURISH

Van Wyk says the restaurant name Florentin is from the Latin word florens, meaning “flourishing”.

“Because we started with breakfast, moving into lunch, we realised quite a lot of people come in to eat on their own, or in twos,” adds Biderman-Pam. “So, we decided not to make small tapas plates. Although the food lends itself to sharing from your big plate.” It certainly does.

But grabbing a breakfast pastry or custard-filled pasteis da nata (they’re seriously good!) and a perky Cortado, is a speedier option at the bar, if you’re short of time.

Florentin’s décor is cheerful, in keeping with its relaxed café atmosphere. Tall windows framed in dark aluminium are repeated in charcoal tones on surrounding walls, while “Mumbai pink” paint adds interest on a large central wall. Dining tables are finished in unstained meranti, or topped with riverbed stone slabs. Basket shade lights hang above a stylish underlit bar counter tiled in olive green.

The adjacent bar also lends itself to casual sundowners late in the day. It’s here that Florentin’s Middle Eastern flatbreads shine, making ideal shared snacks with drinks. I haven’t tried them, but have it on good authority that Lahmacun (an Arabic reference to dough with meat) is a fast favourite. Or there is Kousa, a vegetarian flatbread topped with grilled zucchini, labneh and saffron oil. It has non-traditional additions in mozzarella and confit garlic.

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Florentin Signage
Florentin is in the heart of the city, on the ground floor of Tokyo Aparthotel Cape Town in Loop Street.

But I can vouch for the pulled lamb Kawarma satisfying comfort food cravings at lunchtime, however. Slow-cooked with ras el hanout, tender lamb is served with creamy tzatziki, sumac onions and a vibrant tomato-and-parsley-laced salad.

Simple and easily sharable. So bring a friend, order a dish or three, some flatbreads and you’re set.

Florentin, Ground floor, The Tokyo Aparthotel, 87 Loop Street, Cape Town. Tel 021-109-0082. Book via Dineplan. florentin.co.za Open daily from 07h30 to 15h00 for brunch. Lunch from 12h00 to 15h00. Dinner is being launched soon. Recommended: Order a bottomless mimosa jug at breakfast for R195.

IMAGES: Supplied by Florentin, Ettiene van Wyk

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