Whether it be a Vay Kay spot or a restaurant or even a gym? For me, it’s what I call, the One Thing. Allow me to elucidate. There is One Thing, whether it be food, drink, atmosphere, décor, music, people, that will keep me coming back to a place time and time again. Sure, I might like a place for a number of reasons… but it is the One Thing, the defining reason, that lures me back.
I get friends asking me where they can find a good cup of coffee or cake experience on the Midlands Meander. Yes, you heard me right. Not just a cup of coffee, or a slice of cake…..but an experience. You have to experience the Midlands. The answer always differs because it is weighted by your definition of your One Thing combined with all the other factors that makes the experience so special.
So why all the explanation? Well, I am going to let you in on my One Thing for five of my favourite places and what I consider to be the best coffee shops in the Midlands Meander. Prepare to have your experience list expand…
Just a quick proviso, the coffee at all these establishments is varying levels of great to blow your mind superb. For any place I frequent, this is a must.
Nottingham Road area
Inspiration. This place just makes you feel great. You walk in and are attracted to the strawberries growing on the walls in planters and the wooden tables amply lit by streaming sun from the huge skylight. The shop which has found some creative uses for everyday items is a treasure trove for those wanting an unusual gift. Coffee shop to the left and around the front of the building taking advantage of the sweeping views of the farmlands surrounding Nottingham Road towards Rosetta and the Kamberg. You can even see the recently dammed Springgrove dam. It is hard to concentrate on much aside from the view. Especially when the mountains are donning a snowy blanket.
Breakfast here is special and is served up on a platter with a number of fresh juices. I have on occasion found breakfast turning into lunch. It’s that good.
Chris, the Manager, is very engaging and will most likely pop by for a chat.
Okay, so…. My One Thing: Blueberry Cheesecake
You have to try it to understand! The blueberries are freshly grown and handpicked. Apparently they are very finicky things to take care of. But the health benefits are through the roof. Of course, for those watching their points on diet, cheesecake has to be the lesser of all evils. Putting a mouthful of this cheesecake in has to be experienced with eyes closed. The texture is so smooth and creamy it makes milk chocolate seem granular. As this heavy silkiness glides over your palate, the explosion of flavour from the blueberries surprises you and you are left digging in for the next mouthful.
Warning: You will be back for more.
Gowrie Village, Nottingham Road
The first time I visited this Café was before a fly fishing competition. It was cold and I needed warming up. The stone exterior of the building and cottagey style décor pulled me in. I love the fact that there are couches alongside the more regular table and chair seating. It is so inviting for those of us who would love to come back with a book someday. After perusing the home made goodies displayed on all the shelves and having some difficulty choosing something to nibble on from the cakes beautifully on show, I proceeded to a corner couch to get some Facebook on (don’t judge me, everyone has their guilty pleasures). The coffee came in a jug. I kid you not. But when the cake arrived I had a sneaky suspicion that I had walked into a land of giants. The slice was as big as the generous sideplate.
My One Thing: Carrot Cake
The carrot cake is a luscious, moist, eat some more experience. The icing could cause a minor riot in some places. It’s that good. The cake also has pineapples in, which I found unusual but absolutely delicious. I am almost certain that you cannot finish a slice that size, but taking the rest home with you is such a treat. Don’t say I didn’t warn you though, as before, you will be back for more.
Lions River, Thokans Garage
The unusual ‘hole in the wall’ coffee experience. This is not a restaurant, although there are chairs if you want to spend some time chatting and drinking your very fine artisan coffee. The décor is typically Steampunk, which by my definition is romantic Victorian crossed with Industrial punk. A real fantasy world experience (excuse the ironic oxymoron). Michael Goddard is always ready to brew you up your favourite caffeinated beverage of choice. His precision in producing this liquid gold is so consistent that you start salivating on the way to the shop in anticipation. He has to be the most chilled out, yet consistently excellent barista I know. #justsaying
Some of the goodies to sort out your munchies are decadent brownies, power bars, scrumptious pies (only the home made type here) and Lindt Macaroons (which are mouthful upon mouthful of fantasy come true).
The music here sets the atmosphere in place. I love music but am not terribly good at remembering band names. I think everytime I leave I am investigating some group I haven’t heard of or genre I have not fully explored. This will always have me smiling.
My One Thing: Chilli Mocha
I started this in summer but have enjoyed it thoroughly in the cold Midlands winter. It gives the extra heat kick that you want to get warm (kind of like jump starting a vehicle) without overpowering the espresso or chocolate. And guess what, its legal!
Just beyond Midmar Dam
Have you visited and read Wanda’s story yet? Well do yourself a favour and step into his world at Wanda’s Café and read how Wanda became the Wonder he is. Situated on the same premises as The Farmers Daughter, Wanda’s Café is (okay I am going to bust a new term out here – go make it real for me if you would) Shabby South African Chic! I love everything about it. Beautiful chairs with mismatched cushions, newspaper on the floor (try pick up that R20 note), farmstyle wooden tables and gorgeous light fittings.
The latte art produced by Wanda could bring a story book to life. It is a delight waiting to see what you will get.
There are some seriously decadent niceties to tempt your tastebuds here. Of the options, the lemon meringue is an experience of balance. Combining the tartness of the lemon dessert with the balanced sweetness of the meringue in a jar that will keep you busy for a while.
My One Thing:Wanda’s Story
We all like a good story. Especially when it is true. So visit Wanda’s Café and read his story written on the wall to find out how the road he walked to become the Barista he is.
Chatterton Road, The Square, Pietermaritzburg
Okay, so Pietermaritzburg isn’t strictly the Midlands Meander, but it is in the Midlands right? This is the kind of place that I could sit chatting for hours with friends. Oh, hold on, I already have. The décor makes me think of Capetonians. Laid back and a place you could chill out at. Exposed brick surfaces, fantastic chandeliers, comfortable chairs and couches around a huge fireplace. There is nothing quite like sipping your favourite hot beverage next to a crackling fire on an oversize couch. Well, for me at least.
The food here is tantalising. I have a sweet tooth, but both savoury and sweet here have impressed me. The Nutella crepes are enough to elicit a firm commitment to gym for the next two weeks, but oh so worth it!
My One Thing: Luxury hot chocolate with espresso
They are not kidding. It is certainly luxury. The only comparison that comes to mind is draping oneself in a luxurious faux fur blanket while sitting in front of a big fireplace. Luxury and comfort. Essentially this is a mocha coffee but with a twist. The chocolate is lying a third of a spoon deep at the bottom of the mug. Stir it up gently if you can, even though you want to eat it out of the mug. Trust me, the combination is worth waiting for.
All of these places are special in their own right and your One Thing may be different to mine. So now that you have my list, what is yours? I would be happy to expand my experience list. Please feel free to share, I so do love a good experience. See you on the road…
Text and Images by Carmen Darends