Birillo brings the capital coffee culture

D7K_6700Let me just come out and say it – I dislike malls.

I’d much rather amble down shopping lanes with pretty facades or an open-air market, but malls and their ‘pay-for-your-parking public space’ is the norm in Pretoria. That’s why when there’s a mall-based enterprise that’s trying to be different and independent, I’m fully behind throwing our cash at their dream rather than another cookie cutter chain store.

D7K_6688The small but stylish Birillo Coffee is slotted into the space under an elevator in Glenfair Mall (Lynnwood Road). Moms with their weekly shop squeeze past you and all the cups are takeaway, but sit a while and you’ll see the charm.

First of all, the coffee is good and that’s the point. Owner Reone Louw says she chose the no-fuss set up and lack of a food menu purposefully to draw all attention to the caffeine.  Inspired by the coffee culture in Cape Town and further afield she wanted to ignite that love for a good cup here in the capital, and it certainly is the main draw card for Birillo, but not the only one.

D7K_6684When you look past the setting, you’ll see a row of loyal customers chatting to the truly friendly (not ‘please-just-tip-me’ friendly) baristas at the bar. There’s that magical brewing smell, trendy décor and tables perfect for people watching or reading while sipping. Frankly, it’s more relaxed and genuine than the majority of hipster-tastic espresso meccas.

I still would like there to be a pretty courtyard or seating nook, but admire how Reone chose a specific concept and uncompromisingly went for it. “Decide what you want to do and be the best at it,” she says to me, and you can see this in how Birillo is exactly the espresso bar she wanted, not more or less. It’s a calculated choice that works, given its oddly intimate charm considering the setting.

D7K_6691Here coffee culture meets mall culture, which reflects where our capital city is at the moment in my mind. There’s a drive for bringing originality and personality into spaces that have been previously commercial and generic. The trick is pursuing a dream without constant comparison to how other cities do ‘cool’ or completely ignoring the current norm. Birillo finds a way to find a comfy spot in this tension.

So, swing by the little shop under the elevator for a hazelnut latte and a chat.D7K_6679


Along Lynnwood #1: Afroboer

copyright Elna Schutz 2014
From students in Hatfield to the affluent soccer moms of Silver Lakes, you’ll be hard pressed to find a Pretorian from the East that doesn’t use Lynnwood Road daily. Along it are some coffee shops that are obvious favourites, like Aroma, but there’s really no need to ever cue for Saturday breakfast to Fourno’s again.
We might not have a view of the ocean, but just off Pretoria’s favourite suburbian road you’ll find a trail of small and authentic cafés worth taking your mother to.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

Around the corner from the busy Solomon Mahlangu (Hans Strydom) crossing is the relaxed and lovely Afroboer. The farmhouse-like café has a neat and simple look, relying on a few thoughtful touches and lots of fresh flowers for décor. Besides, the centrepiece of the ‘baker’s café’ is a scrumptious cake-filled counter that gives you enough to look at.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

The focus on cakes, tarts and bread is no wonder, considering that the restaurant grew out of owner Michelle Cronje-Cibulka’s kitchen and night-time baking business. The precision and creativity needed for great baking is a balance that’s clear throughout Afroboer’s menu.

There are local classics with unique touches, like the pap en vleis featuring beef short rib and chorizo stewed in beer. Many of the breakfast and lunch options are original but accessible. You may not have thought of eating baked oats with whiskey, cream and roast hazelnuts, but now that you know it exists, you can’t resist.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

I was happy to note that Michelle’s perfectionism (read dedication) continues throughout the drinks menu, which isn’t treated like a lazy second heir as is too often the case.
Pretoria East’s healthy living fanatics will love her red and green juices or Paleo recovery shake, while couch potatoes can get nostalgic over retro hot chocolate with a Marie biscuit marshmallow sandwich.
There’s a good coffee offering (Kilimanjaro single-origin roast), with an interesting tea collection on the way from one of the last remaining Malawian tea producers.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

Finding a nice coffee shop is one thing, but I get even more excited by a business that tries to do good beyond making a profit. In this case the vast majority of Afroboer’s staff hasn’t graduated high school and almost none have previous culinary experience.
Michelle wanted to give unique chances to people that might not have had them, and trained all of them from scratch. Knowing this makes that white chocolate cheesecake taste even better.

Check out their Instagram for food pics or the rather adorable website and put Afroboer on your list of places to try.

copyright Elna Schutz 2014

Things to note:

– Great for breakfast, but be prepared for busyness
– Gluten-free and allergy options available
– Very kiddie friendly
– Closed evenings, Sundays and public holidays
– Garden upgrades and alcoholic options on their way
– Menu changed regularly

Open Pretoria

copyright Elna Schutz
I’ve been back in my hometown of Pretoria for a while now and am finally getting more involved with all those interesting things I always knew must have been hidden somewhere. I’m hoping to do a lot more writing about awesome things in the capital, so keep an eye on the blog.

In my personal opinion just too many of the culture and event websites in South Africa have an extremely cynical tone, as if something can only be remotely enjoyable if it’s the most ground-breaking and underground thing to have ever been made, preferably by equally cynical people with beards.

That’s not the kind of stuff I write. I happen to believe you don’t make stuff cooler by putting down everything else. In the wise words of The1Janitor:

you're allowed to like stuff

To kick off all things Pretoria, I recently went on a walking tour of the CBD hosted by  Capital Collective as part of Cool Capital 2014, who are both doing some great things for the city.

Led by local architect Andries Adriaan Louw, we  trekked through arcades and hidden side streets. From the half-built Rapid Transport System bus stops to the abandoned synagogue where the Rivonia trial took place, we went into some pretty awesome hidden corners. While similar photowalks and Instameets are popular Pta, it was lovely to see a mixed group, with some sketching or just along for the heck of it.

copyright Elna Schutz

I almost wish these kind of events would be superfluous. In a perfect world Pretorians would know and love their inner city and all its history as much as the locals of Barcelona or Rome. I know we’re far away from that, but it really is time get out from behind the hijack-proof car windows and explore our home beyond cushy shopping malls.

copyright Elna Schutz

Among my favourite childhood memories are school holiday trips into the CBD. Back when using public transport was dodgy at best and there was nothing rapid about it, my mom would take us into town with the bus. We’d feed the pigeons at Oom Paul square, visit museums and spend hours in the huge public library. For a European child this would be nothing out of the ordinary, but in my  insular world of security fences and carpooling this was an adventure like few others.

My mom’s insistence that her children wouldn’t be scared of their hometown seemed strange then, but crucial to me now. That pride and belief that Pretoria is a beautiful old city stuck and is now probably what’s making me so eager to be part of the drive to get people engaged.

copyright Elna Schutz

There’s definitely a revival brewing, and this is the time to not only get on the bandwagon but help shape it. Areas like Joburg’s Braamfontein and Maboneng should show us what’s possible as much as what we can do different. You don’t have to be one of those ‘arty creative types’  with purple hair to fit in either if that’s not your vibe. If there’s one thing about the capital that’s always been cool, it’s the authenticity of the people. Come in your tekkies and have a jol, even if you don’t care that the beer is craft and the coffee is single-origin.

copyright Elna SchutzConsidering that for the longest time couldn’t imagine living here full time again, I’m getting so excited about the possibilities and can’t wait to see what Pretoria looks like in five years.
Maybe I’ve seen the light, or just eaten one too many koeksisters.


What would you love to see happen in the capital? 
Drop me a comment. 

**Photos copyrighted to Elna Schütz. Don’t use without permission. It’s not nice.*