Chef Liam Tomlin opens new restaurant in Cape Town

Posted by Anita Froneman on 8 July 2022

The Bailey by chef-businessman Liam Tomlin has just opened in Cape Town’s Bree Street, arguably the CBD’s most fashionable area. 

The Bailey Liam tomlin

It’s been a long wait for Cape Town Central City diners, hungry for something new. Originally scheduled to open in April, The Café at The Bailey finally opened to excited chatter in early June. It is diagonally opposite Tomlin’s original Chefs Warehouse site, last trading as Chefs Warehouse Winebar & Pinchos. It marks Liam and wife Jan Tomlin’s second business venture with Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo partners Lisa and Warwick Goosen, and Gaye and Ernest Corbett.

The refurbishment of the old building introduces glamour and flair to heritage bones, transforming functional rooms that once operated as a women’s clinic. ‘We bought the building, so we’ve invested a lot in lighting and plumbing and kitchens. I wouldn’t do that if we were just renting for the short term,’ says Tomlin.

ALL-DAY CAFÉ

On entering the Cafe, the marble-tiled ground floor has an old oregon pine counter for coffee, croissants and patisserie delights – baked on site under a sparkly chandelier. You can order coffee or sip wine on round café tables, seated at high-backed stools in pinstripes or buttoned green velvet.

‘I see this bottom space as somewhere more elegant, where mothers may drop their kids and come for coffee and a chat. We’ll serve breakfast, lunch and light meals until the evening. There will be lighter wines, rosé and bubblies,’ says Tomlin. Pass the banquette seating with gilt-framed mirrors, to move up a wide flight of stairs to the Champagne Bar, for oysters and drinks on ice.

The first floor has the same carefully restored bricks and tall sash windows. But polished parquet extends back past a lift wallpapered in old Parisian street maps to a bar counter. Tomlin’s eclectic art collection hangs on many walls, a brass chandelier suspended over the staircase.

TABLECLOTHS AND TABLE SERVICE

This is our classical French Brasserie,’ says Tomlin, ‘with old-style service, like the overseas hotel where I started cooking 40-odd years ago. Where you went to a restaurant because of the maître d’ or owner. You’d go for the theatre on the floor, not the celebrity chef. It’s that theatre that I want to reintroduce. The theatre of tablecloths and classic table service.’

Tomlin continues: ‘We’re doing steak tartare but we mix it at the table. Instead of a dessert menu, we wheel out and cook desserts such as crêpes Suzette, and we have a cheese trolley too, with a mixture of goat’s and cow’s milk cheeses, local and imported. The wine list is 75 % local with 25 % French labels.’ 

FRENCH FARE AT THE BRASSERIE

The Brasserie menu is classic French but “our interpretation of it”, along the lines of duck confit, beef bourguignon, coq au vin and steak frites. With tarte Tatin and crème brulee to finish. The Bailey’s head chef Jacques Grove worked as sous chef at Chefs Warehouse Tintswalo previously.

Liam Tomlin

The top floor is The Old Bailey Whiskey Bar, where whiskeys and single malts can be sipped from velvet armchairs. It feels masculine in darker navy, with embossed ceilings and parquet floors, and an old map of Cape Town stretched across one wall. A black Italian-tiled terrace opens to City Bowl views.

‘This is what I like to call a grown-up bar. For the “Forever 30s … people like me in their 50s, who pretend they’re still in their 30s,’ grins Tomlin. ‘Who like a conversation at the table without having to shout, with a lovely whiskey, beer or wine.’ Prices cater to a range of tastes and budgets. So, if you’d like to sample a 60-year-old label, 250 whiskeys and single-malts from 13 countries will be the place to start. 

GRAND EUROPEAN CAFÉ

 The inspiration? A few months ago, Tomlin went to Paris on a “research trip”, frequenting cosy bistros, classic brasseries and grand hotels. ‘I went not so much for the food research – I just wanted to sit in restaurants of two or three generations, and experience what it felt like.’

The Bailey

‘Downstairs is modelled on a grand European café, as you’d find in Budapest, Paris, Prague and London. A meeting place, or for celebrations. In the morning for breakfast, then moving on to a light lunch. Later in the year, we’ll introduce high tea in the afternoon. We don’t have Europe’s pre-and post-theatre culture in Cape Town, but it will be the perfect place for a drink. That was the inspiration, those grand European cafes I visited over the years. I love the theatre of those places,’ he adds. 

The one exception is an intentionally South African space. In the Paul du Toit private dining room, a screed floor is splotched with bright paint, best viewed through transparent Louis Ghost chairs. It’s in honour of the late artist’s love of primary colours. A turquoise ceiling has a red industrial metal conduit.

The dining room is decorated with studio trinkets and paintbrushes, ceramic plates, a sculpture and about 20 paintings (some owned by Liam; others for sale). ‘It’s the perfect space to show his work,’ says Lorette du Toit, who “manages Paul’s legacy”. ‘Paul loved to experiment – he worked in so many mediums,’ she says. ‘Basically, the room is dedicated to Paul’s friendship with Liam.’

The Bailey is named after a much-loved chocolate labrador, who died a few years ago. 

Find The Bailey Café Brasserie Champagne Bar at 91 Bree Street, Cape Town.

Phone: 021773 0440

Pictures: Kim Maxwell  

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