Mango Ginger: Fresh and zesty in Obs

Coffee shop review

Apricot and venison, and chicken and leek pies, with potato wedges on the side.

The geography of Observatory is such that it enables a sense of community; it has a ‘high street’ of its own separate from the main road from the city to the south, and has a continuity of architecture and narrow streets that contributes to an egalitarian sensibility.

With its collection of bars, a few theatres, coffee shops, vintage shops and dives, it is often described as Bohemian. Being close to UCT means there’s also lots of students living around which keep it young. It can also be a bit grimy, especially if you have memories of one too many dawns following a looong night of bar tending (hello Ruby in the Dust, anyone?).

Which makes Mango Ginger, situated down the end of the lower main road toward the Mowbray side, a welcome retreat of freshness. It even borders on the perky, but after the sense of sticky beer-stained floors and stale smoke that sections of the drag down the road can leave you with, perky and zesty is a bit of a tonic.

Inside is white and wood with a couple of large chandeliers providing a touch of class, and artfully displayed cakelets and tartlets and breads and all number of yummy things making you feel as if you’ve stepped into the kitchen of a wealthy sophisticate who passes time by baking and dreaming up imaginative treats for her (or his) children’s lunchboxes. It’s warm, it’s inviting, and it is also calming.

Inside is cosy without being squashed, and there is a protected stoep with round tables that are perfect for two but can accommodate four at a push. We elected for the outside, because we wanted a coffee to start with, which means we also wanted a smoke. We presumed we could light up as there were no ‘no smoking’ signs, and no-one said anything when we did. But no ashtray was provided either. This is not the first time this has happened at coffee shops. What’s with that. We have to put our butts in our pocket? What’s this, the army? Smokers are people too, and no, we don’t want to flick our fag ends onto the pavement.

Anyway, moving on. The service was efficient except for one faux pas. Tip: when clearing plates, don’t tip the contents of one onto the other while hovering over the patron’s lap. Just clear the plates and stack them when you’re away from the table. I know this is more a coffee shop than a restaurant, but still.

Ok, the food. Menu has a wide selection, mostly of the meet-you-over lunch type, although it’s the choice of breakfasts that are eye-catching. The eggs Benedict could be great, and the croissant’s are made on the premises. Judging by the other baked goods, and the fact they make their own sourdough bread, means odds are those croissants are good. And a good croissant is hard to find in Cape Town. Omelettes also look like they could lead to the morning equivalent of a boozy lunch.

Seen as it was lunchtime when we were there, and chilly (we were outside – smokers) we opted for the pies. I had the venison with butternut and apricot pie, while my partner chose the chicken and leek. Both were good. Venison and fruit is an old pairing but there was nothing ‘70s here. The filling had just the right amount of tartness to counter the gaminess of the venison. The chicken and leek was good, and comforting, as an old staple should be. Neither of us were that taken with the wheat-free pastry though. I know there are a lot of allergies and food intolerance going around, and I respect that, but we are fortunate to be able to enjoy wheat and have yet to find any of the wheat or gluten-free alternatives beating a good flour and butter puff pastry. That being said, this one made from rice and barley flour wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good. If having the wheat option is possible, it would be welcome.

Mango Ginger will please the allergy-prone or those wishing to avoid certain food groups for whatever reason. They have wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and vegetarian options.

We also ordered potato wedges on the side, which came with tart home-made mayonnaise and a bit of spice from the turmeric that had been added to the frying oil.

No complaints about the cappuccinos we had, they were strong and bitter, the way an espresso topped with foam should be. All too often cappuccinos are really americanos with foam on top. Well done barista.

Mango Ginger has been there for 12 years, which speaks a lot to its attraction, and it may have something to do with its prices. They are very reasonable, and the size of servings are perfect for lunch. They did have some big-sounding mushroom stroganoff and an almond and ginger venison casserole served with Basmati rice on the specials board if you really wanted to roll out the door.

The cakelets on display looked absolutely delicious by the way, so don’t hesitate to suggest Mango Ginger for a catch-up with a friend. If it goes well, you can head down to one of the dives afterwards and make a whole afternoon of it.

Mango Ginger is at 27 Lower Main Road, Observatory, Cape Town.

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