Loop Street, right in between the hip streets of Bree and Long, is often underrated. And in a sense this is a good thing. Because in Long and Bree Streets you find the interesting shops, the hotspots where the hipsters hand out and the coolest street side café’s around town. In Loop Street, however, you find the sturdy café’s that have been around for years, where the older generations go for lunch, where the décor hasn’t been redone in the last 10 years or so and where there is just an all round relaxed, honest atmosphere.
A restaurant that embodies this Loop Street character perfectly is Aroma Café. It’s literally in the shadow of the Chris Barnard Memorial Hospital, on a quiet corner and when I was there, I was easily the youngest person by about two decades. This is the place where the hospital staff, the lawyers and nine to fiver’s from the surrounding offices get their lunch, a lot of them presumably having done so for more than a few years.
Every grey haired gentleman that walks in first glances behind the classic wooden bar area to greet the co-owner, who asks each and every one of them how they’re doing. One gentleman merely walked in, took the Cape Argus from the pile of newspapers balanced on the bar and takes a seat. He looks up at her and she says, ‘Just the usual on rye?’ to which he responds ‘Yes, please’ with a familiar smile.
Telling from the laminated newspaper cutout against the wall, Aroma Cafe was once owned by a Danish woman and her Italian husband. The story reads that the new owners of the already well established lunch stop decided to make a few changes and additions to the menu. These ‘new’ owners are still doing their thing, and judging by the yellow colour of the article, they’ve had this title for quite some time. With all its newer additions, however, the menu still boasts the traditional Danish ‘frikadellen’ (meatballs) and Danish styled sandwiches. These look a lot like a trusty ciabatta but it’s served in a little basket whereas the standard sandwiches are served in a plate.
Walking in there’s a yellow sign on which, printed in black, they advertise freshly squeezed orange or carrot juice. And not even freshly squeezed in a big machine. These oranges and carrots are squeezed one at a time in a tiny, old school squeeze machine. And it’s served in glasses that seem to belong in a 1980s disco party. Thick and slightly textured. Standing next to the windowsill plant on each table, overlooking a narrow little side street, it’s easy to feel transported back a few years.
Apart from the Danish specialities, Aroma Café has many other menu items. And here, what you see is what you get. Ordering a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich on rye will get you just that, on a white side plate with a serviette handed to you. Perfectly satisfying for only R20. And of course it was made in a toaster barely big enough for two sandwiches. Aroma Café is quiet enough to handle it just like this.
What you can also have here is a fully fledged home made meal. Veggies, meat, starch, the works. It smells very homey and tasty and it seems like many of the local folk come here for exactly that.
And while you’re sitting around, having your sandwich, staring out onto the street, you might just here the owners talking a strange language to some of the regulars. So where do these restaurant owners who walk around in crocs and tracksuit pants come from? Israel, of course.
Aroma Café will surely not be every Cape Tonian’s favourite spot to take a breather over lunch, but it sure is a pleasant change of scenery and the wooden stools, tables and floors, the classic letters printed on the window and the canopy outside on the street really just fits perfectly in Loop Street. If you’re interested, it’s at number 94, on the block just below the hospital.