29 Oct A place with lots of soul – Karoo Café
Being so one dimensionally verbal, I am in awe of people who are able to conjure up a vision, and then give it a material life.
John du Raan is such a person. Perhaps it’s because he grew up in the Karoo where the vast, open spaces allow room for dreaming and reverie.
He has taken a piece of land along Lynnwood Road, Pretoria, bridging the Faerie Glen Nature Reserve, and allowed it to organically evolve into a place where artists, architects, conservationists, foodies and philosophers can meet, work, and exchange ideas.
Du Raan is appalled by the way profit driven development has robbed the land of its real worth and value to people.
“What is really needed,” he says, “is a deeper understanding of the highest form of human settlement, the creative community”.
This community involves everyone from the kitchen staff at the Karoo Café and Elza van Dijk, keeper of the pottery studio, to Catherine Gaum of the Karoo Art House, and Mareli Brink of the Karoo Café.
IT’S A DOG’S LIFE: Olive, the Great Dane, is usually found at the entrance to the Karoo Café, ensconced on her own specially reserved ‘brakbank
During the week, other people take up residence at Karoo Square – architects, interior and textile designers. Even Madiba has his own spot – there’s a smiling cardboard cutout of him.
The Karoo Café is open to the public during the day, and lazy couches, well-worn books and board games make it the perfect place to rest your weary head.
There are treasuries of stories and puzzles for children, and Olive, the Great Dane, is usually found at the entrance to the café, ensconced on her own “brakbank”, a comfy couch with a sign that reads: “Not for humans. This is Olive’s couch.”
The food at Karoo Café is sublime and novel. A freshly grated beetroot and apple salad offsets a chillied chickpea timbale; chargrilled chicken is accompanied by mielie cakes.
Du Raan’s dream was to grow hydroponic, organic fruit and vegetables under the café roof, so that the chefs could amble down and pluck their ingredients out of the garden while diners ate. That’s still to happen, but in the meantime, a gallery has taken root there, and you can browse around while you wait for your exquisitely prepared meal.
Every six to eight weeks, gallery curator Gaum brings in new, challenging installations and exhibitions, so there’s also something fresh and visual to feast your eyes on.
You can also visit the pottery studio (classes are held weekdays and Saturdays), where you’ll find heavenly organic sculpture and ceramics.
The serene Van Dijk will happily discuss the evolution of architectural and landscape ceramics with you. The studio, like the restaurant, is open air, offering a space that is bright and limitless.
Just behind the studio is a garden boutique with loads of indigenous plants.
Du Raan aims for Karoo Square to open up seamlessly into a nature reserve, where the endangered Juliana’s Golden Mole and other species can be protected.
But it is at night that the Karoo collective comes alive. The skilfully designed architectural space – which dissolves the lines between inside and outside – is transformed through light and water into a fluid, shifting space.
In the evenings, musical soirees, astronomy meetings, poetry readings and philosophical discussions animate the space. And this is just how Du Raan wants it.
His visual inspiration for the café comes from Claude Monet’s café paintings, where the café comes to symbolise everything that is free from the limitations of conventional thought.
And so, if you’re looking for food, and food for thought, if you want succour for your mind, body and soul, then head for the Karoo.
Contact Karoo Café on 0724080909 .