IT says so right there on the website: “The Bailey sets out to bring theatre back into dining out, igniting a sparkle of glamour when enjoying a night out on the town.” ~ Liam Tomlin: proprietor/partner. This is no idle promise; The Bailey delivers from the moment you arrive to when you eventually leave (which can be several hours later).
First of all, the staff are incredible. The extremely suave, extremely cool Baby – black-suited, wearing sunglasses against the setting sun, clipboard in hand – is the man at the door. However, and this is most important: you do not pronounce it “baby” as in “nobody puts Baby in the corner”. It is a French pronunciation, like, hmmm…”bah-beh” with the emphasis on the second syllable. Don’t make it awkward.
We were initially supposed to dine at the Bistro on the ground level of the heritage building (read the About section on the website, the history is fascinating) but apparently things are going on there, changes and what-not, so we were relocated to the Brasserie on the first floor. Shame, poor us. Baby showed the way; on the stairs another staff member allowed us to pass and complimented me on my outfit. If you haven’t experienced this kind of thing before, let me tell you, it is a wonderful gesture – to give and receive. Nothing effusive or insincere, just a genuine “you look lovely in what you are wearing” or “love your look” with the circular hand movement. Small. Unexpected. Appreciated.
Once seated at our corner table in red velvet chairs, next up was sommelier Lennox, bearing flutes of French 75 cocktails, a superb cocktail to wake up the palate. Check out my Instagram @biancaleecoleman for more pics, by the way.
The menu is très French (although not entirely), which you will immediately notice by all the French words. No need to feel intimidated; your waiter or waitress knows everything and will explain it all. We were looked after by Zandie who has a glorious laugh which includes her throwing her head back in mirth, a joy to witness. She recommended the gnocchi with parmesan, preserved lemon, and petit pois to begin but I eventually ordered pan seared quail with a significantly sized glazed sweetbread, melt-in-the-mouth lyonnaise tartlet, and sauce soubise which had a subtle pepperiness. Very rich, yes, but oh so delicious. I could have licked the plate.
Because of the weight of my starter, I chose grilled line fish (Cape salmon) with pancetta and spring onion ragout, sauce vierge, and a side of French (obviously) fries for my main course (above). So in essence, fish and chips but much fancier. The salmon was perfection, with flavours to match.
My friend went totally French classic with escargot with parsley butter, grilled shimeji mushrooms and garlic to start; and steak tartare – a starter but she had it as a main, to follow. I’m glad she did because it’s a dish that is prepared and served tableside, and who doesn’t love that? This is the dining theatre of which was spoken. Lennox himself did the honours, seasoning and mixing until it was exactly right, and presented with toasted brioche. I don’t know if one can just pop in and have that with a drink, but if so, I am there for it.
With the warm bread and cultured butter made in-house at the beginning of our meal, plus all the above, it came to dessert time and I was too full to do it justice. Pastry chef Thando proudly brought out his trolley, which carries chocolate parfait, strawberry torte, pear tarte tatin, macarons, and baked cheesecake – all of which are served to you with ice cream – as a five-in-one dessert. All I could manage was the strawberry torte, nicked off the cake stand with my fingers. There’s a cheese trolley too, if you prefer savoury (or have both even), and I’ll put money on the crêpes suzette being done at the table too.
After dinner, we repaired to the Old Bailey on the next floor up. It is itself further split into two levels including an outside section where one may smoke and enjoy the city night air and buzz from the street far below. The Old Bailey is furnished with plush velvet and leather chairs and sofas, a grand piano, genteel jazz musicians, and a bar serving a fine selection of classic cocktails and other fine beverages; I can highly recommend the Old Fashioned. I noticed plates being brought out, and later (as in now while I was writing) learned there is a food menu up here too, so that answers the steak tartare question, although I’m guessing it’s not a tableside vibe. Even so, being open from 3pm until late, this is definitely going on my list of places for light early evening meals, and I look forward to returning.
- Where: 91 Bree Sreet, Cape Town
- Hours, Mondays to Saturdays: Bailey Bistro 8am to 9pm; Brasserie lunch 12pm to 2.30pm, dinner 6pm to 9pm; The Old Bailey Bar Lounge 3pm to late
- Bookings: Dineplan
- Call: 021 773 0440
- Email: [email protected]