DRUNCHING IN MELVILLE

Brunch and cocktails in one of the coolest streets anywhere

By Marie-Lais Emond 3 September 2021

Avo Hashie and Hallo Haloumi, both featuring poached eggs, spinach and hash browns. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Drunching in Melville’s 7th Street saw me drinking a most generous and piquant Bloody Mary. Spilt Milk? Nothing to cry over here.

Marie-Lais Emond

Designer friend Ashley Heron and I catch up over cocktails, brunch cocktails, at Spilt Milk. It’s elevenses time and we’re boozing and munching out in the large back courtyard, a gravelled, quirkily decorated and airily attractive space. She and I used to meet often to try out new breakfast places in pre-Covid times. 

Today, two missing brunch invitees are writer Sandi Caganoff and her dog Fred, who is as near human as dammit. He regularly takes himself out to breakfast at Spilt Milk anyway.

Spilt Milk stands right at the top of Melville’s 7th Street. And 7th Street, according to June 2021’s Time Out, is listed 12th in its 30 Coolest Streets in the World.

A typical experience on 7th Street in Johannesburg’s Melville neighbourhood looks like this: cocktail in hand, a whiff of quality food in the air, the hum of casual diners and street drinkers chatting around you. There’s always a discernible buzz.” 

The piece goes on to mention the seafood of Xai Xai, an eatery offering Italian and Portuguese fare including Portuguese sardines, Prego rump, and prawns, calamari and mussels in a creamy white wine sauce. Xai Xai also offers a broad range of cocktails, from the Coconut Clam (vodka, Malibu, lime, cane, ginger ale) to the Gorgonzola (vodka, tequila, Stroh rum, cane and lemonade), alongside popular favourites such as a Margarita, Daiquiri and Mojito.

There are still warnings to people to stay at home as much as possible. Sandi has not had Covid though she’s vaccinated and says what she’s reading makes her feel she should not go out today. Fred must be frustrated. He’s a social animal. Ashley and I have both had Covid and both been fully vaccinated as well.   

Before Covid took its destructive social toll of once restaurant-rich Melville, Pablo Eggs Go Bar stood facing Spilt Milk. It was one of the most popular and trendiest places in the city. It did serve many eggs, eggs all day and into the late afternoon, other unusual and unusually well made breakfasts and brunches too. Especially over weekends, visitors to the cool street queued down both streets from the corner. Ashley and I went during the week.

Pablo Eggs also served jugs of alcoholic coolers, a few lauded versions of Bloody Marys, champagne, tequila, beer, only one wine, any or all of them any time one liked, until 4pm. Brunch seemed to be the preferred time for alcoholic drinks-accompanied breakfasts, or drunches, an amalgam of drinking and lunch.

Spilt Milk almost certainly took note. Its new owners, the Stretton brothers, are not new to what was happening in Melville, just new to this ownership project. So, brunch cocktails, huh?  

The publishing man gamely sipped his strawberry daiquiri without the rum part. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Its large outdoor space is an advantage, especially these days, and it’s interesting that Pablo reopened later at the outdoor pool deck of an hotel.

I’m drinking a most generous Bloody Mary straight off the new Brunch Cocktails menu. Mine is very, very piquant, not lacking chilli but not one of the celery versions either. Ashley has a drinking straw poked among the “melody of healthy fruits” in her “Pritty Pimms” cocktail that also features elderflower. 

A week ago I found myself here at brunchish time with a publishing acquaintance, who turned out to be one of the increasing number of people, especially men people, I meet who don’t drink any booze. I tried to get him a mocktail but there weren’t any so one of the owners suggested the Strawberry Daiquiri off the previous cocktails menu, just without the rum part of the daiquiri. The thought occurs to me now that the Bloody Mary I’m drinking would have made a much finer drink then, without alcohol.

I do appreciate it when virgin or alcohol-free cocktails are created in their own right. As Julian Short of Sin+Tax demonstrates, it can be done exceedingly well, though that’s part of his business more than it is of Jarred Stretton’s, I know.

Common to both the Pablo that was and the Spilt Milk that is, the Bloody Mary. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The publishing man gamely sipped his sweet strawberry drink, more a cordial than anything else, with his Avo Hashie. What he particularly relished was the space.

Items with avocado are the great sellers here, I’ve noticed: a Smashed Avo with Parmesan on Turkish bread; and the signature breakfast or brunch, Avo Hashie of poached eggs, hash browns, fresh spinach, sundried tomato relish, basil pesto and the smashed avo of course. There are a couple of burgers and a couple of wraps that feature this South African favourite, too. 

I’d enjoyed a kick-ass brunch cocktail, complete with its rum, called Captain and Ginger, with my Hallo Haloumi of said haloumi, lovely poached eggs, balsamic and some baby spinach and hash browns of my own. 

More the ‘unch’ part of brunch or even drunch, my crumbed chicken salad wrap, also featuring avo. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Ashley has the Hallo Haloumi this time and I have more of a lunchy Southern Crumb Wrap, the crumbs referring to the chicken coating in the wrapping.

We’re both freelancers. So’s the absent Sandi. I think her Fred would probably qualify here too. One third of Melville’s residents, often writers, artists, music or film and TV people, freelance and work from their homes or cafés. At a fairly nearby table is a man, masked, hard at work. There’s also a woman, maybe also freelance, whose brunch companion we think we recognise from a soapie has probably gone to the loo. She’s taking a few selfies of herself unmasked, meanwhile.

Spilt Milk’s manager recently told me that of all the eight new brunch cocktails the Mimosa was the most popular. I never completely get that drink, no matter how freshly squeezed the orange juice, preferring both orange juice and champagne unsullied by the other.

It’s difficult for me to imagine the Ritz in 1925’s Paris, where the drink was called a Mimosa, competing with London’s Buck’s Club, where it was of course called a Buck’s Fizz. It turned out that both claimants were simply competing for a mixture that had been around long before, “champagne orange” in the winelands of France, that was nothing particularly special. I do imagine it might have been a bit like the tradition there of cutting wine with water. 

As a cocktail, I could understand it better if it had cointreau or brandy added to it, as occasionally happened when it hit the USA as a brunch drink in the 1960s, even rivalling the Bloody Mary for popularity. I have to say one of the other rivals was a banana daiquiri then, so who knows what was really going on. Another thing I know about mimosas is that Alfred Hitchcock really made them popular at that time, having been seen drinking them in both London and New York, a long cigar in the other hand.

Ashley reminds me when it comes to bill time that the brunch cocktails are half price every day between 11 and 12, as are ours. It’s like a sort of happy drunch hour.

We’ve already approved the idea of having cocktails at the brunch point of our different working days. And we’ve agreed that the very nicest part of doing that at Spilt Milk, especially when they make such good soft-centred poached eggs, is sitting here in this most interesting outdoor space. There is another side-stoep outdoor area to the place but this 7th Street courtyard in Melville is our, all of our, favourite. A drunch spot. DM/TGIFood

Spilt Milk – Social Café, 1, 7th Street, Melville. 010 593 7979

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The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food ‘rescued’ from the food chain. Please support them here.

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