Origin goes Noir with coffee and food by night
A longtime fixture of the daytime coffee culture of Cape Town, Origin now extends into the night with Café Noir.
At Café Noir, a collaboration between Origin owner Joel Singer, chef Ayanda Matomela and principal bartender Nicholas Crouse builds on overlapping passions to create a new style of eating and drinking.
Anybody who knows and enjoys even a little bit about coffee knows about Origin in De Waterkant. It’s been there since 2006, in its three-storey Dutch-style warehouse which dates back to 1901, used for tobacco and snuff.
The building is a heritage site, and even though the long bar counter on the left holds the most modern of coffee making equipment, its walls of exposed brick and cast iron pillars are steeped in palpable history. Upstairs is the roastery, sacks of coffee beans piled high, and a barista academy.
While it buzzes from early morning to late afternoon, with coffee lovers getting their fix, hanging out, meeting friends, grabbing breakfast or lunch, owner Joel Singer, already a pioneer in Cape Town’s coffee culture, wanted more. The hours after sunset were calling to him.
“I always wanted Origin to be a café which had a part in the social fabric of our life here from early morning until late at night. Somehow the time was never right. Then, by happy coincidence, I was introduced to bartender Nick Crouse and chef Aya Matomela and things suddenly came together in late 2021/early 2022,” he said.
In the broader context of Origin and its mission in Cape Town and South Africa, the dream has always been about setting a standard and leading the way in coffee and café culture, said Singer.
“Earlier on, that was about locally roasted, high quality coffee, skilled baristas, and daytime café culture. Now we want to help drive the culture of coffee (and tea) in the evening, starting with opening our café late while still serving the widest range of speciality coffees and brewing methods, and also offering unique, cutting edge coffee- and tea-based cocktails, and spirit pairings.
“We want to prove that there is no reason why the finest establishments and restaurants in the country cannot have an amazing and different culture of evening coffee. As an extension of the core coffee/café elements, we have added carefully crafted cocktails, a curated list of craft beer and wine (with the help of sommelier friend Brett Naicker), and amazing food.
“Yet again we felt we had to lead the way in showing that there is no reason for serving average-or-poor coffee in restaurants, and there is no reason why cafés should not be open in the evening (or even all night long).”
Bartender Nick Crouse has been in the industry for almost 12 years, beginning with a weekend job in high school. “The social aspects appealed to me, and I decided to keep at it. I found both social and creative stimulation when I discovered cocktails. I got my big break back in 2013 when I competed in my first cocktail competition and won the second competition that I competed in that same year. I got my second big break when one of the judges from that competition hired me in his Umhlanga bar, Lucky Shaker, at the beginning of 2015. From there I went on to win two national competitions and placed third in the world in the four years I was at Lucky Shaker. I went on to be a co-owner in another bar until Covid hit. I moved to Cape Town from there and continued in the post-Covid industry down here.”
Crouse’s cocktails he has created for Café Noir are unlike anything else, anywhere else. The only raw ingredient is the alcohol; everything else is prepared daily – syrups, fruits, tinctures, potions and mysterious brews. He even uses a sous vide method for one of them.
“We believe in constantly pushing the boundaries of creativity and ensuring that there is always something new to try from classic cocktails that may have been lost to time to bespoke drinks made to order or our seasonal signature cocktail menu,” said Crouse. “Our cocktails are always made with fresh in-house ingredients. We also look to the kitchen for inspiration and technical skills. This goes from infusing cocktails in a sous vide to using Maillard reaction to caramelise sugars with direct heat.”
The food menu was created by original chef and collaborator Ayanda Matomela, who is moving on soon. His sous chef Mongezi Mzoneli will be taking over the reins in the kitchen. Matomela hails from Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and had such a passion for cooking that he took a job as a commis without any formal training. Two years later he applied for and won a scholarship to study at Silwood School of Cookery.
“I trained in various top 10 kitchens in Cape Town, including La Colombe and Greenhouse at Cellars-Hohenort. I was later offered an opportunity to work for Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen in Nice at his flagship Michelin starred restaurant, and worked at his Innovation studio here in Cape Town too,” said Matomela, who was attracted to the Café Noir project by how different it is and the level of skilled people involved in the project. “We are all obsessed with providing quality for our guests.”
He described his style as “a playful expressive way of cooking, taking inspiration from the food I know, the food I grew up eating at home and finding ways that I can put it on the dining tables with a touch of skill refinement. Small plates such as samp and beans, and pap and chakalaka are presented in a way that makes them a small bite size”.
Priced from R75 to R180, the menu includes sorghum and parsley “risotto” with a five-minute egg and Parmesan crisps; seared beef loin with coffee butter; and pork belly prepared with kombucha, and served with apple, chilli and coriander salsa and mushroom custard. When you get to dessert there’s amasi and sorghum cheesecake with quince and vanilla cream, and Mzoneli’s creation called Durban Hot Summer (he grew up in Ballito on the KZN coast). It’s not what you’d expect from a dessert at all, and guests can look forward to his enthusiastic approach.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to take the helm of the ship and be its new captain,” he said. “The course we – Ayanda and I – set out on from the beginning of the project has been to modernise African cuisine, and to put it on a global stage. I still want to focus on African cuisine, to tell stories that have been passed down in my clan and in all clans, to be able to hero some of the indigenous fauna and flora, and lost African techniques for food.”
The menu in the future will feature some aspects of Durban flavours, but African produce driven, he promises. “The menu will always be evolving to adapt to the ever changing micro seasons.”
So that’s the story in a nutshell: Origin coffee shop by day, bar by night. But how does something like this happen? It was a lot of “who you know”. Singer, who had the idea in the first place, tells it like this.
“A consultant approached me with some time on his hands so I asked him to help me pull the project together. The first step was to find some key people in time to get the project off the ground,” he said.
“The consultant introduced me to Nick late in 2021 and things started to come together. The head of our Barista Academy, Hayley, knew we were looking for a chef for the Café Noir evening café-bar project. She introduced me to a young(ish) chef she was socially connected with – Aya – and he, Nick and I hit it off immediately: how Nick felt about bartending, bars and cocktails and how Aya felt about the deeper meaning of food, just aligned with what Origin and I were about when it came to coffee, and my views on food, drink and hospitality in general.”
Mzoneli met Matomela during his apprenticeship at The Greenhouse. “That is where we first worked together in a high paced environment, being thrown in the deep end and only having the team that you work with to help you stay above water,” he recalled. “We ended up gravitating towards each other through our work ethic and became friends. When we parted ways on our own journeys, Aya had been someone I would always work with. So when he approached me with the Origin project, I was excited to join him and start a new adventure.”
When Crouse met Singer and they discussed the nature of cocktails and specialty coffee, he said. “We found these two things had a lot in common, as did we. We decided to go ahead with a collaborative project to take Origin café into the evenings with a speciality food and cocktail programme.”
Singer said he is a collaborator by nature and he thrives when he gets to work with talented and driven people. “Already being overcommitted with the job of running the rest of Origin, I didn’t want to run Café Noir alone. I needed a chef and a principal bartender whose values aligned with mine and Origin’s, and who were willing to treat this project as their own.
“It was truly amazing how in sync we were across so many aspects of the project – our views on food and drink product and culture, the type of teams we like to create and run, the type of engagement and feeling we wanted to give our customers, and the food and beverages we wanted to offer.
“It was all about a shared commitment to the essence of things. A casual and friendly environment one can linger in, being served by a passionate and knowledgeable team, being surprised and delighted with new experiences.
“At its heart this is what Origin has always been about as a coffee roasting company, as a daytime café, as a team, and as a company.”
Operating from 6pm, Wednesdays to Saturdays, Café Noir fills those spaces when you want an after-work drink (I’m guessing this is A Thing again now the world has calmed down to only a mild panic, and judging by the offensive return of rush hour traffic) but you also need something proper to eat that isn’t a bowl of olives or biltong. It’s a sexy space, in incredibly talented hands. It feels as if it will be just as comfortable with a group of friends, as a sophisticated single. There are books… DM/TGIFood
Origin | 28 Hudson Street, De Waterkant, Cape Town | +27 21 421 1000
Follow Bianca Coleman on Instagram @biancaleecoleman
The writer supports The Gift of the Givers Foundation, the largest disaster response, non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent.