Meet in The Foyer for coffee and blah BLAH fish paste
This cosy, comfy little restaurant within the foyer of the old Lake Cinema is aptly called The Foyer. It starts with a jar of fish paste and leads to a community.
Their fish paste is called Blah Blah, inspired by the TGIFood story early this year by Bianca Coleman. The neighbouring community is Parkview. I ask if the jars of Blah Blah are for sale. Yes, they are, and would I like to try some? Better still, I sit down, order fine Italian coffee and good, English-style toast with the fish paste and cherry tomatoes.
The toast is just-just right with crispy edges and a softer centre for the butter in lashings, to melt into. The fish paste arrives dolloped into a little dish so that I can be as indiscreet as I like and have all of it over just two of all the toast halves. I feel slightly prickle-eyed with nostalgia. And then I buy some.
I’ve had the Italian coffee here before. I was interested that it’s a Neapolitan coffee of arabica beans from south and central America. Naples is where espresso was really initiated as a drink.
Like many South Africans, I’ve had my Peck’s and Redro or “anchovy toast” many times, at many places and a lot of it at home. That was before it was withdrawn from our shop shelves, seemingly forever. Every now and then I remind myself I have a recipe for Gentleman’s Relish. It is still available from Thrupps but it’s essentially an import from Elsenham in England and not exactly the kind of fish paste we’re talking of here, anyway.
Now this homely Foyer Coffee Shop and Bistro has made a fish paste damn near the fish paste thing we know so well, maybe just a tiny-teensy bit richer somehow. Chris Rix, the cook or chef, patiently made it over and over again, tweaking it here and there until he deemed it reliably and comparably perfect. It’s a clue to all his food. All of The Foyer’s dishes are tried and tested like that before they make it onto the laminated menu.
Looking around, I recognise by sight some locals and other people from this very building, the old Lake Cinema, turned Theatre and now The Old Lake Market, in Parkview’s Tyrone Avenue.
It’s as though this is the clinging space of a community, the comfort spot for hanging out with or meeting up with each other. For the rest of us, it’s cosy and has excellent food of the home-cooked sort. Because of not being trained to run slick, profitable food operations, Chris and his fellow-chef, Patrick Mdlulu, from the Old Eds Club, make everything fresh, from scratch. There’s no fast food. It’s worth-waiting-for food for those who don’t “have to dash” just yet.
For those who dash, there’s a good and very different coffee shop, Croft & Co, particularly frequented by the biker crowd, three shops away. There’s also a Perfect Cup downstairs in a small centre in the opposite direction and inside which is a picture framer I know from Melville.
For the people that have service or retail spaces within this Old Lake building, coming here is part of their own community. It’s relaxed fun, maybe what binds them all together, as different as they may be. Simon Peacock, who manages the whole space for his wife’s family, the Bruynses, might be another binder. He wears shorts winter and summer, has a shock of white hair, much of it bound back by a leopard-print band.
“Has a leopard dragged you through the park?” asks Chris when Simon stomps in with brown smudges all over his face and looking a lot more tousled than usual. He’s just returned from looking at “ancient” furniture in an extremely filthy and equally ancient warehouse. His is the renewed and antique Cape Cottage furniture business in the heart of the premises, where the movie auditorium was. There are not many places that can deal with such big pieces of furniture. A similar suburban cinema of the same sort of age, the Scala in Melville, had just such a furniture place for many years, in its own heart.
“Have you tried their frozen bobotie?” Simon asks me. “We have coffee, friends and croissants here. Oh, and kippers. I can’t resist the smell of a kipper.”
The movie house was designed in 1939 and opened in 1941, part of a group of 680-seaters opened at the time in Joburg’s suburbs, mostly by the Schlesingers, who also had Killarney Films and were creating a market for them. For a year in the mid-80s this then ex-cinema operated as a supper club theatre. The furniture moved in and little shops or stalls were created on both sides, presumably where wide walkways had been. I’ve met a few of the stall holders.
Monya Muradzvi is one. He has a studio with his sewing machines and a rail of finished or to-finish clothes, at the very back, which might have been an area leading to the cinema exit. He’s magically fixed up my mom’s leather jacket, taken up hems of pleather pants, made me a cotton summer dress, helped me with buttons on shirts, lined an itchy wool skirt, and is a sensible, even philosophical adviser about clothing problems to me and a great problem solver. He’s quite often at The Foyer early in the day for black coffee, “And it’s good! For some mornings, you know…”
Not far from him is the hairdresser. I’ve seen her in The Foyer at lunchtime with friends: Natalie Cook. She has chicken burgers or breakfasts “with those potato cakes.” She says recommendingly that, “All their pastas are pretty good. And we often have teas or coffees with their fresh flapjacks.”
Fruity, warm smells of hair products colour the section of passage outside her shop and usually I see, on my way to Monya, more than one person in chairs with bits of foil in their hair.
It’s fascinating seeing who’s here, some of whom I’ve been seeing lately and some that I already know, who are also part of The Foyer community within The Old Lake Market. The lake is Zoo Lake with its rainbow-catching fountain in the middle, geese and ducks always about, as well as a few lapwings running stop-start fashion on the lawns of the surrounding park. It’s one block from the old cinema, now market.
On the passage at the other side of the market is Mark the bookseller, as I know him. He’s really Mark Inman of The Old Limpopo Curiosity Shop and has old maps besides a maze of “mostly non-fiction” books. I follow the maze as I follow him in and we go left, then right, then right again, then right and right again, to his desk towered over by bookshelves.
Mark is a regular at The Foyer, often beginning his day with an oats breakfast that has butter, milk and honey with it or having a light lunch of the New Yorkie, these Yorkshire puddings with fillings that they make here. He likes the spinach and feta one I’m told. However, he’s also often out on the street, a busy, rather dapper figure. I bet he likes the way the entrance is looking, with a tall book cupboard blocking out part of the name so that it reads, The Old Lake Mark.
Diagonally over from the entrance to Mark’s maze is a favourite vintage shop, Never Again Nostalgia run by Pru Nicholas and Sue Mamiane, mother and daughter. I’ve acquired interesting jackets and shirts from them over time. Today I see a pair of beautifully embroidered carpet slippers, luckily too big for me. I spot the women having tea at the window table of The Foyer, from where, I suppose they can see their shop entrance even when having freshly baked scones and cream with strawberry jam.
Apart from the clothes, Pru Nicholas in particular has some lovely Linnware in among other collectables. Linnware was made at Sir Thomas Cullinan’s studio during the middle part of the 1900s in Olifantsfontein, so quite relevant to this part of the country.
Next to Pru and Sue is Trudy Mitchell. She originally had The Foyer space up until Covid, when the present owners took it over. Trudy had it for selling cakes and goodies made by many home-bakers in the surrounding areas. She still has the cakes on a trolley outside and in her new shop beside the vintage one.
Sam and Chris Rix are the present owners and say they don’t compete with Trudy with their types of cakes and tarts, “Except with carrot cake” says Sam Kretschmer. “We both have them but they are very different.”
“But where’s the projection room?,” I ask Simon. He points through the motes and shafts of light and says. Up, over there. It’s a dance studio for children.”
I visit Julia on a day when she doesn’t have a class, sadly. She’s just walked her dogs and we climb the spiral staircase from a street entrance, Apparently seeing through the steps worries the very little ones. The studio is called Noise. “Jazz, modern, hip hop, not ballet but anything that’s cool and on TV.”
I’ve seen Julia Lamberton in The Foyer too. She has coffees and teas with a chicken salad or a wrap but says they very often deliver food up here when she has business and art meetings, “Beautifully, on proper crockery with cutlery and everything. They are amazing. Actually I love this spot especially on Saturday mornings when Chris is out on the pavement with the smoker, making bacon rolls, the sax player is a few doors down and then there’s a cheese seller further along.”
She taps the wall and says she thinks that this is where the projection “hole” was. “Come and look here – you’ll see the wall curves slightly.” It does that twice before reaching the studio mirror that stretches right across the next wall. “It was cabled all along these curves.” The walls are mauve now, up to what would be barre height in a ballet studio, with sparkly stars placed at various heights. “They’re for spotting.” I remember doing that and having to spot something as you flicked your head and spun on one leg round and round. I still have a simple, recurring dream about that. I spin happily for ages, flipping the other leg to increase speed.
One day I visit The Foyer and realise it must be Monday when I see a red velvet rope like those from old movie houses and theatres to manage the queues. This one’s looped across the entrance.
But today I’m here again, having the excellent coffee and planning a possible late breakfast when two friends from Rosebank phone to ask me to lunch. I convince them to come here instead. They don’t seem sure, not knowing the food here and being a bit fussy about where and what they eat. But they do pitch up, looking around them in some fascination.
One virtually squeals when he sees kippers on the menu. The other plays it the way he considers “safe” and orders a quiche salad. “You can’t mess up a quiche much,” he explains. I smile to myself. They both comment on the good coffee meanwhile.
I’ve had little Yorkshire puddings before, usually stuffed with roast beef and horseradish, so I try a ham, mushroom and avo one here. The quiche salad eater has been commenting as he progresses that the salad is “bloody good”.
It reminds me of Sam Kretschmer, Chris Rix’s partner, telling me that when she had first met him she thought that if anyone could make a salad taste good, they’d get her vote. Sam is an architect who just blew out from career pressure and looked for something more soothing. Chris was a sales consultant who loves cooking and has been pretty good at it since he was a kid. They looked at this place and took it on the spot. By then they’d been doing more than home meals and had started catering for friends and family.
It’s true, says the kipper eater, even his small salad is quite delicious. He’s such a kipper fan and says he never finds them on menus and these ones are beautifully cured. He also happens to love poached eggs from poaching pans, that I call steamed eggs and that’s what he’s got.
I just like to differentiate a bit prissily because poached and steamed eggs do taste quite different, though both are delicious in their own fashion.
So we’re all surprised in our own ways, I by the stuffed Yorkshire pudding. Its ingredients are what make it, I think and it’s what Chris’s food is about. “As long as we have first-class ingredients, Patrick and I can do a lot in our little kitchen.”
The show here nowadays is the people that come and eat in this cosy piece of Parkview, who find themselves and others, as well as a few treats (like the Blah Blah), within a happy and unexpected place like this old cinema building. DM/TGIFood
The Foyer Coffee Shop & Bistro | The Old Lake Market | 082 458 1352 or 011 646 3919
The Old Lake Market | 64 Tyrone Ave | Parkview
The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi feeding schemes with food ‘rescued’ from the food chain. Please support them here.