Hazelwood, a village full of happy surprises

Hazelwood, a village full of happy surprises
Brisket Benedict on toasted croissant and all the more usual trimmings. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

People are nice. Unbelievably nice, in Village Hazelwood, which is full of folk enjoying the niceness, each other’s company, the local restaurants, cafés and bars with food.

There is a surprising number of people about, for a mid-weekday, around tables on old house stoeps, on the parquet floors of old sitting rooms, in a new tree house. I find a hornbill cracking not hazelnuts but pecans as they drop from a flourishing tree that’s about three storeys high. The tree grows in front of the GrootFM radio station.

That’s not exactly true, the part about finding the hornbill. The owner of Culture Club pointed it out to me. It appeared to be a Grey Hornbill and I tried to photograph it with ludicrous results but was mesmerised.

After I gave up trying to photograph the hornbill eating a pecan, I took a pic of just the pecan. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

This was once a sort of middling residential, what a publishing friend calls “happy mediocre”, part of a suburb, on the eastern side of the capital, near Waterkloof. Bit by bit, parts of it have been and still are shifting over from being domestic homes to places of food-based hospitality and entertainment. 

I enjoy dodging the traffic and catching the Gautrain to Pretoria but, after a trip over on the highway from Jozi with a friend, my immediate thoughts were of coffee. There’s a choice of such places in Village Hazelwood. The Spout Coffee Company hadn’t swung into full action yet but just across the road was the Aroma Gourmet Coffee Roastery. In the street, I also noticed signs for Caffѐ Mauro, the Italian suppliers not far away in Hazelwood Road.

Aroma from the outside looking in. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The Aroma was almost full inside and outside where there’s a giant working Avery flatbed scale with No Jumping written on the platform. It goes up to 120 kg but Rael Shiller, the nice and chatty though busy owner, told me it’s leniently adjusted to display everyone’s weight as less than it is. He has four Aromas dotted around Pretoria but spends most of his time at this one, visibly roasting in a section behind the counter and proudest of his Ethiopian Sidamo that I had before me. He also makes his own range of gelato and his own breads. There’s a little more about those later.

From where I was sitting outside I could see inside, to the right, a long table surrounded by bar chairs, which, oddly, is the Wi-Fi section limited to this particular spot. Even more oddly, all the people at work there were men, rather older than might be usual at an IT café, for instance.

There are a few more oddities, these on the menu, if very pleasant ones. I hadn’t thought about breakfast just yet, maybe because I’d already been considering lunch later, wondering where it should be. So I didn’t quite believe my eye when it lit on Brisket Benedict under breakfasts. The brisket was long-and-slow cooked, behaving a bit like bacon, the poached eggs excellent on a croissant baked on the premises and then toasted, under hollandaise and alongside a pot of red, yellow and green roasted cherry tomatoes. 

Shiller asked me what I thought and said he’d hit on the brisket idea partly because of being Jewish and partly because of having many Muslim customers. The staff, including Shiller, all wear running shoes for good reason. They’re quick and good and raced over with the other dish ordered by the friend who’d driven me to Pretoria and was still around, fascinated by the enclave. He’d ordered a croissant With Belgian Chocolate. It also came with a bowl but that one was full of molten chocolate for dipping the already chocolat-y croissant.

The Belgian chocolate croissant arrived with a bowl of more molten chocolate. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Before crossing the street from Aroma to the Culture Club, I passed on the pavement a transformer box, painted to look like a cartoon hot dog trailer. Its counterpart, on the other side of the road, is similarly painted as an ice cream van.

Culture Club’s owner, maybe the friendliest and nicest of them all, who pointed out the hornbill, also pointed out a lot of what would seem to be friendly competition because of the centre featuring at least three different coffee places, including the bakery but also because of all the small-plate or tapas joints and plenty of gin places.

The hot dog version of the pavement transformer boxes in Village Hazelwood. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The inside door of a ladies loo I saw at the Culture Club Bar De Tapas displayed a sign for Boxing Exercise with Sebastiaan Rothman at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld stadium but next to the loos is the tapas and G&T restaurant’s even more clubby building. It’s more of a weekend and evenings cigar and whisky Culture Club clubhouse, with cool leather seats and sepia wall prints.

Most of the emphasis at Village Hazelwood’s collection of food places is on the outdoor experience. It’s something of a selling point or attraction to visitors. All the places have their indoor rooms but the outdoor patios or pavement areas are what they feature in common. Then, before I moved on to Peaches, he showed me that Hazelwood hornbill, breaking open pecans from the beautiful tree back across the road. 

It’s more of a weekend and evenings cigar and whisky Culture Club clubhouse. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

The witty manager at Peaches explains how popular or “lively” his place is over weekends. It’s an all-day restaurant but people generally arrive early on Saturdays and Sundays, maybe even at 10.30am for drinks before having lunch. They stay on, partying all day, and usually have a second meal in the evening, “more because of necessity than hunger”, and possibly feeling a little less lively. Incidentally, even though they both serve peach bellinis of course, this Peaches is not to be confused with a slightly similar all-day place at 44 Stanley in Jozi, called Just Peachy.

Looking something like a Malfy gin establishment than anything else because of all the merchandise on the patio, Alfie’s Pizzas is more like the business with the pizza oven further in. Sara Fiachetti, Alfie’s daughter, runs this restaurant and says the Alfie’s deli, a part of it till recently, has closed. It seems Hazelwood shoppers prefer the South African versions of the goods. Alfie’s, the restaurant, is quite separate as we’ll find.

Alfie’s Pizzas is more like the business further in. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Around the corner from the pizza place is Little B’s, a tiny bubble tea place, and next door to that a guesthouse, Firwood. Opposite that guesthouse is a bakery and coffee spot called BakeHouse. They do breakfasts, baked inbetweens and lunches, many with a Portuguese bias.

Yes, there are good pasteis de nata and extraordinary looking chocolate croissants nothing at all like those of Aroma. Rather, they look more like the Hasselbacks of the chocolate croissant world.

Some stunning pastries from BakeHouse, like the Hasselbacks of the chocolate croissant world. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

There’s a picture, a hand drawn family portrait, probably of three brothers holding a plate of pasteis and on other walls many encouraging messages, signs like Life is What You Bake of It, and Another One Bites The Crust. The people at their tables within the interleading rooms are generally more elderly than at the other spots I’ve been to today and the whole restaurant is far bigger than imagined from outside. This must have been a large-roomed Hazelwood home once.

Back on 16th Street is Taso’s Grill, one of the places I’d thought might be good for lunch today. It may well be on another day because, while Taso Katharis is chatting to a guest at the entrance, presumably about his steaks and hamburgers, I nip around another corner to Alfie’s and fall in love with the menu.

Nervetti, a wonderful anti-waste dish that uses tendons and cartilage, here of pork, with potatoes and mustard vinaigrette. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Alfie’s has been here since before Hazelwood had this village enclave so this was never a house. His family were from Modena in Italy but Alfie Fiachetti is quite young and grew up in East Africa. He creates very impressive modern Italian dishes. His clientele is often of the local embassies, the Italian one of course but also the French, as today.

As my antipasto there’s nervetti, a wonderful anti-waste dish that uses tendons and cartilage, here of pork, then very, very slow-cooked until gelatinously soft, something like brawn as the result. It is served at Alfie’s as a sort of salad with potato and mustard vinaigrette, with toasts. In a delicious moment I’m back on the prosecco route in the Veneto with my sister, footsore and hot, finding an osteria seemingly in the middle of vine-covered nowhere, where I had my first nervetti. 

Chitarra al pesto e pancetta. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Next door to Alfie’s in Hazelwood Road is Raya, a generally Eastern place for sushi, ramen, dumplings and more, playing loud eastern pop today, which is not altogether a bad thing when competing as it is with some noisy scaffolding erection operation on the side of the Alfie’s building. But the knowledgeable manager here is another of the Hazelwood village gems and the food is outstanding.

It is impossible for me not to indulge another special craving, homemade spaghetti al chitarra with homemade pesto and good pancetta, here. Chitarra, supposedly resembling guitar strings, is the wonderful, homemade eggy version of spaghetti, cut and not extruded. The friend who is still here and who has offered to drive me back to Jozi has a pork belly dish that also looks fabulous, soaked in citrus, slow-cooked with ginger and served with orange and lemon softened zest in the juices. 

Pork belly soaked in citrus, slow-cooked with ginger. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Afterwards I take a stroll on the other side of the street, past Lexi’s Healthy Eatery, the vegetarian and vegan eatery I know from others in Jozi, as I do the Fat Zebra also now in Jozi’s Parkhurst and before that in Linden. I head for Hazelwood’s Spout Coffee Company for a pre-highway coffee on one of its glass platforms resting in the treetops. 

I now look down on Village Hazelwood from another bird’s eye view. 

“Everyone was so nice,” says the friend. “That’s funny, it’s what I’ve just been thinking. Everywhere here,” I say looking down on it. DM/TGIFood

Village Hazelwood | In and around 16th St, Hazelwood | 012 471 1766

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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