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July 11, 2012

Cape Town: A man’s guide to life in the Mother City

Table Bay Hotel's Head Concierge Ryan van Zyl. Photo courtesy www.suninternational.com.

The Mother City offers a number of wonderful and unexpected experiences, and for visitors to our picturesque hometown there is no one of greater assistance, and with a wealth of knowledge, like a friendly hotel concierge.

For guests of the Table Bay Hotel at the V&A Waterfront, the man to call on for all practical and information needs is the Table Bay Hotel Head Concierge, Ryan van Zyl.

Think of him as Bond, the ultimate Cape Town spy, who not only knows how to shake his own martini but also where to find the best one.

One of only three members of the Les Clefs d’Or International Concierge Association in Africa to wear the esteemed Golden Keys, Ryan firmly believes in the personal touch that only a concierge can bring to a guest’s stay.

He is equally vocal about his love of Cape Town: “I want travellers to discover this city and I have a wealth of experience in advising guests on how to make the most of Cape Town, whether that is obtaining the unobtainable or helping them discover unknown treasures.”

I sat down for a chat with Ryan to discover just what a man needs to navigate life in the Mother City:

Congratulations on your appointment as head concierge for Table Bay Hotel. What does this achievement mean for you?

As an experienced head concierge, and one who has decided to make a career of this position, you can’t really be promoted. You look for better and bigger properties to challenge and improve yourself. The Table Bay Hotel certainly fits into that.

As the quintessential man in the know, what are your top new spots in Cape Town?

Josephine’s Cookhouse, which replaced Caveau at the Mill in NewlandsClarkes Diner & Bar in Bree Street and De Grendel Estate with its new restaurant that recently opened – the setting alone demands a visit.

And some more established, though fairly new restaurants such as Burrata at the Biscuit MillDogs Bollocks in Gardens and Jackal & Hide on Kloof Street.

Photo courtesy mbjones.

What can a modern man in Cape Town not do without?

First, craft beer – it is revolutionising the beer-drinking crowd, especially in Cape Town. Brands such as Brewers, &Union, Jack Black, Camelthorn and Napier to name a few, are creating a cult following with Capetonians. Second, a hands-on butcher – Frankie Fenner Meats in Kloof Street brings free-range, grass-fed and high-quality meat to the public. People care a lot about this stuff, and it’s great that there are options besides your local supermarket. Third, Barnet Fair is a favourite for the hip, trendy Cape Town crowd needing their hipster beard or hair tamed. It’s located next to &Union which, if it needs introduction, you are clearly missing out one of the best of Cape Town’s chill out spots. For the overworked executive who needs help with large and small tasks in their lives, I would recommend a lifestyle company such as 8Eight. The company has a yearly membership which gives access to a range of services, discounts and benefits to members locally and internationally. You really cannot afford to be without something like this, unless you employ a personal, private concierge.

What are your recommendations for an entertaining night out in the Mother City?

Dinner at one the many fine dining restaurants, such as The Test Kitchen, The Roundhouse, Pigalle or 95 Keerom, followed by drinks at Asoka or The Reserve for the upmarket crowd. For a more relaxed vibe, early evening drinks at &Union on their live music nights, which are hugely popular, is always a winner.

What are your favourite hidden gems in Cape Town?

La Mouette in Sea Point does a five-course tasting menu which is incredibly good value. The well-priced breakfast at The Table Bay Hotel is probably the best, with the largest selection I have ever seen. I Love My Laundry on Buitengracht – dim sum, coffee, wine, Wi-Fi and laundry? Shouldn’t all Laundromats do this? El Burro in Green Point is my favourite place to hang out in summer or winter. The restaurant has nailed the service, food and atmosphere perfectly and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t love them. Jason, from Jason Bakery in Bree Street, has been feeding the trendy and pretty people of Cape Town since expanding his business. If you’ve not had one of his bacon croissants or been to the Thursday Beats & Pizza nights, you need your "I am a Capetonian" card revoked. Olympia Café in Kalk Bay has a daily new menu, with patisseries made on site and it is off the regular tourist beat. 

How does Cape Town inspire you?

I’ve been working in hotels for my entire career and every day I meet and talk to people who have come to Cape Town for the first time and have fallen in love with aspects of it. It’s very hard not to love the city – from the variety of restaurants, bars and clubs to the diversity of its people and amazing landscapes and attractions, Cape Town truly has it all. If that’s not inspiring, I need a new dictionary.

Tell us about your most unusual experience in Cape Town?

I guess it would have to be when I first moved back to Cape Town and went to Mzoli’s for the first, but certainly not the last time. It was indeed an eye opener eating, drinking and conversing with a diverse group in the middle of the Gugulethu township. Sounds pretty tame now, but 11 or 12 years ago it was a lot more hidden away from the masses and certainly didn’t have the international acclaim it has now.

Follow Ryan on twitter (@concierge_ryan) or Cape Town Tourism (@CapeTownTourism) for advice on navigating life in the Mother City. 

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