Things work a little differently at the Belfry (pronounced Belfree), which resides in the Old Post Office cum dealership store as you enter town, although when you first step over the threshold this isn’t immediately obvious.
There is the yeasty smell of freshly baked bread from a wood-fired oven and the insistent hum of people enjoying themselves as they sit as families around tables.
Blackboards across one of the walls feature the day’s offerings: muffins, cakes, breakfasts, cheeses, preserves, yoghurt, mayonnaise (by the tub) and fresh fruit are all available for purchase at the counter; as well as the farm butter and milk that you can also buy, along with your lunch.
There are only a few tables inside, and all of them are already taken (and they’re expecting a second sitting, as we learn when we are politely asked to drink our coffee at the bar after our meal, so that they can have our table back). Good thing we booked ahead.
What alerts one to the difference at The Belfry is the minuscule charges! One glimpse of the prices and you do a double take. Are they joking?
Ginger beer for R7; ‘red espresso for R12; a scone for R10 (giant sugar-encrusted scone complete with preserves, cheddar and cream!); two litres of milk for R13; a three-course sit-down meal for R56 a head?
Surely these guys are going to go out of business in about five minutes? What happened to restaurant food’s staple ratio of one-third of the cost to food, the rest to overheads and profit?
You start to go a bit warm and fuzzy at this stage – the effects of generosity. How often is the provision of food expressed with this lack of greed? I immediately recognise something special is going on here.
On its website, the Belfry Kitchen describes itself as having ‘an uncommon character’. Instead of stinging you for all you’re worth (this is, after all, the only serious restaurant for miles around) they welcome trades and exchanges, preferably fresh produce that they can use in their food preparation.
It’s not unheard of for locals to barter their meal for produce, or their home-grown tomatoes for the Belfry’s produce (the restaurant sells excess vegetables and fruit from its counter, alongside its breads, olive oil or whatever else they have in surplus).
The Belfry is of the opinion that not everything needs to have a price, every time.
Their menu charges are about half the going rate. Which leads you to all kinds of assumptions – like the food cannot be all that tasty? Or perhaps the chef is still in training and doesn’t always produce the goods?
Wrong. And wrong again.
The Belfry Kitchen follows a philosophy. It goes something like this: it is not simply a lunchtime café, or producer of food, but an expression of something far greater – of family life, relationships and what arises when one collectively shares labour in service to the community.
If this all sounds a little ‘out there’, let me put it in another way.
The eatery is run by the Bothas, a family who have lived in Twee Riviere for years, on the grounds of the SA Institute for Objects Conservation (which offers courses on metals, ceramics and paper conservation), which they also run. The whole family pull together to maintain the Belfry Kitchen – they do everything. The restaurant manager is their son, Reuben, the chef and the pastry chef their daughter and son-in-law.
They have their own vegetable gardens, poultry run, orchards, livestock and dairy. They butcher their own meat, feed their own chickens, hand milk their own cows, hand-rear the young, pick their own fruit, make their own butter, cream and cheese, mill their flour and bake their own breads. They say that bread made within 24 hours of milling the flour is sweeter.
Not everything is produced on their land – they buy in coffee, tea, spices, sugar and grains – but the rest of the menu is stocked from the grounds, changing with the seasons.
The result: a peaceful, restorative food that is more than a little pleasing to the palate. And a space where the natural rhythm of a simple way of existence affects all who eat there. In a nutshell: my idea of how we should all live.
The kitchen is described as a ‘living’ kitchen, which means it is not simply open and shut for business but also feeds the family who take their meals there.
As a result visitors encounter an old-fashioned, authentic and meaningful lifestyle that serves as an example to all who eat at the Belfry.
I find myself wanting to bottle it, and take just a little home with me.
The Belfry does not, as its name suggests, yet have a bell tower or steeple. Adriaan Botha, Reuben’s father, was simply inspired: “The name unexpectedly came to me one beautiful Sunday morning in 2006…some years on, and the Belfry Kitchen would become the Institute’s campus cafeteria, and a wonderful town resource, all rolled into one.”
The clock tower’s red-brick base has now been built. All it lacks is the copper-roofed belfry with its rooster weather vane and four clock faces. The bell will sound daily to let Twee Riviere know when bread emerges from the wood-fired oven.
Do you need further reason to visit the Langkloof? I know I’ll be back…
Address & Contact Details:
Phone ahead to book a table or ask for a tour of the adjacent vegetable gardens and paddocks, dairy, piggery and orchards.
Contact: 042 273 1089 (Sundays to Fridays); 042 273 1567 (Mondays to Fridays). Closed on Saturdays.