I’m blessed with some fairly extraordinary people in my life and I’m never more of aware of this fact than when my birthday rolls around each February. This year was no different and for my entire, so-called ‘birthday week’, friends and family made sure I was blessed with: love, good company and, not least of all, amazing food – and some top quality ‘caffeine fixes’ too!
As a very special birthday treat, one of my close friends said weeks in advance that she wanted to take me out for a light meal and coffee at a place of my choosing. As an aspirant, yet avid travel writer and reviewer and growing foodie, this is literally giving me my cake and allowing me to eat it, though, for me, settling on just one place to visit is becoming increasingly difficult – especially since I live in a city whose inhabitants are passionate about their food and services and as such, accommodate so many uniquely wonderful flavours, palates and cuisines.
This time, however, the decision was easy – or so we thought. You see, it all began a month or two ago now when I stumbled upon a particular Instagram photo, which one of my overseas-based followers had posted on her visit to none other than: Cape Town, South Africa. Her other sights were familiar to me and I was able to place them but this photo really threw me. It was of a pretty, dappled, almost egg-shell blue-and -cream wall with old, antique paintings and frames mounted upon it and an adorable, little table pictured below.
At first glance, everything about the place seemed to whisper intrigue and felt like taking a step back in time to an original coffee house or some mysterious secret room one might find in a stately, old European building so I was instantly mesmerised and had to know the name of the place so I could find it. I decided to ask, though I wasn’t sure I’d get a reply, but I did and I was more than a little chuffed with myself for having secured the place’s name once Google quickly ‘told’ me I could find it at the V&A Waterfront. I thought it must have opened recently, in the time I’d been away from Cape Town, because it was not a place I recalled seeing and I would have remember a wall like that any day.
I gushed to my friend about it and said we should check it out sometime and upon her insistence, that’s exactly what we did for my birthday celebration. We arrived at the V&A Waterfront, we casually commented on a place, situated just across from Mitchell’s Brewery opposite Market Square, that I had seen many times before, but which I had always assumed was beyond a full-time student’s budget.
Still, we asked for directions, entered the centre itself and it was only then, when we arrived at the place a few minutes later, that the happy light in my eyes literally spluttered and then, went out entirely. I was apparently noticeably disappointed, for it didn’t look at all like it had on my IG feed. There had to be a mistake – either I had been given the wrong name or else something was terribly amiss here.
I suggested we try find another place so we spent about an hour aimlessly hunting for a charming café or bakery to compensate. There are so many wonderful places at the V&A but I’d been to several of them and we were looking for something deliciously new, fresh and charming.
After a while of strolling about outside in the hot sun, we decided to try our luck and step into the place we’d passed earlier. It looked immaculate, the outdoor seating was packed with people (as it always seems to be whenever I’ve passed it and this was on a normal working day) and it said it was a bakery – it was our last hope, really.
We entered the cooler interior and, after glancing briefly at the freshly baked assortment of artisan breads lined up on the main windows (and temptingly visible from the outside as you walk past) and large oven, I looked to my left and gasped. It took my mind a moment to register its disbelief before I choked out, my finger pointed at the opposite wall right at the end of the room, “This is the place! That’s the wall I saw on Insta. – I can’t believe we’ve found it!”
As if fondly awaiting my arrival like an old friend, the wall faced me as I eagerly crossed the room towards it, absent-mindedly getting in the way of staff members as they bustled in and out with food for the outdoor patrons. It’s unsurprising but, for once, I was not the only person taking photos of a café’s every inch – in fact, something tells me that the whole place gets photographed quite frequently by the majority of its visitors.
Vovo Telo, that was the name I should have been given when I enquired after that charming patterned wall – still, it’s one I won’t forget in a hurry going forwards.
Aside from the outdoor seating – which looks beautiful and, though the smooth wooden tables are sheltered beneath wide umbrellas, was too hot and crowded for us that day – there is downstairs and upstairs seating, accessed via the wooden staircase, which adjoins the wooden attic-like deck above. From here, metal light fittings hang suspended from beautiful wooden beams and matching A-frame roof, with the occasional stunning chandelier dangling prettily. These also make their appearance felt on the lower level, as they brightly twinkle throughout the day.
The walls display quaint, porcelain plates, edged with gold finishings, ornate frames and cute rabbit cartoon characters and everything about Vovo Telo extends that pervasive feeling of quaint beauty and timelessness, of days forgotten or a throwback to when homes and shops were still about quiet elegance and antiquated charm.
Downstairs, you will also find the main till/counter, which displays the available cakes, sweet treats and pastries. Behind the desk are shelves bearing energy drinks, sauces, and the like, lined by coffee-making equipment, with a blackboard – humourously captioned (think: “Hey Brew!”), with the prevailing bunny rabbits also drawn onto it in colourful chalk – displaying the hot beverage offerings and their prices above.
Then, to the right, there’s the large MacAdams oven, where you can see pizzas – and probably their fresh breads – being retrieved from within by the careful chef. Nearby, the display window overlooks the V&A’s main outdoor area, with red, glass-fixed candles burning alongside the wonderful assortment of loaves. (I also love the fact that these clearly offer prices just like the blackboard.)
After I had acquired enough photos of the lower level (and had, in the process, neglected to see what I wanted from the display fridge), we went upstairs and claimed our table near one of several upstairs windows, which have a secret view of the main road and nearby Springbok Experience Rugby Museum. From the far windows opposite, you can even enjoy watching the Big Wheel rotating, as we occasionally did.
The upstairs tables are a mixture of sturdy, yet comfy, white plastic chairs and wooden tables, as well as the more exotic old-fashioned chairs, with blue-and-gold intricately patterned cushioning covering their wooden seats and backrests. There is also a delightful smattering of weathered-looking, purposefully chipped wooden furniture – which I’ve always been crazy about – near the upstairs office/computer area reserved for management and staff.
Keep an eye out, too, for the plain white porcelain rabbits perched on matching stands and painted on the walls in cartoon caricature, the ornately framed wall mirrors, or the old clock and beautiful porcelain vase, which rest on top of the small book stand that houses cookbooks and menus, stacked neatly according to: day, kids, night and wine list (summer). These can be downloaded or viewed on their website at: http://www.vovotelo.com.
Before I go any further, I must say that their website is one of the most beautiful, interactive sites I’ve seen and it literally tempts you to visit a Vovo Telo shop (these can be found in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town). The provided information and descriptions were some of the most poetic I’ve read outside of a novel, so much so that you can literally envision the baker kneading dough at 4:00 a.m.. Vovo Telo also has stunningly visual social media feeds – I would give them a 9/10 rating just for both this and their quick, polite online responses alone, so a big hats off on both scores!
Once we were seated, our waitron, who smilingly asked if I was done exploring, brought us our menus. These cardboard-type menus are lovely, I really loved the texture and bold green text, as well as the “I want my choccie” or “Board this way” captions specific to each section. (Our menu included: breakfast, sarmies (artisan bread), salad, pasta, beverages, pissaladière (the thin crust pizza we had seen being prepared earlier) and so much more!)
I always look for some kind of back story or insight into a place and Vovo Telo has a wonderful (travel) story behind it’s inception. It goes like this: “It all began with hunger on a Madagascan beach back in July 2006… And then an old man on an old bicycle answered our craving for great bread; with his bike stacked high with fresh baguettes the taste and experience was something to cherish and it was something we wanted everyone back home to enjoy. And so with that the name Vovo Telo was born, taken from a place and a moment in time where the inspiration first took hold of us”.
That same year, the first branch was opened in Richmond Hill, Port Elizabeth, offering artisan baking at its finest and drew hungry or interested locals in. After setting up tables and chairs for coffee and morning croissants, they soon expanded to: “a range of sandwiches, pastries, light breakfasts and lunches that you can enjoy at any of our bakeries today…”
Another great feature about Vovo Telo bakeries + cafés, found across the country now, is that they use the “finest, freshest ingredients”, and thus support local, quality producers, as well as offering wonderful services and tasty meals.
Once I had admired and perused the menu, we straight away beelined towards the beverages. It was quite hard to choose what I wanted to drink, especially when confronted with the likes of Belgian Hot Chocolate, White Chocolate Mocha and other drinks. I eventually switched from Chocotelo (slab in a cup, it comes in original (R23), macadamia and mint (both R25) flavours) to the Macadamian Chocolate Mocha (R28), whilst my friend ordered the Mocha (single shot) for R23.
We wanted something sweet to eat (or at least I did and she insisted we would have what I wanted) so we went back down to look at the cakes, pastries and other delicacies. (The sweet treats/pastries are on display and it is there, not on the menu, that you can see the prices and the full range of ‘dessert’ options.)
After some deliberation and negotiating, we reached an accord: I would have the Strawberry Tartlet (R26) and a Madeleine (R11), whilst my friend opted for the Pain Au Chocolat (R25), provided we agreed to each try a bit of the other’s.
A few minutes later, our drinks were brought but, as we wanted to wait for our treats too, I got back up to quickly re-explore every nook and cranny of the upstairs level. Only a few people were seated up there with us, so it was nice and quiet and perfect for an undisturbed, lovely catch-up, which was precisely what we needed.
The waitron soon brought up our delicacies. Both the drinks and the treats were neatly presented, with a large stirring spoon and saucer for the drinks in case of spillage (especially when carrying them up those stairs!) but I really liked the flat hardboard (in lieu of a plate) our sweet treats arrived on. They were placed upon a patterned grease-proof paper with the knife and fork wrapped up in serviettes and positioned alongside our dainties.
I have to say, my Strawberry tartlet was amazing to photograph, it just looked so delectable with the much plainer Madeleine alongside it. Naturally, it’s not necessarily about the look, rather the taste when it comes to food, but good presentation always helps and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into my treats, though I made sure I sampled my drink first in case the sweetness of them ruined its individual taste somewhat. (Also, I didn’t add any sugar to it – I honestly didn’t think it needed any, though sample your drinks first and judge for yourself. As a side note, I found Vovo Telo’s personalised sugar sachets so pretty!)
During the holidays, while I was away from Cape Town, I tried an Almond Latte and I thought that was pretty good but my Macadamian Chocolate Mocha was positively wonderful! I really loved the nutty flavour that gave it its uniqueness but took nothing away from the nice chocolate mocha itself. I also showed my friend that there were actual pieces of macadamia at the bottom of the glass. I thought that was excellent – usually, it’s just an infusion of flavour but this was proper nut! I would give my drink a 9/10 rating because I seriously enjoyed it! I think I could have had another glass, it was really lovely!
My friend enjoyed her Mocha (single shot) but felt she probably should have gone for the double shot as it was a bit too sweet for her, even though she never added sugar either. She rated it 7/10.
My treats were lovely! I have always wanted to try a Madeleine, which I can best describe as a cross between a sponge cake and a biscuit. It was very nice and helped to take away the richness of my strawberry tartlet. I would give it an 8/10 rating, it was nice and crumbly, really fresh and sizeable too so excellent value for R11.
Likewise, my Strawberry Tartlet was rather huge and I battled to finish it, even though I shared both with my friend. If you love strawberries and sweet, syrupy icing sugar or even just wonderful crumbly pastry, you will really enjoy this! I had expected it to be terribly messy to eat but it was so well-set and quite easy to break apart with my fork that it wasn’t a problem at all. It was a bit cloyingly sweet and rich after a while, but the strawberries were excellent and overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely have it again. It was also, as I mentioned earlier, extremely beautiful to look at and due to its size and quality, was really worth R26. I rated it 7/10.
My friend’s Pain Au Chocolat (a croissant with dark chocolate inside) was huge too and was really, really good, though extremely filling and even with her piling pieces onto my plate, we battled to finish it. It wasn’t too rich but the croissant itself was perfect and the to-die-for dark chocolate was so generously stuffed into the middle. If you enjoy either croissants or dark chocolate, you will definitely enjoy this. We both gave it a well-deserved 8/10 rating.
We also had about two glasses of water each (each time we ordered a glass of water, the presentation got better and better, so well done on that too), which was so refreshing and perfect for a hot day… I feel this speaks for both the service and the quality of Vovo Telo, as whoever we were served by and irrespective of what we asked for, the staff were all courteous, friendly and unobtrusive.
After that, our main waitron brought the bill and I really meant it when I thanked her and said it was excellent. As I said to my friend, this was the perfect place for me – we jokingly agreed that it was every bit a ‘Tamlyn place’, due to its elegance, charm, outstanding food and drinks, overall pretty décor and calming atmosphere.
The person before us had left a package, which we thought belonged there, on the table and even when we left and were already walking past the Big Wheel, on our way to explore the V&A’s outdoor harbour area, one of the main management rushed out after us and asked us if it was ours. I think that says enough about the care and attention to detail behind this beautiful place.
As such, Vovo Telo gets a 9/10 overall rating for the following: excellent service and polite, efficient staff and thoughtful management, wonderful décor in a truly atmospheric setting, whether you sit inside or out, as well as quality baked goods, meals and drinks for fair and affordable prices. It was all I had hoped for and more, and gave me one of my most memorable and precious eat-out experiences… If you haven’t been to Cape Town’s Vovo Telo’ branch yet, you need to make a plan to pop in – you will not regret it! 🙂
Vovo Telo are open from 7:00 a.m.- 9:00 p.m. daily, Monday to Sunday.
Thank you very much to my dear friend, Aaqeelah, for making this review possible and for enduring my obsessive photography – and to Vovo Telo and their website for the additional information and enjoyment of my overall visit, both of which made my birthday celebration truly wonderful.
For more info., you can see their website (www.vovotelo.com) or find them on social media: (IG: vovotelobakery) | Twitter: Vovo Telo Bakery – @vovotelo | Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vovoteloSA).
Additionally, you can contact them on: + 27 (021) 418 3750, email them at: feedback.vovotelo@Famousbrands.co.za or find them at: 33, Pierhead (opposite Market Square), Dock Road, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town.
Author: Tamlyn Amber Ryan
Tamlyn Ryan is a writer and blogger, who runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust. Despite a national diploma in Journalism, her preferred niche remains travel writing. She is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and above all else, the great outdoors.