Swan Café recently opened its doors in Cape Town’s gritty East City precinct. It’s a French-style crêperie serving sweet and savoury pancakes, called crêpes (sweet) and galettes (savoury). It’s owner-run, uses quality ingredients and offers enticing flavours in a pleasant space.
Charming yet tenacious owner Jessica Rushmere was once a model in Paris. In Cape Town, she cleverly compacted French café cosiness into a tiny De Waterkant space called La Petite Tarte in 2003. The café was later sold, and Rushmere started a family and created a sideline business as a personal shopper and stylist under the Your Style By Jessica brand. She still offers the service.
Swan Café is colourful, modern and airy. But Rushmere’s characteristic flair and je ne sais quoi infuses the space. There’s no mistaking it’s a French affair, with Breton stripes and petit foulards abounding, and the tea on offer is inspired by Rushmere’s favourite Parisian brand, Mariage Frères. Local tea house Nigiro did the honours, and the steaming beverage is poured from pretty teapots with all the trappings.
Rushmere discovered Swan’s corner site while living in a loft apartment in Barrack Street. The Harrington building was undergoing renovation at the time. “I wanted the feeling of town. But I was very specific — I wanted this corner and nothing else.” She got her way, and the decision has proven to be spot-on. Glass stack doors can be opened wide to welcome the city inside.
Haldane Martin was brought on board for the interior fit-out. Swan and other bird-feather motifs in custom wall and floor tiles — Rushmere calls the swan her spirit animal — are echoed in wallpaper. Red, black, and blue accents include Haldane’s custom chairs, which are a contemporary take on bistro chairs.
Rushmere says she was eager to find her creativity again while she was in the process of opening Swan. “I created something that has not been done yet in Cape Town,” she says.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, try caramelised apple smeared with oozy homemade salted caramel. As per tradition, buckwheat flour is used for the savoury galettes — the Croque Monsieur galette gets my vote for breakfast: gypsy ham, melted Gruberg and Emmenthal, a drizzle of béchamel, and freshness from chives. A filling lunchtime galette is lemon-and-herb chicken breast with mushrooms, plus truffle oil. And the locally inspired Sud-Af galette has streaky bacon, egg and roasted tomatoes. It’s “the one that in the morning goes out va-va-voom”, Rushmere says.