It’s the start of summer in Cape Town and as the December holiday draws near, you’ll find many people, especially tourists, flocking to The Old Biscuit Mill: Neighbourgoods Market to enjoy some good food, wine and entertainment. It’s a bit of a struggle to push your way past all the artsy people and hipsters but you’ll be overwhelmed with the beauty and delicious food smells at The Mill, an absolute must-go and also perfection for anyone’s Instagram feed.
The Old Biscuit Mill is a former biscuit mill situated in an industrial area in Woodstock. It was started in 2006 by entrepreneurs Justin Rhodes and Cameron Munro. The Old Biscuit Neighbourgoods Market is quite popular as it has expanded to Johannesburg as well. At first glance while driving, you take in the old architecture with some buildings still standing after being built in 1903. Although the buildings look old, the new and modern restaurants that adorn the busy main Albert road add something different to the scenery as if it were a combination of some sweet and savoury dish with the sweet being the modern look and savoury being the rustic architecture.
The Old Biscuit Mill: Neighbourgoods Market takes place on Saturdays from 9am – 2pm and the entrance is free. The market has over 100 vendors and is filled with many food stalls, cocktail and beer bars and even clothing stores. I expected to walk into an area with lots of stalls set up but to my surprise the area was more modern with touches of old architecture and statues.
Some of the highlights include yummy ice-cream from The Creamery (I wanted to buy one of their famous waffles but unfortunately they were out of stock, or only offered it at their stores and not the stall at The Mill), fresh fruits and veggies, gourmet corn dogs and sweet fruity tartlets. (Did I mention the even yummier chocolate fudge, macaroons, almond milk, paella and Greek food stalls?). There are cuisines from different cultures and continents at each corner. There are many beverage stalls as well ranging from beer stands to wine tasters, cocktail bars, smoothie bars and even iced coffee, all packaged and standing on cold ice for customers to enjoy. You feel overwhelmed because of all the different varieties and one tends to rely on which foods look visually appealing before going for the taste. Most traders have a vegetarian, MSG and soy-free options.
The prices are, well, extremely pricey but this what you can expect to pay when the food being served is of gourmet quality. Iced teas and juices are in the R20 price range. Savoury pastries are R40 compared to a little packet with five cookies that cost the same amount of money. Chicken wraps can cost up to R75 and sweet little tartlets (smaller than palm size) with chocolate and fruit toppings cost R25.
The vibe at The Old Biscuit Mill is very friendly. You’ll struggle to find seat at the communal benches so many people sit on the floor, crowded together watching performers play something acoustic on the guitar or pianists play upbeat songs on their pianos who bring a sense of calmness through the hustle and bustle of the busy market.
The Neighbourgoods Market has a ‘back to the earth’ policy as the market is eco-sensitive. Most of the produce is organic, the vendors use recyclable packaging/containers and all waste is recycled in separate colour-coded bins.
The Neighbourgoods Market is a great place for tourists to sample some of the finest local produce and goods that the Mother City has to offer. Locals will enjoy the atmosphere and will find a new favourite stall that they’ll keep going back to.
I didn’t have the time to spend hours at The Mill and I feel as if I didn’t get the full experience because of the time constraint. If you have the time, leave home quite early so you can get there at 9am because it gets quite crowded. If possible, try to take a taxi or bring your walking shoes as parking is a nightmare and you might have to park a couple of blocks away from The Mill. This will ensure that you make the most of your shopping and eatery experience.
I spent most of my time at The Mill trying to balance my phone, some eating goodies and a handbag as I tried to make my way through the market and not miss out on anything. Next time I’m definitely going to pop in at one of the sit-down restaurants instead of trying to squeeze in at one of the communal benches.
Many Capetonian food bloggers are raving about The Test Kitchen, a restaurant located at The Mill that opened in 2010 by British chef Luke Dale-Roberts. The Test Kitchen has won many awards such as ‘Restaurant of the Year’ in 2012 for Eat Out DSTV Food Network Restaurant Awards and number 61 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in 2013.
My favourite snacks at The Mill were the rooibos, orange, mint and lemon juice iced tea. My friend posted a picture of it on Instagram and it looked so good that I had to buy it. This rooibos ice tea was the first thing I purchased at The Mill. I didn’t have time for a sit-down meal but had to buy something to eat before I left. I bought a roasted chicken, onion, garlic and tomato pastry. The flavours were insane and I obviously wished I had bought more for the car ride home.
There are a couple of food traders that stand out from the other 100 or so. Corndogs from Full Kick Foods was started by Heather Naudé. She started the South African Boerewors corndog and then began to create more interesting recipe with food technologist, Brian Gomes. The corndogs are paired with and garlic and truffle cream or roasted tomato & basil sauce.
One would expect The Mill to cater to everyone as their food supposedly caters to all cultures from Greek to Dutch and Lebanese. However, there is a limited option on Halaal foods. Halaal foods are considered ‘acceptable to eat’ according to Islamic law. Halaal has to do with the way in which foods are sourced and prepared. The way in which the animal is slaughtered needs to be Islamic and a specific prayer needs to be said while the slaughtering takes place, the food shouldn’t contain pork or touch any foods containing pork. The Old Biscuit Mill doesn’t have many Halaal traders. Although some stalls offer Halaal curries, cakes and samoosas with different fillings such as mince, chicken and corn, options are quite restricting for practicing Muslims. The Mill should invest in Halaal trading stalls to attract more people as now many people would prefer to go to a different market that has a bigger Halaal food variety. My friend and I circled The Mill several times and she was quite disappointed. She didn’t buy any food as she felt that The Mill didn’t offer any interesting Halaal options compared to the bigger variety of non-Halaal foods. I think that many Muslim people won’t buy from The Old Biscuit Mill because many traders serve alcoholic beverages, making The Mill not strictly Halaal.
The Neighbourgoods Market was featured in the New York Times as a point of interest when tourists visit Cape Town under ’36 Hours in Cape Town’.
The Mill is a casual eatery for artsy people… and all those trying their best to be artsy. Head over on Saturday for a great eatery experience and anything else your heart desires, locally sourced of course.
All images are my own // iPhones 5s