As a young child I remember my folks making references to going to Timbuktu like it was a mythical place to which you sent naughty children as punishment. The eventual realisation as I grew older that Timbuktu actually existed didn’t diminish its mystery. Steeped in legend and folklore this once wealthy city still remains an enigma.
Timbuktu, located in Mali in Northern Africa, was a world centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th century. In its Golden Age, the town’s numerous Islamic scholars and extensive trading network made possible an important book trade: together with the campuses of the Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university, this established Timbuktu as a scholarly centre in Africa. (Source: Wikipedia)
So it is quite fitting that a bookshop called Timbuktu would be flourishing in the South of Africa in Cape Town selling a variety of books and media, from superb translations of classical treasures such as Al Ghazali, Ibn Rushd and An Nawawi, as well as though provoking contemporary writings by a host of international scholars.
To add to the attraction they have installed a contemporary coffee shop within the bookshop. What started out as little more than a coffee station has fleshed out into a restaurant serving breakfast fare and light meals. I visited Timbuktu for the first time 2 weeks ago, a long overdue visit I might add as they have been open for over a year now. The location of Sybrand Park, being a mostly residential neighbourhood, I found unusual for the nature of the store and even more so for a coffee shop, so with little expectation, I was in no hurry to try it out. To my great chagrin when I finally did, I realised I had been missing out on a true little gem.
The shop is bright and airy with the bookshop on one side and the coffee shop on the other. The space has the feel of an old home that has been gutted and modernised and yet still retains some of its historic feel. Heavy wooden trestles and benches lend a contemporary and casual feel and books from the shelves are strategically placed on the tables to whet your appetite.
We chatted with Ibtihaaj (don’t you think that’s a beautiful and unusual name?), who runs the coffee shop about how they started small and grew the offering into something more substantial. She is passionate about providing a good quality menu that is modern and focuses on quality and modern fare. The likes of sweet potato fries, rye and sweet potato bread is available on the menu. Ibtihaaj wants to include more ingredients like asparagus and the like. Bring on the truffle oil, I say…
We ordered the Eggs Benedict with Salmon and the 3 Cheese and Mushroom Omelette. Both dishes were substantial and came with dressed rocket on the side and the omelette with a side of toast. The Mango, Pineapple and Mint cooler we had to drink was delicious and refreshing and I can see why it was recommended. They didn’t ask how I wanted my eggs when I placed the order, and I found my eggs were a bit too well done. I would have preferred them a little softer. The meal was otherwise beautifully presented.
Ibtihaaj surprised us with a treat after our breakfast and presented us with the most decadent chocolate Nutella pancake for dessert. Dessert after breakfast…. why not…. The chocolate crepe was perfectly done and and filled with dreamy, double cream chocolate ice cream, drizzled with roasted almonds and a Nutella chocolate sauce. I will be returning to have that for breakfast soon. I have no shame… ????
My only regret is that I didn’t try the coffee. The quality of the coffee is the mark of a good coffee shop after all and is the one thing I should have tried. The truth is, after that pancake, anything more would have meant me curling up on one of the couches and going to sleep for an hour. Did I mention the comfy couch and armchair for just relaxing with your book. There is parking available outside but some steps going up to the shop would make it difficult for anyone in a wheelchair. I did not see a ramp that would make this easier.
I learned also that they often host Stand-Up comedy nights. About once a month or so the likes of Yaseen Barnes or Riaad Moosa, even Loyiso Gola can be found trying their new material here. So while the bookshop is focused on Islamic Literature, they have put a contemporary spin on the business which makes it so much more accessible for a younger crowd.
Religion, food and comedy… who’d have thought a recipe so quirky would work so well.
Listed and reviewed: 12 March 2017
Breakfast, Casual Dining, Lunch,
Cheap | Under R100,