Meandering around bustling central Cape Town, a building caught my eye: a three-storey mish-mash of architectural styles painted brick-red with cream accents. It turns out that the intriguing 1900-built structure was originally owned by Herbert Tothill, a pharmacist and sports enthusiast who, so the story goes, created a subterranean speakeasy on the premises during apartheid. It is appropriate, then, that Athos Euripidou has converted it into The Athletic Club & Social, a gorgeous dining and drinking establishment that is open to all – no membership required.
The interiors are a tour de force: a collaborative effort between local design outfit Studio Parkington, Euripidou and his wife Frederica Herbert who is, conveniently, a structural engineer. The feel is clubby and maximalist, with velvet sofas and chairs scattered about, floors layered liberally with Persian rugs, densely patterned wallpaper and lots of fringing – including a few House of Hackney pieces. Yet it manages not to look over the top, even with the custom-designed stained-glass lights, a mural by local artist David Brits (whose work can also be found at nearby hotel Gorgeous George) and, of course, sports memorabilia – tons of it, from vintage trophies and archival team photos to badminton racquets cleverly mounted as wall art.
“The food isn’t African because I wanted to do something inspired by my heritage,” said the Durban native of Greek-Cypriot extraction. “It’s more Mediterranean, and meant for sharing.”
We started with the tahini cauliflower (R95, about £5.50) – two staples of my childhood I’d never had together, combined here in an incredibly simple but ridiculously delicious herby lemon dressing topped with almonds. Also on the table was the charred aubergine (about £5.50), which sounds pedestrian, but with mint and pine nuts was one of the best preparations of this vegetable I’ve ever had. I had to be talked into the fire-roasted baby gem lettuce (about £4.80), but, topped with Parmesan, capers and white anchovies, it was deeply flavoursome. Since a direct New York-Cape Town route is being launched by United Airlines later this year, I hope to be back soon for more.