Almarie Kleingeld, the owner of Picnic at the Loch Logan Waterfront (you may know her from her previous coffee shop Meel), was chatting away about our Oprah experience at the University of the Free State this past Friday, but I couldn’t really focus on her words. Yes, Oprah was unbelievable, but there was something distracting me from the topic of conversation that will be on every Bloemfonteiner’s lips for the next week (or lifetime!). I can’t help it that Almarie had laden her goodies table in the restaurant with such delectable treats that had my eye wandering away from her towards the cake stands to peep through the bell jars. I’m sure Oprah and her sweet tooth would understand the distraction.
Decorating the table, between Picnic’s own bottles of homemade chutneys, jams, caramelised onions, rusks muesli, bags of speciality flour and for-sale bread knives and white cake stands, were some of Bloemfontein’s most-wanted yummies (all made on the premises): millionaire shortbread, peanut-butter slices, rocky road treats, chocolate brownies, butternut-and-caramelised-onion-and-feta quiche, bacon-and-mushroom quiche, rye-flour cupcakes, and lemon-meringue cupcakes. I got a fright when I didn’t see the usual milktart, but it was standing in the fridge, above the strawberry and Manhattan cheesecakes. Thank goodness! Picnic’s milktart is the best I have ever tasted in my life. It’s high and firm, with a real farmhouse allure to it. I recommend you ditch your calorie worries and have it with Picnic’s decadent hot chocolate – brought to you with real chocolate pieces to stir in yourself. (I may just return this afternoon!)
If you manage to venture away from the goodies table, you’ll notice that Picnic has a lot more to offer. The chalkboard walls filling the space between raw facebrick display the menu, so there’s never a need for tatty pieces of paper, illustrating Picnic’s clean and simple ethos. Generous salads, such as the chicken, halloumi, sundried tomatoes and avo one, are as tempting as the sandwiches (think Picnic’s own ciabatta topped with fillet, rocket, brie and caramalised onions). All this can be enjoyed while looking out toward the water and green grass (giving the sense of a picnic perhaps?), or enjoying the buzz of the open-plan kitchen beyond the fresh basil plants and jar of chillies on the counter, watching homemade croissants come out of the oven, ready to be put on the industrial-type pastry stand in the restaurant.
There’s a real sense of old-school homeliness inside Picnic, where reels of till paper and colourful ribbons are on display through the clear-glass drawers on which the till stands. Although she’s not looking to be the face of the restaurant, Almarie is often found sitting chatting to customers, today’s conversation with everyone being Oprah of course!
A great advantage of having Picnic at the Waterfront, is that once you’re full to capacity on the good food, you have an entire shopping mall in which to walk around and work off the food. Just like a real post-picnic stroll through the ‘park’.
Q&A with Almarie
Where does the name ‘Picnic’ come from?
The same friend who named my previous coffee shop Meel came up with it. There may not be picnic baskets around here, but it’s just such a nice name. Everything else sounded so pretentious. I wanted something that illustrates the fact that this is just a nice restaurant with clean food, and not much processed stuff. Picnic is all about the way I want to eat.
Tell me about your food.
Everything has to be fresh, that’s why we can’t have a 16-page menu. I try to buy local products whenever I can, but unfortunately things like gypsy ham and brie have to come from other cities because no one makes them here. I hate wastage, so we use what we have. For instance, if a bread doesn’t get sold from the take-away section today, we’ll use it for our sandwiches tomorrow. We always have a different lunch of the day, and in winter we have great soups and quiches. Our most popular item on the menu is probably our hamburger and chips. It’s a homemade patty on our freshly baked ciabatta. All our sandwiches are on fresh bread, so I hate it when people ask for a toasted sandwich. We don’t do toasted sandwiches! I love stuff in its simplest form. You’ll notice that even the tulips on the counter are not surrounded by wit blommetjies and other crap. Everything is much nicer in its simplest form. People probably think that I’m going to splash out when I invite them to dinner at my house, but I don’t. I serve a starch, a meat and a salad with bread. Less is more. Besides, I don’t have the patience for gourmet food.
Tell me about your bakery section.
Tseko Motlhacoi is our baker. Even my mom will say that since Tseko took over the baking from my friend Nico and I everything is much nicer! He’s very precise – you have to be like that when baking. We sell rye and potato bread, as well as ciabattas. Sometimes we make French loaves too. I can’t wait to get home everyday to have some of Tseko’s bread. He just gets it! Our croissants are also made from scratch, so they really are the best in Bloem (for me they’re the best croissants in the world!) because everyone else buys them in frozen. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but they look and taste nice and it’s such a novel concept. All our products are made with stone-ground flour, so we make sure to use the best ingredients. I’ll give away all my recipes if someone asks for them – even the chocolate cake! – and I won’t secretly leave out any ingredients. I have no problem with this kind of thing if someone’s actually going to take the trouble to make it themselves.
What’s your favourite item on the goodies table?
Definitely the rye-flour cupcakes with butter icing. I can’t stop myself from eating them.
What made you choose to have an open-plan kitchen?
I don’t like closed kitchens. I want you to see what we’re doing. My staff are very well trained, so I want customers to appreciate this by seeing how clean the kitchen and processes are. It also allows a lot of interaction between clients, chefs and kitchen staff – even though it can get noisy and means I have to shout a bit sometimes.
Have you had any formal culinary training?
No, I barely passed Matric! But I have had two incredible mentors in my life. One is Ingrid Fuller, who employed me in her decor shop, allowing me to live out my creativity without even knowing I was creative. Then Lizrea Meyer employed me at Lounge Lizard and a whole new world opened up to me. I used to go overseas on buying trips, and when we went to Joburg and Cape Town for business we used to eat at the best restaurants, so I was really exposed to a lot. When I reached the top of where I wanted to be in the industry, a friend and I opened Meel, which I had for three years.
What makes Picnic uniqe in Bloemfontein?
There’s nothing like it in the city. We make all our condiments ourselves, so people mustn’t ask me for the ketchup they use at home – we have our own. I want everything to be homemade. I feel very strongly about the fact that I pay the rent here so things are done my way.
I’d love to build the Picnic brand by opening up a deli where people can buy nice speciality cheeses and cold meats. I love Bloemfontein, so I want to expand the brand here. I’ve lived here most of my life, so I’m a Bloemfonteiner through and through – even though I don’t watch rugby!
Picnic is open Monday to Friday 8am-5pm; Saturday 8am-4pm; Sunday 8am-3pm