“You haven’t heard of the River Café?” a student from Potchefstroom asks me. “But it’s the best place in Potch!”
After I go there, I realize she’s right.
The River Café is a large, airy restaurant on Calderbank Avenue, just under two kilometers from the main university campus. The restaurant is right at the southern tip of the Potchefstroom Dam, at the point where the dam meets the Mooi River. The café sits practically surrounded by water, and from the broad outdoor terrace you can watch the water spilling over the dam wall into the river. This spot lends the River Café a special kind of magic.
The inside of the River Café is magical in its own right, with exposed brick walls and floors, massive floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden beams stretched across the vaulted ceiling, and a huge bar that stretches the full length of the restaurant. Colorful African patterns — a rarity in this part of South Arica — abound, in the curtain across the front entrance, on the blankets folded inside a basket, available for customers to huddle under on cold evenings, and in the pictures on the walls. A piano rest in the corner, stacked with menus. The River Café feels simple, sophisticated and inviting.
The beer is the first thing one notices on the menu. The beers take up an entire A4 column of small print and there are at least 40 or 50 of them — hailing from South Africa, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and more. The cocktail list is no joke either, stretching down the page and including names like the Blue Buddha, the Pink Pussycat, and the Virgin Surgeon. The River Café takes its sundowners seriously.
But the real treats await in the food menu. The menu is short, stressing quality over quantity, including a few salads and tapas, pizzas, burgers, light meals, and a selection of mouth-watering deep-fried bites called rissoles. The peppadew and cheese rissoles are crispy on the outside and oozing with piping-hot cheesy peppadew deliciousness on the inside. Dipped in garlic mayo, biting into one of these snacks is like tasting a piece of heaven.
The pizzas don’t disappoint either, served in 28-centimetre size — perfect for one hungry person to devour, or for a slightly less hungry person ready to eat their fill and leave with a takeaway — with interesting combinations of toppings like “sweet and sour tomato relish, mozzarella cheese and fresh origanum” and “spicy chicken, red onion, mozzarella, cucumber and tomato salsa, yogurt and mint dressing, and fresh coriander.”
According to that Potchefstroom student, the River Café burned down a couple of years ago and the rebuilt restaurant just isn’t quite the same as the old one. But having not known the old version of the River Café, it’s hard to imagine a place any nicer than the version that’s here now. It’s an absolute can’t-miss attraction in Potchefstroom.
The River Café is at 2 Calderbank Avenue, Potchefstroom. Call 076-281-8839 or email email@example.com. Open Monday to Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Closed Sunday.