LiliesleafThe menu for Cedric’s Cafe is a delightful piece of work, printed to look like the page of an old newspaper.
It recalls some lovely old stories from the 1960s when Cedric was the code name for Liliesleaf, the supposedly secret hideaway for undercover ANC members who pretended to be gardeners at the farm north of Johannesburg.
One article by Norma Kitson, the wife of an Umkhonto we Sizwe member, recalls her surprise at seeing such an army of black workers tending the fields. She instantly branded the owner as a show-off, hiring one gardener for every weed. It was only when she recognised one overall-clad worker and he winked at her that she figured out something clandestine was afoot. “It was then that I realised that Liliesleaf was not what it seemed. It was the headquarters of the underground,” she wrote.
On either side of the article Cedric’s sets out a nicely varied menu that’s exactly what you’d expect from a museum coffee shop. Toasted sandwiches, filled croissants, pastas, salads and cakes. A chalkboard also lists some daily specials at a pricier R80 or R90.
Cedric’s isn’t licensed so it’s not a place that incites you to linger over drinks before or after your tour, and it’s too remote and low key to be a destination café in itself. Sadly on my visit it didn’t even add much to the overall Liliesleaf experience either.
There was no chicken for a chicken burger, so my partner ordered home made chicken pie instead. It was large, piping hot and very tasty, but quite pricy at R90 since it only came with rice and no attempt at salad or vegetables. My tramezzini filled with creamed spinach, olives and feta cheese at R45 came with a very acceptable salad. It would have been good value if it was more edible, but this was the thinnest and toughest tramezzini I’ve ever encountered. Eventually I scraped out the meager filling and abandoned the bread.
Another story on the menu with the headline ‘Unbreakable Bread’ tells how AnnMarie Wolpe smuggled saw blades to her husband in prison by concealing them in French bread. The trick didn’t work, as the metal bars proved immune to the flimsy blades. It’s a shame these tramezzini hadn’t been invented then, because you could have used one to smuggle in a circular saw and sprung the lot of them.
The café has a few tables on a wooden deck outside which looks over the farm, and the waiters certainly allow you plenty of time to admire the view and read the menu while they prepare your meal and saunter out to deliver it. There’s an indoor eating area and another table on a viewing deck above, but you could probably get very hungry waiting to be noticed.
Liliesleaf itself is interesting and hugely important, as a police raid captured the ANC activists and garnered enough evidence to condemn them to life sentences during the Rivonia Trial.In July, Liliesleaf commemorated the 50th anniversary of that police raid. Yet so much detail is presented about events before, during and after the raid that there’s far too much to absorb. It’s self-guided too, even though my R60 ticket for a tour led me to believe someone would show me around the highlights. Instead we wandered around alone, pressing buttons to listen to sound tracks or play videos and skimming the masses of written material.
Hopefully Cedric’s will give its kitchen staff and waiters a few more lessons to make the meals as palatable as the menu.
Cedric’s Café at Liliesleaf, 7, George Avenue in Rivonia, Johannesburg is open from 8:30am - 5pm Mon – Fri and 9am - 4pm on weekends. Tel: 011-803-7882 or www.liliesleaf.co.za.