IF you are driving down Seaview Road, just by the Sardinia Bay turnoff, you may end up thinking your eyes are deceiving you.
Curious residents have been streaming into Port Elizabeth's newest country eatery and farm shop at the corner of Seaview and Heron Roads. And it's all thanks to young and hip architect Dal Venables's inspired and unconventional design.
What's the big attraction? A grass-roofed cafe where, for the past two weeks since it opened, hearty and delicious country meals have been served under the watchful eye of owners Nicky and Mike Charlewood.
The Charlewoods' hydroponics tunnels are a familiar and interesting sight along Seaview Road, but their latest project holds far greater fascination.
Salvelio and I visited Grass Roof, their new eatery and shop at Olive Tree Farm, this week and instantly got that wonderfully welcoming country feeling.
We were fascinated by the green-grassed roof of the cafe. The eye-catching feature is already sprouting some pretty spring flowers, and we could picture goats getting up there and having a good old munch.
For me it was also a nostalgic visit, as my late father – also a Mike – had erected the first tunnels on this land back in the 1970s when Mark and Sonetta Lawrence owned it.
Arriving at the farm and meeting Nicky delivered another blast from the past as I only then discovered her parents and mine had been next-door neighbours on Butterfield Road, out Kragga Kamma way.
Nicky and Mike live on Old Seaview Road, close enough to keep an eye on their farm and fledgling hospitality business.
Nicky said she'd wanted to tackle a project of this nature for quite some time as she'd had a small farm stall on the property some years before.
The couple's friend, Neil Hart, of Boomtown, recommended Venables as the man for the job, with Venables having achieved recognition for his work on the Bridge Street building which is home to Boomtown and other businesses.
"A building should relate to its context, create a sense of place and evoke a sense of emotion in the user," Venables said. However there were limitations in this case as planning regulations meant the eatery and shop could be no bigger than 105m² each.
"For this reason I decided to design the building around a courtyard to create linking exterior spaces between shop and eatery," Venables said.
The two buildings are roughly to the same scale and proportion, but form contrasting halves of a whole, the shop with its wholesome farm produce reminiscent of a shed and the cafe with its lush, living roof giving a cheerful nod to the surrounding landscape. The courtyard and verandahs offer extra seating and there is also a greenhouse stocked with indigenous plants for purchase.
"I wanted the building to be a destination space where families could relax while their kids played," Venables added.
The green roof is as functional as it is attention grabbing: it helps the building integrate with the countryside while adding insulation properties to the interior.
Grass Roof has been open for only two weekends and on both occasions the weather played along, bringing plenty of visitors, "mostly just on word of mouth", Nicky said.
Her brother, Shaun Stephenson, recently returned from Australia where he was working in the hospitality industry. Shaun has now been roped in as Grass Roof's manager and has plenty of future ideas, such as offering picnics on the lawns and hosting special functions.
"But first we have to find our feet," Nicky chuckled.
From what we could see they've already done so. The farm shop is brimming with tasty goodies and head chef Gift Mukoko impressed us with his hearty country cooking on the cafe side, with Joel Malkinson from Wicker Woods having helped the Charlewoods refine their menu.
Grass Roof is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 8am to 5pm. No pre-booking is necessary.
The building should relate to the context, create a sense of place and evoke a sense of emotion in the user