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Café Nush at Highland Park – elegance and ambiance

When Terrace Africa was developing the new Highland Park Shopping Mall, they approached Café Nush to be the anchor food tenant. Terrace Africa has built and manages Village Walk in Borrowdale where Café Nush has their second popular venue, following on from their first branch at Avondale. For the new Highland Park project Café Nush’s management has drawn on several years of experience to bring customers the best in food and beverages in a trendy and relaxed atmosphere.

The three Café Nush branches (as well as Sandalwood Lodge) are owned and managed by Abed Khalatbari and his family. Khalatbari has experience in designing homes, restaurants, lodges and commercial projects. For the Café Nush branches, as well as for Sandalwood Lodge and other collaborative projects, Khalatbari has worked extensively with Architect Mirko Tucakov. Tucakov is a locally based architect, trained in Venice, and has undertaken many design projects in Zimbabwe. Having worked together for a number of years Khalatbari and Tucakov have a good understanding of each other’s visions and design aesthetics.

The site for the new Café Nush at Highland Park was basically an empty shell. There was open space in the front section, facing on to the car park, for restaurant seating, with provision for a kitchen and service areas behind. Khalatbari and Tucakov drew up plans to close in part of the outside deck facing the car park. They proposed to Terrace Africa that the section should be incorporated in to the seating area under a new roof structure. The roof was duly extended and aluminium and glass sliding doors and windows were incorporated to create a more generous space with an indoor/outdoor, airy and light feel. A small courtyard garden was included in the new design to add to the outdoor garden feel – and some decking was retained on the side facing Arcturus Road.

The open-air decking has a trendy feel as patrons can enjoy the urban buzz. It’s sheltered by triangular canvas sails, supplied by Shades Ahead, so customers are protected from sun and rain. Most of the doors and windows on three sides can be folded or slid back to make the space feel more open and ‘street vibey’ or closed off depending on the weather. There are also retractable blinds to control the afternoon sun and provide a bit of an enclosed and cosy feeling in the evening. The automated blinds were supplied by a South African company while the other interior blinds were supplied by local company Blinds and Designs.

The new roofed over and enclosed section still has wooden decking on the floor to add to the sense of dining in a garden conservatory or glass house. The rest of the floors in the dining area have been clad with light grey wood-look tiles to help create different areas or zones and add interest to the décor plan. It’s all bright, light, open and delightfully informal and relaxed. The courtyard, together with individual potted plants on each table and large vases of floral and leafy displays, echo the garden atmosphere.

The high concrete slab ceiling has been painted in a very dark charcoal grey – almost black – so it seems to disappear, while the same colour has been repeated on some sections of the interior walls. Far from being oppressive the dark colour adds to the feeling of extra space as walls and ceilings appear to recede. Below the ceiling suspended timber slats have been installed to add a bit of warmth and also to conceal the ducting and wiring for the air-conditioning and the lights. Because of the dark background the slats seem to float overhead. The wooden slat design has been incorporated in to the design of the counters and some partitions, tying the space together.

Café Nush’s new design incorporated indoor toilets for customers – previously the customers would have had to use the public restrooms which are part of the mall complex – so it’s much more convenient and private. The bathrooms are behind a solid wall which has been clad in brick-look tiles to add some warmth and texture to the restaurant space. In the corner, formed by the new structure and part of the kitchen wall, is the coffee section which includes an impressive looking machine for grinding and roasting fresh coffee beans. Between the coffee roaster and the pastry counter the kitchen is partly open so patrons can view their orders being prepared and plated. At the other end of the pastry counter, near the entrance, there’s a station for the barista to prepare espressos and cappuccinos, as well as fresh filter coffee and other coffee drinks. The brick cladding has been extended on the wall behind the pastry counter.

There are a variety of seating options for customers, but all fairly simple and elegant. There are square and round tables with black metal legs and oak tops which have been treated with a hardwearing non-stick resin finish which is easy to maintain. There are wooden café style chairs in different designs – some have solid curved backs, some slatted backs and some have a simple curved backrest. The chairs were sourced from Woodbenders – a Cape Town based manufacturer specialising in bentwood chairs for restaurants. Some of the chair designs are exclusive to Café Nush.

There are options for two, three, four or six seats per table, although the staff will happily help to move tables and chairs around to suit the customers needs.  Tables are set out with generous space in between so it’s easy for staff and customers to walk around – and customers never feel as if the patrons at the next table are intruding or overhearing their conversation. Khalatbari and Tucakov have intruded banquette seating which is ideal for larger groups – like families or groups of friends.  The banquettes were custom made by Elite Interiors.

Other seating options include the ‘laptop counter’ which has power points for computers, where patrons can sit on bar stools and enjoy a cup of coffee while they’re working. There’s another long bar counter made from solid timber with waney edges – also with bar style stools. And of course, there’s outdoor seating on the deck under the triangular canvas sails. The café can comfortably seat up to 120 patrons – all in comfort – and without feeling crowded.

Tucakov and Khalatbari collaborated on the detailed scheme for the interior design and layout. The installation phase of the plans started in September 2022 with Khalatbari acting as the project manager. Café Nush officially opened on 10th December so the whole process was completed in a little over three months. The result is a light and airy space that’s very functional and can be adapted to different weather and lighting conditions throughout the day and into the evening, thanks to the large doors and windows and the interior blinds. The new venue has the same relaxed and trendy ‘Café Nush’ identity and personality although it’s not a simple copy of the other two established restaurants. Successful design elements of the other outlets have been retained, though customised, and in some cases improved, to suit the new and exciting space.

-text by Michael Nott

-photos by Structure and Design

-renders and plans courtesy of Mirko Tucakov





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